All Posts Tagged ‘Recipes

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thanksgiving week 2015: caramelized brussels sprouts.

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To kickoff the Plumber’s Daughter Thanksgiving Extravaganza, we begin with the simplest of the simple. Brussels Sprouts, always a favorite vegetable of mine, can be found on any menu in any trendy restaurant in 2015. Which I think is hilarious given their status as a throwaway vegetable up until a few years ago. But throwaway they are not, and if you prepare them in the right way (read: DO NOT BOIL THEM), they can be a simply magical addition to any Thanksgiving table.

For our meal this year, we’ll be serving a caramelized version of this teeny tiny cabbage, a quick and easy side dish that comes together in a matter of minutes. If this version doesn’t suit your fancy, I’ve included several alternatives below. No matter how you cook them, however, brussels sprouts should take up some prime real estate on your Thanksgiving menu.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts
Serves: 6

You will need:

2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the root
4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Handful of brown sugar
Dark rum
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat two tablespoons of your butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once melted, add your brussels sprouts cut side down in a single layer (you may need to cook them in more than one batch of your skillet is not big enough to accommodate all of them at once). Season with salt and pepper and let brown without messing with them for approximately 5-7 minutes. If the pan is looking dry, you can add a tablespoon or two more of butter.

Once the brussels are nicely browned on one side, add in another two tablespoons of butter and stir/toss them in the pan to thoroughly coat in butter on all sides. Add in the handful of brown sugar and toss again to coat.

Now, grab your rum and taking the pan OFF THE FLAME, pour one turn of rum into the pan (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan). Place the pan back on the stove and stir to melt the sugar and butter into the rum. The rum will bubble up but will settle down quickly. Cook a few minutes longer, seasoning again with salt and pepper, until the butter/sugar/rum mixture reduces to a syrupy consistency. Test a sprout to see if they are done to your liking; if not, cook a few minutes longer. You want them to still have a little bite, and they should be bright green, but you don’t want them to be too raw.

When they are done, pour into a serving dish, topping with the pan caramel sauce, and serve immediately. These should be made just before you sit down to eat, as they taste best served piping hot from the stove. Simple, delicious, full of flavor and crunch. A perfect veggie addition to any Thanksgiving meal.

Not into caramelized sprouts? Try any of the recipes below.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta & Balsamic Vinegar (Ina Garten)
Fried Brussels Sprouts with Smoky Honey Aioli (How Sweet It Is)
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Walnuts & Pecorino (Epicurious)

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thanksgiving 2015: a survival guide.

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Guys! It’s almost Thanksgiving! My very favorite holiday. Let’s be honest, any holiday that is 100% focused on food is my favorite kind of holiday. Oh yes, and seeing my family and being thankful and all that jazz. But mostly the food. Here’s what’s on tap for my family this year:MONDAYS

Thanksgiving has always been an enjoyable, well-orchestrated event in the Radeke household, so I never quite identify when people tell me their horror stories of Thanksgiving prep gone wrong. Now, if you wait until the day of (or even the day before) to start your planning, then I understand your strife. The key to a successful Thanksgiving meal is all about planning and time management…and a few helpful tips from your friendly neighborhood Plumber’s Daughter.

So break out your spreadsheets and your stopwatches and follow the plan below for an efficient, mostly stress-free journey to Thanksgiving success.

ALSO, check back each day this week for my favorite Thanksgiving recipes — from the easy peasy to the not so. Deliciousness awaits.

You ready? OK, let’s do this!

LIST DAY — MONDAY

NOTE: this list planning is intended for everything EXCEPT the turkey. You should already have your turkey for several reasons (if you don’t, go get it! Now!):

  1. You’ve pre-ordered a fresh, heritage bird (my preference) which usually requires at least a few weeks’ notice.
  2. You’ve purchased a frozen bird (sometimes a necessary evil), which means you need a few days to thaw it before cooking. If you haven’t already, take the turkey out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator to start the thawing process.
  3. If you believe in brine, it usually takes a few days to properly brine your turkey, so get to brinin’ before making the rest of your list.

With that aside, welcome to the official start of your Thanksgiving planning! You’re going to be great, I promise. Today is all about gathering your thoughts and organizing a list of everything you’ll need for the big day. Doing this a few days ahead of time is key — not only will you feel better prepared for everything that’s about to happen, you’ll also be able to evaluate what you already have on hand vs. what you need to pick up at the market. It might take a bit of extra time, but it’s well worth the effort.

First things first, get all of your recipes together and read them carefully. You want to look for common ingredients across different recipes so you can factor that into your shopping list. That way you can get everything you need in one go rather than realizing only after you get home that you needed twice as many potatoes than what you actually bought.

If you want to go really crazy (and I highly recommend you do), write out your list on a spreadsheet or large piece of paper using the following categories:

Meats
Fruits & Vegetables (includes Fresh Herbs)
Dairy Products
Condiments, Oil & Vinegar
Canned Goods
Dry Spices
Other

Now that you have your categories, go through each recipe and record what you need by adding the appropriate amount to the correct category. Once you have everything down, go through the list and consolidate where necessary if you have common ingredients across multiple recipes. Remember to check your fridge and pantry to ensure you don’t already have certain ingredients on hand — if you do, cross it off the list.

QUICK TIP: when putting together your list, don’t forget prep and storage materials! It pays to pick up a few different sizes of sealable plastic bags for prep work as well as plastic containers, tin foil and plastic wrap for taking care of leftovers.

Once you have the list ready, you’re good to go for the next step in pulling off a legendary Thanksgiving meal!

SHOP DAY — TUESDAY

Today will take place mostly outside of the house, as your main focus on shop day should be to knock out everything on the list you created yesterday and/or this morning. Since you already have your list organized in categories of ingredients and the appropriate amount, your shopping trip should be an efficient experience. Depending on the shopping resources available to you, you may be able to snag everything in one stop; however, I would urge you to strive for quality of ingredients over convenience of shopping method. So if that means you need to make a few extra stops to get the good stuff, then do it! This is your only task today so really make the most of it.

Once you’ve got your goods, head on home and organize. Your dry goods can stay out on the counter if you have the space (and you may want to organize them by recipe), and your fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy should all go in the fridge. If you run out of room in your primary refrigerator, prioritize the refrigerator space for the meats and dairy products, then take advantage of a cooler for overflow fruits and vegetables (you could even leverage a cold garage or outdoor space as long as it’s cold enough, but not too cold, and you have a place to store things out of the way).

PREP DAY — WEDNESDAY

OK, you’ve made it to prep day. What can I say about prep day? It’s where all the heavy lifting happens. It’s going to be a little rough, so get started with a hearty breakfast and some strong coffee. You’re going to want to get as much done as you can today, so by tomorrow all you need to manage is the oven schedule, setting the table and any last minute stovetop cooking.

Things to do on prep day:

  • Clean and prep all vegetables (use your sealable plastic bags to store prepped veggies in appropriate measurements)
  • Make the cranberry sauce
  • Make the mashed potatoes
  • Make and pre-bake your pie dough
  • Bake the pie(s)

That seems like a lot, no? It is. But. I promise by taking care of the above list a day ahead of time, it will make the actual day measurably less stressful. Then you can focus your time on your sparkling charm and top notch hosting skills. You know you have it in you.

THE MAIN EVENT — THURSDAY

You made it! The big day. And today is all about time management. Here’s what’s on tap for the day, in chronological order:

  • Roast the turkey (you’ll need about 13-15 minutes per pound, about 2 1/2 – 3 hours for a 12-14 pound bird)
  • Set the table (and prep the sideboard if you’re planning to serve the food away from the table)
  • Get your serving dishes and utensils out and ready
  • Bake the stuffing
  • Shower, primp and put on your Thanksgiving finest
  • Open the wine! (crucial step)
  • Set out the appetizers (only a few, you’ve got a lot of eating ahead of you — I’m a fan of a few cheeses, meats and crackers and a selection of olives, but that’s it)
  • Reheat the mashed potatoes
  • Cook the stovetop vegetable sides
  • Dish the sides and set them out on the table or sideboard
  • Carve the turkey
  • Sit, give thanks and get to eatin’!

Having a plan is the best way to ensure that things go your way on the big day and to allow you time to actually spend with your family, which isn’t that the point? (If you want an actual timetable for Turkey Day, here’s a great one from the folks over at The Kitchn.) You’ll be prepped, polished and the furthest thing from frazzled, and your fussy aunt and her snarky daughter will wonder, ‘how did they do it?’. You’ll be a Thanksgiving champion, and what a well-deserved title.

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sunday dinner: pork ragu with parmesan semolina gnocchi.

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Oooooooh boy. Guys, I am tired. A full day (and I mean FULL) in the kitchen will do that to you, but I am hear to say that the effort was totally worth it. Any day that starts with purchasing a bone-in pork shoulder from my friendly neighborhood butcher and ends with a flavor-packed bowl of pork ragu topped with pillowy light gnocchi laced with parmesan is a good one. HOO-RAH. Two times.

You too can have this kind of fun if you’re willing to dedicate a full day (or two) to this laborious process. Truth be told I’ve been wanting to try a Sunday sauce for a long time now, but I never had the time or the willpower to take on the task. Enter a rainy Sunday morning when I happened to be awake on the north side of 9am (I like to sleep, no judgement). And I was just inspired. Pair that with finding the perfect recipe to try and I was off to the market, canvas totes in tow.

The quality of ingredients is key here — splurge a bit for some really great quality pork and DO NOT go for boneless pork shoulder because ‘it’s easier’ or ‘bones, ewww, gross’. You’ll lose out on major flavor and that is a no no where ragu is concerned. Grab the veggies (local, organic pretty please) and a good bottle of dry red (I used Cab) and get to cookin’.

I can guarantee you’ll feel mighty accomplished when you sit down to enjoy your labor of love in 8-ish (OK, maybe 10-ish) hours time.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pork Ragu with Parmesan Semolina Gnocchi
Serves: 6
(inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn)

For the pork ragu:
canola oil
4 lb. bone-in pork shoulder, trimmed of fat
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finally chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice (I like San Marzano)
1 cup chicken stock
pinch of red pepper flakes
pinch of sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced

For the gnocchi:
4 cups whole milk
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup grated parmesan, divided
3 eggs yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sea salt

Kitchen equipment: large oven-safe pot or dutch oven, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, baking sheet, wooden spoon or spatula, cutting board, large kitchen knife

OK, I was not lying/exaggerating, this recipe really does take ALL DAY. Like so much of your day that it’s actually better to do this over two days. However you choose to get it done, just know that you will be spending some major time in the kitchen, so cancel the rest of your weekend plans. Okie dokie, we’re good to go now, yes?

Make the gnocchi dough. Were you looking for a little arm workout for your Sunday? Well, you’ve got one. Making this gnocchi dough requires constant stirring for what feels like 4 lifetimes, so you’ll come away with a gorgeous dish and some sweet guns. Bonus points all around.

Grab your sauce pan and heat the milk over medium heat until a ring of bubbles forms around the edges. Using your wooden spoon, gradually stir the semolina flour into the milk and set a timer for 15 minutes. Now, stir. And stir and stir and stir and stir. The mixture will thicken quickly and you will keep stirring. Don’t forget to clear the corners and the sides of the pan every once in awhile to prevent the semolina from burning. Keep stirring constantly until your alarm goes off, then stir for 2-3 minutes longer. The dough should be dense and very thick. Remove from the heat and pour the dough into a large bowl. Mix in 2/3 cup of the parmesan and stir to incorporate. Add the eggs and the salt and stir vigorously to incorporate (and to prevent the eggs from scrambling). Let cool slightly, then place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dough. Stick the dough in the refrigerator and cool completely. Alternatively, you can make this the night before and refrigerate overnight to save time on sauce day.

Prep the pork. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place your pork shoulder on a large cutting board and trim off the excess skin and fat. Pat the pork dry and season liberally on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat your large pot over high heat and add a few tablespoons of canola oil. When the oil is hot, add the pork shoulder to the pot and sear on all sides until golden brown. Remove the pork from the pot and set aside.

Build the sauce. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the chopped bacon to the pot you used to cook the pork. Render the bacon for about five minutes, then add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and cook another minute or so.

Toss in the tablespoon of tomato paste and stir the mixture constantly to incorporate, about two minutes. Pour in the wine and cider vinegar and turn the heat up a bit. The goal is to reduce the sauce slightly and pick up all those gorgeous brown bits on the bottom. Add the tomatoes and all of their juice and season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook the pork. Add the pork shoulder back to the pot, and using your tongs, situate the pork so it’s nearly submerged in the sauce. Add a liberal pinch of red pepper flakes and a big ol’ pinch of sugar plus a bit more salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate.

Bring the pork and sauce to a boil, then cover and transfer to the oven. Cook about three hours, turning the pork once, until the meat is falling off the bone and easily shreddable.

Finish the sauce. Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the pork shoulder from the pot to your cutting board. Shred the pork while still hot using two forks. Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and stir to incorporate. Cover and place in the refrigerator to cool. You don’t want to skip this step, as this allows the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken.

Cook the gnocchi. When the sauce is completely cooled and you’re ready to eat, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take the gnocchi dough from the refrigerator and grab your baking sheet. Grease the sheet with a little canola oil and a paper towel, then using a spoon, form tablespoon-sized dumplings and place them on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.

Sprinkle a little parmesan on each dumpling, then place in the oven on the top rack and cook for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is nicely browned.

Bring it all together. Take the cooled pork ragu out of the refrigerator and reheat over medium-low heat until warm. Ladle the sauce into bowls and top with the gnocchi, a little sprinkle of parmesan and some freshly chopped basil.

Enjoy your work with a nice glass of bold red and a group of loved ones. Or with a bold red and your couch and some trashy reality TV. Also for lunch tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. You get the idea.

This is blow-your-mind good food and well worth the effort. Hearty and rich and filling and everything a good Sunday sauce should be.

Enjoy! xx

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sunday dinner: fall vegetable noodle casserole.

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Let me talk to you about how dinner used to come together in the Radeke household when I was a child. It was always quite the production, an all hands on deck situation. There were no fewer than three different cookbooks strewn about, and my dad would bounce back and forth between them excitedly, finding inspiration from every page. We were never a ‘follow the recipe to a tee’ kind of family, and often times what ended up on the table started as three (or four…or five…) different recipes. I mean, where’s the fun in playing by the rules, am I right?

Now that I’m all grown up and cooking for myself these days, I still find that I resort to my father’s technique of cobbling together different recipes to create one super recipe, and I’m usually the better for it (listen, I’m not batting 1000 here, there are definitely times this has not worked in my favor, but for the most part it ends well).

Take this fall vegetable noodle casserole for instance. This started as three recipes — one for broccoli noodle casserole, one for butternut squash mac and cheese, and one for a fall vegetable torte. I took bits and pieces from each one and smooshed ‘em together (technical term) to create the recipe below. This does take a little more than basic kitchen knowledge to pull off since you need to know what does and doesn’t go with what, and be able to adjust cooking times to ensure everything fits together nicely, but if you practice a few times, it’s not difficult to master.

It makes for a little fun, creative time in the kitchen and you’re left with a delicious, homey result that perfectly captures the flavors of Fall.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Fall Vegetable Noodle Casserole
Serves: 6

For the vegetables and pasta:
8 ounces curly pasta (fusilli, gemelli or rotini are all great options)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small bunch lacinato kale, de-stemmed and chopped

For the béchamel:
¾ cup milk
1 ½ cups reserved pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon flour
¼ teaspoon dried mustard
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest from 1 lemon
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup pecorino, shredded
juice from 1 lemon
drizzle of olive oil

Kitchen equipment: medium pot, baking or pie dish

First things first, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Cook the butternut squash and the pasta. Heat a medium pot of salted water on high until boiling. Add the butternut squash and cook for 7-9 minutes, until squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, but do not toss the water. Let the water come to a boil again and then add the pasta and cook for approximately 10-12 minutes, until pasta is al dente (you want it a little underdone since it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.

Make the béchamel. In the same pot you used to cook the squash and pasta, heat two teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-4 minutes until the fennel is soft and fragrant. Next, add the flour, spices (mustard, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes) and olive oil. Stirring often, cooking for another 2-4 minutes until the flour is golden brown and the spices are toasted. Add the milk and the reserved pasta cooking water and let the sauce thicken, stirring occasionally another 2-4 minutes. Add the lemon zest and fontina, stirring until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is nice and thick, then season with salt and pepper. Finally, add the broccoli, butternut squash and kale and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.

Prep the breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl, combine the panko and the pecorino, tossing to incorporate. Add in the lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil and stir to evenly moisten.

Put it all together. Grab your baking dish and pour the pasta mixture into the dish, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and cook for approximately 12 minutes on the center rack of your oven. When the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Serve warm with a nice crisp glass of sauvignon blanc (or whatever wine suits your fancy) and relish in the cozy, warm flavors. It may have started as three different recipes, but it comes together as one perfect meal.

Enjoy! xx

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sunday dinner: chicken tortilla stew.

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It is officially one pot season, y’all. OK, I know that’s not an actual season, but it is a favorite time of year over here at Casa Radeke. I don’t know about other parts of the country, but the Northeast has gone full Fall practically overnight, and now all I want to eat are cozy things — soups and stews, casseroles, mac and cheese — basically anything warm and hearty.

Stew probably tops that list as my favorite one pot meal, not only because stews pack a wallop of flavor, but also because I love the cooking process. Having something bubbling away on the stove for hours just adds to the romance of the season, not to mention it makes my house smell insanely good.

This chicken tortilla stews checks all the right seasonal boxes — it’s an easy one pot meal, it’s hearty as all get out, and it packs a variety of delicious flavor, a mix of spice and earthiness and tang that just makes me happy when I eat it.

For my veggie-friendly readers, this is easily translated into a vegetarian meal — just nix the chicken and chorizo and switch out the chicken broth for some vegetable stock. You could also sub the chicken for some mushrooms and/or zucchini if you want to maintain the heartiness of the dish.

No matter how you make it, this one’s a keeper and should carry you through Fall as cozy as your favorite flannel.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Chicken Tortilla Stew
Serves: 6

You will need:
1 pound chicken breasts
3/4 pound chorizo sausage, broken into bite size pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 medium onion, chopped
8 small red potatoes, diced
1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes
1 15-oz can black beans, drained
1 15-oz can kernel corn, drained
2 chipotle chiles, diced
1 quart chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For garnish:
1 sack corn tortilla chips
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 avocado, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
2 limes, cut into wedges
corn tortillas, warmed

Kitchen equipment: large soup pot, small saucepan

Poach the chicken. You could just sauté your chicken as you cook the stew, but I prefer to poach it first since poaching the chicken allows you to get that shredded chicken yumminess that takes this stew to another level. And it only adds about 15 minutes to your overall prep time.

To poach the chicken, place the chicken breasts in a small saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Add two of the smashed garlic cloves and a bay leaf if you have it. Add just enough water to the pan to cover the chicken, then set on high heat on the stove and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 8 minutes. At the 8-minute mark, check to see if the chicken is cooked all the way through; if so, pull ‘em out, if not, cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Once the chicken is fully cooked, shred with two forks and set aside.

Start the stew. Preheat your large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot, add the poached chicken. Lightly brown chicken for about two minutes, then add the other three garlic cloves and the chorizo. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes, breaking up the chorizo as it cooks.

Add the veggies. Add the onions and potatoes to the chicken-chorizo mixture and cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, then stir in the tomatoes, beans, corn and chipotle chiles. Add the chicken stock and bring the stew to a boil.

Reduce and simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. The stew is ready when the potatoes are soft and the broth has a nice spicy tang to it.

Garnish and serve. Here’s where the fun begins. I like to set up a toppings bar with the chips, shredded cheese, avocado, cilantro and lime wedges, and let everyone go wild with the garnishing. If I’m doing it, I would ladle the stew into a shallow bowl, then top with a generous handful of crushed tortillas, a bit of shredded cheese, then a sprinkling of cilantro and the chopped avocado. Top with a squeeze of lime over the stew as a final garnish. Serve with warmed tortillas on the side to sop up the goodness.

This stew will warm you to your core and you’ll be impressed with how much flavor comes out of something that took less than an hour to make. The other great thing about this recipe is it makes A LOT of stew, so you’ll have plenty of leftovers to feed on over the next few days (or months, it also freezes incredibly well). Cozy to the max, all from one little pot. Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: pan-seared steak & farmers market salad.

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It’s September, guys. SEPTEMBER (where does the time go?!). And the whole world is all pumpkin spice lattés and knee-high boots over jeans and apple picking and pumpkin patches, but you know what? IT’S STILL SUMMER. It is. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fall like WHOA, but I’m going to make the most of every last golden hour of this gorgeous season. I’m going to shout it from the rooftops like a crazy person because it’s still 80 degrees and I wanna go to the beach not the corn maze. We’ll leave sweater weather for next week.

This week is all about good meat and great veggies. The true stars of summer. Let me talk to you about what your Sunday should look like.

First, make friends with your butcher. Get him to cut you a good piece of meat. A nice NY strip or a ribeye. One that’s not too thick, not too marbled, one that’s juuuuuuust right. He’ll know which one. Your butcher will not lead you astray.

Next, the farmers markets in the Northeast are still positively bursting with amazing vegetables these days, so go hang out in one for awhile. Pick up some of those insanely delicious tomatoes, a few of the greenest beans, and a variety of fresh herbs. Grab some beets if they have ‘em, otherwise make a quick trip to the grocery store to fill out your menu.

This is simple, good food, people. It doesn’t need much, and it is the BEST. The best. Just like Summer.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pan-Seared Steak and Farmers’ Market Salad
Serves 2

You will need:

For the steak:
2 6-8oz steaks, strip steak or ribeye is best
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
1 small container cherry or grape tomatoes
4 small beets, trimmed of roots and stems
¼lb green beans
fresh feta cheese
a handful of each of the following: basil, mint, flat leaf parsley
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen equipment: cast iron pan, tin foil, baking sheet, tongs

This is the kind of dinner that produces gourmet taste with minimal effort. Literally the hardest thing you will do is chop vegetables. Promise.

Before you start anything, remove your steak from the fridge and set on a plate with a few paper towels. The goal is to allow your steak to come to room temperature, and the paper towels will soak up any excess moisture. The dryer the steak, the better the sear.

Roast the beets. You need to take care of your beets first as they will need the longest amount of time to cook. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub your beets clean and place on top of a piece of tin foil. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Fold the foil over the beets to form a little packet, leaving a little breathing room for the steam that will be produced during the cooking process. When the oven is up to temperature, roast your beets for 45 minutes until they are soft and a vibrant purple. When your beets have about 10 minutes left on their cooking time, place the cast iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven (more on this later). When you hit the 45-minute mark, remove the beets from the oven, cool slightly, then rub off the skin with a paper towel. Cool completely, slice in 1/4 inch slices and set aside.

Prep the salad veggies. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil over high heat on the stove. Cut the ends off the beans and cut in half, then add the boiling water. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the hot water and place in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Chop the tomatoes and the fresh herbs and place in a large salad bowl, adding the beans and the sliced beets. Toss with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Just before serving add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a few good chunks of feta.

Cook the steak. Once the beets are out of the oven, turn the temperature up to 500 degrees, keeping the cast iron pan in the oven. When the oven reaches 500 degrees, remove the pan (VERY CAREFULLY) and place it on a burner on high heat. Let the pan continue to heat on the stove for another 5 minutes or so. This may seem extreme but the high heat in the pan is what is going to give you a good sear on your steak.

While your pan heats on the stove, drizzle your steak with a little olive oil and rub it into the meat. Generously season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper. Add your steak to the hot pan using your tongs and don’t move it for 30 seconds. You may want to turn on your kitchen fan as the steak is likely to smoke. After 30 seconds, flip the steak and cook another 30 seconds.

Next, carefully place your pan back in the hot oven and cook for two minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, flip the steak, and cook for another two minutes (these times will produce a medium rare steak; adjust accordingly for your preferred temperature). Remove from the oven and place the cooked steak on a plate tented in foil to rest for about 10 minutes. By letting the steak rest, you allow it to reabsorb its delicious juices, which will boost the flavor and prevent a dry steak.

Once your steak has had it’s little power nap, slice it thinly against the grain and serve with a little steak sauce on the side. I made this one, and it’s delicious, but no judgment if your “homemade” steak sauce is A-1. No one will ever know.

Enjoy the simplicity of this meal — one that makes great use of a good piece of meat and the glory that is a late Summer farmers market. And enjoy the season, my friends, savor every last moment of this sweet, sweet Summer.

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meatless monday: spiced veggie tostadas with lime crema & salsa fresca.

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Can we talk about the phrase ‘meat substitute’ for a minute? A strange topic for a holiday Monday, I know, but I’d like to discuss. And what I’d like to discuss is how much I don’t like this phrase or the concept it describes. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you.

First of all, I personally don’t think that a proper ‘substitute’ for meat exists. And that’s not to say that meat is better than any other protein option out there, or that you should only eat meat, but I don’t think you can sub in a vegetable protein with the same result. Meat — whether you’re talking about beef or pork or any variety of poultry — has a specific flavor and texture that I don’t think is easily replicated. Never in my life have I been ‘tricked’ by a meat substitute to think that it’s actually meat. ‘Oh my! Is this a vegetable patty or a juicy steak? I just can’t tell!’ No. That’s never happened.

Second, and here’s the real kicker for me — vegetables are AWESOME. Like, I really really love them. So why do we need to relegate them to second class status? Why do they need to be a substitute for anything? I think they’re pretty amazing all on their own, so let’s celebrate that by cooking them in the way they should be cooked (which is to say, simply, and with little fanfare) instead of wasting our time inventing things like tofurkey (blech). OK, off my soapbox.

This recipe does exactly that — it celebrates vegetables the way they should be, with flavors that are layered and rich and full of umami. It’s a veggie party on a corn tortilla platter.

No meat necessary.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Spiced Veggie Tostadas with Lime Crema & Salsa Fresca (adapted from Blue Apron)
Serves 2

You will need:

Tostadas
1 medium eggplant
1 sweet bell pepper or 4-5 small sweet peppers
2 ears sweet corn
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 can refried beans (either pinto or black beans will do)
1 can diced jalapeños
4 corn tortillas
Mexican or cajun seasoning (or make your own with 1/2 teaspoon each of oregano, chile powder, cumin and garlic powder)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Lime Crema
1/4 cup sour cream (or Mexican crema if you can find it)
Juice of 1/4 lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salsa Fresca
1 medium tomato
1 avocado
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 lime
Handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

Kitchen equipment: baking sheet, large saute pan, various sizes of mixing bowls

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees for your tortillas.

Prep your vegetables: While the oven is coming up to temperature, prep your veggies. First wash and slice your eggplant into 1/4 inch slices, discarding the ends. Cut off the stem ends of your peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. Slice the peppers into thin strips. Shuck the corn, removing any stray silk, then cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Pit the avocado and chop roughly; place it in a bowl with the juice of 1 lime wedge. Core and rough chop the tomato and add it to the avocado. Thinly slice one half of the onion and finely chop the other and place the chopped half in a small bowl with the juice of 1/2 lime. Set aside. Wash and pat dry the cilantro, then rough chop until you have about a handful.

Whew! Anyone need a break?

I know, lots of prep work, but it will all be worth it in the end, I promise.

Bake the tortillas: Next, take your tortillas and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a little more oil on each tortilla, then flip them back and forth until both sides are thoroughly coated in oil. Bake for 6-8 minutes, then flip and back another 2 minutes, until tortillas are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and immediately season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the lime crema: mix the sour cream with the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the salsa fresca: Add the onion-lime mixture to the tomato-avocado mixture and toss to incorporate. Add the chopped cilantro, a little drizzle of olive oil, and another shake of salt and pepper. Mix it up and set aside.

Make the beans: Mix together the refried beans and the jalapeños in a small, microwave-safe bowl, then microwave on high for two minutes. Stir and set aside.

Cook the veggies: Combine the eggplant slices with a drizzle of olive oil, the mexican/cajun seasoning and a grind of salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Heat two teaspoons olive oil in your saute pan over medium-high heat, then add the seasoned eggplant in a single layer. Allow the eggplant to brown without touching them much, flipping after about 4 minutes. Brown the other side for another 3ish minutes, then remove from the pan and place on a plate with a paper towel.

In the same pan you used to cook your eggplant (don’t wipe it out, that leftover spice will be great on your veggies), add a touch more oil, then add the peppers and corn. Saute until the veggies are slightly soft and charred, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the plate with the eggplant.

Bring it all together: The finish line is in sight, folks! Hang in there for the delicious.

Take your baked tortillas, placing two on each plate. Spread a thin layer of beans on each tortilla, then top with a few slices of eggplant. Add a spoonful or two of the pepper-corn mixture, then drizzle with a little lime crema. Finish with a large spoonful of salsa fresca and a few extra leaves of cilantro. Serve with extra beans and veggies on the side.

I highly recommend a Mexican beer as the perfect pairing to this meal; the crisp bubbles of the beer bring out the rich spices of the veggies. These babies are far from a ‘meat substitute’, they are first class delicious.

Carnivores and herbivores unite! This one’s a keeper.