Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Red Passion, Green Envy

Dear Jess,

Let me first say: this recipe has been on my list of 'to make' since the Flank Steak. This is the other dish that involved red meat. Six months later here it is, and I must say: it was well worth the wait.

Last Christmas my brother Bill got me The New Brooklyn Cookbook by Melissa Vaughan and Brendan Vaughan. It consists of 'recipes and stories from 31 restaurants that put Brooklyn on the culinary map. It is amazing! Normally I read cookbooks like novels anyways, but this one... Oh my. It's heaven to read. There are amazing pictures of all the restaurants as well as an article about the history and personality of each restaurant and it's owner(s). Following that, each restaurant provided 2-3 of their recipes (all with pictures.)

Now, as much as I love this book, I have not (until now) ventured to make anything from it. Why? Because these are no ordinary recipes. They are gourmet. They are fancy. They are high maintenance. Now, I love these types of recipes... but this summer has not given me enough time to attempt such a thing. Until now. The wedding is in the past tense and I am finding time to do things the long way. Welcome to my newest adventure:

Grilled Hanger Steak with Horseradish Whipped Potatoes, Creamed Spinach, and Sauce Bordelaise
Serves 6, The New Brooklyn Cookbook, Page 116-118

For the sauce bordelaise
2 tbsp canola oil
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 1/4 cup)
4 celery stalks, cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 Spanish onion, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups homemade or prepared veal stock, such as D'Artagnan Veal Demi-Glace (we used beef broth... it's all we could find)
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
Coarse salt

For the whipped potatoes
1 1/2 pounds russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp creme fraiche
2 tbsp prepared horseradish
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the creamed spinach
2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
1 pound spinach, coarse stems discarded, leaves washed and drained
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
Kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Six 10 to 12oz hanger steaks, trimmed of fat, sinew, and center connective tissue (we learned that you can only get these at a slaughter house. So we used Rib Eye Steaks instead)

1. To make the sauce bordelaise, heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, onion, ad garlic and saute until the vegetables are caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add the wine and reduce until almost all the liquid is evaporated, about 20 minutes. (We needed 30 minutes) Add the stock, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce is lightly syrupy and coats the back of a spoon, about 1 hour. (It never got syrupy for me. I think we needed at least 2 hours for this to happen. Next time I will make this in the afternoon to be sure.) Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pan, season to taste with salt, and set aside.

2. To make the potatoes, place them in a large pot and cover with cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
3. Combine the butter, cream and milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover, and keep warm.
4. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then immediately pass them through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Slowly add the warm milk mixture to the potatoes and stir to combine. Fold in the creme fraiche and horseradish and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

5. Meanwhile, make the spinach. Melt 1 tbsp of the butter in a large saute an over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the spinach, and saute, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Set the spinach in a colander to drain for 10 minutes.
6. Combine the milk and heavy cream in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cover and keep warm.
7. Melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the flour and cook over medium heat whisking constantly, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the warm milk mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt, cayenne, and nutmeg. Turn the heat to low and add the thoroughly drained spinach to the pot. Stir to combine well and cook until just heated through.

8. Prepare the grill for cooking or heat a ridged grill pan over medium-high heat until hot. Grill the hanger steaks on both sides, about 10 minutes total for medium-rare. Allow the steaks to rest for 5 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain into 1/2 inch thick slices.

9. Reheat the sauce bordelaise over low heat in a small, covered saucepan.

10. To serve, divide the potatoes among 4 plates. Top with creamed spinach and sliced steak. Drizzle with the sauce bordelaise.

I know. It looks like a lot. A LOT. However, the most important thing I learned from this one (which seems to be consistent throughout my life) is to take your time. Do one thing at a time. There was one moment when I got too many things going at once (to try to save time) and I burned my arm, burned the shallots and couldn't whisk what needed to be whisked constantly.

That being said, the end product was delicious. Even though our sauce didn't turn out (which I am told is an art to actually do... I will one day perfect it) the flavours and aromas were sublime. The potatoes in particular were a nice touch with the horseradish. To then be topped with some tasty (and a tiny bit spicy) spinach and a hunk of red meat... well... I will let you draw your own conclusions.

I look forward to trying more 'tricky' things from this book. It gives great opportunity for learning.

I love you,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A picnic in the park

Dear Sally,

Where has the month gone? I remember the beginning of June as if it were yesterday and here we are already near the end of August. Since we got back from the wedding both Jesse (yes Kim the other one) and I have been super busy.

As you know we each take turns planning a special date each month and it was my turn this time. We usually plan for the 14th of the month but because we were away for the weekend I opted for last night instead. With little time to prepare after work on Monday I quickly put together nibblies for a special picnic for two. We drove around the countryside of Newmarket looking for the perfect place to spread out our treats and found a little park in the middle of nowhere. I made a special veggie dip for us lactose-free folk, panchetta wrapped asparagus, homemade spicy pizza (for Jesse) and chocolate dipped fruit (also for Jesse). OH! AND I made deviled eggs with a spicy yolk mixture. Everything was delicious and as usual there was too much for just two people but MAN was is yummy.

I think cutting out wheat is one of the best things you can do for the GI system. I have been playing with alternatives as well and find that things can be very yummy without all the grains.

This letter is getting long but I just wanted to let you know that I am very excited for your Spanish lessons. I expect great things when you start your course and will hopefully be able to learn a thing or two from you.

Love Always,

(Adapted from 200 Best Lactose Free Recipes and Jamie's America)

Creamy Vegetable Dip
1 cup lactose free yogurt
1/4 mayonaise
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp dried tarragon

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 2 hours

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus
100g Panchetta

Wash and blanch asparagus for no more than 2 minutes. Wrap 2 spears with once piece of panchetta and place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes or until panchetta is crispy. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Homemade Flatbread Pizza

2 1/2 cups flour
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/3 cup warm water plus more if needed

1. Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
2. Make a well in the center and pour in the olive oil and warm water. Use a fork to combine all ingredients adding more water as needed. Mix until the dough just comes together and let set for about 30 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into 5 small balls and flatten out with your hands.
4. Place each flatbread on a baking sheet or directly on the rack and bake for approx. 7 minutes on each side.
5. Cover with desired topping and bake again for about 10 minutes.

I used pizza sauce, olives, jalapenos, panchetta and cheese on Jesse's pizza but you can use whatever you want.

Monday, August 15, 2011

For the Love of Spice and Veggies

Dear Jess,

What a weekend! It was so great to see you and Jesse again for Kristy's wedding. Everything from the decor, to the music to the people were beautiful.

As you know, during the week before the wedding I eliminated wheat from my diet. I highly recommend this to anyone, so long as they are careful to get fiber from elsewhere. I found my nose was clearer than ever before, and I never felt bloated that whole week. This is something I am considering doing for the next 30 Day (Hot Yoga) Challenge. It has also reaffirmed how much I depend on wheat in my regular diet, and therefore led me to think of ways to cut back in the future.

I made this meal for the first dinner of no wheat. It was flavourful and filling. Jason really enjoyed it. We made more than we needed and had some in our lunches the next day. Because of last minute things, we heavily adapted the recipe, but kept the key ingredients and spices. We used some frozen veggie mix, but next time it will be with fresh ones. I can't wait to make the full version!

An Easy Jambalaya Recipe
8 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Spanish onion, diced
2 large red bell peppers, diced
5 Chorizo, skinned and chopped
2 Jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp Cajun spices (heaping)
2 tsp chilli powder (heaping)
2 tbsp turmeric
mixed vegetables (we used a frozen mix of carrots, beans, corn etc)
2 zucchini, chopped
salt and peppers to taste

1. In a large sauce pan cook sausage with olive oil, garlic, onion and peppers. When sausage is cooked and veggies are tender, add zucchini and cook for a few minutes more.
2. Add spices and cook until zucchini is tender.
3. Add frozen veggies and Jalapeno peppers. Cook for 5-10 more minutes on medium-low.
4. Remove from heat and serve on a bed of baby spinach. Top with fresh ground salt and pepper (to taste)

This recipe fills the house with tremendous scents. Very welcoming after a long day of work. Also this week we made Chicken Thighs, and they turned out the best batch yet! What a great fall back recipe!

I hope your week goes well! You're in my prayers as you prepare for the upcoming school year and all your kindergarteners. Just remember... when in doubt, we can always do some art classes together!

So Much Love,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Elegant Veggies

Dearest Jess,

This weekend was awesome. I'm so glad we got to have some time together even if it was short lived. I'm sorry we were not able to make it to the show that night. We had already picked up all the dinner stuff, and after the bachelorette I really have no money left until next payday. I hope you had fun!

While cleaning with Rachel on Saturday we came across a table stacked full of magazines. Lucky for us, we decided to take our lunch break at that very moment. I flipped through a few without much success of anything interesting until I fell upon the July 2011 issue of Chatelaine. On the cover was food! I flipped into the back where all the recipes are (wrongly) kept (they should be in the front in my opinion) and found a jackpot of summer treats. It always warms my heart when a recipe (or recipes) find you when you least expect it.

After you and I parted ways on Saturday, Jason and I gathered some groceries and got to work on the Quinoa-Veggie Burger that you and I had oggled over in the Jeep on the front page of said magazine. As we suspected, the grocer did not have any quinoa (the Bulk Barn is on the other side of town) so we substituted couscous. It worked so much better than I ever thought it would. I was expecting it to turn into a scramble like my falafels. Much to our surprise they stayed together on the pan, and onto our plates. They even held pretty well once we started cutting into them! I love it when recipes actually turn out the way they promise.

This 'burger' is placed on top of grilled portebello mushroom caps. Our grocer didn't have  full caps, but they did have sliced caps. We used these instead and they were pretty and yummy. We topped with spinach, tzatziki, and tomato. Make these!

Quinoa-Veggie Burger (Serves 4)

adapted from Chatelaine July 2011, pg 164

1/2 cup uncooked quionoa (about 2 cups cooked) (we used couscous)
1 tsp vegetable oil (we used olive oil)
1/2 227g pkg cremini mushrooms, coarsely grated (we used baby bellos)
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini
3/4 cup coarsely grated carrot
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (we used 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper and some chili powder. We like heat!)

1. Cook quinoa (couscous) according to package directions. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Heat a large, wide non-stick frying pan over medium. Add oil, then mushrooms, zucchini, carrot, shallot and garlic. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add to quinoa (couscous.) Stir in egg, cornstarch, salt and cayenne (and any 'extras' you want to add)
3. Heat the same non-stick frying pan over medium. Fimly press quinoa mixture into a 1/2 cup measuring cup. Turn and release into a pan. Genty press to shape into a patty about 4 inches wide. Repeat for all patties. Cook until golden and warmed through, about 4 minutes per side.

1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced

Stir together

Grill or pan fry Portobello caps until tender.
Top mushroom caps with spinach and a patti. Top the patti with Tzatziki and a slice of tomato.

Eat with a knife and fork. Mmmmm. So tasty.

The wedding is this weekend. I can't wait to see you at the rehearsal.

I love you,

Monday, August 1, 2011

A French Evening

Dearest Jess,

Things have been busy. But things have been so good. We were able to relax at the cottage this passed weekend. Lots of swimming, canoeing, wake-skating, sunbathing, and eating happened.

I know I have been doing lots of burgers this summer (summer burgers, and spanish burgers), but I have another one for you. I love burgers in the summer. And really, with the heat we've been getting I much prefer a BBQ meal to something that involves firing up the oven and/or stove. Even the microwave seems a bit much.

This burger is very light and very delicious. The Mushrooms give off such an amazing aroma, and the onions add a strong flavour with some amazing colour. The Brie is a nice creamy touch, but this would also be incredible with Goat Cheese!

The Ooh-la-la Burger
Red Wine Caramelized Onions
1 tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp each kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
1 tbsp packed brown sugar

Sauteed Mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
8oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp each kosher salt and black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme

1 1/2 lbs medium ground beef
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each kosher salt and black pepper
4oz brie cheese, thinly sliced
8 slices French bread (not baguette) (we used stone mill bread)
Grainy Dijon mustard to taste
2 cups lightly packed washed and dried mache (lamb's lettuce) (we used spinach)

1. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes or until onion starts to soften. Add red wine and sugar. Bring to a boil, then bubble, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes or until wine has almost completely evaporated.
2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes or until onion is very soft and slightly sticky, reducing heat if onion starts to stick to saucepan. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
3. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and golden grown. Stir in garlic and thyme. Cook, stirring for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
4. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, shallot, tarragon, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, mixing gently but thoroughly. Form beef mixture into 4 even-sized patties about 3/4 inch thick. With the heel of your hand, make an indentation in centre of each patty (this helps burgers cook more evenly).
5. Cook patties on well-oiled Medium heat BBQ grill for 8-10 minutes, turning once.  Just before burgers are ready, top each burger with one-quarter of the brie cheese. Add bread slices to grill and toast on 1 side until golden.
6. Arrange 4 slices bread toasted-side down and spread with Dijon mustard. Top with mache (spinach), dividing evenly. Add a burger to each slice, along with caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms. Top with remaining bread slices.

We paired these burgers with a Cabernet Sauvignon. I really liked the concept of using a strong, grainy bread instead of a bun. It really added to the flavour and brought something new to the burger concept. 

I hope everything is going well! I'm excited for this weekend! It was awesome to see you on Friday and Saturday. I miss you like crazy.