Sunday, May 31, 2009

Anniversary Dinner: Steak Au Poivre and Risotto Cakes

I wanted to make something special for our anniversary, so I decided to make Steak Au Poivre. This was on the menu at the restaurant I used to work at and it was always delicious. It is essentially filet mignons (I used NY Strips) covered in fresh cracked black pepper served, seared and served with a delicious brandy cream sauce. I added a little fresh thyme to the sauce as well. I had leftover risotto from the night before that I needed to use up and thought making it into risotto cakes would be a good way to use it and it was! Leftover risotto is never as good the next day as when you make it fresh, but turning it into cakes makes it an entirely different dish altogether. *Warning: This sauce uses alcohol that you ignite, causing a flame. Please be careful and prepared.

Steak Au Poivre
4 tenderloin steaks, 6 to 8 ounces each and no more than 1 1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
a lot of cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/3 cup Brandy, plus 1 teaspoon
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 cup half and half

Remove the steaks from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour prior to cooking. Sprinkle all sides with salt. Spread a bunch of fresh cracked pepper onto a plate, at least 2 tablespoons. Press the fillets, on both sides, into the pepper until it coats the surface. Set aside.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. As soon as the butter and oil begin to turn golden and smoke, gently place the steaks in the pan. For medium-rare, cook for 4 minutes on each side. Once done, remove the steaks to a plate, tent with foil and set aside. Pour off the excess fat but do not wipe or scrape the pan clean.

Off of the heat, add 1/3 cup brandy to the pan and carefully ignite the alcohol with a long match or firestick. (Please be careful and also be prepared. This does create a flame, and it was bigger than I thought it would be. My actual fire alarm went off for a few seconds.) Gently shake the pan until the flames die.

Return the pan to medium heat and add the thyme leaves and the cream. Bring the mixture to a boil and whisk until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Add the teaspoon of brandy and season, to taste, with salt. Add the steaks back to the pan, spoon the sauce over, and serve.

Risotto Cakes
2 cups leftover risotto
Panko breadcrumbs
Olive oil

Form the risotto into 4 cakes (like a burger patty or crab cake). On a plate, lay out an even layer of breadcrumbs. Run the cakes through the breadcrumbs, coating both sides. In a nonstick skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Place the risotto cakes in the pan and cook on both sides until golden brown; just a few minutes. Any leftover risotto can be used. The cakes are great plain or topped with a tomato sauce, pesto, etc.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chicken Caprese with Risotto

This was a great dish that I created using some extra basil pesto that I had. I also love making risotto. I know risotto can seem intimidating, but it really isn't. You just have to keep an eye on it. And once you have it down you can add pretty much anything to it.

Chicken Caprese
4 chicken cutlets
tomato slices
shredded mozzarella or slices of fresh mozzarella
basil pesto, store-bought or see this recipe
salt and pepper
olive oil

Season the chicken cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook on both sides until the chicken is cooked through. Place a tomato slice on each cutlet, then the mozzarella. Cover the skillet with a lid or foil so the cheese can melt. In a small saucepan, heat the pesto over low heat. (You may want to add a little chicken broth to thin the pesto out just a bit.) Top each cutlet with a spoonful of pesto.

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small white onion or 1/2 a medium one, chopped
1 and 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc works well, too.)
grated parmesan cheese (a couple of small handfuls)
salt and black pepper to taste

Place the broth in a saucepan over low-medium high heat to warm.

In a deep skillet, melt the butter and oil together over medium to medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute for a few minutes, until translucent. Add the rice and saute for a couple more minutes. This toasts the rice and gives it a light golden color. Add the wine and let it cook out for 1 minute. Now add a couple of ladles of the broth. As the rice absorbs the liquid, add a couple more ladles of broth. Stir often and continue to add broth as the rice absorbs the liquid. Takes about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. What you'll end up with is a delicious, creamy and cheese rice dish. Serves 4. Yummy!

Tune into tomorrow to learn about a great way to use up leftover risotto.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Basil Pesto

Here is my recipe for basil pesto. So versatile you could top so many things with it: fish, chicken, sandwiches, pizzas, veggies, etc.

2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1 big garlic clove
1 cup basil, just eyeball it (I used a couple of those small packages you find in the produce section at Publix.)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
pinch of red pepper flakes for a little heat
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

In a skillet over medium heat toast the pine nuts until lightly golden. In a food processor, add the pine nuts and the remaining ingredients, except for the olive oil. Chop all the ingredients together. Now, while the food processor is running, stream in the olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. About 1/4 cup.

Grilled Veggie Panini and Roasted Potato Wedges

Here is another panini creation for you. This one is vegetarian, like so many of my others. I made a yummy basil pesto for this one, but you could also use a store-bought one. I like Butoni. I also used the leftover basil pesto for the dinner I made tonight. You got to love taking an element from one dinner and using it for a totally different dish the next night. I served these paninis with delicious roast potato wedges. They were nice and crispy. A great and healthier substitute for french fries.

Grilled Veggie Panini
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
1 zucchini, cut in half and then sliced to about an 1/8-1/4 inch thick
2 slices of red onion
1 tomato, sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 Tbsps basil pesto, store bought or see recipe
4 slices of hearty bread, ciabatta or Italian
olive oil

Add a little olive oil to a grill pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the red pepper slices, zucchini and red onion to the pan. Grill on both sides for a couple of minutes until the veggies are tender, but still have bite. Take 2 slices of the bread and drizzle olive oil on one side, flip over. Now we build the paninis starting with a couple of slices of mozzarella, the tomato, a tablespoon of pesto on each, red onion, red pepper, and zucchini. Top each with the other 2 slices of bread; drizzle with olive oil. Place on a preheated panini press until grilled and golden brown. Of course if you don't have a panini press just use a pan, weighing down the sandwich with another pan or something else heavy.

Roasted Potato Wedges
1 potato per person, I used big Yukon Gold potatoes, but baking potatoes work too
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Then cut each in half into 4 or 5 wedges. Toss the potato wedges with a little oil, thyme, salt and pepper. In an even layer, spread on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Then flip the wedges and bake for another 15 minutes. (Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the potato wedges.) The result should be crispy on the outside, but soft and cooked through on the inside. These are just as good as french fries!

*Note: When using fresh thyme you just want the leaves, not the stems. The easiest way to pull off the leaves is to hold the top of the sprig with one hand and with your thumb and index finger of your other hand, run down the sprig removing the leaves. Then mince the leaves.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pepper Crusted Salmon and Basmati Rice

I made Basmati rice for the first time last night and it was absolutely delicious. Most of the time when I make rice I like some kind of sauce with it, but this rice is so good on its own you don't need anything. It goes off a great fragrance, too. And this salmon recipe is one of my favorite. I make it often.

2 Tbsps. soy sauce (I like to use low sodium soy sauce)
1 large garlic clove, passed through a garlic press
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sugar
4 (8 ounce) salmon fillets, skin removed
lots of cracked black pepper
olive oil

Place the soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice, sugar and salmon in a sealable plastic bag. Toss the bag around, coating the salmon in the marinade. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes. Remove from the bag and pat dry with a paper towel. Heavily coat both sides of the salmon with fresh cracked pepper. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a couple turns of olive oil. Add the salmon and cook on both sides, about 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the fillets. I like my salmon a little moist, so I don't cook it well done, but if you like it well done, feel free to cook it a little bit longer. Serve with the Basmati rice.

For the rice, you want to follow the directions on the package, but essentially for four servings, you want to cook 1 cup of rice with 2 cups of water. Place the water in a sauce pan with salt and a tablespoon of butter. Bring to a boil. Add the rice and stir while boiling for 1 minute. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 18-20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vegetable Lasagna

I had my BF over for dinner tonight. She needed a little entertainment while her husband is out of town. I made us vegetable lasagna and served it with a little salad and homemade garlic bread. This is a great vegetarian meal, but hearty enough for all the meatlovers out there. Feel free to make changes to the lasagna and substitute with your favorite veggies. Eggplant would be great.

Italian Salad
1 sack of Italian salad mix
artichoke hearts
kalamata olives
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
grated parmesan cheese (however much you like, a teaspoon or two)

Combine the first three ingredients into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl (or if you have an awesome emulsifier like me) combine the last four ingredients and whisk well. Pour about half of the dressing on the salad and toss. Save the rest of the dressing for another night.

Vegetable Lasagna
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 zucchinis, sliced thin
1 (8-10 ounce) package of sliced mushrooms (I like to use baby bellas)
1 (15 ounce) container part skim milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
Salt and fresh ground pepper
2 (10 ounce) boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove excess moisture
6 cups store-bought or homemade tomato sauce (2 jars of store-bought sauce)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-medium high heat, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and let cook for 1 minute. Then add the mushrooms and zucchini to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Sautee until the vegetables are tender, but still have some bite, about 7 minutes, toss frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you prepare the rest.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese, egg and salt and pepper to taste. Add the spinach and stir well to combine.

Spread a small bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Arrange a layer of lasagna noodles (four sheets) on top, overlapping a bit is okay. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the mushroom/zucchini mixture, followed by 1/3 of the remaining sauce; sprinkle with 1/3 of the grated Fontina cheese. Repeat to make two more layers, ending with cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. This allows the lasagna to set, so when you cut into it all the sauce and juice doesn't pour out.

You may freeze this lasagna to use later. Just cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Before baking, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

Yield: 8 servings

Homemade Garlic Bread
1 loaf of fresh Italian bread from the bakery
4 cloves of garlic
handful of Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 a stick of butter, at room temperature

Place the butter in a bowl and allow to soften at room temperature. Add the garlic and parsley, mix well. Slice the bread in half lengthwise. Spread each half with the butter mixture. Place on a baking sheet, butter side up. When you take the lasagna out of the oven, put in the bread and bake for 10 minutes. (While the lasagna rests.)

Bon Apetito!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good 'Ole Meat and Potatoes

Last night I made filet mignons, mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. I know I am trying to cut back on red meat, however, my last jaunt to the Land and Sea Market led to my purchase of the Deal of the Week, which included two filets. Trust me, it would have been stupid to pass up on that offer.

Anyway, for the filets I seasoned both sides with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I cooked in a preheated grill pan over medium-high heat, for 6 minutes per side. If you don't have a grill pan or grill, you can use a skillet. You may need to adjust cooking time, depending on the thickness of the meat and how well you like it cooked. I like my steak medium-rare. Let rest for at least five minutes before serving.

For the mashed potatoes, I like to use Yukon Golds. Figure two potatoes per person. Wash and cut the potatoes in fours or sixes, depending on their size. Place in a small pot and cover with cold water. I like to add a couple of garlic cloves with the potatoes and season well with kosher salt. Bring the pot to a simmer and cook until fork tender. Drain the water from the pot. To mash, I just use a potato masher. Warm about 1/2 cup of skim milk in the microwave for 45 seconds. Add a little at a time to the potatoes and mash until it reaches desired consistency. Add a couple of pats of butter, parmesan cheese, a couple of spoonsfuls of sour cream and pepper to taste. Mix/mash well.

For the sauteed spinach, heat a couple of tablespoons in a skillet over medium heat. Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic and some capers. Sautee for a minute, then start adding the spinach a few handfuls at a time. Add more as the previous batch starts to wilt. (I use a sack of prewashed spinach.) The spinach wilts down quite a bit, so I use the entire bag. Squeeze a little lemon juice on top and season with salt and pepper. I also like to grate in a little fresh nutmeg, it helps take away some of the bitterness of the greens. Spinach is a great source of fiber and eating it this way is delicious.

New Kitchen Gadgets from Sur La Table

My husband and I were in Sarasota this past weekend for a friend's wedding. (Shout out to Brook.) We were hanging around downtown Sarasota looking for a place to have dinner. We turned a corner to park the car and saw a Sur La Table. It was totally meant to be. (Another cool find was the Whole Foods right across the street, also a very fun place.) For those of you who don't know what it is, Sur La Table is a kitchen retail store kind of like William Sonoma. I was very excited and we immediately went inside to check it out. They have everything you can imagine and we picked out a couple of fun kitchen gadgets to take home with us. Here is what we purchased:

4-set of silicone cutting boards
These are awesome. They are color coded for vegetables, fish, chicken and meat to prevent cross contamination. Plus, they are flexible and the bottom sticks to most surfaces, so they don't slide around while chopping and slicing.
Ceramic Scraper
This scraper is great for pots and pans when you are food caked onto them. It is even safe on nonstick surfaces. A major plus! A multi-mixer/emulsifier
This little gadget is great for making salad dressings and marinades. I used it tonight and it combines oil and vinegar really well.
Flexicado Avocado Slicer
You know I think avocado is the most perfect fruit/vegetable out there, so I was stoked about this little tool. I used this tonight and I have to say I wasn't all that impress. It's supposed to slice your avocado in one fell swoop, but mine didn't come out too pretty. Maybe I just need to practice more.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chicken and Penne Pasta with Spinach Sauce

I have had this recipe for awhile, but last night was the first time I made it. It was a creamy, garlicky bowl of deliciousness. I will definitely be making it again.

Salt and pepper
1 lb. chicken breasts, pounded thin or chicken cutlets
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 box of whole-wheat or multigrain penne pasta
3 cloves of garlic
3 ounces of goat cheese (I used the herbed kind)
6 ounces baby spinach leaves, divided
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove pan and let rest on a plate. Slice and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt well. Add the penne and cook about 12 minutes; until tender but still firm to the bite, stir occasionally. Drain reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid.

While the pasta cooks, mince the garlic in the food processor. Add the goat cheese, half the spinach, season with salt and pepper. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Place the remaining spinach leaves in a large bowl. Add the drained pasta, then spoon the cheese mixture over the pasta and toss to coat, adding enough of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten. (You probably won't need the whole cup, I used about half.)

Season the pasta to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 as a main course.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chicken Scarpariello with Lemon Orzo

Don't ask me how to pronounce this, all I know is that it is delicious. There is this great little, authentic Italian restaurant a mile down the road from my house called Gino's. It has been there forever and everything is made from scratch. I have enjoyed this dish there a few times. It is one of my favorites. This is not exactly the same, but it's still yummy. This is a little spicy, so if you can't do hot, omit the cherry peppers.

Chicken Scarpariello
4 chicken breasts, total of 1 and 1/4 pounds
Salt and Pepper
extra virgin olive oil (couple turns of the pan)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 hot cherry peppers, drained and chopped
Big green olives, about 1/2 cup, sliced in half
1/2 can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine (I like Pinot Grigio)
1/2 cup chicken broth
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped (also called Italian parsley)

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes per side or until no longer pink. Remove from the pan. Add the red and cherry peppers, olives, artichoke hearts and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes. Add wine and let reduce for 1 minute while scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken broth and bring to a bubble. Set the chicken back in the pan, add the parsley and let warm through for a couple of minutes. Serve over a bed of lemon orzo. See below.

Lemon Orzo
1/2 pound of orzo pasta, rice-shaped pasta, usually half a box
Kosher salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
Black pepper
The zest and juice of 2 small lemons, or 1 big lemon
handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a nice handful of Kosher salt. Add the orzo and cook for 8 minutes. Drain well and return to the pot. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with pepper and add the lemon zest, juice and parsley. Toss well. Divide among four plates, place a chicken breast on each plate and finish with scarpariello toppings and sauce.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Health Kick is Back On

After eating like total crap the past week, my husband and I are back on a healthy kick. I think my husband lived off of fried food last week while in Biloxi and I hardly had time to eat. I went to the grocery store after work today and stocked up on fruit and vegetables.

Tonight I made salmon that I seasoned with a McCormick no salt lemon and pepper seasoning. I then sauteed it in a pan with a little olive oil over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes per side.

My side salad consisted of a spinach/romaine combination, blue cheese crumbles, tomato, craisans and a little balsamic vinaigrette. Toasted pecans or walnuts would make a great addition.

For dessert I think I'll make a fruit smoothie. I have been really into these lately and have tried a few different combinations. My favorite so far is to take about 1 cup frozen strawberries, 1 banana, 3 spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt, a little skim milk - maybe 1/2 cup, and a teaspoon of honey. Place in a blender and let 'er rip until desired consistency. No need for ice since the strawberries are frozen. The honey adds a little sweetness without having to use sugar. Sooo good. Great for breakfast or dessert.

And trust me, this is healthier than running to a smoothie joint. A lot of those smoothies are actually very high in calories, sugar and sometimes fat. I'll let you know of any other promising combinations I develop, and if you have any favorites, please feel free to share in the comments section.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

M.I.A. No Longer

I know I have been a total slacker the past week or so. I have been working on a huge fundraising event at work that took place last night. I had been consumed with details and working late, so I haven't even been cooking. Plus, my husband was out of town part of last week, and honestly, when he is away I turn into a bachelor; no cooking or grocery shopping. I spent today recovering from last night and this entire past week. So, tomorrow I will go grocery shopping and be back to a somewhat normal schedule. And will get back to my healthier ways. So I apologize for being M.I.A.