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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Persian Herbed Rice and Fish (Sabzi Polo Mahi)

I found out last Tuesday was Persian New Year from a client at work. She knows I love food, so she was describing to me this traditional dish they eat for the celebration every year. It sounded so delicious, I knew I had to try it.

Since I generally plan my menus out a week in advance, I am a week late to celebrate the Persian New Year, so I hope you will forgive me. This dish was really amazing, and was something I don't know that I would have put together on my own. I was apprehensive that the rice would cook completely, and then a little frightened it might over cook, but it came out perfectly. I cut down the portion size, because every version I found when researching this made enough to feed a crowd (which would make sense, as it is for a celebration). I also added a little more salt, for our palate it needed it.

Persian Herbed Rice and Fish(Sabzi Polo Mahi)
1 1/2 cups Basmati rice
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup chopped chives or scallions
3/4 cups coarsely chopped fresh dill
3/4 cups coursely chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2/3 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablesppons hot water
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 whole leeks, washed and sliced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 6 ounce filets white fish (tilapia or orange roughy will work)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Sliced lemon for garnish

Rinse rice thoroughly with water. Mix together the chives or scallions, dill, parsley and cilantro. Bring 4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil in large non stick pot. Add the rice, and boil for 10 minutes. Drain, and rinse thoroughly with warm water. Using the same pot, heat half the butter and half of the saffron mixture. Start with a layer of rice on the bottom of the pan, and then add a layer of the chopped herbs, a layer of leeks, and some garlic. Repeat the process three times, ending with herbs. Remember to salt each later as well. Top with remaining butter and saffron, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place a lid on the pot, and a towel over the top to prevent any steam from escaping. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, then reduce to a simmer for 50 minutes.

During the last 10 minutes of cooking, heat the butter and oil in a large saute pan. Generously salt and pepper your fish, and place in pan. Cook approximately 4 minutes per side, until lightly golden brown. Serve fish on top of rice, and garnish with lemon

Monday, March 26, 2012

Grilled Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes and Grape Tomatoes

It's grill season ! So, most everything we eat goes on the grill, unless it's raining, or we are eating salad.

It was Ray's birthday, so we splurged on a GIANT ribeye steak. One is enough for both of us to eat. Well, Ray could eat it on his own, he was kind enough to share it with me. I wanted to make something different for the side dish, rather than our usual potatoes or salad. We had a Minnesota Food Blogger get together earlier this week at Create Catering. I tasted a roasted vegetable salad that had cauliflower, squash, celery root and roasted tomatoes. They also had some house made lemon oil, fennel salt and feta cheese, and a sauce I never did find out what was in it.

So, this is my homage to that dish, and I definitely took some liberties with what I had on hand. I think the similarities end with the color palate, and the fact that they both contain cauliflower, but this was a really nice departure from our usual grilling fare. And I liked the cauliflower, which I don't normally. Score one for the grill!

Grilled Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes and Grape Tomatoes

1 head cauliflower, cut into small pieces
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pint grape tomatoes
Olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper

For the sauces:
Roasted red pepper sauce (or pureed roasted red peppers

1/2 sour cream mixed with 2 tablespoons horseradish

Feta cheese crumbles, for garnish
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh chives for garnish

In a large bowl, drizzle cauliflower with olive oil, and salt and pepper liberally. Toss to coat, and lay on a large square of aliminum foil. Seal into a packet. Repeat this process with the sweet potatoes and grape tomatoes. Place on grill over high heat. Start the sweet potatoes first, then cauliflower about 10 minutes later, then tomatoes 10 minutes after that. Turn the packets frequently. Tomatoes will only take about 10 minutes total. Remove these to the top rack of your grill to keep warm while you grill your main dish.

Remove packets from grill and cut open. Place a tablespoon of each of the sauces on the plate, then top with vegetables. Sprinkle with feta cheese, drizzle with lemon juice and garnish with chives.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Venison Enchiladas

Every year we do a massive amount of canning with the bounty from our garden. The goal is to get enough of our favorite salsas, sauces and condiments to make it through the year. One of my favorites is the green enchilada sauce we make with the tomatillos. If you have never tried to grow them, they are really amazing to watch.

We usually buy two small plants from the greenhouse, and by the end of the summer, we will have two giant bushes. If we don't keep them contained, they will take over one entire corner of the garden! We had enough this year for 24 pints of enchilada sauce, so that means I can make this dish many times, and still share some with friends and family. If you aren't lucky enough to have homemade sauce, store bought will suffice, because this is one quick and easy dish for a weeknight dinner.

Venison Enchiladas
1 pound ground venison (hamburger will work also)
2 cups spicy salsa
6 tortillas (flour or corn, whichever you prefer)
2 cups green enchilada sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375. Spray olive oil on a square 9 by 9 inch pan. Brown venison in a large fry pan. Add salsa, and simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated.
Assemble by placing 3 tablespoons of filling in the middle of each tortilla, then roll, and place seam side down into pan.

When all tortillas are in the pan, pour the enchilada sauce over the top, then sprinkle the cheese over the enchiladas. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue to bake for 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with sour cream.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sauteed Tilapia with French Green Lentils

I searched high and low for these mysterious French green lentils. Many recipes called for them, because they stay more firm when cooking than regular lentils. I finally ended up buying them online, and paying more for them than I would normally pay for, well, dried beans. But, after using them in this recipe, it was worth the extra money. The texture and flavor they brought to this dish elevated it from an every day taste to a restaurant quality meal.

You could really use any kind of flaky white fish here. I used tilapia because it was what we had on hand, but cod, orange roughy, or even catfish would be fine.

Sauteed Tilapia with French Green Lentils
For the lentils:
1 cup French green lentils
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onions, diced finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Place lentils in a large saucepan, and cover with water 2 inches over the top of the beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer gently 15-25 minutes until lentils are tender. Drain over a bowl, and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. While the lentils are cooking, in a large non-stick saute pan, melt butter. Saute onions and garlic until tender, then add salt.
Return the lentils to the sauce pan along with the cooking liquid, then add onion and garlic and gently stir together. Let this simmer while you prepare your fish, stirring occasionally.

For the fish:
4 4-6 ounce tilapia filets
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon slices for garnish
Fresh Parsley for garnish
Using the same saute pan you used for the garlic and onions, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Liberally salt and pepper the fish. When the butter and olive oil is bubbly, add the fish to the pan, and cook until lightly browned, approximately 4 minutes per side. Serve on top of the lentils, and garnish with lemon and parsley.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Drunken Rabbit with Red Quinoa Risotto and Hominy Spinach Puree

Wow ! That's a mouthful ! And that kind of sounds like a stuffy, fancy dinner, but it was really more like comfort food, and so delicious after a busy day.

We had to do some work with the bee hive, so I wanted something I could throw in the crock pot in the morning, and come back and finish up later. This rabbit dish fits the bill. The rest I just created out of ingredients on hand, and wanting to make a colorful plate. Honestly, the meat almost became unnecessary, the side dishes were really the star of the meal for this Sunday dinner.

Drunken Rabbit with Red Quinoa Risotto and Hominy Spinach Puree
For the rabbit:
1 medium size rabbit, cleaned
1 large onion, cut in quarters
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1 bottle red wine (I used a sweet red wine)
Place the onions and garlic in the bottom of a slow cooker. Generously salt and pepper the rabbit and place on top of the garlic and onions. Place thyme sprigs on top of rabbit, and pour the bottle of wine over the top of it all. Add water to cover the rabbit, if necessary. Cook on low setting 5-6 hours until rabbit falls of the bone. Remove the rabbit from the cooker, remove meat from the bones, being careful for the very small bones. Put the rabbit meat in a small pan with some of the liquid and place on stove to simmer while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Hominy Spinach Puree
4 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can white hominy, drained except for 1/2 cup of liquid
2 cups fresh spinach, stems removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Saute garlic in the butter then add the hominy and liquid. Heat until bubbling, then add the spinach. Stir until spinach is cooked down, then puree with an immersion blender. Stir in salt and pepper.

Quinoa Risotto
3 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 scallions, chopped
1 cup red quinoa
1/2 cup braising liquid from rabbit
4 cups beef or pork stock
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Start the stock simmering in a small sauce pan. Saute garlic and onions in butter. Add quinoa, and stir until butter is complete absorbed. Add braising liquid, and reduce until liquid is gone. Add stock 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly, and reducing until completely absorbed with each addition. Quinoa is cooked when is starts to break apart into little curls. After all the stock is absorbed, stir in cheese.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Scratch Corned Beef and Scalloped Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is actually a traditional American Irish meal, it isn't something you see on a menu in Ireland. Nevertheless, my family has been eating it for years, but we always bought the beef already "corned". Since we have been brining turkey and pork for a couple of years, I figured beef couldn't be that much different. And, of course, it's not.

The main difference is that you let the beef soak in the brine for 5-7 days, so it really picks up a saltiness. This process also requires a significant amount of pickling spice, which can be expensive at the store. Since we already had most of the ingredients in the cabinet, I decided we could make out own. So, this really is "from scratch"!

Now, about the cabbage. I like it, but I know a lot of people don't. I wanted to do something different to appeal to the non-cabbage lovers, and this was a delicious change from just boiling it. Definitely keeping this on the regular rotation of recipes! Please enjoy my last installment of Irish Food Week!

Scratch Corned Beef and Scalloped Cabbage
A week ahead of time, you will want to start the brining process. You will need:
(brining process loosely based on a recipe from Michael Ruhlman)
2 1/2 cups kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons pickling spice*
1 5-7 pound beef brisket
1 1/2 gallons of water

In a pot large enough to hold the brisket and the water, combine the salt, sugar, garlic and pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, and simmer long enough that the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and let it come to room temperature. Refrigerate the brine until thoroughly chilled. Place brisket in the brine, and place a large plate on top to keep it submerged in the brine. Keep brisket in the brine for 5-7 days.

When you are ready to cook the brisket, remove it from the brine and rinse well. In the bottom of a large pot, place a large onion, quartered, 2 stalks of celery and 2 carrots, cut into large chunks. Place the corned beef on top of these, add 2 tablespoons of pickling spice and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer slowly for 3-4 hours, until meat is fork-tender. You can also do this in a crock pot. When you are ready to serve, remove corned beef from pot, place on cutting board and let it rest for 5-7 minutes before cutting.

For the pickling spice:

3 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 tablespoons mustard seeds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
3 tablespoons hot red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons allspice berries
1 1/2 tablespoon ground mace
3 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
3 to 4 bay leaves, crumbled
3 tablespoons whole cloves
1 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger.

Place peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a small saute pan. Heat and stir until fragrant, being careful not to scorch or burn them. Seeds may pop or crack while you are toasting them. Gently crack peppercorns and seeds in mortar and pestle or with the side of a knife on cutting board.

Toss together with other spices. Store in tightly sealed plastic or glass container.

Scalloped Cabbage
1 small head of cabbage
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons grated horseradish
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4 ounces Irish cheddar, grated

Preheat oven to 350. Start a large pot of water to boil. Remove core from the cabbage and chop into bite sized pieces. When water comes to a boil, add the cabbage, and stir frequently just until cabbage starts to become tender. Drain water from cabbage, and place cabbage on a towel. Give it a good squeeze to remove as much of the water as you can. In a large bowl, mix together the milk, horseradish, salt and pepper. Butter a 2 quart casserole dish, and layer one third of the cabbage in the bottom. Top with one third of the shredded cheese. Repeat until cabbage and cheese are used up, ending with the cheese. Pour the milk mixture over the entire dish. Bake, covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Perfect Irish Coffee

Listen up, all you pretend Irish pubs! Since when is an Irish Coffee just whiskey and coffee ? Where the heck did you ever come up with that idea ?

After I suggested that you should eat a stout brownie with some Irish Coffee, I realized some people don't know how good REAL Irish Coffee can be. It is NOT coffee with whiskey and spray whipped cream. It is NOT coffee with Bailey's Irish Cream, and it does not contain Creme de Menthe or anything like it. So, here for your enjoyment, the instructions for the perfect end to an Irish meal.

Perfect Irish Coffee

First, the brown sugar syrup:
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon warm water

Stir until sugar dissolves

Then you will need:
Boiling Water
4 ounces of strong, black coffee
2 ounces good Irish whiskey (I'm a Tullamore Dew gal myself)
Irish Coffee Glass

Fill your Irish coffee glass with boiling water, and let it sit for 2-3 minutes so the glass is nice and hot. Meanwhile, whisk the cream until it just starts to become thick, it should not be stiff like whipped cream. Pour the boiling water out of the glass and add a tablespoon of the brown sugar syrup (more if you like it sweeter). Add whiskey, then coffee, gently stir, and top with your thickened cream.

Irish Chicken-from Dutch Oven to the Grill

My original idea with Irish Food Week was to post this amazing one pot chicken dish I found in a cookbook I bought the first time I went to Ireland. Then, the weather changed in Minnesota. It has been so beautiful this week that all I could think about was grilling. When I arrived home this evening, I had to reinvent this dish so I could grill ! Here is the result!

A lot of Irish cooking is in one pot, which is handy for clean up. Just think of the grill as the pot for this dish, there was very little clean up here as well. I wanted to use all the same flavors in this dish, but also incorporate the spring grill flavor...Hello Spring!

Irish Chicken on the Grill
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 large leeks
4 Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup chicken stock
8 ounces goat cheese, divided
Fresh thyme
Fresh tarragon
Poultry seasoning
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil

For the sauce:
Heat up the chicken stock, half of the goat cheese, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon in a small saucepan, just until goat cheese is melted. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining goat cheese with 1 tablespoon each thyme and chopped tarragon, and save to the end of your preparation.

To prepare chicken:
Season liberally with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper, and set aside.

To prepare potatoes:

Dice into squares about 1/4 inch in size. Double layer a large square of aluminum foil, and put potatoes on it. Drizzle with olive oil. Remove thyme leaves from stems, and sprinkle over potatoes, add salt and pepper. Add another double layer of foil over the top and seal the edges.

To prepare the leeks:
Cut off the dark green tops, and slice the leeks vertically. Rinse with water to remove any dirt, and drizzle liberally with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Get a large square of aluminum foil ready for when you are grilling.

Fire up your grill, and let it get very hot. Place potato packet on the grate, and let them start to cook, turning frequently, about 40 minutes before you want to eat. 15 minutes in, place leeks on the grate. Let them char for 3 minutes on each side, them remove them to the piece of foil. Seal in the foil packet and place back on the grill, over indirect heat. Put chicken breasts on the grill and shut the cover. Grill chicken breasts approximately 8 minutes per side, until thoroughly cooked. Let these rest while you prepare your plate.

To plate:
Place the leeks on the plate, cut side up, and spread a liberal amount of the herbed goat cheese down the middle. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Beside this, make a small mound of the diced potatoes, and drizzle with the goat cheese sauce. Slice chicken diagonally, place over the potatoes and drizzle with more sauce. Serve with your favorite beverage.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Irish Veggie Pasta-Really !

You know I love this dish when I keep reminding you to try it. And since it's Irish Food week, here it is again.

The only thing truly Irish about this dish is that I first had it on a trip to Ireland. I thought my mother was insane for ordering pasta at an Irish restaurant, but it was obviously one of the most memorable dishes we had on our trip. I love the odd combination of vegetables they served, and the spicy tomato sauce. You could really put any kind of vegetables you liked in here, but the combination they had made it something truly special.

So enjoy with a nice Magner's Hard Cider! Slainte!

Irish Veggie Pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
2 cups beet greens (or any green) chopped
1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 quart chopped tomatoes (we used home canned)
1 can chick peas (about 1 1/2 cups), drained
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 pound fresh pasta, linguine or angel hair work best
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut in thin strips
Freshly grated parmesan

Start pasta water to boil and salt liberally. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil and saute garlic and onions until tender. Add red pepper and continue to saute until tender. Add beet greens, and green beans, and stir until all are tender. Add tomatoes, chick peas and spices and stir until heated through. Turn to simmer. Add pasta to boiling water and cook 2-3 minutes until al dente. Add pasta to the sauce pan, toss to combine and top with fresh basil and parmesan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish Stout Brownies

Next up is a repeat of a favorite. Since we had a brew date, I was a little short on time, and had to prep some pies for a bake off at work. So, back to a stand-by, and a good one, for another installment on Irish Food Week.

These brownies are totally decadent. And I wouldn't recommend using Guinness, strangely, good Irish girl that I am! When I have cooked with it, is tends to turn bitter. A nice oatmeal stout is a good choice here, or you I would even say Founders Breakfast Stout would be a good addition. Enjoy with a nice Irish Coffee !

Irish Stout Brownies
1 cup oatmeal or breakfast stout beer
16 ounces dark chocolate, divided (don't go more than 70% cocoa)
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
Fleur de Sel, for topping

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 inch square pan with nonstick. Bring the stout to a boil in a small pan, and reduce to 1/2 cup, then let cool to room temperature. Reserve 1/4 cup of the stout.

Place 12 ounces of the bittersweet chocolate in a bowl with 2 sticks of butter, cut into pieces. Place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. In the meantime, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl (I just used my stand mixer). Gradually add the chocolate mixture, then add 1/4 cup of the reduced stout. Stir in flour and 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake brownies 50-60 minutes until the surface begins to crack, and a tester comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before adding topping.

Put a medium bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and combine the remaining chocolate, butter and stout. Stir just until melted, and then quickly spread across the top of the brownies. Be very careful with the heat here, or the chocolate will sieze up. Top with a light sprinkling of Fleur de Sel. Let cool completely, then cut into squares with a warm, wet knife.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Soda Bread with Herbed Goat Cheese and Bacon Jam

We are celebrating all things Irish this week, so I am starting out with a re-post of my favorite soda bread recipe. Actually, it's the only soda bread recipe I use anymore, because it comes out perfectly anytime.

I wanted to make something different to top it with, because I am bringing it to my brewing date this afternoon, and introducing a new group of people. I have made bacon jam in the past, but it was fairly labor intensive. I saw a recipe online that required cooking it in a slow cooker, and I liked the ingredient list, but I didn't want to make it in the crockpot. So, I switched it up a bit, and changed a couple of ingredients.

We have a vegetarian in our group, so I also needed a topping for her. I thought the tangy goat cheese would be good with the sweet and smoky bacon jam. They are perfectly yummy together ! So, forgive the long post, there are three recipes here.

Bacon Jam
1 1/2 pounds smoky bacon, cut in one inch pieces
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3/4 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup (you can use maple also)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a large dutch oven, brown bacon, remove from pan, let drain on towel. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease, and saute the onions and garlic in the grease until soft. Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring frequently. Be careful not to scorch. If mixture becomes too thick, add a little water. When it is very syrupy, add bacon back to the pan, stir completely, and remove from heat. Use immersion blender to mix to a "jam-like" consistency. Put in a glass jar and refrigerate.

Herbed Goat Cheese
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped finely
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey

Mix all ingredients together with a fork, refrigerate overnight.

Irish Brown Soda Bread
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white, all purpose flour
14 ounces buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda

Preheat oven to 425. Lightly grease and flour a Dutch oven. In a large bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk gradually to form a sticky dough. Place on a floured surface and knead lightly (too much kneading will allow the gas to escape).

Shape into a round, flat loaf the size of your Dutch oven. Place in the pan, cut a cross in the top of the loaf (the Irish say this will let the "evil spirits" out of the bread). Bake for 30 minutes covered, then remove the cover and bake for 10-15 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is lightly browned. The bottom of the loaf will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done.

Remove from the oven, place a damp tea towel over the top of the loaf and cover until cool. Place in an air tight bag. This will only keep a few days, so eat it quickly, and share !

Friday, March 9, 2012

Irish Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Bacon

This is the start of Irish Food Week at our house, an annual event leading up to St. Patrick's Day !

There is a special place in my heart for Irish cheddar cheese, there is nothing like it. On my first trip to Ireland, one of the things I wanted to do was visit a typical grocery store (because I love grocery stores, anywhere, anytime). We were in Dingle, which is the music capital of Ireland, but there is not much else there. The only store was very small, but it had a tiny "deli", where you could buy freshly made sandwiches, cheeses, meats and bread. I chose the hard, Irish brown bread, some cheddar cheese and a piece of something that looked like canadian bacon. I bought a small jar of Coleman's mustard, and set about making myself a little sandwich. Then, I fell in love with Irish Cheddar...

I found it on sale at the store last week (no doubt in preparation for the upcoming holiday), so it seemed logical to include it in my first dish. Mac and cheese is always a good comfort food, and with the addition of the bacon, this was a nice meal to come home to on a slightly snowy spring day.

Irish Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Bacon
1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 cups elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
8 ounces Irish cheddar cheese, shredded
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of nutmeg

Start a pot of water to boil for macaroni. In a sauce pan, melt butter, then add flour to form a roux. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Simmer sauce until it starts to thicken, then add all but 1/2 cup of the Irish cheddar, reserve the remainder for topping. Stir until sauce is smooth. Stir in bacon. When water comes to a boil, add macaroni and cook 8-10 minutes until just al dente. Drain water, and stir macaroni into cheese sauce. Place entire mixture into a casserole dish, and top with remaining cheeses. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until cheese on top is golden. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Infamous "Dead Surfer on Acid"

When I bartended, people would often ask for a special shot. I made a LOT of shots back in the day, many I invented on the fly, and named them many, many silly things. Shots with naughty names were always the most popular.

This is not one I made up, but rather, one that was a specialty of a bar where I worked. It actually makes more than one serving, so we usually made it when a party came in, like a bunch of bachelorettes or a 21st birthday celebration. The secret of this drink, however, was to never tell anyone all of the ingredients involved. If you did, they would never taste it.

So, as you read this, put your prejudice aside, it is a very tasty shot. And, it is a perfect use for these very unusual skull shot glasses we received as a Christmas gift.

Dead Surfer on Acid
1 ounce Jagermeister
1 ounce Goldschlager
1 1/2 ounce Malibu
1 1/2 ounce Chambord
1 1/2 ounce pineapple juice
1 1/2 ounce cranberry juice

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into shotglasses and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tilapia Over Creamed Spinach

When we went to Chicago last year, we did the "foodie tour": we literally ate our way through Chicago. One of our stops was The Spice House, where we picked up some unusual spices for our kitchen here at home. One of my favorite purchases has to be the orange pepper. I had never seen it before, and it is such a simple idea. Where we would normally use lemon pepper, just use the orange!

Tilapia is one of those kinds of fish that doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own, so it will pick up seasoning nicely. It was a perfect way to highlight the orange pepper I love so much. And who doesn't love creamed spinach ? Well, maybe not everyone...but I do ! Spinach is my favorite vegetable, and making it this way always reminds me of my grandma, and cooking in her kitchen every Sunday afternoon.

Tilapia Over Creamed Spinach
For the fish:
4 tilapia filets (about 4 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 teaspoon orange pepper (or lemon pepper if you can't find the orange pepper)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. On a plate, mix together the bread crumbs, orange pepper and salt. Lightly bread the tilapia filets on both sides. Place in skillet, and fry for approximately 3 minutes, until golden brown, then turn over and cook another 2 minutes until golden. Remove to a plate with a paper towl to absorb any excess oil.

For the creamed spinach:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups fresh baby spinach, stems removed

In a saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour to form a roux. Stir until smooth, then whisk in the milk. Add the nutmet, salt and pepper, and simmer until sauce begins to thicken. Add spinach, and continue to cook 2-3 minutes just until spinach is tender. Remove from heat.

Place spinach on your place, and gently place a tilapia filet on top.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Blood Orange Sauce

Blood oranges are like the Holy Grail at the grocery store. They are so hard to find, that we tend to gorge ourselves on them when we do. And I hit the mother load this year, so I wanted to make something really fantastic with them. I love the combination of chocolate and orange together, and flourless chocolate cake is so easy and decadent, this seemed like the perfect combination.

I went a little sparingly with the sauce for presentation purposes, but you can load it on if you like, the cake can take the extra sauce ! And it's gluten free, for those who are allergic, or cautious.

Please take note of our little pug, Seamus, in the corner of the picture. Of course, he can't have chocolate cake, but he was very interested in the photographic experience...

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Blood Orange Sauce
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
5 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 275. Generously butter a 9 inch spring form pan. In a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, combine the chocolate and butter. Heat and stir regularly until melted. While chocolate is melting, combine egg yolks and all but 3 tablespoons of the sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine. When chocolate is completely melted, gradually add chocolate mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined.

With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks start to form. Then gradually add the sugar until stiffer peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, and smooth over the top. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until cracks begin to form on the top.

For the Blood Orange Sauce

6 blood oranges
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Juice the blood oranges, and place the juice and sugar in a small sauce pan. Simmer over low heat until the mixture has reduced to a thick syrup, then stir in the Grand Marnier.

To plate, decorate the plate with the syrup, place cake on top, and drizzle the top of the cake with the syrup.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Creamy Tomato Tortellini with Sausage

I was in the mood for tortellini, and my original idea was to make a soup, with italian sausage and tomatoes, maybe spinach. But as I was shopping for my ingredients, I created a different dish entirely. I was so pleased when it turned out exactly as I had envisioned.

This was so simple. I didn't need to pre-cook the tortellini, since they were fresh. I just let them soak up the delicious sauce from the tomatoes and the cream. You wouldn't even need to add the sausauge if you wanted to leave this as a vegetarian dish. If you used the dried, store bought tortellini, just make sure to boil them until al dente.

Creamy Tortellini with Sausage
1 pound fresh, cheese filled tortellini
1 pound spicy Italian sausage
5 large cloves garlic, minced
2 15 ounce cans chopped, fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly coat a 9 by 13 pan with olive oil. Spread the tortellini in the bottom of the pan. In a large skillet, brown the Italian sausage. Spread the sausage over the top of the tortellini. Add the garlic to the same skillet, and saute using the sausage fat until tender. Add the tomatoes and spices, and bring to a simmer. Spread the tomato mixture over the top of the sausage. Pour the cream over the entire pan, and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Food Porn Class ! At Kitchen in the Market

For anyone who has following my blog for any length of time, you will know that my recipes are solid, but the pictures ? Well, not so much. I admit it, most of the pictures that appear here are taken with my (not so smart) Smart Phone. I just am not good with anything creative except food. I do, in fact, have "craft-phobia".
But, I wanted my blog to look pretty ! Or at least more professional. So I signed up for a class at the Kitchen in the Market called "Food Porn". I wanted to take this class just for the name, but as it turns out, it is all about plating, and making the most of the presentation of your food, including photography.

Sunday's class was about "action shots" and then plating. I will do my best to describe these dishes, since I wasn't the chef in this case, but I wanted to show off some of my mad, new photography skills! Hopefully I can remember some of them for future photos on the blog.

We started the session with a lovely glass of white sangria, with apples, oranges, limes, kumquats and fresh thyme. It was served in a large, clear jug, which showed off the fruit.

When we arrived, the tables were set with glass cups of spiced almonds, and what appeared to be baba ganoush with pomegranates. It almost tasted like it had mustard added, but I think it was just the combination of garlic and I think perhaps horseradish that made it taste so delicious.
The challenge for the day was to watch the chefs preparing the food, take photographs and then plate the food ourselves.
The first dish was grilled vegetables with a romesco sauce. The romesco was the complicated part of this dish, it was roasted tomatoes, red peppers and garlic, blended with almonds and bread.
I wanted to show the beautiful job Thommi did of roasting the vegetables, so when I plated, I chose this long, narrow blue plate, and was very minimalist in my design.

The next dish was croquetas with manchego cheese and serrano ham. They were dipped in an egg wash, panko bread crumbs and deep fried.
What's not to love about cheese and ham ? Normally I am not a fan of fried foods, but this one was very delicate.
Our main dish was the show-stopper, paella. I was in serious lust with the giant paella pan, and I took lots of pictures of the process.
So many tasty ingredients in one dish, and then the challenge of finding an interesting way to present it ! I wanted to show off the seafood, so I mostly used the crispy rice and veggies as a support for those.
For dessert, we had miniature almond olive oil cakes drizzled a brown butter sauce.
I somehow expected these to be heavy because of the olive oil, but they were very delicate.
Of course, I had to add extra sauce to my plate, so I could drag the sweet cake through some extra frosting. Yummy!
All in all, it was a really great meal, and I am pleased with my photos. Looking forward to the next session!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In Love With S.O.S-from the Crystal VFW

I was sharing stories about junior high with friends one day, when I confessed an unpopular truth: I loved the SOS they served in the junior high cafeteria. I apparently was the only one in my group of friends, because when I mentioned this, the comments ranged from the very juvenile "Oh, gross!" to the "How could you, you are a gourmet?" I can't answer that, except to say I love comfort food of almost every kind. It is something I never make at home, but much like macaroni and cheese, when I see it on a menu, I want to eat it.

The Crystal VFW has a special the first Saturday of every month of SOS, eggs and hasbrowns for $5.45. You have your choice of the traditional "chipped beef" SOS (or creamed chipped beef on toast, if you want to be more politically correct), or hamburger. I always go with the traditional, and this massive breakfast does not disappoint. In fact, I would say the Crystal VFW is one of the best breakfast bargains in the Twin Cities. The eggs, no matter how you like them, are always perfectly cooked, and the hash browns are crispy with just the right amount of butter. My only complaint would be the lack of salt and pepper, but knowing that most of their crowd is 65 and over, they are trying to make sure to cater to the "low sodium" customers. I can salt my own eggs, under those circumstances.

But the SOS, oh my! The sauce is perfectly creamy and white. And they do not skimp on the meat. If you order a dish like this or, say, biscuits and gravy most places, you often need a microscope to find the meat. Not at the Crystal VFW! It is always more than I can eat, which is quite alright. I like to take some home and eat it for lunch, and savor the experience a little longer. I usually choose the marbled rye to go with my chipped beef SOS, it is, in my opinion, the perfect addition to this creamy masterpiece.

The service is a little slow some days, they usually only have 2 servers on for the entire place, so if it is busy, be prepared to wait. And, if you or your companion want to venture onto some of the other menu items, the omelets are also very generous portions, and perfectly cooked. Other weekends you may also find cinnamon roll french toast on the specials menu, or corned beef hash, all are excellent. The regulars will probably be upset that I have exposed their hidden secret, but this place is too good to be ignored any longer.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fire Roasted Tomato Pasta

When I participated in the Bloody Mary Battle a few weeks ago, Muir Glen was kind enough to donate some delicious fire roasted tomatoes to the cause. I had several cans left over, and I wanted to make sure and use them in a way that highlighted their texture and flavor.

The dish that came to mind is one I often prepare in the summer, when we have fresh tomatoes from the garden. I was a little apprehensive, as I had not tried this with canned tomatoes before, but the addition of the fire-roasted taste was perfect. And now I know can bring that fresh garden taste to the kitchen all winter long !

Fire Roasted Tomato Pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 15 ounce cans Muir Glen Fire Roasted Red and Yellow Tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly grated parmesan, for topping
Fresh basil, cut in strips, for topping
Any fresh pasta you have on hand

Start your pasta water to boil, salt generously. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over meduium heat. Add garlic and saute until soft, being careful not to burn it. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, and reduce to a simmer. Cook pasta according to package directions. Just before pasta is ready, add parsley and lemon juice to the tomato mixture, and remove from heat. Drain pasta and add to the tomatoes, and toss gently. Spoon into serving bowls and top generously with parmesan and basil.