In which the world of culinary hedonism is explored with a cup and a half of curiosity, a heaping tablespoon of passion and a dash of clumsiness.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fortieth Post (Yay!) ~ Rustic Beef Stew

This stew is very easy, and it fit the bill the other night when I wanted to throw something together that would cook itself while I worked. Here's what you'll need for this stew, which is good to have on hand during stormy winter weather!

~ One package stew beef
~ Carrots (about two handfuls)
~ 2-3 slices from small onion
~ Mushrooms (I used pre-washed criminis and thew them in whole)
~ 5 or so small red potatoes cut into wedges
~ 2 cups water with 5 beef boulion dissolved
~ A splash of red wine
~ Herbs (I used fresh thyme and tarragon. While I recommend the thyme, the tarragon gave the stew a distinctive "sausage" taste and aroma, since, come to find out, it's one of the key herbs used in sausage. So if you like that taste, go for it, if not, find a different herb!)

Here's the tough part - get your crock-pot out of storage and dust it off. Then dump everything in it, slap the lid on, put it on high, and stir every so often. It takes a few hours, but the resulting aroma and taste are worth it! Plus, prep doesn't get much easier than this!

I paired this stew with Sangre del Toro's tempranillo, since that's what I splashed into it to give it a nice balanced taste. It helped diffuse some of the stronger herb taste (ahem ) and its earthiness brought out the flavors in the beef. A good pairing, and a good stew for lunches and dinners to come!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thirty-ninth Post ~ Duck with Tempranillo Reduction

I realize that this is my second post in a row featuring duck. I don't really see that as a bad thing. I bought a package of duck breasts the last time I was at Wegmans, so I guess you should prepare yourselves for at least two more duck entries before the winter is up!

Tonight's dinner was inspired by the fact that I had a Tempranillo on hand and it was just too darn nasty out for me to spare an extra trip to the store. I decided that I could do something creative with the duck to make it red-wine worthy.

So here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ Duck breast, skin off
~ Red wine
~ Balsamic vinegar
~ Olive oil
~ Garlic
~ Onion
~ Fresh (or dried) thyme
~ Fruit preserves (I favor apricot)

~ Potatoes
~ Salt/Butter
~ Grated parm

In a pan, start the olive oil, and tiny amount of garlic and onion sauteeing with a little less than a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. After it starts hopping around a bit, add some red wine, about two tablespoons of apricot jam, thyme, salt and pepper. Get it really simmering nicely.

In the mean time, boil some sliced red potatoes with some salt, the stalk from the thyme you used for the reduction, and a little olive oil.

After your reduction is starting to meld, add the duck cut into strips. I do this for two reasons: 1) It's faster to cook and 2) There's more surface area to cover in the yummy reduction sauce as it cooks.

As the duck is starting to seem done, move it out to the edges of the pan or take it out completely. You want to cook the sauce down so that it is a true reduction - that is to say, mostly sugar. View the close-up to the left so you can see the texture with all of its sugary goodness.

After the potatoes become "forkable," drain them, butter them, and top with grated parm and a bit of parsley, if you wish. Transfer the duck to the plate and top with a generous amount of sauce.

I served tonight's meal with the same red I used to make the reduction: Sangre del Toro's Tempranillo, direct from Spain. As it is an old-world wine, it is more earthy than fruity, which made a nice complement to the "wild" taste of the duck. This reduction turned out sugary, yet still a bit on the tart side, so if you're cooking with an old-world wine such as this one, you may wish to add a touch of sugar to the reduction. New world wine, with their fruit-forward nature, might not need the extra sugar.

In the end, I thought meal came together nicely, and served to warm me from the inside out against the howling winter storm rattling at my windowpanes!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thirty-eighth Post ~ Duck with Pear and Walnut Dressing

Tonight in class, I created an analogy using Duck à l'Orange. My students have pretty much come to the conclusion that I'm a dork (albeit, I'd like to think, a likeable dork), so that's not really the point of the story.

The point of the story is that as of 8:00 tonight, I began thinking about duck. Therefore, I peeled out of the UB parking lot and headed over to Wegmans, where I bought some duck and a pear.

This is one of those meals that looks a lot more time-intensive than it actually is. Here's what you'll need for tonight's meal:

~ Duck (preferably a breast, skin on or off. I cooked this one with the skin on, but cut it off before I ate it.)
~ Pear (I bought one smallish bosc pear, but I was really hoping for some Seckel pears, but have been unable to find them at Wegmans since I cooked with them once a few months ago)
~ Seasonal dried fruit (I used raisins and cranberries)
~ White wine (I used chardonnay)
~ Apple juice (or cider)
~ Walnuts
~ Olive oil
~ Spices (sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove)
~ Fresh thyme (or dried)

Slice up your pear. Toss it in a stick-free pan with some olive oil, chard and sugar. Add the nuts and dried fruit. Sprinkle liberally with whatever spices you fancy. Add a sprig of thyme. Keep moving it around so it doesn't scorch. As it runs low on liquid, add some apple juice so it remains sweet and fruity and doesn't become too acidic.

In a separate pan, brown the duck in a little oil, thyme and wine. Salt and pepper it.

Once your fruit and walnuts are bubbling at that dangerously hot temperature that only cooking with sugar and oil can produce, move everything around to create a spot in the center for the duck. Place it in the pan carefully with the thyme and oil from the pan you browned it in, and slap on a well-fitting lid with a steam hole.

That's it.

Seriously. Keep checking it every so often, stir it around, take the duck out to check if it's done, but really, this whole meal is a pretty laissez-faire kind of dish.

Once it's done, serve it on a plate with the fruit and walnut dressing all around it. Garnish with a fresh sprig of thyme if you wish. I would recommend scattering a bit of thyme over it once it's served, as it adds a nice fresh taste to the dish.

I served this meal with a chardonnay by Pepperwood Grove, an international wine negotiant that brings us affordable wines from a number of different countries. This chard is Californian, making it fruit-forward, but also oaky enough to balance the earthy taste of the duck and the walnuts.

Overall, this meal encompasses all of the rustic tastes of autumn that I so dearly love!

Yours in the love of food and wine,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thirty-seventh Post ~ Caramelized Curry Salmon

All day today, I craved salmon. It was all I could think about. Not quite sure why. Raw, roasted, broiled, baked, patty, fillet, steak... I didn't care in what form it presented itself, all I knew was that after teaching tonight I was gonna get me some salmon.

So I got this farm-raised Alaskan fillet for just under $4. Given that I would have gladly forked over $20 at that exact moment of desperation, I thought this was a pretty good deal. I hurried home with it and a fresh bottle of olive oil.

Here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:
~ Salmon (obviously)
~ Olive oil
~ White wine (I used some leftover chard)
~ Side (I broiled up some red creamer potatoes)

For the rub:
~ Salt
~ Brown sugar
~ Curry powder
~ Dried thyme
~ Ginger powder
~ Paprika

Inspired by my love of sushi, I thought I'd bring a little warmth to this salmon by rubbing it down with the flavors of ginger (my favorite thing to eat with salmon sashimi) and paprika for a little wasabi-like heat.

::PAUSE::

In all reality, my paprika is pretty mild, most likely because it's the same bottle of paprika my mom had in her spice cabinet that we used when I was a child, which is probably the same bottle that was in said spice cabinet when she received it as a gift in the 1970s. So this paprika has had some of the kick aged out of it.

::UNPAUSE::

So get your potatoes cooking, then get your rub prepared for the salmon. Into a prep bowl dump some brown sugar, curry, thyme, ginger, paprika and salt. Mix it around a bit. Take the salmon fillet in one hand and a handful of rub in the other and start rubbing it in. Pat the sugar into the crevices a bit, and then let it sit while you do the dishes from this afternoon, check your email, whatever. Let about 5 minutes pass.

Turn the heat on your stick-free skillet and add some olive oil. Next, pour in a bit of white wine. Shake it around so most of the alcohol burns off. Now, add the salmon, rubbed-side down. Don't shake the pan, just let it sit for a few moments. Let the brown sugar caramelize. After you see the salmon is cooked about 2/3 the way up toward the other side, flip it carefully, as the oil and sugar will be about the temperature of molten rock. Let it cook for a few more moments. Put the side on your plate, then serve up the salmon, again, being really careful of the high levels of heat that have been created in the pan.

I served tonight's meal with the leftover Chilean red from the other night. It paired wonderfully with the salmon, offsetting the sweetness of the caramelization, the earthiness of the thyme and the warmth of the curry and paprika.

All in all, a fulfilling meal. Hopefully this will calm the cravings... at least until my next sushi outing!

Yours in the love of good food and wine and the power they can have over us,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thirty-sixth Post ~ Sirloin with Mushrooms in Sweet Wine Reduction Over Parmesan Risotto

Ever have one of those days? Not a day where anything bad happens, just a hectic, harried, frenzied day during which your brain is active 110% of the time, and you could really use it an additional 15% or so, if it could just kick it up a notch.

That was today. I came home, changed, played with Ginny, sent emails, worked on a paper, figured out my next day's plans... and then decided that I needed a break. A mental break. So I got out some basic ingredients (steak, risotto, mushrooms, olive oil) and then just let my mind go blank. Absolutely, self-hypnotic, deep, relaxed breathing, trance-like blank.

And I experienced what I can only describe as a culinary black-out.

In the end, sitting down to eat this meal, I thought it was pretty darn good. But the trouble was, I had to think really hard about what I had actually put in it. How did I get from Point A to Point B? So I listed out the ingredients I had used, and marveled at the fact that for probably the first time since I started this blog, my ingredient list made it from one end of my magnetic refrigerator pad to the other.

So basically, tonight's blog entry serves to document this dinner, but it probably fits less into the category of "quick, easy dinners" and better into the category of "what happens when you let your mind empty of thought completely."

So... here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ Olive oil
~ Sirloin steak cut into cubes
~ Mushrooms (I use triple-washed baby bellas. Always have, probably always will.)
~ Green onion (the stalks of mine went bad a few days ago, but I discovered that the bulb is actually quite nice - same mild onion taste with a bit of sweetness)
~ Fresh (or dried) thyme
~ Red wine
~ Slice of Brie (it's for the sauce, so cut off the rind, and, if you're a hard-core brie-fiend like I am, you'll eat the rind as you cook.)
~ Salt/Pepper to taste
~ Apricot jam
~ Balsamic vinegar
~ Lemon juice
~ Crushed garlic (I've decided to give my garlic crusher a rest for a while - it's just so darn messy and during my 12-day recuperation this past month, I observed that lots of the chefs on the Food Network use the bottled crushed garlic. A little milder taste, which, in my opinion, is fine and dandy, and waaaaay less work.)

~ Risotto
~ Parmesan
~ Thyme

Make your risotto ahead of time. I stirred in a bit of thyme and in the end, some parmesan. I've never made risotto before and was shocked (almost offended!) to read in the directions that I was expected to stand at the stove and gradually stir simmering water into it for 15 minutes. I decided to cut my losses and slapped a lid onto it after it had actively boiled for about 5 minutes and let it sit while I cooked the main attraction. Guess what? It turned out fine. Sometimes starches just need a little tough love.

Into my stick-free pan I tossed my cubed steak, mushrooms, sliced green onion bulb, thyme, red wine, brie, apricot jam, and small bit of crushed garlic. Over the top of the whole thing I sprinkled salt, pepper and sesame seeds. I then splashed it liberally with red wine, then sparingly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.

I put the whole thing on the stove for a few minutes until the steak was browned. I removed it and cooked the rest of it down until it was delightfully caramelized. I tossed the parmesan into the risotto and the steak back into the pan for a few minutes. I then found myself sitting at the table in front of this meal. I told you it was a whirl-wind.

I served tonight's dinner with a soft, relaxed Caménère by Aresti vineyards of Chile. I've been a long-time fan of Chilean reds, and this one offered exactly what I love about them - they're full-bodied, but soft as velvet; earthy, fruity, beautifully balanced. It went wonderfully with tonight's meal.

And now, my friends, I shall wash some dishes, review my work for tomorrow, watch a show, perhaps, and go to bed sooooo much more relaxed!

Yours in the love of good food and wine, and the great escapes they offer,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thirty-fifth Post ~ Pork Tenderloins en Papillote


As the third addition to the "en Papillote" files, I offer you pork tenderloins and potatoes. I made this a few nights ago, and just didn't want this to end up wasting away in the File of Meals that Don't Get Blogged. So I thought I'd take five minutes out to write it up. Here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ Pork tenderloin - cut a few pieces off then save the rest for another meal
~ Small red potatoes
~ Dried fruit (I used golden and regular raisins and cranberries)
~ A random few sloshes of whatever wine is laying around
~ Chives or green onions
~ Fresh (or dried) herbs - I used thyme and marjoram

Preheat your oven. Quarter and boil the potatoes in salted water with some thyme. Meanwhile, dice your pork and place it in one half of your paper heart (See Post #33 for directions on this one!) Salt and pepper the pork to taste. Add a sprig of fresh marjoram. This herb is nearly floral in its aroma - use it sparingly! Add a small bit of green onion or chive. Once the potatoes are forkable, place them over the pork and scatter some dried fruit all around. Fold up your heart and pour in the bit of wine. Cook for 12-15 minutes. All the flavors will meld, and the dried fruit will reconstitute with the juices, making it all sweet and savory at the same time.

I enjoyed this dinner with some leftover Cupcake Vineyard's Chardonnay. It needed something floral and sweet to downplay the serious oakiness of this wine. As it's fermented in stainless with oak chips added for taste, it comes off a bit heavy and not as well-rounded as a chard actually aged in oak barrels. Based on the tasting notes of this wine (warm vanilla, oaky, slightly spicy and well-rounded) I was hoping I had found a lesser expensive version of Cakebread Cellar's Chardonnay (truly the best wine I've ever had in my life - It's what actually started me on this whole path of food and wine appreciation two years ago!) but was disappointed. It still is a nice wine to pair with meals that would normally overpower a weaker white, like this one.

All in all, a good, quick meal to enjoy at the end of a long day!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thirty-fourth Post ~ Rosemary Lamb Tenderloins en Papillote

As Entry #2 in the previously mentioned "en Papillote Files," I feature my favorite red meat of all time: Lamb. I don't eat red meat that often, so when I do, I sometimes will splurge on lamb tenderloins. Lamb and rosemary are a beautiful combination!

I'm truly loving the "en papillote" style of cooking. It typically uses no oil and relies on steam for the cooking, so it's healthier than a lot of the pan-cooked options, and it has this way of melding all the flavors together in a way unlike any other!

Here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ Lamb tenderloins
~ Rosemary (fresh or dried)
~ Balsamic vinegar
~ Garlic
~ Mushrooms
~ White wine
~ Parsley (fresh or dried)
~ Salt/pepper to taste
~ Asparagus

Boil the asparagus in salted water just until tender. Mince some garlic, preheat your oven, cut your cute heart out of parchment (see Post #33). When the asparagus is just pierceable, drain and set aside.

Start a tablespoon of olive oil heating in a pan. Add some balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and parsley. Add the mushrooms and white wine. While that's cooking, ruminate on the essay you're writing. Try to come up with a great experiment design.

::PAUSE::

One thing I've noticed about cooking en papillote is that you don't need to add as much liquid as you'd think. I've been adding about a quarter cup of liquid, and I don't think you need that much. This lamb turned out a little "brothy" - which I guess is okay - and so did the pork I made the other night, about which I shall be blogging soon. The moral of the story: if you like broth, add all you want. If you want a more photogenic presentation, add a bit less liquid than you'd think.

::UNPAUSE::

So your mushrooms are done - add the lamb tenderloins for just a few seconds, browning each side. Now put the lamb onto the parchment. Top with a sprig of rosemary, then add the mushrooms on top, and the asparagus on top of that. Into the spout of the heart, add the juices from cooking the mushrooms (resist the temptation to add more wine and water). Seal up the parchment and bake for 12 minutes. During this time, flip back through four weeks of reading and confirm that the experiment idea you've thought of while cooking will work.

Take the packet out of the oven and carefully (so as not to burn yourself) cut an X into the top of the parchment, revealing all the goodness inside.

I paired tonight's meal with a French Merlot-blend from the Domaine du Poujol from Proteus vineyards. It's medium-to-heavy with an earthy foreground, perfectly complimenting the lamb, with a hint of raspberry. It pairs beautifully with this meal, and, I believe, would go quite well with a steak or beef dish. All in all, this meal was exactly what I needed: quick, nutritious, and brainstorm-worthy!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thirty-third Post ~ Salmon en Papillote


Parchment paper... where have you been all my life? If you think I'm being over-dramatic, consider the meal at your left. It went from raw ingredients to steaming hot on my plate in 20 minutes. I'm considering running a series in my blog called "The en Papillote Files" (which, translated from French means, "The In-Paper Files" which actually sounds quite boring in English, which is why I'll be writing it in French). Here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ Parchment paper
~ 1 small potato
~ 1/2 lemon
~ White wine
~ Butter
~ Veggie (I used snap peas, because they're lovely)
~ Fresh herb of choice (I used thyme, as it is one of my newfound favorite herbs)
~ Salmon fillet (this one was farm-raised and dye-free, and came to a whopping $3 and change)
~ Salt/Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375. Start a pot of salted water boiling. Slice your small potato and boil the slices until tender. Cut lemon in half, and cut two very thin slices off and juice the rest into a prep bowl. Add a good splash of wine. I used some Clean Slate Riesling from Germany.

While your potatoes are boiling, fold a large-ish piece of parchment in half and cut it into a heart, grade-school-style. Open the heart, and place the salmon in one half of it. Place fresh herbs on top with a couple dabs of butter. When the potato slices are pierceable with a fork, lay them on top of the salmon and herbs. Salt and pepper them to taste. Place the two slices of lemon on top. Now here's the part that's key to the whole "en papillote" part: starting at the top of the heart: fold the empty half over the top of the food and make little folds along the edge, sealing the packet. When you get to the V of the heart (the bottom) you'll have a little open "tail." Into this, pour your lemon and wine mixture. Seal the rest up.

Place it on a pan in your oven. Here's the best part: kill 10-12 minutes while your dinner cooks. Feed your dog, check your email, chat on the phone, whatever. In 10-12 minutes, your dinner is DONE, baby. Take the parchment package out of the oven, put it on a plate, and slice an X into the top of the parchment to reveal the goodness inside. Mine looked like this when opened.

So... what wine to drink? I had heard great things (on Food Network and in lots of wine blogs) about Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay. I learned that its oakiness may be rendered in fact by oak chips in wine aged in stainless steel barrels, so I was a little disheartened. However, it was suggested that it would pair well with salmon, so I gave it a shot, with the nice, dry Clean Slate Riesling on hand as a back-up. The verdict: Riesling. The chard by Cupcake is so oaky, it actually overpowers the salmon. Which is quite a feat, for a white wine. It wasn't a bad pairing, but it definitely downplayed the delicate tastes of the fish (and salmon ain't that delicate, so...). The Riesling, like its name suggests, was clean, crisp, and refreshing.

So what to pair with Cupcake chardonnay? Aged Gouda. I got this 3-year aged Dutch Gouda from Wegmans, and it just sings with the oaky, buttery chardonnay. Consider it dessert after a very satisfying dinner!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thirty-second Post ~ "And on the eighth day, He created chicken soup."

It happens. The cold weather hits our bodies just the right way, and we wake up feeling ... sick. My mother has always been a firm believer in the healing powers of chicken soup. The past two weeks spent home recuperating from chicken pox (yes, at age 26) were well-accompanied by a big pot of my mama's golden, savory, healing chicken soup. She passed the recipe on to me, so that I too can wield this ageless power of common vegetables, herbs and meat.

I pass it on to you, so that you also may know its strength in your times of weakness!

Chicken Soup
A Curative Concoction for the Common Cold

Here's what you'll need.

~ Chicken Legs (4-6 legs; 4-5 lbs)
~ Celery
~ 1 Spanish onion (or 2 small yellow)
~ Chicken bullion
~ Carrots
~ Uncle Ben's long grain wild rice (fast cook recipe or microwavable pouch)
~ 1-2 bay leaves
~ Salt and pepper

And now, clear-cut, easy-to-follow-even-through-haze-of-cold-medicine directions:

In large pot or Dutch oven place chicken legs with enough water to cover plus 2 inches. Start boiling.

Add 1-2 bay leaves, 10-12 bullion cubes, salt and pepper to taste.

Chop celery - enough equal to 3 stalks. Add to pot.
¨ If not well, don't bother chopping, cut leafy top part off and add the stalks to pot, plus or minus a few leaves.

Chop carrots - one good handful. Add to pot.
¨ If not well, don't bother chopping, use baby carrots.

Chop onion - 1/4 inch slice from center of Spanish, or two golf ball sized yellow onions. Add to pot. A small piece of bread held in the mouth will prevent eyes from stinging while slicing onion.
¨ If not well, don't bother chopping, put slice of Spanish in whole.

Cover and boil all until meat starts falling off the bones (40-50 minutes).

Take meat out and cover on plate to cool (about 30 minutes). Continue boiling mixture on high heat (and watch it so it doesn't scorch!).

De-bone and skin chicken and dice. Put back into boiled down mixture.

Add Uncle Ben’s wild rice. Easiest to use the pre-cooked packages, but also can cook rice separately and add.
¨ If not well, just use the pre-cooked microwavable rice – don’t bother microwaving, just pour it in the pot.

::PAUSE::

Customarily, this family recipe calls for egg noodles. I, however, prefer grains in soup, such as barley and wild rice. Therefore, rice is used in this recipe, but if the idea of chicken rice soup is blasphemous to you, noodles can easily be substituted!

::UNPAUSE::

Repeatedly taste and boil until soup reaches desired strength.

Optional - draw out broth with ladle, let sit in clear container, and use turkey baster to pull out settled broth from bottom of container and place back in pot to boil (leaving separated fat in container to be disposed of).
¨ If not well, just wait until later when soup is chilled, then remove the hardened fat from the top of the pot with a spoon and dispose.

So there you have it. If you're truly sick, you may find that this pot becomes your sole sustenance, morning, noon and night. There's nothing wrong with that - it's one heck of a hearty, healthful soup - stew, really - that will have you back on your feet in no time!

Yours in the love of the restorative powers of food,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thirty-first Post ~ Sage Marinade Steak with Goat Cheese

So today was one of those days where I was so focused on what I was doing that I basically forgot about food. Me. A foodie. During class tonight I became so discombob-ulated with hunger that I bumbled my way through a study review (Horvath et al., my apologies - I believe that by the end of it, the discussion had incorporated 30 male students, a deck of cards, a few drooling dogs, and Prisoner #819 doing a bad thing).

So immediately after class I headed to Wegmans. You know you've become a frequent customer at a place when you know everyone by name - or at least by attribute: Smiley Sushi Guy, Sweet Butcher Guy, Friendly Deli Lady, Awesome Cheese Lady, etc. So I made my way through my meet-n-greets and bombed around the produce section, also stocking up on the ingredients for tomorrow's lunch-sized Insalata Caprese along the way, and picked out some wonderful dirt-covered Crimini mushrooms and some vibrant green broccoli crowns. Then off to the butcher for some perfectly portioned sirloin steaks and then back around to the cheese shop for something that's been tempting me for the longest time - Palhais goat cheese buttons all wrapped up as cute as can be from Portugal.

So here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ Sirloin steak
~ Broccoli crowns
~ Mushrooms, washed and halved

For the steak marinade:
~ Wine - whatever you have laying around
~ Olive oil
~ Fresh sage
~ Balsamic vinegar
~ Salt/Pepper
~ Garlic

For the garnish:
~ Crumbled bit of Palhais goat cheese button (seriously - can cheese sound any cuter?)

All of tonight's flavorings are pretty intense in their own right - goat cheese, garlic, wine, sage... so I decided to tone everything down a bit so that the meal would be flavorful, but not overpowering. Follow these steps.

First, I peeled three small garlic cloves, put them in a foil boat, poured a bit of olive oil over them, salted/peppered and wrapped the whole thing up and put it under the broiler.

Then, I washed and halved the Crimini mushrooms. I set them to the side, and started on the marinade. Marinades are pretty simple. Within reason, you can add whatever you want, flexing your creative side, and they typically turn out good. I put some white wine in a prep bowl with some olive oil. I splashed a bit of balsamic vinegar into the bowl and added salt and pepper. Then I decided that I'd tone down the fresh sage a bit by adding it to the marinade rather than garnishing the steak with it when it was done. I stirred everything around a bit, then added the raw steak. I let it sit while I fixed the broccoli.

I know you can buy these newfangled contraptions that steam vegetables for you, but honestly, I've never understood why you'd need to spend extra money if you already have a bowl, some saran wrap, and running water. Just cut up the broccoli into a bowl, add a couple tablespoons of water, cover tightly, and pop in the microwave for 3-5 minutes. WATCH THE STEAM WHEN YOU OPEN THE BOWL. I only say this in caps because I burn myself frequently. Fortunately, I always have a bag of frozen coffee grounds in my freezer (freezing fresh ground coffee beans keeps it much fresher tasting) and it serves as a conveniently hand-shaped thing to grab to nurse one's burned hand. Stir the broccoli around a bit, and if it still has that "dirt" smell to it, steam it for another minute or so.

In the mean time, make a tin foil boat and put your marinated steak into it. Pour the extra marinade over it, and put it under your broiler. I always have better luck with steaks in the toaster oven broiler. I'm not sure why, but at this point in my life, I go with what works. Take the garlic out of the oven and add one roasted clove to the steak. If it's not soft yet, crush it in a garlic press. Even if it's not fully roasted, I still think the process cuts some of that harsh garlic taste that you get from freshly crushed cloves.

Put the steak under the broiler. As previously posted, I like my steak on the rare side. For a small sirloin like this, I cooked it for 7 minutes on one side and 5 on the other.

While it's cooking, I sautéed the mushrooms in the wine, garlic, salt and pepper. I used a leftover inch or two of Vetter Vineyard's Cracker Ridge Rose - my all-time favorite blush wine. It's sweet and jammy, and when used for cooking, compliments earthy tones in food, like these Italian mushrooms, which, up to a few minutes ago, still had the soil from their native land clinging to them.

Check the steak, check the broccoli, stir the mushrooms. Just as the steak is finishing, crumble some of the goat cheese on top. Pop back into the oven for a minute just to soften the cheese a bit more.

This goat cheese is extremely mild, which I think made it a perfect complement to all of the strong flavors in tonight's meal. Using the fresh sage in a marinade gave it a gentler aroma and flavor, and roasting the garlic made it sweet and warm rather than pungent and hot.

I paired tonight's meal with a 2005 Australian Merlot by Tall Poppy (Thanks, John H.!) As Australia is the newest of the new worlds, its wines are often very fruity. However, this Merlot was refreshingly sweet and balanced rather than cloyingly sweet. It gave my tastebuds a punch of fruitiness - ripe strawberries, cherries and raspberries. Again, it was a flavor that I've normally found to be extremely strong that was tamed a bit, if you will, to complement the meal rather than overpower it.

And I've got to take a moment to acknowledge the wonders of our modern world - one can, with minimal effort, enjoy a meal made with components enriched by their homelands of Portugal, the US, Italy and Australia. How amazing and wonderful is that?

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thirtieth Post ~ Wine Feature: Mas de la Garrigue with Lamb Tenderloin


The wine. And the meal.
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A little over a year ago, I bought a bottle of wine at a retail wine store, and it tasted a bit of cork taint. I took it back to the store and spoke with the manager. He gladly took my bottle back and in compensation, offered me a bottle of one of his favorite reds the store offered: Mas de la Garrigue from Força Réal in Côtes du Roussillon Villages in France. He gave me these words of advice: "Don't drink it with someone who'll say, 'Mm! This tastes like grape juice!' because you'll be sorely let down."
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Taking these words to heart, I tied a checkered red and white ribbon around the bottle and saved it for the appropriate person. This individual would have to appreciate the nuances of a fine vintage. This individual would have to have a discriminating palate. This individual would have to be a bit of a wine snob. This individual would have to be... Meg.
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So we set a date for "French Red Wine Fest," and I set to researching this particular wine and winery. Time on the internet put me in touch with Cyril, the son of the man who bought the Força Réal vineyard in 1989 and who trained at the Chilean winery Villa d’Este and in the Côte-Rôtie. He recommended a grilled red meat with the wine, and a red fruit salad for dessert. He also laid my fears to rest that the wine from this particular year would be fine to drink after its recommended date of three years.
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So here, my friends, is what you'll need for tonight's meal (first the basics, then the details):
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~ A spectacular vintage from Força Réal. Mas de la Garrigue is a blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah varietals. I got this one from Colonial Wine and Spirits in Orchard Park.
~ Red meat: I chose lamb tenderloins from Wegmans (naturally)
~ Cheese plate
~ Fruit salad
~ Vegetable
~ Starch
~ Chocolate
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For the starch:
~ Tiny red potatoes
~ Olive oil
~ Salt/Pepper
~ Fresh (or dried) dill
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I got a bag of tiny red potatoes. At Meg's suggestion, I quartered them, salted, peppered, and tossed them with olive oil and fresh dill. Put them in the oven on 425. Stir a few times while you cook everything else.
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For the meat:
~ Lamb tenderloins (one of the only cuts of lamb that actually seems to expand as you cook it, so three per person is ample)
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For the glaze:
~ Cherry preserves
~ White wine (I used some Blanc de blanc from Vieux Papes)
~ Olive oil
~ Marjoram
~ Dried cherries
~ A hint of balsamic vinegar
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Start about a tablespoon or so of olive oil heating in a stick-free pan. Add some white wine. Add a good couple tablespoons of cherry preserves. Pass the jar and a spoon back and forth between you and your sous chef. Add a touch of marjoram and a dash of balsamic and let simmer. Talk about your days at work.
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In a separate pan, brown the lamb tenderloins with a bit of oil. Once the sauce has started to meld, add the lamb. Turn frequently and take out of the sauce just as the juices start running clear. Set the lamb aside and let the sauce cook down while you make the veggie.
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For the veggie:
~ Snap peas
~ Salt/pepper
~ Olive oil
~ Garlic cloves
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Sautee some crushed garlic and olive oil in a pan. Add the snap peas, salt and pepper. Sautee until just tender.
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For the cheese plate and fruit salad (optional, but highly recommended)
~ Vintage gouda (aged 3 years, Holland)
~ Dried cherries
~ Slices crisp, tart apple
~ Dark chocolate (Hershey's pure dark chocolate and pure dark chocolate with cranberries, blueberries and almonds, as per Meg's impeccable taste = perfection)
~ Red fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries for color and sweetness, tossed with some honey)
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The wine. Ahh, the wine.
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We decided to pour part of the bottle into a decanter to let it breathe for a bit while we finished cooking dinner. The first taste was reminiscent of the bright red fruit salad recommended by Cyril: tart, fresh, full-bodied. The finish was sweet and lingering. It paired beautifully with everything we ate this evening: the lamb brought out its Old World earthiness, the fresh herbs highlighted its bright, sweet notes, the carmel-smoothness of the gouda enhanced its crisp "biting into an apple" taste, the red fruit showcased this wine's full-bodied texture and flavor. What a wine. What a meal!
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Over four and a half hours we dined, we chatted, we drank, we dined some more, we discussed; we even watched a chick flick (the video store didn't have our original pick: French Kiss, so we thoroughly enjoyed Under a Tuscan Sun instead!). I've said it before, but it merits repetition. Good food, good wine, good conversation between friends: This is the merry triumvirate on which life can ever turn in its momentum of happiness.
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Yours in the love of all three,
AL
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A note to my loyal readers (All 4 of you...)

My laptop seems to be suffering from a mental breakdown. Maybe it was the HD Merlin episodes on Hulu. Maybe it was one too many papers being pounded into it. Maybe it was that last McCroskey et al. download. Perhaps it was even the cool Skinz I bought from Singapore to dress it up in.

In any case, it has thrown in the towel on reading any kind of external drive. That means no pictures. Which means no illustrated posts. Which means each night as I cook, I cry a little inside, as I now feel cut off from the world.

I am intending to have my laptop fixed (or at least band-aided) by the end of this week. So starting next week, you can look forward to:

~ One of the reasons Autumn is my favorite season: the FOOD!
~ Home-made chicken soup
~ Savory seafood recipes
~ Festive (and light-colored-carpet-friendly) party appetizers
~ And the pièce de résistance: The Wine and The Meal: Mas de la Garrigue from Força Réal, served with herbed lamb and a red fruit salad, as suggested to me by the vineyard owner, Cyril (many thanks!)

All this and MORE, when the Accidental Chef's computer starts behaving a little less accident-prone!

As always I remain,
Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Twenty-ninth post ~ Apricot and Balsamic Glazed Tuna Steak

I could cry.

I could, but I won't, because in the grand scheme of possible disappointments in one's life, this really isn't THAT significant.

But it still renders me wanting to scream and cry a little and swing my fists in manner of a spoiled three-year-old.

I cooked a meal tonight that I would consider one of my best dinners. I don't say that in an arrogant "Oh, my cooking is so good" kind of way. I say it because it was one of those meals where everything came together perfectly. I got a piece of meat that I normally never would have spent the money on, researched how to cook it so as not to ruin it, managed to carry out said painstaking method, served the meal with a perfect wine pairing, photographed it, prepared to blog about it...

And my camera disk was corrupted.

So I can tell you about tonight's meal, but there won't be any pretty pictures to go along with it. Nothing to draw your eye. Nothing to prove it was real. Nothing, nothing, nothing but the memory.

Here we go:

I found a .40 lb wild-caught tuna steak at Wegmans. This fish had spent its life cruising around the shores of Ecuador before it landed happily in my cart, half-price because it needed to be consumed in two days. So I got an $8 piece of fish for $4. Bargain!

I researched how to cook tuna. I guess it's temperamental because it can dry out very easily. So I created a balsamic glaze. Here's what you'll need to make tonight's dinner:

~ Tuna steak
~ Balsamic vinegar
~ Apricot jam
~ Garlic (one clove)
~ Pepper
~ Olive oil
~ Fresh rosemary

Before you turn on the heat, pour a larger-than-normal dollop of oil into your pan. Swirl in a bit of Balsamic vinegar. Place a good tablespoon and a half of apricot jam into the oil and vinegar - trust me. Place a sprig of rosemary in the whole thing. Pepper it. Thinly slice a clove of garlic and add that. NOW start it heating on a low flame.

Take the tuna out of the package. Revel in its texture and weight! Rub a bit of oil into the fish. Turn the heat down - waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down. Place the tuna into the pan on top of the sprig of rosemary. Keep the heat very, very low. If you're using gas, keep the flame at that point where just a little less would extinguish it completely.

Move the tuna around the pan, turning it occasionally. Each time you turn it, spoon some of the sauce over it. Initially, the sauce is going to be kind of lumpy and separate. As it cooks, it will meld beautifully, turning into a concentrated, sweet glaze. Some people like their tuna completely uncooked in the center. Some like it cooked through. I'm right in the middle, liking the center not sushi-like, but not cooked through, either. This cooking method takes a bit of time and patience. Don't be tempted to turn the heat up to cook it faster; from what I've read, this will only dry out the fish.

Serve with whatever side you want; it won't really matter anyway next to an awesome, wild-caught piece of fish!

I debated about what wine to serve. Some say a good chard, others recommend a light and fruity pinot noir. I poured a bit of a South African chardonnay by Indaba and a bit of a shiraz by Cudgee Creek of Australia. The chardonnay won by a long shot. Don't get me wrong - the shiraz is wonderful (I drank it last night with the hard-to-pair meal of tortillas and fresh salsa with hamburgers - which, to my dad's horror, I topped with goat cheese) but with this meal it was overpowering. The chardonnay, on the other hand, was fruity to match the apricot in the glaze and played up the wonderfully fresh notes of the fish.

Sadly, the meal has disappeared with little left of it but the memory - but perhaps this post will serve to memorialize it... and I could always make it again, for the sole purpose of taking another photo... hmm... this could work!

Yours in the love of good food and wine and their fleeting existance,
AL

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Twenty-eighth Post ~ Herbed Steak with Mushrooms and Baked Potato

I was in the mood for steak tonight, but not a super heavy meal. What to do? I decided that an herb marinade might lighten the meal a bit. That, and mushrooms go with everything. A little red potato would pair well with the whole thing (and whether it would have, we'll never know...)
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Here's what you'll need to prepare tonight's meal:
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~ Steak (I got my usual two-pack at Wegmans for around $5. They are not big steaks, and that fit the bill for me)
~ Herbs (my favorites ground together are dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, and paprika)
~ Olive oil
~ Red wine
~ Soy sauce
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For the mushrooms:
~ Mushrooms (I go for my standard pre-cut, pre-washed baby bellas)
~ Chives
~ Garlic
~ Salt/Pepper to taste
~ White wine
~ Olive oil
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For the potato:
~ Potato
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::PAUSE::
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Here's the thing - I had a red potato at a barbecue a few weeks ago, and granted, it had probably been sitting in the coals for the better part of the afternoon, but it was the best potato I've had in years. Ergo, I bought two reds to try to replicate the same effect in my toaster oven. I rubbed each with a bit of olive oil, pierced them, wrapped them in tin foil and broiled them for over an hour, and they were still underdone. So the potato in the picture is a prop potato, if you will. I don't include the picture of myself looking highly disappointed when I take a bite and find that it's still way too starchy and not at all smooth. I actually kept broiling the other one while I ate the steak and mushrooms. I was full when I was done with that, so I saved the potato for a later meal this week. Oh, well...
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::UNPAUSE::
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So commence with the preparation of the meat and then the mushrooms. Mix your herbs together and grind them with a mortar and pestal. I got one at TJMaxx of all places for $3.00. Up until that point I had used two bowls ground against each other.
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Pour a dollop of oil into the herbs, followed by a splash of red wine. and then a tiny bit of soy sauce. Mix this together and pour it over your steak. Let the steak sit in the marinade for a while - in a perfect world you'd let it marinate while your potatos finish, but I think the steak would have been pickled if I had actually waited until that point.
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In the mean time, prep your mushrooms. In a pan, splash some white wine over them, some olive oil, salt and pepper them to taste, and add some garlic and chives. Here's a pic of everything ready to be cooked:
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In actuality, this ended up comprising the meal, and it was a perfect amount of food. As previously mentioned, I like my steak on the rare-to-medium-rare side, so I broiled it about 5 minutes on one side and about 8 on the other.
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The mushrooms simmered nicely, and I added a bit of wine here and there if they started getting too low on moisture.
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Rather than breaking out a heavy, hearty merlot or cab, I paired tonight's dinner with the light-yet-earthy Italian pinot that I had with the caprese salad. Pinot noir is to a wine rack what a little black dress is to a woman's closet: It's versatile and can be "accented" for nearly any occasion. Pinot noir is one of the only wines that can be passed around a table at which every diner has ordered something different from the menu. Paired with a caprese salad, it's light and fruity. Paired with tonight's meal, it's balanced and earthy. Paired with chocolate, it's... well... what's not awesome when paired with chocolate? But I digress...
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So yes, tonight's meal came together nicely in spite of the potato, and the pinot noir added the final touch of lightness that I was striving for tonight!
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Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Twenty-seventh post ~ Lemon and Herb Tilapia


The weather has gotten hotter this August, so for the better part of the day, I grazed on fresh fruits and veggies directly out of the fridge, with the occasional nut for protein. I knew that I should cook something substantial for dinner tonight, but what can one eat on a day whose humidity is reminiscent of walking into a bathroom after someone has taken a 30-minute shower?
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The answer, my friends, is fish. And not a hearty fish like salmon, either. Days like today call for a fish that is light and flakey. Namely, tilapia.
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I found this fillet at Wegmans for just under $3.00. This afternoon, I prepped the fish so that it could marinate while I was working. Thus, the actual time spent slaving over the hot stove tonight was minimum! Here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:
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~ Fish (while I used tilapia, orange roughy is another nice light fish)
~ Chives
~ Onion
~ Lemon
~ Olive oil
~ Salt and pepper to taste
~ White wine (I purchased a New Yorker for my white this week: Bully Hill's "Fish Market White." The picture on the label of the "Lady of Martinique" reminded me of my travels in the Caribbean, and just that alone seemed to pair well with today's weather!)
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As we're trying to keep tonight's dinner light, I'd suggest a veggie rather than a starch. I realize that a lot of my posts feature green beans, but in truth, they're one of my favorite veggies. They're tasty, inexpensive, easy to cook and good for you. What's not to love? I cooked these pre-cut, prewashed French beans by sauteeing them in a little oil and then adding some white wine and water to steam them. As they were finishing I added some salt, pepper and garlic.
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So, back to the fish. My brain is too hot and tired to relate all of this in chronological order. Hopefully you've read this through to the end before you've actually started cooking. In any case...
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In the afternoon, put about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan in which you wish to cook the fish. Turn the fish in the pan a few times to coat it. Salt and pepper it. Mince some onion onto it...
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::PAUSE::
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I've never really learned a lot about onions. I don't particularly like onions, honestly, but I'm slowly discovering the punch they can add to food and starting to warm to them. Because I don't know much about them, I'm not too picky when shopping for them. I saw these tiny little onions at Wegmans and thought, "Tiny onions. Perfect for a person cooking for one: waste not, want not..." and purchased them because of their size without a second thought. It turns out that what I minced up for my fish tonight was a "cibol" or Welsh onion (the misnomer Welsh coming from a misinterpreted Old English word welisc meaning "foreign" rather than "of Wales," as this little root hails from Asia). It packs a lot of flavor into such a tiny space, and a little goes a long ways. Once cooked, it has a slightly carmelized, sweet taste. I've become a fan.
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::UNPAUSE::
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So mince up a bit of whatever onion-related bulb you happen to be in possession of, and scatter it over the fish. Squeeze ample lemon juice over it, snip some chives onto it, and then cut paper-thin slices of lemon to lay over the top of it. Slap a lid on and place it in your fridge for the afternoon. Get it out about 45 minutes before you're ready to cook so it starts to warm up.
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When you're ready to cook it, put it on the stove and start it heating up. Pour some white wine into the pan, but not over the fish. As soon as it starts sizzling, cover it and cook your veggie. Keep adding tiny bits of white wine gradually as its cooking so that it's never without liquid but never really boiling in it, either.
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The result will be a sweet, zesty, flavorful meal. The onions that fall off the fish carmelize with the wine, creating a really savory sauce that's still light and not too heavy. The lemon slices steam over the fish, releasing all of the flavor but somehow none of that acidic punch that you usually get from lemon.
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The Fish Market White paired perfectly. While the label says that it's from "hybrid grapes," I'm guessing there's some sweet Delaware in there, as well as something slightly more citrussy like a Sauvingon. It pairs well, making this meal filling, yet light and refreshing. A must for this kind of weather!
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Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Twenty-Sixth Post ~ Caprese Salad à la Accidental Chef with Mixed Greens


Ah, caprese... many years of my life I was drawn to this simple, colorful salad only to find it lacking in taste. Apparently, for many years, I hadn't been eating the right kind of caprese. After a weekend touring the Ohio wine country, I have Meg to thank for turning me into a fan of all things caprese (and in return, I succeeded in turning her into a fan of chardonnay - although she still prefers stainless to oak barrels, but we can work on that!).
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So in any case, I got hooked. It just took one particular caprese (from CK's Steakhouse at the Quail Hollow near Cleveland, OH) served with a hint of balsamic, the freshest, most flavorful tomatos I've ever tasted and a salty mozzarella to turn me. From that moment on, I knew that caprese salads would be an important part of my summer culinary capers.
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The day I got back, I rushed to Wegman's to get the ingredients to make it at home. So here's what you'll need to create the dinner pictured above, including one ingredient that I forgot:
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~ Tomato (I chose a large, locally-grown one)
~ Mozzarella (fresh is best)
~ Greens (I chose organic mixed from Wegmans - normally expensive, but the amount I bought cost just under 50 cents)
~ Olive oil
~ Balsamic vinegar (I used the balsamic marinade from past posts)
~ Lemon juice
~ Salt/pepper
~ Fresh basil (how, how, HOW could I have forgotten? The morning after I cooked this I woke up, watered my basil plant in the window and smacked myself. Guess this just means I'll have to make it again)
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::PAUSE::
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I read up on it a bit online, and I guess there's something personal about how everyone makes a caprese and whether their rendition qualifies as a true caprese or not. Technically, it shouldn't even have greens with it, but I liked the variety. At one point I encountered a thread containing a flame war - an all-out, no-holds-barred vicious flame war - regarding whether or not to use balsamic. It was then that I decided to go it alone. I'd do it my way, and if it was not quite "caprese" enough for some people, well, then I'd ask them to remember that everyone is different! After all, chicken soup consists mainly of chicken, onion and celery, but I'd dare anyone to say that their homemade chicken soup tastes exactly like someone else's!
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::UNPAUSE::
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So here's how I made MY caprese salad à la Accidental Chef:
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Slice the tomato. I have to say that the home-grown was a good pick - it was the first time in my life that I actually picked up a piece of tomato that didn't have anything on it and ate it. It was awesome.
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Drizzle some olive oil over the tomato and let the slices soak in it. Now, here's the really controversial part: Drizzle a tiny bit of balsamic over the tomato slices and let THAT soak in. Fend off flames from angry readers.
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Slice the mozzarella. In retrospect, my slices of tomato and mozzarella were a little thick. I would suggest cutting them a bit thinner than I did, just to give it more variety on the plate.
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Layer the mozzarella and tomato on the plate. Place the greens next to the arrangement. Add a bit of balsamic to the greens. Squeeze some lemon juice over the whole plate and add some salt and pepper. Add fresh basil, if you remember. If you wish, you can set it in the fridge to chill and meld before you eat it.
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Given the origins of the caprese salad, I felt it only appropriate to serve this fresh dinner with an Italian pinot noir (Cadonini vineyards). It tasted of sun-ripened strawberries and raspberries but was still earthy enough to balance out the richness of the dark greens and saltiness of the cheese. A wonderful pairing for a hot summer night!
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Yours in the love of good food, wine, and the joy of broadening your culinary horizons,
AL
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Twenty-fifth Post ~ Clams simmered in white wine and tomato sauce


Here is a dinner that I get a craving for every now and then and feel a great satisfaction from upon preparing and eating.
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Perhaps it's the incredible nutrient value in clams and mussels. Perhaps it's that they're so easy to cook. Perhaps it's because a dish of mussels prepared in much the same fashion was the first meal I researched, tweaked, and cooked for myself at a time in my life when little victories were big victories.
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Whatever the reason, this is a simple, inexpensive, yummy meal.
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Here's what you'll need:
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~ One sauce pan with a well-fitting lid
~ Clams or mussels (in truth, I prefer the taste, appearance, and size of mussels, but I guess they're a relatively seasonal thing. When cooking for one, I find that around 10 clams or 15 mussels is an appropriate number. And mussels aren't called Famine Food for nothing - they're about fifty percent cheaper than clams)
~ Spaghetti sauce (any kind will do)
~ Dry white wine (I typically use Pinot Grigio, but tonight I used a Sauvignon blanc)
~ Bay leaves
~ Garlic
~ Thyme
~ Lemon juice (optional)
~ One loaf crusty, uncut bread (I was walking through Wegmans and was grabbed by the shirt front by the aroma of a freshly-baked Pan Italia loaf, so I grabbed one of those for $2)
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Get your clams or mussels home in an unsealed plastic bag (lest they suffocate) and place them in your fridge post haste. I learned today that the best way to keep them fresh and happy is by placing them in a collander in your fridge covered with a damp cloth.
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When you're ready to cook, rinse the clams or mussels in the sink. If any are open, tap the shell a few times. If it doesn't close, toss it out.
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Your sauce is going to consist of one part speghetti sauce to one part white wine. Do taste a little (wine, that is) while you're cooking. It's part of the recipe. Start that simmering. (Cooking for one, I use 1/2 cup wine to 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce.) As it's heating up, crush one or two cloves of garlic into it. Be sure to stir regularly. Add one or two bay leaves (depending on size) and add a touch of dried thyme. Adding a hint of lemon juice can give it an extra zing.
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Once the sauce starts bubbling nicely, add the clams or mussels one by one. Slap the lid on the pot and busy yourself for about four minutes. Wash dishes, check email, play with puppy, etc.
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Check to see if they're opening. Clams take about six minutes, mussels about four minutes.
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When the time is up, take them off the heat. Throw out any clams or mussels that don't open. Prepare your crusty bread by tearing it into chunks or cutting it into largish pieces. You'll want more bread than you'd expect, because the sauce is excellently flavored by the seafood.
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Place the clams or mussels in a bowl and pour the sauce over them. Eat each with a bite of bread, and use the remaining bread to eat up the remaining sauce!
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I paired (and cooked) tonight's dinner with a Chilean Sauvignon blanc by Viña Ventisquero. It was dry, citrussy, tasting faintly grassy and surprisingly sparkly on the tongue. It paired beautifully with this fresh-from-the-sea goodness!
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Tasty, simple, nutritious, inexpensive!
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Yours in the love of good food, wine, and the meal that started it all,
AL
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twenty-fourth Post ~ Bruschetta and Blue Cheese Chicken

This was meant to be a simple, satisfying meal.
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Well, in the end, it was satisfying, but I had to battle rotten produce, a broken cork, and a disturbed wasp to get to that satisfying ending. Let us begin our tale:
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It all begins with bruschetta. I'd never been a bruschetta person until I went to Shakespeare in the Park with Meg and some of her friends. We
all were like walking adverts for Wegmans ("I brought Wegmans brie!" "I brought Wegmans cracked pepper and salt chips!" "Well, I brought Wegmans strawberries!") and the list went on. One of Meg's friends had brought Wegmans bruschetta from the Mediterranean Olive Bar.
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One taste, and I was in love. This bruschetta was sweet, yet spicy, yet savory, yet herby. It had me thinking about it again and again until I finally went and bought a container of it on Monday. It was nearly gone by today, so I figured I'd cook with it. I had read that bruschetta combines nicely with blue cheese, so I thought I'd improvise a little. Here's what you'll need to cook the meal I made tonight:
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~ Wegmans bruschetta (Really. I'm fairly certain nothing else will do.)
~ Chicken tenders
~ Olive oil
~ Seasoned bread crumbs
~ Blue cheese
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Coat the tenders in bread crumbs, and set to sizzling in the olive oil. Turn a few times. When they are looking golden, start your veggie.
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::PAUSE::
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I had purchased some cut, thrice-washed sugar snap peas from Weggies, as well. I didn't notice until tonight that they said "Use by 7/28/09." Well, I'm the type of person who takes sell-by/use-by dates as suggestions (a concept that I would not recommend using in regards to speed limits) and figured they'd be okay. I took one out of the bag to eat it raw (love, love, LOVE raw sugar snap peas) and it tasted... odd. But as it was the first thing I had actually tasted since my 4:30PM coffee and as it was now pushing 10:00, this didn't strike me as too troublesome. So I sauteed them with some salt, pepper and olive oil, crushed a clove of garlic into them, put them on my plate with my chicken (will elaborate on that later) and took one bite of them, and they tasted... odd. Even the garlic couldn't cover it up. Into the bin with them.
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::UNPAUSE::
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So back to the chicken, which shall now comprise our meal. It's soon to be covered in veggies anyway, so what's the big deal? While the chicken is sauteeing, mix some blue cheese right into the leftover bruschetta. It will meld nicely with the oils and turn into a splendid, melded, somewhat gloppy mess of goodness. Spoon it right over the breaded chicken and cover the pan. Turn off the heat and let it sit. Now, time to uncork the wine.
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::PAUSE::
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Every now and then it happens. And it's usually when you're thinking "Gosh, I'm awfully good at uncorking wine." CRaaaaCK. It's an unpleasant sound. It's the sound of the corkscrew pulling out a half of a crumbling, dried cork. This is a traumatic experience for any wine enthusiast, and rightfully a time for panic. Especially when your prized Wegmans bruschetta has JUST been spooned over your chicken. Here's my advice: Try anything you can. However, I would not advise trying to push the cork into the bottle in one sharp, jerking movement, as the last time I tried that (two apartments ago) I spray-painted the once-white walls with Merlot. Not pretty.
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In the end, I tried every trick I could come up with, and belive it or not, easing it back into the bottle with a pair of opened Fisker scissors did the trick. Here's a pic of the wreckage and all the tools I attempted to use to solve the problem:
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You can see the cork bobbing about merrily in the bottle - I managed to keep the majority of the cork dust out of the wine itself, which makes me happy. So now it's time to toss your veggies, sit back, and enjoy your Sartori Pinot Noir (velvety texture, fruity, with an earthiness that seems to echo the fresh herbs in the bruschetta) and bruschetta blue cheese chicken, and relax.
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::PAUSE::
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bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
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It's nothing. Ignore it.
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BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!
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Turns out, it's a wasp who seems to feel that the wood paneling in my livingroom is a perfect place for that three-story home he's always dreamed of, and is happily doing... well, whatever wasps do when they seem to feel they've found home. I sat there watching him for a while, trying to enjoy my meal while he buzzed louder and Ginny cried more franticly (new sound - It's got to be something deadly) until I rummaged under my sink and came out with my ACME Kill-All spray. Actually, it's by Orkin, and it did the trick. No one messes with my enjoyment of a meal. No. One.
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::UNPAUSE::
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So now that your veggie is trashed, your wine is accessible, and your household pests have been exterminated, you can enjoy this festively colored, brilliantly flavored meal from the Mediterranean! Where wasps are probably much bigger!
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Yours in the love of good food, wine, and letting nothing impede your culinary satisfaction,
AL
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The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Twenty-third Post: Garlic and White Wine Sauteed Chicken with Balsamic Green Beans

This meal was easy to cook, and is even easier if everything is assembled before you're ready to cook (I've learned this the hard way: see scorched beans from Post #21).
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So get everything set. Here's what you'll need:
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~ Chicken tenderloins
~ Garlic cloves (I used 2)
~ White wine
~ Lemon juice
~ Basil
~ Salt/pepper
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For the green beans (now this is tough, so pay attention):
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~ Green beans (precut, prewashed)
~ Water
~ Balsamic vinegarette marinade (optional)
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Get the chicken in the pan, get the wine to room temperature, get the garlic cloves peeled and ready to be pressed... Pour some white wine over the chicken tenderloins in the pan and crush the garlic over them. Snip up some fresh basil (or add some dried). Salt and pepper the chicken to taste. Keep it simmering as you cook the beans.
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Put the beans in a bowl and add about two tablespoons (if that) of water and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Put it in the microwave for about three minutes. Let it sit and steam until the chicken is done.
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As the chicken is cooking, add a little lemon juice. Keep adding a bit of wine as the liquid cooks away. Once the chicken is done, drain the beans and toss with a touch of balsamic vinegarette marinade.
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I served this meal with a Mirassou Chardonnay. It was fruity and balanced well with all the flavors in the chicken..
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All in all, a quick, easy, tasty meal for a busy Monday!
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Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.