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.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Watch for the return of the Accidental Chef mid-January!

Last night, I settled down to a home-cooked family dinner that was as timeless and hearty as it was delicious.  A rustic beef stew paired beautifully with crumbly, sweet corn bread and baked cinnamon apples.   A Californian pinot noir highlighted the earthy tones of the stew and rejuvenated my pallet for each savory bite.

Naturally, my love of food led to thoughts about my blog.

These past few weeks, my life has been filled with end-of-semester craziness, final projects, Christmas preparations, family time and getting ready for a trip.  Needless to say, I've been one busy girl.

That doesn't mean I haven't made the time to do some pretty darn good cooking...

...I just haven't had time to blog about it!

But never fear - the Accidental Chef shall return to you mid-January once the dust has settled a bit with new dishes as well as some catch-up posts on those that have been sitting in a file of photos marked "To blog about"!

In January, you can read all about:
  • Another Amanda and Meg wine feature starring a phenomenal Riesling
  • A quick and healthy take on tortellini
  • A delectable cranberry torte that I learned how to make from my mother this holiday season - and it's easy!!!
  • Recipe inspirations I'm hoping to pick up from my trip abroad!
So in the mean time, my foodie friends, settle in for long winter naps, cook up some rustic meals of your own, and tune back in after a couple of weeks to read about what's new!

Wishing you a prosperous, happy, healthy New Year full of warm memories, and of course, fantastic food and wine!
AL

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Seventy-ninth Post ~ Caramelized sirloin with port-stilton reduction

Tonight's meal was a complete experiment.  Well, most meals are; let's be honest.  But tonight's was just a fly-by-night, see-what-happens, try-it-out-and-see type of experiment.

It started with my mama.  Over dinner the other night, she reminded me that she still has some ground lamb in the freezer, which we traditionally cook in an orange-caramel sauce (more on that later - MUCH more...) which of course, set me to craving it.

I haven't any ground lamb in MY freezer (and it just wouldn't seem right to make it without her!) so I started a steak thawing and figured I'd try out some brown-sugar recipes on my own.

: : PAUSE : :

Now might be a time to remind you that one should always have a fire extinguisher handy in one's kitchen.  Not that I do.  And not that I needed one tonight.  But there was a moment there when I was afraid my petite sirloin was going to spontaneously combust, and during that moment, I rued the fact that I was not in possession of a fire extinguisher.  Especially since my house is about one hundred years old and made of wood.

: : UNPAUSE : :

Suffice it to say, my steak did not combust and my house did not burn down, AND the meal turned out to be quite yummy.  Hence the blog post.

So here's what you'll need to make tonight's meal.

For the steak:
~ Sirloin steak
~ Brown sugar
~ Fresh thyme
~ Coarse ground sea salt

For the reduction:
~ Stilton (just a little bit)
~ Dash of port
~ Dash of heavy cream
~ Dash of EVOO
~ Scallions - three bulbs, one stalk or so

For the side:
~ Frozen bean medley
~ Wegman's basil pesto

Mix some brown sugar in a bowl with some sea salt and thyme.

: : PAUSE AGAIN : :

Here's where I went wrong.  I treated the mix like a rub, much like I did here, but unfortunately, steak in a broiler behaves much differently than salmon in a pan.  I put the steak in the toaster oven set on broil and walked away for a few minutes, and when I came back, the brown sugar had bubbled up and caramelized such that it looked like some modern installation at the Corning Glass Museum.  So I would recommend perhaps starting the steak cooking and spooning some of the brown sugar mix over it just as it's finishing cooking.  Perhaps.  I think this recipe might need some tweaking.

: : UNPAUSE AGAIN : :

So I coated the steak in the rub and broiled it; as you can see above, alternate measures might behoove you, dear reader.  But in any case, the steak was beautiful in the end (after switching it to a different parchment lining and delicately spooning some of the glass-art off of it.

While you're dealing with your steak, here's the recipe for the reduction.

In a stick-free pan, slice in some scallion bulbs and one stalk with kitchen scissors.  Pour in a dash of port and a dash of EVOO.  Start it sizzling and add the stilton, crumble by crumble.  Rapidly stir in a dash of heavy cream.  Turn off the heat and let it sit until the steak is done (or blows up, whichever comes first).

The veggie is easy - in another stick-free pan, toss some frozen beans and a frozen chunk of pesto.  Toss around, salt, and heat again right before you're ready to eat.

The steak, as I said, came out great.  The stilton reduction complimented the sweetness of the brown sugar rub exactly the way I had hoped it would.  The scallions gave it a wonderful onion burst which added to the savory sweetness of it all.  I had a glass of a red called Cosmo (no relation to the cocktail) from Laurello Vineyards in Ohio (another fabulous find with Meg!) and it served to refresh my palate and compliment the steak!  The beans in pesto were surprisingly easy AND yummy.  I will definitely add them to my mental list of quick and simple sides!

All in all, a successful (albeit adventurous) meal!

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 22, 2010

Seventy-eighth Post ~ Mussels in White Wine and Herb Butter Broth

Blame the dreary weather.  Blame flu season.  Blame the November tendency to burn the candle at both ends.  Whatever the source of blame, I found myself craving the simple, energy-packed joy of a dinner of mussels.

I took my inspiration for parting from my usual wine-and-tomato based sauce from recipes and memoirs from Mireille Guiliano's fantastic books and site.  Seeing as this was a month that ends in "-er" and therefore mussel season, I thought I'd seize the opportunity to revel in this dish cooked with her recommended white wine, butter and herbs.

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

~ Mussels (I find 15 is a perfect meal for me)
~ White wine (I got a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc by Terra Andina)
~ Garlic (crushed or jarred - I was in a hurry tonight, so jarred it was)
~ Fresh parsley
~ Fresh thyme
~ Scallions (about one full one, from bulb to tips)
~ Butter.  Salted.  Lots of it.  I'm German, not French, anyway.
~ Coarse ground sea salt
~ Crispy baguette (sliced)

In a shallow pan with a well-fitted lid, slosh in about a half inch of white wine and several tabs of butter.  Add all but about 4 inches of scallion and a small handful of chopped parsley with a sprig of thyme.  Add a bit of garlic.  Let it simmer as you wash the mussels.  Add a bit more wine if it starts looking like it's simmering into nonexistence.

Add the mussels and another tab of butter over all.  Slap on the lid and walk away for 4-5 minutes.  In the mean time, slice the baguette and pour your wine.

When the time is up, spoon them out into a bowl with the luscious broth and snip the remaining scallion over the dish.  Grind on some salt.  Savor every last mussel and every last drop of "liqueur."

: : PAUSE : :

I may have gone a little overboard with the scallions.  It made the dish quite oniony.  I LOVED it!!!  It was fresh and zesty and bursting with green flavor.

: : UNPAUSE : :

The wine was a perfect companion.  It was grassy and crisp, but mellow enough to compliment rather than fight the buttery broth.  It tamed the taste of the scallions and brought out the "fresh from the sea" taste of the mussels.

All in all, a very fulfilling, satisfying dish!

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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seventy-seventh Post ~ Garlic Peach Salmon with Sweet "Dumpling" Squash

It's very hard to resist a friendly Wegman's staff member handing out yummy tempting treats.  I wasn't dressed up, but I felt a bit like I was trick-or-treating as I meandered from sample station to sample station.  I ended up with a loaf of apple cider bread with brie to spread over it for lunch tomorrow, and for dinner tonight, I got a great idea for squash.

Here's what you'll need for this fix-and-work meal (what I'd like to start calling the meals that you prep, stick in the oven, go back to work, and then return 30-45 minutes later to enjoy).

For the main dish:
~ Salmon fillet
~ Slice of peach
~ Brown sugar
~ Garlic clove (crushed)
~ Coarse-ground salt
~ EVOO
~ Herb of choice (thyme, naturally)

For the most autumnal side:
~ Squash of choice (I chose a "sweet dumpling" squash, which looked very much like a pumpkin if it were to shrink and cover itself with green and white stripes and speckles)
~ EVOO
~ Garlic clove (coarsely chopped)
~ Slice of onion (coarsely chopped)
~ Coarse-ground salt
~ Brown sugar (noticing a theme?)

Preheat the oven to 375.  Chop the squash (a process which is made worlds easier by piercing the gourd and microwaving for around 30 seconds) into bite-sized morsels.  I learned today from the friendly lady at the veggie sample stand that you can leave the skin on squash.  Extra nutrients = good to me.  Drizzle it with EVOO and grind a bit of salt over it.  Coarsely chop the garlic clove and onion.  Mix it all in and scatter some brown sugar and thyme over it.  Pop it in the oven.  It will take about 45 minutes to cook through.

In the mean time, prep the salmon so it can sit and soak in all the goodness.  It requires about 15 minutes to cook to my liking; add minutes if you like it done more.

In a foil "boat", place the salmon.  In a prep bowl, crush one clove of garlic and "mush" a piece of peach into it.  I say "mush" because I'm really not sure what the proper term is, here.  Squeeze it in your hand until all the juice runs into the bowl and the leftover fruit is kinda "preserve-y".  Into that, mix ample brown sugar.  Spoon it over the salmon fillet, press a sprig of thyme into it, and pop it in the oven at the appropriate time.

Savor the aromas!!!

In between, finish a paper, send emails, get your work lined up for the next day.

When you return, a luscious autumnal meal will be waiting for you!  I paired this meal with a Robert Mondavi Private Selection pinot noir.  My intent was to have a wine that was full-bodied enough to stand up to the salmon (hence a red) but fruity enought to not go too dry in the face of the brown sugar and sweet squash (hence a new world vintage).  My goal was realized.  This wine offered a palate-cleansing finish without ever being too dry, a fruitiness that accompanied rather than fought the sweet, savory meal (think cranberries next to a Thanksgiving turkey and yams) and an oakiness that gave the whole meal a decidedly rustic overtone.

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 27, 2010

Seventy-sixth Post ~ A new spin on pork florentine

I meant to thaw out a portion of pork tenderloin, but instead accidentally thawed one that I had already cut into medallions.  It had occurred to me earlier that day that I had all the ingredients that I typically find in a pork florentine - namely, spinach, cheese and mustard - so I decided not to allow my initial plan to be thwarted by my attempt at making my life easier (by pre-slicing most of the tenderloins I bought last week).

So I punted.  And, as testimony to the name of this blog, The "Accidental" Chef - I think that a lot of good things are the direct results of wrinkles in plans.

Here's what you'll need to create these miniature versions of pork florentine (which could become an elegant appetizer if ever an occasion called for it!)

~ Pork tenderloin (cut into medallions)
~ Spinach (I thawed some frozen spinach)
~ Mustard (I use country-style Grey Poupon)
~ Cheese (I had extra brie, so that's what I used.  I have a professor who once told me, "You could bake brie on my shoe and I'd probably eat it."  In my world, this is just proof-positive that he's a genius.)
~ Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
~ Fresh herb of choice (for me, thyme, naturally)

For the side, I tossed some green beans with some garlic and EVOO.  I made them ahead of time, and then just fired them up again before I was ready to eat.

Thaw the spinach ahead.  Preheat your toaster oven or other heating apparatus to 350.  Lay the medallions out on a foil-lined pan.  Spread a dab of course-ground mustard on each one.  Put a bit of spinach on each.  Over that, lay a slice of brie and dust breadcrumbs over all.  Pop them in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until juices from the pork run clear.

They came out beautifully golden and full of flavor.  I paired this meal with the remaining chardonnay I had from Vetter Vineyard.  It paired perfectly with the melted brie and the fruit-forward nature of this wine complimented the savory, rich flavors in the pork florentine.

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.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Seventy-fifth Post ~ Rustic Autumn Vegetable and Chicken Pesto Pasta

Savory + Sweet - this meal combines all the zest of pesto with the warm, sweetness of roasted garlic and one of my autumn favorites - acorn squash.  It was also quite easy to prepare, as much of the food required separate cooking locations.  Spread out over a kitchen and conquer; that's what I say...

Here's what you'll need:

~ Leftover uncooked squash (I used acorn)
~ 2-3 cloves garlic
~ Mushrooms
~ Chicken tenderloins
~ Pesto (Wegman's ready-made pesto sits in my freezer with its sundried tomato partner)
~ Pasta (I love rainbow rotini)
~ Cream
~ EVOO
~ Butter

Preheat the toaster oven.  Cut up the squash, drizzle it with EVOO and grind on a little salt.  Place it on a baking pan.  Peel the garlic cloves and nestle them in a little foil boat.  Drizzle some EVOO over them, too.  Wrap them up and set them on the pan with the squash.  Start it baking at 375.

Start some salted water boiling on the stove.  In time, add the pasta and watch the clock.

Put a tablespoon of pesto in a pan and slice the mushrooms into it.  Start them sauteeing.  Cut up the chicken and toss it all together over medium heat.  When the chicken is cooked through, set the mix to the side in a prep bowl.

Wash your dishes, set the table for company the next day - kill enough time that your squash starts browning. Add a little butter if you wish.  I'd say that I cooked the squash for about 15-20 minutes.

Turn off the heat.  Strain the noodles.  When the squash is finger-manageable, peel it and cut it.

: : PAUSE : :

I always microwave squash with ample spices, sugar and butter.  I've never really roasted it before.  I was a little dismayed that the squash was somewhat hard on the edges but tender in the middle.  Don't fear!  Once it was combined with the other parts of the meal, it was perfect - tender, but yet still holding its shape!

: : UNPAUSE : :

Once the squash is peeled and diced, put it into the pan with a little more EVOO.  Add the roasted garlic.  Mash up the garlic and mix the squash into it.  Add a splash of cream.  Toss in the strained pasta, then the chicken and mushrooms along with whatever juice has settled into the bottom of the prep bowl.  Salt to taste and serve!

I enjoyed this one-bowl meal with a Chardonnay by Vetter Vineyard.  It was lightly oaked, which complimented the autumn flavorings of this meal, and fruity to offset the zest of the garlic and pesto.  A perfect pair!

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 20, 2010

Seventy-fourth Post ~ Cheesy, Savory Spaghetti with Mushrooms

This meal is so simple and yet sooooo satisfying... And this post contains a confession from The Accidental Chef.

Here goes.

You know I have a soft spot for my imported goat cheese buttons from Portugal. You know I love my shredded Parmesan from Italy. You know all about my love affair with Dutch vintage gouda, and you know I'm a sucker for the snowy, white rind of a French brie.

But here's something you may not know about me. For melting into gooey, cheesy, soul-pleasing bliss between two slices of grilled buttered bread, or swirling beautifully into savory, delectable spaghetti, I really think that nothing beats...

Velveeta.

You heard it here first. Way back in my cheese drawer, behind the intense brie and the herb-crusted chevre, sits a happy orange block of this processed American cheese. It waits in there for rainy afternoons when I'm craving grilled cheese and tomato soup. And it sits in there for nights like tonight - when I'm in need of some cheesy spaghetti.

So here's what you'll need for this wonderful dish:

~ Spaghetti (cooked as per usual in salted water)
~ Ready-made spaghetti sauce (I have some tomato basil by Wegmans in my freezer at the ready)
~ Mushrooms (chopped)
~ Fresh herb of choice (I heart thyme)
~ EVOO
~ Splash of wine
~ And... Velveeta

Make your pasta and while it's cooking, chop up some mushrooms. Start them sautéing in a pan with some EVOO and salt. Add the fresh thyme and a splash of wine. Once they're done, add some spaghetti sauce and ample slices of Velveeta. Watch as the color fades from bright red to a soft, autumnal orange. Add another splash of wine.

When the pasta is cooked, strain it then toss it right into the pan of sauce and turn the heat off almost immediately. Stir it around, then twirl and serve right onto a plate.

I paired tonight's dinner with a French red table wine by Vieux Papes. It is fruity enough to contrast beautifully to the salty sauce on this pasta, and was dry enough to cut the richness so that my palate felt cleansed between bites, keeping the meal from ever being overwhelming. Well - I was overwhelmed - by the wonderful cheesiness of it all, but that's not a bad thing.

Yours in the love of good food and wine (and guilty pleasures),
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 19, 2010

Seventy-third Post ~ Turkey with Pear and Cherry Dressing with Spiced Acorn Squash


Autumn is my favorite time of year for so many reasons: the colors, the crispness of winter on the air, the scent and sound of leaves crunching under my feet - and the foot. Let us not forget the food. This is the time to celebrate savory, spicey, home-inspired comfort foods - and I decided to make turkey tonight - turkey tenderloins, that is!

Here's what you'll need for this simple turkey preparation:

~ Turkey tenderloins
~ Chopped piece of shallot
~ Garlic
~ Sage
~ EVOO
~ Bosc pear
~ Dried Cherries
~ White wine

For the acorn squash (so easy and yummy - makes a good lunch when you want to say you were good and "only had vegetables" for lunch!)

~ Halved acorn squash
~ Brown sugar
~ Butter
~ Spices of choice - I always choose cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves

Here's how I make the squash, which can sit and wait after cooking until the meal is ready:

Pierce the squash and microwave it for about 30 seconds on high. This makes it far easier to cut. Slice in half. If you're only cooking one half, saran the other and save it for a lunch later on in the week. Scoop out the seeds and fill the middle with a tab of butter, ample sugar and lots of spices. Place it in a small bowl and put a tiny amount of water in. Saran and microwave for 3-5 minutes. Let it sit until the rest of the meal is done.

Slice the pear and mince some onion. In a stick-free pan, begin sauteeing the onion, garlic, white wine and sage. Add the turkey tenderloins, a little pepper and some salt. Just when they've browned nicely, add the pear slices and cherries. You may need to add a bit more wine. Cover the pan and let it cook until the juices from the turkey run clear. Serve with the squash.

I enjoyed tonight's meal with a Chardonnay by Tall Poppy. It was fruity and oaky, reminiscent of late-harvest pears and apples. It was the perfect compliment to this meal!

Yours in the love of good food and wine (and autumn!)
AL

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seventy-second Post ~ Curry Lamb Shish Kebabs with Wild Rice

Tonight I had my friend Jess over for dinner. We had decided (based on a random facebook post) that tonight would be all about lamb. She'd bring a red wine, and I'd create an entrée. So one afternoon when I needed a break from studying, I brainstormed some ideas and sketched this meal out. Here's what you'll need:

For the marinade:
~ one clove crushed garlic
~ curry powder
~ soy sauce
~ white wine
~ apricot jam
~ thyme
~ honey
~ bay leaf

For the shishes (read this post for my rant on the linguistic wrongness of "shish kebab"):
~ lamb tenderloins (or, as it turned out, butterflied leg of lamb)
~ onion
~ yellow pepper
~ garlic
~ baby bella mushrooms
~ dried apricots

For the rice:
~ Uncle Ben's fast-cook recipe long grain and wild rice. Follow the directions and just as it's getting ready to sit and steam for 5 minutes, toss in a good couple handfuls of dried cranberries. This can be made right as you begin cooking - it can steam for a while until you're ready to eat.

I was surprised to learn that lamb tenderloins are not a regularly stocked item; turns out I've just gotten lucky each time I've gone to Wegmans and gotten them previously. This time I found butterflied leg of lamb, and was told by the helpful staff that it is tougher than the tenderloins, but if I plan to marinade it, it will be good. So I made the marinade ahead and let it sit in it for over 24 hours. The end result was super flavorful, tender lamb.

Here's how I made the marinade.

In a sauce pan, start some white wine and olive oil heating up. Add a good swirl of soy sauce and several whole sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf. Add some curry powder. As it starts to seriously simmer, add a few tablespoons of apricot jam and then some honey to taste. Crush in a clove of garlic last of all.

Let it sit and cube the lamb. Put it in a bowl and when the marinade is room temperature, pour it over the lamb. Saran wrap it and let it rest in the fridge over night. In the morning, stir it around and cover it and put it back in the fridge for the day.

Once it's time to get cookin', slice up the pepper and onion while you simmer the mushrooms in some white wine, salt and EVOO. In a separate pan, caramelize the onion with some oil and sugar. When the fire alarm goes off, splash in some white wine (which solves a lot of kitchen problems) and add the peppers. Let them sautee until just tender. Let everything sit and cool in prep bowls. Preheat your toaster oven. When you're ready, skewer your shishes with apricots, lamb, mushrooms, peppers and onions. Place in a pan and pour the remaining marinade over the top. Broil until the lamb is cooked to your liking. We liked ours medium-rare, so it didn't take too long! Serve over wild rice.

Jess and I enjoyed this meal with a Peruvian merlot by Santa Rita. It was spicy and fruity and had a luxurious, velvety finish that paired beautifully with the meal. Naturally, girl-talk paired perfectly with this meal as well, so it was, all in all, a perfect evening!

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, September 23, 2010

Seventy-first Post ~ Herb Marinated Sirloin with Goat Cheese and Sage Mashed Potatoes

I don't know what I was thinking when I bought this sirloin. It was one of those "looks smaller in the store" moments, I think. It's enormous.

In any case, I decided to slice and marinate it for three reasons: 1.) slicing it up would enable me to easily eat some and store the rest of it, 2.) marinade would infuse slices far easier than a whole sirloin which means more flavor and 3.) I had some thinking to do, and nothing relaxes me like the aromatic process of carefully chopping fresh herbs.

So here's what you'll need for the marinade, which you'll want to prepare ahead of time:

~ Splash of whatever wine you have laying around (I had an Italian red)
~ Bit of olive oil
~ Ground sea salt
~ Fresh herbs (I chose rosemary, sage and thyme)

So this afternoon I poured a little olive oil and a splash of red wine into a bowl and chopped up some sage and rosemary and then added a few sprigs of thyme to the mix. Something about the scent of these fragrant plants coupled with the methodical motion of chopping is very relaxing. My paper was finished in no time following this task.

Mix the chopped herbs with the wine and oil. Slice the sirloin and then dip each side into the marinade, finally layering each slice in the bowl so it's well-coated. Seal tightly and refrigerate until you're ready for dinner.

I decided to use some more of the fresh sage I had by making some mashed potatoes, because I had fingerlings on hand and mashed potatoes is something I frequently crave but seldom make or order.

Here's what you'll need to satisfy this craving:

~ Six or so fingerlings, thinly sliced
~ Ground sea salt
~ Fresh (or dried) sage
~ Heavy cream
~ Butter
~ Goat cheese

Boil some salted water, slice the potatoes, and boil them until fork-tender. Mash them in a bowl with some cream, salt, a dash of butter, good amount of goat cheese (okay, now I'm seeing why it's a good idea for me to not make these too regularly...) and chopped sage. Cover them with plastic wrap so you can heat them up once in the microwave before serving them.

Coat a pan with some butter then start it heating (see this post to read about the sneaky ways I give in to my English heritage and butter my steak) and set the steak slices in the pan. They'll cook fast, so if you like your steak on the border between rare and medium-rare like I do, you'll be turning them quickly. When you turn them, pour on the rest of the marinade. Revel in the marinade's aroma as it hits the pan and remind yourself that this is why you adore buying bunches of fresh herbs and chopping them up when you need to de-stress.

Heat up the potatoes and garnish them with an optional sprig of rosemary and some pepper. Serve a few slices of the steak and save the rest for later (lunch, atop buttered toast? Perhaps...). I enjoyed this meal with some Bella Rosa, a lumbrusco-style red from New York State's Merritt Estate Winery. I normally would have anticipated wanting a fuller-bodied red for this meal, what with the goat cheese, herbs and red meat and all, but the fruitiness of this slightly sweet red made the herbal notes sparkle and mellowed out the richness at the same time. In my opinion, a wonderful pairing, and a 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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seventieth Post ~ Goat Cheese Canapés

I was in the mood for a munchie this afternoon before grading, and so I made these, which were so simple I really wondered if it was worth blogging about them. But then I thought - simple is good! So here we are.

I was first introduced to the word (and concept) of canapés on board my first Celebrity cruise. My mom and I jokingly mispronounce them as "cuh-NAP-ees" because they always arrive in the cabin around nap time.

Well, today's "nap time" is going to be in the form of a cup of Starbuck's French roast, so I thought canapés would be fitting.

Here's what you'll need for these bite-sized snacks:

~ Baguette slices
~ Goat cheese
~ Fruit preserve (I chose apricot)
~ Fresh herb (thyme is my favorite!)

Preheat the toaster oven. Slice the baguette and dab a little goat cheese on each slice. Drop about a table knife-tip's worth of preserves on top, and scatter a little thyme over the whole deal. Bake for about as long as it takes for your 4-cup coffee maker to brew 2 cups.

Enjoy! Then back to work!

Yours in the love of good food and its re-energizing properties,
AL

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sixty-ninth Post ~ Pork Tenderloins with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto and Tortellini

This post is something of a continuation of the theme of "Ode to Wegmans Classic Italian" from this post a short time ago. These ingredients are always in my cupboard and freezer. I'm not sure if there's ever been a day that tortellini hasn't sounded good to me for dinner, and, well, you know my thoughts on pork tenderloins being the most perfect, versatile cut of meat out there and Italian breadcrumbs being just about the best stuff ever.

So tonight's dinner was, in my opinion, something of a culinary no-brainer.

~ Pork tenderloins (cut into medallions - the thinner they are, the faster they'll cook)
~ Italian breadcrumb
~ (optional) fresh or dried thyme
~ EVOO

~ Tortellini (I'm a fan of Barilla's three-cheese)
~ Salt

~ Wegman's sun-dried tomato pesto (which has been sitting patiently in my freezer since I opened it)

Start your salted water boiling. In the mean time, slice the pork and pour some breadcrumbs into a shallow dish. Add some thyme if you wish. By now, the water is rolling, so pour in some tortellini and set the timer for 10 minutes.

Don't put a shellacked bamboo spoon on the edge of the pot with the tortellini, though. You'll spend the first five minutes wondering what that deliciously sweet smell is, and the next five minutes obsessing over the giant blackened spot on the handle of your beautiful spoon.

Coat the tenderloin medallions generously in the breadcrumbs. Get some EVOO smoking in a stick-free pan. Drop in the breaded tenderloins and cook until golden.

Transfer the pork to a plate. In the same pan, dump the strained tortellini and a spoonful of pesto. Turn off the flame and toss the pasta until it's well-coated.

I served tonight's meal with the remaining 2004 Italian red by Saladini Pilastri. It was starting to dry out, so enjoying it with tonight's meal was a wise decision. It was still fruity and oaky, and paired as well with this meal as it had with the lamb.

All in all, a satisfying, quickly-prepared meal!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sixty-eighth Post ~ Lamb Wellington


Tonight I was in the mood for something special for dinner. I had gone to Wegman's to stock my freezer full of meat (never too soon to prepare for Autumn?) and I bought two lamb chops. I found in the refrigerated foods section a Pilsbury sheet of seamless roll-out dough - perfect for my next attempted creation:

Lamb Wellington. Beef Wellington has always caught my eye, and so I thought I'd try to improve upon something that's already pretty grand by changing it from beef to lamb.

Traditionally, wellingtons (of any sort, I suppose) are coated with pate or foix gras. I decided to make my own mushroom pate. Here's what you'll need for tonight's meal:

~ Lamb chops
~ Seamless pastry dough

For the pate:
~ Mushrooms (I used baby pearls)
~ Garlic
~ Dijon mustard
~ Fresh herbs (I chose oregano, rosemary and chives)
~ EVOO

For the side, I had a vegetable medley from the freezer section.

SO! Finely mince the mushrooms and herbs. Put them in a pan with some EVOO, garlic and a hint of Dijon. The aromas that will start to fill your kitchen will let you know pretty quickly that you're on the right track with this.

After the pate has melded, put it in a prep bowl. Briefly brown the lamb in the same pan. Pop the canister of dough (this has always made me jump, ever since I've been a child. It's like someone hands me a live grenade). By now, the pate has cooled. Cut two squares of dough and set a piece of lamb in each one. Top with the pate and wrap and seal the little parcel with the dough. Bake on 375 for about 15 minutes, longer if you like your meat cooked well. In the mean time, heat your veggies in the microwave, go downstairs to reset your breaker because you always forget you can't run two heating apparatuses at the same time, and uncork your wine.

About halfway through, I spread a little butter over the top of the wellington.

I served tonight's meal with a 2004 Italian red by Saladini Pilastri. It was oaky and enhanced the rustic taste of lamb that I've always found so appealing, and was fruity enough to refresh the palate between bites.

All in all, a good meal! Not a good picture, so much - I left my camera at my parents' house and had to resort to my cell phone. The next post will be better photographed, I promise!

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, August 31, 2010

Sixty-seventh Post ~ Steamer Pot

I know that summer technically goes until the middle of September somewhere, but to me, the end of August always signaled the end of it. This meal was meant to be a celebration of the dog days of summer - and believe me - cooking it in my 90-degree third floor apartment kitchen really enabled me to welcome in the prospect of autumn and its crisp days.

This dinner was inspired by the steamer pots that my dad and I have shared at Joe's Crab Shack, a care-free restaurant chain that we have visited in Maryland and California. I really think that the act of slamming one pot down on a table and announcing, "Dinner is served!" sets a certain casual, laid-back sort of mood...

So here's what you'll need for tonight's meal (cook this for two - grab a friend, a S.O., a family member, a neighbor - honestly, it's just more fun!):

~ one 2-pound bag of mussels
~ any other kind of mollusk you want to add to the mix - I chose 10 steamer clams
~ one (or two) sausages
~ a good handful of fingerling potatoes
~ three or so ears of corn
~ EVOO
~ onion
~ half teaspoon of sugar
~ scallions or chives
~ garlic (I used three cloves)
~ coarse-ground sea salt
~ seasonings (I used dried thyme, cayenne, white pepper, curry powder and bay leaves)
~ one big ol' pot to cook and serve it in!

Start a large pot about half-filled with water boiling on your stove. Grind in an embarrassing amount of salt.

Chop some onion and start to sauté it in a small pan with some EVOO. My goal was to caramelize the onion and I've learned that there's a fine line between burning and caramelizing. Once they're browning nicely, toss in some sugar and grind on some salt and keep them going, tossing them occasionally. I made the mistake of crushing in the garlic with the onions at this point - all it does is splash hot oil back onto your hand as you crush it in, and then the garlic burns a bit. Injury + Insult. I would recommend waiting until the onions are done caramelizing, turn them off, and crush in the garlic and let it meld.

Once you've turned off the heat under the onions, cut the sausage in half and just set it in the pan with a lid over all so the aroma of the caramelized onions and garlic infuses the sausage.

Now that your water is rolling nicely in your pot, add three bay leaves, a dash of cayenne, curry powder, white pepper, dried thyme, and the pierced fingerling potatoes to the pot. Savor the aroma as you add each spice to the water! Set your timer for 10 minutes. During this time, rinse off your clams and mussels. Also, prep some spices that you'll want to sprinkle over the whole pot before you set it to steam. I mixed a dash of all of the spices listed above into a prep bowl so they were blended and ready for when I needed them.

Cut the ears of corn in half. As soon as the timer goes off, add the corn and reset the timer for 8 minutes. Get your table ready. I recommend large placemats and smallish plates - you're mostly eating out of the pot, anyway! Get some beverages and a large empty bowl for shells and corn cobs. Put some butter on a plate so you can use it on the corn and potatoes if you wish.

When the timer goes off, pour out all but about two inches of water from the pot. Put the caramelized onions, garlic and sausage in. Keep the burner going and put in your clams and mussels. Sprinkle with your spice mix and slap on the lid for 4 minutes.

When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let it sit for another minute. Then, unveil the steamer pot! Transfer it from stove to table (a trivet or strategically-placed place mat is helpful here). Snip in some fresh scallions or chives for a little fresh, crispy onion taste. Try not to burn your fingers, dig in and enjoy!

I served tonight's meal with a chardonnay by Casillero del Diablo - it was a perfect pairing for the mixture of spices and tastes in tonight's meal. It was refreshing with notes of citrus and vanilla.

All in all, a fun meal and a worthy send-off to summer!
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, August 25, 2010

Sixty-sixth Post ~ "Italian Classics"-Inspired Tilapia

This post could be titled "An Ode to Wegman's Italian Classics." I have had a long-standing love-affair with Wegman's Italian Classics seasoned breadcrumbs. Just the right amount of parmesan. Just the right amount of basil. Just the right amount of salt. My habitual "comfort food" dish of late has been chopped chicken tenderloins rolled in these savory morsels and sautéed in EVOO... but I have found yet another use for them: fish!

In the mood for something home-cooked yet quick this evening, I grabbed a fillet of tilapia as I zoomed through Wegmans. At $1.87 for this hearty serving, tilapia is not just yummy - it's cheap! I had intended to do something fun with the leftover cilantro and lime I had in the fridge, but my attention was grabbed by something in the chilled prepared pasta aisle - Wegman's sun-dried tomato and basil pesto. Who could resist something that enticing? Into my cart it went. So here's what you'll need for this meal:

~ Fillet of tilapia (light and flaky is the key - you could probably substitute halibut, monkfish or catfish as well)
~ Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
~ EVOO
~ Wegman's (or your local wonder-market) sun-dried tomato and basil pesto
~ Green beans
~ Scallion
~ Jarred (or crushed) garlic
~ Coarse-ground sea salt

Dump some frozen french-cut green beans into a pot with some water. Snip in one scallion and some jarred garlic. I couldn't even be bothered to crush any fresh garlic tonight. Scallions are one of my new favorite on-hand items. They add so much flavor to a dish without being overwhelmingly oniony. Let those simmer until they're done to whatever level you like your beans cooked. I like french-cut green beans al dente, so I turned them off just about as soon as they really started simmering.

Into a pan put a little jarred garlic and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Start it heating. Generously coat the tilapia fillet in the seasoned breadcrumbs and set it carefully into the hot oil. As I flipped it, I would sprinkle some more breadcrumbs over it so that it gave it a little extra crispiness.

As soon as the fish is done (it won't take long!) serve it on a plate and spoon a bit of the pesto over it. A little goes a long way - believe me! I saran-wrapped the rest of the pesto and put it in the freezer - I am envisioning it tossed with some pasta (tortellini?) along with some breaded pork tenderloins for a quick and savory dinner sometime in the near future.

I added a little butter to the beans, topped the tilapia with pesto and served it with a Chenin Blanc from MAN Vintners of South Africa - a gift from Nozomi and her husband. It was fresh and citrussy but heartier than a Sauvignon blanc. It paired with the lighter tones of the tilapia but also stood up to the zesty, savory quality of the pesto. A good match!

Yours in the love of good food, wine, and occasional culinary shortcuts,
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 18, 2010

Sixty-fifth Post ~ Salmon with Zesty Avocado-Peach Salsa

While searching for healthy yet filling summer dinner recipes, I happened upon a recipe for grilled salmon over mango salsa.

Now, I neither possess a grill nor a penchant for mangoes, so I decided to mix the original recipe up a little. And then I kinda got carried away "customizing" it to my personal tastes and preferences. So here's what I ended up needing for tonight's meal, when all was said and done:

(Note that I am preparing this for two, but if preparing it for one, I would make it exactly the same way but with one salmon fillet - I feel that the salsa would be wonderfully accompanied by tortilla chips for lunch the following day)

~ 1 or 2 salmon fillets (about 6 oz. each)
~ 1 large ripe Haas avocado
~ 2 peaches* (or one monster peach, which is what I ended up with!)
~ 2 roma tomatoes*
~ 1 jalapeño*
~ 1 lime
~ fresh cilantro
~ 1 can corn*
~ two scallions*
~ 1 clove of garlic

The asterisks indicate ingredients that I "customized" - I substituted peaches for mangoes, one and a half roma tomatoes for cherry tomatoes, a jalapeño that I seeded first rather than packing in all that heat, added a half a can of corn to give it a little more oomph, and scallions instead of onions, as they are a little milder in taste.

Set aside some time before you're actually going to bake the salmon. The salsa is best if it sits and melds for a bit. This dinner is quite easy to make, but it requires a bit of chopping, slicing and dicing. It is a task made much easier with the proper tools - in this case, a chef's knife, a paring knife, a peeling knife, and kitchen scissors, all direct from the beautiful knife set my dad gave me as a Christmas gift!

So time to get your get your slice 'n' dice on!

I started with the avocado.

:: PAUSE ::

Now here's a strange habit, but I'm going to share it with you, dear readers: my 60-second avocado hand treatment. Whenever I make anything with avocado, I end up with a ton of it on my hands. Instead of washing it off immediately, I rub the avocado all over my hands, then rinse it off under warm running water and towl my hands dry. It leaves my skin amazingly smooth. I also end up smelling a bit like an avocado, but there are trade-offs in life.

:: UNPAUSE ::

So after [ahem] dealing with the avocado, I diced up the peach, squeezing the juice out of the peel into the bowl. Next went the romas. I scooped out a little of the tomato "innards" first. I used my kitchen scissors to snip in a good handful of cilantro - which has to be one of my favorite fresh herbs next to thyme and basil. I added about half of a small can of corn, the scallions (which I snipped into the bowl rather than cut), a crushed clove of garlic, the juice of one lime, and the jalapeño.

:: PAUSE AGAIN ::

Sorry. But this merits saying. I have a medium-to-moderate spicy tolerance. I can eat jalapeños, but only in very small quantities - and I'm best if their seeded first. All the heat of a pepper resides in the seeds and inside pulp, so I scooped it out with the smaller end of a melon-baller (a trick I learned at one of Meg's Pampered Chef parties!) and then, with a very sharp paring knife, minced the bugger. Actually, I only added half of it to the salsa, reserving the other half in a prep bowl so that it could be added later by someone else who may have a higher spicier index than I...

And then I attempted to add the zest of lime. It turns out I lack a zester. I thought I had one; perhaps it was a dream. In any case, I decided to attempt to use a cheese grater. Remember what I had said about the right tools making a job really simple? Well, the wrong tool can really complicate things. Thankfully I was working over a prep bowl and NOT the salsa, as I ended up grating a good deal of my own knuckle along with the lime on my first pass down the grater. So there is no lime zest in this salsa. No blood, either.

:: UNPAUSE ::

So now you've got all your ingredients in the salsa - toss it a few times and then cover it tightly - trust me on this - and refrigerate it while you bake the salmon.

As previously mentioned, rather than grill the salmon, I opted to bake the fillets, which I had skinned by the helpful guy at Wegmans. I rubbed them with a juicy slice of peach and ground some salt over them and sprinkled on a bit of pepper before baking them for about 15 minutes. About halfway through the baking, I brushed them with some olive oil.

Serve the salmon atop an ample bed of salsa with a garnish of cilantro, if you so choose.

I served this meal with an amazingly refreshing sauvignon blanc from South Africa by Graham Beck. I got it on sale 50% off at Global Wine, my favorite wine shop (for reasons like that!). It was grassy, citrussy, and paired perfectly with the dish.

All in all, a successful meal!

Yours in the love of good food, wine, and the joy of customization,
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, August 16, 2010

Sixty-fourth Post ~ Cheater's Duck à l'Orange

Duck à l'Orange has always been one of my favorite dishes. Pair it with a good oaky chardonnay, and it will make me swoon. I decided to try an easy take on this classic French recipe by using marmalade as my base. Here's what you'll need:

~ Duck breast (prepackaged ones by Maple Tree Farms from Wegmans are consistently delicious)
~ Marmalade
~ Heavy cream
~ Splash dry white wine (I used some leftover Brut)
~ One orange

For the sides, I made two dishes that are fail-safe and can be pretty much left on their own while I focused my energies on the duck:

~ Fingerling potatoes
~ Olive oil
~ Fresh (or dried) thyme
~ Coarse-ground sea salt

~ French-cut green beans (the bags from the freezer always come out crisp!)
~ Olive oil
~ One clove garlic
~ Coarse-ground sea salt

Beforehand, rinse and pierce the fingerling potatoes, drizzle them generously with EVOO, sprinkle some thyme on them and salt to taste. Pop them in a toaster oven on 350. They are best if they bake for about 45 minutes. I love fingerlings because A.) they're multicolored, which just makes me happy - especially the purple ones and B.) They are tiny, so 45 minutes of baking makes them taste just like those baked potatoes that have been in the oven forever absorbing all sorts of good flavors and getting all sweet.

Put the beans on the stove with some water and start boiling on low. I don't like beans cooked too long, so I just shut off the heat after they had boiled a bit. While I was prepping everything, I crushed a clove of garlic into some oil in a separate pan - but didn't turn it on until the very end when the duck was nearly done. At that point, I sautéed the garlic and tossed the beans around in it just before serving.

So back to the duck. Even though these particular duck breasts come pre-scored, I still scored them a little deeper to make sure I had a crispy skin. Place them skin side down in the pan and let them cook there for a bit, checking them every so often so they don't get too toasty. You may wish to drain out a little of the fat as they cook. Eventually, flip them over a few times to even out the cooking process and start making the sauce around them.

Dump in a few generous tablespoons of marmalade with a little bit of EVOO. Add a dash of salt and a splash or two of white wine. Cut off two slices of orange for a garnish, and squeeze the juice from the remaining fruit into the sauce. Stir it around a bit and allow it to begin simmering. After a bit, begin adding tiny amounts of cream, stirring it in immediately as you add it.

Now comes the easy part - just let the whole thing go for a bit! Turn the duck a few times and spoon some of the sauce over it as it's cooking, and insert a meat thermometer and turn off the heat when it reaches 160. Let the duck sit in the pan while you serve the potatoes with a dab of butter and the beans. Then serve the duck with a generous amount of sauce over the top!

I paired this meal with a chardonnay from Beachaven Vineyards Winery from Tennessee (a gift from JJ from a backpacking trip through the Smokeys). This chard is oaky enough to pair swoonably with the duck, with subtle vanilla and citrus notes that are a wonderful compliment to the orange sauce!

All in all, a successful first attempt at one of my favorite meals of all time!

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, August 2, 2010

Sixty-third Post ~ Pasta Bolognese


I have always loved bolognese sauce over pasta. I typically get it on trips or in restaurants, and never paused to question what was in it that made it so extraordinary. I was on a mission for a Great Fridge and Freezer Clean Out today, and happened upon a quarter pound of hamburger and a half jar of spaghetti sauce in my freezer. I began to ponder what to do with it (beyond the obvious) when the wonderful word "Bolognese!" popped into my head.

So be it.

It turns out, my friends, that bolognese is given its distinctive taste by three surprise ingredients. Let us take the first:

Mirepoix. Mirepoix, as it turns out, is much less mysterious than I had given it credit for when I would encounter it in French recipes (and promptly click "NEXT" for what I assumed would be something easier and less cryptic). Fear not! Mirepoix is simply chopped onion, celery and carrots. It's the base for many French dishes. Now, when you say "onion, celery and carrots," I am immediately put in mind of my Mama's chicken soup. Given my firm belief in this dish's healing properties, it's no mystery to me why this combination of three vegetables is known as one collective noun and is so popular in so many dishes.

The second mystery ingredient needed to turn your spaghetti sauce into bolognese is red wine. I chose to use a generous splash of a Spanish tempranillo and I think it was a good call. I've always noticed that bolognese is a bit deeper of a shade of red than most tomato-based sauces, and I feel this is the reason.

The third mystery ingredient is milk. Now, here's where I am going to show my colors: I am German. Butter and salt are food groups for us. Where recipes I've encountered have called for a splash of milk, I have used heavy cream instead. I made the same call for this recipe, and have read that I'm not the first, historically, to do so. Anyway, there's red wine in it, so surely we've already counter-balanced the health aspect of the meal...

So here's what you'll need to make Pasta Bolognese à la Accidental Chef:

~ Hamburger
~ Spaghetti sauce (I used Wegman's tomato basil)
~ Mirepoix (minced onion, celery and carrots. It's perfectly okay to pick some celery and carrots out of the veggie tray sent home with you from a family get-together).
~ Olive oil
~ Red wine
~ Heavy cream (or milk)
~ Pasta
~ Coarse-ground sea salt
~ Pepper

Start your water boiling and cook your pasta as per usual. While the pasta is cooking, mince some onion, celery and carrot and toss it into some olive oil in a skillet. Savor the aroma of these so-called "aromatics" as they simmer. Add the hamburger. Salt and pepper to taste.

:: PAUSE ::

Here's where I should have been a little more patient: let the mirepoix and hamburger simmer for quite a bit. I hastily added the tomato sauce as soon as the hamburger was done, and it could have benefited from melding together a bit more. The end result was still good, but I'd recommend giving the meat and mirepoix a little bit of patience. Just a little.

:: UNPAUSE ::

After the mirepoix and hamburger have had a chance to simmer together lengthily in your pan, add some red wine and then some pasta sauce. After you've stirred it all together, add just a splash of heavy cream. Watch it instantly turn into a beautiful blend of Italian goodness.

Serve over spaghetti. Garnish with parsley if you wish. A true bolognese would have been served with a dusting of grated parmesan, but, alas, I had none; neither parmesan nor even pecorino romano remained in my fridge. A sad day, truly, but I have faith that I shall attempt this recipe again, and when I do, I will have a generous sprinkling of parmesan over all!

I paired this dinner with the last of a delightful Spanish red by Protocolo. This wine paired beautifully with a classic roast beef, and brought out the essence of the root vegetables and yet was strong enough to stand up to the beef and tomato sauce in tonight's meal. All in all, a great pairing!

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, July 26, 2010

Sixty-second Post ~ Spaghetti alle Vongole


It started with a photo... While looking at a friend's travel photos, a picture of a pasta and seafood dish caught my eye and captivated my soul as only a foodie's soul could be captivated. She told me that it was a common dish in Japan, where there seems to be a prevalence of authentic Italian cooking (who knew?). The dish's name is spaghetti alle vongole, and is Neapolitan in origin. I decided that I must try it for myself.

So, with a tweaked recipe from the UK in hand (this was an international venture), a willing test subject at the ready (my boyfriend, John) and a Wegman's shopping list, I set out to recreate the meal that had captured me so (with the hopes that it would taste as lovely as it looked).

Here's what you'll need to take this virtual trip to the sunny Mediterranean shores of Napoli.

~ fresh clams (for two: about a pound or so - or maybe more - I got littlenecks from Wegmans as they are the sweetest)
~ spaghetti
~ dry white wine (enough for cooking and for drinking - I recommend buying a bottle to serve as the beverage and a mini bottle for cooking. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi is a good single-serve wine for both drinking and cooking)
~ garlic
~ flat leaf (AKA Italian) parsley
~ scallions
~ lemon juice
~ extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
~ chili powder (cayenne)
~ white pepper
~ course ground sea salt
~ butter

To add a little more to the dish, I opted to roast some garlic that could be spread on a baguette. So, for the side that really compliments the dish with savory nuttiness:

~ one bulb of garlic
~ baguette
~ EVOO
~ coarse ground sea salt

Peel the garlic cloves and generously coat in EVOO and season with coarse ground sea salt. Wrap the whole bundle up in tin foil and roast in a toaster oven (or heating apparatus of your choice) on 400 degrees for about a half hour. Start this ahead of time.

Cook your spaghetti as per usual in salted water. As it's cooking, chop up some parsley and one large scallion. Set to the side. If you have a sous chef, ask him to slice the baguette and put it in a bowl and rinse the clams.

In a pan with a well-fitting lid, start some EVOO, lemon juice, two cloves of garlic and scallions gently sizzling.

Add a bit of cayenne - I used less than the quarter teaspoon that was called for, as I have a lower spicy threshold than most. I like to taste my food thoroughly, and I find that extreme heat can detract from that. Others love this taste/sensation, so you be the judge and add as much or as little as you like. The dish itself is typified by having a bit of heat (hence why it is refreshing on a hot Mediterranean day) but it would be delicious without it, as well.

Add the white wine, parsley, and clams.

:: PAUSE ::

The recipe from the UK calls for steaming the clams in less than two tablespoons of white wine. Obviously, American clams must be thirstier than British ones. That or the original recipe doesn't intend to yield a lot of broth.

The liquid that comes from shellfish as they open and cook is referred, in the foodie world, as "liquor." This is an appropriate name for it, as it is about as intoxicating and delicious as some finely distilled spirit. I like a lot of it. As you may recall, my mussel recipe yields more than enough, and is intended to be mopped up with the baguette after all the mussels are consumed.

I was sort of expecting the same deal with this recipe, but even after allowing for the pasta to absorb some of the liquid, there was not a lot left for dipping. To alleviate this tragedy, I would recommend adding a good deal more white wine to the pan, and definitely more clams that what was called for (6-8 per person).

:: UNPAUSE ::

So, whether or not you have gone the route of more broth, add your parsley and clams, season with salt and pepper, and slap on the lid for four to five minutes. At this point, your pasta should be sitting in a colander in your sink. Your garlic should be done, so unwrap the luscious gems and mash them up with salt to taste.

By now your timer should be going off, so take the lid off, revel in the aroma, and dump your pasta into the pan and toss it all around.

Serve in big bowls with crusty bread spread with roasted garlic. I paired this meal with a Soave from Vincentini Agostino, which was bright with citrus to compliment the garlic and scallions, light enough not to overpower the delicate clams, and cool in the face of the cayenne. It was a perfect partner for this dish, and made this the perfect meal for a hot summer evening!

Yours in the love of good food and wine (and the derring-do to take a culinary leap based solely on someone's vacation photo),
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, June 24, 2010

Sixty-first Post ~ Simple (but pretty!) Insalata Caprese


Okay, dear readers, I understand that this is my third post about the simply joy of mozzarella and tomatoes.

But I think that it merits repeating that this is just about the freshest, most appealing combination of foods - especially in the hot summer months. And this presentation makes it all the more fun - your guests will think they're getting the royal treatment, and you'll think you've found the perfect solution to that question of "what to feed them while the meat is still cooking."

I saw this unique way of presenting insalata caprese on my cruise on the Celebrity Millennium. It was one of their every-night options for the salad course, and I've got to say I indulged quite regularly, and then bookmarked the concept to bring home as a "souvenir."

Here's what you'll need for this dish:

~ Roma tomato
~ Mozzarella ball (roughly the same size as your tomato)
~ Dash of olive oil
~ Dash of lemon juice
~ Dash of balsamic vinegar
~ Course ground sea salt
~ A few snips of fresh basil
~ Salad greens of your choice

Cut the tomato and mozzarella and place them on your plate. Drizzle a bit of the olive oil over it and add a few drops of lemon juice. Snip up the basil and arrange that around the caprese with your greens on the opposite side of the plate. Add a few drops of balsamic to the plate and grind some salt to taste over the top.

And here's the best part - you can pop it in the fridge ahead of time, so that as your guest enters you can whip it out for immediate dining joy!

Yours in the love of good food (and the wine that surely would come with the next course!),
AL

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sixtieth Post ~ Steak Shish Kebabs with Orange Soy Marinade

I'd like to call these "Shish kebabs," but if you were to research the etymology of the name of this summer-time treat, you'd call me a liar.

You see, loyal readers, the word "shish" is accurate (stemming from the Turkish "şiş" meaning "skewer") but the "kebab" part is where you'd get me. "Kebab" comes from the Persian "kabab" (کباب) and means "fried."

But if I were to call this a plate of steak "shishes" you wouldn't have any idea what I was talking about. So we shall concede to the modernization of language (read: borrowing words and completely changing their meanings) and call them "steak shish kebabs."

Here's how you make these particular food anomalies:

For the marinade:
~ Orange juice
~ Soy sauce
~ Sugar
~ Garlic

For the "shishes:"
~ Steak (cut into cubes)
~ Chunks of bell pepper
~ Mushrooms (I'm back to my baby bellas)
~ Garlic (jarred or crushed)
~ Sesame seeds
~ Fresh parsley

In a skillet, combine the orange juice, soy sauce, garlic and about a tea spoon of sugar. Simmer it so that all the flavors meld. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Preheat your toaster oven or other heating apparatus on 350 on broil. I accidentally had it on 300, and I had to pop these back in.

Dice up the steak and bell pepper.

:: PAUSE ::

I had trouble falling asleep last night. As I am a foodie, I would rather dream up recipes for lambs than count them leaping over fences. So I thought about the steak I had put into the fridge to thaw and considered how I might prepare it. In my subsequent dream, I saw it skewered upon a stick with mushrooms, garlic, orange, soy, and - peppers! Orange bell peppers! (Yes, I dream about food, and I dream in color!) Orange is my favorite color, so it could have just been channeled in through that path, but I have to say, when I found this incredibly bright orange bell at Wegmans today, I felt that it just might be kismet.

:: UNPAUSE ::

Assemble the shish-kebabs-which-are-not-to-be-kebabed and lay them in a shallow pan. Pour the sauce over them and sprinkle them with sesame seeds. Let them marinate for about 15 minutes, spooning sauce over them occasionally. Put them in the toaster oven for five minutes, turn them, and put them in for another five. When you're ready to enjoy them, garnish them with fresh parsley. It adds a wonderful light flavor to the meal.

I paired tonight's dinner with an Argentine Malbec by Elm Tree. It's fruity enough to match the whole "summer barbecue" feeling of the meal, but hearty enough to stand up to some seriously intense flavors. I was impressed by the fact that it never tasted tart next to the sweet orange-soy sauce, but also served to cleanse the palate as I enjoyed the fresh peppers, earthy mushrooms and steak. A good pairing, and a "dream-come-true" meal - even if its name is etymologically incorrect!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,
AL

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fifty-ninth Post ~ Breaded Pork Tenderloins with Herb Pasta

Tonight's dinner was a snap to prepare and filled my apartment with the wonderful aroma of fresh herbs - perfect for a stormy spring night!

Here's what you'll need for this quick and easy meal:

~ Pork tenderloin cut into 1" thick medallions
~ Italian breadcrumbs
~ Grated Parmesan cheese
~ Fresh herbs of your choice (I chose parsley, rosemary, thyme and basil)
~ Olive oil
~ Pasta of your choice
~ Ground sea salt
~ Tomato

Get your water boiling (with salt and olive oil, if you wish).

Chop up some fresh herbs. I am becoming incredibly attached to the fresh herb section in Wegmans. You can buy the prettily packaged ones for $1.99 or a massive rubber-banded bunch for $1.29. I usually go the route of the massive bunch, because if you wrap them in plastic and store them in the veggie keeper of your fridge, they last for weeks. I have far better success with that route than I do with potted plants. I am a plant serial killer. But that's another story for another time...

So I chopped up some rosemary, thyme, parsley and basil. Mmmm, the aroma! Positively intoxicating. Dice up a bit of tomato and set that to the side. Next, slice the pork into medallions. By now, your water should be well on its way to boiling, so dump in your pasta and set the timer for 10 minutes.

Start a good dash of olive oil heating in a skillet. Mix one part Italian breadcrumbs and one part grated parm in a prep bowl. Coat the pork medallions in this heavenly mixture and set them into the hot oil. Turn the burner on low and let them cook until they are done halfway up. Carefully turn them.

Drain the pasta and mix in the herbs and tomato. You may wish to heat it again for just a moment to let all the flavors meld. The tenderloin medallions should be done by now; serve it on a plate garnished with some extra parm (and extra sea salt, if you want!).

I enjoyed tonight's meal with the rest of my Negroamaro Rosato. It paired beautifully with the meal, complimenting the fresh herbs and turning fruity in the face of the salt and parmesan. A delightful pairing made even more delightful by the fact that I drank it out of one of my new Riedel glasses - a splurge from a recent cruise on the Celebrity Millennium. My wine appreciation has reached new heights!

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.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fifty-eighth Post ~ Rosemary Garlic Pork Tenderloins en Papillote

It's crested above eighty degrees here in Buffalo, and as someone who never wills the winter to leave nor the days to become hot, I feel that I have the right to complain, if only for a moment. The humidity is at 60%, and when you couple that with 84 degrees, and then couple THAT with a third-floor apartment dwelling, you end up having a real issue about what to make for dinner.

Yes, it all comes down to that: Dinner.

So tonight I opted to cook "en papillote" for three reasons:

1.) It's quick - when it's this hot out, I don't have a whole lot of energy.
2.) It's light - the en papillote method cooks your food entirely through steam - no heavy oils or butters.
3.) It's convenient - prep your raw ingredients and stick it in the toaster oven - no need to stand over a hot stove!

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

~ Pork tenderloin (cut into a little less than a one-inch medallions)
~ Mushrooms
~ White wine
~ Garlic (fresh or jarred - I went jarred because it amounted in less to wash later on over a hot sink)
~ Fresh herbs of choice (I used rosemary and thyme, because they're my perennial favorites)
~ Coarse ground sea salt
~ Dijon mustard (optional)

Cut out your parchment paper heart and set your pork medallions in one half. Over this, place your herbs. Sauté some mushroom slices in a pan with a little water, a dash of olive oil and some salt. Place them on top of the fresh herbs. Over this scatter a bit of crushed garlic.

Fold the "heart" and crimp the edges. Into the naturally-formed "spout" at the heart's bottom, pour about a tablespoon of white wine.

Seal it up and cook it for about 13 minutes in a pre-heated 375-degree oven.

I went into the other room and enjoyed the breeze from a fan while I worked for a bit. When the timer went off, I transferred the parchment package to a plate and paired the meal with an Italian Rosato from Negroamaro by Cantele. It was delightfully bright with a nose of sun-ripened raspberries and unexpected notes of anise.

Upon tasting the pork and mushrooms, I found them to be flavorful, yet lacking just a bit. I put a small amount of dijon mustard onto the pork and found that it married the flavors of the rosemary and garlic beautifully - however, as a caveat to oenophiles everywhere, I have to mention that it did kill some of the subtle beauty of the wine.

I think that if I had it to do over again (which of course, I do; that's the beauty of cooking!) I would enjoy the meal with this wine as mentioned without the mustard, and for an alternate taste, I would place a bit of dijon en papillote prior to cooking, and then pair the meal with a little heavier of a wine, such as a pinot noir or a merlot.

All in all, a good meal (and I intend to take another tasting of the Rosata in a little while after my palette clears a bit) and all the more satisfying for its hot-weather-friendly nature!

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, May 20, 2010

Fifty-seventh Post ~ Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms with Stilton Cream Sauce

Yes - it's as you suspected. I've got all this stilton left over from yesterday's Blueberry Chambourcin Port Fest and I'm just itching to cook with it. That and I want to have a meal worthy of the final glass of port!

Here's what you'll need to make tonight's 10-minute meal:

~ Chicken tenderloin
~ Mushrooms
~ Garlic (jarred or fresh)
~ Balsamic vinegar
~ Sea salt
~ Olive oil
~ Pasta of your choice
~ Stilton (or similar blue)
~ Cream
~ Fresh (or dried) thyme

Start a pot of water boiling. Slice up some mushrooms and start them sautéing with some garlic, salt and olive oil. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar. At this point your water should be boiling, so add your pasta and start watching the clock.

Cut the tenderloins into bite-sized pieces. Your mushrooms should be moving right along at this point, so add the chicken, another dash of salt, olive oil and balsamic. As soon as the chicken and mushrooms are cooked through, set them to the side in a prep bowl.

In the same pan (d0n't worry about rinsing) add about a tablespoon of stilton and some cream. You don't need too much of this sauce. What I made for my meal was enough to just coat the bottom of my stick-free skillet. So not much.

Once the sauce is nicely melded and your pasta is done, drain the pasta and put it on a plate. Top with the chicken and mushrooms from the prep bowl. Top that with a bit of fresh thyme.

The food paired beautifully with the blueberry chambourcin port and the meal itself came together nicely, too. The flavors held their own - the chicken and mushrooms were flavorful in their own right, but also were accented by the bit of stilton. The thyme added a nice fresh note to it, and it has become my all-time (all-thyme?) favorite herb to keep on hand!

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, May 19, 2010

Fifty-sixth Post ~ Wine Feature: Blueberry Chambourcin Port Dinner


I arrived home on Sunday travel-weary (yet brimming with memories!) from our 16-day Alaskan adventure. Marked on my calendar, where it had been firmly planted for three months, were the words "PORT FEST".

I had gotten my hands on a unique vintage - a bottle of blueberry chambourcin port - from Vetter Vineyards about a year ago. Fellow foodie and wine connoisseur Meg and I decided that if we were going to do justice to a bottle (or even part of a bottle!) of port, we'd have to plan this right. So plan we did. Here's the menu:

BEVERAGES
~ Blueberry Chambourcin Port
~ Ice water

APPETIZER
~ Hickory-smoked almonds (Wegmans - way cheaper than Blue Diamond, and just as yummy!)
~ Imported French chocolate (via Japan and my friend Nozomi!)
~ Stilton (a classic, right?)

ENTRÉE
~ Pork medallions ladened with blueberry chutney (home-made by Meg's awesome mom!)
~ Steamed broccoli florets (what, we can't be healthy about this?)

DESSERT
~ Meg's outstanding blueberry cobbler

Here's how to pull it all together so that you can enjoy many hours of dining, dishing and drinking!

Make sure the port has had at least 24 hours out of the wine rack standing upright to allow sediments to, well, settle. Chill for about 15 minutes before pouring.

Have the cheese, almonds, chocolate and water ready on the table.

Know your limitations: Meg handled the baking. Period. Although she did assure me that this was a user-friendly recipe, I gladly stepped aside and readied the entrée while she handled getting dessert in the oven:

Put either stick-free foil on the pan or a little olive oil. Slice pork into inch-thick medallions. We had two each. Spoon some blueberry chutney (or another fruit chutney or even jam) over the pork. Pop in a 350-degree oven/toaster oven for about fifteen minutes.

This chutney was sweet and had a little zip, either from cardamom or chili powder, or possibly both. Meg's mom - care to weigh in? In any case, this chutney stood alone without any need for additional spices. If you're using jam, consider grating a little nutmeg over the top or adding a spring of a fresh herb like rosemary or thyme and a hint of black pepper.

While the pork is cooking and the cobbler is baking, sit and enjoy the appetizer and your first tasting of port. Vetter's port went wonderfully with the appetizer - the chocolate brought out the velvety texture of the wine, and the stilton and smoked almonds highlighted its intense berry tones. The wine is intense without being too heady - the bouquet is as delicious as the flavor, and it warms you at the first sip without that dizzying effect one can experience with too bold a drink. At 18%, it's also slightly lighter than most other ports I've encountered, which, in my opinion, makes it a more enjoyable beverage. A fine start!

During the last few minutes your pork is in, steam the broccoli in the microwave for three minutes or until desired doneness. The easiest method is to put the broccoli in a bowl with a tablespoon of water and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Try very hard not to burn yourself on the escaping steam when it's done.

Serve the pork with lightly buttered and salted broccoli. The port complemented the pork beautifully! Even though port is typically reserved as an after-dinner drink, this ruby port was fruity and approachable with bright characteristics. This made it a wonderful mirror to the entrée.

Enjoy some photos, some girl talk, nibble on some more chocolate, and then enjoy the cobbler. Here is a link to this recipe that Meg found (and masterfully executed, I might add)! The blueberry-stained copy she gave me will reside in my cookbook forever! The cobbler's sweetness gave the port a bit of a refreshing snap to it - but it wasn't at all clashing. It was a perfect dessert for this (typically) dessert wine!

A fine meal, fine wine, and the best ingredient of all, fine companionship!
Yours in the love of good food, wine and camaraderie,
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.