Friday, September 4, 2009

Steak and Sweet Potato Salad

Today I'd like to take a brief moment to announce the receipt of recent accolades; the Hubs has officially earned the title of His Excellency, Master of Outdoor Cooking (his certificate is in the mail).  This is a Highly Coveted Award that's given out at random and without much forethought only to the Truly Deserving.  In honor of this prestigious award (which sadly does not come with a monetary prize or a trip to Disney) we decided to do some  grilling.  The Hubs, still basking in the glow of his award, out did himself; as you can see from the photo (which the Hubs took) those steaks were perfectly cooked.  (The vegetable salad was pretty good too, if I do say so myself).  But don't despair, should you not have received your grilling certificate yet, or if it's bad weather out, this recipe works just as well if you cook the steak in the oven.  

Steak and Sweet Potato Salad

2 6 oz. fillet steaks (I used sirloin fillets)
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
2 cups fresh green beans
1/2 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil

For the Dressing:
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1/2 tsp capers
3 good sized drops of honey
pinch of salt & black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper and allow it to sit out to come to room temperature.  If you are cooking the steak on the grill, had it off to the grill operator and move on to the salad.  If you aren't using the grill, start with the sweet potatoes and when they have about 10 more minutes to go, take the steak out of the fridge, season it with salt and pepper, coat it lightly with olive oil, and let it come to room temperature.  (Letting meat reach room temperature means that it will cook more quickly and more evenly.)

When you are ready to cook the steak, turn the oven up to 500 degrees and get a large oven-proof skillet really hot over high heat and then drop the steaks into the pan.  Sear the steak on the first side for 30 seconds without moving it.  Flip the steak and sear the other side for another 30 seconds, then put the skillet directly into the oven.  Cook the steak for 2 minutes and flip it, cooking the second side for another 2 minutes.  Remove the steak from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes.  Cooking the steak 2 minutes per side will give you a medium-rare steak, for a steak that's medium, add a minute of cooking time to each side.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into match sticks that are approximately 1/2 inch wide.  Put them onto a cookie sheet that is covered with tin foil and toss the sweet potatoes in a little salt and olive oil (just to keep them from sticking to the tin foil).  Bake the sweet potatoes in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes, turning them once after 15 minutes, until they are soft.

While the potatoes are baking, dice the onion and saute them in 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat until they've begun to soften, about 5 minutes.  As the onions cook, mince the garlic and cut the green beans into bite-sized pieces. After the onions have had 5 minutes, add the garlic for 30 seconds, stirring it around to combine and then add the green beans.  Saute the onions and green beans for 10 minutes, or until the green beans are tender (but still retain some of their crunch).

As the green beans and onions are cooking mix together the dressing by putting all of the ingredients into a small spill-proof jar and shaking to combine.  When the sweet potatoes and green beans are done, add the sweet potatoes to the pan with the beans and pour the dressing over the vegetables.  Allow the vegetables to cook for another minute or two to boil off the excess dressing.  Serve with the vegetables over the meat.  I had some Gorgonzola so I put a few small pieces of the cheese on top of the steak and under the vegetables.  Bon Appetit!

Serves 2

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beets & Chicken Over Polenta

Ah, beets.  I really do have a tumultous relationship with beets.  On the one hand I love beets and try to eat them as often as possible, especially when someone else has gone to the trouble of preparing them.  And there's the root of my dislike of beets, they just take too long to make they're almost not worth it (like eggs benedict, always better when someone else does the preparing).  I am just don't have the energy capacity to spend over an hour cookng the beets (not to mention the rest of dinner) when I get home from work (as I've lamented before).  It's not as though I haven't tried "time-saving techniques", all to no avail.  But last night, I stumbled upon it...cook the beets the night before you want to eat them!  It's brilliant.  There aren't any hungry people waiting on the beets, there is no issue with timing the beets to be done when the rest of the food is done, and all you have to do is heat them up.  Of course it does take a bit of forethought, but what's forethought compared to An Hour and A Half On A Week Night??

For this dinner (having had a hard workout at the gym and being unusually hungry) I was all about a quick meal.  So I started with the polenta, stirred it (for not quite as long as I should have...see above and the workout) and then let it sit unattended in the warm pan to finish. (Another stroke of genius born out of laziness efficiency).  The chicken I sliced into 2 inch wide pieces and tossed in seasoned flour before cooking it so that it had a little bit of a crust and some flavor.  I finished the polenta off with a little dolce gorgonzola that had only a fraction of the traditional "blue cheese-bite" but still gave a nice contrast to the sweetness of the beets.

Beets & Chicken Over Polenta

2 chicken breast halves
4 medium golden beets
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 3/4 cup water
1 tsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

For the beets: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the beets (skins and all) into a square glass pan that has about an inch and a half of water in it.  Cover the pan with tin foil and bake it in the oven for an hour to an hour and a half.  When the beets are soft when pierced with a fork let them cook enough to handle.  If you are eating them right away use a kitchen towel to rub off the skin and cut them into 1/2 inch match sticks.  If you are going to eat them the next day put the beets into a ziploc bag and put them (unpeeled) into the fridgerator.  Peel and cut the cold beets as discussed above.

For the polenta:  There are three keys to making polenta: (i) the water to corn meal ratio is 3:1; (ii) pour the polenta into the boiling water a little at a time, making sure it's incorporated before adding any more; and (iii) stir until your arm is ready to fall off (preferrably 15 - 20 minutes, but less stirring is ok if your arm is sore).  Also, make sure to salt the boiling water before adding the polenta and I like to finish my polenta with a small bit of butter. 

For the chicken:  Cut the chicken into 2 inch sections.  Mix the flour, salt, pepper and garam masala together in a bowl. (Don't worry even though it seems like a lot of salt.  Kosher salt is heavy and will fall to the bottom below the flour so you need extra.) Toss the chicken in the flour mixture to coat it well.  Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and add the chicken to the pan once it's hot.  Cook the chicken until it's about 3/4 done and then add the beets (if they're cold from the fridge) to reheat them.

When the chicken is cooked and the beets are heated through serve the chicken and beets over the polenta with the gorgonzola sprinkled over the top (if you are going that route) and garnished with the basil.  Bon Appetit!

Serves 2

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Zucchini & Tarragon Pasta Saute

The annual zucchini over-production has begun and we are officially beginning to drown in zucchini.  At the farmer's market they are practically giving it away.  While zucchini bread is a wonderful thing that is certain to make it's bloggy-debut shortly, I wanted to turn this week's zucchini into a savory dinner, which is how the zucchini and tarragon pasta dish was born.  This was a pretty quick dish, although I did cook the zucchini first and remove it from the pan before making the sauce because I didn't want it to turn into zucchini-mush (which can happen so quickly).  I did spend a little time considering the possibility of making this into a vegan dish, but then I capitulated realized that a little butter in the sauce and some cheese on the top would be very good things, so I abandoned the vegan plan.

Zucchini and Tarragon Pasta Saute

3 medium sized zucchini
1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
8 ounces whole wheat pasta
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tbsp sliced fresh basil
2 tbsp shredded asiago cheese

Put the pasta water on to boil and slice the zucchini into 1/2 inch slices.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot add the zucchini to the pan making sure not to over-crowd it (I had to work in two batches) salt and pepper the zucchini.  After 2- 3 minutes turn the zucchini, they should have some browning on the first side but should still be relatively firm.  When the other side is browned remove the zucchini from the skillet and set them aside.  While the zucchini is cooking, dice the onion and the garlic cloves.  Once all of the zucchini is browned set it aside and add the onion to the pan (there should still be olive oil left in the pan, but feel free to add a little more if the pan is too dry) salting it lightly.  At this point the pasta water should be boiling rapidly, salt the water and add the pasta. After the onion has cooked about 5 minutes over medium heat, add the garlic, let it cook for about 1 minute and then add the chicken (or vegetable) stock and the wine to the pan, bringing it up to a boil. Boil the liquid for about 2 minutes, then turn it down to a simmer and add the butter to the pan.  When the pasta is about 75% cooked add the zucchini and the herbs to the sauce, tossing to coat.  Once the pasta has reached al dente, drain it (reserving about a cup of the liquid in case you don't have enough sauce) and add it to the sauce and zucchini, tossing to coat.  Serve with a sprinkling of the herbs over the top and a hearty grating of the asiago.  Bon Appetit!

Serves 4

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Herbed White Beans and Pasta

Last week the Hubs had the opportunity to go to a football game (although I'm still unclear as it how it's August and there's football already) which left me free to experiment with this dish for Meatless Monday.  The real advantage to this dish is that you could buy the ingredients and just put them in the cupboard to save for a day when there isn't anything else to eat in the house.  I don't know about you, but "Nothing To Eat in the House" does seem to just sneak up on me.

This white bean and pasta dish came from a request/comment from Bob.  She pointed out that while people might be interested in eating a vegetarian meal they might have a hard time convincing their significant other of the tastiness benefits of soy products.  So Bob requested that I work out an alternative to the soy products I traditionally rely on that is still a complete protein.  This dish combines a legume (the white beans) and a carbohydrate (the pasta) to provide all of the essential amino acids.  There is recent research showing that just getting all of the essential amino acids in one day is sufficient, but I figure there's no harm in shooting for getting them all in one meal.

[Note to Everyone: please feel free to request dishes and/or present culinary challenges, I like trying new things and new ideas are always appreciated.]

In making this dish I relied on fresh herbs from the front porch, but dried herbs would work just as well here.  You can also substitute dry white wine for the vermouth (which is just fortified wine) if you don't have vermouth and feel free to use soaked white beans if you don't have canned beans.  I was eating alone last night so I made enough for myself and for lunch today, so double the ingredients if you are serving 4.

Herbed White Beans and Pasta

1 1/2 cups dry whole wheat pasta
1 15 oz can cannellini beans
1/2 large yellow onion
1 tbsp olive oil
2 to 3 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, winter savory, oregano, etc.)
1/2 cup white vermouth
2 tbsp low fat cream cheese

Get a large pot of water boiling for the pasta and once it comes to a boil salt it generously.  While the water is coming to a boil dice the onion and add it to the olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Let the onion soften for 5 minutes while you finely chop the herbs and drain the beans.  After the onion has softened add the herbs, garlic and beans to the onions along with the remaining butter (depending on your butter tolerance).  Then add the pasta to the salted boiling water.  While the pasta cooks stir together the beans, onions and herbs, adding in the vermouth and allowing the alcohol to cook off.  Once the bean mixture has come to a boil turn the heat down to low and let it just simmer for the 10 minutes the pasta takes to let the flavors come together.  When there is about 5 minutes left on the pasta add the cream cheese to the bean mixture, stirring it around to let the cream cheese melt into the beans.  If the mixture seems a little dry feel free to add a little more vermouth or vegetable stock (depending on your taste preference), but keep in mind that you can add some pasta water to the mixture if it's too thick once the pasta is combined with the beans.  When the pasta is al dente remove the pasta from the cooking water with a spider strainer, reserving the pasta water.  Stir the pasta in with the beans, add a little pasta water if necessary and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve garnished with some of the fresh herbs you added to the beans.  Bon Appetit!

Serves 2