Eating*Laughing*Nesting

Last weekend I hosted a dinner party.  I invited my dear friends Alex and Lane along with Alex’s mother Dominique, who is moving to Colorado from Paris.  I wanted to have a proper four course dinner but I also did not want to be so busy that I could not enjoy the wine and conversation with my friends.

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First course–cream of zucchini, leek and potato soup.  This recipe was adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris cookbook.  There she calls it Zucchini Vichyssoise.  Not being a superfan of the cold soup I chose instead to serve it as a volute.  After sautéing 4 chopped leeks in butter in my deep stockpot, I added 4 peeled and chopped white potatoes and 2 cups of chopped zucchini.  The vegetable was fresh from the garden of my friend Loni, another talented cook in her own right!

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Add 1 1/2 quarts of chicken stock to the pot–I used store bought this time as I did not have any of the good stuff in my deep freezer.  Then add kosher salt and cracked pepper and a handful of fresh chopped parsley.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.  Cool the soup and then run through a food processor.  I use a handheld blender and process the soup right in my stock pot.  It takes a while to really get that velvet consistency.  Right before serving I squeezed some fresh lemon juice and 1/3 cup of heavy cream into the soup.  Serve in a pretty shallow bowl with a lemon peel or julienned zucchini as garnish.

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Second course–mixed greens in a traditional vinaigrette with a breaded and fried goat cheese crouton.  I purchase organic mixed greens and add them to a large metal mixing bowl.  For the vinaigrette, in a jar or salad bottle add 2/3 EVOO, 1/3 champagne vinegar, salt, pepper and a squirt of yellow table mustard.  Shake it well and toss the greens right before serving.  Add some more salt and pepper to the greens.

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For the goat cheese croutons, start with a log of goat cheese and slice the log into 2 inch rounds.  Dip each piece of cheese into an egg wash and then dip into panko bread crumbs (I used a gluten free Italian version).  Heat 2 tablespoons of EVOO in a small saute pan on medium heat and add the breaded goat cheese in small batches.  Cook 1-2 minutes each side, being careful not to burn.  Remove with tongs and allow to drain on a piece of wax paper.  I arranged the greens on a  square plate and topped each with 1 crouton.

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Third course–A whole filet of beef tenderloin that I prepared with kosher salt and cracked pepper and allowed to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.  With a good cut of meat, keep it simple!

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Jeff gets the grill to a medium-high heat and prepares the rack by spraying it with EVOO in the can.  When the grill is nice and hot, add the tenderloin, turning it frequently over about 20 minutes.  With a whole filet this will result in some of the end pieces being more medium and getting rare toward the center.  Allow the meat to rest after coming off the grill for 10-15 minutes so it can finish cooking and the juices really come out.

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I served the beef tenderloin with oven roasted red skin potatoes and onions which were flavored with fresh sprigs of rosemary and kosher salt and cracked pepper.

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Fourth course–the delicious Tiramisu Cake from Tony’s Gourmet Bakery.  Alex made some strong cuban instant coffee and poured that over the cake right before serving.  It was light and rich and delicious!

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My friend Alex, pictured below on the right, is due with her first baby any day now!  In the waning days of her pregnancy I am doing my best to fatten her up with French inspired dishes, plenty of protein and her favorite oven roasted rosemary potatoes.  Hard to believe the next time we are all together our little party will be bigger by one tiny bundle of joy.  She won’t get to taste my Thanksgiving Turkey with gluten-free stuffing THIS year, but next year will be a whole different story.  And I can’t wait.  Ready to try my hand at some home crafted baby food.  I may become the Wolfgang Puck of baby food!

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Saturday Night Salmon Surprise

Its Fall in the Front Range.  The colors are beautiful, the light is golden and the days are warm and filled with sunshine.  But its Indian Summer and that crisp cold air that makes you want to curl up with a soup, stew or roast is missing.  The temperature still demands grilling.  I respect Mother Nature so I planned for some salmon on the grill this past Saturday.

I have a go-to salmon marinade that is so good it can turn even the most anti-salmon of eaters.  Alas, it is not mine.  But I share it with you here:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/109297/cedar-planked-salmon/

You can get cedar planks in the seafood department of any grocery store.  You will want to soak the cedar plank in water for a couple of hours prior to grilling.  No need to even turn the salmon.  We like ours with a little bit of a crispy edge and –it will lift right off the skin when its ready.

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In keeping with the Indian Summer Grilling theme I served vegetable kabobs on the side made of sweet onion, cocktail tomatoes, zucchini (thank you Loni), red and yellow peppers.  I drizzled them with EVOO, kosher salt and cracked pepper and grilled them on the top rack of the grill whilst the salmon cooked below.  A bunk bed of grilled deliciousness.

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I have a bit of a picky eater living with me (the horror) so I lured her to the table with a side dish of pasta, and this one turned out PERFECT!  I was not sure where I was going with the pasta but started with boiling some angel hair in chicken stock.  When it was cooked al dente, I added the juice of a lemon, a 1/3 cup of freshly grated reggiano, a 1/3 cup of capers and a 1/3 cup of chicken stock.  Then I added a bit of EVOO mixed with melted butter–just enough to add a bit of moisture back to the dish.  Finish with salt and pepper.

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You could mix the pasta and veggies and serve the salmon on top but I did not (see picky eater reference above).  The meal was savory, but light, and the flavors were very well balanced.  It is even tastier when you add a nice Chardonnay.   Those who know me will not be surprised to know that I opened a bottle of La Crema for this meal.

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You know a dinner is tasty when you have to hide the leftovers.  Which I did all the way in the back of my refrigerator (sorry Schmoo) behind the tub of rendered bacon fat.  The dish was almost as good the next night when I begged off cooking due to my eyes being bigger than my stomach at Sunday Brunch that day.  So much good food in this world, so little room in my clothes!

Enjoy the sunshine…… El Nino is coming friends and there will be plenty of time for soups, stews and roasts in the coming months.

Mini Meatloaves and other Basic Endeavors

I have many food related musings happening in my head so this post may not flow.  Bear with me, cause if you make it all the way through I promise you will make the most kick ass meatloaf EVER.  (emphasis is mine, obviously, it’s a blog).

Its peak time of year for eating from the Farmer’s Market.  I have been OBSESSED lately with cucumber tomato salad.  The simplest thing ever, the approach I take was learned a long time ago when I dated a nice Italian boy for a minute.  If you are reading this and know a guy named Tony Fiorini, probably living on the West side of Cincinnati, tell him I said thanks.

His Mom and Grandmother would do these amazing Sunday dinners.  I don’t think his grandmother could speak much English but her sauce was beyond!  These people were as Italian as you could be on the West side of Cincinnati.  they even knew the LaRoasa’s for pete’s Sake (not sure if they knew Pete or Carolyn Rose but it would not surprise me).   I digress.

The salad was chopped fresh cucumbers, cocktail tomatoes and just a touch of chopped red onion.  Sprinkle liberally with Red Wine Vinegar, a bit of EVOO, heavy hand on Kosher Salt and Cracked Pepper–combine and cover, allowing flavors to meld by refrigerating for 2-3 hours before serving.  They will look like this.  I have kept mine going for a month now and eating them with almost every meal:

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My Dad has been hanging out in CO for a month or so now and very much enjoying having someone else do the cooking.  He has been a regular at the Casa Kitchen dinner table.  One of has favorite meals is meatloaf with mashed potatoes. So that was Sunday dinner this week.

One of my favorite cookbooks is The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.  My Mom gave me this cookbook many years ago and it is so dog eared now–its split in half and held together by a heavy rubber band.  There are bits of dried stuff and splatters and notes spanning 20 years.  I love it.

Their Market Street Meatloaf recipe is excellent.  I do not follow this exactly on the ingredients but I do love the general approach.  Here is a link to the original recipe.  http://http://www.justapinch.com/recipes/main-course/pork/market-street-meat-loaf.html

Over the years I have learned that if I can make the meal “mini-sized” I had a better chance with my very picky daughter.  Meatloaf served as a slice of a larger loaf no way.  But make the meatloaf in muffin pans and topped them with a little shredded cheese and she will gobble them down!

I use whatever veggies are in my crisper and dice them fine.  This time that included yellow onion, green and yellow pepper, carrots, broccoli and a 1/4 cup of chopped garlic from a jar.  Salute in 2 T of EVOO and 2 T Butter for 15 or 20 mins until soft.  Remove from heat to a bowl and chill in fridge.

In a mixing bowl combine 2 eggs, 1/2 cup half-half, 1/2 cup ketchup (or BBQ sauce), cumin, allspice, curry, nutmeg, white pepper, black pepper, red pepper, and salt.  To that add 2-3 lbs of ground beef (I use ground chuck as I like the higher fat ratio for meatloaf).  Combine with hands, adding chilled veggies and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs.  If you like a meatloaf cheesy add some cheddar or feta at this point–maybe 1/2 cup.

Spray muffin pans with non stick cooking spray and fill each muffin cup with the beef mixture.  Top each muffin with grated cheddar cheese (other cheeses would work but be careful not to burn with a hard cheese like parmesan).  Bake in a 350 oven for 30-40 minutes or until each muffin is just a little crusty on the edges.

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I served homemade mashed potatoes and roasted Brussel sprouts on the side.  For potatoes I recommend using Yukon Gold for the fluffiest texture and adding to that a mixture of 1/2 and 1/2, cream cheese, sour cream and butter.  Finish with salt and pepper and keep them on low in a cast enameled pot with a film of cream on top and the lid secured.  Keeps the potatoes moist and creamy without you having to beat them at the last minute.

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I had an unusually quiet table last night.  Everyone was too busy eating to talk.  Dad took leftovers home and I still have enough left to cover Monday night dinner.  Life is good (and tasty) at the Casa!

Here Piggy Piggy!

So its almost Labor Day Weekend.  How did that happen?  Where the heck did the Summer go?  It seems like it was only yesterday I was blogging about our Memorial Day Cookout and here it is Labor Day already.  That can only mean one thing…..its time to cook some pork already!

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I cleaned out my deep freezer a couple of weeks ago and found a 7 pound pork shoulder.  That is A LOT of pork, even for lovers of the Pig such as myself.  So I turned that into a taco party for my family and a pot of pulled pork for the annual neighborhood picnic/pool party.

First, I sliced a couple of sweet onions and put those into the bottom of my big crock pot (it will not surprise readers of this blog that I have several sizes of crock pots).  I then prepared a rub by mixing together the following–salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, cinnamon and white pepper.  I am usually pretty liberal with the amounts when making a dry rub but adjust as you like.

Coat the pork shoulder in the rub and place it fat side up in the crock pot on top of the onions.  Add a couple of bay leaves then pour 2-5 cups of chicken broth (depends on the size of your crock pot) around the pork shoulder being careful not to wash the rub off of the pork.  Set to low and allow to braise for 8-10 hours.

When the meat is fork tender remove it from the crock pot and shred.  The first meal I made was pork tacos.  Along with the braised pork I made a taco bar consisting of fresh guacamole, shredded cheese, sour cream, refried black beans, jalapeño peppers and soft tortillas.  I use a small non-stick saute pan to heat each tortilla on medium-high for about 45 seconds each side.  My taco game has improved greatly since moving to Colorado.

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The next meal was pulled pork–add the shredded pork back to the crock pot along with your favorite bottle of BBQ sauce–the meat is so infused with flavor from the dry rub and the braise that I only used about a 1/3 of a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s.  Let the meat and sauce meld in the crock pot for 3-4 hours.

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On the side I cooked up a can of Glory Mixed Greens (hard to find in Colorado, check the BOTTOM shelf in the canned vegetable aisle of your favorite grocery store).  I had extra ears of Olathe Sweet Corn that I had made the night before with steaks on the grill so I cut the corn off the cob and added that to the mixed greens along with  5 pieces of crumbled bacon.

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I had several compliments from neighbors on my pulled pork and one request to include the recipe on my blog,  So this one is for you Libby.  Thanks for your friendship and your kind words.  Enjoy the Q!

Comfort Food

I love the term “comfort food.”  We can all relate to using food (and more often drink) to comfort us.  When we feel sad some of us reach for a brownie.  When we feel out of sorts we might want something salty.  And on those really bad days chocolate covered pretzels are f-ing genius.

We’ve all heard the term “chicken soup for the soul.”  And speaking of chicken soup, it has been CLINICALLY PROVEN to alleviate cold and flu symptoms.  So I reiterate my point that food has the ability to make us feel better.  That is probably why nearly every culture responds to death and grief with the bringing of food to those who have lost a loved one.

I lost my Mom suddenly six years ago and the amount of food that showed up was astounding.  Friends of my parents who own a very popular restaurant catered my Mom’s wake with all of her favorites–lamp chop popsicles, cheesy meatloaf, pulled pork barbeque (the woman was a carnivore, no lie).  It struck me at the time that here was all this food but no one had much of an appetite.  I dutifully packaged it into smaller meals I could freeze for my Dad and I think he really appreciated not having to think about how to feed himself when he was down in the weeds in his grief.

I think we show up with food because its something we CAN do at a time when we feel so powerless.  I have said before that I love people with my food.  My heart goes into every recipe.  And so it was last week when my neighbors lost their beautiful 24 year old daughter in a tragic car accident.  A stunning girl, known for her big heart gone in the blink of an eye at the prime of her life.

I don’t know these neighbors very well but as a parent their loss hit home.  I cannot imagine the bottomless pit of their grief.  And there really is NOTHING anyone can do to make it better.  So I donned my apron and did what I do.  I made them a pot of Lemon Spinach Chicken Noodle Soup.  And today I made them another pot of soup, this time Beef Vegetable.

My family came home last night to the smell of the soup simmering on the stove.  I think they were surprised when I called them to dinner and served hot dogs and salad.  My son wanted to know where that soup was and I explained I had not made that batch for us.  The kids were quiet for a moment, because what can you say really?  Soup has no magical healing power when it comes to grief.

But that pot of soup was made with love and that is all we really can do in times of insurmountable tragedy.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  –Mark 12:31

Lemon Chicken Spinach Soup

Lemon Chicken Spinach Soup–

Poach chicken thighs by putting into a crock pot with diced onions, celery, parsley, salt and pepper and covering with water.  I let mine cook on low overnight then in the morning remove the chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon to cool before removing the skin and bones and shredding the chicken.  Strain  the broth and reserve the stock.

In a heavy stockpot saute chopped leeks, onions, celery, and carrots in EVOO or butter.  Let cook on medium until vegetables are soft–15 minutes or so. Meanwhile, cook a bag of egg noodles according to package directions, drain and set aside.  Add the stock to the vegetables and season with salt, pepper, parsley, bay leaf, rosemary and other herbs and spices according to your preference.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and add the shredded chicken, egg noodles and 2 cups of chopped fresh spinach.  The longer you simmer the more the flavors will meld.  I like to add the juice of a whole lemon and some fresh chopped parsley before serving.

Toda and B’Teavon!

This past weekend I traveled to Boulder to attend the Bar Mitzvah for a friend’s son.  This is the same friend you may recall from earlier blog posts who shares a love of all things foodie and turned me on to Peppercorn, the Pearl Street institution for all things food and kitchen.  I am forever in her debt for that little gem.

The weekend’s events included the Bar Mitzvah service, a kiddish luncheon, a Hawaiian themed luau and a Sunday brunch.  Talk about eating….. I thought Southerners loved to eat but honestly Jewish folk make us look like amateurs! Aside from all the delicious food, I met so many nice people who share my passion for cooking and displayed a genuine interest in my blog.  I know from my stats page that I earned at least a couple of new followers.  I am hoping my new readers will share some of their recipes…..hint hint.

I came home Sunday afternoon excited to make Sunday dinner since I had not cooked a meal all weekend long.  I tried something a little new for dinner and it turned out DELICIOUS so I am sharing it, despite the fact that it does call for bacon (not exactly a Jewish food).  Spice Rubbed Grilled Chicken Thighs served over fried corn.

To make the spice rub mix together in a dish the following spices, feeling free to add or remove spices according to your individual taste and preference.  Mine included:

  • Cumin
  • White Pepper
  • Garlic Salt (I like Lowry’s brand)
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Black Pepper
  • Allspice
  • Chili Powder
  • Paprika

Rub the chicken thighs all over with the spice mix.  If you grill chicken with the skin on it will flame up very easily on the grill so Jeff always cooks our thighs on the top rack slowly before finishing them on the lower rack and putting that little crispy edge on the chicken.  Get the grill nice and hot before you start and cook the chicken for at least 30 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees.

Serve the chicken thighs on a bed of fried corn.  Fried corn is best when its fresh off the ear (ahhhh this time of year makes me nostalgic for Ohio Silver Queen corn).  However, I used canned corn this time.  I like the Kuner brand but I am not sure how widely available it is–its a local Colorado brand.

Start by cooking 6-8 pieces of bacon.  When the bacon is cooked remove from the pan and set aside.  Pour off at least one-half of the rendered fat and return the pan to the heat.  On medium heat, add a chopped onion (you can use a yellow onion or a green one if you want a little pop of color in the dish). Saute the onions until they are soft and brown.  Then add 2 cans of corn.  Crumble the cooked bacon and add to the pan along with 2/3 cup of milk or half and half for a richer, creamier taste. Add 1-2 Tablespoons of flour to thicken the dish. Finish with 2 Tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper and let cook until the corn mixture thickens.  It will look like this:

Fried Corn

I think collard greens would be amazing with this (see my post titled “For Purple Mountain Majesties” for a great recipe).  Since I was away from home most of the weekend helping to celebrate my young friend becoming a bar mitzvah, I served time saving LeSeur baby peas on the side–another excellent canned vegetable whose taste justifies its higher price, in my humble POV.

Mazel tov to Tom Hainline and a hearty Toda to his amazing parents, extended family, neighbors and friends.  This WASP had a most excellent time…..and I didn’t even miss the bacon.  For long.

For the Love of Beer!

Three years ago I moved to Colorado from Cincinnati.  Admittedly Cincinnati and beer go way back.  The German population that built Cincinnati brought their love of beer from the homeland.  I grew up in the shadow of Christian Moerlein and have fond memories of many family outings to the local Beer Gardens.

But I have never really liked the taste of beer.  All through my undergraduate days at notorious party school Ohio University I would nurse a beer over the course of several hours.  It just was not my thing.  I have hosted many a keg party and probably have not had 5 cups of beer in total.

I love wine, champagne, lemon martinis, margaritas, and many other cocktails and libations.  I never really missed beer.  Then I moved to Denver.  Home of a burgeoning craft beer community.  I have neighbors who make their own specialty favored beers and this is not unusual here.

There are microbreweries everywhere and you can find many local restaurants that feature local beer in the food and as pairings with their cuisine.  The cook in me cannot resist any longer.  I have declared my public intention to go on a journey with beer to find the ones I enjoy drinking and to understand beer’s potential for flavoring and inspirig the food that I make.

Step 1 Get with a Beer Drinking Buddy and ask her to order  for you her favorite beer:

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Step 2 Repeat Step 1 at every beer drinking opportunity.  Eventually you will find the beers you enjoy and get to understand the flavors.  It turns out that I like Corona (the lime is not necessary for me personally but I like that this beer has a customary garnish) and beers that are a little more amber in color with sweet notes like honey, vanilla, pumpkin and orange.

I don’t think beer will ever be my first love but when it is possible to buy small glasses of beer (I like 3-4 ounces so the flights are always nice) I will likely be more of a regular beer drinker.  It makes me feel very full and then I don’t want to eat food and dear readers, I never want to miss the food.

Now cooking with beer?  I am loving that.  I have added a dark beer to my beef stew for a nice added starchy flavor, I have added Corona to bean soup and chili and tonight, I added a bottle of Shock Top Honeycrisp Wheat to the baby back ribs I have braising in my crock pot.

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The original recipe called for a bottle of coke which I did not have and I did not think Diet Coke would do since what was needed was the sugar.  Here is the basic approach:

Slice an onion and layer in the bottom of a crock pot sprayed with cooking spray.  Salt and pepper a full rack of ribs on both sides and place meaty side down on the onions.   You will probably have to cut the rack of ribs in half.  Mix 1/2 cup of brown sugar with 1-2 T of minced garlic, 1-2 T of chopped ginger, 2 chicken bouillon cubes, 4 cups of hot water and 1 bottle of beer.  Pour over ribs and cook on low for 10-12 hours or high for 6-8 hours.  Remove ribs with slatted spoon and serve over starch of your choice with extra barbecue on the side.

I want to mix things up tonight on the starch and do something a little different so I am serving my ribs over cauliflower gratin.  The Ina Garten recipe I use is better than macaroni and cheese!  I pretty much think Mme. Garten rocks the food and her books are well loved in the Casa Kitchen.

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You can find the recipe for the Ina’s gratin here:

http://www.barefootcontessa.com/recipes.aspx?RecipeID=520&S=0

Our full Sunday dinner menu includes ribs over caulioflower gratin, oven roasted rosemary potatoes and store bought deli coleslaw.  I do not have any desert planned but I am toying with the idea of an apple crisp to go along with our apple wheat beer infused ribs.  But if I make the apple crisp I will need to get vanilla ice cream for my hubs and make whipped cream for the kids.  If you give a mouse a cookie…

I would please like to note for my friend Iris that this recipe is vegetarian friendly (but not vegan, sorry to that one friend I probably have who is vegan but I have no idea who that would be…..).   If you are vegan and you are my friend let me know.

Happy eating!