April 29, 2009

Grilled Carne Asada with Cilantro Jalapeno Sauce

I taught a "Margarita Madness" couples class a couple weeks ago at Kitchen Conservatory, and this was the best recipe of the night. I liked it so much, in fact, that I made it at home last weekend. It's the perfect meal to enjoy with a few beers on a warm evening.

Carne Asada

3 pounds flank steak
juice of 3 limes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon salt

Sprinkle the salt over both sides of the steak & place in a shallow baking dish. Mix the lime juice & garlic and pour over the steak. Cover and let marinade for 30 minutes. Grill the steak over a hot fire for 6 minutes per side. Let rest 10 minutes, then slice against the grain as thinly as possible.

Serve with flour tortillas, avocado slices, and...

Cilantro Jalapeno Sauce

2 jalapeno peppers, roasted & peeled
1 garlic clove
1 handful cilantro, heavy stems removed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream

In a blender or food processor, combine everything except the sour cream. Puree until smooth. Add the sour cream and adjust seasoning if needed.

April 26, 2009

Spicy Cucumber Salad

I'm a food snob. I admit it. I spend hours--sometimes, oftentimes late hours--cooking, especially cooking for friends, and I expect others to do the same. I can't help it. It's just how I am.

Ok, yeah, so I don't have kids at home that suck my time and energy. But I do have two jobs and that never-ending pile of papers to grade (the curse of an English teacher). Still, I find time to make real food...even if it is 10:30 at night.

And, that's what I did Thursday night. Even though I bought all the ingredients to make a cucumber salad for a faculty picnic on Friday, I forgot to get the recipe started earlier that evening. At 10:30 (after baking four dozen cookies to share with my students), I remembered and stayed up until midnight to finish it (because you have to let the salted cucumbers sit for an hour to draw out of the moisture before adding the marinade). But, I'm glad I did because it brings me so much joy (it's cheesy but true!) to see people enjoying the food I made.

I liked this cucumber salad a lot, so much in fact that I am thinking of adding it to the menu for my upcoming sushi class.

Spicy Cucumber Salad
slightly adapted from Eat Real Butter
3 English cucumbers
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon red curry paste *

* You can find this jarred product in the Asian foods aisle of the supermarket.

  • Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise & scoop the seeds and pulp out with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers into 1/4-inch pieces. Sprinkle the cucumber slices with the salt and toss to coat evenly. Cover and place in refrigerator for an hour, then drain the cucumbers. (Note: You only need to do this step if you are not serving the salad immediately. For example, if you are making it the night before, you need to salt & drain the cucumbers so that your finished salad isn't too watery.)
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce & sugar. Stir in the curry paste and serve cold.

April 25, 2009

Blogiversary & Baby Artichokes

April 15 marked my two-year blogiversary. Two years ago, inspired by the book Julie & Julia, I started cooking new recipes and writing about them here...as a way to keep myself occupied in my cable-less, internet-less (I was pilfering any stray wireless signal I could get), drafty old house and as a form of cheap(er) therapy. My first post was about Julia Child's potato & leek soup.

In December of 2006, my life had been uprooted. I had left my husband after 13 years together, including 7 years of marriage. I gave up the life we had built together; I gave up a new home (my dream house) and most of my friends. I was trying to find that elusive thing called "true happiness."

Since then, I've faithfully stuck to my cooking project...making and posting at least one new-to-me recipe a week (see my favorite recipes and posts of 2007 & 2008). I've also met several other food bloggers, joined the Foodbuzz featured publisher community, began working at Kitchen Conservatory, and gotten into the St. Louis food scene. I'm still living in that old, drafty house...but now I have direct tv and my own wireless internet access.

Have I found true happiness? Honestly, I hate to say it, but I'm not sure. These days, with my new teaching job (high school English), I simply don't have enough time to complete all of the cooking projects I'd like to. I'm almost always mentally and physically exhausted...and overwhelmed with the amount of school work (planning & grading) that I'm always behind on. Plus, my boyfriend has a work schedule that is nearly the complete opposite of mine (he manages a bar in St. Louis), so I find myself alone often.

But, I'm managing...or at least trying to. I'm trying to make time to experiment in the kitchen more often, because cooking really does calm me. It makes me feel creative and successful. I did manage to make a couple new recipes lately, including one for braised baby artichokes...

* * *

After spending four hours prepping in the kitchen at Monarch on April 11, including trimming way too many artichokes, I decided to make sauteed baby artichokes for Easter dinner. A baby artichoke isn't just a smaller artichoke; it's actually a different variety of artichoke that matures at a small size.

The best thing about baby artichokes, besides being MUCH easier to trim than those big 'uns, is that there is no choke in the middle, so you can eat the entire thing (minus some of the tough outer leaves, of course).

To prep the artichokes, I picked off the darker green petals until I reached the lighter green ones near the center. I then trimmed off the top to remove the sharp needles & peeled the stems down to the center. I cut the artichokes in half lengthwise & let them sit in a bowl of water with a couple lemons squeezed into it to prevent them from discoloring.

To cook the artichokes, I seared them in a non-stick skillet with a bit of olive oil & garlic. I added white wine, chicken broth, & fresh thyme sprigs to the pan and let the artichokes braise (covered) until they were tender. I served them with shaved aged gouda cheese & a splash of freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

April 14, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate Amaretti Torte

(Whew! Right under the gun! *wink*)

Holly of Phe/MOM/enon chose the "15 Minute Magic Chocolate Amaretti Torte" for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Holly explains, "I chose the Chocolate Amaretti Torte for a few reasons: (1) My recipe choice had to be chocolate, of course; (2) I wanted to choose something that had no photo in the book, so that we could have the chance to all make it together; (3) Did I mention my need for chocolate... oh, yeah, I did; (4) I have never heard of making something like this, so I was completely intrigued."

And, was she satisfied? "Absolutely. I couldn't find the cookies Dorie suggests, but thankfully, she said you can use most any brand with great results. The torte is chocolate and almond, combined at their very best. You can use the torte for a hot fudge sundae, as Dorie suggests, or to make mini tortes, like I did. I used three 5-inch paper pans to make my tortes.

All in all, it's a fool-proof recipe...simply crush amaretti cookies and almonds in a food processor & remove; then cream butter, eggs, & sugar in the processor; finally, add the crushed mixture and melted chocolate & pulse until it's all smooth. Bake. Cool. Glaze with mixtue of chocolate and hot cream, sugar, & water. Top with a sprinkling of sliced almonds (my addition).

I couldn't find Italian amaretti cookies (or ANY amaretti cookies for that matter), but I didn't look very hard. Most people were able to find them at Whole Foods, World Market, and even Starbuck's. And, even though I was just at a Whole Foods on Saturday, I completely forgot I needed those cookies. So, I used ginger snaps instead.

Someone on the TWD blog suggested that the ginger might overpower the almond flavor, so I used a "heaping amount" of the almonds that the recipe called for. You could definately taste the almonds in the cake, and the ginger snaps gave it a nice little kick of spice that wasn't overpowering at all. I can imagine, though, that using amaretti cookies instead would intensify the overall almondness.

April 13, 2009

Chef for a Day at Monarch

My friend and Kitchen Conservatory co-worker Ruth won a silent auction during the Slow Food trivia night recently to be "chef for a day" with Executive Chef Josh Galliano at Monarch. And since Ruth is such a nice person, she invited me and Teresa Sweeney to come along with her.

First, I have to say that Chef Galliano was so nice to us. I was a bit worried about being in the way, but he put us to work (nicely, though I did ask him to yell at me in a British accent to complete my fantasy) and seemed to trust that we were doing everything correctly. We worked for four hours & between the three of us we scaled trout; blanched, peeled, cut & de-seeded tomatoes; cleaned 10 pounds of morel mushrooms; trimmed what seemed like a hundred artichokes; cut homemade marshmallows; rolled dinner rolls; pickled beans; cleaned scallops; and shelled raw fava beans.

10 pounds of fresh morels & only a few crawly critters to be found!

I don't think Teresa wants to cut another tomato for a LONG time.

I didn't hear Chef say I only had to trim HALF of those artichokes, so I did them all...happily.

While that might not sound like a lot of fun to most people, I had a blast! I find that cooking, even prepping, is very therapeutic. I also enjoyed seeing how a restaurant kitchen like that operates. It was a quiet, laid-back kind of atmosphere...at least from 12-4. Everyone was nice and patient with us.

The kitchen at Monarch is huge. And, I was impressed to find out that everything on the menu--charcuterie, desserts, stocks, breads, liqueurs, etc--are made in-house. I was also impressed to see Chef Galliano doing his share in the kitchen (as well as running finished plates to tables in the dining room)...and not just delegating tasks as I imagine several executive chefs do.

Afterward, we had a few cocktails & a snack in the bar. Teresa asked us to stay for dinner with her and her family & friends. Thus began a 6-hour orgy of food and drinks. I loved seeing how the ingredients we prepped were prepared & presented in the final dishes.

Limoncello Mojito.

Monarch martinis: Orangecello & Tea-infused.

The infamous Chicken Confit Nugget with Salsa Verde.

Such beautifully rolled breads!

Apple of my Rye.

Stinging nettle & ricotta gnocchi with asparagus, mushrooms & bacon.

Diver scallop with olive oil mashed potatoes, fava beans, tomato confit, preserved lemon, & thyme foam.

Soft chocolate fudge with avocado ice cream, chocolate & vanilla soils, & candied pepitas.

Many thanks to Josh, Ruth, and Teresa for a fabulous day!

April 12, 2009

Eating & Drinking Our Way Across Missouri

Here's a quick recap of my two-day trip to Kansas City.

On the way to KC on Monday, we stopped in Columbia, MO, for some Shakespeare's Pizza...pepperoni, artichoke hearts, and pepper cheese...my favorite Shake's pie!

We also had a beer at Sycamore, where we were enticed by their sign out front proclaiming they had the "best/largest craft beer list in town." We had a nice chat with Sanford, one of the owners, and decided to come in for dinner on Wednesday. I was anxious to try the food after noticing that their chef, Mike Odette, was recently a semifinalist nominee for a James Beard award.

(On Wednesday, after a beer and some "chokes & cheese" at Flatbranch Brewing, we went back to Sycamore for dinner. We tried a few of their small plates...the country-style pate, mussels, fried oysters, and gnocchi with roasted squash. And a few glasses of a delish dry rose. Oh, and the chocolate graham torte with toasted house-made marshmallows & two shots of espresso for dessert.)

Once we got to Kansas City, we checked into our room at Chateau Avalon, a huge bed & breakfast with themed rooms. We stayed in the Presidential Suite...the bedroom (with a large, sunk-in jacuzzi tub) is hidden behind a secret door in the bookshelves.

Monday night, we checked out McCoy's Public House for dinner (mac-n-cheese with peas & bacon!) and micro-brews, followed by a few beers at The Foundry & Kelly's Westport Inn.

On Tuesday, we began the day with coffee at Broadway Roasting Company, then smoothies & free wifi at Westport Coffeehouse as we planned the rest of our day.

We decided to have BBQ at LC's, a placed described as "the best of the best". The smell of smoked meat hits you as soon as you open the door...that's because they pull meat out of the smoker right after you order. Amazing. We tried the burnt ends, ribs, and house-cut french fries (which, I'm told, are fried in lard). It was fabulous food.

With our bellies full and trying not to give into a meat coma, we spent the afternoon at Boulevard Brewing, our whole reason for going to KC in the first place. John Bryan, one of the bigwigs, showed us around the brewery and let us sample some of the Smokestack Series beers.

On John's recommendation, we headed to Harry's Country Club next to check out the beer list. While there, we struck up a conversation with the couple sitting next to us, Charlie and Betty. Nice people.

Our final beer joint stop was Grinder's, a place we'd heard great things about. I was impressed that, for the most part, their kitchen is right behind the bar. It consists of a flattop grill, a few pizza oven, and a small work area...where they were hand-rolling pizza dough.

Jerad ordered some of the "f'ing hot death sauce" wings, and the bartender was all, "Are you sure? Would you like to try the sauce first?" She brought over a small cup of the sauce with a toothpick in it. Instead of using the pick, though, Jerad stuck his finger into the sauce and then into his mouth. This is the result, tears & all:

It was, apparently, pretty f'ing hot.

All in all, we had a good time eating & drinking our way across Missouri.

April 1, 2009

Fickle Schmickle has a chili-dog for dinner.

Wait...did I post earlier today about eating healthier to shed a few pounds?

Yeah, well, fuck that. I ate a chili-dog for dinner tonight.

So, I contradict myself. Sure, some might call me fickle...and I'm okay with that. I've heard that indecisiveness is a sign of higher intellect. Or something.

Here's the thing:

1. It was colder today than it has been, so I was chilly (no pun intended) in my sandals, skirt, and short-sleeved sweater. I wanted a hot meal when I got home.

2. I suffer from extreme procrastination, and as a result I am stressing out. I eat when I'm stressed and--quite frankly--fresh veggies ain't gonna cut it in the comfort department.

3. I ate healthy food for breakfast & lunch today. Breakfast = 1/2 whole wheat bagel (fiber!) with veggie cream cheese (calcium!), three strips of bacon (protein!), and a banana (fruit!). Lunch = a huge bowl of steamed broccoli (broccoli!), a few small balls of marinated mozzarella (more calcium!), a small container of fat-free Greek yogurt (so much calcium!), and handful of strawberries (fruit, again!). Ok, so, I ate a couple cookies mid-day too. But they had nuts (chock full of protein!) and lime zest (fruit?) in them.

4. Today was the deadline for this month's Taste & Create event. I was paired up with Susan of Life at Quail Hollow and after reading through all of her recipes, I decided on the hot dog chili (aka chili that goes on top of hot dogs).

Hot Dog Chili

1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 1/2 cup onion, finely minced
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 - 28 ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup ketchup

Brown the ground beef and onion in a large saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until thick. Serve with hot dogs and top with mustard and chopped onions.

Kelly's notes: I added salt & pepper, used fresh garlic (one clove, minced) instead of garlic salt, mixed in a bit of oregano & cayenne pepper, and omitted the ketchup. I let the chili simmer on the low for quite a while, about 1 hour.

Spring Supper: Pan-fried Chickpea Salad

It's finally spring here in the mid-west. The temperatures have been steadily warm enough-- despite that snow we got on Sunday--to force the daffodils & tulips open.

Since my classroom is still stifling hot, I've began digging out my warm-weather clothes...crop pants, shorts, short-sleeved shirts, and sandals. It's time, then, to start shedding my winter weight.

Come on, you all know what I mean. I'm surely not the only one to have put on a pound or five during the colder months. I always bulk up a bit (thanks to many meals of pastas & casseroles, warming breakfasts of eggs, potatoes, & bacon, and endless amounts of red wine & stout beers) once the temperature drops. But, I HAVE to...I live in a drafty, century-old house that generates $300 utility bills even when the thermostat hovers around 66 degrees!

Now, though, it's time to focus on healthier eating...more fresh veggies and less starches. To ease myself out of the winter carb addiction, I like to eat bean and grain (like quinoa) salads. Like this one...

Pan-fried Chickpea Salad
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
4 green onions, roughly sliced diagonally
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lime
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained & chopped
heaping handful of baby spinach
1/4 cup plain yogurt, drained
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Brown the chickpeas & green onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil (or, like I did, bacon grease). When they are just about done, stir in the spinach & cook just until it's wilted. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
  • Cook the tofu cubes & garlic in another tablespoon of oil (grease!) until the tofu is brown and slightly crispy. Add to the chickpeas. Zest the lime over the top. Let the chickpea mixture cool to room temperature.
  • Meanwhile, mix the yogurt with the curry powder, salt, & lime juice. Add to the cooled chickpea mixture and stir until well incorporated.