Grilled Rib Eye Steak with Creamy Cheesey Polenta and Broccoli Rabe

Friday, November 21, 2014

Food doesn't have to be super stressful and intricate. Three of my go-to dishes are steak, polenta, and broccoli in some form. They all taste amazing in their own right, all cook quickly, and bonus is they all go together.

The other night I threw this dish together for a last minute date-night in. The whole meal took about 30 minutes to execute (not counting the steak coming to room temperature on the counter). This meal is easy enough to pull off on a week night, but special enough to serve to guests. If you're getting sick of the seasonal soups and stews, this will hit the spot right on. And the heavenly cheesey polenta will warm your bones on even the coldest of nights. Enjoy it!

Grilled Rib Eye Steaks with Cheesy Polenta and Broccoli Rabe
2 thick bone-in rib eye steaks (at room temperature)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup fine ground quick-cooking polenta
1/4 cup half n half or cream (not milk; half n half or light or heavy cream)
1/2 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh broccoli rabe, ends trimmed and washed
olive oil

Brush both sides of the steaks with a little olive oil. This will help them not stick to the grill. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper to your taste. Set aside and go preheat your grill.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a saucepan. Once boiling, reduce the heat down to low, then VERY SLOWLY AND WHILE WHISKING ADD THE POLENTA. If you add the polenta all at once it will bubble up and destroy you. Whisk the polenta until it's nice and incorporated. Keep the heat on low, whisk in the cream/half n half, then cover the saucepan with the lid, and let it cook, stirring occasionally. Generally the broth has enough salt in it to flavor the polenta, but if you're broth is a bit bland you may want to add a small pinch of salt.

Bring another pot of water to a boil for the broccoli rabe.

While the polenta cooks, go do the steaks. Grill the steaks on both sides to your desired doneness. I prefer medium rare. By the time the steaks are done, the polenta should be fully cooked through and beautiful. Make sure while the steaks are grilling you go stir the polenta too a couple of times.

Add salt to the boiling water and throw the broccoli rabe in. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until they turn bright green. Remove quickly and set aside.

Rest the steaks on a platter. While they rest, finish the polenta.

Take the polenta off the heat. Whisk in the two cheeses until they melt right in and thicken the polenta nicely. Set aside.

To plate, I like to serve the polenta on the bottom of the plate in generous portion, layer a few broccoli rabe on the side, and I like my rib eye sliced thickly on top. But you can just add the entire steak too right on if you like. Serve and enjoy.

Wine: I like a good Malbec with this personally, but any wine will do.

Week Night Yum Yum: Sausage and Peppers

If you are looking for a hearty meal as winter is approaching that's easy enough to throw together during the week, that is filling and satisfying and super tasty then this is the dish. Digging back to my east coast times I remember I used to make this dish once a week during busy law school schedules between me and the Hubsters. It's tasty, fast to throw together, and everyone loves it. I like serving it with a hunk of freshly baked crusty Italian bread myself, but if you prefer pasta then go ahead and make a batch; this dish is hearty enough to stand up to a meatier noodle like rigatoni easily.

Here's what you need:

Sausage and Peppers
1 lb mild Italian sausage (spicy if you like it)
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 very large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic (we like garlic; hold back if you don't)
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
3/4 cup marinara sauce (store-bought is fine)
crusty Italian bread for serving

Bring the sausage up to room temperature. Cut the sausage into larger bit-sized pieces. (You don't have to, but the dish will cook faster this way if you do).

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until evenly browned. Turn the temp to low and remove the sausage out of the pan. In the same pan the sausage cooked in, add the sliced peppers and onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the heat up to a medium and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Throw the sausage back in with the peppers and onions, then add the marinara sauce. Stir to combine. Bring the temperature to low and cover with lid. Cook another 10 minutes so sausages can get cooked through.

To serve, simply spoon out the mixture and serve with a big piece of bread. If you prefer you can hallow out the bread and make sandwiches with the sausage and pepper mixture instead. Or, serve over cooked pasta of your choice. You can top it with some parmesan, but back east we didn't do that. :)


How To Survive Thanksgiving In 10 Easy Steps

Thursday, November 20, 2014

With Thanksgiving right around the corner I thought I'd resurrect my blogging skills and offer up some advice. Hope it helps you!
I used to loathe Thanksgiving. Some bullshit food-laden holiday stuck between fun and fascinating Halloween and more fun with the presents and lights of  Christmas, growing up for me Thanksgiving often meant overly dry turkey, boiled frozen vegetables, and some obscure ethnic dish thrown in for any non-locals that happen to be in the area visiting from Eastern Europe. As an adult I've since evolved to appreciate Thanksgiving more for what it should represent, and have a better understanding and different look for the other holidays as well. What hasn't changed is the Thanksgiving Intimidation -- where everyone freaks the f out at the idea of cooking a hundred dishes at the same time and serving everything cooked perfectly and looking beautiful.
After years of experimenting in the kitchen and figuring out recipes that work and recipes that bomb, failing miserably and succeeding spectacularly, I challenge you to the task and have faith that you can do this. Repeat: YOU CAN DO THIS.
And here's how:
1. Do A Little Every Day
The biggest mistake I used to do and many people do is saving absolutely everything for the morning of Thanksgiving. You absolutely do not have to wake up on that Thursday morning at 3 am and start baking or roasting your turkey. 85% of most traditional Thanksgiving dishes can actually be prepped and even made at least the day before, if not two or three days before. You must take advantage of this. Even if you have a tight schedule, try to do a little every day leading up to Thanksgiving.
Examples of what you can do ahead of time:
  • Chop all your vegetables for dishes (onions, carrots, celery, garlic, etc.) and portion them out in Tupperware with a post-it note for the dish they are to be used in.  
  • Clean your house, do your laundry, plan your outfit for the day of, etc. Get all your house chores done by Tuesday so Wednesday and Thursday can be spent exclusively on the food and table.
  • Polish whatever you need to polish, clean your crystal, wash your dinnerware and glasses, etc. the weekend before. If you have a set of dinnerware or fancy pants serving platters you break out once or twice a year, chances are they're dusty and dirty. Take everything out you plan on using and wash and polish them the weekend before when you have the time to do it right and not break anything. It's shocking how long it takes to wash and clean these items; you do not want to find out everything is dirty two hours before guests are arriving and your dishwasher is full!
  • Grocery shop on Monday or Tuesday. If you leave it until Wednesday or Thursday you'll be screwed, I guarantee it. 
2. Defrost The Turkey.
Oh man you'd be surprised how many people screw this up. Most people do the frozen store-bought
turkeys, which is totally fine. Some do the fresh, locally raised ones. Those are fantastic (but more expensive usually). Which ever method you choose, you have to make sure the turkey is ready as an ingredient to be used. If you had a frozen onion you wouldn't use it, right? Or bread that is half frozen? Same thing with the turkey. If you're using a frozen turkey, you must make sure it's defrosted all the way through. The proper way to defrost a turkey is in the refrigerator over a few days. Bringing the temperature down from the freezing point to cold takes a while and is safer in terms of microbes, etc. Take your frozen turkey out of the freezer on Saturday or Sunday before Thanksgiving. Literally remove it from your freezer, and place it into the fridge. Do not unwrap it. Don't put it in water first. Just transfer locales. It will be defrosted and ready to be used by Tuesday. If you plan on bringing it first you might want to take it out on Saturday just to be sure.  
3. Turkey, Butter, Herbs, Seasoning, Done.
Everyone freaks out about the turkey. It's the star of the show, and everyone has that image from Christmas Vacation of the turkey deflating in front of everyone. It's fine, it'll all be fine. The trick to turkey is first, starting off with a good product. If you're turkey is old or pumped full of crap it's going to taste old and pumped full of crap. Get a good turkey. Some have butter injections and all sorts of craziness; you really don't need that nonsense. Get a good, plain turkey from a reputable source. I like going organic and locally sourced because I like supporting my farms and think they taste better, but you do as you wish.
In terms of flavoring the turkey, I've seen everything from seasoning packets to injections to bringing liquids to rubs and all sorts of things. Different cooking methods will require different preparations; this advice is for if you plan on roasting the turkey.
I like a good brine. I used to not brine, but now I do. I like it. I like it mostly because it tenderizes the turkey and gives a really moist bird in the end. Also turkeys (especially wild ones) tend to have a gamier taste to them. If you're not into that then brining will also help mute that gamey taste if that's not your preference. There are a variety of brining recipes out there, so take your pick. The basics of it is water, acid (usually vinegar of some type), salt, sugar, spices. There are tons of variations so pick the one you like the most. But these basics should be there if you're brining.
If you don't want to brine or find you don't have time to, you can make a great roasted turkey. All you need is a shit-ton of butter, herbs, good seasonings, and an oven.
  • Make sure the turkey is at room temperature. ALWAYS AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. So you can ensure even cooking.
  • Wash the turkey inside and out. Make sure the bag of gizzards is removed and any loose particles in there. Wash with cold water inside and out.
  • Pat the turkey dry everywhere using paper towels. This is a super, super important step many people don't pay attention to and it will bite you in the ass if you don't take the time to do it. I mean everywhere. The neck, the ass, inside the wing armpits, between the leg and thigh bones, the rib cage, the breast all over. This bird should be d-r-y. Why? Because the butter will stick to a dry bird; it will fall off on a wet one.
  • Using room temperature butter (easier to spread), rub the entire turkey with the butter. Like two sticks' worth of butter. Salted, unsalted, I don't care, just use butter. All. Over. Everywhere you patted dry, now you're rubbing butter. And I mean rub. Massage that butter on that turkey like you're getting paid for it. You don't need to rub the inside of the turkey with butter; I just cute a few cubes and throw them in there.
  • Salt, pepper, dried herbs. Season the entire turkey, inside and out this time with salt and pepper. Even the cavity (i.e. where the gizzards were). Outside all over. A generous good sprinkling of salt and pepper. I don't care what salt you use; I like kosher salt for this because it roasts the best and tastes great. Also freshly ground black pepper is best. Use some dried herbs on top if you like -- I love a mixture of herbs de provence. It's classic, it goes perfectly, and the herbs are already mixed for me.
  • Stuff fresh herbs in the cavity. Fresh herbs have more water in them; if you use them on the outside of the turkey they will burn and taste like crap. Stuff them inside the cavity where they can flavor and be protected. Use dried herbs on the outside.
  • Stuff something inside the cavity for flavor and aroma. I like citrus with turkey a lot (lemons, oranges, clementines, tangerines) that I cut into quarters, garlic heads, onions, leeks, carrots and other root vegetables even. All of these will not be eaten, but they will help flavor the turkey as it cooks.
  • Roast it open (i.e. no bag, no tint foil) at 350 degrees for 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours (time will depend on how big or small your turkey is). You don't need to mess with different temperatures or sealing in juices or anything. Pop it in and let it gooooooo, let it goooooo.....
  • Here's my trick: start the turkey off breast side down for the first hour. All of the juices will sink down to the breast and make it moist. Plus you'll get good color all around this way. Then halfway through with some help from another person, turn it over so it's breast-side up now then continue roasting.
  • Baste the hell out of it the last 30 minutes, concentrating on the breast. All that butter and herbage and citrus and stuff will melt around it so suck it up and create a natural weather pattern made of seasoned butter goodness.
  • Cook until internal temperature reaches 155-180 degrees. *if you check the temperature at the white meat, pull it at 155-165; if at the dark meat, at 170-180.
  • Remove and tent the turkey in the pan with aluminum foil. You are resting the turkey, allowing the juices to redistribute inside so when you cut the bird it won't run like a bath on the cutting board and instead stay moist and delicious. Do not forget this step. Keep it rested covered in aluminum foil for at least 20 minutes; I prefer around 30 myself.
  • Carve and serve ceremoniously.
4.  Side Dishes: Something Old, Something Borrowed, Something New, Something Salad.
You'll be surprised to find that people actually don't get screwed up by the turkey, really for Thanksgiving. Rather, it's when you have to time and coordinate a variety of other dishes along with it that things get haywire. Now your attention is going from dish to dish, this is roasting there, that is sautéing here, that still needs to be chopped for that over there, and you can go crazy. Here's a rule I borrowed that works for Thanksgiving too.
  • Something Old: take a tried and true recipe to serve as a side dish that you know how to make with your eyes closed, shitfaced drunk at 2 am if you need to. I don't care if it's traditional for thanksgiving or not. Maybe it's mashed potatoes. Maybe it's a casserole. Maybe it's boiled green beans with garlic. Whatever side dish you love, know how to make easy, that you can bang out no problem. This is your standby, sturdy I Love You side dish you can depend on.
  • Something Borrowed: chances are you're having people over, right? Ask them to bring a side dish. Skip the wine and flowers, and ask them to either make or buy a side dish to serve at the table. This takes one thing off your plate to do (pun intended). If you're not having guests over or they're completely inept in the kitchen and/or cheap, then borrow a dish yourself from the store's ready-made section. Whole Foods prepares a variety of kickass side dishes you can "borrow" for your meal.
  • Something New: Thanksgiving is about tradition, but that's doesn't mean predictable and boring. Take a thumb through the magazines or pinterest and see if there's a new recipe you'd like to try. Make sure it's not too labor-intensive, or plan accordingly, and give it a go! The newness of it will invigorate your cooking and give the meal a fresh take.
  • Something Salad: worst case scenario, the oven breaks or the power goes out (this has seriously happened to me) and you're SCREWED. Not if you have a salad! Make a delicious fall-inspired composed salad full of yummies of the season that will thwart any kitchen disaster that may befall you. With a crusty fresh bread and a lot of wine, at least you have something delicious and festive to eat. It's also nice to have a healthy option, often vegetarian and gluten-friendly for your guests at the table as well. Win-win. You're welcome.
5. Set The Table The Day or Two Before.
Many people love to do elaborate "tablescapes" (PS I freaking hate that word) to get into the spirit of the season. I'm cool with that. Some people like bringing it old school, breaking out the fine china they registered for at their wedding. I'm cool with that. Some people like to throw a fresh pumpkin on the table and a bunch of candles. I'm cool with that too. Whatever your aesthetic is for decorating your dining table, it can be time consuming. The last thing you want to do is have ten different dishes fired in your kitchen and then you're screaming at your husband to help you set the table. I speak from personal experience.
Absolutely everything on the table, even flowers, can be set at least the day before. Get your linen washed or purchased, iron if you need/want to, set it all out with plates and place settings and all of it starting Monday or Tuesday. Everything. Even the glasses. They won't get dusty assuming you don't live in a dustbowl. Add the candles around, fold the napkins, use the napkin rings, whatever it is you're doing, do it all well before Wednesday. If you're doing fresh flowers get them on Tuesday or Wednesday, cut them, arrange them and right on the table. You should wake up Thursday morning to a table already set that all it needs is food and people. This way you can light the candles in under 10 seconds and it's done.
6. Just Use A Lot Of Candles
Speaking of table decorations, I know some people go nuts with the décor. I think that's great. I love it. But sometimes we don't have the time or the money to get it done. You don't need fancy stuff to make a nice looking table. Here are some tips that you can do cheaply and quickly:
  • Candles. Do a combination of candles for a nice warm arrangement. I like mixing differently heighted pillars with smaller votive candles. If you have canisters you can decorate with themed items to add color and texture to the candles. Try fresh cranberries, nuts in the shell, fresh herbs and greenery cut from your garden, even fresh colored leaves that have fallen from your tree. Honestly, my all-time favorite combo is elegant and simple cream colored candles and twigs. That's it. It's so simple and elegant.
  • Use real fresh pumpkins and gourds. By Thanksgiving they're all on sale anyway. And farms are giving them away. Throw some cute ones on the table.
  • A really good table cloth. You'd be surprised how just using a nice, good quality table cloth can class up a table with out all the hootin and hollerin of fancy china and crystals.
7. Invest In Good Booze (or Drinks).
I've had a couple of disaster holidays under my belt, where guests showed up already drunk or the stove wasn't working or the power went out. One time while pregnant I burned an entire side dish because I left my brother in charge of watching it (how he missed the black smoke coming out of the oven right in front of his face, I still don't understand). If all else fails, you can at least turn a disastrous dinner into a cocktail party.
8. Two Words: Ice Cream.
People equally freak out about desserts, especially if you're not a baker (ahem). You can do the pies and cakes and cookies and whatever you desire. There's absolutely no rule you need to have pie present at Thanksgiving. Yes it's a tradition, but if you can't make it or don't want to, then buy one or just don't' serve one! Frankly, to be totally honest with you, after a heavy meal of carbs and proteins the last thing I want is another carb heavy dessert. Personally, I love the refreshing and low maintenance of serving fancier ice cream for dessert. It's easy, it's already done (even if you make your own, you have to make it in advance!), and everyone will love it. Some ideas:
  • good quality vanilla with a homemade whiskey caramel and toasted pecan topping
  • bourbon pecan ice cream
  • chocolate with stewed cranberries and orange topping
  • coffee with vanilla caramel topping and toffee
  • classic rum raisin
  • cranberry ice cream with chocolate shavings
The idea is to take a classic dessert and incorporate the season into it. You can actually serve quite an elegant dessert with ice cream if you do it right!
9. Back Up Plan: Cheese Board, Crackers, Beer.
I told you had some bad Thanksgivings. One was when the power went out and I couldn't cook. We ended up having the dinner way later that night and the next day when the power came back on. But guests were already there and stores were closed back then. We busted out all the cheese, salami, ham, vegetable crudité we had in the fridge and the fresh bread and crackers we had in the house and it was still a fun gathering. Not quite traditional in the pilgrim sense, but traditional for us. I learned an important lesson from that year: to always have a backup plan just in case. Cheese and crackers and beer will keep well after Thanksgiving; no harm in buying some and keeping it. If you don't use it, you can have it later!
10. Football and Buffet: Thanksgiving of Champions
Some people get freaked out at the formality of Thanksgiving, and of hosting a lot of people at one time. The idea of setting a formal table for 12 people or more, all the dishes to be washed after they're all gone.....maybe you don't have time for that. Maybe you just don't want to! Although many people do like doing Thanksgiving formally, you certainly are not obligated to. Having football on all day already has a casualness to the day. I say go with it! Turn Thanksgiving into a big day-long football party! Make everything and serve it buffet style, with plastic plates and paper napkins. Set out a cooler outside full of drinks for everyone to help themselves to. Maybe you might want to add a few things to make it special. How about a seasonal champagne cocktail for the ladies? Maybe offer a seasonal beer as well, instead of the usual football watching libations. Class it up a little. Swap the cubed cheese for maybe a nicer cheese platter. Cook the turkey and leave it out whole on the table, everyone can cut their own piece. Make side dishes in big casserole dishes like gratins or steamed green beans that will stay well over longer periods of time, and can be reheated easily. Put out a couple of pies and a platter of cookies for dessert. Make Thanksgiving foods approachable and ask everyone to help themselves.
Look. I've learned Thanksgiving (and any holiday for that matter) is as hard as I make it to be. Figure out what you want to do, not what family or pinterest or anybody for that matter tells you it should be like. It's your house, your stuff, your way. Break the rules! Or follow them to the T, whatever you want to do. Just remember it's about getting together with people you love -- friends and family -- celebrating the end of a glorious season, enjoying the flavors that come once a year, and just having a good time. 
Happy Thanksgiving!  

French Breakfast Croissant Rolls

Friday, April 25, 2014

If you're looking for a very easy and very tasty breakfast or brunch item then this recipe is a must try. I cheat using store-bought crescent roll dough and do a simple but perfect combination for the filling. I use French ham when possible -- it has a great flavor (more taste than boiled boring ham but not as harsh as black forest style) -- and classically pair it with a little grain mustard and gruyere cheese. The mustard adds a nice sharp flavor that enhances the flavor of the ham as well as brings out the sharpness in the gruyere. The cheese adds great texture and warmth to the croissant, and that classic sharp/nutty taste we love from gruyere.
You can assemble these earlier in the day or even night before, wrap them up tightly with plastic wrap and bake off in the morning or when ready to eat. They are delicious piping hot out of the oven or just warm, even room temperature. For a vegetarian version you can omit the ham and go straight with the mustard-cheese combination. If you don't prefer gruyere, try a milder Monterey jack cheese or even pasteurized mozzarella (I.e. not the fresh mozzarella you'd use for a caprese) or mild cheddar. If you can't find grain mustard then use a little Dijon.
These are fantastic for quick weekday breakfasts, weekend brunches, snacks for the beach, or parties and church functions. I like serving them with cloth napkins; there's something warm and comforting and just "french" about serving these with cloth napkins for some reason to me. Enjoy! 

French Breakfast Croissant Rolls
1 container store-bought croissant dough 
about 1/2 pound French style ham
1 cup grated gruyere cheese
grain style mustard

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Take the croissant dough and unroll each piece. They will be in a triangle shape with a longer pointed end. Smear a little mustard in the middle of the triangle piece. Take a slice of ham -- you may have to cut the ham slices into halves to make them fit -- and place it at the long end of the triangle (i.e. the opposite end of the long point). Add a good pinch of the cheese.

Now starting with that longer end, begin rolling the dough into a log moving towards that pointy end of the triangle until you've rolled it all up into a log. You can gently move the roll into a crescent moon shape if you like or leave them straighter. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.

Bake in oven about 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cook time will depend on your oven's strength. If they are starting to brown too quickly reduce your oven's temp.

Remove and set aside to cool for a minute or two. The cheese may bubble and ooze out of the croissants; no worries -- it will solidify as it cools. Serve warm.

I like serving these with a hot cup of coffee or freshly squeeze orange juice. If for a party just pile them into a basket lined with cloth napkins or a serving platter. Oven-roasted asparagus would go great with these as well for a brunch or lunch meal. You can also freeze these and bake off as needed.

Dessert Pizza: Chocolate with Strawberries OMG

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I've done a version of this as a calzone with resounding success. It also works great for a pizza. Not a novel idea by any stretch of the imagination, yet it's always a crowd pleaser, easy to do, and fun to make with the kids especially. The classic combination of chocolate and strawberries comes through here. I use a combination of chocolates: nutella for the spread, a combination of chocolate chips for the topping to add flavor and color, and finally the strawberries of course. A drizzle of chocolate sauce on top adds yet another level of flavor. You can add whipped cream to this, toasted nuts, coconut...really anything you like. We served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was amazing.

Dessert Pizza: Chocolate with Strawberries

1 package pizza dough
1 Tbsp olive oil
nutella or other hazelnut spread
1 pint fresh strawberries
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
chocolate sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Take the strawberries and cut off the stems. Quarter each berry (you can keep the tiny ones intact) and set aside.

Take the pizza dough and stretch it out or roll it into your desired shape. I like using rectangle for this for easy slicing. Place the dough onto the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Take the olive oil and brush a little on top of the dough. This will help it get golden and slightly crisp. Bake in oven about 13-15 min or until the top just begins to get golden. Cook time will vary depending on your oven.

Once the dough is cooked, remove from oven and let stand a minute. While still warm, spread with the nutella (this is like your sauce). Sprinkle the strawberries, chocolate chips, and other toppings you may use on top. Drizzle with chocolate sauce and serve.

I recommend not making the crust terribly thin if you're planning on using berries. They can be heavy and will break the crust if you make it too thin. You can use any topping you like for this. I also recommend not adding too much to weight the pizza down. The beauty of it is to use a couple of ingredients for color and for flavor and not overloading it "supreme" style.

Superbowl Yum Yums: Pulled Pork Tacos with Spicy Slaw and Sweet Crema Sauce

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

If you're looking for a tasty treat for the upcoming Superbowl, this is a fantastic dish to serve at your party. Prep time takes a bit of time but it's not at all difficult. And putting the tacos together at the end is extremely simple. In fact, I like to put out all the elements and let everyone build their own tacos.

Growing up in SoCal I was spoiled with legit, authentic delicious tacos. My favorite -- al pastor -- are practically impossible to find outside of Cali or the Southwest. So, I'm left to recreate my own. I had a version of tacos recently at a local restaurant that were outstanding, and did a nice spin on it: smoked pork in corn tortillas with a cabbage slaw and a sweet crema sauce on top. I loved it. This is my version, using pork that we started on the smoker and finished in the oven. My slaw is a combination of green cabbage with crisp tart green apple, finished with smoky hot sauce and bright apple cider vinegar. My sweet crema is simply sour cream, honey, and lemon juice. I love a good sprinkling of cotija cheese right on top too. Some fresh cilantro never hurt nobody either. Enjoy it!

Go Hawks!

Pulled Pork Tacos
1 (3-4 lb) pork shoulder -- boneless or bone in is fine*
1 recipe BBQ rub and BBQ braise liquid -- recipe found here
1 head of green cabbage
1 large green apple
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp hot sauce
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp oil (neutral is my preference, like safflower but you can use a less fruity olive oil)
1/3 cup sour cream
1-2 Tbsp good honey
juice of 1/2 lemon
corn tortillas
grated cotija cheese
hot sauce for serving (optional)
more fresh cilantro for serving (optional)
lime wedges for garnish (optional)

Check out the link above to get the BBQ rub I like to make. If you have a rub you love, go ahead and use that.

Take the pork and set out on the counter to come to room temperature. Take the rub and rub the entire meat all over -- including up and under crevices -- in a thick layer. Let it stand at room temperature with the rub on for an hour while you prepare your smoker or preheat your oven.

If you're going to smoke it like we did, preheat your smoker and prepare your chips. Begin smoking the pork as usual. We smoked our pork for about 3 hours and then finished cooking it in the oven with the braising liquid. Conversely, you can do the pork entirely in the oven without smoking it also; simply sub out the beef chuck in this recipe with the pork and cook until fork tender. If you're really in a pinch, you can buy store-bought. Whole Foods makes a decent pulled pork.

Either way, the end result is you want fork-tender pork that you can then "pull" apart with two forks so you have a heap of shredded delicious meat. Set aside.

For the cabbage slaw, cut cabbage in half, then in quarters. Cut out the core and discard. Thinly slice the cabbage into thin strips and place in a large mixing bowl. Take the apple, core it, cut it in half, and cut into thin match-stick strips. Add to the cabbage. Add the cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to your taste, add hot sauce and the vinegar right on top, and toss to combine. Add more or less of the hot sauce (or type) to suit your spice level. Once everything has been evenly coated, cover and let stand at least an hour for the cabbage to wilt a little. You can even make the cabbage a few hours or even a day in advance; just keep covered in the fridge and toss it once or twice.

To make the sweet crema, simply whisk together the sour cream, honey, and lemon juice together. Add the honey 1 tablespoon first and taste, adding more if needed. Some honeys are sweeter than others, so adjust to your taste. This can be made up to a day in advance and kept in the fridge covered until ready to use.

To heat the tortillas: place the tortillas in a pile and wrap with a kitchen towel. Microwave for 1 minute. Keep in the towel to keep fresh and warm.

To serve up the tacos, simply take a tortilla and fill it with some pulled pork. Add some slaw, crema, then top with cheese and more cilantro if desired. Add hot sauce and fresh squeeze of lime if you like.

For a party like Superbowl especially I like serving these buffet style, so I'll put out a big aluminum tray of the pulled pork (this way I can keep it warm in the tray easily), the tortillas wrapped in the kitchen towel to stay warm and pliable, and all of the condiments out for everyone to help themselves.

*Bone in is going to taste better but take longer. Make sure you allot the right cooking time depending on which you end up working with.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Sriracha

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yes, that just happened...

If you love Brussels sprouts, you need to try this.

If you love sriracha, you  need to try this.

My friend Dawn made some homemade sriracha sauce and had a ton left over. She was kind enough to give me some of the red goodness and I was super excited to work with it. case you didn't a huge fan of sriracha. Huge. Like, intervention-level fan of sriracha. I literally put it on everything from Asian noodles to pizza to scrambled eggs. So when I got some homemade version, I was beyond excited to work with it.

The idea for this dish came to me when I was staring at the bag of Brussels sprouts in my fridge, the mason jar of sriracha next to them. Boom! It hit me right there. The flavors in my opinion, between earthy nutty sprouts together with spicy with underlying sweetness that is the goodness known as sriracha is effing AMAZING. I prepped this dish super on the low-cal side and super simply: tossed the sprouts which I halved in a little bit of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat), seasoned simply with salt and pepper and roasted off. Then when about done, took out of the oven and to tossed the sprouts in a ginger-garlic puree. The ginger gave brightness and the garlic a classic savory base. Then, topped with some slivered almonds for crunch. Back in the oven it goes for another 5 minutes on lower temp to toast the almonds. Finally when ready to serve, a generous drizzle of homemade sriracha!

Dawn got the recipe for sriracha from Nom Nom Paleo. She details an excellent blog post with pictures on the process, and the ingredients are super simple and easy to find. As much as I love sriracha, I agree....I did turn a blind eye to all of the preservatives and unpronounceable "stuff" making up part of my most cherished of condiments. But now! Now with this super easy recipe, I can make my own guilt-free and PALEO sriracha! And the heavens split and the light shined forth and the choirs of angels sang, "Hail to the paleo srircha! Hail! Go forth and multiply the red fiery goodness."

And so I shall.

So if you make your own sriracha or use the classic, this recipe is a must-try for you. So healthy and guilt free. So...."aaaaaah!!!" My recipe for the sprouts with sriracha here is good for a side dish portion for 4 people. You can easily expand it to suit a larger crowd. Just taste and adjust proportions of ingredients accordingly.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Sriracha
1 lb brussels sprouts, cleaned and ends trimmed
1 Tbsp spoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled but left whole (i.e. not smashed)
fresh ginger knob, peeled
2 Tbsp slivered almonds (raw, unsalted)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sriracha (recipe link follows)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Take the sprouts and cut each in half; in quarters if you have particularly large ones. You want them bite-sized and all about the same size to ensure even cooking. Place in a bowl and toss with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure they're coated well. Layer out on a baking sheet and roast in oven, turning once, abut 15 minutes depending on your oven's strength. I like tender sprouts but still a good bite to them; and I like some caramelization on them.
Take the sprouts out of the oven and reduce oven temp to 350.
While the sprouts are cooking you can prepare your ginger-garlic puree. Simply take the garlic clove and grate it using a microplane. Do the same with the ginger. You want about net 1 tsp each of grated garlic and grated ginger. Do not use jarred garlic or ginger for this -- the taste will be inferior. You really want to use fresh ingredients.
When the sprouts are tender and have some good caramelization on them, take them out of the oven and place them back into the bowl you used with the olive oil. Now add the garlic and ginger puree on top and use a spoon to toss the roasted sprouts in the garlic and ginger. Turn out the sprouts back on the baking sheet (same one; no need to use a fresh one) and sprinkle with the almonds right on top. Return back to oven and cook another 5 minutes. Remember -- you're cooking them now at 350 (not 400) so as not to burn the garlic, ginger, and almonds!
When ready remove and drizzle with sriracha to your taste. Enjoy.

Recipe to make your own paleo-friendly sriracha sauce can be found here.

Cannoli: The Filling and Tips For A Perfect Cannoli

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I've been pretty MIA on the food blog scene. Between Holiday Hell and the sickness that would not leave our entire house for weeks, things are finally beginning to get back to normal around here and so does follow food and blogging.

I item I wanted to blog quickly that I think is a great dessert to have (without or without shell) is cannoli. Cannoli are a cinnamon-flavored dough that's rolled thin and shaped into a tube then fried until crispy. It's then stuffed with a ricotta-based cream filling usually mixed in with mini-chocolate chips. The shells can be served plain or dipped in chocolate and served as is, coated in sprinkles, or even finely chopped pistachios. The whole thing is then dusted in festive powdered sugar. Cannolis are a traditional dessert in Italy, particularly in Sicily, and were brought over to America with the Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. And thank God they did, because I love cannoli!

The Hubsters is 1/2 Sicilian, and cannoli were a staple at the holiday table growing up. I've been trying to figure out how to make them for years, and finally figured out the perfect filling. It's very easy and doesn't require a lot of ingredients to make it great, but rather one simple but essential technique: draining the ricotta.

Many years I got the flavor combination for the filling correct but the texture was off -- too watery or too thick. Finally I figured out the secret is to drain the ricotta overnight on a paper towel or two in the fridge. This takes out just enough moisture to make it thick and creamy, but leaves enough so it doesn't get dry and crumbly. I was shocked to see many cannoli recipes don't mention draining the ricotta. Maybe it's a known fact, but I didn't know this and it makes all the difference in the world.

Second, I flavor my ricotta with some freshly zest orange. It brightens the entire mixture instantly as well as giving a very lovely scent and color. I use mini chocolate chips because my husband asks for it; you can use larger sizes if you like or omit them completely. I also flavor my cannoli with a dash of vanilla -- again, gives a lovely scent as well as rounding out the perfect flavor. I use vanilla powder instead of extract for this dish because it adds vanilla flavor without added moisture. Too much moisture and you'll get a runny cannoli filling!

The recipe here is for the filling. I use store-bought cannoli shells because it's easier. One day I'll buy the equipment and make the shells from scratch. But you can certainly use store-bought. This recipe makes enough to fill 6 large cannoli shells.

1 (15 oz) container whole-milk ricotta cheese (don't use skim or fat free for this!)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract)
1 Tbsp freshly grated orange zest
1-2 Tbsp mini-chocolate chips (depends on how much you like mixed in for texture)
6 store-bought cannoli shells (optional)

Line a bowl with two sheets of paper towels. Scoop out the ricotta right onto the towels and lightly cover with another paper towel on top. Place in fridge and let stand at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Change the paper towels at least once halfway through. You'll see the towels will get quite soaked through; this is the key to a good cannoli filling. You can do this ahead of time.

When you're ready to make the filling, place the drained ricotta in a large mixing bowl. Beat with handheld mixer fitted with paddle attachments on medium speed to help smooth out. Beat for a minute or two. Turn the speed on the lowest setting, and begin adding the powdered sugar slowly. Mix the sugar into the ricotta, then when fully incorporated, add some more sugar until you use everything up. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and continue to beat the mixture until ingredients are very well combined. You should have a pretty smooth consistency. Give it a taste and add more sugar if you want it sweeter. Cannoli filling should be sweet but not saccharine.

Note: If you found you drained your cheese too long and the mixture is a bit too stiff and not really creamy, you can add a splash of cold heavy cream or half n half and continue to beat until incorporated This should thin out the mixture to a proper consistency.

Fold in the chocolate chips using a spatula.

Your filling is now ready.

For easy piping, take a gallon sized plastic storage bag with Ziploc and transfer the ricotta mixture to the bag. At this point, if you want to fill your cannoli later you can just pop the bag in the fridge until you're ready to fill. When ready to fill, take one bottom corner of the bag and cut off the edge of the corner creating a pastry bag. Take a shell and begin to squeeze the mixture into the shell on one end. Turn and fill in the other end. Repeat with remaining shells.

When shells have been filled place on platter and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Note: Cannoli are best when you have the crunchy shell and smooth filling. They're best if eaten right after filling, or within an hour or two. The more time they sit, the soggier they'll get.

Gingerbread Men: The Recipe

Soooooo behind on blogging....

Ok, so these aren't our traditional cookies for the holidays (we go super FOB for our treats every year!) but the occasion arose where I needed to make cookies for kids to decorate. Sugar and gingerbread men were requested. I got a good recipe for sugar cookies, but was lost with the gingerbread one. After must research and inquiries, I got frustrated and made up my own. My version has the right color, the spice is there without being overly spicy so even the picky eaters will eat them, and are still cookie-ish (they won't get as hard as cardboard two minutes later). Also, I feel like mine are a bit more authentic....

I love going back into history to see how they did it before all of our fancy pants equipment, easy shortcuts, and other crappy ingredients. I did the same here and added two majorly different ingredients than what we generally using frequently modern times: crystalized ginger and grains of paradise.

Crystalized ginger is pieces of real ginger that have been cured in sugar and dried -- the flavor is super concentrated like real ginger, so you preserve that punch of spicy ginger flavor that the powdered version simply lacks. You don't need a lot of it -- one cube is usually enough to flavor an entire dish or batch of dough -- and it will keep literally forever. I highly recommend picking up some and keeping it in your pantry. Makes a killer tea in a pinch too!

The other ingredient is grains of paradise. Not bird, grain. A cousin to the black peppercorn, this spice is a tiny grain a similar size of a mustard seed. The flavor is a cross between spicy black peppercorn and fragrant cardamom. It comes out of west Africa and was a popular spice throughout Europe during the middle ages. It fell out of favor as the black peppercorn began to take roots in Europe, but it's making a culinary comeback. The spiciness is not as intense as black peppercorn, but still has a lovely aroma and bite to it. And the cardamom and sweet citrus undernote goes beautifully with spicy ginger.

For this recipe I took the crystalized ginger and ground it into a paste (see pic above). Notes on how to do that quickly below.

This recipe will yield a good 2 dozen cookies of smaller gingerbread men size. It rolls out quite well, so you can use it to make most any cookie shape. It'll also keep in the fridge and freezer until ready to use. Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookies
1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp candied ginger paste*
1/2 tsp grains of paradise (preferably ground)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, grains of paradise, cinnamon, and clove in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl with an electric hand held mixer fitted with the beater attachments. Work on it on medium speed about 3 minutes. Add the egg and mix until incorporated in. Add the molasses and mix until combined. You'll get a nice, darkened velvety consistency at this point. Now, slowly add the dry ingredients (the flour mixture) to the batter and mix it in each time. Go slowly and work on the lowest speed. As you add more flour, the batter will get considerably thicker and thicker and feel harder to beat. Once the ingredients are all combined, set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a working surface with a little flour sprinkled on top and work the dough together into a ball. You'll see it'll come together pretty easily and quickly. Flatten it out into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it until ready to use.

To make the cookies, cut the dough in half and work on a floured surface. Roll out each half of the dough until you get about 1/4" thick. Cut out using your cookie cutter shapes, place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (or a silpat) and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack completely, then frost and decorate to your liking!

*To make candied ginger paste you'll need candied ginger and a food processor or spice grinder of some type. Take about 1/4 cup of the candied ginger cubes and chop them small with a knife. This will help them turn into a paste without destroying the motor of your machine. Then place in the processor and process until it comes together into a ball. The consistency will be like a super thick paste. You can keep the rest of it in the fridge for a few weeks to use in vinaigrette bases, desserts, and even tea.