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
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.
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
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. :)
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.