cooking. baking. recipes. eating out.

cooking. baking. recipes. home economics. eating out.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Grilling for the Gang of Six

One of the fantastic perks of friends with an actual house in the city is the opportunity to grill food outside without leaving town. My friends' have a beautiful, long chef's kitchen and, just past the kitchen, an enclosed back yard. More like a lush garden of trees, plants and plenty of growing edibles, there is a summery patio with a traditional kettle barrel charcoal grill.

Though our gathering consisted of six hearty men, I'm quite sure the ladies would find this meal just as satisfying. In keeping with summer, the menu was nearly absent carbohydrates and was full of protein and vegetables.

Unfortunately, I was having too much fun cooking, tasting and socializing to remember to take pictures of every thing. But next time.

Grilling Menu for Six:
Rubbed and Grilled Ribeye Steak
Michael Symon's Lola Restaurant Steak Sauce, modified
Grilled Onion Salad
Green Bean, Watercress and Bleu Salad
Buttermilk-Lime Ice Cream with Chocolate Mint Leaves

Grilled Ribeye

1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp white or brown sugar
1 tbsp ancho or mixed hot dried chilis, ground
3 lbs ribeye steaks

First, buy the best ribeye you can afford. I prefer (well, love) the ribeye at Whole Foods. It is trimmed but well marbled and is pasture-raised, grass fed, free of hormones, and raised on one farm its entire life. The taste is pure and delicious with a rich buttery kick. Meat is definitely a product where the adage holds true: you get what you pay for.

The use of meat also raises ethical questions, not only about the rightness of eating animals, but about the amount of the Earth's resources required to produce meat. We now know livestock have a truly large impact on the environment. The amount of methane alone produced by cows is cause for concern due to its damage to the ozone layer. Waste and runoff from factory farming is also having alarming effects. Nonetheless, to occasionally eat high quality meat not factory produced but raised and slaughtered in a humane fashion can be a rewarding and delicious experience.

Make the rub: using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the coriander. You do not want a powder here but just to break open the seeds and release all that rich citrus flavor. You can also roughly chop them with a knife or crush them with a bench scraper. In a small or medium bowl combine the coriander, salt, sugar and chili powder.

Place the steaks in a glass baking dish large enough to hold them all in one layer. Always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat and avoid contamination by using different utensils and dishes before and after cooking. Sprinkle on the rub to coat one side then flip the steaks and coat the other side. Put in the fridge for 4-12 hours before grilling. In the meantime, go ahead and make the Lola steak sauce (see below).

To grill on a charcoal kettle grill: with the grill cleaned, old briquettes and ash removed, make a pyramid with new briquettes and follow the instructions for lighting them. When the briquettes are all burning well and the corners beginning to gray, scatter the briquettes some in order to create an even cooking temperature throughout the grill. Replace the cooking grid or grate to get hot. A very hot grate will prevent the meat from sticking and give the traditional grill marks. Once the charcoal has come to its hottest temp - the briquettes will be halfway gray but burning a deep orange with some flames - place the steaks on the grill. Do not move them. Grill for 3 minutes on the first side. Flip and grill for 2-4 minutes more on the other side. The steak will be deeply browned on the outside and pink in the center (medium rare). If you want your steak well done, cook longer and put your steak on the grill when the briquettes are not as hot. The heat will be able to penetrate the meat without burning the outside. Just remember that with grilling the longer the beef cooks the less tender it will be. When your steak has finished grilling, remove to a clean platter and allow to rest for 8 minutes uncovered without touching it. The meat will continue to cook during this time and become even more tender and juicy.

Once the meat has rested, take a sharp knife and fork and begin slicing the beef into 1/2" strips. While you could easily do individual steaks, I like this method for more informal entertaining. The meat can be passed or served buffet style and folks can take exactly as much as they like. Also, the beef is so good and tender any further cutting can be done with just a fork.

For the modified Lola Steak Sauce:

2 cups balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup raisins
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp whole cloves
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp celery salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 anchovy fillets, chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large nonreactive saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until the mixture has reduced by one third to one half. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer once or twice, until you have a nice smooth sauce; discard the solids. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. If you wish to thicken it more but have already strained it, you can put it back in the saucepan and continue reducing for a few minutes. You can also stir in a couple teaspoons of butter and as the sauce cools, it will thicken. Once cool, cover and reserve until serving.

Grilled Onion Salad

3 large organic Vidalia onions
2 organic yellow onions
1 large organic white onion
2 medium organic red onions
up to 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup flat leaf Italian parsley
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil

Because onions are the primary ingredient in this salad, it's important to use good ones. I use organic onions because they taste better and do not leave an oniony aftertaste. They are also crisper, juicier and more mellow. Cut the ends off all the onions and peel them. Slice the Vidalia, white and yellow onions into 3/4" - 1" slices. Put in a large bowl. Slice the red onion into 1/4" -1/2" slices. Add to bowl. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper. Add about 1/2 cup of olive oil or until the onions are very well coated with the oil. Place a grilling tray (a metal sheet punched with 1/2" or 3/4" holes) on the grill until very hot. In this situation, I grilled the onions before the steak and before the coals were at their hottest point. Dump about half the onions on the tray. They can be somewhat piled. They will shrink some from grilling and the moisture released will help cook the others. Use tongs to turn the onions every few minutes until they are done. The onions will mostly be soft but not limp or wet or sloppy and a few will remain crisp. Place in a large bowl and cook the second half of the onions. Remove to the bowl. While they are cooling you can separate the parsley from the stems. Once you have enough, give the parley a very quick chop, just a few passes with a large knife. Grate the lemon zest over the bowl of onions, toss, then slice the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl being careful to remove any seeds that may fall. Toss. Add the parsley and toss again. Taste for salt and adjust. This is ready to serve.

Green Bean, Watercress and Blue Salad

1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
1 bunch watercress, trimmed
4 ounces Roth-Kaas Blue Cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves

Juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 shallot very thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Prepare the vegetables: bring a pot of well seasoned water to a boil. For well seasoned water (for most vegetables or for pasta) the water should taste like sea water. Adding a pinch of salt to a couple gallons of water is not effective. When I see people do this I often chuckle and wonder why they bother. You should add a tablespoon of kosher salt per gallon (16 cups) of water. Blanche the beans in the boiling water for about three minutes until the beans are cooked but still very crisp. Drain and run under cold water for one minute. Alternatively, you can drain the beans and add to a bowl of water and ice cubes. Regardless, the beans should only be subjected to the cold for a minute. This sets the bright green color and stops the cooking. Failing to cool the beans down or cooling them down for too long will result in limp beans without a bright color. Once they are cool and drained, wrap them in a dry absorbent kitchen towel and put them in the fridge until you need them.

Pull the tarragon leaves from the stem until you have enough. Pass over the leaves with a knife for a few chops.

Make the dressing: in a medium bowl add the orange juice and lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Add the salt and whisk until dissolved. Add the shallot and whisk again. Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking. Finish with the pepper.

Toss the salad: in a large salad or kitchen prep bowl add the green beans from the fridge, the watercress, blue cheese and tarragon. Give this a gentle toss with salad tongs. Pour over the dressing and toss well. Serve alongside the steak, sauce and grilled onions.

Buttermilk-Lime Ice Cream with Chocolate Mint

Another blessing within my friends' fabulous kitchen is their sturdy Italian ice cream maker. It's really a super, if mildly noisy, device. It seems Steve, the owner, just tosses in a few ingredients and an hour later we're eating fresh ice cream. This ice cream has a wonderful texture; it is creamy but the buttermilk and lime provide a nice hit of summery acidity. Another friend had just given me chocolate mint from her garden in the morning. I knew it would be the perfect thing with which to finish this dish. Mint grounds this ice cream and gives it a clean, fresh, balanced finish.

3/4 cup water
1 cup
2 cups
1/2 cup heavy cream
zest of 2 limes

juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon
corn syrup
pinch of kosher or fine sea salt
bunch of chocolate mint

To make the ice cream: combine the water and sugar in a medium, heavy sauce pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves. Do not allow the mixture to color. Remove from the heat and cool in the fridge.

Once the syrup is room temperature to cold,
stir in the buttermilk, cream, zest, juice, corn syrup and salt. Pour into the freezer container of your ice cream machine and follow the manufacturers' instructions.

In the meantime, cut the chocolate mint into a chiffonade. A "chiffonade" is achieved with leafy plants by stacking the leaves, rolling them tightly, and cutting crosswise to produce fine ribbons.

When the ice cream is finished, scoop into ice cream dishes and finish with a garnish of the mint.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Michael Symon's Crispy Gnocci with Morels and Spring Peas

There is something so Springtime and magical about this dish. It combines two of the best products of the early Spring season: peas and morels. And since Spring in Chicago can be cold and windy, all of the butter in this recipe keeps one warm and energized.

While I've had morels in the past, like when I had this dish at Mr. Symon's Cleveland restaurant, Lola, years ago, it was in making this recipe at home that I came to really love them. This recipe highlights the morel: their beautiful honeycomb appearance and special flavor are essential to this dish. When you find morels at your market or grocer don't be alarmed or intimidated by the price. While in big cities they can easily top $40.00 per pound, the dozen required for this recipe weigh only about a tenth of a pound.

Because it is so buttery I had by June put this recipe in the "I'll make this again (sparingly) next year" category. But when I went into the Boystown Treasure Island the produce man was putting out the last shipment of fresh morels for the season. And just a couple feet away sat perfect, beautiful, fresh Spring peas. I decided to make it one last time this year. A 55F Sunday afternoon seemed the perfect time. This dish does not taste buttery, though. The acid from the juice of an entire lemon really cuts the butter while the shallot and garlic contribute to depth and whole parsley leaves to roundness. The modifed recipe below contains two tablespoons of butter less than the original. If you want all the butter of the original recipe, add an additional tablespoon to the pan you saute the morels in and stir in a tablespoon when you add the water and parmesan at the end.

There is also something to be said for Mr. Symon's brilliant use of a ricotta gnocci, which is so much lighter than a potato gnocci. These gnocci have a crisp, flavorful exterior and a soft, cheesy interior. Like eating little pillows of cloudy goodness and delight!

Do note that morels should not be eaten raw. They contain small amounts of hydrazine which are eliminated during cooking. However, I doubt a single raw morel would harm a normal, healthy adult.

Here is the adapted recipe which serves 4:

For the gnocchi:
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg, beaten

For the sauce:
6 tbsp unsalted butter
12 morel mushrooms
1 shallot, thinly sliced
kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh shelled peas
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

To make the dough:
Combine the flour, parmesan, lemon zest, and salt in a bowl. Add the ricotta and beaten egg. Mix with hands or wooden spoon until the dough just comes together. Overworking will cause the dough to toughen. Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and pat into a rough square. Using a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into thirds and gently roll into foot-long ropes, flouring as needed. Place dough ropes on a floured plate and refrigerate for 10 minutes and up to 2 hours. After dough has rested, return the ropes to a lightly floured surface. Cut each rope into 3/4" inch pieces, and set aside while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce:
Put 3 tbsp butter into a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, add the morels and saute for about 2 minutes, just until they begin to soften. Add the shallot and saute, seasoning with a generous pinch kosher salt. Add the garlic, stir and reduce heat to medium. Add the lemon juice and peas, and saute for two minutes until peas begin to cook. Turn off heat and set aside.

Heat 3 tbsp butter over medium-high heat in a saute pan large enough to accommodate the gnocchi without crowding. When the butter becomes just brown and fragrant, reduce the heat a little and add the gnocchi to the pan. Cook, turning as needed, until crisp and browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook these!

Pour the morel and pea sauce over the gnocchi, turning to coat. Add 3 tbsp water and 1/3 cup parmesan, and gently toss until the cheese, water and morel sauce forms a silken coating. Stir in the whole parsley leaves. Spoon into shallow bowls and serve immediately. Can be served with parmesan to pass, though this isn't necessary.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Original Cobb Salad

After a hectic Spring week during which temperatures moved wildly between 57F and 97F day to day, the traditional Cobb salad seemed like a cool, crisp, and satisfying dinnertime response to the weather. It is hearty with a bunch of protein but not heavy due to the lack of carbohydrates. The protein will support you as you move into a more active summer lifestyle. If you happen to need or want carbohydrates with this, a crusty piece of baguette would do fine.

On a historical note, the Cobb salad is named after Robert H. Cobb, the owner of the Hollywood Brown Derby where this salad was a signature dish beginning in the 1930's. Nonetheless, a country club in Lincoln, Nebraska has been serving this line up of toppings on a bed of spinach since 1917.

The recipe below is for 2-3 people where the salad is the main meal of the day.

1/2 head iceberg lettuce
2 cups mesclun or trimmed watercress
1 small head romaine

1 tsp. olive oil
3-4 chicken tenderloins, about 12 oz
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
3 eggs
6 slices bacon, cut into 3/4" pieces
4 oz. Roth-Kaas Wisconsin blue cheese, or your preferred blue
1 small bunch scallions or chives
2 plum tomatoes

scant 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar, any kind
1 garlic clove, peeled, crushed by side of knife
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. olive oil

1 avocado

To prepare the lettuces:
Always wash and dry any unprepared lettuces. Take the 1/2 head of iceberg lettuce and cut it from top to core creating a quarter head. Cut off core and discard. Using a large knife or plastic lettuce knife cut the quarters crosswise creating a shredded lettuce. Place in a large salad bowl. Add the mesclun. Tear the romaine into small bite size pieces and add to the bowl as well. While the combination may not seem terribly refined, this works both with a fork and visually. The occasional taste of an herb or arugula from the mesclun is wonderful. Set bowl in the refrigerator for now.

To prepare the toppings:
Heat a small skillet large enough to hold the tenderloins over high heat. Once hot, add 1 tsp olive oil and wait another minute. Add the chicken. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook to seal the chicken and turn to repeat, about 1-2 minutes. Next, turn the heat to medium-low, cover the chicken and cook six minutes, turning once. Turn off the heat, leaving the cover in place, and move on to the next steps. The chicken will continue to cook while it sits.

While the chicken cooks, place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Add an egg timer if you have one. Put the saucepan on medium high heat and cook until the egg timer says the eggs are finished. If you do not have an egg timer, this will take about 7 minutes, or longer if you are making more than three eggs, once the water is vigorously boiling. When making boiled eggs, start with the eggs in the pan and add cold water, and also later rinse with cold water after cooking. This prevents the yolk edge or skin from turning green.

While the eggs are cooking, start working on the bacon. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat until hot and add the bacon. Cook until brown and crispy then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

While the bacon cooks, using a fork or grater, break up the blue cheese into little pieces. Put in prep bowl and set in fridge.

By now, the eggs should be finished. Rinse thoroughly under cold water and peel. On a clean, dry cutting board, coarsely chop the egg. Or use an egg slicer. Set aside in fridge.

Next prepare the tomatoes and scallions or chives. For scallions, cut off the roots and slice thinly, starting with the white part. Cut up into the green only until the green is no longer crisp, about 3-4" up. If using chives, simply cut into 1/4" pieces. Put in small prep bowl and set aside in fridge. For the tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise. Remove the pulp and discard. Cut what remains into 1/2" strips. Turn the strips and cut into a 1/2" dice. Put in small prep bowl and set aside in fridge.

Make the dressing:
In a small bowl, add the red wine vinegar, salt and sugar. Once the salt and sugar are dissolved, add the crushed garlic clove, freshly ground pepper and whisk in the Dijon mustard. Next whisk in the olive oil, a little at a time or in a small, narrow stream. Once the oil is fully incorporated, remove the garlic clove, discard, and set dressing aside.

Finish the toppings:
To prepare the avocado, slice in half to the stone. Twist to separate halves. Remove stone with knife. Quarter avocado and remove skin. Chop into 1/2" cubes. Remove to small prep bowl and add 1-2 Tbsp dressing and toss very gently to stop discoloration; avocados oxidize quickly. Set bowl in fridge.

Take the resting chicken and move to a cutting board. Cut lengthwise once or twice, turn once and chop into coarse 1/2" cubes. Set aside.

Take the salad greens, eggs, cheese, scallions, tomatoes and avocado from the fridge. Bring the chicken and bacon to hand. Give the dressing a final whisk and pour on the greens. Toss gently but thoroughly and swiftly move on to plating. (Never dress a salad in advance or it will wilt.) Divide the greens among your plates. I use wide rimmed all purpose salad/cream soup bowls. It is easier to add the toppings in distinct rows - the signature look of a Cobb - if the lettuce is not mounded but somewhat flat. Next, put on your artist's hat and arrange the toppings in rows. The order really isn't important. The salad will be more attractive if the colors contrast, so separate the like colored toppings.

Serve immediately. Your dining partners will be delighted: such simple ingredients taste so great all together in a salad.

Above is a picture of how mine turned out.