Monday, September 24, 2012

September 23, 2012 - Baby Back Ribs

Another Sunday has come and gone!  Another fantastic meal!  This week, we invited some of my staff to come join us for one of our blog nights.  We went Southern BBQ and "smorgasbord"-style and had a blast!

Cocktail - JD and Ginger

Jack Daniels.  Ginger Ale.  That's it.  We kept it super simple because there's a lot of whiskey in the some of the dishes, and because I didn't want to get my teller line drunk.  So we toasted with a refreshing whiskey-based cocktail to start our evening!

I am going to post every dish we cooked in no particular order, as we served it buffet style.  I will start with the baby back ribs - we made them 3 ways.

Bourbon Glazed Baby Back Ribs

We cooked these exactly as stated.  The sauce was made to the T.  (However, I did cook the sauce on the stove top for about 10 minutes to mellow the bourbon.)  These were delicious!  The grill leaves a great crust and the sauce is a sweet/spicy/savory blend that's so smooth!  (When we salt and peppered the ribs, we also added some garlic powder and ginger powder.)

Dry Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

The first recipe is for cooking method.  The second recipe is the dry rub I used for these.  First and foremost - this is my standard cooking method for ribs.  In the oven, wrapped in foil, low and slow.  Secondly, 99% of the time, I just dry rub them and that's it.  The dry rub forms a fabulous crust that has amazing flavor.  With the oven cooking, the meat just falls right off the bone.  Yummmm.  (My vote for favorite of the 3 styles.)

Whiskey BBQ Sauce for Ribs

I did the baking method from above, but this recipe is for the BBQ sauce used to marinate the ribs.  Delicious sauce - definitely smokey and has a little heat to it with the backdrop of brown sugar on the palate.  Bear in mind, when baking the marinated ribs, they don't really get good color because they are wrapped in foil.  I didn't do it this time, but I would recommend brushing a little sauce over them once they are done and throwing them back in for a very quick broil. 

Molasses Baked Beans with Ginger

Yes, this is a repeat recipe.  If you remember from the All American BBQ post, I said that we'd never cook beans another way.  We weren't lying.  Superb.

Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

Okay, I'll be honest with you.  There is a particular macaroni and cheese recipe that Jenn and I salivate for.  This is not it.  That recipe is on the back burner for Thanksgiving.  :-)  However, this is a good one for a barbecue themed dinner.  The only recommendation I have is to the double the cheese.  Rich and creamy, and easily made in advance and just popped in the oven.

Corn Fritters

What's not to love about corn fritters?!?!  Deep fried nuggets of delicious-ness.  They were delicious dipped in whiskey sauce.  (What is whiskey sauce?  It's a secret recipe that John makes that involves ketchup, mayo, whiskey, sherry, sugar, vinegar, mustard, god knows what... every condiment and spice in their kitchen goes into it, but it is soooo good!)

Deep Fried Dill Pickles

Let me simplify this recipe for you.  Dump all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well to create a batter.  Dip the pickles in and then toss in the deep fryer.  There is no need to dredge and dip, etc.  And we used milk instead of buttermilk.  These were awesome.  The crunchy texture and then the hot and dill-flavored pickle.  Topped with whiskey sauce.  I'm in heaven. 
Kickin' Collard Greens
Garlicky, smoky, bacon-y, green goodness!  Who knew us New Englanders could pull off some classic Southern cooking?  These were fantastic (only change was using a whole package of bacon!) and we just threw them in the Crock Pot and let simmer for hours!  Amazing.
Garlic Cheese Biscuits

We goofed on these a little.  I didn't realize there was no granulated garlic in the house, so I used jarred minced garlic.  Delicious, still, but the granulated garlic is a must for that great flavor.  I'd also recommend a little sprinkle of Old Bay.  If you replicate as I'm suggesting, you actually have the recipe for a certain seafood joint known for their biscuits.  Just saying.

Peach-Blackberry Sangria

Go figure the one thing I forget to take a picture of is probably the most important!  We did a sangria this week because we figured it would be lighter and more fun.  This was a fantastic drink!  We followed it as written, except for doubling the recipe and leaving out the simple syrup.  If you prefer a sweet drink, then add syrup to your taste.  It was refreshing and not overpowering! 

Dessert - White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

Okay, so I don't want to brag or anything - but this is my signature dessert.  For the last 8 or so years that I have been cooking, this is my "go to" when I need to bring a dessert to impress.  I was hesitant to even put the recipe out there, because now my secret is out.  However, I will add some changes.  First off, I make them cupcake style now.  It's better portion-sizing and easier for people to take home leftovers.  Bake at 350 for approx. 20 minutes.  Secondly, I use just 1 bag of white chocolate chips and use melted seedless raspberry preserves instead of the whole frozen raspberry concoction.  And lastly... a tablespoon or so of creme de cocoa.  (What else am I going to use it for?  It's sitting in my liquor cabinet!)  If you are looking to impress... this MUST be the recipe you use.  If there is ever a recipe that I insist you try off this blog - this is the one.  (After steak frites, of course.)
Overall, a wonderful meal!  Many thank yous to Rems, Karina, and Cassie who joined Jennifer, John, and I for our experimental Southern BBQ cuisine!  (#DreamTeam)  Looking forward to the next one!
Next Week - A Trip to the Farmer's Market

Monday, September 17, 2012

September 16, 2012 - Rack of Lamb

Welcome back, Culinary Sunday followers!  I know that I originally promised a rotisserie chicken meal this week, but chef gets final vote, and I changed it up to a rack of lamb recipe that just looked oh-so-good when I was perusing the websites.  Enjoy...
Cocktail - Hazelnut Citrus Martini
Frangelico, lime juice, triple sec, agave syrup... Jenn started with a concept, but it ended up having too much lime juice so we just continued to add things until it tasted good.  And then topped it off with a sprig of thyme - after all, its all about presentation.  Final result was good - much more of a "cool weather" cocktail, now that we are heading into fall.
Appetizer - Honey Roasted Pear Salad with Thyme-Verjus Dressing
So verjus is impossible to find and therefore we used the white grape juice substitute.  We also had a gorgonzola-apricot salad topper blend from the grocery store so used that as well.  The dressing was nice and tart to counter the sweet pear and the tangy of the cheese.  Perhaps slightly too much thyme in the dressing, but overall a delicious salad.
Appetizer Wine - 2009 Albert Bichot Cote de Nuits-Villages
Wine Rating - 85/100
(Bad picture, I know)
This French Pinot Noir was very tasty.  It had a sweet and tart cherry palate with a hint of spice and smoke.  Easy to drink and a lovely match for the acidic salad.
Entree - Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce
Divine!  Marinated the rack of lamb in the herbs the night beforehand as well as made the sauce the night beforehand as well.  Then at the last moment - just put it all together!  Cooking time was perfect on the recipe, do not change a thing.  Sauce was very good, but very time consuming.  Perhaps a demi-glace next time mixed with the herbs and the wine instead of making the lamb stock.  Overall, a superb meal along with its beautiful side dishes.
Side Dish - Gourmet Mushroom Risotto
(See picture above)
We halved the mushrooms called for in the recipe and otherwise followed it exactly.  Delicious!  A meal in itself!  If you haven't tried making a risotto yet, give this one a shot! 
Side Dish - Sauteed Parsnips and Carrots with Honey and Rosemary
(See picture above)
Anytime you saute vegetables and then add honey, I'm sold.  They were caramelized and sweet, and the nice scent of the rosemary kept it from being "overly sweet."  Fantastic side dish!
Side Dish - Popovers
Okay, Jennifer's been dying to make popovers, and I have actually never eaten one before, so we decided to give it a shot last night!  And they popped!  I went running into the living room holding the pan in my oven gloves, going "Look... look!"  This makes up the souffle that deflated.  Anyways, I digress... they were tasty and had the perfect texture.  Great for dipping in the leftover sauce!
Entree Wine - 2005 John Duval Eligo Shiraz
Wine Enthusiast - 96/100
I know we should have had a Pinot Noir with dinner, but when our dinner guest brought this amazing wine with him, we changed the rules a little.  And this was a fantastic wine.  (And for the syrah/shiraz lover in me - I was in heaven!)  This wine opens up a little smoky and toasty but on the palate has an explosion of black cherry and raspberry.  It finishes beautifully with light tannins and a creamy finish.  Lovely!
Dessert - Vanilla Scented Pear Strudel with Hazelnuts
As you can see, we forgo the chocolate sauce in favor of just vanilla ice cream.  And I think that's the perfect way to go - I could see chocolate as overpowering the delicate flavors.  This recipe looks daunting, especially if you're afraid of phyllo dough like I am.  I made it Sunday afternoon, and it took no more than 45 minutes to make.  It's pretty much a jazzed up baklava, but just using pears and hazelnuts.  One of our favorite desserts to date. 
Dessert Wine - 2006 Pindar Late Harvest Chardonnay
So this ice wine from Long Island is from one of their more famous vineyards.  While we've had better ice wines with other desserts, this one still did not disappoint.  Prominent flavors of honey and apricot with a light citrus and tropical fruit taste.  If you're ever on the North Fork - go check this place out!
So overall, another fantastic meal!  No one got lit on fire, we're back to using a big kitchen, and the food came out perfectly cooked.  Next week is going to be really fun, though.  We've having some of my co-workers over for some old fashioned Southern barbecue!
Next Week - Baby Back Ribs and all the fixings...

Monday, September 10, 2012

September 9, 2012 - Duck Breast

Happy Monday, everyone!  I'll be honest, with fall approaching and the morning air getting colder - it was not fun getting out of bed this morning, hence this post coming out a little late.  So I was without my cohorts last night, although I did have a friend join, so had an extra hand in the kitchen.  I think I did ok without them, but you can all be the judges of that.
Cocktail - Sidecar Martini
Okay, first off, I do not start drinking at 4:00pm as seen in this photo.  (Not normally... ok, not hard liquor at that hour.)  This was just a test batch in case I forgot to take pictures later.  (Of course, I didn't pour it down the sink or anything after the picture... don't judge me.)  We've done sidecars before, and I stuck with it again because the meal included brandy, so I wanted to keep a theme going.  I did prefer the other sidecar recipe we've done, because it included limoncello to soften the liquor.  This sidecar as directed was incredibly strong.  I did adjust by adding the brandied cherries (see recipe below) and then topping it with orange seltzer.  And we did end up just pouring it over ice in rocks glasses.  Still, a great cocktail, though, and always nice to take a little break from vodka.
Entree - Duck Breast with a Brandied Cherry Reduction
Ok, first and foremost, I overcooked the duck breast and there were medium, not medium-rare.  Pay attention to your cook time, folks... I should have adjusted for smaller breasts.  That being said - a delicious  meal and its the reduction that makes it fantastic.
Make the brandied cherries!  I followed this recipe ( and did use dried fruit.  I then followed the recipe exactly as stated and it turned out perfectly.  (And many thank you's to D who graciously offered to flambe for me, and almost got set on fire.  Tip for you all - invest in one of those long torch-like lighters... a BIC lighter is rather dangerous.)  The sweet tartness of the cherries combined with the richness of the brandy and savory of the stock - divine.  (FYI, I used 8oz duck/veal demi-glace and then the rest in chicken stock.)  This can be made in advance and just reheated slightly.
Side Dish - Duck Fat Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Yes, this recipe is almost exactly the same as the one above with the exception of balsamic reduction vs. brandy reduction.  However, I did like the idea of duck fat frying the potatoes instead of mashed.  (After all, you have all the duck fat from searing the breast... may as well use it up!)  These were delicious... simple, easy, crispy. 
Side Dish - String Beans with Shallots
You can't really screw this one up.  Especially if you're like me and take the lazy route by buying a bag of pre-washed haricots verts that just need to be steamed in the microwave.  Then add to sauteed shallots.  Voila.  Simple side dish that doesn't compete on the palate against the decadent cherry sauce.
Entree Wine - 2009 Tenute Cisa Asinari Dei Marchesi Di Gresy Barbera D'Asti
Wine Rating - Not Found
This Italian red was a delight to drink!  Ruby red with violet hues and a rich aroma of red berries and cherries, this robust wine finished richly and with a slight acidity and even tannins.  Truly a delicious wine that went extremely well with the entire meal.  With that being said, this was a Christelle pick from Harry's Wine Shop, and unfortunately, it was her last pick for us.  She has accepted a new position in her career, and while we are absolutely thrilled for her, it's sad to know that we won't see her smiling face every Saturday afternoon.  This also means all the pressure is on Greg going forward.  Regardless, I know she reads this, so Christelle - congratulations, thank you, and good luck!
Dessert - Flourless Chocolate Cake
Eh... I've made flourless chocolate cakes before, and this one wasn't as good as others.  It could be perhaps because I made them into cupcakes for my own convenience.  (Easier to bring to work that way.)  FYI - for cupcakes, I baked at 350 for 20 minutes... I highly recommend 15-18 minutes, I think that was what did it for me - they seemed overcooked.  (Just like the duck... ugh... I can't win.)  However, it's chocolate, and when covered with brandied cherries, it was just delicious.
Dessert Wine - Alcyone
Yes, this is the first time we are repeating a wine.  It's just that good.  This red dessert wine from Uruguay is wonderful.  It's sweet and rich and fortified with brandy and therefore was the perfect accompaniment to our dessert.
Okay, so overall, a success.  (If you don't include the fact that my guest almost got lit on fire and the food came out slightly overcooked for my tastes.)  And I apologize for the lack of appetizer, so I'll make sure to do something special next week to make up for it.  John and Jenn are back next week, so we'll be back to organized chaos instead of my juggling 5 different pans in a kitchen the size of a matchbook.  Thanks for being patient with me!
Next Week - Changed My Mind... Rack of Lamb

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bonus Recipe - Pasta Carbonara

So... as John and Jenn were preparing to leave for beautiful Costa Rica, I made sure to go over and help - not to help them pack, but to relieve their fridge of anything that could spoil while they were gone.  (Like goat cheese, bacon, steaks...  I'm such a good friend, I know.)  In fact, there may have been a bottle or two of wine that was going to go bad in their absence as well. 
So, we were trying to figure out what was for dinner (Chinese, pizza, sushi...) when Jennifer got a message from her nephew asking if we had any good recipes for a pasta with a "white sauce."  While they are not pasta people normally, I could bathe in a good vodka or alfredo sauce for the rest of my life, so without looking up, I responded "carbonara... he probably already has all the ingredients in the fridge."  And with that... we realized that we weren't doing take-out that night.
Pasta Carbonara
(Sorry for the bad picture quality.)
Okay, I'm rather passionate about carbonara sauce, so pay attention.  :-)
First off, all the main ingredients are most likely sitting in your fridge.  It comes down to eggs, bacon or pancetta, grated parmesan cheese, onion, and garlic.  Real carbonara sauce does NOT have heavy cream in it.  The beauty of this sauce is that its kind of a "everything but the kitchen sink" kind of thing - you can add whatever the heck you want to add to it - veggies, chicken, fish, steak, etc.  Clean out the fridge, people.
However, cooking method is particular if you want to achieve that creamy texture.  Cook your bacon, and then the shallots and garlic first.  Let that hang out in a bowl and cool slightly.  Then cook your pasta.  Drain and let hang out in a bowl and cool slightly.  In a separate bowl (yes, there's a lot of bowls), whisk the parmesan cheese and the eggs together vigorously.  Add the bacon/onion/garlic mixture to the slightly cooled pasta.  Then add the egg/parmesan mixture and using tongs, mix like hell.  The heat off the pasta will cook the eggs, and because you let it cool slightly, it will NOT create scrambled eggs.  (If you're still nervous, you can temper the egg mix by adding lukewarm bacon/onion/garlic to it first and then adding to the pasta.)
It's not scary, folks.  Give it a shot!
And yes, I have a menu planned for tomorrow.  (And it includes dessert... something I normally won't make on my own...  I think you'll all be rather impressed with my efforts.)  Talk to you in a couple days.

Monday, September 3, 2012

September 2, 2012 - Grilled Salmon

Happy Labor Day, everyone!  I hope everyone is having a splendid holiday weekend surrounded by family and friends (and grills and booze!)  Originally, we were planning on a spice rubbed whole fish on the grill, however I couldn't find any spice rub recipes that really appealed to me, so we switched it up a little.  In light of it being the last weekend of the summer, we went with a tropical fruit theme and created a lovely (and surprisingly light!) meal to wind down the summer with.
Cocktail - Champagne Sangria
Delicious!  This is the perfect brunch sangria or "hanging outside doing nothing but reading a book" type of sangria!  We halved the simple syrup, and it was still very sweet, so we would use only 1/4 of the recipe recommended amount next time.  It was light, tasty and refreshing!
Appetizer - Brie, Papaya and Onion Quesadillas
Wow!  Who knew?!?!  These were amazing.  The brie melted beautifully and had such a decadent creamy texture with the onions and the papaya.  Every bite had a beautiful combination of flavors and textures.  I felt like I should be back in the Caribbean, sitting on a beach eating these with a cold daiquiri in hand.  And it's also inspiring to attempt trying new "quesadilla" recipes - it doesn't have to always be chicken and cheese. 
Entree - Grilled Salmon with Papaya-Mint Salsa
This was a great salmon!  We had about 1.5lbs of salmon fillet for the three of us, and grilled it up as directed.  The salsa was a hit!  (We halved the jalapeno, I'll admit it.)  The freshness of the tropical fruit and the green onion and the mint combined with the richness of the salmon - wonderful!  We had added a little more mint that originally recommended, and we still felt there could have been more.  So I would suggest using your judgement when preparing.  (And it takes all of 5 minutes to prep - this was an easy meal!)
Side Dish - Jasmine Rice with Garlic, Ginger, and Cilantro
You know that scent sensation when you're sauteing up garlic and onions on the stove?  I'm now addicted to the smell of sauteing ginger as well!  This rice was simple, easy, and required very few ingredients but the end result was delicious and exotic!  A great way to play up some "ordinary" rice!
Side Dish - Sugar Snap Peas with Mint
Once again - sometimes its the simple things that are just so good!  Who doesn't like snap peas?  And then throw in some garlic, mint, and green onions - how could you go wrong?  (Although, once again, the mint wasn't very prevalent, I would add more.)  And on further thought, next time, I would maybe add some chopped ginger as well.  (And I'm debating a splash of sesame oil...)
Final Plate
Entree Wine - 2009 Scott Family Estates Pinot Noir
Wine Advocate - 87/100
Okay, so we didn't have time to go to Harry's this weekend because of the holiday.  (Sorry, guys!)  The recipe said that a pinot noir would be the perfect pairing for the salmon (regardless of the tropical fruit salsa), and two people that worked at the liquor store down the street from us agreed.  (Something to do with the fatty acids of the salmon.)  So John and Jenn threw chance to the wind and went with their suggested wine.  There was an immediate nose of black cherry with a hint of almond and spice, and on the palate, there was ripe cherry and pomegranate with a nice lingering finish.  The wine was delicious - I picture it as something you'd open up in front of the fireplace watching a movie.  It did pair well with the food, and I'm curious to ask Harry's if they would have stuck with a Pinot or suggested something else.
Dessert - Banana and Mango Spring Rolls with Coconut-Chocolate Ganache
A resounding "oh my" filled the backyard when we all bit into these little rolls!  The mango and banana was a fantastic combination, and the experience of biting into a crispy spring roll with the soft fruits was incredible!  And who would say no to chocolate??  (Oddly, it did not taste like coconut at all... I'd suggest a drop of coconut extract... or coconut rum... hmmm.)  The options for dessert spring rolls are endless!  Like during apple season, stuffing them with apples and cinnamon... or making mini-strawberry filled ones for a fondue night! 
Overall, a fantastic meal and a lovely way to end what has been a superb summer.  We did a lot of grilling, light foods, and Bobby Flay this summer, and as we turn to fall, you'll see heavier dishes (and therefore more exercise), and perhaps a new chef will become our inspiration.
Programming Note:  John and Jenn are going to Costa Rica next week.  (They have it so rough, I know.)  So you're stuck with just me again.  Don't worry - I'll take good care of you guys! 
Next Week - TBD