Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November 25, 2012 - Braised Short Ribs

I know, I know... this post is super late.  I'm sorry.  Holiday weekend was crazy, there was a lot of running around, and we actually ended up pushing our Culinary Sunday to a Culinary Tuesday.  (Gasp!  Horror!)  Anyways... we did make a fabulous meal and definitely in our Top 5 so far in the history of our little blog.
Cocktail - Pear Saketini
Pear sake, vodka, a little lemon juice, sliced cucumber.  Soooo good!  Light and refreshing - we each had two.  (It was a long day, don't judge.)
Entree - Asian Braised Short Ribs
This is how you do a weeknight meal!  Delicious and gourmet with little to no effort!  Let me walk you through this.  It's 6:30am, I just walked in from the dog park, I'm freezing and need to jump in the shower to get ready for work.  I combine all the ingredients for the sauce that's in the recipe in my Crock Pot, mix it up, throw the short ribs in, turn it on low, and it cooks until I get home at 6pm.  At 6pm, I remove the ribs (they are falling off the bone at this point and my house smells like heaven), put them in a portable Pyrex dish, put the braising liquids in a fat separator and pour the juices into a portable Pyrex.  I then bring to John and Jenn's house.  At this point, we throw the braising juices on the stove top and let reduce.  (This part takes about 45 minutes.)  Once reduced, we pour over the ribs and bake as directed, and then make the jasmine rice and steamed broccoli while baking.  15 minutes later, we're plating and going "yummmm."  It was soooo easy!  Bear in mind, this is slightly salty.  Use low-sodium soy.  And don't skimp on the lemongrass, either.  Most large chain grocery stores will sell it in individual little packets, so it's worth it!  Overall - a delicious and foolproof meal that anyone could pull off!
Wine - 2009 Durigutti Malbec
Wine Spectator - 87/100
Ok, so obviously we didn't make it to Harry's this week, and after two saketinis, we weren't really in a mood to spend a long time going through the wine stockpile and Google-ing what to drink.  Sooo... we figured we haven't blogged a Malbec in a while, and we enjoy drinking it, so why the hell not.  This lush red was delicious!  It had aromas of raspberry and plum with soft tastes of blackberry, chocolate, and wild herbs.  It had a savory finish with smooth tannins, and was a fantastic wine to drink.  This is a great everyday drinking wine!
Dessert - Vanilla Poached Pears
So adorable and so tasty!  (And how cute is the plating!)  We poached the pears while reducing the braising liquids for the entree.  Then we covered in foil and let them cool outside while we were eating.  While finishing our wine and clearing the table, Jennifer made the caramel sauce and voila!  These were tender and had incredible flavor.  However, the sauce kind of hardened the second it hit the martini glass and wasn't as edible as we would have liked.  You may want to find another sauce recipe, or even just buy one from the store - I don't think it would take away from the dessert!
So overall, a delicious meal.  One of our favorites due to the simplicity, easy, and out of this world taste.  I am truly sorry for delaying this post so long, and we hope you'll forgive us for skipping the appetizer and multiple side dishes.  We'll get back to that next week.  See you soon!
Next Week - Pork Tenderloin

Monday, November 19, 2012

November 18, 2012 - Trial Run Thanksgiving

Good morning, all!  Sorry for the late posting, but getting my full belly out of bed this morning wasn't easy.  So much food.  But we had an incredible time cooking for some great friends, and I can't wait to share with you. 
Cocktail - Sparkling Apple Cider Cocktail
Sparkling apple cider, bourbon, lemon juice.  Sooo good... even the non-whiskey types enjoyed it.  (And very festive!)  Oh - for anyone keeping track, we got 5 hits from Russia last week - thanks for coming back to us!!  (And new country to visit us this week is Taiwan... welcome.)
Appetizer - Butternut Squash Soup with Spiced Creme Fraiche
Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.  This soup made a ton!  We had 7 people with enough leftover to feed the entire street.  We did not strain it, but did everything else as directed.  Also, the creme fraiche didn't really do much - it kind of disappeared into the soup, so we're not sure if it made a big difference or not.  This was made earlier in the day and reheated before serving... so a perfect dish to bring in a Tupperware to the in-laws house and impress them with your fancy cooking skills.
Appetizer - Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini
So we had leftover goat cheese and puff pastry from last week, and figs were going to be a part of another recipe, so being the clever and resourceful cooks that we are - this was added to the menu.  So delicious.  And once again, the fig jam can be made in advance and it carries well!
The Good Stuff - Let's Start with the Bird
Okay, I've made plenty of turkeys and usually follow a different (kind of boring) recipe, so I was excited to try something new.  The dry brine was amazing, the cook time was spot on, and the gravy was spectacular!  The changes were minimal.  First, I don't have a turkey roasting bag, so I just coated it in the herbed salt, double wrapped in plastic wrap, and placed in a shopping bag on top of a baking try overnight in the fridge.  Worked just fine.  And for the gravy, instead of draining the pan, and straining, blah blah - we just put the roasting rack right on the burners and began boiling it up.  Then made the roux (the fat's already in the bottom of the fan, so who cares), added a bit of white wine (we just eyeballed it) and the rest of the carton of store-bought turkey stock.  Stripped some rosemary leaves off the branch, tore them up by hand, and then just did a couple of squirts of dijon mustard.  (You can tell at this point, we were just getting tired and lazy.)  The end result was fantastic!  Rich and smooth, with a nice flavor from the herbs and the turkey juices.  A beautiful result.
Mac & Cheese
Remember when I said we had a mac and cheese recipe in our back pocket.  This is the one.  We make it every year, and it is frequently requested at family and social gatherings.  The mixture of the Gruyere and the sharp cheddar are perfection!  (And its a really easy recipe to follow.)  It may seem overly "liquid-y" when you pour it in the baking dish, but the noodles will absorb it, don't worry.  I'm getting hungry just remembering it.
Brandy and Orange Mashed Sweet Potatoes in Orange Cups
Is that not the cutest little thing you ever saw???  Jennifer followed the recipe exactly, and even made it earlier in the morning, and just baked before serving.  They were delicious and beautiful and so impressive.  I'm telling you - bring the soup and these to the holiday party this year... you'll blow everyone away.
Cranberry, Fig, and Pinot Noir Chutney
Halved the recipe, but followed it exactly.  (Except used a Cabernet Franc instead of Pinot Noir - it's what was open in the house.)  Cranberry sauce is one of those things where no one really thinks about it, until the turkey is on the table, and then you just grab the canned crap.  Not at a Culinary Sundays Thanksgiving!  It may be the overlooked side dish that everyone only eats about a teaspoon of, but you better believe its going to be fabulous.  (And fabulous it was.... leftovers currently in the fridge and going to my Dad's house on Thursday.)
Scalloped Potatoes and Fennel
No boring mashed potatoes at our dinner!  These were incredible - a great texture and flavor combination with the roasted fennel, cream, and fresh rosemary.  Definitely another show-stopper.
Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots
Roasted, sweet, salty - delicious!  (Okay, we also added bacon.)  Jennifer and I are both green bean casserole-haters so we opted to change up the vegetable and go with the one that most people wouldn't expect.  Fantastic vegetable dish!
Sausage, Apple, and Golden Raisin Stuffing
No real recipe for this.  Here's how it works.  Grab a bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned stuffing.  Cook as directed (using chicken stock and lots of onion and celery.)  Then add cooked and crumbled sage sausage, chopped apples, golden raisins, and whatever else is lying around your pantry.  End result - delicious! 
Final Plate
Yeah, we weren't in the mood to make bread from scratch... we used garlic butter crescent rolls.  Don't judge us - you weren't in the kitchen with us.  Let me run you through how to cook the entire meal and keep your sanity.  First, make the cranberry sauce and the fig jam the night before.  Leave in fridge, and bring to room temp before serving.  Make the soup in the morning or even the night before and just warm up stove top before serving.  Stuffing can be made in the morning, and just tossed in the oven to heat up for about 10-15 minutes.  Sweet potatoes can be made in advance and then baked before serving.  Macaroni and cheese can't really be made in advance - but all the prep work can and then its just boiling water pretty much.  The potatoes and fennel take a long time and are kind of a pain, but once they're in the oven, you have a lot of free time.  Brussels sprout are stove top and rather easy.  Seriously - if you plan and execute it right - you can pull off the entire meal without breaking a sweat.
Wine - House Wines
Large group, varying wine preferences... we just grabbed some Rose, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir out of the stockpile and let people choose for themselves.  Sorry, Harry's - we'll be back next week.
Dessert - Pumpkin Flan and Chocolate Dipped Hazelnut Caramel Squares
Okay, let me say that I detest pumpkin pie.  I personally don't think pumpkin should be served as something to eat because it's just weird.  Let me also say that I sometimes find flan boring unless it has some sort of flavor, like vanilla bean, or salted caramel.  Now, let me say that I gobbled up this flan like the world was ending.  It was just creamy and rich, and didn't taste like pumpkin but just tasted good.  And who doesn't like chocolate coated caramel bites???  Spectacular dessert!
There you go.  Thanksgiving done Culinary Sunday style.  From the three of us, we wish you all a healthy and happy holiday, filled with great food, friends, family, and wine.  Next week, it will be "ugh, I'm so sick of cooking for people and need a break" so we're breaking out the Crock Pot and giving ourselves a little rest.
Next Week - Braised Short Ribs

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 11, 2012 - Vegetarian & Puff Pastry

Welcome to another fabulous week, Culinary Sunday followers!  Before I begin, just a special shout out to all those brave men and women who have served, currently serve, or plan on serving our country - I hope your Veteran's Day was spectacular!
So our good friends Jeff and Bonnie are our resident vegetarians.  And one cold day at the dark park, we were chatting about food and about Jeff's and my deep love for a little thing called "puff pastry."  So jokingly, he says something like "I challenge you to make an entire meal with puff pastry as an ingredient."  Well... ha!  One thing about me... I will step up to any challenge you throw in my direction.  And therefore... here is your vegetarian meal that has puff pastry in every course.
Cocktail - Honeycrisp Apple Sangria
So good!  The cloves and cinnamon leave a slight lingering spice to the sangria, and the fruits stay nice and crisp, but absorb a lot of the delicious liquids!  We did not strain the sangria, just left it as is, and did not include pisco.  (Which, as Greg informed us, is pronounced "peace-co".)  Pisco is a South American hard alcohol that is made from grapes - similar to a grappa or some even say tequila could be a substitute.  We just added more schnapps.  And because we are drinkers, and this was doubling as our appetizer wine - we tripled the recipe.  :-)  (Yes, I have a headache this morning.)
Appetizer - Roasted Garlic Souffle
I already told you that we are having a love affair with souffles this season.  This was divine!  Absolute perfection!  We followed the recipe exactly, and believe it or not, everyone had seconds of these little cups of heaven!  The recipe as written filled 9 6-oz ramekins... so you may want to halve the recipe.
Appetizer - Puff Pastry Crostini with Roasted Garlic, Goat Cheese, and Apple Chutney
There's your puff pastry!  And honestly... I think they were better than a baguette would ever be!  The puffy crunch of the pastry combined with the savory roasted garlic, the creamy goat cheese, and then the sweet and savory apple chutney... absolute magic!  We made about 12 of these little babies for 5 of us, and honestly, we should have doubled the recipe because they flew off the table.  I don't even like goat cheese too much, and I was practically licking the plate.  Definitely make the chutney, don't try to buy one.  And definitely half the chutney recipe, because it makes a ton.  (Although... I'm thinking grilling up some marinated pork tenderloin and then topping it with apple chutney... yum.)  You'll notice in the picture that we forgot the mint (damn!), but it tasted delicious nonetheless.  (We also left out the tomatoes, because I just don't like them.)
Entree - Vegetable Pot Pie
Well, look at that... a puff pastry topping for our pot pie!!!  This was insanely delicious.  The only change was made to the recipe was to use vegetable stock instead of chicken, and we added a handful of frozen peas (needed more green), and some chickpeas.  You must follow the recipe!  I read a lot of reviews on the recipe that stated people left out the Pernod and the saffron, and I think that would completely change the flavor profile.  Pernod is a licorice/anise smelling liqueur.  You would think it was created just to match up to the fennel.  And saffron is such a strong herb with such beautiful flavor and it gave a gorgeous color to the stew.  Yes, saffron is expensive.  However, here's my little tip.  I buy all my spices from the Latin food aisle of the grocery store.  They are about $2 for a huge bottle, and just as good as any McCormick spice you guy for $5 that is half the size.  But in that aisle, I also find small containers of saffron that hold about 4 solid "pinches" worth for only about $4.  And most recipes that call for saffron only want a "pinch."  So splurge people.  (However, if I go to Stop and Shop and they're out of saffron, I'll be pissed I gave away my secret.) 
Side Dish - Fall Salad and Parmesan Cheese Twists
Let's talk salad - perfection!  The dressing is superb and light and the crisp of the salad perfectly matched the richness of the pot pie.  This may become the new "house salad dressing."  And the parmesan cheese twists - made from puff pastry, I might add... perfect for dipping into the pot pie!
Entree Wine 1 - 2008 Trimbach Pinot Blanc
Wine Spectator - 87/100
This very pale white wine from France was a solid home run.  It had aromas of apricot and stone, with a lingering mouth of pear, white fruits, and spice.  It was medium-bodied with a smooth finish.  Not only a great pairing, but a great all-around drinking wine.
Entree Wine 2 - 2008 Vinedo de los Vientos Tannat
Wine Rating - Not Found
Okay, first off - the label is just cool.  This red from Uruguay was another great choice from Greg over at Harry's Wines in Fairfield.  It was robust and powerful with aromas of earth, mineral, and asian spice.  It had flavors of dark berries and ripe tannins with a smooth finish.  Another real great all-around drinking wine. 
Dessert - Puff Pastry Napoleon with Salted Caramel Mousse
Looking at the picture now, I realize that I should have taken the picture from the other side, so you can see the layers of puff pastry, but whatever, you can see that in the original recipe's picture on their website.  Jennifer took on dessert this week and did a fabulous job!  She followed the recipe exactly, expect sprinkling a little sea salt on the caramel mousse, which is a divine idea.  And then she made those crazy caramel glass-looking sugar crisps.  We all agreed, though, that it could have used more whipped cream.  However - spectacular!
So there you have it.  Our vegetarian meal that had puff pastry in all 3 courses.  And honestly, we did not miss the meat at all!  However next week is something that is very near and dear to my heart.  When I first ever entertained friends after learning how to cook, I made a "trial run Thanksgiving" about a week before the holiday itself.  It became a tradition, and now for the last 8 or so years, I have been cooking a pre-Thanksgiving extravaganza.  So this year, you are all invited as we made it part of our Culinary Sunday!  Trust me, you'll be saving these recipes to cook yourself for the holiday!
Next Week - Trial Run Thanksgiving

Bonus Recipe - Venison

It's one of my favorite posts to do!  BONUS RECIPE time!
So it was a dark and boring Saturday night.  I was getting ready to go out with some friends, John and Jenn were getting ready for a quiet dinner at home when they got a phone call from a very good friend of ours who is a professional chef and fellow lover of all things food!  And he informs them that he has fresh venison and he's 3 exits away, and would they have any interest in some... well, hell yes!  So being the awful friend I am, I blew off my plans and high-tailed it over to J&J's for an impromptu venison dinner!
Entree - Grilled Venison with Currant-Brandy Sauce
Okay, so this was one of those nights where we just kind of "winged it".  We sauteed up some chopped onions and minced garlic with a couple teaspoons of dried thyme.  Then we added about 1 cup of red wine, let it reduce by half, then added 1/2 cup brandy and 1/4 cup currant jelly and let it thicken up.  Total sauce time - approximately 20 minutes to create a syrupy reduction.  The venison was marinated in a mixture of worcestire, soy, salt and pepper for approx. an hour.  Then it was grilled 6 minutes per side to a perfect medium-rare (more on the rare side.)  While the sauce was sweet, and I wouldn't put it over a normal steak, it was divine for the gamey flavor of the venison!  We paired it with some baby potatoes and some peas sauteed with bacon.  What a spectacular meal!
Wine - 1995 Agricola San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio
Wine Spectator - 91/100
This stunning ruby red wine from J&J's stockpile had exploding scents of vanilla, violet, and dark fruits.  On the palate, it was rich and full of blackberries and raspberries with a medium amount of tannins and a lingering finish.  It was absolutely perfect against the venison and fruit sauce!

Monday, November 5, 2012

November 4, 2012 - Cornish Game Hens

Good morning, Culinary Sunday followers!  I hope you are all safe, healthy, happy and ready for another Sunday with us filled with good food and drinks!  I do want to start with a side note - that bitch named Sandy.  Both J&J and I are fine - lost power for a day, tree fell near the house, but no permanent damage.  However, the CT coastline, and much of NY and NJ were absolutely devastated by a storm that, yes, we did underestimate its intensity.  If you live in those areas, we feel for you, and we hope you are safe.  Anyone who wants to help, can contact the Red Cross to find out about donation or volunteer opportunities.
Deep breath.  Change of pace.  Back to the blog.  I know I promised fish, however, we were a little unsure of how quality the fishies would be after such a crazy storm.  And we were hosting some from NY that had no power still, and wanted a warm, homey, comfy meal for them.  So sorry, guys... chef's choice - we changed it up.  I promise you will LOVE it!
Cocktail - Vanilla Pear Whipped Martini
Whipped vodka, regular vodka, Vanilla Pear Polar Seltzer.  Delicious!  Amazing!  Welcome back, vodka!  On a side note, I know that I have said in the past that through my admin functions, I can see who visits our website, what posts are most popular, etc.  I'd like to point out that we average 15-20 hits per week from Russia, who are our #2 followers so far this year.  Last week - not 1 hit!  We are sincerely apologetic about the lack of vodka martini recipes.  Please come back to us.  (Side note - welcome to our blog, Vietnam and S. Korea.)
Appetizer - Marinated Shrimp with Champagne Beurre Blanc
Heavenly.  Beurre blanc is right up there with bearnaise sauce for me.  I could literally make a meal of just some bread and sauce.  We followed the recipe exactly, except using Prosecco instead of Champagne, and it was fabulous!  Rich, decadent, and absolutely luxurious.  (Yes, we may have even used our fingers to sop up the remaining sauce once the shrimp were gone... don't judge.)  This recipe makes more than double the beurre blanc you really need.  Tonight's leftover recipe will be shrimp over linguine tossed in the leftover beurre blanc.  Yum.
Appetizer Wine - 2009 A. Chopin et Fils Cote de Nuit Villages
I looked everywhere to find a wine rating for you, but all the websites that list this wine are in foreign languages that I can't interpret.  So let's just say... it was great!  We went back to Harry's and finally saw Greg after what seemed like months without him!  And even though it was his day off and he was walking out the door, he stuck around long enough to help us out!  (Thanks!)  This white burgundy from France was perfect!  It was rich and heavy like a Chardonnay, but instead of oaky and buttery, had a nice grassy and tart taste with a crisp acidity.  Perfect match!
Entree - Chutney Glazed Cornish Hens with Hazelnuts and Dried-Fruit Stuffing
How have we never cooked these before?  Little baby chicken perfection!  And they are soooo cute!  Ok, let's talk recipe.  We followed exactly, and there was obviously a bit of leftover stuffing, which was absolutely ok by us!  We did not follow the cook time in the recipe - you would have a way overcooked bird.  We did 350 for 1 hour, glazed, and then another 15 minutes at 350 and it was perfection!  The only recommendation we have is to add another layer of glaze and then broil in the last few minutes so the skin gets crispy and beautiful!  The stuffing was great, too!  Absolutely not too sweet, and very savory.  The crunch of the hazelnuts were perfect texture against the dried fruit!  In all honesty - this is the perfect "company dish."  It's easy to make, everyone likes chicken, and so impressive once plated.
Side Dish - Roasted Caramelized Acorn Squash
Aren't they beautiful?  Ready for the easiest recipe you'll ever make?  Half an acorn squash and scoop out the insides.  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of brown sugar in the center, then add a tablespoon of butter.  Roast at 350 for an hour.  (Stick with knife to see if tender, may need more cooking time.)  Broil for the last minute or two for glorious caramelized texture.  These little babies are like candy!  The butter and brown sugar melts and spreads throughout the squash.  Just perfection!  (Edit:  thanks to those who let me know that I originally called these butternut squash.  Ugh.  That's why I shouldn't post at 7am.)
Final Plate
Entree Wine - 2009 Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne
This Italian red was fabulous!  It was a ruby purple color with ripe cherry aromas and hints of vanilla and mineral.  It was dry and medium-bodied with soft tannins and a good complexity.  Some may want to stick with a white for poultry, but as Greg said, it's not the bird, it's what is next to the bird that determines your wine.  (That, and we just prefer reds with our main course.)  Home run on this wine!
Dessert - Dark Chocolate Orange Souffle with White Chocolate Chunk Whipped Cream
We are becoming souffle junkies.  They are just so easy!  This was one of the most decadent desserts we've had!  First off, we used 3/4 oz. ramekins, and the recipe as written makes about 4 servings.  We then baked only 10 minutes.  However, we did follow the ingredients exactly, and add the end, poked a hole in the souffle and filled with the whipped cream.  The contrast of dark chocolate versus white chocolate was insane.  Then you had the citrus of the orange peel and the cointreau followed by the slight chunks of white chocolate with every bite.  Just amazing.
So there you go.  Another Sunday, another meal, another success!  I hope you'll enjoy these recipes just as much as we did.  Next week is going to be real fun.  After discussing cooking with our favorite vegetarian, Jeff, he and I realized we both have an obsession with a little thing called "puff pastry."  So he issued the challenge... can we create a vegetarian meal that has puff pastry incorporated in each course?  Well, Jeff... yes, we can... we absolutely can!
Next Week - Vegetarian & Puff Pastry