Monday, December 24, 2012

December 23, 2012 - Beef Wellington (2.0)

Good Morning, Culinary Sundays followers, and Merry Christmas Eve!!!  Hopefully you are all resting, with shopping completed, menus for the big meal prepared, and all the presents wrapped and ready to distribute.  (For the record, I haven't even started my shopping... so you know I'm flying out the door as soon as I'm done posting.)  We created a fabulous menu that is appropriate for any holiday or special occasion.  And yes, we are re-doing a beef wellington, which we have done before - but we are trying a new recipe and jazzing it up!  Enjoy!
Cocktail - Cucumber Martini
Cucumber vodka, cucumber puree, and a little agave syrup for sweetness.  Fantastic!  Light, refreshing, and a perfect summer drink.  But it's winter, Christie, why the hell are you guys making a summer cocktail?  Well... we decided to stick with cocktails for the appetizer.  Originally, we were thinking to make some classic Manhattans.  So we march into Harry's Wine Shop this weekend and not only do we find Greg (yay!) but Christelle as well (yay!).  So when we mention Manhattans, they kind of give us a funny look, and Christelle starts giving us some other cocktail options to match our appetizer.  I mean... Bloody Mary Shrimp... with bourbon?  No.  So then she thought up the cucumber martini because of the light fresh flavors with the appetizer and voila!  So speaking of the appetizer...
Appetizer - Bloody Mary Shrimp
You know what happens when you don't read through a recipe before starting?  You screw up.  And, well, we screwed up.  This recipe was supposed to be served with the shrimp cut into smaller pieces, mixed with celery and green onions, and then mixed into the sauce and served shot-style.  Well... we got over-eager, and just started mixing and cooking without thinking.  And to be honest - the sauce seemed really thick to be sucked down like a shot.  So we turned it into a cocktail sauce instead for shrimp cocktail.  (We added a few splashes of tres chiles liqueur as well.)  And it was a lovely cocktail sauce!  If you're that person that doesn't want to buy store bought, then this is your sauce!
Entree - Beef Wellington with Blue Cheese and Watercress
Individual wrapped beef wellingtons!  Perfect for any holiday party!  And a great alternative for the non-mushroom or non-pate eater in the crowd!  (That would be myself.)  This recipe was fantastic!  The tangy blue cheese with the crisp watercress didn't overpower the meat but just added a delicious layer of flavor.  (And haven't we already discussed my thing with puff pastry?)  We did make a sauce, which you'll see momentarily, out of reduced red wine, demi-glace, garlic, shallots and herbs de provence.  Oh, and instead of searing in oil, we went ahead and seared in some bacon drippings left over from one of the side dishes.  (It's a holiday, we're allowed.)  Superb!
Side Dish - Pan Fried Potato Cake with Onions and Bacon
This was great!  A fantastic potato side dish that no one will see coming!  We then just cut it into slices, like a pizza, and everyone got a piece.  It was great alone, as well as with the sauce.  And the caramelized onions and bacon - delish!  My only recommendation would be to pan fry once you flip the cake instead of putting in the oven.  Seems like just too much extra work.
Side Dish - Sauteed Broccolini
So we went with Rachael Ray, and decided upon the broccolini but didn't use her recipe.  (After all, just boiling some broccolini seems really boring.)  So we quickly blanched and then added to a saute pan with some minced garlic, lemon zest, and a a juiced lemon.  Lovely!  None of us have ever had broccolini and we weren't sure what to expect, so this was a pleasant surprise.  For those that are curious - broccolini is a hybrid between broccoli and Chinese kale. 
Final Plate
Wine - 2009 Chateau Lilian Ladouys
Wine Spectator - 92/100 points
This French red was exploding with black currants and cherries.  It was medium-bodied with light tannins and a slight earthiness and spice to it.  While this was a delicious wine to drink, we think it will be even better a few years from now.  A fantastic pairing with our meal.
Dessert - Grand Marnier Souffle with Creme Anglaise
Yes, yes, yes!  First off, I will admit we thought there was 1 too many eggs in this.  And it didn't rise as much as we wanted.  But who cares - the flavor was there!  The Grand Marnier wasn't overwhelming but a delicious addition to the sweet souffle.  However, let's talk sauce.  You cannot make this recipe without making the creme anglaise.  And don't even think about buying it in a store.  Suck it up and make it.  It was decadent, rich, and positively delicious!  You'll be topping your pancakes with this the next morning.
So overall, a fantastic meal, yet again!  We revisited an old favorite and then explored some new sides and a new dessert.  You will not go wrong with this menu.  Next week, we're celebrating New Year's Eve, so please join us for a hodge-podge of finger foods, done gourmet style.
And lastly, Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays, depending on what you follow) to everyone and their friends and families.  We hope that you are surrounded by good people, good food, lots of love, and that your holiday be joyous and memorable!
Next Week - New Year's Eve

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 15, 2012 - Christie's Birthday Dinner

Good Afternoon, Culinary Sundays followers!  It is now almost 3pm on Sunday afternoon and I barely got out of bed an hour ago and am still trying to recover from last night's festivities.  I was surrounded by John and Jenn, my family, and friends for a truly fantastic birthday celebration.  I know I've posted about it before, but one of my favorite places in the world is New Orleans.  (I'm a member of the Who Dat nation!)  So Jennifer took the creativity to a whole new level and planned a dinner inspired by the Big Easy.
Cocktail - The Hurricane
Light rum, dark rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice, lime juice.  Yum!  This classic cocktail made famous by Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter is a great party drink and the perfect way to kick off the evening!
First Course - Duck Crepe with Port Wine Cherry Sauce & Spinach Salad with Bourbon-Spiced Pecans and Bacon-Molasses Vinaigrette
Okay - the duck crepe is made famous by Galatoire's Restaurant and the salad is a famous dish at the beautiful Cafe Adelaide.  While I have never eaten them at these classic restaurants, I can assure you that Jennifer's versions were downright incredible.  The spiced pecans were divine and the vinaigrette was truly superb.  The duck filling in the crepes were made with duck confit and the port wine sauce was incredible.  This is how you start a meal!!!
Vinaigrette Recipe:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Spiced Pecans Recipe:
4 cups pecans, halves or halves and pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup bourbon
Cooking Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pecans on rimmed cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes or until
fragrant. Transfer toasted pecans to bowl; set aside.
In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add toasted pecans and stir to coat. Add brown
sugar, cinnamon and salt; continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly about 8 to 10
Add bourbon; stir to combine and cook 1 to 2 minutes, mixing well. Remove skillet from the heat
and pour pecans onto rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread pecans into thin
layer and let cool 20 minutes. Break mixture into bite-sized pieces and cool completely before
Second Course - Shrimp Remoulade & Oysters Andouille Pastries
So we mix my love of shrimp, puff pastry, and exploding flavors on one plate!  The shrimp were fantastic - and surprisingly served cold!  And the oysters in cream sauce in a pastry sandwich - unbelievable! 
Third Course - Gumbo
Is it possible to have a NOLA themed dinner without gumbo?  Or a recipe from Emeril?  This classic dish was superb!  Just the right amount of spice with tons of flavors of fresh veggies and spices. 
Dessert - Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart
My mouth is watering just looking at the pictures.  My goodness, this was incredible.  There's something about the chocolate and the salted caramel - wowza.  Best dessert ever.
Wines - A Lot
In no particular order, a list of the wines brought over by a friend for our birthday dinner
2010 Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon
2001 Warre's Late Bottle Vintage Porto
And the coolest bottle of champagne ever
So a truly spectacular meal, surrounded by people that I love.  My partners in culinary crime really outdid themselves, and now I need to start thinking about how to outdo them for their birthdays in 2013. 
Next week, we're cooking up Beef Wellington again as part of a lovely Christmas menu... see you then!
Next Week - Christmas

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Good Evening.

As I'm getting ready to go to John and Jenn's for my birthday blog dinner (yes, it's a Saturday... I'm going to need a full day to work off the hangover), I feel like I need to say something about the tragedy that struck our state on Friday morning.  I cannot in good faith come online tomorrow without mentioning it and post about a party and food and friends, and I do not want to mention it in one sentence and then switch gears.  It would just seem disrespectful.  So here goes...

The three of us live in a town called Norwalk, CT.  We are approximately 45 minutes from Newtown, CT.  On Friday, as everyone knows by now, a young man entered an elementary school and brutally massacred 26 people, 20 of which where small children, and then killed himself.  His mother was found slain in their family home.  Naturally, this is a horrific occurrence, and it has shocked, saddened, and devastated our state, our nation, and our world.  The thought that these innocent children were taken from this Earth so young is incomprehensible.  It is devastating to hear of the deaths of truly heroic teachers who sacrificed themselves to save students' lives. 

Needless to say that our state is mourning this weekend, as is the rest of the nation.  The words of support from everyone around the world can be found on social media sites, in the news, and through friends and family and it is truly appreciated.  As our Governor said - "Evil has visited our community." 

Our hearts and prayers go out to all the people affected by this truly horrific tragedy.  As I read on one social media site - heaven has gained 20 angels and 6 warriors. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 9, 2012 - Beef Bourgignon

Happy Monday, everyone!  We are officially back to our regularly scheduled programming!  This week's meal was about recreating the famous "boeuf bourgignonne" that was made so popular by the "Julie & Julia" movie, and that everyone considers one of Julia Child's master recipes.  We then created a lovely feast around it that was worthy of being blogged and that we could share with all of you.  I'd like to point out that when I created this menu, I intended on it being something that Jennifer and I would do together to cut down on time and effort.  But then Ozzy tripped me on the stairs, I sprained my ankle, and I spent Sunday drinking wine with my foot propped on a chair and hobbling around on crutches.  So this week - it was all Jennifer.  And she did a spectacular job!
Cocktail - Pomegranate Sparkler
So Stew Leonard's came out with this new sparkling soda in a pomegranate-black cherry flavor.  We mixed that with some Prosecco and Cointreau and voila - a lovely sparkling cocktail!  A perfect brunch drink, and a lovely way to start off a French meal.  (And perfect for that "I'm not really a drinker" person in your crowd.)
Appetizer - Classic Cheese Souffle
Argh.  Our first souffle that didn't turn out fabulous.  Conceptually, it was fine.  However, the flavors were not as good as the other souffles we have made, and I think that's what disappointed us.  This seemed to have too much egg and not enough cheese.  We ate the whole thing, but just wasn't blown away.  I would say - reduce the eggs, add some sharp cheddar, and maybe add some garlic.  It tasted too much like an egg fritatta.  Oh well.  We'll shelve souffles for a little while.  (Who am I kidding?  We've got a chocolate Grand Marnier one ready and waiting... we're not shelving anything.)
Appetizer Wine - 2011 Clos Saint-Michel Chateauneuf-du-Pape
This French white blend was rich, fruity, and well balanced.  It was bursting with flavors of peach and toasted almond with lots of white fruit and citrus.  It was a fabulous match to the dense cheese souffle, because on its own, it was slightly sweet for our tastes.  A lovely wine.
Entree - Beef Bourgignon
Okay... how do I say this?  It was just beef stew cooked in red wine.  (Julia Child fanatics are looking up my home address right now to attack, I know.)  Jennifer followed the recipe exactly (ok, added more wine), and the house smelled wonderful.  We served over egg noodles (definitely recommend that) and after we all took our first bite, we kind of looked at each other shamefully.  Finally, we had the guts to go "why didn't we just throw everything in the Crock Pot and call it a day?"  And that's the thing - we have no idea why this recipe had to be so complex and so time-consuming when in the end - it's just a beef stew.  A tasty one, mind you.  Although, we do love those brown braised onions!
Side Dish - Brussel Leaf and Baby Spinach Saute
This was one of the best green side dishes we've made!  We were looking for a salad dish that wouldn't take away from the rich flavor of the stew but simply just accompany it and be delicious.  This was incredible!  It was insanely simple, but the mixture of the vinegar and sweetness of the maple syrup was such a delicious combination that I cannot explain.  Your kids will eat these up in a heartbeat!  You'd never know it was brussels sprout due to the sauteing and the almonds lend a fabulous crunch.
Side Dish - Yorkshire Pudding
We needed something to sop up the sauce, and buying bread would just be boring!  These were yummy and obviously popped up like crazy!  (Watch your cook time, though... they started to get burnt well before the 35 minutes were up.)
Final Plate
Entree Wine - 2009 Chateau Domeyne St Estephe
Wine Spectator - 94/100
This full bodied French wine from the Bordeaux region was absolutely delicious!  It had plenty of luscious ripe fruit with toasted oak and spices.  It lingered nicely on the tongue and had no grainy tannins which made it the perfect drinking red!  Stock up on this one, guys!
Dessert - Prosecco-Raspberry Gelee
Okay, so to dumb it down, this recipe is basically Jello with Prosecco and fruit.  And it was great!  Why haven't we done more of these before???  When you take a bite, you immediately go "ohhhh"... and it still maintains the effervescence from the Prosecco, which is just a cool party trick!  This would be perfect in the form of "Jello shots" for a New Year's Party.  We cannot wait to try this out with other ingredients and fruits!  Give this a shot - you will not be disappointed!
So there you have it.  Our lovely French meal inspired by Julia Child (who kind of let us down a little, but that's ok.)  Next week is a special occasion.  After spending all year planning and executing what I would like to think were some epic birthday menus for John and Jenn, it's now my turn!  I get to sit back and be completely surprised!
Next Week - Christie's Birthday Dinner

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December 2, 2012 - Pork Tenderloin

Good Morning, Everyone!  Once again, we are a day late with this post, and I'm really sorry about it!  I'll admit, we made it a Culinary Monday instead this week, but I promise we will be back to a normal schedule going forward.  This week was kind of a "what the heck are we going to make?" week.  There was no solid plan, a pork tenderloin in the freezer, and a bunch of stockpiled recipes that we just kind of "eenie, meenie, minie, mo"-d through.  Once we found our recipe, though, we built around it, and ended up having a spectacular meal that we did not see coming!
Cocktail - Eau de Vie Cocktail
Eau de vie is a clear pear brandy that was used in the main entree, so we figured we throw it into a cocktail.  Mix the brandy with a little vodka (of course... by the way, welcome back Russian followers!  I see we're back to our usual hits from your fabulous country!), add some freshly blended pear puree and a little lemon juice.  Voila!  Super easy, super delicious, and beautifully refreshing!
Appetizer - Baked Brie with Caramelized Pears, Shallots and Thyme
Stop the presses!  This was amazing.  Oozy-melty brie with rich caramelized pears and shallots topped with slivered almonds?  Spread over apples, pears, and chunks of sourdough bread?  It took us about 10 minutes before we completely went glutenous and started ripping apart the bread bowl.  Divine.  Side note for party presentation... if you're serving this at a brunch, it may be cleaner to make more of a crostini out of it instead of having people getting a little dirty trying to scoop out the melted cheese.  OR, if serving at a seated meal, maybe get those little individual ciabbata rolls you can find at the grocery store and then make individual portioned ones for people!  Loving this idea.  And if you think we didn't completely scarf this down... here's the after pic:
Appetizer Wine - 2009 Wehrheim Niersteiner Oelberg Riesling
This crisp and dry German Riesling had delightful freshness and mineral notes to it.  There were tastes of white fruits, slate, and grass and it was perfectly refreshing against the rich cheese appetizer. 
Entree - Pork Tenderloin with Caramelized Pears and Pear-Brandy Cream Sauce
Make.  This.  Now.  This was amazing!  What a fabulous use of a pork tenderloin!  We even simplified it by simply grilling the tenderloin whole, slicing into medallions, and then just lying over the pears and dousing with sauce.  The sauce is nothing short of spectacular.  You will be using your fingers to mop up the leftovers.  Absolutely incredible.
Side Dish - Roasted Asparagus with Bacon and Goat Cheese
The perfect side dish for any meal!  First off, you can make this a little in advance and just let it sit at room temperature, which means its easy.  Secondly, the goat cheese kind of melts into the hot asparagus, so when you bite into it, it has a nice creaminess to it, followed by the crisp bacon and then the savory asparagus.  Fabulous!
Side Dish - Couscous Cakes
Obviously we changed this up slightly.  We subbed fresh parsley for the cilantro, and left out the mango chutney sauce for the pear brandy sauce.  Lovely side dish!  They absorbed the flavor of the sauce but had a nice flavor of their own.  It was the perfect way to add to the meal without taking away from the simplicity of it!
Final Plate
Entree Wine - 2007 Mario Pelassa Nebbiolo d'Alba Sot
Delicious!  Dry and smooth with flavors of light berries and hints of vanilla, lemon, and even cocoa.  This red was balanced and delicate, and everyone tasted something different on the palate, but it matched the meal perfectly and was fabulous to finish drinking afterwards.  (And yes, we got it from Harry's!  Thanks, Patrick!)
Dessert - Harvest Pear Crisp with Candied Ginger
Okay, in theory this was fabulous.  The pears were cooked wonderfully and the taste was spot on.  The candied ginger brought a sweet heat to the topping that was pleasantly surprising.  However, the topping was way too dry.  You're going to need to add a bit more butter, and definitely want to top with some ice cream or whipped cream.  With those adjustments... a lovely dessert!
So there you go!  A Monday night meal done with a Culinary Sunday kick.  Who knew a little pork tenderloin could make such a fabulous dinner!  We'll see you next week (normal day and time) for our attempt to cook Julia Child's most popular meal!
Next Week - A Julia Child Classic