September 17, 2007

Sunday Dinners 2

Wow - summer is coming to an end. Labor day weekend has come and gone, and August has flown by. I feel the urge to get this grilling triumph down on the page before the summer comes to a close. We had some friends over for another Sunday dinner and made an amazing smoked brisket on the grill, twice-baked potatoes, a green salad with apples, candied pecans and shaved parmesan, and a small gratin of spinach artichoke dip for an appetizer.

You'll have to wait for the brisket since it requires much consultation with the grill-master for the exact recipe, but the rest of the meal was just as worthy. You can see our humble dining room above, just waiting for the onslaught of food and wine.

First, the appetizer...
The recipe for this Spinach-Artichoke dip can be found here. I make this often and it never disappoints. This is a picture before it bakes in the oven until bubbly. I think it tastes best on warmed pita bread or baguette slices. This can be made well in advance.

Next, the sides...
Twice Baked Potatoes

4 Russet baking potatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup sour cream
milk, maybe 1/2 cup
1 stick butter
fresh ground black pepper
kosher salt
2/3 cup grated white cheddar cheese

I found this combo to be really, really good. Of course, you can use whatever kind of cheese or cream cheese, etc, that you think makes a great mashed potato. I think the more herbs the better. Throw some blanched broccoli in with the mashed potatoes before baking, add a salad and this could be a hearty vegetarian meal.

Wash the potatoes and poke a few holes all over them with a knife. Bake at 375 degrees F for 1 hour or until potatoes are cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides to a large bowl, leaving a small amount behind to keep a nice shell to hold the mashed potatoes. Add the butter, milk, sour cream, herbs and seasoning to the cooked potato and mash thoroughly. Stir in the shredded cheese; taste and re-season.

Scoop some of the mashed potatoes into each potato skin and sprinkle with additional shredded cheese. These can be made up to this point well in advance, just bring to room temperature before continuing. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the potatoes are hot. Mixed Greens with Candied Pecans, Apples and Shaved Parmesan

3 cups washed lettuces (spring mix or baby lettuces)
1/2 cup whole pecan halves
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp butter
1 apple, fuji or something similar
large shavings of Parmeggiano Reggiano (or blue cheese if you prefer)

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp shallots, minced
1 tsp garlic, minced
fresh ground black pepper

First, toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the butter and brown sugar and cook another 1-2 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the pecans are evenly coated. Stir often for another minute and then remove to a piece of waxed paper or greased piece of foil, spreading them out so they cool separately.

Mix the dressing ingredients (amounts are approx.) in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Season to taste. Add the chopped apple to the dressing, place the lettuces on top of this, then the cooled pecans and finally the shavings of parmesan. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Do not make more than 1 hour in advance. Toss gently before serving.

September 11, 2007

A breakfast trial run.

No matter where we've lived, we've found our breakfast place. Ideally not just a diner, but not an upscale restaurant either. Most seem to have wooden benches or chairs that are slightly sticky. Most of the time the coffee is strong and the service somewhere between too slow and just right, and most Sundays, there are lines out the door.

We have found our breakfast place in Luna Grill and Diner. With a sort of small town vibe and homestyle food, it hits all the right notes. As our 10 years together could account for, we predictably order 2 coffees and 2 plates of eggs benedict, both with a side of fruit substituted for the potatoes. Since I feel everything is improved with cream sauce, eggs benedict is pretty much the most satisfying thing I can think of to eat at 10 am on a Sunday morning. Nevermind that Hollandaise sauce is not a cream sauce, merely a creamy sauce. It still sneaks in under the radar as the magical reason a poached egg perched on grilled ham that sits on a toasted english muffin is as close to a transcendent experience as one can get. Pretty pale looking at first, but full of sunshine once you burst that runny yellow egg yolk.
In a righteous attempt at creating this at home, I found new appreciation for the breakfast line cook. Indeed, I made a beautiful and decent tasting E.B. but the hollandaise was tricky. It came together and didn't break, but mine was too buttery and perhaps too lemony. It should be rich yet subtle and mine bragged too loudly of its fat content.

Still, we managed to choke it down and after the hour of prep time and the mountain of dishes accrued, we decided that next week we'd happily go back to Luna.

Anyone with a tried and true Hollandaise recipe is welcome to share it here!

September 9, 2007

Key Lime Tart

Alas...lots of cooking and very little writing do not a food blog make! I'm here to remedy this, finally. I think I have a few recipes that are worth sharing - and eating.

To start, my first attempt at using a pastry bag. Not overly impressive. But if you keep in mind it was completely without research or practiced technique, I think it looks cute enough. Plus, piping whipped cream doesn't hold it's shape quite as well as a buttercream frosting.

This whipped cream topped a creamy lime custard tart with a spicy gingersnap crust. Resembling key lime pie, but without real key limes, I admit it's only a Lime Tart. But, as a defense, Cook's Illustrated says that using Persian limes (supermarket limes) are both much easier to juice, as they're larger, and the taste difference is negligible. I don't know if I truly buy that these limes are interchangeable. I've had real key lime pie and it is superb, after all. But, this plain old Persian lime tart was easy and tasted fabulous!

Lime Tart with Gingersnap Crust
(recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated,
The Best Recipe)

1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs, ground in a food processor from gingersnap cookies
2 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp butter, melted
dash of cinnamon

Pulse the gingersnaps in a food processor until uniformly ground. Add the sugar and cinnamon. Pulse a few more times to incorporate. Remove the gingersnap crumbs to a mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter until well combined. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a buttered tart pan. Using plastic wrap helps prevents the crumbs sticking to your fingers.

Bake the crust at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes. You don't want to pour the filling into a piping hot crust.

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice, strained
4 egg yolks
2 Tbsp grated lime zest

Whisk together the egg yolks and lime zest in a medium bowl for several minutes. (Cook's Illustrated says this turns the yolks a pale green, but I didn't find this to be true.) Whisk in the condensed milk and then the lime juice. Let this mixture rest just a few minutes to thicken.

Once the crust has mostly cooled, pour the filling into the crust. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15-17 minutes or until the filling is almost set, but still wobbly in the center. Cool again until the tart is at room temperature, then refrigerate for about 3 hours until well chilled.

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp confectioner's sugar

Beat the heavy cream on medium speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar until smooth and stiffer peaks form. Using a pastry bag with a small star tip, pipe the whipped cream over the tart in whatever way your technique allows!