Sunday, December 24, 2006

Flank steak with port-mushroom sauce

Another pre-holiday meal--the task was to make something suitably festive that also managed to use up a half a bottle of port wine that had been sitting around. With that in mind, here's what happened:

Sliced 3 shallots thinly and sauteed them until soft over low-medium heat in about 2 tablespoons of butter. Added another tablespoon of butter, turned up the heat and added 1 package mushrooms, sliced thickly. Sauteed mushrooms until they were golden, probably about 8 minutes. To this buttery mixture, I added 1 tablespoon of flour and stirred well. Added salt, pepper and at least a cup of port. It was probably more than that, actually, because I just poured in what was left in the bottle. Also put in 3 cups of chicken stock at this point. Reduced it down until it was thick enough to coat a spoon, took off heat and set aside.

I ended buying 3 pounds of flank steak in 2 large cuts, so I cooked them in shifts. Salted and peppered both sides of the meat and let them rest at room temperature for half an hour before cooking. Melted olive oil and butter together in a cast iron pan over high heat and added the steak. Each side seared for about 5 minutes, then flipped when well browned and incredibly delicious looking. They were actually sort of rare so you can pull them off for people who like rare meat, cut of a couple slices and then return the rest to the pan for more well done pieces.

I sliced the flank steak against the grain into thin slices, laid them out on a tray, drizzled a little of the sauce over the top and passed the rest of the sauce at the table for people to pour over.

We had this great crab-red pepper mousse from the DeKalb market for an appetizer. Betsy made a great salad for dinner and Jeremy made a baked apple crisp with actual, real-live, homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. We all pretty much stuffed our faces, drank a lot of wine and had an awesome time.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cream of tomato soup

I should call this something more exciting because it sounds sort of canned and sad when you just say "cream of tomato soup," but it's really sometimes fun and delicious to make comfort food like this from scratch so we'll just go with it.

Heated a lot of butter (maybe 3 tablespoons?) with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sautéed in that one diced yellow onion until very soft and fragrant but not at all browned. Added 4 minced garlic cloves and continued to sauté about 2 more minutes. Sprinkled 2 tablespoons flour over the buttery onion/garlic mixture and mixed well, making sure there were no lumps and not letting it burn up. Added about 44 ounces of whole, peeled plum tomatoes (I say 44 ounces because it was a 28 ounce can and then maybe another half a can of the same size, but I'm not really sure) and mashed them up pretty well. Added 3 cups of chicken stock and brought everything to a boil, then turned to simmer and covered, stirring every once in a while. Added 2 tablespoons minced parsley at some point during a stir. Let simmer for about 25-20 minutes, then added salt and pepper to taste and a couple pinches of vindaloo (you could use ground clove or curry or something else if you liked, but I had vindaloo around so vindaloo it was). Took off the heat and passed the entire soup through the finest disk of my food mill into a clean container (it took 2 batches). Returned the soup to the pot with very low heat and added about 1/2 cup of half and half. Corrected to salt and pepper and made sure it got heated throughout without boiling.

I didn't really expect it, but we got a surprise Wisconsin boost to our meal. We passed Jeremy on his front porch on our way into the apartment and he had a bag of charcoal in his hand so we knew at once they were grilling. Sadly we had nothing to toss on...or so we thought! Discovered 4 Wisconsin brats hanging out in the freezer, boiled them in a dark mystery beer that had been malingering in our fridge and brought them downstairs to take advantage of the fire Jeremy had built. Delicious and totally spontaneous, although probably not what you'd call a natural accompaniment to cream of tomato soup.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Potato pancakes

Another seasonally appropriate dish--it's almost Hanukkah, after all. Actually, I think potato pancakes are good anytime of the year. See if you can get somebody to help you make them (thanks Melanie!) because it can be a pain to do it all yourself.

Grated 1 yellow onion into a really big mixing bowl. Then we grated by hand 3 pounds total (about a half-and-half mixture) of peeled Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes. This is why it's nice to have someone working with you--potatoes get all pink and discolored if you don't work quickly. Of course if you have a Cuisinart it will go pretty quick, but that seems trickier, somehow. As we were going, I sprinkled the grated potatoes with a bit of cream of tartar to slow down the discoloration. Drained the grated potatoes and tried to squeeze out some of the liquid. Added them to the grated onion in the big bowl along with 2 beaten eggs, 2 teaspoons salt and pepper. Mixed everything really well, then added 2 tablespoons matzo meal and let it absorb. The mixture still seemed too liquidy so we added another 2 tablespoons. You want the batter to be not too wet and not too dry. In a dutch oven, got two tablespoons canola oil very very hot, then added heaping spoonfuls of the batter, smooshed it down into a pancake shape. Allowed them to get crispy and browned (maybe 2 minutes?), then flipped sides. Removed to a paper towel lined dish to keep warm in the oven. Added another tablespoon of canola oil, and repeated the process. I got about 3-4 pancakes per batch in my dutch oven, which is not that large. I layered the pancakes between paper towels as they drained to offset the shocking amount of oil.

Potato pancakes are particularly delicious with sour cream and applesauce. I don't think amateurs should attempt making sour cream, but applesauce is pretty easy. I peeled and diced 5 Pink Lady apples (any softish apples will do--Jeremy thinks Braeburn apples would work well also) and put them in a pot with juice of 1 lemon. Added enough water to be visible but not to cover--maybe 3/4 of a cup. Brought to a light boil and covered partially, stirring pretty often for about 8-10 minutes, then uncovered and turned down the heat. The apples should be getting pretty mushy. Added 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, a tiny pinch each of nutmeg and cardamom, and about 5 whole cloves. Let it cook down some more, then turned off heat and kept it covered until everything else was ready. You kind of have to eyeball it--when it looks like applesauce, it's probably done.

We also had a roast chicken, but I have covered that at least twice already. You know the drill--salt, pepper, 400 degrees, flip flip flip. Let rest. The only difference was that I put the separated cloves from about a head and a half of garlic in the bottom of the pan to roast during the last 20 minutes.

We put up our Christmas tree. It looks great.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lentils and bacon

I made this last Sunday and have done very little else since. I guess I've been busy but it doesn't really feel like it.

Minced about 8 slices of thick-cut bacon and cooked over medium heat until crispy. Set aside bacon pieces and drained off most of the fat (reserved it in case pan got too dry). Sauteed 1/2 minced onion in remaining fat over low heat until very soft but not browned. Added 2 chopped celery stalks and 1 diced carrot and continued to sauté until all was soft, about 5 minutes. Added 3 minced garlic cloves, a pinch red pepper and 2 cups green lentils. Added a little of the reserved bacon fat and mixed everything up together. Added 2 bay leaves, then about half of a 32 ounce can of peeled, whole, plum tomatoes and their liquid, mashing them up somewhat. Added about 3 cups of chicken stock, brought everything to a simmer then turned down the heat and covered, stirring occasionally but mostly reading catalogs and drinking Newcastle. After about 15 minutes, the lentils still weren't soft enough but most of the liquid had been absorbed, so I added about 1/2 cup of water and a little of my Newcastle. Stirred in the reserved bacon pieces. About 15 minutes after that, the lentils became soft and most of the liquid was absorbed. Turned off the heat and stirred in about 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar to finish.