Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Attempt at Writing Succinctly


I’ve got a few super-busy weeks ahead of me, on the catering side of things, so I’m going to try and keep the writing short and sweet.  I know I can get pretty talkative, especially when it comes to food.  So for a while at least, I’ll have to tailor down that side of this blogging project.  Don’t worry though – as for the recipes and photos, I’ll be cutting no corners whatsoever!

This week we had our landlord Jay and his wife Aimee over.  I know what it sounds like – like 14 weeks in, and we’re scraping the bottom the the barrel for dinner guests.  But seriously, Jay is a totally cool landlord (way cooler than most I bet, and definitely the coolest we’ve ever had) and we’ve been saying that we want to have him over since we moved in, so it was about time.  It was also the first time we really got to meet Aimee, and wow, is she neat too.  A new girlfriend for me!  Awesome!  All in all, the evening’s menu was pretty simple.  And really tasty.

Cheddar & Rhubarb Chutney Canapés
Stilton & Candied Kumquat Canapés
Grilled Hangar Steak
Mashed Red-Skinned Potatoes with Watercress & Green Onions
Balsamic-Glazed Red Pearl Onions
Stilton-Rosemary Compound Butter Sauce
Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

The hors d’oeuvres were the simplest part, mainly because I made use of some of my homemade preserves, and so had most of the work done already.  Although simple, these were really delicious.  If you don’t happen to have homemade preserves on hand, never fear.  Just grab a jar at the store, of whatever tickles your fancy – orange marmalade, red pepper jelly, mango chutney.  This is a wonderful brand that’s easy to find all over.  A great cheese, a great cracker and a special preserve – it’s my secret weapon for any last minute get-together. 


It’s important that I fill you in a bit on hanger steak.  This is a cut of meat that’s not so easy to find – You may have to go to a specialty butcher, or even special order it.  This is because A) it’s suddenly become quite popular, especially among restaurant chefs, and B) there’s only one hanger steak per cow.  But, it’s definitely worth searching for.  It is full of flavor – Jay asked about three time whether I seasoned it with anything more than salt and pepper – He couldn’t believe I didn’t marinate it.  And another thing:  This is a cut of beef that’s best cooked no further than medium-rare.  If you stay within that realm, it will be tender and juicy and all around incredible. If you venture even a little into the medium zone or beyond, it will be tough and chewy.  So the key: grill it over really high heat, and do it fast.   You won’t be disappointed!


There’s something to be said, I think, for lumpy mashed potatoes.  For sure, there’s a time and a place for utterly smooth potato puree.  But sometimes you’re in the mood for something a little less refined.  Sometimes, a lump or two is not a bad thing at all.  Buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, with a little bit of lumpiness, were exactly what I was after this week.  To up the rustic feel even more, I left in a little bit of the pretty red skin.


Below, you’ll find my personal recipe for lumpy-style mashed potatoes, but with a bit of a twist.  For this particular dinner, I tossed in a bunch of wilted watercress (to add a touch of spring) and handful of green onions (to add a kick of spicy flavor).  I like the pretty green specks too, especially next to the pretty red specks.  And oh yes, they’re all delicious, too.


Balsamic-Glazed Pearl Onions is one of my favorite side dishes.  The sweet little onions, slowly sautéed in butter and extra-virgin olive oil, take on a deep and rich caramel flavor.  A hit of balsamic vinegar lends a touch of brightness, and the last-minute dash of sugar certainly doesn’t hurt things either.  For the sake of time, I won’t go on and on, but I definitely could!  To keep it short, all I’ll say is, you really should give these a try.



The finishing touch to the main course was the Stilton-Rosemary Compound Butter, a simple mixture of butter, blue cheese and finely chopped rosemary.  I dolloped a bit atop the steaks, hot off the grill, and it melted straight away into a wonderfully fragrant sauce.   I hope you’re a fan of blue cheese, because this is a deliciously simple sauce for any cut of steak.


Dessert was supposed to be something altogether different.  I’d been trying all week to perfect a new recipe for cardamom bread pudding.  But I never got it quite perfect.  Having to switch gears at the last minute, I went with one of my all time favorites – Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries.  Man oh man, this stuff is good!  But the beautiful thing is, it’s super easy!  It’s a perfect 10 for deliciousness and a perfect 10 too for easiness.  And every time I make it, everyone goes crazy.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with panna cotta, it’s a creamy gelatin-based dessert.  That simplistic description hardly does justice to how marvelous this is.  But no description could, actually, no matter how eloquent.  You’ll just have to try it out for yourself.  Combined with a syrupy balsamic-strawberry sauce, it’s absolutely over-the-top incredible.  The panna cotta recipe below is adapted from one by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, who’s a host of a wonderful radio show on NPR called The Splendid Table.  I highly recommend that you both check out her show (you can download free podcasts), and that you try this recipe.


Scrolling through this post, I guess I was still rather wordy.  But there was just so much to tell you!  Ah, well, back to the kitchen.  Happy cooking to all of you, too!

Cheddar & Rhubarb Chutney Canapés
Serves 4
16 French bread crostini (from about 1/4 baguette)
4 oz aged sharp white cheddar
about 1/3 cup rhubarb chutney

Slice the cheddar into 8 rectangular slices of roughly 1/4-inch each, then slice each rectangle into two triangles. Top each crostini with a triangle of cheddar, then about 1 teaspoon of rhubarb chutney.  Serve immediately.


Stilton & Candied Kumquat Canapés 
Serves 4
16 French bread crostini (from about 1/4 baguette)
4 oz Stilton (or any strong-flavored blue cheese)
16-32 candied kumquat halves

Top each crostini with about 1/4 oz of blue cheese, then 1-2 candied kumquat halves.  Serve immediately.


Grilled Hanger Steak
Serves 4
1 medium-large sized hanger steak (between 1 3/4 and 2 1/2# depending on your appetites)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
vegetable oil, for preparing the grill

Heat the grill on high until very hot, about 30 minutes. Here’s a way to tell if your grill is at the right temperature.  Hold your hand right over it.  If you you can keep it there for five seconds, it’s not hot enough.  If you can’t hold it there for even half a second, it's too hot. 

When the grill is hot, soak a clean rag or a bunch of paper towels with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, and using tongs, rub it over the grill rack.  Pat the hangar steak dry with paper towels, then season all over with a good dose of salt and pepper.  Place the steak on the rack, close the grill lid, and cook about 5-6 minutes.  Flip the steak and grill about 5 minutes more, for medium rare (which is a temperature of about 125°F).  This kind of steak really shouldn’t be cook beyond medium-rare, or it will be tough and chewy.  Remove the steak from the grill and allow it to rest, covered with a loose layer of foil, for 10 minutes.  Slice into 4 portions,  and serve hot.


Mashed Red-Skinned Potatoes with Watercress & Green Onions  
Serves 4 
If you’re after a basic mashed potato recipe – a rustic-ish one with a bit of skin and lump or two, here or there – and one sans watercress and green onions - just follow this recipe, and leave out the watercress and green onions :).

1 large bunch watercress
2 # red-skinned potatoes
1 cup heavy cream, warm
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
4 green onions (scallions), both white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To prep the watercress: Rinse in cool water.  Tear off the tough, large stems, keeping the leaves and smaller delicate stems.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil and add the prepped watercress.  Boil for only about 20 seconds, until the watercress is wilted and a vibrant green, then drain.  Immediately plunge the watercress into a bowl of ice water.  Cool for about 1 minute, then drain again.  Squeeze out the excess water, then roughly chop the watercress. Reserve.

To make the mashed potatoes:  Rinse the potatoes in cool water.  Peel the potatoes, leaving small areas of the red skin here and there.  Cut the potatoes into medium-sized chunks.  Add to a pot of boiling salted water and cook until tender.  Drain, then add back to the pot.  Add the butter, and mash with a potato masher, leaving a few lumps.  Add the warm cream, season with a good pinch of salt and a good few grinds of pepper, and mash until just combined. 

If you want to make this ahead and keep it warm, scoop the potatoes into a metal mixing bowl, and cover with plastic wrap.  Place the bowl over a sauce pot filled with about an inch of water, and place the pot over low heat to keep the water at a simmer and the potato mixture warm. Make sure the bowl fits well over the pot – the diameter of the bowl shouldn’t be much larger than that of the pot.

Just before serving, add the prepped watercress and sliced green onions to the mashed potatoes and mix well to combine.  Serve hot.


Balsamic-Glazed Red Pearl Onions
Serves 4

1 1/2 # red pearl onions
2 Tbl butter
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbl sugar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

First, prep the pearl onions: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the pearl onions.  Simmer about two minutes, then drain.  Slice just the barest amount off the tough root end, then using a paring knife, peel off the skin.  Set prepped onions aside.

Add the butter and olive oil to a large sauté pan, and place it over medium heat.  When the butter is melted, add the prepped peal onions.  Season with a good pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Reduce the heat somewhere around medium-low and slowly cook the onions, stirring only occasionally, until they are tender throughout (try one to make sure) and slightly caramelized all over, about 30 minutes or so. 

Just before serving, add the balsamic vinegar and sugar.  Increase the heat to about medium high.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reduces and glazes the onions.  Taste, and season as needed with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.


Stilton-Rosemary Compound Butter 
Makes about 3/4 cup

1 stick butter
4 oz crumbled Stilton (or any strong-flavored blue cheese)
2 tsp rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on high speed until well combined.  Transfer the butter mixture onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Roll into a log of about 1 inch. Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be refrigerated 4 days and frozen a month.

When serving, slice into portions of about 1-2 tablespoons.  Place over hot servings of meat, which will cause it to melt.


Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries  
Adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Serves 6-8, depending on the size of cups you use 


For the panna cotta:
1 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 Tbl cold water
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz) sour cream

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the cold water and allow it to set for 5 minutes.  Add the cream, sugar, salt and vanilla to a medium-sized sauce pan.  Over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, bring this mixture to just a simmer – Do not let it boil.  Stir in the gelatin-water mixture (which should be pretty thick by now) and stir until thoroughly dissolved.  Remove the cream mixture from the heat and allow it to cool about five minutes. 

Place the sour cream in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Slowly add the warm cream mixture, stirring in a little at a time, until smooth.  (I like to use a rubber spatula, rather than a whisk, because it makes for less bubbles on the tops of the panna cotta.  But this means that I have to stir extra well, to insure total smoothness and combination of ingredients.) 

Fill 6-8 tea cups or soufflé cups about 3/4 full with the cream mixture.  Chill for at least 8 hours (which was enough time for me the other day) but you’d be even safer with about 12 hours.  To serve, top each cup of panna cotta with about 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic strawberries and a bit of their syrup.  Serve cold. 

For the balsamic strawberries:
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
2 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl balsamic vinegar

Toss all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.  Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour, to encourage the strawberries to release their juices.  Cover and refrigerate until needed, up to one day.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

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