Friday, October 29, 2010

Trunk or Treat

Our Church hosts a Halloween party every year followed by an hour of "Trunk or Treat" where people decorate their cars or vans and hand out candy to the young ones in the church parking lot after the Halloween party is over.  We have enjoyed  the ritual for the past few years.  You know, go the the carnival then shake down our friends for some candy.  This year was a little different, Miss Lu came home one day and said that we were going to participate in Trunk or Treat.

Kris and I both gave her the parent look... "of course sweetie, we always do."  Her plan didn't end there, she wanted us to be one of the Trunks...

"We can decorate the van then daddy can make some of his cool pumpkins, then we will hand out candy."  So we went to the Dollar Store to get black tablecloths and a potpourri of frightening little tidbits. While I was at work on Sunday Miss Lu and Kris decorated the van when I got home we set up an assembly line and started carving. 

Miss Lu wanted a witch, 

 Mr. Man (after changing his mind several times) at Train

Mine will just a little fun.  I tried to carve a fourth but we got one of those warty pumpkins, and the skin on those is really thick... I started using power tools to carve it (cordless drill and jig saw) then decided that I wanted to attend Trunk or Treat with all my digits in tact so we left this one at home for the squirrels to devour. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

Here in the Chicagoland area we have had the first few days of fall.  Cool days cold nights and it has been downright blustery!  To me the beginning of Fall is really the beginning of baking season.  I don't know if any of you remember but in April I made a big deal of running around and finding fresh vanilla beans to make my own Vanilla extract.  So if you want to break it down I spent $21.00 and 7 months to make a six ounce bottle of Vanilla extract.

Was it worth it? you ask.  I think that I can safely say YES! Thank you Fork one!  What I did was go to Whole Foods and pick up some Vanilla beans then put them it a cute little bottle of vodka and let them sit in my cupboard since April 29.  You can see how much it has cured over the months...

Today I pulled it out of the cupboard and made shortbread cookies.  I wanted to have the simplest recipe possible so that I could taste my hand made Vanilla.

Shortbread cookies:

1 cup all purpose Flour
2 TBS corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 2 TBS Brown Sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 TBS granulated sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract

Sift together the first 3 ingredients.  In another bowl mix Brown Sugar, Butter, Sugar and Vanilla.  Beat until well blended.  Then add the dry ingredients a little at a time beating until smooth.  Once it is well blended roll into a log about 6 inches long, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Before you take it out preheat an oven to 325 then cut the cookies about 1/4 inch thick and put on the baking sheet.  Bake for about 18-10 minutes, rotate the pan at least a couple of times.

How did it work out?  In a word great!  The cookies were a great showcase for the ingredients although I may have tasted the butter a little more than the Vanilla I can't say that is all bad.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I mentioned in my last post that something about fall makes me want to pickle stuff... like beets and fish and whatnot.  I kind of made a point of not talking too much about my Gravlax, after all I posted about the same thing about a year ago but there seemed to be some interest in my cured fish.  Add to that, nobody really read anything I posted a year ago  So I thought I would stop for a second and talk about gravlax.

Gravlax translated literally from Scandinavian is:

Grav= literally grave, more correctly, "hole in the ground"
Lax= Salmon

A salmon would be covered in pickling spices and buried in the sand for several day to cure   The process I use is very similar except I use fancy-pants modern equipment like a refrigerator, a bread pan and plastic wrap.

The first thing to overcome is the fish... it is not cooked, it never will be.  You have a couple of choices here either use sushi grade salmon from someone that you trust or make sure that it has been commercially frozen (technical talk coming up) at least 10 degrees below zero for at least 72 hours  That takes care of those annoying parasites.

OK, now that your fish is ready it is time for the curing mix... I use a mixture of Kosher Salt and Sugar mixed half and half then I add fresh ground pepper, I don't measure.   How much you ask? I am not really sure... it looks like this:

Then I add fresh dill, again how much?  I don't know until it looks like this:

If you want to add any flavors now is the time I have added a splash of rum or tequila for fun, or another herb would work it is really up to you.  This time I sandwiched two salmon steaks together and wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap.  It seems that no matter how carefully or tightly I wrap these there is this gooey liquid that makes its way out of the wrap that is why I always cure these in a bread pan. It takes about three days in all, I turn the salmon over every  morning before I go to work.  After three or four days unwrap rinse it off and you are set.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pickled Beets

I don't know what it is about this time of year that makes me want to pickle stuff my, only guess is that it has something to do with my Swedish roots... "Oy Leena we are in for a long cold winter don't-cha- know, we better preserve everything that we can before the first frost."  I have never been much for canning, honestly it scares me, but I do like to preserve or pickle somethings.  One of my favorite is salmon, I made Gravlax recently (now you know what kind of wild weekend I can have).
This post is about Pickled Beets though, I was going to use Golden Beets they were beautiful, but life came up and I used them for something else... so back to the store I went.  This recipe is adapted from  Epicurious

1/2 cup cider or white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
a good pinch of  freshly ground pepper
1/2 of a bulb of Fennel sliced thin
Three medium sized beets sliced about 1/4 inch thick

Cook beets in water until they are soft then set aside.  While they cool heat the bring the first 5 ingredients to a boil put the sliced fennel into a storage container then the beets then cover with the hot liquid.  Refrigerate overnight.  These are really wonderful, they have the pickled flavor that I like so much but still hold onto the earthy goodness that fresh beet have.  They are suposed to keep for at least a couple of weeks but these are going to be gone long before that.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

So as the end of the season is coming around my upside down tomato tomato planter has started to look a little sad.. there were only 5-6  green tomatoes hanging there and I realized that they were never going to change color.  I didn't even manage to grow enough tomatoes to make the Marinara Sauce that I was dreaming of... just enough for two little cups of Gazpacho and half a Tomato Sandwich.

So standing there looking at my slowly browning tomato vine I had could only think of one thing...

YES! Fried Green Tomatoes ROCK!

I had all but forgotten about this Southern classic until a couple of years ago I was working a catering event at a home in Lincoln Park (Chicago Neighborhood for those of you unfamiliar with the area).  We served Fried Green Roma Tomatoes with a Cajun Remoulade, (remoulade is a fancy-pants way to say mayo by the way).  I was wearing my second hand Tuxedo standing in the kitchen of this giant home in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city when I took a bite and was immediately transported to the kitchen table in the modest home I grew up in.  The flavors were the same... yes mom yours were as good as Trotter's... and I knew I had to make these again.

The Tomatoes
Green tomatoes sliced about 1/4 inch thick
Flour mix with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 tsp of Chipotle Chili Powder
Egg wash with one egg and 1/4 cup Buttermilk
Vegetable oil to fry in... about 1/4 of an inch in the bottom of a small skillet.

Heat the oil until it makes that metallic popping sound when you put a drop of water in it (careful not to splash when you do that).   Coat the tomato slices in the flour mixture, the egg was then the breadcrumbs.  Fry them 4 at a time until golden on both sides (3 minutes a side maybe).  When they are done put them on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

The Remolaude:
Embarrassingly simple
1/4 cup Mayo
1/2 tsp of jerk seasoning (I made some up a while ago for another recipe)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

5 Day Chicken and 20 Minute Beets

OK I have a bit of a foodie confession... I rarely plan a weeknight meal, usually I come home from work then run through the house like a madman on a episode of Chopped looking for my ingredients to make dinner.  This has a couple of disadvantages (1)  I can get into a cooking rut, how many ways can you grill chicken really? and (2) Mr. Man and Miss Lu don't always realize that they are hungry until they are starving... then the melt downs begin about the time that I start cooking.  I made an attempt to work on the planning this week so like a good little menu planner I got up at 3:15 on Monday morning and along with the other stuff that I do I pulled 2 pieces of chicken out of the freezer and put them in a buttermilk marinade to soak (a Martha Stewart recipe by the way).  I know better but I thought to myself, "The chicken will thaw by dinner time right?  I mean it is 15 hours away..."

Wrong! when I came home that night they seemed even more frozen, not only were the chicken breasts as hard as two chunks of wood, there was a layer of buttermilk frozen to them, OK so Monday night we ordered Pizza.  That was fine we could have the chicken on Tuesday the longer soak will help and since the chicken will actually thaw the flavors will work better.  Then on my way home from work on Tuesday I get the call... the school book fair is tonight, Miss Lu has a book that she needs and is panicking that someone will get it before her.

Her school (marketing geniuses that they are) lets each class tour the book fair during the day then sends them home to bring the parents back, only after threatening that if the book they want sells out the children may have to wait as long as 3-4 DAYS to order it in!  Obviously this works. I am instructed to leave the car running when I get home so we can make an immediate break for the school.  We race to the school and then spend about 45 minutes looking around.  Really, Kris and I are so happy that the kiddos like books we can't put a damper on that.  OK so Tuesday Night we picked up Steak and Shake.

Wednesday I promised to leave work on time so that I could pick up the kiddos from day care and take them to the park to play before we had Miss Lu's Parent Teacher Student conference.  I left work an hour later than planned so Kris rushed from work to day care to get them before the police arrive.  When I got home I slowed the car in front of our house so every one could jump in then we raced to the park by the school to play before the conference.  After we play in the park we meet Miss Lu's teacher then we go to the book fair again.  On Wednesday night we had leftover pizza from Monday.

It wasn't until I got off work (late again) on Friday that we had the dinner that I planned for Monday evening, actually the kiddos were already fed so it was just Kris and I.  Then, as if I haven't expressed my planning skills enough already I set my chicken on the counter and Kris asked what else we were having...   In 5 days I hadn't even considered a side dish at all.

"Jeez what do we have?"  I dig through the fridge and pull out the golden beets that I was going to pickle this weekend.  Completely embarrassed, I finish making dinner for Kris and I at about 9:30.  I am sure that you are asking how the first weeknight dinner that I have planned turned out in a word, "OK"

The chicken had soaked so long that it tasted more like buttermilk than any of the flavors that I added, it was as tender as can be and moist.  This one is worth trying again but I think just way to long in the marinade.  The beets, were wonderful, but I think that I have said before that anything cooked with heavy cream has got to be anyway here are the recipes:

The Chicken Marinade:
1 Cup of buttermilk
Juice from one Lemon
a couple of sprigs of Thyme
1 tsp of seasoning salt
a little sprinkle of Cayenne Pepper

Drop in the chicken breast and marinade, I am guessing for 1-2 days not 5.  Cook on the grill 4-5 minutes per side.

The beets
Cut 3-4 beets into bite bite sized pieces put in a small saucepan and cover with cool water add a couple of sticks of thyme, bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes pour off about half of the water then add half a TBS butter and heavy cream to cover.

Yes I am aware that it is a sin but I always have heavy cream in the house.

Cook for another 10 minutes and you are all ready.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

International Foodie Trade Agreement

So I came home from work on Friday and found the package that I have been waiting for.  My good friend Camilla (Family of Foodies) and I completed our first international foodie nerd exchange.  Several weeks ago I mentioned in a post some cedar paper that I used to grill salmon.  Well one thing lead to another and an "Aussie Pack" including Vegemite and some other favorites from South of the equator were being shipped in exchange for this grilling favorite of mine.  I opened my mailbox to see the package and danced through the house singing "we have Vegemite... we have Vegemite!"

You need to understand that when I say "singing" that is only in the loosest interpretation of the word, I have four children, all of them cried whenever I sang to them as babies.  I am enthusiastic, it is just ear shattering then Miss Lu stopped me in the middle of my song to ask what Vegemite is...  I had to admit everything I know about Vegemite I learned from a Men at Work song in 1983. 

Knowing how unfamiliar a homebody American would be with Vegemite Camilla was kind enough to send instructions on how to enjoy the concentrated yeast extract.  "Best on white white bread, slathered with butter and just a small amount (like 1/2 teaspoon) of Vegemite."  Now food has been a big part of my life for quite a while so the opportunity to try something completely new is rare these days so you know that I had to try it right on a spoon at first, Yowsa! almost an overload of concentrated savory flavor.  Salty with an active yeast undertone to it, maybe a little much right out of a tube but when the instructions were followed it was a great addition to my breakfast! 

In addition to this gift my friend Camilla had sent me a cornucopia of treats that I was completely unfamiliar with each of them a new experience (by the way the Caramel filled Koala Bears were wonderful).  Oh, as I was doing my research on Vegemite and found this, way better than the song I was singing.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dinner for Two

My beautiful wife Kris and I agree on most things, or are close enough that our difference makes more for a conversation than a disagreement.  As politics go we are extremely close on the spectrum, religion I happily walked into the folds of the church she was raised in.  When it comes to food... well sometimes we have our differences.  Steaks are one of those differences, the difference being I like Strip Steak, Ribeye Steaks, Skirt Steaks, Flank Steak, Lamb Chops, Tri tip, Flat Iron Steaks basically every cut of meat from every animal that ever set foot on a farm.  Kris likes the Tenderloin it is a texture thing, Tenderloin is well... tender, where I don't mind the fight that Skirt Steaks give me (admittedly they have a bit of texture to them but I just love the flavor)  Kris isn't always up to the battle that dinner could be.

Anyway, I wanted steak for dinner on my last day off so I was at the store considering my options, I saw a bunch of good ideas but just couldn't come up with a good "sell" really how many ways can you try to talk someone into a skirt steak?  Then I looked at the tenderloin... $20.99 a pound, that was just out of the question, for God's sake I am a Chef, I can't pay $30.00 for a dinner that I cook!  Then I saw it at the edge of the meat case looking kind of lonely... it was a Porterhouse Steak about an inch and a half thick and I thought "God was really thinking here..." Strip Steak on one side, Tenderloin on the other, a bone to carry the heat through for even cooking and a full bodied flavor.  That was it! get the bigger Porterhouse ($6.70 by the way) and split it.

When I got home I put a little salt and pepper on the steak and put it into the fridge while I did the rest.  I topped the steak with a Roasted Garlic Gorgonzola Butter... Ooh this is good and it can be made several days ahead

The Butter
Take one clove of garlic and cut the top off, drizzle with a little olive oil and loosely wrap with foil and put it into a 350 degree oven for about an hour.  When that is done squeeze that out into a bowl with one stick of softened butter and about 1/2 cup of bleu cheese.  Mix these ingredients together until soft then wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.

The Steak
Couldn't be simpler let it temper for about an hour at room temperature sprinkled with a little bit of salt and pepper then toss on the grill until done to your liking (medium rare for me).  Take the steak off the grill and set aside tented with foil (with some of your butter on top) until you finish up any of your side dishes, at least 5 minutes,

For us I cut along one side of the bone and gave Kris the Tenderloin then along the other to get my full bodied strip.  The flavored butter melts through the steak and soaks into the meat so every bite has the garlicy buttery goodness.  It is pictured above with the last of my Rainbow Chard before I cut it up.