Last weekend, Ben and I had the distinct pleasure of cooking with two up and coming foodies- brother and sister- Jack (10) & Lorelei (5). Jack had expressed an interest in learning how to cook to his parents. In turn, we were contacted to see if we’d be up for the task of cooking a gourmet meal with them, and our answer was an enthusiastic yes. We arrived at the home of Jack & Lo ready to discuss the menu, and Jack knew exactly what he wanted to create- mini beef ravioli. We bulked up the menu with two bruschettas- our take on caprese and another with prosciutto, and for dessert fresh fruit kabobs with romanoff sauce. Jack and Lo proved to be worthy sous chefs in the making kneading and rolling out pasta dough, stirring, tossing, seasoning, and tasting- quality control. The young duo gave Ben and me the best compliment that we’d ever received in the kitchen. Jack said that Ben and I would be “great lunch ladies”- just as good as a James Beard award. We had such a good time and the reviews for the mini beef ravioli received so many thumbs up that we just had to share. So, without further ado.the mini, the beefy, the ravioli.
You Say Tomato, I Say Tomatillo
Forever now, anytime that I ever cooked anything that was of Mexican or Tex-Mex nature, I would jazz it up with a homemade pico de gallo that I learned at a restaurant (which will remain nameless) that I waited tables at years and years ago. I clearly remember that first time tossing fresh tomato, onion, lime, cilantro and jalepanos with naked hands. The memory of it still burns a little. You may be wondering why- that’s how they did it in the kitchen…while wearing latex gloves. Anyway, lesson learned, and it became my stand by- fresh, citrusy with just a hint of heat. Recently Ben and I have developed a new love for tomatillos and the wonderful verde sauce that I have been making. It all started with a trip to the grocery store shopping for the week’s menu, and there they were on sale 1 pound for a mere $1. Tomato. Tomatillo. I thought that I’d give it a whirl, and I’m so glad that I did.
Cooking is a simple yet complex process. The final dish is so much more then the sum of its ingredient. The use of the correct seasoning or the appropriate herbs can make a dish taste complete. Cooking throughout the country has opened my eyes to the beautiful subtleties each place carries. Baking a cake or soufflé in Denver is slightly different than in Portland, or in the midwest where I reside now. Moisture and humidity are factors that one naturally adapts to. Ovens and cookware are not created equally. This can change a recipe as well. One should view a recipe as a guideline or a set of parameters that can be followed, but can always be adapted to fit one’s taste or convenience of their pantry. This is when you begin to “make a dish your own” and when the fun really begins. For this dish we are cooking potato gnocchi. This is a classic dish that can be made relatively quickly, and will bring a real wow factor to a dinner party or a Tuesday night. It is a small list of simple ingredients that everyone has fof hand. Combined with patience and a little technique it is a wonderful thing.
This past weekend we helped celebrate our good friend Teri’s 30th birthday. We pulled out all the last minute stops for the monumental occasion and came up with a dinner featuring Surf & Turf along with fingerlings potatoes and roasted turnips. The dish was finished with a white wine reduction that created a nice balance of contrasting flavors. The finishing touch was an appropriate addition for us to pass on- several months ago, Teri asked if we had a wine reduction recipe that she could give to her in-laws, who are wonderful cooks as well- so we hear anyway. We developed this simple sauce to be a universal quick addition to meat, fish or vegetables.
I have had a long love affair with chillis. I have become addicted to a particular sweet chilli sauce that can be purchased in any Asian markets, and some grocery stores, that we’ve shared with many friends and family. Over the past few years we have taken an overall assessment of our food and what we are putting into our bodies. So, I thought that I would create my own simple chilli sauce that compliments different foods from potatoes, to eggs, chicken or pork, and replace the processed sauce. This is the first of many different sauces on the journey of learning to cook with chillis.
This is a rich summer treat that will satisfy the adult pallet- it’s sweet, tart, and fresh. We served this a few weeks ago for a 6 course dinner party that we hosted for some friends that are very near and dear to us- Joe, Gail, Dave, Jay, Brian, and our fellow Foodie contributors Mark and Jane.
First it needs to be stated that cooking a multiple course dinner for 9 in our petite house isn’t typical. It was a night that was way overdue as each of our guests have hosted wonderful meals in their homes for us, so we pulled out all the stops serving Pieper sweet corn shooters, homemade goat cheese beet ravioli, warm halibut salad, gnocchi with a Maytag bacon sauce, grilled herb encrusted beef tenderloin, and last but not least, homemade ice cream with the strawberry balsamic reduction and fresh berries.
Ben has been making this sauce for years, and every time someone new tries it they love it. It is a concoction of simple ingredients that you wouldn’t typically put together that creates complex flavors that are complimented by a sweet vanilla ice cream. This isn’t a recipe to be intimidated by, and store bought ice cream works just as well. We just happened to have broadened our kitchen arsenal with the ice cream attachment for our Kitchen Aid and have been putting it to good use. This strawberry balsamic reduction is truly an explosion of flavors that your taste buds will love, and we’re proud to say that we knocked our guests’ socks off with this sweet treat.
Number 9 on the list of essential tools. Everyone should have a pepper mill in their kitchen. One main thing to consider is the mill should be adjustable and easy to clean. As you start to cook often you will realize that it is the small details that will elevate your dishes, and often they are affordable as well. Fresh cracked pepper has a fresher, more pure flavor than pre-ground pepper, and peppercorns don’t have an expiration date. Do a taste test if you’re skeptical. Not only that, you have the option of the size of the pepper you add to your dish from a fine ground to a large, rough ground. I’m sure that most of you have a pepper mill, but if not you should buy one for they are one of the most simplest pleasures of the kitchen. We are doing a spin of a classic dish with beef seared with pepper.
Here is Round 2 featuring the cast iron skillet. We truly use the cast iron skillet more often then any other pan our house. It’s a universal pan that can go from as a non-stick for frying eggs to searing meat or fish- it is just a workhorse that gets the job done. The cast iron is known for its heat distribution which allows you to sear meat evenly through out the pan and not just in the hot spots. Because of its heavy dutiness, the pan doesn’t suffer from heat loss when adding any room temp or cold foods, and this allows you get the killer crust on your fish or meats.
Ok, we went with pork tenderloin for our featured dish, and as an added bonus we threw in a wonderful red wine reduction sauce.
So Ben and I have been together for quite some time (just shy of 12 years). We’ve been blessed to celebrate many a Valentine’s Day, maybe not together because Ben would be preparing romantic dinners at restaurants for other couples out celebrating during our different stints in Kansas City or Denver. That’s not to say that the “holiday” didn’t go unacknowledged, but maybe it was a day late or a week early. We’re lucky in the way that we know we love each other and don’t need a designated day out of the year to express our undying love for one another. Even on those rare actual Valentine’s nights when we were able to do the traditional dinner out, we would find ourselves ending the evening with friends that we love that love each other. Last year, we had the honor of celebrating the day with our dear friends Teri & Joe just 2 weeks before their nuptials. We kept it simple and cooked at home knowing the way to our loved ones’ hearts is down the hatch and straight to the belly. We kept the newfound tradition with Teri & Joe going this past month with the addition of our new friends Lexie & Rob. The menu went down like this: blue cheese spinach salad, artisan bread with a compound butter, “Mid-Century Modern Shrimp,” a balsamic cherry phyllo roll up with homemade almond ice cream, and the main event was our version of filet oscar with a homemade hollandaise sauce..nothing says love like a special sauce.
OK we know that this entry is late, but it doesn’t have to be a Holiday to enjoy Filet Oscar. The basic components that make up a traditional Oscar is hollandaise or bernaise sauce, crab meat, and asparagus. Our recipe will focus on the hollandaise sauce.