Sunday, August 16, 2015

Herb-Rubbed Steak with Corn Saute

It's time for another Mystery Box Madness over at I Heart Cooking Clubs. This time around the ten mystery ingredients were: Any Red Fruit, Corn, Tortillas, Skirt or Flank Steak, Oregano, Heavy Cream, Goat Cheese, Pumpkin Seeds, Baby or Fingerling Potatoes, and Caramel/Cajeta. We simply pick at least three of the mystery box ingredients and choose a recipe from one of our twelve IHCC chefs.

I've been loving Jacques Pepin's recipes so I chose to cook with him. I definitely wanted to chose corn since it's just coming into season so I opted for Pepin's Corn and Pepper Saute. A simple saute of bell pepper and fresh corn with butter and salt and pepper. It's a delicious way to celebrate local and seasonal produce.  To go along with the corn I made Jacques' recipe for Herb-Rubbed Steak using flank steak and oregano. The steak had a wonderful blend of herbs and spices: dried thyme, dried oregano, dried rosemary, and cayenne pepper. The dried herbs are aromatic and flavorful and the cayenne adds a nice touch of heat.

The Herb-Rubbed Steak paired perfectly with the Corn and Pepper Saute for a light summer meal. We also enjoyed this mixture inside of corn tortillas, which just happened to be another ingredient in our mystery box this month. This was a delightful and flavorful meal that I would most definitely make again.

Herb-Rubbed Steak Over Corn Saute
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 4

1-1/2 pounds flank steak, sliced against the grain into thin slices
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup chicken or beef stock

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Remove all the surface fat from the steak.  The trimmed steak will weight about 1-1/4 pounds. Crush the dried herbs between your thumb and finger and mix them together with the black and cayenne pepper. Pat the mixture on both sides of the meat. When ready to cook, sprinkle the steak with the salt. Heat the oil in a heavy ovenproof skillet (cast iron for best results). When it is hot, add the meat and cook over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the steak to the oven and roast for 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare. Add the chicken stock to the pan and let rest at room temperature for 10 minutes. Serve with natural juices and corn saute.  This beef is also great served inside corn tortillas.

Corn and Pepper Saute
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 4

1 large red bell pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 large ears corn,husked and kernels cut off (about 3 cups)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Using a vegetable peeler, remove as much of the skin as you can from the red pepper. The firmer the pepper the easier it is to peel. Cut the pepper into sections at the recesses.  Remove the seeds from each section and peel off the remaining skin. Cut the pepper into 1/4-inch pieces. You should have about a cup. Heat the butter in a large skillet until hot. Add the corn and pepper pieces and saute over high heat for about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper and serve.
Themes: Mystery Box Madness August 2015

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Crepes {Lovingly Known As Rolled Pancakes}

Crepes always bring a smile to my face.  They remind me of one of my favorite memories. Memories of sleepovers with my very best childhood friends. Unforgettable memories. Those late nights full of silliness and endless laughter and those lazy mornings spent sitting at the kitchen table.

In our pajamas with our hair a mess we hadn't a care in the world, well except for one thing. We cared about our "rolled pancakes."  My best friend Joy's mom and dad were famous for their rolled pancakes, otherwise known as crepes. They would stand over the stove flipping the pancakes. As soon as one would come off the pan someone would be holding their plate out to receive it. Butter, jam, syrup, and our very favorite, the cinnamon sugar, would line the table as fillings. Rolled pancakes would be devoured by the dozen. Smiles would be had by all. 

I would give anything to sit at that table again with all my best friends. Pj's, wild hair, messy faces and our biggest worry being whether or not we would get the next rolled pancake. Since the miles separate me from my sweet friends I go ahead and do the next best thing. I make an indulgent version of our old school rolled pancakes. I fill them with fresh strawberries and top them with a dollop of whipped cream, powdered sugar, and grated chocolate.  I take a bite and smile. In a few weeks I will be 40, but when I eat these crepes I feel like a kid again.

Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 4
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1-1/2 teaspoons canola oil

Fillings: Any jam or preserves, sugar, cinnamon/sugar, or chocolate. I made a strawberry filling using one pound of sliced strawberries and 1 tablespoon of sugar. I allowed the mixture to sit for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the strawberries develop a little syrup of their own. Then I filled the crepes with the strawberries and garnished them with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar and grated chocolate.

Combine the flour, eggs, sugar, and 1/4 cup of the milk in a bowl and mix with a whisk until smooth.  (The mixture will be fairly thick.) Add the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the butter and mix until smooth.

Lightly grease the bottom of an 8 or 9 inch nonstick skillet with the canola oil and heat the pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add about 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and quickly tilt and move the skillet so the batter coats the entire bottom of the pan. (Work fast, or the batter will set before the bottom of the skillet is coated, and the crepe will be thicker than desired.) Cook for about 1 minute on the first side, then flip the crepe over using a fork, your fingers, or a spatula, and cook for about 30 seconds on the other side. Transfer the crepe to a plate,with the side that browned first down,so that when the crepes are filled and folded, this nicer side will be visible. Repeat with the remaining batter (there is no need to grease the skillet again), stacking the crepes.

To fill, spread each crepe with about 2 teaspoons jam or sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar or 2 teaspoons grated chocolate. Fold in half, enclosing the filling, then in half again. Eat immediately, while still warm. You can also roll them as I have.
Theme: "Reveille-toi" (Get Out Of Bed)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Ultimate Dessert: Chocolate Mousse

I will admit it. I am a lazy cook.  I like easy dishes with minimal clean up.  If I feel like the recipe involves lots of steps and I might not be able to execute it properly then I just set it aside, over and over again.  Such is the case with this Chocolate Mousse.

However, one of my main goals while cooking Pepin's recipes was to make a traditional Chocolate Mousse. Feeling determined while at the grocery store I bought the ingredients. I laid the chocolate out on the counter as a helpful reminder. I glared at that chocolate every single day for a week. I'm pretty sure it was the only time I've ever felt like chocolate was evil.

I looked at the recipe sitting on the counter and the words glared at me.  It all comes down to whisking egg yolks and sugar in a double boiler. I've tried. Lots of times. Never a success. It's as if I simple can't do it BUT, I will be so disappointed if I don't try, so...

I cracked the eggs in the bowl and rolled my eyes. I dumped the sugar in the bowl and let out sigh.  With all the attitude one could muster I whisked the mixture over a double boiler. I second guessed myself a million and one times. Of course I have no idea what the mixture was supposed to look like and by now my arm hurt so I just decide to stop. I make the whipped cream. Easy enough. I melt the chocolate. Easy as can be. I go to mix the melted chocolate with the egg yolks and the whole mixture seizes up. I'm quite sure a few obscenities came out because my husband got up and left the room. He knows if things get to this point it all goes downhill.  I add a few angry and hasty dollops to the mixture, per the instructions, and whip the tar out of the mixture. Imagine my surprise when the mixture becomes smooth. In utter shock I hurry up and fold in the whip cream as if the whole mixture will explode if I don't hurry.  I look down at the bowl. Holy cow, I actually did it. I made Chocolate Mousse!

I'm pretty sure I let out a squeal. Then I tasted it, and tasted it, and tasted it. I pretty much ate one serving straight out of the bowl. I couldn't stop. Seriously, I'm pretty sure this Chocolate Mousse is the most ultimate, luxurious, addicting dessert ever. Hey, chocolate lovers...I'm talking to you. You need to treat yourself to this dessert. It is rich with intense chocolate flavor and a smooth, almost velvety, mouth feel.  One of my favorite desserts.
Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 6

1/3 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
2 teaspoons cognac
Notes: I used semisweet Ghiradelli

Reserve 2 tablespoons of the sugar and combine the rest of the sugar with the egg yolks in a stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl in a skillet of hot tap water (or use a double boiler- I used a double boiler) and whisk the mixture for about 3 minutes, or until it is fluffy, smooth, and at least doubled in volume.

Beat the reserved sugar with the cream in a large chilled bowl for a few minutes, or until soft peaks form; do not overwhip. You need the cream to form soft peaks and not be overbeaten. The soft peaks is what creates the volume in the chocolate mousse.  Transfer about 3/4 cup of the whipped cream to another bowl to use as a decoration and refrigerate.

Using a rubber spatula, combine the melted chocolate and cognac with the yolk mixture. If the mixture starts to seize (which mine did) or break down, immediately stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of the whipped cream to smooth out the mixture. Gently fold in the (remaining) whipped cream until  incorporated. Transfer the mousse to a decorative bowl, cover, and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours.

At serving time, whip the reserved 3/4 cup whipped cream until stiff peaks form.  Spoon the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and decorate the top of the mousse with the cream, or if you're a lazy cook like me, spoon dollops of the cream onto the top of the mousse and serve.
Theme: July Potluck!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Penne Au Gratin

Let's talk summer food. There's certainly something to be said for eating light when it's hot outside. You don't wanna eat macaroni and cheese and then throw on a bathing suit, nor do you wanna eat a roast and go weed your garden when it's about 100F.  On the other hand, summer is also a great time to be very active outside. With that said, if you've just come in from swimming all day, or doing hours of hard work in the sun, you will likely be famished.

Such is the case for my 14 year old daughter who is going to band camp from 7am until 7pm every day this week. On the blacktop, in direct sun, with her trumpet, being active all day long.  Not looking at her phone.  For those of you who are fluent in the dramatics of teenage girls you know this means one thing. Tears. Lots of them.

A wise man (sometimes I give my husband credit) said, "Just have the macaroni ready and waiting and then send her straight to her room."

Macaroni and cheese, otherwise known as penne au gratin, has the ability to heal the inconsolable teenage girl. It's pretty much magic. Easy to eat penne noodles, a smooth cheesy sauce, pretty chunks of fresh ripe summer tomatoes, and a crunchy Parmesan and paprika topping.  Comfort food for anytime of year.
Penne Au Gratin
Recipe adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
Serves 4

6 ounces (2-1/4 cup) penne
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups milk
4-1/2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2" dice (1 cup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large tomato, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1-1/4 cups)
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 400F.  Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the penne, stir well, and cook for about 8 minutes, until tender but still slightly al dente. Drain the penne in a colander.  Set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan until hot. Add the flour and cook, stirring, over medium heat for about 10 seconds, then add the milk, stirring it in quickly with a whisk so the mixture doesn't scorch. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 seconds. Add the cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper, mix well, and cook over low heat, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes or until smooth.

Mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and transfer the mixture to a 6-cup gratin dish (I like to use my cast iron skillet).  Scatter the tomato on top of the pasta. Combine the Parmesan and paprika in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture on the pasta. Bake for 30 minutes at 400F.  Serve immediately.
Theme: The Mother Of All Sauces!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza

So there I am sitting on the couch looking for something new to make. Something really different. Something light and easy.  Something fun.  Except there's a problem. I have a rather obnoxious craving for Gruyère cheese. the index for Gruyère cheese and voila I discovered this fun, unique, and easy recipe for Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza.

I'm so glad I discovered this recipe because I love the combination of ingredients. The pine nuts compliment the Gruyère's nutty flavor and provide a wonderful texture to the pizza. The olives are a gorgeous pop of color and add a lovely briney flavor that really makes the whole pizza pop. However, I think the best part is the overall ease of this recipe because it uses pita bread for the pizza crust. All you have to do is slice one pita bread in half lengthwise, brush it with a little olive oil, top, and bake. The pita bread half is so thin it becomes crispy and crunchy, which I absolutely love. It's also the perfect size for an individual portion. I can definitely see myself making this version again and also borrowing the pita bread technique for other variations. An easy and satisfying summer lunch or dinner. You could even set up a station and let everyone create their own!
 Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza
Recipe Adapted by Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 1

3 tablespoons diced yellow bell pepper
1 pita bread half (7-8 inches in diameter)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
10 oil-cured black olives, pitted and sliced
2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the pita bread in half lengthwise to create a two very thin crusts. Place pita bread onto a cookie sheet. Brush pita crust with a light amount of olive oil.  

Begin topping the crust with the Gruyère, then the yellow pepper, olives, pine nuts and finish with the chopped scallions and a sprinkle of black pepper.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes. Cut and serve.
Theme: Fast Food Jacques Way!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wonton Cannelloni In Tomato Sauce

This is my idea of a beautiful fusion dish. Here, Chinese wonton wrappers are used in place of Italian pasta to reduce the prep time of an otherwise time-consuming dish. Skip the step of boiling the pasta and simply assemble your ricotta filling directly into the soft and pliable wonton wrappers. have a quick family-pleasing meal that looks as if it took hours to make but was really put together in about 30 minutes.

It's as simple as making a quick tomato sauce in a blender; whipping some ricotta with eggs and chives; grating a little cheese; and filling the wonton wrappers. A quick 20 minutes in the oven and you're ready to go. A little salad or green veg on the side and everyone will think you're a genius for making a delicious dinner in no time at all! This one is going in the files for those busy weeknights.
Wonton Cannelloni in Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Fast Food My Way
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 4-6

1 (28-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1pound ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 package of wonton skins
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Note: The size of your wontons will dictate how many wonton skins you'll need in order to use all the ricotta filling. Pepin's recipe calls for 6, but his must have been very large.  I 
had to use about 20 smaller wonton skins to use all my filling.

Heat the oven to 375F. Put the tomatoes with their liquid, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, half of the pepper, the olive oil, and the Italian seasoning in a food processor and process until smooth.

Mix the ricotta, eggs, remaining salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the chives in a bowl.

Pour 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce into a rectangular baking dish (about 11x9). Place a few spoonfuls (depending on the size of your wonton) of the ricotta mixture into the middle of each wonton.  Bring the two opposite sides of the wonton skin over the cheese filling to enclose it, creating a roll. Repeat with the remaining wonton skins until you've used all the filling. Arrange the wontons seam side down, lined up in a row next to one another in the dish.

Pour the remaining sauce over the cannelloni (it will fill the spaces between the cannelloni and even out the surface).  Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet, sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses on top, and bake for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle the cannelloni with the remaining 2 tablespoons chives and serve immediately.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Celebrate Summer With A Frozen Watermelon Slush

I didn't want the 12 pound watermelon rolling around in the back so I held onto it as I drove. Watermelon in my left hand. Steering wheel in my right. Sometimes, when the mood strikes me, I do these things just to amuse myself. A driver just going about their day passes me on the road and chuckles, or they honk and give a thumbs up, or they scream WATERMELON at the top of their lungs as they whiz by. Either way, it always results in a good laugh. I'm always up for squeezing a few more laughs into my day.

When I arrived home safely, watermelon in hand, I decided to give this particular watermelon a special treatment.  I had watermelon margaritas on my mind, but the kids were begging for watermelon, so whatever I chose needed to be kid-friendly.  Thankfully, I found this recipe for Frozen Watermelon Slush in Jacques Pepin's book and it was perfect! A tasty and refreshing slush for the kiddos and the ideal base for an adult drink. Simply add some watermelon slush to a glass and top it with a little splash of tequila or vodka, a quick squeeze of lime, and you have the perfect summery drink! It's delightful!

Frozen Watermelon Slush
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 8-10

1 medium watermelon (about 12 pounds)
3/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar

Halve the watermelon lengthwise, halve again, and cut into 2-inch pieces. Remove and discard the rind, black seeds, and as many of the softer white seeds as possible. Cut the flesh into 1-inch chunks. Place in a food processor, in batches if necessary, and process until liquefied; some small chunks may remain. You should have about 10 cups. Add the lime or lemon juice and sugar and process until incorporated. Blend in batches if necessary.
Transfer the watermelon mixture to a stainless steel bowl, cover, and freeze until solid, 8 to 10 hours. 

About 2 to 3 hours before serving, move the bowl to the refrigerator to soften the mixture. In the hour before serving, use a fork to break the softened mixture into shavings. Serve in chilled glass goblets or bowls. Garnish with lime and/or watermelon wedges.

Theme: June Potluck!