Thursday, January 27, 2011

Valentine’s Day is about “Pairings”, a Favorite Bottle of Wine…and My Date with a Luscious Casserole…

Valentine’s Day 2011, may be the best day all year to eat in, rather than out. On Monday, February 14th, you and your sweetheart are launching into work mode—but aside from that…Ever been to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day?? There’s usually an overcrowding of people huddled over fondue, helium balloons and corsages, with a noticeable price hike on the surf & turf. Who wants to wait in line when the comforts of home beckon with the epitome of comfort food and wondrous wine available in your own dining room?

My recipe for Updated Skillet Tuna Noodle Casserole is a re-imagined dinner classic from the 1950s that tastes like the very definition of “luscious” and slides over your palate like a down comforter. This dish is perfect for a romantic winter’s night when toasts are in order for many more happy Valentine’s Days to come—and into that wine glass, might I suggest you pour…

Layer Cake Shiraz!

Just think of me as a sommelier, weighing in with my wine suggestion for V-day; Layer Cake Shiraz is like sipping from the happiest marriage of blackberries, exotic spices and rich, dark chocolate…yum…and because, like the wine, this casserole is heavy, decadent and creamy, you don’t have to worry about one taste overpowering the other.

Making the Perfect Pair

While it’s true that white wines, like Pinot Grigio, are usually the perfect pairing with fish, there’s also that rule of thumb about balancing the weight of the food, with the weight of the wine—and Tuna casserole—like a culinary hug from the person who loves you most in the whole world—is certainly heavier than the gray sole and mushroom hash I shared with my readers as last year’s Valentine’s Day feast (that fish dish pairs beautifully with Pinot—or a rose wine.)

Wine Buying tip: You’ll note when shopping for wine and spirits this time of year, a backlog of dusty, but perfectly good bottles of rose wine that didn’t sell in the summer of 2010. I don’t know why rose wines are strictly a summer beverage for so many people; pairing it with something delicious like roasted duck and wild rice, is marvelous whether it’s January or June—and right now, you can buy rose wine for as much as 75% off the regular price.

Retro Dining Notes: Re-Imagining Tuna Casserole at Sinatra’s House

Before I go I just have to share two related foodie stories. Did any of you catch the episode of The Next Food Network Star, when Brianna—the chef who trained in France—was assigned the task of remaking tuna casserole? She and her fellow contestants had to remodel 1950s classics, like upside down pineapple cake and deviled eggs, into something that would still make Rat Packers like Frank Sinatra ask for seconds—and the cooking challenge took place in Frank’s Los Angeles pad, next to his pool shaped like a grand piano. Brianna’s update was Crab and Brie Casserole with Wild Mushroom Crumb Topping—so luscious, I simply had to share—and while I’m at it, here’s Marilyn Monroe’s recipe for sour dough stuffing, given a 4 star review for its taste, innovation and fascinating back story in the New York Times.

As Sinatra used to say, you’re nobody until somebody loves you, right? So find some (casserole) to love—and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

Updated Skillet Tuna Noodle Casserole

Serves: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

12 ounces whole wheat, curly wide noodles, cooked al dente
6 tablespoons butter, reserve 2 tablespoons for topping
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon course salt
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (3.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained. 2 tablespoons oil reserved for sautéing
½ medium white onion, peeled and chopped, about ½ cup
2 medium celery ribs, sliced, about ½ cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
1 whole marinated roasted red pepper, diced, about ½ cup
1 (7-ounce) can artichoke hearts, chopped
1 (7-ounce) package tuna
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup Panko bread crumbs

Heat 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until smooth and bubbling, about 5 minutes. Pour in the half and half. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until the sauce thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Pour in the sundried tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Toss in the artichoke hearts, red pepper and tuna.

Add the cooked noodles to the skillet. Pour in the sauce and stir. Preheat the oven to the broil setting. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoon of butter and combine with the Parmesan cheese and Panko bread crumbs. Crumble the topping over the tuna casserole. Place the skillet in the oven and broil until the topping is golden.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lamb is the Preferred Winter Comfort Food—and I’m Dressing it With a Hint of Spring!

Dear Fellow Foodies,

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely feeling it! 2011 is in full swing now! Our calendars are filling up with obligations (looming taxes, annual check-ups, maintenance on the house and car…I could go on and on)—and let’s not forget the promises we make our friends: “you know, we really ought to get together sometime this month, instead of just saying we will…” Well, in an effort to leave yada, yada, yada off that promise, I’m pulling out a tried and true recipe that’s just perfect for inviting your neighbors over for a bite—but have them bring their own bottle of wine : )!! This entrée recipe leaves you just enough Merlot for you and your partner to enjoy a nip before the guests arrive.

Lamb Dishes Create the Perfect Winter Sitting Room, While We Wait Patiently For Spring

Grilled Lamb Chops with Ragu of Roasted Shallots, Fresh Peas and Mushrooms is such a welcome dish in the wintertime—not just for its savory and earthy bouquet of flavors, but because it gets you looking forward to the not-so-distant Spring. This dish is also close to my Irish heart because it makes me think of how much my grandfather and namesake, loved his lamb and mint jelly—the later not featured in this particular recipe, but certainly something to ponder drizzling over your leftovers! Anyway…the main reason this family jewel of a recipe is being shared today, is because it’s almost laughably easy to prepare! It suggests an aroma and taste of hours spent in the kitchen. Truth be told, you can have your lamb chops, and eat them too, in just minutes!

Give This Sunday Dinner Classic A Makeover

Now, the traditional Sunday roast—hailing from the United Kingdom—features mashed and roasted potatoes with savory, slow-roasted meat and boiled veggies. I know, I know..boring, right?…it’s now wonder Little Boy Blue fell fast asleep tending his sheep with a menu like that to look forward to; so I’m giving the Sunday Roast—which, in the olden days was a celebratory meal to reward serfs for a hard day’s work in the fields—a much needed update. Instead of serving lamb as a roast, I’m both speeding up (and kicking up!)—the process by using “lamb chops” instead. Most critical note to take away with you, folks? Lamb chops cook at the speed of light!

And now for the ragu part! Ragu sounds fancy—maybe even daunting to some—but it’s really just the Italian way of referring to a sauce made with meat, veggies and wine—and I think it makes an excellent alternative to the browned potatoes that typically grace a Sunday roast. In this ragu, I’m caramelizing onions—believe me, the act of near burning in them in butter will bring everyone coming ‘round it smells s’good—and mixing them with shallots, the greenest and hardiest of peas, Portobello mushrooms and generous splash from that bottle of Merlot I’ve been saving.

Lamb Notes: One Last Prepping Tip

For the most juicy, tender meat, make sure you serve your grilled (or broiled if you decide to go that route) lamb chops with a pink center. It’s important not to overcook lamb, because if you do the meat can take on a gamey flavor. If you know your guests to be the type who are put off by the aroma of cooking lamb, carefully trim the fat from your lamb chops before you cook them, and it’ll smell 110% heavenly, rather than merely graze perfection!

A toast to good health before eating everyone! Let’s all sit down, napkins folded gently in our laps, and enjoy these waning days of winter…

Grilled Lamb Chops with Ragu of Roasted Shallots, Fresh Peas and Mushrooms

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

8 (4 to 5-ounce) loin lamb chops, cut 1 ½ to 2-inches thick
4 tablespoons olive oil (or more)
1 to 2 teaspoons dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 to 6 large shallots, peeled and separated into lobes
6 small (2 to 3-inch) red potatoes, quartered
4 ounces Baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Merlot wine
4 ounces fresh green peas1 ½ cups beef broth

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Place the lamb chops in a dish. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with 1 teaspoon dried thyme, salt and pepper. Marinate for 30 minutes.

Place the shallots and the potatoes in a shallow baking dish. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the shallots are soft and the potatoes are browned.

Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.

Cook the mushrooms in the pan until soft. Season with salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon dried thyme.

Pour in the red wine. Reduce heat to low.

Add the peas to the pan.

Pour in the beef broth. Simmer until the sauce reduces by half and the peas are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Cook the lamb chops, turning once, about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Add the sautéed shallots and potatoes to the mushroom and pea mixture. Toss to coat all of the veggies with the sauce. Adjust seasonings.

Serve 2 lamb chops per dish. Surround the chops with the vegetable ragu. Garnish with fresh thyme.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Keep On Truckin’ with Exotic Food on the Fly. Recipes That’ll Remind You of One of America’s Hottest New Food Trends!

Today, food trucks fill a coveted time slot on Food TV and are “followed” by thousands of Twitterers, eager to see where their favorite “restaurants” are parking next. So what kind of miles per gallon are food trucks scoring among hard core foodies like myself? Well, to make a long story short, we love ‘em. I mean, come on…who doesn’t welcome a chance to enjoy four-star cuisine at street level prices? Better yet, food trucks don’t care whatcha wear and no reservations are required. Yet in perusing the menus of some of the nation’s most popular rolling restaurants, I couldn’t help but note, well…just how easy it is to copy their cuisine from the comforts of home.

In my cookbooks, At Home Entertaining and Fresh Traditions, there are MANY recipes that lend themselves to humongous servings, and, like the more hipster food trucks out there, feature things like skirt steak, tostadas, polenta cakes, crepes and sliders; my chapter titles like “Howl at the Moon” and “Wild and Crazy Revelries” emulate the spirit of the food truck best, and are—now that I think about it—motivated by some of the same things, like not being afraid to kick up a classic by adding ethnic flavor; what I had in mind when I created Grilled Brie and Apple Sandwiches with Spicy Apple Chutney.

Exotic Flavors Definitely Include Chutney

Chutney is an East Indian condiment that pairs perfectly with curried foods; it is a blend of hot and sweet and can be just as spicy or unspicy as you like it. Make up a big batch, so there’s plenty left-over to jazz up a spur-of-the-moment grilled cheese sandwich—or you could just buy chutney in a jar. To make apple chutney yourself, simply sauté onion and red bell pepper in 2 tablespoons of olive oil; add some garlic cloves, a jalapeno, dash of ground ginger and curry and you’re nearly there—more precise instructions are available, of course, when you view my recipe. I just want to give you the basics of what’s in an apple chutney, which—besides the ingredients I just mentioned—include allspice, a whole cup of brown sugar, quarter cup of raisins, red wine vinegar, and 4 juicy red apples. You can store your chutney in an airtight container in your refrigerator for weeks’ worth of special, flavorful sandwiches.

Chutney is Excellent at Shifting Gears from Sweet to Savory

Also consider making Grilled Chicken and Mushroom Tostadas with Tomato Chutney sometime. Prepare the chutney for this dish by placing 6 diced plum tomatoes into a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, paprika and ginger to taste. After simmering for 20 minutes, you’ve got yourself an original chutney to spice up the ordinary sandwich, and transform lunchtime into being at the World’s Fair.

Honk if You Love Globally Inspired Cuisine!

Food trucks have jumped on the bandwagon of the very things that make America so American—like immigration. When we welcome people from other countries, they bring a taste of their homeland with them, diversifying our food choices and making our cuisine richer and more sophisticated; it’s cooking icons like Julia Child who paved the way by encouraging us to experiment with foreign recipes. Meanwhile, space age kitchen gadgetry also stepped in to make more food possible—and it all fits in the smallest kitchen—or food truck! So, the next time you redress a classic with exotic flair and take it on the go with you, ask yourself this: is tinfoil the new black?

Whatever you eat, please enjoy to the fullest, and if you should happen on a food truck that inspires you, shoot me a comment…and maybe a referral! I’m HUNGRY!

Grilled Chicken and Mushroom Tostadas with Tomato Chutney

Servings: 6 to 8
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

6 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 3 cups)
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white wine vinegar
3 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 ½ teaspoons)
½ teaspoon hot paprika
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large (4 to 6-ounce)skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups)

2 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
2 ounces grated white American cheese (about ½ cup)
1 bunch (6 to 8) green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal (about ½ cup)

8 to 10 (6-inch corn tortillas)
Vegetable oil for frying

Prepare the chutney by placing 6 dice plum tomatoes into a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, paprika and ginger. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

Place 1 tablespoon olive oil into a grill pan over medium high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken in the pan, turning once, about 5 to 7 minutes per side. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes.

Cook the mushrooms in the grill pan until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice the chicken across the grain into thin strips. Place the chicken into a bowl. Spoon the chutney over top of the chicken and toss.

Heat enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of a skillet, over medium high heat. Place 1 tortilla into the hot oil. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds or until the tortilla is bubbled and golden. Use tongs to transfer the fried tortilla to a paper towel to drain. Continue until all of the tortillas have been cooked.

Assemble the tostadas by layering the ingredients on top of the fried tortillas. Start with the chutney coated chicken strips. Top with a spoonful of mushrooms, a sprinkle of diced tomatoes and a drizzle of grated cheese. (At this point, you may place the tostadas under a broiler to melt the cheese. Garnish with slices of green onion.)

Grilled Brie and Apple Sandwich with Spicy Apple Chutney

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

8 (1/4-inch thick) diagonally cut French bread slices
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
8 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed, room temperature (1 cup)
2 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons Spicy Apple Chutney (see sidebar)

Butter one side of each bread slice. Place the bread, buttered side down, onto a cutting board.

Spread (or crumble) the brie cheese over the unbuttered side of 4 of the bread slices.

Spread 1 tablespoon of chutney on top of the brie. Distribute the apple slices over top of the brie.

Heat a grill or skillet over medium high heat. Place the brie, chutney and apple topped bread slices, buttered side down into the skillet. Top with the remaining bread, buttered side up.

Cover the sandwiches with a lid and cook for 2 minutes.
Remove the lid and check the bottom slice of bread to make sure it has turned golden brown. Use a spatula to turn the sandwiches. Press down on the top of each one. Cook uncovered for 1 to 2 minutes more. Turn the sandwiches one more time and cook for 1 more minute. Cut each sandwich in half and serve.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Discover the Heavenliness of Hash

You Can Make Crazy Good Variations on Corned Beef Hash Out of Leftovers

A plate of corned beef hash isn’t something you’d expect celebrity chefs to get that excited about, but savory hashes—when they’re done right and with flair—can be the talk of the town, especially in The Big Apple where country-style pork hash, Texas barbecue style hash, and prime rib hash, kicked up with a little horseradish and beet sauce are a hot item in some of NYC’s swankiest restaurants. You can read the Times article and get out the old chopping block and frying pan to try some of these dishes for yourself—or you could just whip up my hashes. As a connoisseur of comfort food, it means something when I say that my brand of Corned Beef Hash with Poached Eggs is my all-time favorite brunch. I’m sure any meat-and-potatoes person would whole-heartedly agree!

Notes from Other Kitchens On Ways to Maximize the Heaven in Your Hash

It’s a shame that so many people equate corned beef hash with its canned version at the grocery store. Hash done right looks nothing like that, folks—and preparing your own homemade hash is a breeze; it also gives you chance to start off on the right foot and make better use of your groceries this year. A successful hash is, after all, all about the leftovers. So scan your fridge and look for remnants of last night’s roast beef or turkey. If you’ve got that, a couple of potatoes and onions to spare, you’ve got hash! Use my corned beef hash recipe as a template for any kind of hash; you’ll see that it’s easy to know where you can substitute.

If you want corned beef, look for it in the meat section of the grocery store, or you can buy corned beef in a can. I promise I won’t tell. If you want to serve up corned beef hash that merits some real applause, ladle a little hollandaise sauce over the finished product. Your breakfast guests will love it, and if they stick around long enough for dinner, consider serving a little wild mushroom hash with filet of sole.

One more note: Masters of hash advocate seasoning it up and letting it sit a few hours so the flavors have a chance to vamp up—and here’s a golden standard for ingredients: the experts say to use two kinds of boiled potatoes, taking care to dice and mash them; caramelize the onions and make sure half are sliced and the other half ground down to a mince. I love a good and simple secret, don’t you?

The Bye-Bye Winter Blues Part

Because of the eggs on top and other protein packed, nutrient dense ingredients, corned beef hash can kick the winter blues to the curb any day of the week. It’s rich in selenium, an anti-oxidant that improves thyroid functions, boosts immunity, way-lays the onset of cancer and shows up—most notably—in large amounts in happy people. Neuropsychological studies show that people with depression have low levels of selenium compared to those who are not depressed. Get an especially heavy does of bliss in my Smoked Trout Hash with Fried Eggs—it’s got these rich, smoky flavors that’ll curl your toes—so pull off those winter boots and get warmed up soon!

Smoked Trout Hash with Fried Eggs

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
6 red creamer potatoes, boiled and cut into ¼-inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 ears of fresh corn, cooked, kernels sliced from cob (about 1 cup)
16 ounces smoked trout, skinned and flaked (about 2 cups)
1 bunch (6 to 8) green onions, chopped (about ½ cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons butter
8 large eggs
Caviar for garnish (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
Cook the red onion and potatoes in the pan until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the corn to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more.

Toss in the smoked salmon and green onions and cook for 2 minutes more.

Season the hash with salt and pepper. Toss in 1 tablespoon fresh chives. Keep the hash warm while you prepare the eggs.

Heat the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Break one egg into a bowl. Gently slide the egg into skillet. Repeat this process with as many eggs as will fit into the skillet without crowding. Cook the eggs until firm. (You may turn them once during cooking when the egg white becomes solid).

Use a spatula to carefully remove each egg from the skillet. Serve the eggs on top of the hash. Garnish each egg with a dab of caviar and a sprinkling of fresh chives.

Corned Beef Hash with Poached Eggs

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 2/3 cup)
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice (about 2/3 cup)
2 medium celery ribs, sliced (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
16 ounces cooked corned beef, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and boiled, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 large eggs

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
Cook the onions, pepper and celery in the olive oil until soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.

Add the potatoes and corned beef to the pan.

Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and fresh parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the hash is warmed through. Keep the hash warm while you prepare the eggs.

Heat water in a large pot to boiling. Add 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar. Break one egg into a small bowl. Swirl the water in the pan with a spoon. Gently pour the egg from the bowl into the swirling water. Continue gently swirling. (This will produce a rounded egg perhaps with a tail or two.) Repeat this process with as many eggs as will fit into the pot without crowding. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer the eggs for 4 to 5 minutes or until the egg white is firm. Use a long-handled basket to gently remove and drain each egg.

Serve the poached eggs on top of the warm corn beef hash.
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