Friday, January 31, 2014

Time to Start Planning the Most Romantic Dinner of the Year…

Valentine’s Day is almost here, so if you plan on going out, I hope you have reservations! As for me…I don’t go anywhere near a restaurant on February 14th, choosing the candlelight supper at home (right, honey?) over that hot mess year after year. I’ve pulled 2 of my coziest and most elegant recipes from Sunday Best Dishes to focus on this go around, and because they feature a red wine reduction sauce drizzled over filet mignon made the classic French way, I guess you could say that this Valentine’s Day I’m wearing my heart on my sieve!
No spoilers here alert! I’m not giving away my signature recipe for Grilled Tenderloin Steak and a tequila spiked dessert, but I will dish on tried and true culinary methods in bringing them to the plate. Download Sunday Best, if you want your Valentine’s Day to resemble the hot and juicy picture below.

So here’s the deal with steak….yeah, it’s absolutely better when you grill it outside; however, this is a really frigid winter for most of us, and backyard BBQs may not be in the cards. That’s why a tenderloin steak is the perfect choice—it’s the best cut for stovetop cooking. You’re going to want to buy four (six ounce) steaks, 2 to 3 inches thick and ask the butcher to remove the silver skin for you; it’s easy enough to do it yourself (even kind of fun), but with the tequila sippin’ I hope you’ve got planned, it never hurts to save time.

So, steak tenderloin (aka filet mignon) must be seasoned well with coarse salt and cracked pepper; set your cuts out a good 20 minutes before you cook them, and make sure to pat the meat dry with paper towels before rubbing in the seasonings. Add a brush of olive oil to each side of the steak (very important!), and coat the grill pan with plenty of olive oil, too. I sear my steak 4 to 6 minutes per side on high heat, and let it rest outside the pan, in a fresh application of red wine sauce, about ten minutes before serving it. Steak, as you may already know, continues to cook on its own, off the grill. Another important steak lover’s mantra: Always, always aim for medium-rare. For Valentine’s Day, I’m topping mine off with a cheese I’m keeping secret until the big reveal on 2/14/14….but if you must know what it is, refer to the Culinary Class chapter in Sunday Best Dishes!   

Now, on to dessert, the focal point of a sweet holiday…

As you can see, I’m making blueberry short bread biscuits, surrounded in a bed of tequila soaked fruit—there’s nothing like peppery silver tequila to bring out the flavor of blueberries, and with the suggestion of strawberries in the mix, you’ve honored the color code of Valentine’s Day well enough.  For cooking, the brand “Jose Cuervo Clasico Silver” is a sound choice in tequila; it’s priced lower than other brands, yet has the sweet fire-power your marinades, vinaigrettes and sauces demand, whether they are savory or sweet.

And I can’t think of a more perfect note to end on. May your Feb. 14 be the sweetest yet!




Wednesday, January 15, 2014

If The Kitchen’s “Cookbook Club” Asked Me to Talk about SUNDAY BEST DISHES, I Wouldn’t Say No!

The KITCHEN is on Saturdays at 11am Eastern
Hello there, loyal readers. This blog is a review about a fun new show on the Food Network. Because I always liked The View (and The Chew!), the format of The KITCHEN is instantly appealing; it features five friends, who chow down and TALK FOOD—each episode (and so far there have been 2) is cleverly divided with Q&A from fans, a cooking demo that features a recipe with the top 3 most googled ingredients in the country, and an appearance of a cookbook author with a new book. Jenny McCoy, author of Desserts for Every Season was the first guest on The Show’s “Cookbook Club” segment; she made a warm chocolate bread pudding that I imagine co-host Jeff Mauro will try eating on a treadmill for next week’s opening credits!

On a good day I like to say I know foolproof food, and the way The KITCHEN is structured is certainly that: FOOLPROOF! I can’t tell you how interesting it is to know that 850,000 hungry souls googled, on the same day, what to do with the frozen lump of chicken in their fridge.

The KITCHEN’s panel, in addition to the hilarious Sandwich King (Jeff, whom I already mentioned), includes Sunny Anderson, Geoffery Zakarian, Katie Lee and Marcela Valladolid; these friends took the top 3 google hits for the week: quinoa, chicken and kale, and made them into a WONDERFUL entrée. I know because I made the dish right after watching the show. Sunny Anderson looked straight into camera and said that cooking, for her, was often about simply “emptying out the fridge!” and as though it were fate, I had some languishing items in my refrigerator (like a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts) that worked like a charm in The KITCHEN’S CHILE-RUBBED CHICKEN BREAST WITH KALE, QUINOA AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD. 

I didn’t follow Marcela’s recipe to the letter, but she did provide the base, and everyone in my family who loves chicken was pretty happy the night I added my own tweaks to what I can tell you is a truly solid dish. I liked how the panel, brimming with intimidating culinary talent, let all that go for the hour, and focused on teaching without preaching. On the kale/chicken recipe, Katie Lee asked if you could use feta in place of Marcela’s choice, cotija (a cheese I’m sure not everyone knows about), and everyone—including Marcela, was quick to advocate for substitutes anytime you want, and substitute I did. I didn’t have quinoa, so I used couscous; didn’t have toasted almonds so I used pine nuts—everyone loved it and I got rid of those darned Brussels Sprouts…and some feta!

The only thing I would have done differently is advise home chefs to really, really, wash that kale! I knew to do it because, well, what person in the food industry doesn’t have a PhD in kale by now? (we hear about it every single day!); however, for the layperson…you just might end up with some sand in your sauté if you’re not used to working with the stuff—and that’s what my latest book, Sunday Best Dishes: A Cookbook for Passionate Cooks is all about, educating home chefs in a way that’s fun and relatable. You don’t know you’re learning, you just know you’re cooking—I can’t wait to share that philosophy with everyone in The KITCHEN!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Foodie Resolutions: 2014

It’s here—another year! Social media is buzzing with resolutions about dropping a few pounds and getting more organized. I’ve decided to make mine about eating more locally grown food, patronizing more restaurants who work with nearby farms, and finding other ways of greening up my zip code. This post is actually about two things: helping people who want to become locavores get started, and supporting a friend of mine; an angel who gets his wings every time a locavore is born.  

His name is Cory Bryk of Boone, N.C., a Marine who served in Iraq and returned home to become, of all things…A FARMER! I’ve posted his picture here.

I’m sure I’m not alone in being so glad that he did—I enjoy the fruits of New Life Farm (Cory’s farm) every time I’m in North Carolina—and thank him for raising one of the best Thanksgiving turkeys the Morgan family has ever eaten. In addition to the tasty livestock, Cory’s farm is responsible for a bountiful vegetable harvest—and he can reap even more of what he sews when he gets a new tractor. If you live near Boone, and want to see more of New Life Farm’s products, you’ll donate what you can to his Kickstarter project, active until January 24th.  Just click this link to help him on his way.      

So, here’s what got me thinking about why being a locavore (that means restricting your diet to the consumption of fresh products produced within a 100 mile radius of home) is such a worthwhile pursuit. It’s so much fresher; a truck didn’t have to burn a ton of fossil fuels to bring it to the store, and it didn’t lose any nutrients on a long ride. 

You don’t usually have to worry about pesticides, and you’re helping your local economy do better. If you manage sometime in 2014 to make a pasta primavera sauce entirely out of veggies you bought from a local vendor, you can relish more than just a fabulous taste. You can feel good about being kind to the planet as well.    

Here a few quick and easy-to-remember ways to become a locavore—start small if you’re new to this, by serving all farmers market fare at your next dinner!  

  • Use LOCALHARVEST.ORG! It’s an amazing tool to find everything from farmers markets, organic food buying clubs, tasting events and more in every single zipcode in the United States.
  • Once a month, pick out an out-sourced food item, and swap it out for something you can get locally made. Honey is a great first start, as every community has a bee haven somewhere.
  • Join a community garden club or CSA. I do the later. Look up a farm in your area (use and sign up for biweekly or monthly delivery of their seasonal harvest. Some CSA’s offer milk, meat, honey and eggs in addition to veggies. It tastes SOOOO good.
  • Ask a local farmer or vendor at a farmers market, if he has any restaurant accounts and then patronize that restaurant! I’ll be the first to try this tactic with Cory at New Life.
  • Host a “100-mile Dinner Challenge”: PBS writes all about it in this article, (it’s based on Thanksgiving, but can be done any time of year) which I’ll summarize for you now: next time you host a dinner, ask guests to bring a regionally recognized recipe from their neck of the woods. If they’re from the south, a pecan pie made with pecans from a neighborhood tree is a prime example.  If you live on the coast, it can be all about the seafood.
  • Research the fruits and veggies unique to your area and try them in a salad or on a cracker! I did it with kumquats; I found a package of them at Publix with a label that said the kumquats were from Deland, Florida—the tangy, citrusy things kicked up the flavor of a tomato salad in ways I’m still craving…. 

OK, that’s it. I’ve put it in a nutshell for you—grown, harvested and sold by the guy next door : ) Cheers, and happy 2014!

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