Friday, March 30, 2012

Smorrebrod - March 29, 2012

Open-faced Danish-style sandwiches, known as smorrebrod, are a new favorite at our house.  After seeing some pictures online and ordering one last weekend at a local restaurant, Nick and I decided to try making some at home.  We still have some marble rye leftover from our Reubens, so we toasted some slices to use as our base.  Next we spread some cream cheese and then piled on our toppings: dandelion greens, thinly sliced cooked golden beets, canned smoked trout, hard-boiled eggs, and pickled onions.  Delicious!  And, the combinations are endless (although, apparently the Danes have some rules, which I'm sure we did not follow).  We just happened to use what we had on hand.  It turns out that I have a weakness not only for Danish furniture, but also for the cuisine.  One of those things is slightly more accessible to me.
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Friday, March 23, 2012

Plaid Flannel Hash - March 21, 2012

This is the last meal made with our home cured corned beef.  Traditionally this dish is referred to as red flannel hash due to the use of beets which lend their deep coloring to the dish.  It turns out that the only beets I had left from our CSA were golden and chioggia varieties.  Just as delicious, but 'red' no longer seemed appropriate.  Plaid flannel hash was born.

The recipe I used is from the May 1993 issue of Gourmet magazine.  Nick's parents received their Gourmet subscription faithfully starting sometime in the early 80's all the way up until publication stopped a few years back.  Over the years they kept every issue, neatly organized by month and year, creating a well stocked pantry library.  Just recently they decided it was time to send them on to new homes.  Nick received two issues, coordinated with some personal life milestones, for his recent birthday.  It was really fun to look through both of them.  Food publications have changed drastically over the past couple decades in style and format.  Perhaps the biggest change I noticed was the complete lack of web addresses in the 1993 issue.  "Need more information?  Call this phone number and we will be happy to assist you." Ah, how times have changed.  I am happy to report, however, that the recipes are still delicious, and retroactively now found online.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reubens - March 19, 2012

As promised, Monday's dinner consisted of Reuben sandwiches made from some of our remaining corned beef.  Since I corned my own beef brisket, I didn't feel too guilty using store bought marble rye and sauerkraut.  Although, homemade sauerkraut is definitely on my to do list.

Our Reubens consisted of thinly sliced corned beef, sauerkraut, and baby Swiss on toasted marble rye.  Nick and I omitted the thousand island dressing mostly because we're not huge fans, and I didn't want to buy a whole bottle for the little we would have used on our sandwiches.  I suppose I could have looked into making a small batch of my own, but really, the sandwiches were delicious even without it.  Sacrilegious?  I'm sure to some, but Nick and I are rarely purists.

I have just enough corned beef left to do up a batch of red flannel hash tonight.  And with our overcast, rainy day, it will be a perfect dinner.  Looking back, I do wish I would have made more corned beef.  Jaime was right, the best part is the leftovers!
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Monday, March 19, 2012

Corned Beef - March 17, 2012

In the true spirit of this blog, Jaime's post last year about corned beef inspired me to try my hand at it for St. Patrick's Day this year.  In her post, Jaime mentioned that she purchased her beef already corned, but that she wanted to try a DIY the next time she made it.  Honestly, I'd never thought about corning my own beef.  Truth be told, despite my partially Irish heritage, I'd never even tried corned beef.  I blame it on the name, which invokes images of the deli classic, olive loaf, in my head.  You know the one...a bologna type concoction with green olives buried sporadically within it.  Anytime I heard "corned beef" I thought of this, except in my mental image, I replaced the bologna with beef, and the olives with corn kernels.  I did not find this to be very appetizing.

But, as you all already know, it turns out that corned beef is actually nothing like what I had pictured.  According to Harold McGee, my trusty food science resource, the "corn" in corned beef comes from the English word for grains and in this case is referring to the "grains" of salt used in the curing process.  So, corned beef is simply beef brisket cured in a salt brine for a period of several days and then boiled.  This sounds much better, doesn't it?

A week before St. Pat's, I got started on the process.  I consulted several sources, both online and in person, and decided to follow Michael Ruhlman's recipe.  I purchased a two pound beef brisket, made up my pickling spice, and prepared my brine.  Now, all of the brine recipes I looked at, including the one I chose to use, called for something called pink curing salt (or saltpeter, as in Alton Brown's recipe).  This was an unfamiliar ingredient to me, so I did a little research. 

Saltpeter is potassium nitrate, while pink curing salt is sodium nitrite.  Both of these chemicals help prevent rancidity; cause the bright pink color associated with corned beef; provide specific flavor; and suppress bacterial growth, including botulism.  While all of this is good, they can also react with food components to form potential carcinogens, and the same chemical process that causes the bright pink color in the beef (binding to the iron atom in myoglobin) can also occur inside us, binding to our hemoglobin and preventing oxygen uptake, if ingested directly.* While the cancer risk is extremely low and the risk of accidental ingestion is almost non-existent if one is conscientious in the kitchen, it is important to be informed.  Armed with the facts, I decided that, while it's possible to brine brisket using just kosher salt, and I'm sure the results would be delicious, it just wouldn't be corned beef.  What the hell, Nick and I sometimes like to live dangerously, so I dropped by Clancey's and they sold me about two teaspoons worth of pink curing salt...the perfect amount for my recipe, complete with all the necessary safety advice.    

I couldn't be happier with the results.  The beef is the perfect shade of bright pink and tastes delicious.  Nick and I served it with boiled cabbage and potatoes, plus some Irish soda bread for our St. Pat's dinner.  We also broke out the Jameson in celebration.  Tonight, we feast on Reubens, and I also want to save enough to make some red flannel hash.


McGee, Harold; On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen.  pp.173-4

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pineapple Pork Fried Rice - March 15, 2012

Since you all know what Nick and I had for dessert last night, I thought I'd share our dinner as well.  I planned this out the night before, cooking up a batch of brown basmati rice so it could sit in the fridge for 24 hours.  This is the minimum amount of time you need to let the rice sit, although it works even better if you have an extra day or two.  If you try to make fried rice with freshly cooked rice, you get a mushy, clumpy mess.  Ask me how I know.

With the rice made ahead, I began last night's dinner by scrambling some eggs in oil in a hot pan.  Once the eggs were cooked, I removed them from the pan, added more oil, tossed in my rice and fried it for a couple minutes.  After adding the cooked eggs back to the pan, I tossed in some chopped celery, pineapple cubes, and some shredded pork (also pre-cooked).  This fried for another few minutes or so until everything was warmed through.

We seasoned with toasted sesame oil and tamari.  It was pretty good.  I mean, it was no Chinese take-out or anything (probably due to the missing MSG), but it had a mild, fresh flavor.  The pineapple was great and I'm glad I thought to throw in some celery at the last minute, as it brought a welcome color and crunch.  In the future, I may try to remember to have scallions on hand and add a bit of minced, fresh ginger for some added kick.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day! - March 14, 2012

That's right Dinner Clubbers, it's 3/14 once again.  What better reason to bake a pie than in celebration of this math-centric holiday?  I just pulled this beauty out of the oven.  It's my first coconut cream pie, and the first time my meringue has been anywhere near this successful.

Behold the fluffiness, the gently toasted peaks.  I used the recipe for coconut cream pie in my Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book.  I also followed their directions for four egg white meringue to a T (except I didn't beat the whites for the full four minutes as described, stopping after about two and a half once I had stiff, shiny peaks).

This beauty will cool on the rack for about an hour.  Then I'll pop it in the refrigerator to chill all day.  Nick and I will tuck into this baby for our dessert tonight.  I can hardly wait.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Weekend Project: Home Brew - March 10, 2012

Well, well, well, it seems Nick and I have finally jumped on the home brewing bandwagon.  Or, if truth be told, jumped back up on it after a botched attempt about 10 years ago where Nick created a very light and refreshing celery flavored beer in his Madison apartment.  For his birthday, I got Nick the *Deluxe* Brewing Starter Kit with Glass Carboys from Northern Brewer, since he had failed to win the one offered as the grand prize drawing at the Northern Brewer kiosk at Snowgrade.  Armed with his super-fancy starter kit, excellent advice from his brother Greg (an experienced home brewer), a 'Smashing Pumpkin Ale' kit, and me as his "sous brew," he got to work on Saturday.

Why the decidedly not seasonal pumpkin ale?  Because Nick lovingly and nostalgically speaks of a pumpkin ale we enjoyed, sitting out in the sun, at Elysian's Tangletown Pub in Rima's Seattle neighborhood a couple of autumns ago.  And, because for your birthday you should get whatever the hell you want, no questions asked. That said, I'd like to thank the guys at Northern Brewer for making this kit up for me specially, since, understandably, it wasn't currently stocked on their shelves.

After the initial flurry of work, the beer is now sitting in it's first carboy, happily fermenting away.  It will remain here for about two more weeks before we transfer it to carboy number two for secondary fermentation, which should take about another two weeks.  After that we will bottle it, where it will condition for one to two more weeks.  Then, assuming all goes well, we will raise chilled glasses of pumpkin ale in a toast to spring!
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Monday, March 12, 2012

Mushroom Beef Risotto - March 2, 2012

I debated not posting this, because the picture really does look like a can of dog food. Sorry about that! It smelled and tasted divine, but this dish isn't going to win any beauty contests.

I think I've posted elsewhere that Richie really liked Buddy Valastro, a.k.a. "The Cake Boss" of the cable channel TLC's show of the same name. I don't know if it is the Italian in my husband that finds Buddy so appealing, but even I find the guy kind of endearing, especially when he yells out "It's GO time!" and "Hoboken style, baby!" He has a new show called "The Kitchen Boss" which showcases his family recipes ("mia famiglia," he says). We have then taped on our DVR and often watch an episode or two while I'm getting our own dinner ready in the evenings. It is kind of fun to have Buddy in the kitchen with us!

I have to admit that none of his recipes have been blockbusters, though his lasagna recipe is my current go-to when I need to bring a dish somewhere or feed a crowd whose dietary tastes I don't know. The most recent one we wanted to try was his "Mushroom Beef Risotto," from the episode charmingly titled "It's All in the Wrist." Richie doesn't like mushrooms much, but if they are chopped small and he can't notice their texture he's OK. I apparently didn't get these chopped up small enough because he still picked out most of them. More for me!

Hartman Garden - March 12, 2012

Remember those seeds I planted last month? They are now honest-to-goodness plants, living on my desk! From left to right, we have beefsteak tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, Antoni Romani peppers, and Italian basil.

Officially, the spring planting season for our area is still at least a few weeks off, but it has been so warm this winter/spring (highs in the 70s all week) that my green thumb is really itching! I've actually already planted a few cold-loving things in containers on the deck. Repeating from last year, we've got peas, spinach, lettuce, and arugula. New in the Hartman garden in 2012: radishes, celery, and carrots. We are also prepping some of the yard for our expanding gardening efforts. I'm planning on planting some more peas and also cucumbers along the side of the house. It is south facing and should be pretty good, until the creped myrtle trees fill in. I appreciate the shade when it comes to our cooling bill, but am afraid they will hurt the later season cucumbers. Can't win!

I'm not exactly sure where the tomatoes and peppers are going to end up. We have a few areas sketched out in the backyard but the soil is really sandy and rocky and there is even less sun back there, so I don't know how this will work. Stay tuned!!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Town Hall Brewery Dubbel - Feb 26, 2012

On a tip from Greg, Nick and I stopped by Town Hall Brewery a couple weekends ago.  Greg told us about barrel aged beer week, where, and maybe this is self-explanatory, Town Hall tapped a new barrel-aged brew each day of the week.  We were able to try the Tumultuous Rare (wheat wine aged in Eagle Rare Bourbon barrels), Barrel Monkey (double IPA aged in Buffalo Trace barrels), and Twisted Jim (barley wine aged in Jim Beam barrels), our favorite of the bunch.  Unfortunately, we arrived before they had tapped the Czar Jack (Russian-style Imperial stout aged in Jack Daniels barrels) and after they had run out of Buffalo Bock (Weizenbock aged in Buffalo Trace barrels).  We opted out of the Wee Jack because Nick isn't a huge fan of Scotch ales. 

None of these beers were available to bring home (unless you had a 'golden ticket' pre-purchased at some point prior to the event, which we did not, because we are not hip to these things), so we brought home a growler of the Dubbel instead.  I liked this quite a bit, but then I'm a sucker for anything Belgian.  It was spicy and warm and caramel-y.  If you'd like a smarter description you can check out it's reviews on Beer Advocate
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sunchoke-Leek Soup - March 3, 2012

Inspired by a soup I had at Laurelhurst Market when Nick and I were in Portland last month, this homemade sunchoke and leek soup was delicious.  To make it, I simply replaced the potatoes with sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) in my favorite potato-leek soup recipe.  It worked perfectly and the resulting soup had a great sunchoke-y flavor.  Sometimes a simple ingredient switch is incredibly refreshing.

And, just a little something to accompany a post about soup...I found this Red Wing Pottery Bob White covered casserole at the thrift store last week.  It's in decent shape and makes an excellent soup tureen.  I really like the mid-century design, and love that it was made right here in Minnesota.
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Friday, March 09, 2012

Hoisin-Glazed Meatloaf - March 2, 2012

This recipe is from the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit that Nick and I have been perusing for dinner inspiration.  I don't remember the last time I made meatloaf, but this recipe, with it's mildly Asian flavors, seemed like a great reintroduction to the classic comfort food.  Actually, the recipe was supposed to be put together as a sandwich, cleverly billed as a 'bahn meatloaf' by the magazine.  We skipped the sandwich part, but did make the accompanying salad to serve alongside.

Things got a little messy in the oven, but I remembered to put this on a cookie sheet, which contained things nicely.  In another clever move, I made my own hoisin sauce for this, because I didn't have any on hand.  It worked out perfectly and I will make my own from now on rather than buy those big bottles that I can never seem to get through before the expiration date.

This was delicious and made quite a bit, so we've been working on finishing up the leftovers.
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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Coffee-Rubbed Skirt Steak with Blue Cheese and Polenta - March 1, 2012

Nick and I were able to get a third meal (see the first and second) out of our Clancey's skirt steak.  This one was very simple and involved reheating the already cooked steak strips and cooking a little polenta.  We added some interest by garnishing with blue cheese, fresh rosemary, and a drizzle of olive oil.  This dinner was delicious, although my favorite of the bunch is still the skirt steak taco.
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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Cacio e Pepe - Feb 23, 2012

This recipe is from the May 2011 issue of Bon Appetit 'Pasta Perfect' spread. Nick and I needed a fast dinner last week and this fit the bill, as pasta so often does. Like most Italian food, this recipe is quite simple with minimal ingredients, most of which can be found in any pantry. I made one substitution and used additional Pecorino cheese for the Grana Padano the recipe called for, which I'm sure made for a less creamy sauce. I also made one addition, adding some fresh rosemary to season. This was amazingly flavorful considering the lack of ingredients, just pasta, butter, pepper, cheese, and, in our case, rosemary. The keys to a successful bowl of pasta are laid out in the magazine article, and they really do make a difference. The two that I find make the biggest improvement in quality include generously salting the pasta water, and significantly under cooking the pasta (I cut my boiling time in half compared to the directions on the package to allow for the additional cooking time in the pan) to make sure the end result is al dente.
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