Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

The fall flavors are humming along, with Halloween here to (once again) make food a highlight of a holiday. Food is prominent in Halloween celebrations, you can make scary stuff to emulate guts and eyeballs, make cool punches with dry ice, you could even freeze blocks of ice shaped like severed body parts to keep said punch cool. I mean, we have our youth dress in costumes and walk door to door asking neighbors and strangers to put candy in a pillowcase? And why, do we do this again?

It's too soon for the heavy winter stuff to come out like chili and casseroles, but I'm sure by now you've had plenty of butternut squash soup, (thanks MB) perhaps a simple, warm pasta, maybe some late harvest roasted pears with tasty chunks of blue cheese and toasted pine nuts.

There aren't too many desserts on BLT for a reason. Cheesecake, though, is in the top 6 most-liked desserts. And this recipe is super easy, it tastes like Halloween and good times.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

1 C AP flour
1/3 C brown sugar, packed
5 TB butter, diced
1 C pecans, chopped
8 oz cream cheese
3/4 C white sugar
1/2 C canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 ts vanilla extract
1.5 ts cinnamon
1 ts allspice

In a bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in pecans; set aside 3/4 cup for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture into a greased 8-in. square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. In the bowl of your stand mixer or a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar. Beat in the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice. Pour over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and all delicious. Cool on a wire rack, then cut into bars. Stash leftovers in the fridge.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Apple Cheddar Scones

Are you tired of bagels and muffins? Grown weary of omelets and scrambles? Then these scones are for you!! They are not just relegated to breakfast either, you can enjoy them all day long. I bet they are best within a few hours of baking, though I've never had them last that long to find out.

If you don't have a stand mixer, you could make these by hand- roughly chop the half-baked apples and then stir well with a wooden spoon into the butter, add the rest of the wet, then the dry ingredients. It'll take some elbow grease to mix up, but it should be fine. At some point though, you gotta ask yourself, why don't I have a stand mixer? Hells no.

Apple Cheddar Scones
makes 6 large scones

2 firm, tart apples, such as granny smith
1.5 C AP flour (195 grams)
1/4 C + 1 TB white sugar
1/2 TB baking powder
1/2 ts kosher
6 TB unsalted butter, very cold, 1/2" dice
3/4 C white cheddar cheese (or yellow, if you don't mind the aesthetics)
1/4 C heavy whipping cream
2 large eggs

Fire up the hotbox to three seven five. Place a rack dead center.

Peel the apples and then cut each into sixteenths. That's dividing by half four times, you can cut the last into chunks or slices. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lay out the apple pieces. Bake for about 20 minutes, they will soften and look dry on the surface. Let cool completely by stashing in the freezer while making the dough.

In a large bowl, add the AP flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Sift or whisk together well, then set aside. In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the butter, cooled apple pieces, cream, cheese, and one of the eggs. Sprinkle the flour mixture over while mixing on low, mix until just formed. Do not over mix. Turn out on a surface dusted with flour, and using your hands, shape into a 6" circle, about 1.25" high. A rolling pin can be of assistance if needed, just don't crush the damn thing or press it too much. Handle lightly, and it will love you back. Cut into 6 wedges, then place on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Leave at least 3" between the scones.

Crack the remaining egg in a small bowl and whisk with a pinch of salt. Brush this egg wash on top of each scone, then sprinkle with about a TB of sugar. Bake for 30 minutes or until nicely golden brown and all delicious looking, then cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Well, 8 minutes might be all you can wait.

You gotta be excited with those chunks of apples and butter....

If you have some apple or pumpkin butter handy, you're feeling pretty good about now.

This is a good start to an October weekend morning. Fall isn't so bad after all.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

THE Steak Sandwich

Sandwich. That's my favorite word in the entire world. Seriously, they are sofa king good. What else would this blog be named after? This version is super quick, cheap, and tasty, with savory elements abound. It is, after all, THE steak sandwich. The only way you could add more umami would be to sprinkle with some MSG. You shouldn't have any of that, by the way.

I love this steak seasoning. Especially helpful when you grill with gas or inside, as they lovely charcoal flavor is prominent.

You can probably find 10 different grocery stores that have 10 different cuts named sandwich steak- top round, top sirloin, top blade, etc, and some might not even use that label. Find some thin cut that isn't full of marbling, and you should be set. This sammy was cooked using a grill pan on the stovetop, as the steak is so thin, firing up the big boy seemed a bit tedious for the short time denaturing protein with heat. That's cooking, for you right-brained folks.

THE Steak Sandwich
two servings

1 TB butter
1 medium red onion, halved, thinly sliced
6-8 medium cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 ts dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh
1 TB red wine (optional)
1 clove garlic, halved
1 C arugula, packed
1 TB mayo
2 sub rolls or french bread
2 TB crumbled Gorgonzola or good blue cheese
2 sandwich steaks , about 1 lb, about 1/3" thick
truffle oil (optional)

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and then add onion once the foaming has subsided. Cook for one minute, then move onions to the perimeter, place the mushrooms in the middle, let sit and brown for a minute before stirring. Flip and then cook until soft, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once tender, add a splash of red wine and the thyme, season with a touch of S&P. Stir it up and cook for a couple minutes for the wine to reduce.

Trim steak if necessary, then season well. Fire up a grill pan to high heat, coat lightly with canola or veggie oil. Once well preheated, cook on the first side for about a minute, then the same on the flip, or to your likeness. Sandwich steak is so thin, it doesn't take more than a minute. It does take more than a jiffy though.

Grill the bun or french bread pieces in the same pan, for a couple minutes on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and then add a half TB mayo to each bun top, spread that out with a half a garlic clove, rubbing the garlic in tastily.

THE assembly-

Add a bit of arugula to the bottom bun, then top with steak. Add some more arugula, then onto that goes the onion shroom mix, then some gorgonzola. For the almost unnecessary final touch, drizzle with a 1/2 ts or so of white truffle oil.

Wash this down with a Zinfandel or Pinot, or perhaps your favorite red.

This post reminds me of a place I stayed in Vegas, is that trademark infringement?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grilled Acorn Squash with Crispy Fried Sage

What have you been craving in these first few weeks of Fall? A filling, warm soup or comforting casseroles? For about 3 hours the other day, all I could think about was a big plate of butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter. I'm saving that for my next visit to Terragusto. In the meantime, this is a simple, tasty, and nutritious snack.

Acorn squash and butternut squash are fantastic fall root vegetables. And grilling is fun. So......

Grilled Acorn Squash with Crispy Fried Sage
2 servings as a side

1 medium or large acorn squash, halved, cleaned with seeds reserved, rinsed and dried
7 leaves fresh sage
squash seeds, optional

Multiple ways to approach the cooking method- for me it was a beautiful forty minutes spent outdoors with the grill and a Goose Island Harvest Ale. Set it up for about 350 F and grill indirect. You should know how to do that with your charcoal or gas grill. Alternatively, you could roast this in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes to get it started as well. Place cut side up to start on the grill, cut side down on a sheet pan for roasting. Cover with EVOO and S&P in either case.

Once grill or oven-roasted, grill with direct medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes cut side down, then about 5 minutes on the flip.

In a small saute pan over medium heat, warm up a TB or so of EVOO and toss in the sage leaves. Shake it about for a minute or three until nicely crisped, then drain on a paper towel. Turn down the heat a bit and add the squash seeds. You want to get them a little golden brown and then get them off the heat before they start popping all over your stovetop. Not a lot of leeway there, trust me. You might want to have a lid handy?

Drizzle with some good EVOO to finish and a touch of S&P if needed. Top with crispy fried sage leaves.
The seeds will add a great contrast to the smooth, rich texture of the cooked squash. Or, roast them in the oven at about 275 F for a bit, seasoned like pumpkin seeds. Maybe grilled pumpkin is next? Damn this October is sailing....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grilled Carrots with Sage

There was a time when I didn't like carrots. Even in a salad. As with many things, time changes one's perspective. Just like it's been a while since I came home early on a Sunday morning while the sun was just rising and the birds were chirping, it's been a long time since I've refused to eat something cause my childhood says to me 'you know you don't like this'.

Of course some carrot preparations are better than others. My most favorite would be shaved in a green salad. My least favorite is oven- roasted along some pot roast or chicken.

So go ahead and give it a chance, you will enjoy the unusual texture and technique. And tell your childhood that your longstanding culinary no-nos aren't the boss anymore.

Grilled Carrots with Sage
serves four as a side

Handful of carrots- small, large, yellow, orange, whatever
2 TB fresh sage, finely chopped
1 TB good balsamic vinegar

Fire up the grill to medium-high direct, ensure the grates are clean and oiled. If using large carrots, halve them. If medium to small, leave them whole. Peel them if the skin is thick, (usually the larger ones) otherwise don't bother. Trim off the ends, place into a pan or on a baking sheet. Cover with EVOO, toss to coat well. Grill for about 20 minutes, turning a couple times, until lightly charred in spots and soft. The tiny guys might need to be pulled off first or moved to a cooler part of the grill. Sprinkle with S&P and sage, then hit it with a lil bit of balsamic.

Grilled carrots? Sure, you can do that. This method brings out the natural sugars and caramelizes nicely on a hot grill. Pairs nicely with a hunk of dead animal and a nice pour of red house wine.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Grilled Salmon Tacos, Chili Lime Slaw

You know salmon is good for you, and therefore you should have it be a staple of your diet. Most of the summer, it's grilled on cedar planks and usually paired with a lemon-dill sauce. It's a classic for a reason, cause it works. It's simple, quick, and tasty. But just like anything, the repetition can start to make things boring. I suppose if you ate lobster everyday, it would become boring too, but I'd like to test the theory just for scientific purposes anyway. Gotta find some funding for that first.

If you're searching for a different way to get your salmon on, try these tacos. The slaw makes enough to stretch out into extra forkfuls. If you would like a bit more spice, use the entire jalapeno instead of just half. If you would like even more, don't remove the seeds and ribs, just slice up and toss everyone in the pool.

Grilled Salmon Tacos, Chili Lime Slaw
two servings

For the slaw-
1/2 medium red cabbage, core removed, halved, thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 small bell peppers- yellow or red, cored, halved, thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeno, diced
1/2 ts chili powder
1/2 ts fresh black pepper
1/2 ts kosher
1/2 ts old bay seasoning
2 TB lime juice, about 1 lime's worth
2 TB fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Combine, toss well, chill for a minimum of twenty before service.

8 oz. salmon, skin on, one large or two small fillets
1/4 ts old bay seasoning
1/4 ts cumin
1/2 ts chili powder
1 ts kosher
1/4 ts black pepper
creme fraiche or sour cream
couple sprigs cilantro

Combine rub seasonings in a small bowl. Pat salmon dry, if necessary, with paper towels. Rub on the rub. Coat both sides with EVOO, handle carefully to avoid breakage. Chill for ten minutes, then let sit at room temperature for ten minutes while preheating.

Fire up the grill for medium-high direct heat, or a grill pan over the same. Grill flesh side down for 5 minutes, then skin side down for 4 minutes, depending on thickness. When firm and flaky, done. On an outdoor grill I like to start with the flesh side down for easier handling. On the stovetop though, I like to pan fry the skin side down first to crisp that up. Yes, that is not only edible, it is also tasty. Let sit for 3-5 minutes, then cut into chunks.

Warm up your flatbread of choice- tortilla, naan, pita, etc, coat with creme fraiche or sour cream, top with a piece of salmon, then chili lime slaw. For a wine pairing, your options are plenty. May I suggest a Pinot or Zinfandel?

Thanks, Tacos. Life would most likely suck without you.