Monday, October 31, 2011

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween!  Unlike most people, it's not about the sweets when I first think of Halloween's culinary delight, it's the pumpkin seeds.  It's not that much work to separate the seeds and flesh- use a colander and squeeze the seeds free, rinse well and pick off the large pieces of pumpkin.  Lay out on a cookie sheet to dry overnight.  Fire up the oven to 325F.

Usually I will make them a bit spicy with smoked paprika and chili de arbol.  This time around, it was cumin and garlic.  Mix it all up in a small bowl, then spread evenly on a sheet pan and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring twice after 10 and 20 min, until lightly browned.  Will keep at room temp for a few days to snack on almost every time you walk past them. 

For about 1 3/4 C pumpkin seeds, I eyeballed about the following-
1/2 ts cumin
1/2 ts garlic powder
1/4 ts kosher salt
1/4 ts black pepper

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pretzel Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Dijon Ale Reduction

Instead of the usual fall sausages around the time of Oktoberfest, this year needed an update.  No brats or kraut, we've pounded our fair share of that down the pipe this summer.  If you're from Wisconsin, your fair share is almost double that of non-residents.  That is fair.  I've always wanted to make my own schnitzel, but when you have Resi's nearby, and this 'more recent' place across the street, it's too easy to let them do it for you.  By the way, that's letting them do it the way they have been for decades.  Their ancestors back in the Motherland going on centuries.  So let's start by keeping the pork as the main focus- and then add some German/Austrian influence.  Do Germans like beer? I believe they and the Czechs always lead the world in liters per person consumption.  Mustard? Of course.  The pretzel was born in Bavaria somewhere.  Or at least that's how the story on wiki is told, if you wanna believe it.  It's not a certified piece of information like an encyclopedia.  The memory of using those things makes me feel oooold.  And the taste of this pork loin with a pretzel crust, drizzled with ale mustard sauce makes me feel gooood. 
I recommend small pretzels sticks or twists to maximize the surface ratio of tasty browned pretzel bits to not browned pretzel bits.  I doubled the recipe to accommodate 2 tenderloins, as I needed some leftover porky goodness to serve others.  Do the math if you only want to prepare 1 tenderloin.  I didn't find time to brine the pork, but that would be a lovely touch if you did.  A simple solution of salt, sugar, half a beer, some garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs would complement well.  Speaking of ratios, this book (and now an app version) is a great read.

What is the best part of making this German pub-worthy meal at home? You don't have to drink Spaten or Hofbrau or Paulaner off the tap, if you prefer not to imbibe that way.  I must be getting old, but I can't handle the tap German beers anymore.  Which at a summer festival in a German neighborhood with giant beers and sausages, lederhosen, and polka bands everywhere, it's not easy to find an alternative.  The dark stuff, the light stuff, it all ends the same- me feeling like I was run over by a BMW on the autobahn, head-first.  A bottle of Goose Island Harvest Ale was sooooo much better.  You know what else I have liked lately? Cider! Just kidding, I haven't jumped on that bandwagon, (and don't plan on it) but cider has become the latest beverage.  I'll stick to some seasonal brews, and a year round favorite in this delicious IPA
Pretzel Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Dijon Ale Reduction
6-8 servings

For the beer mustard sauce-
1/3 C pale ale
5 whole black peppercorns
1 medium shallot, diced (bout 2 TB)
1 C heavy cream
1 TB dijon mustard
1 ts grainy mustard

For the protein-
1/2 C AP flour
2 pork tenderloins, about 1 lb ea
2 TB pale ale
1 TB dijon mustard
2 large eggs
1 C crushed pretzels

Fire up the hotbox to 350F, season the meat with S&P and let come to room temp.  Bust out your breading pans- I find 9" pie pans work great.  Add the flour to one and season with a sprinkle of S&P.  Add the eggs, beer, and mustard to another, whisk with a fork to combine.  Roll the loins in flour, shake off the excess, then dredge in the egg mixture, letting any superfluous run off.  On a rimmed sheet pan, lay out the pretzels and then place the loins on top, rolling around and pressing to adhere the pretzel to the pork.  Place onto another sheet pan lined with parchment paper, for easy clean up.  If you don't have any parch no worries, just more elbow grease.  Similar to grilling pork tenderloin, fold in the tapered end by a couple inches or so to form an even loin, so it does not overcook.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until temp reaches 155F at the thickest part- then let rest for 5-8 minutes before slicing.

While the tenderloins are baking, add the pale ale (or as close as you can get) to a medium saucepan.  Toss in a pinch of peppercorns and the shallot.  Reduce by half over medium-high heat, then strain to remove the pepper and shallot, return to the saucepan and turn down the heat to medium-low.  Add the mustards and then the cream, slowly while stirring.  Simmer until reduced a bit  further- not quite by half, until desired consistency.  Season with S&P to taste.  Spoon over sliced pork and Prosit!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Broccoli Mac and Cheddar

Was the last time you made mac and cheese from a blue box?  It doesn't have to be like that, to quote a great band.  It's quite simple actually.  Boil some pasta, make a sauce with just a few ingredients, combine those two and then bake in the oven.  Sprinkle some crunchy stuff on top if you wanna get fancy.  Making your own mac and cheese is easy and downright fun!  Now, we know it has a bit of cheese and a touch of butter, it's not a light meal.  It's a meal to be eaten with pajamas, slippers, and possibly a blanket while on the couch.  It's for those days that are cold, rainy, and windy (like right now).  Although that's not to say you can't squeeze some health into it, by adding broccoli we gain a serving of one of the most healthiest foods you can eat, and by burying it in cheese and pasta you don't have to taste it, if you're like me.  I have learned to like cauliflower, and I can eat a small portion of broccoli as an adult, but I still don't have to say it tastes good.  Unless, I make this broccoli mac and cheese or use the vegetable to scoop all the cheese sauce out of the can with the pull-top lid.

While the dish bakes in the oven, you will find plenty of time to throw together a dinner salad or fire up some protein for a well-rounded meal.  The leftovers freeze well for a quick side dish or frozen lunch. 

One of my favorite childhood casseroles was the hot dog and mac and cheese bake.  Some cut up encased meats of various sources, Kraft, some brown sugar and yellow mustard.  And the best part- the crushed potato chips on top.  I'm sure you have your own favorite mac and cheese, perhaps it's time to eat your veggies too?

Broccoli Mac and Cheddar
6-8 servings
2 TB butter
3/4 C panko bread crumbs
4 C milk (I use 2%)
6 cloves garlic, whole
1/4 ts black pepper
1 lb cavatappi
1 head broccoli, trimmed, cut into small florets
3 TB butter
3 TB flour
4 C sharp cheddar cheese
2 ts dijon mustard
pinch chili flake
S&P to taste

Fire up the heater to 350F.  Melt 2 TB butter in small skillet over medium-low heat, then add the bread crumbs.  Stir often while toasting for 1-2 minutes, until lightly browned.  Set aside. 

In a medium saucepan, warm the milk on a back burner with the garlic cloves and black pepper.  Heat up your (salted) pasta cooking water, add the pasta when the milk is hot but not boiling and your oven is preheated.  After three minutes, add the broccoli to the cooking pasta. 

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, melt the 3TB butter and then add the flour.  Whisk constantly to form a golden-colored roux, about 3 minutes.  With the garlic cloves removed, add in the milk gradually while whisking, until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the mustard chili flake, and shredded cheddar, remove from heat and stir to melt the cheese and make one hell of a tasty sauce.

When the pasta has cooked to al dente, not too soft, drain and add to a baking dish, evenly dispersing the broccoli.  Cover with the cheese bechamel, making sure to squeeze some in every nook and cranny possible.  Top with the toasted panko, and slide into the oven for about 30-35 minutes until bubbly hot, serve immediately for best effect. 

Looks like your standard m&c from afar, but there's green vegetables hiding in there!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cranberry Lemon Bars

I love many days like Christmas, Thanksgiving, my birthday, her birthday, New Year's Eve, St. Patty's Day, opening day of baseball, and the day I get my automatically deposited tax return.  But my day is one of my favorite.  A majority of the 365 days of the year are pretty good.  But this one day is special- adult hookey, an escape from the usual, a stunt pulled on an ordinary middle of the week day.  My day is exactly that- whatever the   I want to do.  Last year it was fishing.  I hopped on the bike and grabbed my portable gear and headed to the lake, a morning spent not logging in but getting my line wet.  A couple of little guys, but at least I didn't get skunked.  A poor day fishing is better than any day at work.  I recall a fantastic day-of-me a few years ago when we both called in to the man, grabbed some delicious picnic provisions from here, a book and a couple magazines, the battery-powered radio (at that time, may his Cubbie soul finally rest at peace when the curse is broken) to listen to Pat and Ron on the WGN720 AM mothership, maybe a Miller High Life or two for refreshment, and took advantage of one of the best places on earth- Chicago's lakefront.  Thanks Daniel.  Brilliant!

The duck out of the office on a random Tuesday this year was similar, although now it's later in the year and in the NLCS, so the Cubs have been far removed from competition at this point.  By about 4 months.  The radio was therefore left at home.  We still brought the magazines and what is now called a 'Nook'.  The food this time was homemade and a nod to the quintessential picnic food- cold fried chicken, with cheese and crackers, grapes, strawberries, and half the bottle of Pinot Gris from the night before.  You would have thunk that would induce a short nap, but instead it yielded to some free time in the kitchen after my add kicked in from being too still.  I've had this recipe bookmarked for some time now, waiting until fall to bake these cranberry bars with a shot of lemony tartness and a hint of orange.  Maybe on your day-of-you there will be some time leftover to make these.  Or maybe you'll be too busy cleaning bigger fish.  

I don't bake much.  I rarely make sweets, and this is no exception.  The sugar tones down the sour some in this recipe, but the lemon and the orange certainly pucker it up, which for me is the goal of this dish.  We're celebrating fall with some cranberries, tart and refreshing with a generous buttery shortbread base and crumb, a licious combination.  It's quick to throw together and very economical.  So your cheap ass without much time can easily make this.  Get after it. 

Cranberry Lemon Bars
20-22  bars

For the dough-
3 C AP flour
1 ts baking powder
1 C white sugar
1/2 ts kosher salt
zest of 1 large lemon
zest of 1/2 medium orange
8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cubed (stash in the freeze for 10 min)
1 large egg
1 ts vanilla
2-5 TB of cold water
For the filling-
2 1/2 c frozen cranberries
1/2 c + 2 TB white sugar
juice from 1 large lemon
2 T corn starch

Fire up the heater to 375F. In a large bowl or in your food pro, add the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and lemon and orange zest. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry blender or pulse to crumble the dough into small pieces. Move crumbles to a stand mixer and add in the egg and vanilla. Stir on low to combine, then add in the water 1 tablespoon at a time- just until the dough comes together- you may need just a couple or all 5 TB.  Turn out on your board or the counter and divide into halves.  Spread one half into a buttered 9×13″ pan and set aside the remaining dough for the topping.

In a medium bowl, mix the filling ingredients until combined.  Pour evenly over the dough, then crumble the remaining dough over top. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and your kitchen smells all lovely.  Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Buffalo Burgers

Times they are a changin'.  There's a new grocery store in the hood.  Of course it's more expensive than my preferred shop.  But that place didn't carry some items, like ground buffalo.  As soon as I discovered this, I knew some burgers had to get up on that grill.  Buffalo is healthy, tasty, and leaner than beef.  Typical burgers made from beef would be close to an 80/20 lean meat to fat ratio, to ensure they are mouth-wateringly juicy.  These buffburgers, due to their lack of natural fat, got topped 'cowboy' style to keep up with the calories.  And make them extremely delicious.  Cowboy, or western style, is sharp cheddar cheese, sauteed red onion, your favorite bbq sauce, and a couple slices of bacon.

It's nice to have choices.  Conveniently, two grocery stores equidistant from my house, both with their unique advantages.  One is for thrift, the other is for going beyond the norm- like buffalo burgers.  The only drawback?  Another store layout to master- I hate having to learn a new store and spending 6 minutes looking for something I know at the usual place is right in aisle 2, halfway down on the right side, just past the rice, second shelf from the bottom. 

If you've never had buffalo, or bison, give these a try.  It's like a steak burger or a grass-fed beef burger, it certainly is not gamey and hell no it doesn't taste like chicken.  It tastes like a giant hairy animal should, and that is a good thing.

Buffalo Burgers
3 servings

1-2 TB minced onion or shallot
1/2 ts kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1 lb ground buffalo
6 strips bacon
1/4 C bbq sauce
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
cheddar cheese slices
kaiser rolls or any hamburger buns

In a large mixing bowl, add the onion, S&P and ground buffalo.  Mix gently until just combined, do not overmix or press firmly at any time.  Gently shape into 3 patties. 

Fry up the bacon until crisp in a skillet, then saute the onion in the bacon fat until desired doneness. 

Fire up the grill, an indoor grill pan, or a heavy-bottom skillet (cast iron).  Cook over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side for medium, that's the way I like it.  Cooking time will depend on how you like it, and the thickness of your patties vs. the heat of your fire. 

Top with cheese, bacon, onion, and bbq sauce. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bacon Mayonnaise

If you've never tried to make your own mayonnaise, you're missing out.  It's quite simple and absolutely delicious, well worth the extra effort if you've got a couple minutes to give that lunch sammich a touch of special.  I usually use a decent extra virgin olive oil, nothing too fruity that would overpower the condiment.  Here, we swap out the oil for a flavored fat- bacon fat.

This could only be used for a BLT sandwich, quite possibly the best meal on earth.  So after you fry up some bacon, hopefully you got about a half cup of liquid (but not hot) fat leftover to make this mayo.  If you don't quite have 1/2C, you can use a bit of neutral tasting oil to get there, which will obviously tone down the bacon flave a bit. 

Bacon Mayonnaise
about 1/2 C

1 ts lemon juice
1/2 ts kosher salt
1/8 ts black pepper
1 large egg yolk
1/2 C liquid (but not hot) bacon fat

To the bowl of your food processor, add the lemon juice, S&P, and the egg yolk.  With the motor running, (tilting the whole thing if needed for the blade to touch) add the fat dropwise for minute, until you begin to see the emulsification into the egg.  This needs to literally be done by the drop for the first few TB's, a critical step towards building the mayo.  Once you get it going, then you can start adding a bit more, almost a tiny stream.  Once you get halfway through the bacon fat, the rest can be added in a steady but slow stream.  This process might take 3-5 minutes, depending on your set up.  If you want to go old school and use some elbow grease and a whisk, there's a link below for that method, along with gorgeous pictures from Donna and the always eloquent writing from Michael Ruhlman.  
This bacon mayo isn't store bought mayo with bacon salt or bacon bits, this is the real deal.  Homemade mayonnaise is easy and so much better than the standard Hellmans, which is good in its own right.  One of my favorite authors has a fantastic post on homemade mayo. 

If you have one of those plastic squirt bottles for sauces/condiments, I have found it fits nicely in the hole of my food pro and delivers the fat one drip at a time.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple Bacon Cheddar Nut Muffins

I am trying to get into fall, I really am- if only the weather would cooperate.  I'm ready for the transition to cooler weather, I am drooling to make a batch of this in my slippers, which partly inspired these muffins.  Who am I, though, to complain about a week stretch of nothing but sunny skies, daytime highs a degree or two near 80, but it's making it hard to think about my Halloween costume.  Which can't be taken lightly in this household- for some, it's a year-long activity.  Every five days or so, year round, there's an update to the next great idea or something else related to what would be a sweet Halloween costume.  Last year was pretty good, the year before that was no where near hilarious.  I'm running out of time and my bag of ideas has a hole in it.  Robert Smith of the Cure was probably my best work, a thousand years ago when I was 12 or 13.  Whose tapes I still listen to.  So as I continue to procrastinate and blame the nice weather as reason to think we're still in September, I give you these muffins. What was your favorite costume? Got any ideas for me?? Leave it in the comment!  I'm feeling some pressure here. 

An awesome, homemade gift idea for a baker is the gift of vanilla beans and alcohol, after sitting for 12 months in a cool, dark spot.  It's dead simple- put 4 good quality vanilla beans, split lengthwise, in a small, airtight jar...some cruets are good size, there will be solid choices at any container store.  Add about 1.5 C pure ethanol or some good vodka to the jar, and wait.  You will then have some kick ass homemade vanilla extract. 

You know what's a pain in the ass? Muffin tins.  They stick together all the time, the colors might clash with my food, it's just a nightmare.  Here's a better idea- after you fry the bacon, soak up some of the fat with paper towel, as you probably would anyway as standard operating procedure to clean the best instrument ever for frying bacon- a cast-iron skillet, which of course is never washed with soap, rarely with water, always wiped clean with fat, cleaning the skillet and providing a seasoned grease layer to keep the oxidizing air off your metal.  A wipe down every month or so with vegetable oil also helps, during a stretch of non-use.  Use the paper towel to deliciously grease the muffin pan. 

These muffins have a fantastic play between sweet and savory- the sugar and the fruit combines with some old friends in bacon, cheddar cheese, green onions and walnuts.

Apple Bacon Cheddar Nut Muffins

2 C AP flour
2 ts baking powder
1/2 ts kosher salt
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C vegetable oil
1 ts vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 C diced apple
1/2 C walnut pieces
2 TB green onion
1/2 C shredded sharp or extra-sharp cheddar
1/2 C buttermilk
freshly cracked black pepper
4 pieces bacon, crumbled

Oven to three five zero, rack is middle. 

Mix the flour, powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Add to a large bowl the oil, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Whisk to combine, then add the two eggs and whisk for thirty seconds.  Add the cheese, apple, walnut, pepper, green onion, and buttermilk to this mixture.  Stir that up until mixed, then add the flour mixture.  Stir with a spoon (half stir, half fold, really) until the flour is incorporated- don't beat the hell out of it or you'll have some tough muffins.

Pour evenly into a greased normal-size muffin pan, the 12 piece.  Top with some of the reserved bacon bits.  Park in the middle of the oven, things will be golden and delicious after about 22-25 minutes.  Does your toothpick come back clean upon insertion?  Turn out onto rack (which is on a cookie sheet to collect crumbs which will be eaten) and let rest at least ten minutes.  Enjoy now or save for the next day, freeze if you want to save any longer than that.  

Serve with any meal you'd like day or night.