Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup with Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Didn't take a pic of final product, so here is Punkin and Oscar!
This is a wonderful fall/winter soup.  There are many recipes available – this one is particularly easy and, if you use vegetable broth – perfect for your vegetarian friends.  I add caramelized pears or apples to the soup as well as using them as garnish.  Finally, the addition of the pumpkin seeds – both sweet and spicy – really gives the crunch you need to keep it interesting. You cannot go wrong with the squash - high in fiber and vitamin A & C – warm and satisfying without a lot of calories.  Additionally I have included several possible garnishes – I recommend using at most two at any given time.

Begin with a 6-pound butternut squash – select one that is rock solid and heavy for its size.  The skin should be matte – a shiny one is a sign that the squash was picked prematurely. It can be stored in a cool, dry place (not a refrigerator), for a month making it useful to have on hand for impromptu meals. Split it lengthwise and remove the seeds. In a pinch, you could also use Butternut Squash puree in lieu of fresh squash – I like the one sold at Williams-Sonoma.

Place the squash, cut side down, on a rimmed 1” deep sheet pan. Add 2 C water and roast in a 350 degree F oven until very tender – about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, drain off any remaining water, and let cool.

Meanwhile in a heavy 12 Quart pot, melt 1 Tb butter, add 2-3 Red Anjou or Bartlett pears which have been cored and cut into ¼” slices. (Alternatively you could use 2-3 apples: Gala, Fuji or Braeburn). Caramelize the pear slices on both sides, about 4-5 minutes total.  Remove the pears and set aside.
Caramelizing pears
 In the same pot, add 3 Tb butter, 2 stalks celery, finely chopped, 1 medium onion, cut into ½” dice – cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 min. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, cook about 30 seconds. Add ½ to 1 C white wine, (apple cider, if using apples); allow reducing to <¼ C while scraping the bottom of the pan.
Cooking the veggies
When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and add to the soup.  Add 2 tsp minced fresh thyme, 2 C chicken, or vegetable stock, half of the pears (or apples), salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until all vegetables are tender.

Using a blender, puree soup in batches until very smooth.  Return soup to pot; add an optional ¼ to ½ C half and half.  Add more broth if needed to reach a desired consistency.
Pureed squash added to the pot
Ladle soup into bowls.  Serve with wine – if you prefer white wine, I would suggest a Viognier, Pinot Gris, Fume Blanc or a very dry Reisling. If you prefer red, then I would suggest a Pinot Noir or Chianti.

Garnish with 1-2 of the following garnishes:
1.     Other half of caramelized pears or apples
2.     Fried crisp bacon bits
3.     Spicy pumpkin seeds. (Recipe to follow)
4.     Drizzle of blue cheese sauce (recipe to follow)

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 C unsalted shelled raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas), and stir until evenly toasted (careful – they will pop!), about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle evenly with 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp kosher salt and ½ tsp (or more) of cayenne pepper. Toss to coat. Transfer to bowl and cool.  Can be made two days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temp.  
Pumpkin seeds pre-toasting
Pumpkin seeds post-toasting
 Blue Cheese Sauce

Mix ½ lb blue cheese and ½ C heavy cream in top of a double boiler.  Melt slowly, mixing as you go.  Keep warm and drizzle into finished soup.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chicken Liver Pate with Chanterelles & Cognac

Chicken Liver Pate with Chanterelles and Cognac
OK – so there is not much low calorie in this recipe – but it does provide some nutritional bonus – high in protein!  Sometimes, you just have to have something very special to kick off that over-the-top dinner.  It is also great when you have a large number of people over for a football game.  Very versatile!

For an inexpensive variation on foie gras – try the chicken livers. I know – they are one of those foods that either incite “Ew, gross!” or “Oh, yeah!” – whatever you do – give them a try and convert to the “Oh wow!” camp. They are especially exquisite when they are pureed into a silky, buttery spread. It is a rich dose of umami spread onto grilled country bread or you favorite crackers – or your finger! This silky-smooth pate is inexpensive and simple to make.  The addition of chanterelle mushrooms and cognac push it over-the-top in flavor and pizzazz. If chanterelles were unavailable, crimini mushrooms would be the best substitute.

Melt 2 Tb butter in a large sauté pan, add 1 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, which have been gently wiped, cleaned and thinly sliced. Sauté until tender and beginning to brown and all juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside.
Sauteed mushroom slices
Melt 4 Tb butter in another skillet over med-high heat.  Add 4 chopped whole green onions and 4 chopped white part only green onions.  Sauté 2 minutes.  Add 1½ pound chicken livers, which have been cleaned and dried.  Stir to coat. Cover and cook until livers are no longer pink in center, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add ½ C dry white wine, 2½ tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp dry mustard, ½ tsp grated nutmeg, ¼ tsp ground cloves.  Simmer uncovered about 1 minute.
Cooking the livers...doesn't look so good yet!
Using slotted spoon, transfer livers to a food processor. Puree 30 seconds. Gradually add wine mixture from skillet; puree until smooth.  Add one 8-ounce package of cream cheese, cut into one-inch pieces, at room temperature, ¼ C Cognac or Brandy, ½ C butter and all but 1/3 C mushrooms.  Puree until blended.
Pureed and looking better!
Transfer pate to serving dish.  Arrange reserved 1/3 C mushrooms on top of the pate. Cover and chill at least 1 day and up to 2 days.  Serve with baguette slices or your favorite crackers.

Once again, I love this appetizer with champagne. Seems everything is great with champagne! However, it is equally spectacular with a variety of red wines: Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course, more Cognac!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wild Rice Salad

Wild rice salad
This salad always always gets rave reviews. My sister, Barbara, encouraged me to try this recipe. I have never been sorry. The flavors are tangy and the texture crunchy.  It is easy to make…really.  A little toasting, a little chopping, some wild rice and you have a great salad that can be made well ahead of any event!

Wild rice is a special type of edible grass and an excellent low fat, high fiber grain.  The rice has a dark chocolate-like color with a nutty, smokey taste due to the outer case it retains after harvesting.  It contains protein and dietary fiber as well as B vitamins and numerous minerals.  It is an excellent source of grain due to its high nutritive value.  Like true rice, it does not contain gluten.

This recipe will serve 6 – 8 and keeps easily for several days in the refrigerator.  Given all these facts, it is a great side dish to many meals and transportable for a summer picnic.

I use my rice cooker to cook the wild rice.  If you do not have one, take 4 C of water, chicken or vegetable broth and 2 tsp salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 1 C wild rice (about 6 oz). Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 45 minutes.  Drain well. 

While the rice is cooking, make the dressing: whisk 2 Tb raspberry vinegar or red wine vinegar, 1 Tb fresh lemon juice, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 tsp Dijon mustard and 1 tsp sugar in a bowl. Alternatively this can be mixed in a blender. While whisking or with blender running, add ¼ C vegetable oil and ¼ C olive oil. Mix thoroughly.

Add about half or more of the dressing to the cooked warm wild rice. Mix thoroughly. Let cool. This can be prepared 1 day in advance if you wish. Cover and refrigerate.
Cooked wild rice with green onions after adding vinaigrette
Once cool, add ½ C finely chopped dried Calimyrna or Mission figs, ½ C chopped toasted pecans (approximately 2 oz), ½ C chopped toasted unsalted cashews (approximately 2 oz.), ¼ C finely chopped green onion tops, 2 Tb finely chopped celery, 2 Tb finely chopped red onion, 1 - 2 fresh corn on the cob, corn cut off. 
....and now with all the good stuff!
Add the remaining salad dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.  You will love it!  I promise.  It is often hard to pair a wine with a salad with vinegar dressing.  As this is often served as a side dish, I would recommend selecting a wine to pair with the main entrée.  But, if you plan to serve this wonderful salad as the main course – and I would encourage you to do so – I would serve with a Pinot Noir, Syrah or a Zinfandel.

Adapted by Larue from a recipe by Rutherford Grill, Napa Valley, California.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Perfect Steak

Mmmmmm....the Perfect Steak!
There are many ways to cook a steak but I have found this particular method perfect every single time and with spectacular flavor.  Trust me on this one and you will not be disappointed.  I have over and under cooked too many steaks on the barbeque – it is simply impossible to control all the variables. You will not lose any of the spectacular beef flavor if you carefully follow these simple steps. The combination of an excellent sear followed by a brief visit to a hot oven and a rest before serving creates the most consistently GREAT steak…each and every time. I have used this method for New York strip steaks, rib-eyes, filet mignon, top sirloin and porterhouse…anywhere from a 1 ½ ” thickness to 2 ½” thick bone-in porterhouse steaks.  

The first critical step to the perfect steak begins at the grocery store with the best product you can get.  Our favorite cut is the rib eye from Meyer Beef. (http://meyernaturalangus.com) It is hormone/antibiotic free, grass-fed vegetarian diet-fed Angus beef.  It is widely available at “natural” grocers as well as online.  However, any similar raised quality beef will work just as well.
Start with great beef

To be honest, I have tried numerous rubs and seasonings and love many of them.  But when we splurge on a truly superior piece of meat – it really needs very little. The flavor is in the beef.  To get the perfect steak, begin cooking after it reaches room temperature. If the outside of the steak is room temp and inside cold – it will not cook evenly. Take them out of the refrigerator about 2 hours prior to cooking!

Pat the steak dry with paper towels – all over.  Our favorite seasoning is a bourbon smoked sea salt and Penzey’s Krakow nights blend*. Odds are good you don’t have these sitting around your pantry – but any coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper will work.  Or, leave me a note in the comment section and I’ll share some of our favorite steak rubs.  Generously salt and pepper both sides of each steak.

Heat oven to 400 degree F (450 degree F, if a single large steak). It MUST be at 400 F before the steaks are cooked so be certain to turn your oven on well in advance of beginning to sear on the stove top.

Heat a HEAVY cast-iron or stainless steel ovenproof pan over med-hi heat until a few drops of water sprinkled in the pan evaporate within 3 seconds. THEN, after the pan is sufficiently hot – coat the bottom of the pan with about 2 tsp grapeseed or canola oil.  This is important – follow the rule of “hot pan, cold oil = no stick”.  Why? The metal of the pan is full of pores that expand when heated and allows the oil to settle in those pores. If you add oil to cold pan the surface tension of the oil is so great that it will "pool" and rest on top of those pores, when you add meat, it’s weight will push the food product into the grain which is not lubricated and your food will stick.
Searing in a heavy pan
The oil will heat quickly in the hot pan – look carefully, it should shimmer. Now add your rib-eye steaks to the pan. DO NOT MOVE THE STEAK!! Let it create the sear.  Regardless of thickness of your steak, it should sear for 2 minutes on each side, flipping only once with tongs.  (See, it did not stick!)

Transfer the steaks, STILL IN THE PAN, into the 400 degree F oven. Roast for 9 minutes; up to 14 minutes for a larger piece for medium-rare (insta-read thermometer of 120-130 degree F). Remove from the oven and place on a cutting board.  Immediately place about ½ Tb room temperature pat of butter on each steak and cover lightly with foil for 5 minutes. DON’T SKIP THIS IMPORTANT STEP!
Don't forget the butter....seriously!
 This resting period is probably the most important part of making the perfect steak.  The meat continues to cook during this period – and the internal temperature will rise about 5-10 degrees. The “rest” also allows time for the juices equilibrate. While the steak cooked – the juices within the steak move to center – as it cools, it allows the same juices to move throughout the steak. If you cut into the steak prematurely, those same juices would just run out onto your cutting board. Don’t skip the butter either – you are eating a steak, a ½ Tb butter will not really increase the caloric intake but will add greatly to the flavor and “mouth-feel” of your finished product.

Once the “rest” has concluded – it is time to serve!  OMG – so, so very good.  It truly needs no adornments. Just serve with a wonderful California Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon, some french fries and a green salad (or maybe an iceberg lettuce/bleu cheese dressing/bacon salad).  It will be the best meal of the year for the hungry carnivore!

Bon Appetit!  Larue

* Penzey’s Krakow Nights:  a Polish style seasoning with salt, pepper, coriander, garlic, mustard, marjoram, savory, sugar and mace.

Lavash Pizza with Smoked Salmon

Lavash Pizza with Smoked Salmon
Lavash pizza with smoked salmon
This is a simple and FAST appetizer to throw together that will impress your guests.  An added advantage – it is low in calories and fat as well as rich in omega-3 fats from the salmon.  While I have always made it the same day it is being served, it is also delicious the next day.

Lavash is a thin Armenian flatbread found at many grocery and heath food stores. See the pic for what it looks like fresh out of the package.
Lavash, an Armenian flatbread
Mix ¼ C drained low-fat plain Greek yogurt, 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1 tsp chopped dill in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. Put a 9-by-12-inch lavash into 375 degree F oven for 8-10 minutes, just until the edges are crisp and browned.  Remove from oven and brush all over lightly with about 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil.

Greek yogurt for the "pizza"
Lavash after baking and brushing with olive oil
Spread the yogurt mixture over the warmed lavash in a thin layer. Top with overlapping slices of smoked salmon (about 5 ounces).  Sprinkle the salmon with 2 tsp chives, 1 tsp chopped fresh dill and a little freshly ground pepper.  Cut up and serve.
Lavash with yogurt and salmon before plating
Super quick, easy and scrumptious!!!

The  red plate I used for serving is from a wonderful ceramicist/potterer, Lisa Neimeth, located in the Bay Area.  I absolutely love all her tableware.  Check it out: http://www.lneimeth.com/