Monday, February 29, 2016

Salade D'Onglet - Hanger Steak Salad


    I rarely see Hanger Steak on menus in the United States.  It is a pity as it is one of the most flavorful and less expensive cuts of meat.  Called Onglet in French, it is quite a popular cut of meat and one that you will find on many bistro menus.  Back in the day, it was called Butcher's Steak and you could not find it anywhere as it was the cut the butchers kept for themselves.

     I have yet to find Hanger Steak in a grocery store in Pittsburgh. If you like your beef well-done, then Hanger Steak is NOT for you and you can stop reading now. While you should not undercook hanger steak, definitely do not overcook it. Cooked at 125-130 degrees, it is heavenly.  Run, do not walk to your nearest butcher and beg for a pound of it.  In Pittsburgh, I have great success at Strip District Meats.  When we are in the area, we always stop by and buy two or three pounds just to have it in the freezer for when the fix hits us.

     While in France, it is popular to serve this steak, sliced with a shallot or Bearnaise sauce and a mound of frites. In our household, we love Hanger Steak Salad.  Pulled directly from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, it is a special occasion salad. There are several steps but once completed, it is a dish that will astound your family.  You will take one bite, close your eyes and take a moment of silence to savor the flavors.  Seriously, it is that good.

     Now, a bit of advice.  The sauce calls for good quality chicken stock.  Get the best quality you can.  But the real secret is to also use demiglace.  If you have never cooked with this, you are in for a real treat.  Concentrated stock, it really intensifies the flavor of a dish.  If it is hard to find, order it from Amazon.  I have a subscription order, which means that I receive a container each quarter.  I use that much!!  The brand I use is More Than Gourmet DemiGlace.

Salade D'Onglet
From Les Halles Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain

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For the Steak:

12 ounces hanger steak, sliced into 1/2 ounce slices
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 ounces finely chopped ginger
4T soy sauce

For the Sauce:
2T butter
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup good chicken stock
1/4 cup demiglace (If you choose not to use it, shame on you...but then increase the amount of chicken stock to 1/2 cup)
1T soy sauce
1/8 ounce grated ginger
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Pepper and chopped parsley

For the Salad:
5 ounces spring salad mix
1 shallot, sliced
Red Wine Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

In a large Ziploc, combine the marinade ingredients.  Add the hanger steak, seal and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Take out the meat one hour before cooking.  Pat dry.

Melt 1T butter over medium high heat.  Once foam subsides, add meat pieces.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  You can cook these in batches.  Brown on each side, 2 to 3 minutes each.  Remove to plate and continue browning other pieces.  Check one to make sure that the slices are cooked to medium rare.

Once the meat has been cooked, add the white wine to the pan and deglaze, scraping the bottom for all of those great flavors with a wooden spoon.  Once the wine has nearly evaporated, add the chicken stock, demiglace and soy sauce.  Simmer for two minutes; add ginger and garlic and cook 30 seconds.  Whisk in 1T butter and add meat back to pan to warm.

In a large salad bowl, combine salad mix and shallot.  Lightly dress with vinaigrette.

To plate:  Mount a bit of salad in the middle of a dinner plate.  Add several slices of meat around the outside of the salad.  Drizzle sauce over meat.


Red Wine Vinaigrette
Combine 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and one crushed clove of garlic in a bowl.  Season with pepper.  Let mixture sit for 30 minutes.

Remove garlic and add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.  Whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Pork and Shrimp Wontons

     I made wontons!  I made wontons!  I was doing the wonton dance around the kitchen on Saturday night.  Dear Daughter took one bite, nodded her head and smiled.  Success!  It was a good thing that I made extra because she consumed most of them.  This is a super easy recipe and surprisingly, there is an incredible depth of flavor.  Seriously...try these and you will never order them again in a restaurant.  Yours will be so much better.

     The other great thing about this recipe is that you can make a big batch of the filling and freeze what you do not use immediately.  Then whenever the wonton craze hits you (and it will), you will have a stash ready to go.

Pork and Shrimp Wontons

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1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and roughly chopped
1 T Sherry
1 T soy sauce
1 T sugar
1 T finely grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t Sriracha (optional)
1/2 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts
1/4 cup chopped chives
Wonton skins
1 small egg, beaten
cornstarch for dusting
2 c good quality chicken broth
1 t Sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1.  Combine the pork and shrimp in a mixing bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add sherry, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, scallions, chives and Sriracha and mix until well combined.  Pan fry a small amount and check the seasoning.  Adjust if necessary.  Cover filing with plastic wrap, place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  You can also chill this mixture up to 24 hours.

2.  To make the wontons.  Remove a few skins from package and lay them on a dry work surface.  Put 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each square.  Paint edges of square lightly with egg.  Fold one side over to the other, making a rectangle.  Pinch the sides together.  Pull the lower corners down toward each other and pinch together.  It should now look like a traditional wonton.  Place completed wontons on a baking sheet.  Dust lightly with cornstarch.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.

3.  In a pot, heat the chicken broth with sesame oil.  Put chopped cilantro in the bottom of several soup bowls.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, drop in 10 wontons (depending on the size of the pot) and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon to the soup bowls.  Continue with remaining wontons.  Pour a bit of broth over the wontons and serve immediately.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Steak au Poivre


     Remember that Iceberg Wedge Salad from last week?  Keeping with the whole retro dinner idea, I knew that a big juicy steak would be the second course.  I had some lovely grass fed strip steaks that cost me a small fortune.  Wanting to keep Dear Daughter in the kitchen after her recent successes, I asked her what she liked with steak.  Not quite the answer I was looking for, but she indicated that she liked a sauce with steak.  Wait, no potatoes?  "Well, I like any sort of potatoes, but I really like a sauce with steak," she clarified.  "Let's make a sauce and scratch potatoes.   The salad will be the starter and we will have a Friday night, Steak Night."

     Steak au Poivre is basically peppercorn steak.  How you make the steak is fairly uniform.  However, there are many different recipes for the the sauce.  Some call for cream; some do not. Some call for cognac.  Some indicate cognac or bourbon or even red wine.  Get the picture?

     I found this recipe on the great New York Times cooking site. The recipe calls for using creme fraiche, which I had and wanted to use.  Dear Daughter declared it very easy and very delicious. Pair with a favorite side dish or do what we did....just serve the steak with a warmed baguette to sop up all of the sauce!

Simple Steak au Poivre
adapted from David Tanis, NY Times

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4 tenderloin steaks, 6oz each cut one inch thick - I actually used grass fed strip steaks and it was very good.


1T coarsely ground pepper - use black or a mixture of peppercorns.  It is important that the pepper is just crushed not finely ground.

2T unsalted butter

2 shallots, diced

1 cup beef or chicken broth

1T cognac or bourbon (I used bourbon)

1/4 cup creme fraiche

Let steaks sit out of the refrigerator on a plate for 30 minutes or so.  Season with salt and sprinkle the pepper evenly over each steak.  Press pepper into steak with hands and let rest for ten minutes.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Swirl in one tablespoon of butter.  Add steaks and cook  for two minutes on the first side.  Seared side should be nicely browned.  Flip and cook for two more minutes for medium rare.  Place steaks on a warmed plate and cover with foil while you make the sauce.

Add remaining butter to pan.  Once melted, add shallots and cook for one minute.  Add broth and bring to a simmer.  Add alcohol and cook briskly for three to four minutes until sauce is reduced by half.  Stir in creme fraiche and thicken slightly.

Return steaks to pan to warm and spoon sauce over the top.   Plate steaks on a warmed plate and top with sauce.



Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Iconic Wedge Salad


     Ask Dear Daughter what kind of greens we typically have in our refrigerator and she will tell you, "arugula".  If asked to bring a salad to a family event, everyone knows that I made it because it is some variation of an Arugula Salad.  I use it on my sandwiches, sprinkle it on my pizza, serve it on my charcuterie board and even prefer it to basil in my pesto.  I have grown my own arugula and am proud to call myself an Arugula fanatic!

     Think back to when most of us were kids.  What kind of greens did we have in the fridge?  It definitely wasn't arugula nor was it even romaine.  The staple in our household and in many others was the round head of iceberg lettuce.  We shredded it for our tacos, peeled off leaves for BLTs and drenched it in thousand island dressing for our salads.  

      Smithsonian Magazine published an article in 2013 entitled, "Tip of the Iceberg:  Our Love-Hate Relationship with the Nation's Blandest Veggie."  Isn't that what we have with iceberg...almost a secret love-hate relationship.  I cringe when Dear Daughter makes a salad for lunch with iceberg.  "It has no nutritional value," I will exclaim.  Yet, I will reach for it first when dressing my hamburger.  
     Crisphead lettuce, as it was originally called, was a technological breakthrough in food creation.  Introduced commercially in the 1940s, it could actually survive cross country travel.  Before the invention of the refrigerated train car, piles of ice were packed on the pale green lettuce heads and transported from California to parts all across the country, giving it its current moniker, Iceberg.  Back in the day, unless you grew your own, it was THE lettuce.  It was the ONLY lettuce.  

     As we evolved and more options became available, iceberg fell out of favor.  Containing nearly 90% water, it has a fraction of the vitamins as its dark leafy cousins.  But there a sudden resurgence?  Dear Husband returned from a recent business trip indicating that his dinner partner at a fancy DC steakhouse had recently ordered the Iceberg Wedge.  Well, it is DC and it is a steakhouse.  Perhaps, it was just a fluke.  

     Who knows for sure but the idea of the Iceberg Wedge was planted in my head.  Not long after, I was consumed with perfecting the Iceberg Wedge.  No commercially purchased dressing; only the best bacon, Maytag Blue or Roquefort...those were my most pressing matters.

     Don't be embarrassed.  You secretly love the cool crunch of iceberg.  You love its blandness, which allows other flavors to shine while it lends a certain texture.  Go out today and proudly buy a head of iceberg lettuce.  Celebrate your childhood!  Shred it for some tacos.  Put in on your tuna salad sandwich.  Better yet...make this Iconic Wedge Salad.


Iceberg Wedge Salad

Monday, February 15, 2016

Fettuccine with Truffle Butter Sauce


     This is one of my favorite dishes and like so many of my favorites, it consists of only a few ingredients, is super easy and tastes like you have been slaving in the kitchen for hours.  While it is perfect for a special occasion, it is so easy to make that you may find that it becomes your "go-to" pasta dish.    I wish I could say that I developed this recipe myself but I cannot.  All the credit needs to go to Ina Garten.

     So I digress.  In a former life, I handled HR for an investment management firm.  The founder of the firm always had a yearly retreat for the staff.  While it was primarily meant to be a team building event, I have always thought that its secondary mission was just to get everyone out of the office and let loose a bit.  One evening, there had been discussion about "going into town" after dinner.  Sitting in a van, I remember listening to the founder, my boss, talk about a friend of his, Jeffrey, who was a professor (or a dean) at Yale.  My boss was extremely passionate about his work and more often than not, his conversations would lean towards investments.  He continued his story and at one point may have mentioned being at Jeffrey's house when suddenly it dawned on me.  Jeffrey is Ina's husband.  My boss knew Ina's husband!  Forget the story about investments, I wanted to know all about Ina!  It was probably a good thing that I was good at my job...and that my job centered around HR...because I quickly pointed the conversation away from Jeffrey and onto the Barefoot Contessa!

     So, the recipe...Ina makes it with a specific type of pasta which I never seem to be able to find.  So, I substitute Fettuccine.

Fettuccine with Truffle Butter
From Ina Garten

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Ingredients for 2 servings

1/2 cup heavy cream
3 oz white truffle butter (I have also used black truffle butter.)
8 oz fettuccine
3 T fresh chopped chives
3 oz Parmesan

Bring a pot of water and 1T salt to a boil.

In a medium saute pan, heat the cream over medium heat until it comes to a simmer.  Add truffle butter and 1t salt and 1/2t pepper.  Heat over very low heat, swirling the butter around in the pan until it melts.  Keep warm.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.  Drain, keeping one cup of the pasta water.   Add the drained pasta to the truffle butter cream sauce.  As the pasta absorbs the sauce, add a bit more pasta water until the dish is very creamy.

Transfer to warmed pasta dishes and garnish with chopped chives and shavings of Parmesan.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cassoulet in Carcassonne

     If you have never heard of Cassoulet, you are missing one of the greatest dishes of all time.  I have always wanted to take a short trip to a specific location just to have the dish of the region.  Last December, my wish came true.  We left Belgium on a Saturday morning, flew to Carcassonne, France to have Cassoulet for dinner and returned home the next day.  It was a fabulous adventure.

      Cassoulet is, in simple terms, a stew of meats and white beans.  That sounds way too is a rich, slowed cooked stew.  This still sounds too simple.  It is heaven in a cassole, the traditional earthenware bowl in which it is cooked and which gave Cassoulet its name.

     Cassoulet comes from the Languedoc region of France, a rugged area of the country.  It is a peasant dish believed to have been developed in the 14th century during the 100 years war in order to feed the French soldiers.  

     The town of Castelnaudary is known as the birthplace of Cassoulet but Cassoulet is also associated with the towns of Toulouse and Carcassone.  Proper Montagni in "Le Festin Occitan" declared, "Cassoulet is the God of Occitan cuisine.  The Castelnaudary version is God the Father, the Carcassonne version is God the Son and the Toulousian is the Holy Spirit." 

    Each town has its own version.  Castelnaudary's consists of pork, pork rind, sausage and sometimes goose.  Mutton and sometimes partridge are found in Carcassonne's while the Toulousian version has lard, mutton, local sausages, duck or goose.  While there are different versions, one thing is constant:  It is a meal for sharing.

     My version comes from D'Artagnan.  The speciality food online retailer makes it very easy.  Order the kit and all of the ingredients are delivered to your door on the day you specify.  They even include a recipe.  The kit includes duck confit, garlic sausage, duck sausage, veal demi-glace, duck fat and the beans. How easy is that!  For Christmas, Dear Husband presented me with the perfect gift - a handmade cassole.  With the threat of snow, it was an excellent excuse to get cooking.

     Let me digress back to Carcassonne.  It is touristy.  It is chintzy.  It is a place that you have to put on your bucket list to see.  It is the second most visited site in France after the Eiffel Tower.   La Cite, the old city, is a beautifully restored fortified village that sits on the top of a hill over looking the new town, La Ville Basse (lower town).  The walls encircle the castle and its buildings, the cobblestone streets are fun to explore after the tour buses depart and its Gothic Cathedral immerses you in the spirit of long ago.   If you can, spend a night within the city walls.  The Hotel de la Cite is an excellent choice.

     We arrived in time for a light lunch.  As it was December, it was not too crowded.  We spent the afternoon touring both the lower and upper villages.  For dinner, of course, we had a wonderful Cassoulet dinner.  We were home by mid afternoon the next day.  Now I could say,  I have had Cassoulet in Carcassonne.

     Back to Cassoulet:  This is the perfect dish to make on a cold, snowy Sunday.  It takes several hours and you must soak the beans the night before, so don't forget this part.  Also, don't plan to serve much else with the Cassoulet.  It is a hearty dish, so decadent and rich that it must be the star of the show.  Place the cassole in the middle of the dining table; uncork a hearty red wine, light some candles and mentally travel back to another place and time.



Monday, February 8, 2016

Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut Squash Risotto

     Last night as the game was starting, Dear Daughter was standing by the stove trying to determine if her risotto was just right.  Every once in a while she would take a break from stirring and ask me to take over while she caught a glimpse of the game.  She wouldn't be gone long - not wanting to relinquish total control of her dish to me.  I have to admit - there were times that I wanted to ask if she needed more broth or if she had added salt.  But instead of asking, I savored the moment of having my daughter near me in the kitchen.  In the end, I didn't have to worry.  This kid can make mean risotto!

     This recipe was published in Bon Appetit in October of 1997.  I remember the issue vividly.  Dear Husband and I were living in Augusta, Georgia at the time and we spent many a weekend hunting down ingredients for our Saturday night dinner.  This was the first risotto we  made and it quickly became our favorite.  It hails from the Alba region of Italy and is very easy to make.  Uncork a nice Dolcetta d'Alba and enjoy hanging out in the kitchen.

Risotto with Squash and Pancetta
Bon Appetit, October 1997

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6 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
2T olive oil
3 oz pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 cups butternut squash cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups arborio rice

2T butter, room temperature
2T grated Parmesan

Bring the broth and wine to a simmer in a saucepan.  Reduce heat and keep warm.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add pancetta; sauce until cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Add squash and onion and stir to coat.  Add rice and sauce an additional minute.  Add two cups of broth.  Adjust heat so that the liquid bubbles gently.  Stir until the liquid has been absorbed.  Continue adding broth one cup at a time until the rice is just tender.  Simmer until each cup has been absorbed and keep stirring.  This will take about 20 minutes.

Mix butter and 2T Parmesan into risotto.  Season with salt and pepper and spoon into  warmed bowls.  Top with additional Parmesan.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cleveland: Perhaps not the "Mistake" by the Lake


     Some may call me desperate but we needed an "adventure".  It didn't need to be far from home...just a little respite from day to day life.  So with very little research, I booked an overnight to...Cleveland.  Not only was it a good idea but we will be back.

      We drove into town just before noon and checked into our hotel, a Marriott Residence just across the street from the Cleveland Cavaliers' stadium.  It took a bit of time getting to the room as we became desperately lost!  That isn't the norm in a hotel, but this hotel was built around one of the three arcades in Cleveland.  The arcade itself was quite fascinating.  Built in the early 1900's, they were designed to provide indoor shopping opportunities due to the harsh weather.  It reminded me a bit of Paris.  Good sign.

     One short subway ride took us to the West Side, originally a separate town called Ohio City.  Cleveland, as well as Pittsburgh, is having a beer resurgence and Great Lakes Brewing Company is leading the way.  Not only are they brewing some delicious beer, but they are dedicated to sustainable farming - owning their own small far and partnering with Ohio City Urban Farm.  At just before 1:00 pm, the restaurant was packed; however, we managed to secure the last table downstairs in the pub.

     A Belgian Quad beer piqued our interest and after the first sip, we were converts.  It was as good as any of the Belgian beers that I have ageing in my beer/wine closet.  Dear Daughter actually ate a sandwich, Grilled Prosciutto Sandwich with manchego and provolone cheese and dressed with fig jam, which she declared as delicious.  Dear Husband and I settled on the meat and cheese board which contained locally made duck rillettes, jerky, housemade pickles and pepper jam along with several local cheeses.  It was a good start to the afternoon.

West Side Market

     After lunch, we walked across the street to the West Side Market.  Upon entering, I felt that I had just entered one of my favorite indoor markets in France, except here I could understand what was being said.  I was immediately inundated with a multitude of sights and I fell into food lovers' heaven.  There were macaroons, yes...macaroons.  Beautiful pistachio ones, chocolate ones, lavender ones and our absolute favorite...salted caramel.

     For no reason whatsoever, I had to have macaroons.  At another stall, I quickly picked out housemade pierogies.  A baker sold English scones, so of course, one ended up in our ever expanding bag.  There was a beautiful looking French baguette that spoke to us. Then, we walked past a butcher who immediately struck up a conversation with us.  We were mesmerized by the stuffed porkchops that looked like pinwheels.  "My husband cuts the meat and I stuff them.  I make very good stuffing," she proudly told us.  But how do we cook them?  "Easy," she replied.  "I put the instructions in the bag with your meat."  So of course, we left with not only a pork/stuffing pinwheel but a stuffed pork tenderloin as well.

     I could have spent the remainder of the day just roaming, looking, smelling, senses were in overload.  And while that might be the perfect afternoon for two 50-somethings, the look on our 14 year old indicated something different.  As we left, Dear Daughter looked at my husband and said, "I bet Mom drives back here just to go to the market."  Busted...I had been thinking the same thing.

     We spent the later part of the day walking down by the lake.  The weather was definitely cooperating with us.  We strolled by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and decided that it was for another trip.  We spent a few minutes in Heinen's, a fabulous downtown grocery housed in a historic building.  I could not resist purchasing a 5.5 pound pork loin.  It looked so enticing!

     That evening was the biggest treat...dinner at Lola's - Michael Symon's (of the Food Network) restaurant.  I was worried that the hype would not meet our expectations.  They didn't...they surpassed them.  It was perhaps the best meal I have had since our return to the U.S.  I will have more to write on the meal in another posting as it deserves a bit more coverage.

     After a decent night of sleep, we opted to cancel our brunch reservations as everyone was ready to head back home.  We were home in just under two hours and still had the majority of the day to relax.  It was a great 24 hours and while I think that Pittsburgh overall has a lot more going for it...I will explore Cleveland just a bit more.