My Motto

May the muffin rise to greet you, may your friends be always at your door, and until we meet again, warm a single-malt in the palm of your hand and make something homemade for someone you love.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Filet Mignon au Poivre

"Did you ever see the customers in health food stores?  They are pale, skinny people who look half dead.  In a steak house you see robust, ruddy people.  They're dying, of course, but they look terrific." 
~ Bill Cosby
  I discovered this dish in the 1980's at a restaurant in Mystic called J.P. Daniels.  The restaurant is no longer there, but the memory of the meal lingers, it was that good.
I generally make it for our New Year's Day meal, since it is also Scott's birthday and he LOVES it.  Also doesn't hurt that it is pretty easy so it can be pulled off even if you had a little too much fun on New Year's Eve (wink, wink).
The dish is not difficult and it takes only about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your steaks. The creamy cognac sauce is the perfect complement to the bursts of pepper flavor you get when you bite through the pepper crust which is the hallmark of the dish.

A few notes on peppercorns.  My favorite are the green, and I've used them both packed in oil and dried, but cannot always find them.   Dried white peppercorns also work great with the dish, but again, can be elusive.  Tonight I used a mixture of black, red and green that are meant for use in a pepper mill, and they worked great, it just made the dish a bit hotter in terms of spice.  It is important to follow the recipe and crush the peppercorns rather than grind them because it effects the crust and how they release their flavor.

Filet Mignon au Poivre

3 tablespoons green peppercorns (if you can find them, otherwise, white, black or a mix is fine)
4 (3/4 to 1-inch-thick) filet mignon steaks (about 8 ounces each)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced shallots
2/3 cup Cognac
1 cup heavy cream
4 toast points (optional)

Place peppercorns in a sealed plastic bag, put on a cutting board and smash them with a meat mallet, bottom of a heavy skillet, or hammer.
Pat steaks dry.  Press pepper onto both cut sides of steaks and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Season steaks with salt.  Heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a 10 - 12 inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat.  Add steaks and cook about 5-6 minutes or using tongs, check to see if the crust has formed, dark brown, but not burnt.  Turn steaks and repeat, being careful not to overcook.  They should be springy to the touch.  Cut one open to check, if you need to.  They should still be dark pink in the middle.  Remove to a baking dish with sides and keep warm in the oven.  If you have particularly thick steaks and they seem to red, or raw in the middle, at this point, you can throw them on the gas grill for a couple minutes to finish them.  I've done that when I've had really thick steaks and they still come out good, it doesn't ruin the crust.
Keep in mind that they will continue to cook for a few minutes even after you remove them from the heat source, so I always shoot for a tiny bit underdone so they will keep cooking a little while I make the sauce.

Add remaining two tablespoons of butter and minced shallots to the skillet and cook over medium heat until shallots are softened.  Add Cognac and boil down until it becomes a glaze, about 2-3 minutes.  Add cream and boil down, stirring, until it is reduced by half, another 3-5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt.
These are nice served on toast points to soak up the sauce.  Serves 4.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Orange Sweet Rolls

"Try not thinking of peeling an orange. Try not imagining the juice running down your fingers, the soft inner part of the peel. The smell. Try and you can't. The brain doesn't process negatives." 

I find the smell that the flesh of an orange releases as you break into it is one of the most intoxicating on the planet.  I clean my house with orange oil, and my favorite candle scent was orange clove tea until it was discontinued.   This season, I was happy to notice that Yankee Candle started selling a candle called Spiced Orange, which I promptly purchased.  
Flipping through The California Heritage Cookbook this morning I noticed a page was marked with a coupon that expired in 2002.  Apparently this recipe caught my eye years ago, but I never got around to trying it....until today.  The first thing I did was take a couple oranges to my micro-planer to extract some orange zest for the recipe.  The scent flew to my nose and then filled the whole house.  It made me think of that ride in Epcot called Soarin, which takes riders on a simulated hang-gliding adventure over California.  It makes you experience the feeling of flight as you fly over California's most beautiful settings, including an orange grove, where they also secretly release orange fragrance that makes you really imagine you're there.  
These rolls were very moist and deliciously, fragrantly orange infused.  They go equally well with coffee or hot cocoa and would be a great  morning treat for those overnight guests you might have over the holidays!  Make them the day before and warm them up in the morning. 

Orange Sweet Rolls

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
3 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons grated orange rind
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Sour Cream Orange Glaze
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup butter

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water.  With an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup of the sugar, the salt, eggs, 1/2 cup sour cream and 6 tablespoons of the melted butter into the yeast mixture.  Gradually add 2 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture, beating until smooth.  Knead the remaining flour into the dough.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, about 1 1/2-2 hours.  Punch down dough and turn out on the floured surface.  Divide in half.  Roll each half of the dough into a 12-inch a circle.  Combine 3/4 cup sugar and the orange rind.  Brush each half of the dough with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle each with 1/2 the rind-sugar mixture.  Cut each half into 8 wedges.  Roll the wedges up, starting with the wide end, and place them point side down in two rows in a greased 13x9 inch pan.  Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour.

Brush the tops of the rolls with the last 3 tablespoons melted butter and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Pour Sour Cream Orange Glaze over the rolls.  Serve warm.

To prepare glaze, combine 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sour cream, 3 tablespoons orange juice, and 1/2 cup butter in a medium saucepan.  Boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A 100 Year Old Family Recipe: Fruit Pudding

"Grandparents, like heroes, are as necessary to a child's growth as vitamins."
~Joyce Allston
If the test of a great recipe is how often you make it, then this one aces with honors.  It's been handed down on my mother's side of the family for at least 100 years.  My mother remembers her grandmother making it for her when she was a child.  A simple country dessert that has survived the test of generations who all found it worthy to treasure and pass down.
I have memories of my mother making this for me that go back as far as when I was four years old.  I can remember the kitchen table I sat at (a very unique oak table that she still has), the little crystal bowl she served it in and the secure, loved feeling I had.  I remember thinking it was wonderful then, and I still do now.  The other day when I served this my son had 3 helpings.  My daughter and her friends finished it off.  My hope is, when they are older they'll remember it like I do.  Tart, warm, silky cooked apples, lightly sweet soft cake with a crunchy topping and a dollop of vanilla ice cream, served with love.  I like to think of my Great Grandmother baking or enjoying this long before most of the modern conveniences we enjoy today.  She was gone long before I came along, but this fruit pudding was the same then, and possibly even many years before, as it is now.
No, this isn't her, but the era is just right :-)
I made the fruit pudding with apples this time, but you can substitute many different kinds of fruit, such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries or peaches.

Fruit Pudding

3 cups fresh fruit prepared as for pie
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 1 1/2 - 2 quart casserole dish.  If using apples, peel and slice as for apple pie, and stir in 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.  For peaches, quickly blanch, peel and sweeten with 2 tablespoons sugar.  For berries, simple sweeten with 2 tablespoons sugar.  Place sweetened fruit in casserole.  In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar together.  In a small bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder.  Add to butter and sugar with the milk.  Spread over fruit, it will seem skimpy, but is enough.
In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  Sprinkle this evenly over the dough.  
Pour one cup of boiling water over all.
Bake one hour.  Serve warm with ice cream.  Serves 6.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Today's Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

"From a man who's eaten his fair share? I think it's all about the... Jesus, what's the secret to a good meatball? I have no idea. I like a lumpy ball, personally." 
~Daniel Holzman, The Meatball Shop
Today has been one of those days.  I was awakened by a flash followed by a clap of thunder.  Okay, we're having a storm.  Tic tic tic tic...sounds like sleet on the window; unusual, but not unheard of for November.  Then a phone call at 5:45 a.m.  School will be delayed for 90".  Huh? What?  I pull back the drape.  Snow all over the ground.  Really?  On November 8th?  I shake off the cranial cobwebs and go up and turn my daughter's alarm clock off.

Next, after showering, was the daily ritual where I hang my head upside-down to blow dry my hair.  Today, while I'm taming the coif, I feel claws on my neck, which scared the bejeebies out of me resulting in a blood curdling scream, a tossing of the hairdryer and a fall on my behind.  My parrot Nigel, who has a thing for the blow dryer, decided to fly off his perch and land on the back of my neck.  I was sure I had killed him in my panic, and from my vantage point on the floor I couldn't even find him.  He was happily sitting in the sink.

When I recovered my bearings, if not my dignity, I walked out and asked Scott "Did you see him fly in there?"   "Yes.  I was waiting for your reaction.  (pregnant pause)  It was beautiful. (sly smile)"  Thus began my day.
A couple of hours before the end of my day at work, the cook started making meatballs.  I had hamburger at home that I had been planning to turn into meatloaf, but after being immersed in the savory aroma of marvelous smelling meatballs for two hours, my mind was made up.  I had to make meatballs for dinner.  And I wasn't in the mood for red sauce, I wanted to really TASTE the meatballs, so Swedish it would be....on mashed potatoes.  Dinner couldn't come fast enough.

Since I was making them for dinner, and not hors d'œuvres, I shaped them bigger.  If you want to make them for use as appetizers, shape them bite size and when the recipe is completely cooked, transfer meatballs and gravy to a crockpot to keep them gently heated.  

They are such a great meal on a cold night.  We all LOVE them, but I hadn't made them in over a year.  Scott said "This meal is a sleeper...they are so good."  This is my own recipe.  By the way, don't substitute beef broth for the beef consommé.  The consommé has a distinctive taste that makes the gravy.  I could literally lick the plate like a dog (I'm pretty sure I did, actually.)

Swedish Meatballs

1 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground veal (optional)
1/2 cup minced onion (minced in food processor, if you have one)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 (10 1/2 ounce) cans beef consommé
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, mix minced onion with 1/2 cup milk and bread crumbs.  In a large bowl, add ground meats, onion mixture, eggs and seasonings.  Mix with your hands until very well combined.  Shape into balls and place on a greased cookie sheet.  bake for 30 minutes.  Remove from cookie sheet and place into a 13x9 inch baking dish.  Pour both cans of beef consommé over, cover with foil and bake for 1/2 hour.  In a small bowl, whisk flour into the heavy cream.  Remove baking dish from oven, remove foil, nudge meatballs over to the side and whisk cream mixture into beef broth.  Stir around meatballs until it is combined.  Bake 15 minutes more, or until bubbling hot.

Serve over mashed potatoes or wide egg noodles.
Serves 6 for dinner, or 12 for hors d'œuvres.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cream of Wild Mushroom and Leek Soup

"A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting."
~Abraham Maslow
Today is a raw and rainy day.  This doesn't bother me though, because it gives me an excuse to neglect the outdoor work I should be doing in the garden.  Instead, I look for ways to cozy up in the house.  One of them is this soup.  You know the "Song That Never Ends?"  I wanted this to be the bowl of soup that never ended.  It was so delicious and comforting.  Warming me through to my toes.  Add a fire and a good book and that's a cozy afternoon.  Should I be ironing?  Probably.  But it will keep for a couple hours.
This recipe is basically Ina Garten's Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup.  I just made an easier version, since I am not averse to canned chicken stock. 

Cream of Wild Mushroom and Leek Soup

4 tablespoons butter
5 ounces shitake mushrooms
5 ounces portobello mushrooms
5 ounces white button, cremini (or porcini) mushrooms 
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green part only (2 leeks)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 cup dry white wine
32 ounces chicken broth
1 cup half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel.  Don't wash them!  Trim off any bad parts and half of the stem.  Slice mushrooms 1/4 inch thick.  Melt butter in a large pot and add leeks.  Cook on low for 10 - 15 minutes until they begin to brown.  Add the mushrooms and cook for 10 -15 minutes until they are browned and tender.  
Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.  Add the white wine and seasonings and stir for another minute, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pot.  Add chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes.  Stir in creams and parsley and bring just to a simmer.  Serve immediately.  If you would like to use bread bowls, wrap them in foil and heat them in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Just before soup is ready, slice off the top and then scoop out the doughy center, leaving 1/2 inch of bread all around the bowl.  Fill with soup and serve immediately.
Serves 6.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fresh Cranberry Salad

October is cranberry season in New England.  The fresh ones are readily available and generally less expensive than the rest of the year.  I always throw a couple bags in the freezer for the holidays.  Throw a few frozen cranberries in a Cape Cod cocktail.  It's an easy festive touch. 
3 parts cranberry juice - 1part vodka - COLD!
I love these glasses.  They were my Mom's - over 50 years old.
I've been making this fresh cranberry salad for at least 15 years.  What I love about it, is that it's as beautiful as it is delicious, and it's sweet-tartness is a great foil to savory dishes.  It goes equally well with beef or foul.  I've served it with Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas meals of prime rib.   It's not difficult, but you do have to plan ahead a little.  Fresh cranberries are bitter, so in order to make them palatable for this salad, you need to chop up the berries, mix them with sugar, and let them sit in mesh strainer overnight, or for at least 4-6 hours.  All the bitterness drains away, leaving crunchy, slightly tart, sweet berries and this gorgeous red syrup I have yet to find a use for (I'm working on it though).  
The original recipe is from The California Heritage Cookbook, a fabulous cookbook that my aunt sent me  years ago.

Fresh Cranberry Salad

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 pound red grapes, halved and seeds removed
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup chopped toasted nuts 
Bibb lettuce, or nice lettuce leaves (optional)

There are a few different ways to chop the nuts, depending on the equipment you have.  I used a food processor, but before I owned one, I used to pulse them in the blender a couple times.  You don't want them pulverized, just chopped.  You can even use a meat grinder set at medium, if you like.  
 Place chopped cranberries in a medium mixing bowl.  Stir in sugar. Place the cranberry mixture in a strainer or  colander. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.  
Allow mixture to drain overnight, discarding the juice.  Halve the grapes, removing seeds if they have them.
Mix cranberries and grapes in a large bowl and refrigerate 1-4 hours.  Just before serving, whip the cream until very stiff.
Set aside a few cranberries and nuts as garnish.  Fold the whipped cream and nuts into the cranberry-grape mixture.  Serve on lettuce on individual plates, or from one large bowl.  Sprinkle with reserved cranberries and nuts.