Friday, October 29

Beef: It's What's for Dinner

Tonight's class was all about beef. Our team was responsible for a delicious dish which I can't wait to make again and wanted to share with you -- Coffee Rubbed Filet of Beef. It was served over grits with bitter greens and drizzled with a pasilla chili sauce. YUM! I've had coffee rubbed beef in the past, but being able to make it from scratch (especially when you don't have to shell out the bucks for the tenderloin) was awesome. It would be a great dish to serve if you're having a dinner party. A beautifully cooked filet of beef makes for an elegant dish, but serving it atop hearty grits with greens takes it to the next level as an ultimate feel good meal. If you're feeling beefy, picture and recipe are below for your reference.

A few other dishes our class prepared... homestyle meatloaf, stroganoff, fajitas and swiss steak. Most turned out fairly well, although the meatloaf ended up as more of a crumble than a loaf. And not the good kind of crumble. After it came out of the oven black and crispy (pictured right) Chef John did his best to salvage the remnants on the team's behalf and it was actually he who coined it as a crumble. I am however, responsible for including this crumbly meatloaf on my blog. Sorry team 3, I just couldn't help myself.

Coffee Rubbed Filet of Beef with Grits & Pasilla Chili Sauce
Yield: 6 servings
Beef Tenderloin:
1 beef tenderloin (Chateaubriand cut) cleaned and tips removed
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp EVOO
2 tbsp coffee beans, ground very fine
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/8 tsp cinnamon powder

Pasilla Chili Sauce:
1 tbsp butter
8 oz white onion, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 pasilla chili pepper, stemmed & seeded & chopped into large pieces
3/4 oz white corn tortilla, shredded
20 oz chicken stock
2 oz heavy cream
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp brown sugar
*we added red pepper flakes to this recipe

Creamy Grits with Bitter Greens:
4 cups water
8 oz instant grits
1 1/2 tsp salt, plus more if needed
6 oz yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp butter
4 oz arugula, roughly chopped
*we added freshly grated parm to this recipe, cheddar would also be great

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Tie filet with twine at 1" intervals. Rub filet with S&P; then rub with oil.
3. Combine coffee, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Spread mixture onto your work surface and roll filet to coat evenly. Allow beef to marinate approximately 30 minutes.
4. While meat is marinating, prepare pasilla chili sauce. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat, saute onions and garlic until browned. Add pasilla, tortilla and continue sauteing until golden brown.
5. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover loosely and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Puree sauce in a blender until smooth and strain. Add cream, salt and brown sugar; stir to combine. (hold until ready to serve)
6. Place filet on a rack in roasting pan. Roast filet at 400F for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 250F and cook until desired doneness, approximately 20-25 minutes for medium rare. Remove from oven, remove twine and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.
7. While meat is resting, prepare grits. Bring water to a boil in saucepan. Add salt and stir in grits. Follow instructs on the box, instant grits usually cook in about 5 minutes. In separate pan, saute onion and garlic in butter until onion is translucent. Add greens and saute until just wilted.
7. Add greens and cheese to grits. Season to taste with S&P.

To serve, spoon grits into the center of each plate. Ladle a portion of the pasilla sauce around the grits. Slice filet to desired thickness and serve fanned onto each plate. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 24

Lots O' Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday, a bunch of us got together to carve some pumpkins and of course, eat delicious food. I hadn't carved a pumpkin in years (and totally recommend it) but what are you to do with the seemingly millions of leftover seeds? I roasted our seeds three different ways, posted below for your viewing pleasure. Consensus says Spicy Chipotle was the winning flavor. Tip: To get all the muck off your seeds, fill kitchen sink with water (I couldn't find my stopper so I actually used a big bowl) and soak for about 15 minutes. The heavier stuff should sink to the bottom leaving the seeds at the top. Remove with a slotted spoon and dry overnight.

From bottom left: Spicy Chipotle, S&P, Old Bay
Spicy Chipotle
2 cups pumpkin seeds

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes

Old Bay
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp Old Bay

Salt & Pepper
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp kosher salt (plus more, if needed)
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper

For all seeds, preheat oven to 350F. Combine all ingredients and toss well until evenly coated. Roast in even layer on cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes, or until crisp to the bite and lightly browned. Enjoy!

And in case you were interested in how my pumpkin turned out... it's an owl. :)

Tuesday, October 19

mmm, cheese steaks.

My boyfriend was born in Philadelphia and like any well-respected Philadelphian, loves a good cheese steak. Thus, my initial inspiration for our lunch today came from the infamous Philly Cheese Steak and was cemented by the items I had on hand. I call it... a Philly Cheese Steak Stuffed Baked Potato. First, I love stuffed baked potatoes! Besides being hearty and delicious, there are infinite versions of this dish you can make. I create them largely based on what I want to rid myself of in my fridge and pantry. You can use whatever you have laying around. Second, I love cheese/sauces (and cheesy sauces, duh) on top of my stuffed baked potatoes. Today, I whipped up a bechamel base cheese sauce and added cheese I already had, which happened to be mozzarella and sharp white cheddar. I also didn't have beef, but I did have leftover breakfast sausage (about 1/2 pound) and so I used that in place of the normal steak. Yum-O.

Philly Cheese Steak Stuffed Baked Potato
2 russet potatoes
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1/2 lb sausage (you could easily substitute beef or chicken)
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar
1 cup grated mozzarella
2 cups milk (I used 1%)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp red pepper flakes, divided
Pinch smoked paprika
2 pinches chili powder
Salt & cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Wash potatoes thoroughly, rub with vegetable oil, place on tray and bake for one hour. In the meantime, saute sausage (breaking up as it cooks) until just done. Add onion and green pepper, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes and a pinch of chili powder. Saute until tender, 3-5 minutes. Set aside. With 10 minutes left on potatoes, start your cheese sauce. Warm milk in saucepan, but don't boil. In separate small saute pan, melt better and add flour to create roux. Cook roux until blond in color, about 3 minutes. Whisk into warm milk until combined and continue cooking over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, pinch smoked paprika, pinch chili powder. Turn heat to low and while whisking continuously, gradually add cheese until all is combined. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Cut potato in half, cover with a heaping scoop of sausage mixture and top with cheese sauce. Enjoy!

P.S. Which one are you: Pat's or Geno's?

Wednesday, October 13

(One of) The Best Things I Ever Ate

This blog post is inspired by an unforgettable lunch I shared with friends at Jake's Ready-To-Eat in Palm Springs. It was one of the most delightful and refreshing meals I've ever had. Bold statement, I know but maybe you'll understand after I describe to you what I ordered (err, devoured)... a Seared Ahi Tuna Wrap with organic greens lightly tossed in a soy-sesame-sake vinaigrette and tomatoes rolled with wasabi aioli in a spinach wrap. The wrap was served alongside organic greens tossed with the same vinaigrette. It was ridic. From the delicately seared Ahi to the lightly dressed greens, this dish was jam packed with flavor. I was quite literally in taste bud heaven.

Photo Credit: LeighAnn Smith
I have to admit, I'm big on organic. Throw the word organic (or "locally grown") on any food product and I'm usually taking it home. I also have to admit that sometimes, even if food is organic (take potato chips, for example) it doesn't necessarily coincide with better tasting food. When available I tend to choose organic over non for meats and vegetables. I can honestly taste the difference when it comes to those items. Don't worry, I'm not climbing up on my soapbox. I'll save that for a later post.

Back to this amazing lunch... after we were done eating I very politely asked our waitress if she knew how the vinaigrette was made. Her response? "Let me go ask our Chef." She came back with the recipe written down. I was ecstatic. Chefs can often be secretive as to the exact measurements/ingredients in a dish. Thankfully this fantastic chef was willing to share the love...

Soy-Sake Vinaigrette
Recipe courtesy Jake's Ready-To-Eat in Palm Springs, CA
3 cups soy sauce
3 cups sake (any cheap, filtered sake is fine)
1 cup sesame oil
1/3 cup green onion, finely chopped
Handful sesame seeds (I used white)

Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Let cool and refrigerate.

Wasabi Aioli
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, very finely chopped (you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 teaspoon Wasabi powder

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients.

The reason I'm sharing this today is because, as with the chowder yesterday, I made this meal for lunch for my boss. The vinaigrette turned out perfectly! You only need a small amount when dressing the greens and in the wrap. If you're trying to watch salt content, you could easily substitute light soy sauce for the regular; might tone down the vinaigrette a bit. I substituted roasted chicken for the Ahi (he doesn't eat fish), added sliced orange bell peppers and shredded carrots (he doesn't eat tomatoes) and wrapped in a regular tortilla since I already had them on hand. Picture below for your viewing pleasure. Happy Wednesday!


Tuesday, October 12

Chowda Time

I love chowders. Clam, Manhattan clam, corn, lobster, crab... you get the point. And in my humble food opinion, you simply cannot make a delicious chowder without heavy cream. It's just not the same. This may not be a recipe you'd want to eat everyday if you're trying to maintain a girlish figure, but everyone's gotta indulge now and then. I simply love food too much not to. 

I love to take a recipe and really make it my own. I did this with the chowder by adding some extra veggies I had on hand in addition to one of my fave spices, Ancho Chili Powder. There are a few vegetables you'll almost always find in my fridge: celery, carrots, bell peppers (of all colors) and onions. For this chowder, which I actually made for lunch for my boss, I added the carrots, celery and bell pepper to make the chowder meatier and to feel slightly less guilty for all the dairy that was about to go down. Last fall, I made this chowder post-Thanksgiving and added shredded turkey to rid myself of some leftovers. Feel free to add whatever you have on hand. Shredded chicken, crab, lobster (again, the list goes on) would be delicious, and would create more of a one pot meal from the chowder.

Corn Chowder
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 orange, yellow or red bell pepper, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups canned vegetable stock or chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced (I used 4 Yukon Gold, my grocery store didn't have Idaho)
6 ears corn (you can substitute frozen corn, about 6 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon Ancho Chili Powder
1/2 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish 

Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot, bell pepper, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 -10 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture). Cut the corn kernels off the cob and add to the soup. Add Ancho Chili Powder, season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the parsley and cheddar. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with a few more sprinkles of the cheddar and serve.

Sunday, October 10

Sunday: A Day of Cooking

When my boss is in town I get the chance to do tons of cooking. There are certain staples he cannot live without (i.e. BBQ chicken) but he pretty much gives me free reign of the kitchen and lets me do my thang. Today was one of those days. Though the temp outside was a summery 87 degrees, I was hungry for food that warms the belly... starting with homemade Butternut Squash Soup, I also prepared Balsamic Roast Pork Tenderloins, Rosemary-Fleur de Sel Crusted Fingerling Potatoes, Charred Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta and Sage and for dessert, Oatmeal Pumpkin Cookies with Dark Chocolate Chips and Walnuts. All recipes and accompanied photos (with the exception of the soup) are listed below in case your stomach is rumblin'. :)

Butternut Squash Soup
Recipe courtesy Giada de Laurentiis
2 tbsp room temp butter
2 tbsp EVOO
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled & chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 pounds butternut squash; peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4" pieces (about 8 cups)
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In an 8-quart stockpot, add the butter and oil and melt together over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the squash and the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the sage. Continue to boil until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Keep the soup warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Balsamic Roast Pork Tenderloins
Recipe courtesy Rachel Ray
4 pork tenderloins (about 4 lbs)
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp EVOO
8 cloves garlic, cracked
Steak seasoning blend or coarse salt and pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 springs fresh thyme, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Place tenderloins on nonstick cookie sheet. Coat in balsamic vinegar, rubbing vinegar into meat. Drizzle with EVOO. Cut small slits into meat and disperse chunks of cracked garlic cloves into meat. Combine steak seasoning blend (or S&P) with rosemary and thyme and rub meat with blend. Roast for 20 minutes. Let meat rest, transfer to carving board, slice and serve.

Charred Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta & Sage
1 lb brussel sprouts, bottoms trimmed and cut in half
2 tbsp EVOO, enough to coat sprouts
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1/4 lb pancetta, small dice
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Toss brussel sprouts in EVOO and season with S&P. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until charred and tender. Meanwhile, saute pancetta in pan until crispy; remove with slotted spoon and add sage leaves. Fry sage leaves for 1-2 minutes, remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Remove excess fat from pan. When sprouts are well-roasted, remove from oven and combine, in pan, with pancetta, sage leaves and 2 tbsp butter over medium heat until warmed through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Rosemary-Fleur de Sel Crusted Fingerling Potatoes
Cook's Note: I have a new obsession with Fleur de Sel, a hand-harvested French sea salt cold smoked with Chardonnay oak chips. Admittedly, I love salt in general but give this a try if you could use a different depth of flavor.
2 lbs fingerling potatoes, rinsed thoroughly and patted dry
2 tbsp EVOO
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp Fleur de Sel, divided (substitute with kosher salt if you don't have Fleur de Sel on hand)
Fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Toss fingerling potatoes with EVOO, rosemary, 1 tbsp Fleur de Sel and lots of fresh cracked pepper. Roast in oven until tender and crispy, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and toss with remaining tablespoon of Fleur de Sel.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Cookies with Dark Chocolate Chips & Walnuts 
Recipe adapted from
2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla; mix well. Add flour mixture; combine until all ingredients are incorporated. Fold in dark chocolate chips and walnuts. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks (or wax paper) to cool completely.

(In a voice resembling that of the great Julia Child): Bon Appetit!

Monday, October 4

It's fall, baby.

Living in Las Vegas, it takes a bit longer to feel the change of seasons. Today, I finally felt a nice autumn breeze and it inspired me to accompany my taste buds with a similar feeling. :) I adore fall vegetables like pumpkin, butternut squash and figs. I've seen Paula (Deen) and Rachel (Ray) make similar recipes on Food Network, but here's my version of a pumpkin-esque pasta dish.

Penne with Creamy Pumpkin, Sage & Sausage
For a richer variation, use pork sausage and add 1/2 cup heavy cream when adding sausage back in sauce. I had 1% milk on hand and added a few tablespoons for extra flavor. If you're watching calories, leave dairy out. If you like a thinner sauce, add more stock. I served this pasta with a side of roasted brussel sprouts, recipe and photo below.

1 lb turkey or chicken sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
4-6 fresh sage leaves, chiffonade
1 cup chicken stock
1 (15 oz) canned pumpkin
1/2 lb whole wheat or whole grain penne
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated parm, plus more for garnish

Cook pasta until al dente and set aside. Saute sausage over med-high heat until browned and remove
from pan leaving a couple tablespoons of rendered fat. (If not enough, add some EVOO) Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and cook until tender. Add chicken stock, pumpkin, sage, salt, nutmeg and stir to combine. Add bay leaf and bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in sausage and continue simmering until sauce is warmed through. Toss with penne and parm. Season to taste.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
1 lb brussel sprouts, bottoms trimmed and cut in half
2 tbsp EVOO
1/4 tsp garlic powder
S&P to taste
Freshly grated parm

Preheat oven to 500F degrees. Toss brussel sprouts with EVOO, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Roast until just tender and charred on the outside, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parm and bake until cheese is melted. Freshly squeezed lemon juice would also be a great addition, I just didn't have any on hand.

Saturday, October 2

Feelin' Saucy

Before I elaborate on this week's cooking class, I feel I should mention my boyfriend, Rich, is taking the class with me. He's a trooper. Let's just say being forced to share my kitchen space has been very... challenging thus far. Rich may or may not have a name for when I'm "in the zone" cooking. Kitchen mode is it? I'm certain he means it in the most flattering way possible. Speaking of me in the kitchen, here's a pic of me in full uniform in the midst of chopping a million vegetables 18 different ways.

Our mission in this week's class: prepare 4 of 5 mother sauces and 3 rouxs. Bechamel, Veloute, Espagnole and Hollandaise (the 5th sauce we didn't prepare was tomato). Our instructor, Chef John, recommended we each be responsible for a sauce (you work in teams, 3 in our case) and go from there. I took the classic brown sauce, Espagnole. In the classroom we went through each recipe with a fine tooth comb, right down to answering questions like, "Chef John, what does season to taste mean?" (That is not a joke.) But when I walked into the kitchen a feeling of panic swept over me. I froze. Like when someone asks you what your favorite color is and you go totally blank... (as if that's an eat or be eaten kind of question) I felt just like that. I was supposed to make what? The espag-what?! For the first 15 minutes we were all running around like chickens with our heads cut off. And let me just say, Chef John has the patience of a saint. It's incredible to me. For someone with very little patience and very real control issues, I take my chef's hat off to him.
After panic mode subsided, kitchen mode set in. We got the Bechamel, Veloute and Espagnole sauces going and the ancient smells of French classical cooking took over. Technically, cameras/photos/etc. are not allowed in the kitchen, but I was able to sneak a couple for your viewing pleasure.

Rich stirring his Chicken Veloute.
Our sauces, simmering.

Luckily, our team had enough time to prepare a Hollandaise. My very first time whipping one into fruition. If serving Hollandaise for more than 2 people... scratch that, if EVER serving this sauce, finish it in a blender. Though buttery and delicious, it's torturous to prepare. In turn, my first two recipes I want to share with you are the sauces I had the opportunity to make. If you have the time and you've never made an Espagnole or Hollandaise (or any of the other mother sauces for that matter) I'd recommend it. Can't beat homemade, that's for sure.
Espagnole (Yield: 1 Gal)
1 lb onions, small to medium dice
8 oz carrots, small to medium dice
8 oz celery, small to medium dice
16 oz brown roux (you can prepare before starting sauce & set aside)
6 qt brown stock
8 oz tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
6-8 parsley stems
In stockpot, bring brown stock to a simmer. In separate pot, saute mirepoix in butter until well browned. Add tomato puree and continue to brown until mixture caramelizes. Gradually stir in roux and brown stock (you can bring roux back to temperature by adding a couple ladles of stock first), stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and skim surface. Add the sachet and let simmer about 2 hours, until sauce has reduced to 1 gallon. Continue to skim as needed. Strain through a china cap lined with cheesecloth. Press on mirepoix to extract juices. Season to taste with S&P.

Hollandaise (Yield: 1 Qt)
2 lb clarified butter
4 peppercorns, crushed
6 fl oz white vinegar or white wine vinegar
4 fl oz cold water
12 egg yolks
2-4 tbsp lemon juice
salt and cayenne to taste
Melt butter and keep warm. In separate pot, add a couple inches of water and simmer lightly. Combine peppercorns and vinegar in saucepan and reduce until nearly dry. Remove from heat and add cold water. Pass the diluted reduction through a fine strainer into a stainless-steel bowl. Add egg yolks to bowl and beat well. Hold the bowl over a hot-water bath and continue to beat until the yolks are thick and creamy. Remove bowl from heat. Using a ladle, slowly and gradually beat in warm butter, drop by drop at first. When all butter is added, beat in lemon juice to taste and adjust with salt and cayenne appropriately.