Friday, March 30, 2012

Swiss Chard Gratin, Broiled Leeks, Flank Steak

Yesterday went like this, a typical veggie-box-delivery-day thursday: get up, drink coffee, have half a breakfast, go to workout class, do stretch class (okay so that is new), go to farmers' market for more eggs, get home and eat another half of breakfast (yes i am related to ron swanson), figure out what the heck to do with the giant box of veggies that was delivered to my doorstep earlier in the morning, and then get to prepping it all.
My giant box of work.

Got all my supplies ready - recipes bookmarked, gameplan mapped out, coffee, and phone (fyi even though it looks pretty i do not recommend a white phone if you cook a lot and your partner tends to call you while you are cooking, practically as soon as your hands are covered in junk.)

 Closer-up of the gameplan, and a grocery list.

Written down to-do list which is basically a meal plan too.

So you already know the gist of how i prep for the upcoming week and that is what i did today with the other ingredients that i wasn't also going to use for dinner.

The recipe for the swiss chard gratin i based my dish from is found here.  I chopped and then boiled the swiss chard in salt water, ice bathed it, drained it, and then chopped it some more as you see above.  Also pictured is the cheese that i grated for the gratin.  Since i did not follow the recipe exactly and i did my own lazy ghetto way of cooking (prep work is hard work) i will post my own "recipe," as follows:

Swiss Chard Gratin - serves however many people you need to feed who like cheese and swiss chard but probably not more than 6
2 bunches swiss chard, does not matter what color, boiled until tender in salted water and then dunked in ice bath and then drained and then as much of the water squeezed out as you can
2 garlic cloves
4 ounces swiss-y kind of cheese of your choice, shredded (i used 2 oz raclette and 2 oz Landaff)
1 ounce cream cheese
at least 1/4 cup half and half/cream/milk or more if needed for sauce consistency
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
onion powder, if you want
Parmesan cheese for topping 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and then spray an 8 by 8 glass baking dish/casserole dish with cooking spray or butter. 
Garlic press the garlic into a bowl or you can mince it if you don't have a press.  Add the cheese, the cream cheese, and the cream to the bowl and then microwave on medium power until everything is soft enough to stir together, checking the contents often so that you don't over-microwave it.  When it is stirrable into a smooth yet thick consistency (it will thin out some when baking) add the seasonings and stir together, then add the swiss chard.

Here is where if you had extraordinarily large bunches of swiss chard you could easily make more sauce if you need to, a light coating usually works fine though. I do realize this is yet another creamy pink vegetable side dish i have prepared but i did not choose the chard color! 
Put the swiss chard and sauce mix into the prepared glass dish and spread out evenly, then top with however much parmesan cheese you like.  I gave mine a fairly generous coating.  Place in preheated oven and bake until heated through and cheese on top is bubbly/melted, about 20 mins.

While that was baking I had another dish to prepare with one of last week's leftover leeks and the mega huge ones they sent me this week.  I cut the dark green tops off and then quartered the large ones and halved the small one, then rinsed them thoroughly, and trimmed the white part just barely--enough to get those little squiggly roots off.

Then I poured some flavored olive oil in a dish to brush them with, because that is easier than trying to pour oil from a bottle onto a pastry brush.

I put foil down on a sheet pan and since i was using oil already i used the cheap foil and not the nice nonstick foil so i also brushed the foil with the olive oil before sprinkling salt and pepper on the sheet.  Then I lightly brushed the leeks all over with a small amount of oil before arranging them one cut side down on the pan and  then sprinkling more salt and pepper on them.  I stuck them under the broiler on low to cook while i got the flank steak ready, with the chard gratin on the bottom rack of the oven still to stay warm.  When one side started to look softened and slightly charred i flipped them to the other cut side and fanned the stalks out slightly.  I took them out when they looked softened all over. (below is before they went in)

This here is the flank steak i got at the thursday farmers' market, from 5 Bar Beef.  They supposedly take really good care of their animals, and they sell their stuff in smaller quantities than the Da-Le Ranch from lake elsinore does so I got some meat.  It is shown thawed out below.

I just used some Emeril's original essence to season the meat before i put it under the broiler for a few minutes on each side.

Tah dah! the leeks come out and the beef goes in under the broiler, this time on high, for just a few minutes each side to desired doneness.  Flank steak is kind of thin so it doesn't need that long.

Gratin still on the bottom while beef is under the broiler.

Behold the finished gratin!

I let the beef cool slightly and then sliced it across the grain.

It was very tender even though it was previously frozen.

dinner is served

There are such things as Super Jumbo Eggs

Basically i had only ever known of medium, large, extra large, and jumbo eggs and i only just last week tried some jumbo eggs from La Bahn egg ranch in Temecula, who have a booth at the thursday farmers' market which is at the orange county fairgrounds.  I always have liked their eggs and i just became comfortable branching away from my extra-large-only egg purchasing when i bought the jumbo ones last week.  I ran out of those pretty fast because the yolks are just so good  i was eating at least a couple every day. So when i went to get more i noticed they had a WHOLE FLAT which is 20 eggs, of SUPER JUMBO eggs available.  i bought those plus a flat of 20 extra large eggs and now i have 56 eggs in my house as we speak.
Left to right: Large, Extra Large, SUPER JUMBO

 This is a super jumbo cracked into the pan.  The lady said that unless they have double yolks, which i guess they sometimes do but there weren't any in the two that i have eaten so far, the only difference between these and the jumbo eggs are that they have more white.  I think unless i were going to be making something that needed more whites like macarons or other meringue-based things i would stick to jumbo or smaller for regular eating because there is not enough of the creamy tasty yolk to egg white ratio for me in these giant monsters.  Since there is no nutritional or taste difference between white-shelled and brown-shelled eggs there is no real reason that i buy the more expensive brown-shelled eggs except that i think deep in my subconscious it is ingrained that white = wonder bread (cheap and not so nutritious) and brown = split top wheat (bread of my childhood, heartier than white).  Ultimately as long as they are cage free/free range i am happy no matter what the color of their shell is.

Some collard greens and bacon y'all.  I got some in last week's Farm Fresh To You box and i sliced it into ribbons and sauteed it with some bacon, shallots and garlic, butter, salt,  a splash of apple cider vinegar, and a dash of splenda.  That is not flash glare that you normally see in my pictures, that is steam from the pan.

These are super delicious almonds from Hopkins AG and while they are in Bakersfield they are at all the farmers' markets i go to.  The almonds are sweet and creamy and crunchy, and they sell a bunch of different flavors and even raw unpasteurized almonds which they seem to think makes their stuff superior to other raw  probably pasteurized almonds sold in stores and they are pretty good so maybe there is something to it.  These are my favorite snacking flavors.  I bought some fresh, raw, unpasteurized almond meal from them that i plan to make some bread with and it feels so nice and soft even though it is almond meal.

These i picked up from Mother's Market because they look and sound weird and i am sort of into trying stuff like that so long as it's not bizarre animal body parts or has been made in a bathtub or something.  These are from peru, as you can see from the box, and the packing is fancy all-biodegradable which i seriously do not know why everyone doesn't do that already in this day and age?  These are good in an interesting way.  I sort of expected them to taste like nuts because of their size but they are definitely seedy tasting.  Kind of like a mix of toasted hemp seed and sesame seed with a little sunflower seed?  They are crunchy in the way that peanuts are crunchy and each seed varies in taste just a little bit, like one might be more roasted that the other.  There is that sort of dry suck-the-moisture-out of your mouth feel after a few of them and you need to drink water with them.  I like them and will probably keep buying them unless some new other superfood from south america appears and i get distracted by that shiny new thing.

Here is a glimpse into what i do all day.  I melt cheese in a pan and then eat it with my fingers off a spatula.  This is raclette from trader joes and actually is supposed to be all melted and then eaten but i also melt and eat other cheeses such as mozzarella and sliced dutch goats milk cheese.  Some people say that raclette is smelly but this wasn't and it melts into a creamy mild, sort of swiss-cheesy cheese.

annd into my mouth it goes.

I FOUND MY NEW FAVORITE CHEESE.  Whole foods had this "on sale" which meant like a dollar off its normal per pound price and i was actually looking for the cheese next to it where there was a sign but no cheese so i just grabbed this for the hell of it.  It is so amazing.   It is slightly crumbly and i have only eaten this mostly straight from the fridge, not warm, so these are the flavors when it is cold: sweet and creamy and very caramel with slight nuttiness and a tangy salty taste too. It is like cheese candy.  I could eat this for dessert and be a happy camper since normally my desserts have to be some overly decadent treat and this fits the bill in my opinion.  I must buy more and then i can share it with david.  I don't think i will be buying many more new cheeses to try for a while now that i have found the holy grail of my cheese heaven.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Silky Braised Fennel in Pink Sauce

(that puddle in the back is melted raclette cheese. yes i have become so obsessed with melted cheese lately that i have taken to just sticking it in a pan and eating it off the spatula after it is turned to goo. don't judge)

I really can't rave enough about my Fast, Fresh, & Green cookbook.  There isn't anything i've made from it that has turned out inedible or needed any tweaking at all.  I have brought several dishes to potlucks and everyone's always raved about them.   Last night's use of fennel was just incredible. Normally i just slice and saute fennel and then put it on top of steak.  I don't get fennel often even though i love it so when i got it in our veggie box i was super happy and wanted to make something special.  "Silky fennel" and "pink sauce" sounds totally girly if you're genderist like that but both david and i loved it and this is definitely going to be a repeat side dish.  Actually it's going to be my go-to recipe for fennel!  Pink sauce is just a less alcoholy sounding name for vodka sauce because they are one in the same.  Below is the recipe slightly adapted from Fast, Fresh, & Green.

Silky Braised Fennel in Pink Sauce - Serves Three 
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tblsp vodka
1/4 cup heavy cream (i used half and half)
2 tsp tomato paste (this is where those metal squeeze tubes come in super handy)
1 large fennel bulb (about 1 lb 5 oz with stalks attached)
2 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 Tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper 
Combine the broth and vodka in a liquid measure and set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and tomato paste and set aside. 
Cut the stalks off the fennel.  Chop enough of the fennel fronds to yield 1 tsp and set aside.  Trim any brown spots from the outside of the bulb and cut the bulb in half.  Notch most of the core out from both halves, leaving a bit of it to hold the wedges together.  Cut each fennel half into 6 thick wedges (i just sliced the fennel into thick slices and it came out fine). 
In a 10-inch straight sided saute pan with a lid, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat.  Arrange the fennel wedges, one cut side down, in the pan (if you sliced them like me you may have to stagger stack the slices, this is okay so long as you flip the slices that aren't on the bottom to the bottom of the pan when you have to rotate later on, you'll see when).  Season with the salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Cook until the fennel wedges are nicely browned, 7 to 8 minutes.  (If the heat on your burner is uneven, rotate the pan so that all the wedges brown evenly.)  Turn the wedges over (here's where you flip if they are sliced!) to another cut side with tongs.  Pour the broth-vodka mixture over the fennel.  Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly askew so that some steam escapes.  Make sure the liquid is gently simmering (turn the heat up or down if necessary), and cook until the liquid is reduced to just a few tablespoons, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove the lid, add the tomato-cream mixture, and cook, gently turning the fennel wedges with tongs, and stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the cream thickens and coats the fennel, about 2 minutes. 
Remove the pan from the heat.  Serve the fennel and sauce right away, garnished with the chopped fennel fronds.

 above is it all sliced and flipped after the first browning.
 pink sauce completed
 david paired it with the leek chicken comte thing and it was a wonderful combo!  gordon ramsay would have my head though if i served that plate with junk on the ridge of it.

I actually hope that tomorrow's farmer's market has some fennel so i can make more of it while david is out hiking this weekend so i can eat a whole pan of it myself, even though i have an artichoke and some collard greens to finish off first. sigh, i will probably do the responsible thing and eat the veggies i already have and i also will probably still share the next batch i make, considering i just ate the last serving of it with some langostino lobster tails and david didn't get to have any more. bad meeee.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Leek, Chicken, Mushroom, and Comte Cheese Bake in Hazelnut Crust with Bacon Topping

I know the title is kind of long but when i make up recipes i don't know what to call it and i just go with "as descriptive as possible."

We have been rotisserie-chicken-obsessed forever with the garlic herb ones from previously known as Henry's but now known as Sprouts because they are super moist and flavorful and, if i don't eat an entire one in a single sitting, they can be used for lots of things.  Some things like a chicken and green onion scramble with hot sauce, or this amazing recipe for dill and yogurt chicken salad (which is fantastic on celery sticks!), or i just make stuff up with it usually, like today.

In our veggie shipment from Farm Fresh To You we got several leeks and i love leeks!  They remind me of fancy french food and they are great in a soup or awesome caramelized with goat cheese etc. I wanted to try something different with them than what i normally do which is saute them up and put them in omelettes or soup or on burgers so i googled leeks and browsed some of the recipes.  There were several variations of a leek and cheese pie but i wanted to make it amazing so i took that idea and another flavor combo of toasted hazelnuts and bacon with leeks and mashed them together in my head.  I came up with the thing below and thankfully i had the foresight to measure and jot down the stuff i put in it:

Leek, Chicken, Mushroom, and Comte Cheese Bake in Hazelnut Crust with Bacon Topping 
Crust -
2 oz hazelnut meal/flour (or food processor 2 oz hazelnuts just enough to make it mealy but not too much to make hazelnut butter.  i got my meal from
1 Tblsp softened butter
couple pinches salt 
Middle -
1 Tblsp butter
2 medium leeks, light green and white parts, sliced in half-moons
5 oz mushrooms, diced/chopped small to medium pieces (there were white button mushrooms on sale so i used those but baby bellas would work too!)
2 Tblsp minced garlic/onion/shallot mix (this is from trader joes and i just had it to use up but just garlic would work well if you don't have this)
a few generous pinches of salt (sorry, i need to work on measuring this)
2 generous pinches of dried herbs de provence (just dried thyme could work also)
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 Tblsp half and half or cream or milk
5 oz shredded/chopped cooked chicken
4 oz shredded comte cheese (gruyere or swiss can be subbed in)
2-3 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and dump the crust ingredients into an 8x8 glass baking dish.  Mash it all together with your hands until it is well mixed and just sticks together enough to press it to the bottom only of the dish.  Bake it on the center rack of your oven for about ten minutes or until golden.  Take it out and set aside until you're done making the middle. Leave the oven on. 
For the middle - on medium heat, melt the butter in at least a 10" nonstick pan, i just used an omelette pan.  When it's heated add the leek slices and saute until very tender and starting to brown, stirring often.  The crust will probably be done for a while before the leeks are tender.  Add the salt and the mushrooms and cook a few minutes, until the mushrooms begin to become tender, then add the garlic(/shallot/onion mix).  Cook, stirring occasionally until everything is nice and soft and then stir in the herbs de provence and remove from the heat.  Stir in the chopped chicken and let cool while you mix the cheese base. 
In a medium bowl blend the ricotta cheese, egg, and half and half together until well mixed.  You can toss some freshly ground pepper in here if you want.  Stir in about half of the shredded comte, reserving the other half for later.  Add the somewhat cooled chicken/leek/mushroom mix to the cheese base and stir it all up and then spoon it into your prepared hazelnut crust, patting it down and making it even.  It's going to be thick, not pourable.  You could always add extra eggs for more of a breakfasty bake, if you like.  Once it's spread into the crust, top with remaining comte shreds and if you plan to eat it right away you can sprinkle the bacon on top before you put it in the oven.  I put in on top afterwards because i knew there would be leftovers and i didn't want rubbery bacon should we microwave it so it's up to you. 
Bake on center rack at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese on top is fully melted and browning along the edges.  Wait for it to stop being scalding before you stick your face in it.
I cut it into 9 pieces and figured out the stats for that. Based on my general estimates the entire dish (sans bacon, because ours are 90 cals per thick slice and some people get that skinny bacon that is like 50 cals per slice) is 1935 calories which makes each slice 215 cals.  You can always adjust whatever lightness you want, for instance use reduced fat ricotta instead of the mega-amazing fresh full-fat ricotta that i used, and two egg whites instead of an egg to save a measly 50 cals per entire dish etc, it's a pretty flexible dish.

The crust was more like a toasty, nutty, soft breading than a crunchy one you might expect from a nut crust, fyi.  Comte cheese has a nutty, slightly sweet taste if you haven't had it before.  I got mine at trader joes.  About .3 lbs is enough for the recipe in case where you buy it isn't by the ounce.

The only thing that could have made this dish better was to pair it with a nice white wine!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Peanut Butter and Chocolate, and more pb and chocolate

We don't like peanut butter or chocolate in my house.

JUST KIDDING.  I think it is our favorite combo ever.  I love to add caramel to it too but we don't have any sugar free caramel right now.  If i wouldn't die of horrific nutritional deficiencies i would probably live off bowls of a mish mash of peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallow, and caramel all gooed up together, and french fries (not mixed in of course).  So it stands to reason that since we are eating nuts/legumes again i am going to be making a lot of peanut butter and peanut butter-chocolate things.  The squirrels are digging up my patio garden anyway so what else do i have to do to busy myself?

The first thing i made was Candice's Low Carb Ultimate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies so that i could also make Candice's Low Carb Individual Peanut Butter Cookie Brownies.  In my haste i neglected to flatten down the peanut butter cookies so they stayed in rounded lumps but were tasty nonetheless.  I used some valencia chunky peanut butter with flaxseeds stuff from trader joes for the peanut butter and i chopped a couple of squares of the Simply Lite dark chocolate bar i had on hand in place of the chocolate chips.  My peanut flour also came from trader joes.  And i made sure to remember to reserve some of the uncooked dough for the brownies.

 Above are the baked cookies, below are the individual brownies with the pb dough inside.  Uhh, we forgot to take pictures of the middle of the brownies before we ate them all.  In my defense david ate them all.  But in his defense there were only 6 and he brought two to his parents.  I had one and i think i overcooked the brownie because while the cookies above were moist and delicious the brownie was too cakey for me, i was expecting something a little denser and it may have just been my baking time since i am mostly used to baking with regular flour.  I don't think that i added enough or big enough chunks of chocolate to the pb cookies so i would have just preferred them without any chocolate but i remembered too late that i have a giant bag of mini sugar free peanutbutter cups from NutsOnline that i could be adding to this stuff to make it amazinger.
The pb dough inspired me to create my own pb dough snack, so for the next couple of days i would just mix some peanut flour with a little water and splenda to the consistency and sweetness i desired at that moment, and then folded in some sea salt flecks and ate it off a spoon.  Very good and will probably become a staple in my diet.

As you might know, saturday was st. patrick's day.  I kind of hate it and think it's a dumb holiday (as much as i love drinking).  I don't like irish food, i am not huge on just drinking beer, whiskey is pretty good but i drink more american bourbon whiskey than irish, wearing green in my current state of paleness makes me look extra sickly, etc. plus for health reasons i am dry for a few months (no i am not pregnant!!!).  While david went out I stayed in for a perfect night of brownie experimentation that i have been looking forward to for a while.

I gathered my ingredients.  I have been on the lookout for as many coconut flours that i can find because Candice from tickle my sweet tooth is in canada and uses some crazy exclusive coconut flour specific to her area or something ridiculous that even the grocery store where she buys it will not even sell it and send it to me and she has noted in her blog that many people have claimed using another brand of coconut flour has resulted in baked goods that do not resemble what candice makes.  So in effort to find a local match I rounded up what i could, which was a pitiful three kinds since the aloha-nu is indefinitely out of stock.  All of the stats vary slightly and none of them match with what candice claims her coconut flour stats are so i didn't really know what to expect.
 I started with the green bag of coconut flour and while those were in the oven i began to make another batch with the canister coconut flour, when i realized this called for a LOT of cocoa powder and i had gotten a new kind of cocoa powder from trader joes instead of my usual cacao powder whateverness i have in the pantry because it boasted richer flavor and it also had less carbs so i was like what the heck.  Well i did not have enough to make a third batch so i couldn't make any with the bob's red mill coconut flour.   Also i had only one box of unsalted butter and one box of salted so i used half and half in my recipes for the sake of keeping everything exactly the same.  I usually use regular salted in ALL of my recipes but occasionally i buy unsalted and this recipe just happened to call for it.  By the way the recipe i used is this one.
 The green bag and the canister had very similar stats and surprise surprise they came out exactly alike.  Since only a few Tablespoons of actual coconut flour are used in the recipe the overall stats were virtually the same as well.  Probably not the best coconut flour experiment recipe to use, i should probably test with a coconut pound cake or something that uses more coconut flour.  I cooked the brownies for exactly 18 minutes in an 8 x 8 pan and cut them into 16 squares.
 Below you see side by side they are identical.  The only problem is, and i asked candice this already but she is sort of busy with a new baby so i don't expect an answer soon, that i think she uses kosher salt in all of her recipes, not just the ones that specifically say kosher salt.  I used regular table sized sea salt and i felt they were far too salty, and i like salty-sweet combos.  I know i did use half salted half unsalted butter in the recipe but that would not cause it to be that salty.  It wasn't like biting into a salt lick or anything, and i actually had to eat a couple to tell whether i liked them or not, but it kind of overpowered most of the sweetness i imagined it should have had, it was just enough salt to make me question its brownie palatability.  However, i had enough cocoa powder to make a half batch using all unsalted butter with a little bit less salt than called for as well, and they were still a little "hmmm."  It actually could be something small just exacerbated by the new cocoa powder i used for the first time, like maybe it is more bitter chocolate than either she or i thought it would be and it just needs more sweetener?  I meant the texture is divine--gooey and melty and creamy and cakey all in one and i am certain if you baked it a couple minutes longer you could make it an even more cake-like brownie because the edges were more cakey than the center, so there is no problem there at all.  I will certainly try it again with different ingredients and salt measurements to make it perfect for me.
At first i was a little desperate, not wanting to have made two batches of brownies that were practically inedible so i tried to frost them with a sweet cream cheese frosting but that only made the brownie taste saltier in contrast to the sweet frosting.  So I set them on paper towels and stuck them in a ziplock bag to see if david thought they were salty too.  Super strangely, the next night (after a lot of grease from the butter had soaked up into the paper towels) they were not as bad as i initially thought.  David thought they were good.  I think my tongue just needed a reset?  Maybe it was the butter that was part of the problem?  They still had a slightly pure-cocoa flavor so i think next time i will add more splenda for sure but i ended up eating like six of them in one sitting so whatever happened was good.  Maybe i just need to eat them when i am really tired.  I put them in the fridge and will try them again in a couple of days since this whole thing is just so weird how it's salty then it's not so bad and maybe it will be salty again? Maybe i am crazy?

Anyway since i didn't have enough cocoa powder to complete my experiment i made peanut flour brownies too.  I used half almond butter half pb just to mix things up because i was feeling creative.  And i chopped up some Simply Lite milk chocolate bar to sub for chocolate chips.  This thing came out looking like a giant peanut butter cookie.
 But the texture and flavor was absolutely delicious.  A+ but i am still remorseful i didn't remember to use the mini sugar free peanut butter cups instead of the chopped chocolate!  These were much softer in texture than the pb cookies i made earlier in the week so there was an obvious cookie recipe and a brownie/cake recipe.  hmmm i should probably practice practice practice with more of her recipes to get the hang of all of the nontraditional ingredients.  Or i should probably not because then i will end up eating most of them like usual.
I figured out the stats for my own ingredients.  I don't count carbs or calories in granualted Splenda so for the pb chip cookies they were 100 calories; the individual brownies were 170 calories; the regular chocolate brownies were 165 cals and 3 carbs each, and the peanut butter chip brownies were 125 cals and 2 carbs.  All rough estimate, and overestimated to be on the safe side as usual.