Wine Wednesday: 2011 Black Stallion Estate Winery
 Napa Valley Chardonnay

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

During our five days in Napa last fall, we constantly passed Black Stallion as we drove up and down the Silverado Trail. We tried to get a tasting appointment at Black Stallion but they were booked solid. Having had this chardonnay several times now at home, I know that it will be a priority stop for us on our next trip.

This is the kind of chardonnay I adore. I love the rich, golden color in the glass! It was smooth, had a lot of vanilla and stone fruits, with a really creamy finish. It paired beautifully with the pork dish I made that night, coming to the blog tomorrow!

MMM Pork & Beans

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why "MMM"? There are three key components to this dish:

M - medallions, pork tenderloin
M - mushrooms, portobello, caps thereof
M - mashed canellini beans

And, of course, once you take a bite, your only reaction should be, "MMM!"

Oh, and asparagus. Typical.

I started off roasting the mushroom caps. I bought three LARGE caps. It was a lot, but leftover roasted mushrooms are delicious with eggs in the morning. I took off the stems and scraped out the gills with a spoon. Brush off any dirt with a paper towel. I scraped an X into the tops to let the juices run out easier, brushed with oil on both sides, and seasoned liberally with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. I roasted them 10 minutes per side at 400 degrees.

After the first 10 minutes, I threw some asparagus onto the pan (tossed with a little oil, S&P) as I flipped the mushrooms.

They came out looking absolutely gorgeous.

Now, for the beans. My "Tuscan beans" make an appearance all year round since the ingredient is seasonal - canned Goya beans. You can dress these up as much as you like with spices and herbs, but the standard recipe looks something like this:

1. Cook a diced onion and as many cloves of garlic as you like (I used 4 - 5 for this iteration) in some oil or butter.

2. Pour in a can of drained cannelini beans. I prefer these since they're mild and creamy and fantastic, but really any bean of your choice will do. I also prefer Goya low sodium - they're perfectly tender but not too salty. I also had rosemary on hand and added a bunch into the pan.

3. Add in chicken stock (or vegetable stock, or wine), a few glugs or one to two turns of the pan. Heat the liquid until it starts to bubble a bit.

4. Mash the beans. I find that the addition of the liquid in step 3 helps make the mashed bean mixture really smooth and creamy.

If you just want mashed beans, you're done! I wanted to veggie-fy them even further and tossed in some washed, shredded kale. I put a lid on the pan for a few minutes to let the kale wilt down a bit.

J worked on the pork. He sliced a 3/4 pound pork tenderloin into circles and pounded out the medallions to make them a bit thinner. Then, he seasoned with salt and pepper, seared each side and finished in the oven (about 10 minutes).

To plate, I spooned a base of the creamy mashed beans with kale, topped it with one mushroom cap, placed some of the pork on top, and ran out of space for asparagus to just plopped it on the sides. And if you look closely, you can see that I even sprinkled a little more rosemary on top! This is a go-to weeknight meal. It doubles up on the protein (pork and beans) and triples up on vegetables (kale, asparagus, mushrooms). It's filling, it's hearty, it's healthy, and it's delicious.

Meatless Monday: Caramelized Onion Pie

Monday, April 28, 2014

While most of our dinners include meat, every now and again I'll go for something meatless. Using eggs, hearty caramelized onions, cheese and cream seems a decent substitute to me. This pie is quiche-adjacent but "onion pie" sounds so much lovelier in my opinion.

I started out melting anchovies into some olive oil.

Yes they are little tiny fish and yes they melt into the oil and yes you should try this at least once in your life. They add a crazy delicious layer of flavor but it isn't fishy. If you're skeeved out by little fishies, try anchovy paste. This is totally not required for the recipe but I'm telling you - anchovy fillets/anchovy paste will be an amazing addition to your pantry. Trust me.

Once the anchovies melted into the oil, I caramelized three large Vidalia onions sliced into half moons. I used an absolutely massive pan and this took a long time and, as is always the case with caramelized onions, it was completely worth the wait. While the onions caramelized, I created a filling mix from 1/2 c light cream, 4 eggs, 7 oz or so of part skim ricotta cheese, chopped fresh chives, salt and pepper.

Judge me - I used store bought crust from the freezer section. It comes in a stack of two in a disposable foil pan. The onions took long enough that I wasn't messing around with a homemade dough.

Spread about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard on the base of the crust. This sounded intriguing when I first read a SK recipe but I assure you now it is a silent star of the dish.

I topped the mustard layer with about half of the onions.

Then I added about half of the cream/ricotta/egg filling. I sprinkled the top with gruyère cheese and baked at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Holy deliciousness, am I right?

I served a (probably too) large wedge of the pie with a fresh green salad to balance out all the butter in the crust and the cream in the filling. The salad is baby spinach and the dressing is balsamic vinegar, lemon-infused olive oil and some regular olive oil, salt and pepper, and a hefty shake of za'atar.

There was SO MUCH FILLING that I ended up just baking a second one of these while we ate our dinner (remember, there were two crusts in the freezer pack I bought). We ate it a few nights later with another delicious green salad and it was still SO delicious. So basically, cut everything in my recipe in half and you’ll have one pie, or do everything in my recipe and have leftovers!

J's Birthday Brunch Spread

Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy Friday! I thought that the brunch recipes would be most inspirational right before the weekend - although, knowing many of you readers, I'm sure the prosecco is the most tantalizing feature at this point. I'm with you. What a week!

The menu consisted of the following:

1) Fruit salad
2) Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake
3) Ham, Asparagus, & Cheese Strata
4) Bloody Marys
5) Bellinis
6) Birthday Boy's Special Request

Let's talk fruit salad. I give a general MEEEHHHH to fruit. I have an allergy to stone fruits which are, unfortunately, some of my favorite fresh fruits to eat and otherwise I'm kind of non-plussed. I like a good pressed or blended juice, I am down with grapes paired with chicken or sausage, but I regularly struggle with getting a variety of fresh fruits into my diet. This salad was sliced strawberries, fresh raspberries, green and red grapes, and store-diced mango. Have you ever tried to cut a mango? Kill me now. The extra money is worth it. I basically mixed all the fruit together and threw it in a bowl. Luckily, Fruit Lovers in attendance devoured most of it and I used the rest in a breakfast smoothie.

This cranberry cake? A staple. I currently live in NYC but I grew up in Massachusetts. As such, an affinity for cranberries courses through my veins. Whenever the bags of cranberries appear in grocery stores ahead of Thanksgiving, I BINGE on them and buy them in bulk and freeze them until I want them. Right now, our freezer contains several trays of ice cubes, a loaf of rye bread for breakfast toast, a Corksicle, and two and a half bags of frozen cranberries. I live a glamorous life.

Our dear friend Kat whipped up this cake for us one weekend when we visited them in Connecticut and I dream about it. It's tangy from the cranberries and buttermilk, but sweet and fruity from the sugar and orange zest. It's very easy to make and a definite crowd pleaser. Adults, adolescents, and toddlers alike scarfed this down at the birthday brunch. You can find the recipe here.

On to the strata! My cousin Tori first introduced me to strata about seven years ago and it is everything I love about breakfast/brunch in one dish: eggs, meat, vegetables, bread, and cheese. This version? Ham and cheese (gruyère specifically) with asparagus. You prep it the night before, let the eggs and milk soak into the bread French toast-style, and then throw it in the oven until it's done.

I know. That's what the cranberry cake looks like when you slice into it. I'm telling you: it's quick, foolproof, beautiful, and tasty - make it. Thank me later.

For the bar, we went with His and Hers. He makes a mean Bloody - in lieu of the traditional horseradish and hot sauce, he uses Old Bay and cayenne pepper. I make a killer bellini - and by "killer" I mean "absolutely basic peach nectar and prosecco and it is a classic for a reason". However, serving drinks on my Royal Engagement Tray makes anything that much fancier.

So what was the Birthday Boy's one and only request for the brunch menu?

Pigs in a blanket. With ketchup. For this and innumerable other reasons, I love my husband more than words.

Manhattan Cocktail Inspired Cheesecake

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Years ago, my uncle Jim let me have a sip of his Manhattan. I... did not like it. Since then, I've actually come to love them and they're a go-to autumn and winter cocktail. In fact, we served them as the signature cocktail at our October wedding. (Jim, for the record, partook aggressively and loved every sip. I feel so exceptionally redeemed.)

A Manhattan is a bourbon-based cocktail with sweet vermouth, bitters, and either a twist of lemon or a cherry for garnish. For my man's birthday, I thought that these flavors could blend beautifully into his favorite dessert of all - cheesecake.

The final product was made of three parts: home-made cheesecake on ginger snap crust; vermouth-and-bitters cherry filling; and bourbon-spiked caramel.

I drool even typing those words.

This took awhile to make and I did it in phases, but I guarantee it's worth it. I made the caramel and the cherries a few days before I made the cheesecake, so I'll start there.

Manhattan Cherry Filling:
12 oz pitted frozen cherries (bless you, Dole; pitting cherries is the worst)
1/3 cup sweet vermouth (I prefer Dolin)
6 dashes Agnostura bitters
1/4 cup sugar

I combined the sugar, vermouth, and bitters in a sauce pan over low heat until all of the sugar melted. Then I dumped in the cherries and basically cooked everything down until the liquid reduced by half.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Before this cake, I'd never made caramel. Let me tell you - it's really easy until OH MY GOD CREAM AND HOT BOILING SUGAR MAKE YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING TO SELF-IMMOLATE. It's super calm until it's super intense and then everything is silky and creamy and delicious. Bear with me.

The ingredients? 1 c sugar, 1/4 c water, 1/2 cream, 3 - 4 tablespoons bourbon (Maker's Mark is the preferred bourbon in our house). You combine the sugar and water, bring to a boil, and stir until it starts to turn slightly golden. Here are my shaky "What Am I Doing?!" iPhone pictures of this:

Once it barely starts to turn that beautiful brown color, take it off the heat and slowly add in the cream while whisking. Maybe I did this entire thing wrong but OH. MY. GOODNESS. For about 15 seconds I was convinced I ruined my whisk and had a solid block of caramel-ish blob. But I kept stirring and finally everything was incorporated and silky smooth.

Ironically, I probably could have used a shot of 3 - 4 tablespoons of bourbon before the Is My Caramel Broken!?! meltdown. Instead, you add it to the very end. Careful if you're serving this to kids or non-drinkers - it isn't as sharp as drinking bourbon itself, but there is still some alcohol alive and well in the caramel.

The final product, as promised, is gorgeous. It's silky and sweet and goes with everything and then, just as you think you've tasted all the layers of caramelized sugar and cream, that punch of bourbon smacks you in the mouth. It's a good smack, I promise.

I refrigerated both the cherry filling and caramel for 3 - 4 days until I made the cheesecake. Both of them kept beautifully. In fact, the remnants of the caramel still live in my fridge and still tastes delicious drizzled on ice cream, cookies, or sometimes in a desperate PMS-ing moment, on the end of a spoon. We've all been there, right?

Are you still with me?? We're on to The Cheesecake. This was a large cake and I brought about half of it to my office to simply rid our fridge of leftovers. Not a single morsel remained. I've made cheesecake before and my secrets lie in two areas. First, I think that graham crackers have had their day when it comes to my cheesecakes and instead I make a ginger snap crust. I crumble ginger snaps, 1/2 cup melted butter, and sometimes some lemon zest and press it into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake it for 8 - 10 minutes at 350 degrees until it starts to set.

My second tip? Using a blend of ricotta and cream cheese. Ricotta is one of my favorite food groups cheese types and it is truly so versatile. The actual blend is as such:

12 oz ricotta (I prefer part skim)
16 oz cream cheese
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
Vanilla extract to taste

In a stand mixer or bowl, mix all ingredients except the eggs until smooth. Gently add each egg one at a time and mix until incorporated.

I poured half of the batter into the crust, added all of the solid cherries and most of the liquid from the filling, and topped it all off with the remaining half of the batter.

I had a little "juice" from the filling left over, so I poured it across the top and swirled it with a knife.

Tap the edges of the pan gently but firmly to remove any and all air bubbles. Place the springform into a larger pan and surround with water. This "water bath" will prevent the cheesecake from drying out while you bake it. Bake at 300 degrees for an hour or until the center is set. Cool in the oven (heat off, door open) for one hour and then move to a cooling rack.

Spoiler alert: the cherries all fell immediately to the bottom of the cake. In future iterations, I'd pour the entire batter into the pan first, then add the fruit on top, and then bake.

It still looks incredible, right? And let me assure you - it was.

This is truly my perfect dessert. The spiciness from the ginger crust, the dense cream cheese and the fluffy ricotta, the sweetness from the cherries tempered with the bitters and vermouth, plus the smooth caramel sauce on top. Every single bite of this cake deserved slow, careful consideration. Don't be scared of cheesecake - you can easily adapt it to your favorite flavors and making it fresh really makes a difference in both texture and flavor. I'll definitely feature more cheesecake varieties in the future!

Slow Cooker Boeuf Bourgignon

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My wonderful husband celebrated a milestone birthday at the beginning of March. I won't get all sappy here about the truly endless list of good things he's brought into my life, but I will say that we fell in love over food. Since the beginning, we've loved cooking with and for each other, trying new things, and working as a team. One of the ways we like to celebrate birthdays is with a special meal prepared with love.

The next three posts are going to share the food I made for his birthday! Today is dinner, tomorrow is birthday cake, and Friday is the food served at a birthday brunch I hosted for him and our friends. Let's get to it!

I took off a Friday from work to prepare for brunch, bake a cheesecake, and coordinate his big birthday surprise. I wanted to make something fancy and decadent for dinner, ideally something by Julia Child, but knew I had to simplify or I'd drive myself crazy. I turned to the slow cooker.

The Kitchn has a slow cooker boeuf bourgignon that totally fit the bill. Her version requires:

8 ounces thick-cut bacon (5-6 slices)
2 1/2-3 pounds beef chuck roast, round roast, or other similar cut, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups good red wine (I chose Pinot Noir)
2 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced
3 medium-sized carrots, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf
1 cup chicken or beef broth, plus more if necessary
1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced

In a cruel twist of fate, I completely forgot bacon. The bacon is mainly used as the flavor-and-oil vessel for searing the meat, but I had to slum it with plain old olive oil. Anyways, season your beef heavily with salt and pepper. Once your oil starts to shimmer, add the beef and sear on each side.

Then, these go into the slow cooker.

Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine.

What is deglazing? Basically, you use a liquid to loosen up all the delicious bits of food that stuck to the bottom of the pan while you seared the meat. It's full of flavor and once you deglaze, pour the wine and unstuck flavorful bits on top of the seared meat.

Next up, cook your veggies. The vegetable mix used here is traditionally referred to as a mirepoix - carrots, onions, and celery. Soften the mirepoix in a pan and then add the garlic and tomato paste. Once they're done, also add to the pot. Then, add your mushrooms to the stovetop pan and cook them until they're golden brown. Put these aside - you'll add them to the mix right before you serve.

Pour the rest of the wine plus one cup of stock over the meat and vegetables. I also added 2 bay leaves and a bunch of fresh thyme sprigs. Cover and cook on low for 6 - 8 hours. Right before you serve, toss in the mushrooms and stir around to bring them up to the same temperature.

In the words of the inimitable Julia, BON APPÉTIT! I served this over rice and broke out our china for the occasion. The meat fell apart, the vegetables were soft and flavorful, and the broth was rich and delicious. I would definitely make this fancy-looking fancy-tasting easy-to-make meal again!
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