Fancy Schmancy Post-Valentine’s Day Celebration Dinner

Sometimes, when you live with a bear, that bear has to work late.  One such occurrence happened on Valentine’s Day, so our Valentine’s Day feast was postponed a week.  But then we went all out.  Oh yes we did.

For the first course, I made the Caesar Salad for Two.

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Now, if you are like me, you have probably never made Caesar dressing at home.  Maybe the anchovies scared you off.  Maybe it was the raw egg.  Either way, it’s a daunting proposition.  I decided to give it a try anyhow (because someone had to) and let me just say, you should ignore all of your fears and hesitations regarding this and just make it for heaven’s sake!  It’s so good!!  The bear was so thrilled with it that he literally made me make it three more times in the following week.  It tastes neither fishy, nor eggy.  It tastes like what comes out of a bottle only 100 times more flavorful and delicious.  Do it!  The good thing about this recipe is that it is a small batch too, just enough to make a decent size bowl of salad for two maybe three people.  I’m not sure how well homemade caesar would store in the fridge so this recipe is ideal.

We followed our salad with Steak and Shrimp with Parsley Potatoes.

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Well really, the steak was for the Bear, and the shrimp were for me.  I did try the steak (the first steak I ever cooked) and I thought it was quite tasty.  It wasn’t too beefy just tasted nice and seared and salty.  (I tried to replicate it with a different cut of meat and again it was too beefy).  The shrimp were cooked perfectly.  They were sweet and buttery.  I think scallops would also be good in this recipe.  The potatoes were also quite tasty.  They were buttery and the perfect little side for the decadent shrimp and steak.

And finally… oh yes, the Fresh Orange and Yogurt Tart.

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Navel oranges are for chumps so I used blood oranges.  This was an awesome desert folks.  Just spectacular.  After such a decadent meal this wasn’t so over the top sweet that we would instantly fall into a food coma.  Nope it was light and satisfying.  It was an amazing texture and I will absolutely make some variation of this again.  I think it might be pretty awesome to make the yogurt part and then top it with a curd, maybe like that incredible orange curd I made for the pavlova.

So there you have it, a feast to end all feasts.  A feast to end the Jan/Feb 2010 issue.  Next up, March 2009!!

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Fennel! Fennel! Fennel! Fennel! (And an Acorn Squash and some salmon)

In case that title wasn’t clear, this post is about fennel.  Fennel in four different recipes to be exact.  G and I split the load again, so I’m going to start off by talking about roasted fennel and the acorn squash recipe that I served it with.

One of these days I will get some better lighting...

One of these days I will get some better lighting…

So the acorn squash is actually very similar to the way I grew up eating it.  My mom used to make baked acorn squash all winter long, except she would serve it with honey and a little butter.  Aside from the honey, the process is the same.  I found the molasses flavor of the brown sugar to be really pleasant with the acorn squash so I will probably be using it again sometime.  (Did I mention that I have a half bushel of acorn squash waiting in my pantry?)

I have also made roasted fennel before, but I usually serve it with fish.  This time I served it with a pork loin I made using a maple mustard glaze.  The fennel was a delicious complement to the pork flavor.  I’ll definitely be combining them again.

Next I made a Fennel and Potato Bake.

Still bubbling!!!

Still bubbling!!!

I have to say here, the recipe requires you to thinly slice two fennel bulbs.  If you have one, I would recommend using a mandoline for this.  Slicing with a knife is a bit rough because the fennel keeps falling apart and it is really difficult to get even slices.

The recipe itself is pretty simple, though it requires a decent amount of prep time if you are doing all the slicing with a knife (seriously folks, use a mandoline).  You just sprinkle some asiago, salt and pepper between layers of fennel and potato then pour a little cream over the top.

The outcome is awesome.  The texture is super satisfying and the flavor is amazing! As soon as I get a mandoline, I’m making this again!

Passing the torch to G!

Thanks, B!  First, of all, fear the mandoline.  I once came home from school to find nothing but a mandoline, some carrots, a lot of blood, and no mom.  This is back before cell phones.  She had cut off the tip of her thumb using a mandoline.  She was fine.  It was just a slice of skin, and it grew back.  How’s that for a good story for a cooking blog?  Anyway, it scared me off of mandolines for life.  I use a knife or the slicing blade on a food processor.  Mandolins on the other hand, are a lovely instrument.  😉

I made the linguine with fennel and tuna and the Fennel, orange, and parsley salad.  I served the fennel and orange salad as a side with the Salmon “steaks” with hoisin glaze, so I’ll talk about that too.  And you’ll find out why “steaks” is in quotes.

Linguine with fennel and tuna

It's difficult to photograph this many shades of off-white and biege in one picture...

It’s difficult to photograph this many shades of off-white and biege in one picture…

I adjusted this recipe by using thin whole wheat spaghetti instead of linguine.  Other than that, I followed the recipe as written.  It winds up being nice.  I don’t believe I’d ever had cooked fennel before.  It takes on a more subtle and nutty flavor than the sharp anise flavor you get with fresh fennel.  The capers added a nice briny bite.  The tuna grounded the whole dish and gave it some richness.  I like that even the bites that didn’t have a little of everything still tasted like something.  Too often with these Everyday Food pasta recipes, you get a mouthful of plain noodles and wonder why you bothered.  I’ll get to the whole wheat pasta with kale and fontina later…  The biggest problem with this recipe is how unappetizing it looks.  Aside from the green fennel fronds, it’s all kind of beige.  Ick.

Fennel, orange, and parsley salad

Salmon “steaks” with hoisin glaze

Salmon and fennel, new best friends

Salmon and fennel, new best friends

There’s also a video of this recipe online.  It looks like it’s from the old PBS show.  I miss that show.  The video teaches you how to segment an orange.  She (Allie?) points out that you can use the stalks to make stock.  That’s a good tip.  Mostly the video just serves to make me nostalgic for the PBS show and wish I had a knife sharp enough to segment an orange that quickly and cleanly.

The fennel salad is very nice and bright.  The recipe called for black olives, which I found confusing.  When I think “black olives” I still think of the dopey little olives you get on a pizza.  Taking a look at the picture in the magazine, it was clear that these were no pizza olives.  But what were they?  D wound up buying something at the store from the olive bar.  They were terribly salty.  The video says to use Kalamata olives, which makes perfect sense.  So why don’t you say that, Everyday Food?!?!  This recipe also represents the last gasp of the parsley from our garden.  Sunrise, sun barely shine on garden resulting in stilted growth and wan looking plants with no fruit on them, sun set.

As for the salmon, I really wish I would have bought salmon steaks.  That’s what the recipe actually calls for.  We had a giant side of salmon instead.  It was fine salmon, it’s just that when you broil a piece of fish that’s not uniform thickness, you wind up with an overcooked end and an undercooked end.  The glaze is awesome.  Why am I not putting hoisin sauce and orange juice on more things?  That could have been the dressing for the salad…  Of course, now that I have the 1/2 a jar of hoisin sauce, I’m facing the dreaded condiment glut in the fridge.  If I cook my leftover rice noodles, can I put hoisin sauce on them and kill two orphan ingredients with one stone?

Guest post: Citrus Spritzers from D

Citrus Spritzers*

D here, guest writing. I have a longstanding love of cocktails and think that home bartending is just a fun hobby to have, so when the “citrus spritzers” recipe came up here, G asked me to collaborate. The recipe isn’t available online, so here’s it is (if you’ve got a set of The Stripes at home, this is p. 74 of No. 45, though the picture is on p. 72):

Cheers!

Cheers!

*Adapted from Everyday Food, September 2007

-2 cups fresh orange juice (from 6 oranges), strained
-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons), strained
-1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes), strained
-2/3 cup superfine sugar
-4 cups seltzer or club soda
-1 ounce vodka per serving (optional)
– Orange, lemon or lime slices, for garnish (optional)

When G and I looked at this recipe we knew were going to make this a boozy version, but vodka seemed like a total copout. I’ve actually had good luck with Martha Stewart’s cocktail recipes in general and the Everyday Food “Happy Hour” section in particular. The Happy Hour is where I first discovered the way to make a proper Lemon Shandy which is kind of a curse, because once you’ve had it you’ll never be able to drink any pre-made “shandy” type beer again. The “Happy Hour” is also where I was introduced to miracle that is Tequila & Tonic. It’s 5,000% better than you’d think it is – trust Martha on this one.  Throwing vodka in this just seemed uninspired, so we decided to have our own tasting to audition the best spirit to add in here.

G made up the mixture and then I set up a flight-style tasting, using the stated proportions to make little tiny cocktails in sake cups for G and I to audition. I was glad we were so methodical, because pairing a spirit with the spritzer base turned out to be much harder than anticipated. Here’s the contenders:

It's a tough job...

It’s a tough job…

The first that we tried is white rum – we used Flor de Cana 4 year old, because that’s what I had on hand. It was serviceable, but the flavor of the rum didn’t really come through, and the whole thing just kind of ended up tasting like a wan beach drink from a TGI Fridays. Since we jettisoned the suggested vodka in search of something more flavorful, this wasn’t what we were hoping for.

Next we tried it with a silver tequila, in this case Leyenda del Milagro (at about $20 a bottle a phenomenal value if you can find it). This was decent, but something was missing. The tequila/lime/orange flavors made it very similar to a classic margarita, but the addition of the lemon and the effervescence of the club soda made the whole thing kind of odd: it ended up tasting like someone had poured 7Up into your margarita. Surprisingly, the white rum was actually better.

Two other things to note before declaring the winner. I drug the bottle of Tanqueray out of the freezer mostly as a lark: huge mistake. Imagine a band doing a cover of the Snoop classic “Gin and Juice” in Spanish, and then imagine resulting song as a cocktail. Horrible. Also falling into the “bad idea” category was mescal (far right). If you know what mescal is and like it, don’t waste your time here – the spritzer base is  too sweet and clashes with the smokiness of the mescal. If you don’t know what mescal is, now is not the time to learn. Move along.

So the winner was a reposado tequila. Tequilas generally fall into three rough categories: 1) silver or “blanco” which are not aged or have been aged only slightly, 2) reposado tequilas, which have been aged between 2 months and a year in oak barrels, and 3) anejo tequilas, those aged over a year.  Like aged whiskies, tequilas take on a woody, smoky character from the wood in the barrels, and the bite of the alcohol tends to mellow.  Anejo tequilas run to the pricey side, and generally should be sipped on their own. But there are excellent reposados available at reasonable prices if you know what you’re looking for, and they can be just what a cocktail calls for. Reposados tend to be much less smoky than a mescal, so they can be easier to mix and more crowd pleasing than a mescal cocktail, which is often an acquired taste (G has yet to acquire this taste for the most part).

Espolon is fairly widely available and their reposado tequila is an inexplicably good value at about $23 a bottle.  I think they just break into other distilleries and steal this stuff or something. Go track it down and mix it into your spritzer (and your margarita the next time you make one). The aged character comes through just enough to give the drink some character, but it doesn’t overwhelm the base: the fresh sweetness and the acidity of the juices still comes nicely into balance. The seltzer gives the whole thing an effervescence that makes these dangerously easy to drink. Even G, whose tolerance for smoky alcohol is about 1/1000th of mine, declared this one the clear winner.

So go get yourself some Espolon Reposado and have a couple of these. We still need a name for this magic elixir, so get drunk and suggest one in the comments.

(Alright, Bear: I contributed. The ball is in your court to write something, or you’re going to look like a slacker!)