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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Parchment Aplenty

Issue 69 had a feature on using parchment as a cooking method.  It had full meals, main dishes, sides, and even breakfast in a parchment.  So, here we go.

The first recipe I made was for a dinner party with the lovely neighbor.  I made the Chicken with Mango and Ginger.

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Not being a huge fan of spicy foods, I went easy on the jalapeño on my packet.  Somehow it managed to impart a small amount flavor without much heat so it worked well for me.  The ginger infused the chicken breast and the mango kept it nice and juicy.  (Warning: the mango also made the entire packet pretty juicy so be sure to serve it with something that can absorb a lot of liquid — I went with coconut rice.  It was a good decision.)  This was a delicious recipe and I will most likely make it again in the future, especially when I need a tropical escape!  I also think I might start pairing chicken and mango more often, grilled for example, or in a sandwich.  Yeah, it’s a good match.

Next, I made the Eggs with Mushroom and Spinach.

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I’m not going to lie to you.  I didn’t think this one was worth the effort of cutting the parchment (let alone any of the actual packaging of the ingredients into said parchment.  To be fair, I did make this recipe on a day when I had chills and aches set in by mid afternoon (yep, the flu) so I may not have been a totally unbiased opinion on that day.  I definitely didn’t feel any desire to finish eating my packet.  I maybe made it through half.  It was really plain and more or less boring.  And when considering the effort put into fixing it, it just wasn’t worth it.  I think I’d skip the parchment next time and just make a scramble.  So much easier and the separate parts would work a bit better together that way.

Needless to say, after coming down with the flu, I didn’t do much cooking for a while.  I ate soup.  Soup from a can.  Because I didn’t have the energy to eat anything else.  And after the flop that was the eggs with mushrooms and spinach I wasn’t particularly tempted to make another parchment recipe.  But I did.  I made the Potatoes, Leeks and Carrots in Parchment

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It may not look that thrilling, but it tasted pretty decent.  This was another instance where I would normally have just roasted these vegetables together, because vegetables are more delicious when roasted.  But! This is the light issue (hence all the parchment) and by using steam trapped in the parchment to cook these veggies, they stayed pretty flavorful and required much less fat than when roasted.  In fact, the fat was optional in this method of cooking, so it has its perks.

Finally, I made the Broccoli, Asparagus, and Snap Peas in Parchment.  And as a bonus, I also made the Herbed Orzo.

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This is probably the one parchment recipe that I think really benefits from this cooking method.  Each of these vegetables is still super flavorful when steamed and don’t necessarily require anything added to make them awesome.  We liked it so much that we made it two days in a row.  Try it.  Trust me.  

The Herbed Orzo was slightly less exciting, but still an alternative to rice or potatoes so it might be a good thing to add to the mix.  The main issue with this recipe is that I found out after I made it that the bear doesn’t like dill.  And of course, I had decided that the main herb flavor would be dill… I ate a lot of orzo that week.

And now, G will fill you in on the final parchment recipe! Go G!!!

Thanks, B!  I’m winding this one up with the Salmon with Green Beans and Lemon Zest

There's fish under there somewhere...

There’s fish under there somewhere…

This was definitely good and certainly easy enough.  I like cooking things en papillote (that’s French for “No, G, not papillon.  You’re thinking of the dog…or the Steve McQueen movie.”), but I will admit it makes me slightly nervous.  I don’t think I’d be able to make B’s chicken dish without ruining it by busting open the packet and checking it.  But I grew to love the method by making a very similar dish from a Rachael Ray recipe.  She inelegantly calls it Spanish Fish in a Sack.  You’ll see that recipe is much more involved than the one in EF here.  I think this recipe is a good, simple option.  The wide pieces of peel are a nice touch.  But…if I’m bothering to make parchment packets, I’m probably going to go with the Rachael Ray fish sack.  It’s just too good. 

Fish and unintentionally crunchy veggies

Halibut with warm bean hash

I think it goes without saying that the fish is actually whatever Aldi had and not halibut

I think it goes without saying that the fish is actually whatever Aldi had and not halibut

The fish was tasty even though it was kind of a hassle to do the pan frying with the flour and everything.  The potatoes and carrots didn’t actually get cooked all the way.  I don’t think I’ve ever cooked carrots in a pan like that.  I kept thinking, “Why would this work?”  It wouldn’t.  The carrots were still crunchy and some of the potatoes were crunchy too.  I wonder if maybe it would be better to roast those two ingredients in the oven with some oil and then toss them with the canned beans and the vinegar.  On a related note, the beans and vinegar were very delicious together.  Now that I think of it, it’s basically like a wintery bean salad.  No wonder it’s good.

Vermonts-giving

A Very New England Thanksgiving starring B and G

not pictured (or discussed): nightmare radicchio slaw

not pictured (or discussed): nightmare radicchio slaw

We’ve got a holiday treat for you, dear readers.  A joint post about a joint meal!  B and I cooked this one when I visited her in Vermont.  I did sort of demand a ham for my visit.  B, being awesome, was happy to oblige.

Ham, spinach and cheese puff, and herbed mashed potatoes

Ham, spinach and cheese puff, and herbed mashed potatoes

Mmmm….ham…  I wish ham was a Thanksgiving thing for my family.  sigh.  I’ll let B describe how to make the ham.  I will have to add that we almost didn’t make the ham at all because the pilot went out in B and the bear’s oven, and we couldn’t figure out how to get it lit.  D figured it out via text message.  Good thing, too.  I googled how to cook ham in a slow cooker, but I wasn’t very optimistic…  Oh, B!  How do you make that ham of yours?

B here!  D is a handy guy!  G didn’t mention this, but in addition to not being thrilled about the crockpot ham options, our ham also did not fit into  the crockpot so we could have had to do some pre-cooked carving.  Let’s just say, disaster averted.  Thanks for the help, D!

So ham. Not being a beef eater, I have a thing for ham.  A big thing for ham.  It is one of the reasons I ended my days as a vegetarian.  The other reason was bacon… so same thing in the end.  The bear’s mother makes an awesome ham.  She uses an old school recipe from an old school cookbook called Yankee Magazine’s Favorite New England Recipes.  

Basically, you put the ham, cut side down,  in a pan lined with foil, making a little bowl around the base of the ham.  Then you pour in a cup or so of apple cider, or Coke, or ginger ale.  Then you cover it with another bit of foil and seal it together with the other piece of foil so the ham sort of steams in the sweet liquid.  I can usually fit the ham in my dutch oven and still fit the lid on so I often do that instead of the foil. Then you let it bake at 325 for hours, 20 minutes per lb of ham.  At the very end, you crank the heat up to 400 0r 450 and you glaze it.  To glaze you have to take the ham out and carefully score the skin in a diamond pattern so that glaze can stick.  Then mix up about a cup of brown sugar, a couple table spoons of dijon mustard and just a little splash of apple cider.  The glaze should be really thick, just wet to the point where the sugar is starting to dissolve a bit and stick together.  It’s really just a splash or two, maybe 2 -3 tablespoons tops.  Then drizzle it on and put the ham back in the oven to get awesome.

G also mentioned a gravy… Once the ham is out of the oven there will be a ton of liquid.  Some drippings that have come out of the ham and a lot of the cider left from cooking.  Additionally, some of the brown sugar and mustard from the glaze has gotten into it so the flavor gets pretty awesome.  I usually start the gravy in a brand new pan and just get the drippings into it however you know how.  I usually use a turkey baster.  Get some heat going underneath it, not too high.  And slowly whisk in several tablespoons of flour or corn starch.  It varies depending on how much drippings you have.  If you don’t whisk and slowly add the flour in you are going to get lumps.  You can also make a slurry if needed of your flour in some more cider instead, which should help with your lumping.  And there you have it.  Ham.  Ham gravy.  Good stuff.

On to the sides!

Spinach-and-Cheese puff

puff in B's lovely Le Cruset

puff in B’s lovely Le Cruset

G here.  The spinach puff was basically a way to make creamed spinach for a crowd.  It has nutmeg in it, which reminded us of how Rachael Ray always says that’s the secret to all of her spinach recipes.  Is it, Rach?  You tell us constantly.  The secret is out.  At this point, the secret would be to omit nutmeg.  Oh, and I have to recommend assigning a towel in your kitchen to be your “spinach towel.”  Otherwise, you can wind up with a random green-stained towel.  The first time I saw anyone on TV wring out spinach with a towel, it was a green towel.  That could not have been a coincidence.  Anything to add, Ms. B?

B here! I enjoyed the spinach puff, although I did sort of expect it to be a little bit more puff…  As in more soufflé like.  But it was a nice texture as is.  And it’s nice being able to eat spinach without a giant puddle of spinach liquid pooling on the plate around it.

Herbed mashed potatoes

maybe not the greatest picture.

maybe not the greatest picture.

G’s back.  The mashed potatoes were pretty much B’s gig.  I really liked the herbs.  I thought it made for brighter mashed potatoes.  The challenge with Thanksgiving foods is to cut through all the richness.  At some point gravy tastes like turkey tastes like stuffing tastes like potatoes.  If you don’t mix it up a little, it’s so rich it’s bland.  The herbs play that role here.  I loved these potatoes.  How was it to cook them, B?

B again.  It was like cooking… mashed potatoes.  Since we had the spinach puff on our table we opted to go with milk rather than half and half to cut the richness of the meal just a little bit.  Don’t worry, I still used the butter!  Also, since we had the scallions for the radicchio slaw… we used those instead of chives.  These taters were good!  Even better when smothered in gravy!

G again.  Well, we don’t need to belabor the point about how nasty the radicchio slaw was.  That’s been handled elsewhere.  Suffice it to say that that cider gravy will cover all manner of sins.

Oh, and the wine was a 2011 Cakebreads Chardonnay.  Cakebreads is hard to find in the Midwest.  This was not only available, it was only $40!  I think D and I paid double that the last time we bought a bottle.  Ah, Vermont.

Finally, there was dessert.  Having come all the way to the ancestral homeland of Ben and Jerry’s, I had to indulge.  So I tried many, many flavors.  My favorite flavor is Coffee Caramel Buzz (formerly known as Bonaroo Buzz), but my favorite combo is Phish Food and Peanut Brittle.  Since returning to Chicago, I’ve learned that you can only get one of those three, Phish Food, in town.  Sigh.  Guess I’d better go back to Vermont…  Will you have me, B?

B says… Maybe… I suppose I could pencil you in for 2014… 🙂