Saturday, May 24, 2014

A note to my friends......

I realize it has been more than a month since my last post and I very sorry about that.  I do have much to share with you, from burgers to bakes.  This is my year's end at work which is an extraordinarily busy time.  To top it off, I have been very sick this last week - did not Even know how sick, until yesterday when I went to the doctor - but should be on the road to recovery; doc says I should be good as new in 2 - 3 more days.  That's helpful, as next week, my last week, is jam-packed full of major year-end activities and things I must do to close the year.  So please forgive me for not posting recently, and be patient, for week after next I will have TONS to share with you.  Thanks to one of my esteemed colleagues, a lady who has been VERY supportive of my cooking from the last eight years, has asked me to cook for her daughter's graduation party, so it's pizza and taco night!  So very excited to do this, and, I am working on getting 180% better NOW to be my best next weekend.  One week from today!  It's going to be great!

Thank You, again, for your patience and understanding.  Stay Tuned!  Goodness and Fun is coming!


Friday, May 9, 2014

Rack of Lamb with Creamy Smashed Rosemary Garlic Potatoes and Kale Saute

I have to admit, I enjoy Twitter, probably a bit too much.  In my defense, however, I have made many fantastic contacts and have - via technology - met and have spoken (Tweeted) with many knowledgeable and generous people.  Comedians, journalists, and, quite happily for me, many extraordinary Chefs. Among them is a gentleman who lives fairly nearby me, in the foothill town of Folsom, about sixty miles from me.  When we first got together, I was rather intimidated, but Chef Kurt Colgan is quite a generous man and a fantastic teacher.  He is supportive, instructs in a manner that enables you to  learn and not feel like an epic failure.  Although, I could not cut trim my rack of lamb correctly if my life depended on it.  It is all about learning, and my friend, Chef Kurt, is amazing at making culinary learning hysterically fun, not to mention fantastically delicious!  Chef Kurt and my culinary partner in crime, Miss Maria, came over to my little, humble place for dinner and a lesson on "Frenching" rack of lamb and how to cook it.  I cannot Even begin to tell you how much I LOVED that day, their company and our food.  Delicious!

Here is what we did, in more of a photo essay style than full on recipe.  

The first part of our lesson was about using the proper knives, and Chef Kurt displayed his large culinary knife set.  You can see three knives we were able to use to trim, or "French" the rack of lamb, removing excess flesh, fat and scraping the bones.  Miss Maria was quite the fast learner.  I think Chef fired me several times.  

I was the sous chef, however, my job being to create the crust for the racks, make the smashed potatoes with garlic and rosemary and saute the kale in extra virgin olive and garlic chips.  That was the easy part.  Frenching the rack was my epic fail.  But, like I said, it is about learning.  I took the lesson to heart, and I have one more rack left and will make that one of these days, skillfully french the rack and make Chef Kurt proud. 

For the crust, I finely chopped fresh rosemary and thyme, added salt and pepper and a good two cups of plain Japanese Panko bread crumbs together. Flavorful and aromatic.  In the meantime, Chef had us massage extra virgin olive oil onto each rack of lamb and add salt and pepper to it.  Chef Kurt brought one of his professional skillets in which to sear the rack.  

 Beautifully seared rack of lamb.  
Now to the herb crust!

Ingredients for the herb crust:

1/2 - 1 cup of Dijon mustard, separate from the rest
4-6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
8-10 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 cups Panko bread crumbs, plain
1 teaspoon sea salt
1+ teaspoons fresh cracked black pepper

Rub each rack of lamb generously with the mustard. Combine all the rest on a large platter, as you will be crusting the racks for to finish roasting in the oven.  Place the fairly cooled down rack onto the platter and, using your hands, pack down the bread crumbs all over the meaty part of the rack.  You want as much of the rack covered with the herbs and Panko mixture as possible. This is going to taste so good!

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 or 450.  

In a roasting pan with a rack in it, foil on the bottom of the pan, place the herb crusted racks.  Cover the exposed bones of the rack with foil.  Lean the racks against each other, bones against bones, and place in the oven.  Roast for eighteen to twenty minutes.  Do not open the oven door to check them. 

 When you remove the racks from the oven, the Panko will be golden brown, the fresh herbs will fill the kitchen with an amazing aroma.  The lamb will cause you to float to the kitchen like a cartoon character, trust me.  

Let the racks rest and get to your sides.  My sides were smashed potatoes with fresh rosemary and garlic.  I also added a good cup of Chef Kurt's homemade creme fraiche.  Delicious!!!!

In addition, to make sure we were eating healthy, I chopped and sauteed fresh kale with three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and garlic chips, salt and pepper.  The aroma is delicious, and the greens on the plate are dark and inviting.  The two sides with the rack chops make for a really beautiful, elegant dish.  To serve, cut the chops off of the rack like between the ribs like you would barbequed ribs. 

 And here's the final product!

I made a balsamic, lemon zest and honey reduction sauce, which Chef drizzled over the rack and elegantly around the plate.  This is not a complicated dish to make, despite the trimming and scraping and delicate slicing to french the racks.  It is a balanced, flavorful dish that your guests will be raving about for years to come! 

You can follow Chef Kurt Colgan on Twitter @CafeTightLines
as well as on Facebook.  Look him up! Get to know him and tell him Martin sent you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ancient Family Secret Reworked:
Back to the Roots with a New Twist
Sopapilla "Indian" Tacos

Quite a while back I posted my family's "ancient family secret" dinner recipe.  Only, I learned afterward that it was not so secret, after all.  Many families around, from southern Canada to northern Mexico, have a very similar recipe, Native American roots or not.  My family serves the recipe over Fritos corn chips.  I have to say, I absolutely LOVE this family tradition, but I wanted to take it back to its roots, back to the old days, but, with a new twist.  Here is how I took this family favorite both ways.  

1 pound lean ground beef
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup your favorite taco cheeses
1 cup roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cup arugula
1 8 oz can rinsed black beans
1 serrano chile, ribbed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon pasilla powder
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano 
1 package fresh pizza dough cut into fourths
2 cups canola or vegetable oil
Ranchero Sauce or your favorite taco sauce

In a large skillet (I used my cast iron skillet like my Grandma P would use) I added two tablespoons of canola oil over medium-high heat.  When the oil rippled, I added the ground beef, salt and pepper, pinch of each.  I broke up the ground beef and let it cook about half way before I added the onions and garlic.  I allowed the onions to saute until just translucent.  At that point, I added the chile and allowed it to saute three minutes with the beefy mixture.  I added the spices, including the oregano and allowed it to saute for five minutes before adding the rinsed black beans, and incorporated well.  I reduced the heat to low and allowed the incredible flavors to marry.  

In a high-sided sauce pan, I added two cups of vegetable oil over high heat.  I dusted a large cutting board with flour.  I removed a ball of fresh, room temperature pizza dough and cut in to fourths.  I rolled each cut into a ball and set three of them aside.  I worked each dough ball into circles, which, when you really look at my photos, actually turned out to be more like a triangle rather than a small circle.  Some I was able to form using my fingers (the best method) but one I had to roll out with my rolling pin.  It is easier to use the rolling pin, but not authentic.  I'd rather put in more effort and be at least partially authentic than not at all.  But, one of those unruly dough balls defeated me.  So, I pinned it. When the oil reaches 350 degrees, add one of the sopapillas (the dough disc) and fry it until golden brown.  When done, remove, shake off the extra oil, place it on a plate or platter with paper towels, or, on a cooling rack, and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Cover to keep warm.  You could also place it in the oven at 200 degrees to keep it warm.  

When you have finished frying the sopapillas, take one, plate it and add arugula atop the bread.  Sprinkle with cheese, top that with a hearty large spoon full of the beefy bean mixture and top that with cheese, cilantro and Ranchero sauce.  Perhaps top with a little more arugula.  Add the chopped tomatoes and you have a fantastic meal at your finger tips.  Caution!  You  may not be able to stop at Just one!  And there is more.........

Sopapillas have, traditionally, in my family, been more of a dessert bread.  We have topped it with honey and powdered sugar, and in much later days, strawberries and honey and powdered sugar. It has evolved a bit.  I will be honest with you, however, and let you know that The Best sopapillas I have ever had were on the Pima-Maricopa and the Tohono O'Odham reservations in Arizona. The Best.  Go to their tribal museums and fairs and try it some time.  They will also have my "ancient family secret", in addition to sopapillas.  

Traditionally, deer, elk or bison meat was and Is used for these awesome fry bread meals.  Deer meat is cooked in underground ovens for many hours and served shredded.  So delicious!



Monday, May 5, 2014

Lasagna Bianca
A Recipe by Chef Vincenzo of "Vincenzo's Plate" on YouTube
Follow on Twitter at:  @vincenzosplate

When I first saw this episode shortly before Easter this year, I Knew I had to make this for my mom for Easter.  Lasagna Bianca is also known as the Italian Easter Lasagna.  This is a crowd pleasing dish that is easy, healthy (for the most part) and has a warm and extremely comforting flavor.  I have to admit, this was only the second lasagna I had ever made, and I was so happy with it, froze a bunch of it and had it for lunches at work for a week afterwards.  I loved it each and every time, as if I were tasting it for the first time.  How many dishes can we say we actually enjoy that much?   Chef Vincenzo has a YouTube video series called "Vincenzo's Plate", which I subscribe to and am a die-hard fan of.  He is funny, knowledgeable and shows you and tells you all you need to know.  Well, about all; more on that later in the recipe.  (Insert a smile). 

Let's get to it, shall we?  I know you are going to be suffering to finish reading this so you can get to the grocery store to get the ingredients to make this wonderful meal tonight!

No-bake lasagna noodles, one box
1 pound ground beef
2 cups provolone, cubed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 head broccoli florets, lightly steamed or boiled
2 zucchini, cleaned, seeded and cubed
6-8 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade
Mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped:  oregano, Italian flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper (white pepper is best)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (I think that was what I added, myself)
1/2 stick butter, cubed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano
 *2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated (I added these, myself, for sure)


In a steamer or large pot of salted water, gently steam or boil the broccoli florets and zucchini.  5 to 8 minutes.  Remove, strain and set aside.  

In a large sauce pan, add the extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat.  When the oil begins to ripple, add the pound of ground beef.  Caramelize the meat, and, about half way through, add the onion and garlic.  Add salt to sweat the onions and pepper, and saute for three or four minutes.  Add the seasoning and saute three to four minutes more.  Afterward, add the broccoli and zucchini and saute to five to eight minutes over medium-high heat, until the veggies are nearly softened.  Mash the veggies with a fork or a potato masher and incorporate even more with the beef.  Remove from the heat. 

Cube the provolone, cube the butter and grate the parmigiano-reggiano.  Set up an assembly station to assemble the lasagna.    

Now, part of this dish's amazing flavor base is the bechamel sauce. While there was a video about it, I did not quite catch how to make it.  So, here is the bechamel sauce that I used for this dish.  *Sorry, Chef Vincenzo, if this is not exactly the sauce you had in mind!

Over medium-high heat, melt a stick of butter.  You will also need the following:
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart room temperature whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg, if you wish
pinch of sea salt and white pepper
1 cup cubed provolone cheese

 Add the flour, little-by-little and stir in until the raw flour flavor cooks out.  Add the milk, also little-by-little, and continue stirring vigorously until the sauce begins to thicken.  Add a good pinch of salt and pepper and begin adding the cubed provolone.  Continue mixing and stirring thoroughly until the cheese has melted and the sauce thickens.  Remove and set aside.  

Either rub butter around the entirety of the pan you will cook the lasagna in or spray it with non-stick cooking spray.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.   

Add some of the behamel sauce to the bottom of the pan, followed by a thin layer of the beef-broccoli-zucchini mixture.  Add some of the bechamel atop the beef mixture, followed by the dry ready-bake lasagna noodles.  Add another layer of beefy mixture, bechamel, a good sprinkle of the parmigiano-reggiano and some of the cubed provolone and some of the fresh herbs.  Repeat the layers until you have reached the end of the beefy mixture and bechamel.  Place the cubed butter atop the Lasagna Bianca with the rest of cubed provolone, parmesan and a sprinkling of the fresh herbs.

Should eventually look something like this....

Place the pan in the oven, which should be preheated to 350-degrees, covered loosely with foil.  Bake for 20 - 30 minutes covered, another 20 uncovered.  By the end of the 50 minutes, the edges should be golden brown and crusty.  Your nose will tell you when this is done! 

 After the fifty minutes, remove, allow to set, and serve!  I did not feel the need to serve with salad since it is already inside!  You serve it with whatever you wish, but trust me, this will make you extremely happy.  Enjoy and Thank You, Chef Vincenzo!


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Grilled Chicken with Romas and Basil

As much as I would LOVE to lay claim to creating this recipe, which is AMAZINGLY FLAVORFUL, mind you, alas, I cannot.  This is the delectable brain child of Chef Paul McCullough and is featured in his self-lamenting (and incredibly wonderful) cookbook Roma-therapy, by Paul McCullough and Jeremy Stanford. To learn more about Chef Paul's alleged "fall from grace" as he laments, you are more than welcome to visit his Twitter page (@RomatherapyBook) and I strongly urge you to purchase his extremely reasonably-priced book.  It is "plum" full of history, factual information about tomatoes we would never have known about, and, more importantly, is relevant to our health-conscious times,physiologically, and Chef Paul provides us with beautifully photographed (thanks, Jeremy Stanford!) dishes and fantastic recipes employing Chef's arch nemesis.  I believe Chef Paul's "fall from grace" is the stairway to our ascension to tomato nirvana.  Let's get to the recipe!

Prep 6 Roma tomatoes: slice into quarters, remove the seeds and center and slice into thin strips.  You are going to marinate the tomatoes. The marinade ingredients are as follows:
1/4 cup very thinly sliced vidalia onion (I used a red onion)
1/2 cup olive oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 basil leaves, chiffinade  (sliced into thin ribbons)

Add the tomatoes and gently toss into the marinade.  Cover and allow the bowl to sit for an hour at room temperature.  


The chicken also gets a marinade makeover.  Let's get to that, now, too!

The Marinade:
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Beaver (R) Sweet Hot Mustard
1 tablespoon Spikes (R) Original Seasoning Magic  (I did not have this)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic (I used finely grated fresh garlic)
1/2 teaspoon dry minced onion
1 teaspoon dry parsley
1 pinch poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
*I also added some red onion to this marinade, to use the rest of it up. 

Whisk together the ingredients for marinade in a large bowl.  Add the chicken and coat well. Marinate for an hour in the refrigerator. I like to marinate meats in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag.  My frig at the time was jam-packed full of "stuff" I was going to take to my mom's the next day and I simply could not fit a bowl in it.  BUT, I could slip a bag atop other containers.  That is why I did not marinate the chicken in the bowl, as directed.  Sorry, Chef!!!

 Preheat the grill at the setting just below high (medium-high).  Place the chicken breasts on the grill at an angle (to get those beautiful grill marks!).  Cook for four-to-five minutes on each side (depending on the thickness of the meat), until the meat reads 165-degrees.  

Remove the chicken and allow to rest a couple of minutes.  Top with the prepared tomatoes and be sure to drizzle their oil-vinegar dressing atop, as well!  Serve and enjoy.  

 I wanted to take a moment to let you know that not every kitchen has every ingredient, particularly specialized ingredients, which may be only regionally sold, perhaps not, but it is okay to make to either omit ingredients you may not have or substitute ingredients you do have in place of others.  I noted what I did, above, in order to illustrate that.  Sure is a flavor-filled, delectable dish.  Your salad is atop your main protein.  I love this dish, personally. 
 It sure is enjoy time! Visit Chef Paul McCullough on Twitter and learn more about him and his impeccable culinary talent.  Look up his book, Roma-therapy on his site.  It is a fact and fun-filled book.  Great accessory to Any kitchen!  I'm just sayin'!  Now...go and cook!