Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Grilled Asian Skirt Steak with Arugula Salad and Garlic Potato Rounds

Have you watched the news lately? Apparently, the economy isn’t doing so well. They say that January saw more layoffs in one month since 1974. Wow! I almost got through January but on the 27th, I became one of those statistics too. Now it’s not all bad folks. My career field is actually in demand so I will be back at work before I even want to. For now though, I’m enjoying my time off and I’m wondering how I was able to get anything done with that silly ole’ job in the way. I am also becoming reacquainted with my kitchen. I have missed her. She was neglected, I think. Last year, I circled the globe and dined in Europe, Asia and at least a dozen major US cities but my amazing little kitchen just sat here waiting for me to return to her. Her patient granite sorely underutilized and cluttered with mail. Fortunately, she never wavered and welcomed me back without a hitch. Now she helps me turn out dish after dish lauding my successes and keeping my failures to herself. I wish I could take her to the beach for the weekend.

So with the economy in mind I thought to myself, “What affordable meals are out there that guests would think you pulled out all the stops for?” What I came up with rocked the evening. Thinly sliced potatoes prepared in a unique and tasty way, topped with a simple arugula salad with lemon and olive oil and finally a marinated then charcoal fired skirt steak cut into perfect strips. You could serve this to 6 guests and spend maybe 25 bucks. That seems like a recession proof meal to me.

I arranged the potatoes into circles on the bottom of a pan, seasoned, added a touch of garlic and olive oil and topped with a few small dollops of bacon fat (don’t throw your bacon drippings away people!). If you plan on living longer that I do, you can certainly omit the bacon fat I guess. Into a hot oven for about 12 minutes and what comes out has a crisp outer edge, like a well seasoned chip, and a soft buttery center. For the salad, I drizzled just a touch of lemon and olive oil on the arugula and seasoned with a touch of salt and pepper and that’s it. No fuss. Peppery Arugula with the acidic bite of the lemon gave a nice balance to the very mild and delicate flavor of the potato.

The steak marinated in an Asian bath of soy, sesame oil and honey for a couple of hours then met its fate on a hot grill. Adequately seared and subsequently rested, I cut this into strips and served it atop the arugula and potatoes. The juices of the steak were so perfectly preserved in the searing process that you’d have thought I dipped the strips in butter before plating. Rich and tasty, there was no hint of the toughness that could be found in an undermarinated piece of skirt steak. While I used a grill outdoors, pan searing would also make a nice steak.

Seriously, your friends will think you spent far more on this meal than you did.

Grilled Asian Skirt Steak with Arugula Salad and Garlic Potato Rounds

For the steak

1 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 lbs skirt steak

Place ALL ingredients in a plastic zip bag and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Allow 30 minutes at room temperature before grilling. Sear meat on a hot grill for about 3-4 minutes per side (depending on thickness of the meat) for medium rare. Remove and let rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Slice meat on a bias against the grain just before serving.

For the potatoes

2-3 Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
1-2 tbsp bacon fat at room temperature or lard (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

To thinly slice, I use a mandolin.

On a baking sheet* arrange the potatoes into a circle overlapping the edges.

Make 6-8 of these (one per person). Season with the salt and pepper and arrange a few thin slices of garlic onto the potatoes. Drizzle with a bit of the olive oil.

Arrange another circle of potatoes atop 1st layer. Place a few of the dollops of bacon fat or lard atop.

Place in a 375 degree oven for 12-13 minutes or until edges become golden brown.

*In my photos I use an oven proof skillet but you’ll be making enough to serve 6-8 so I suggest a baking sheet and make all at once.

For the Salad

2-3 cups arugula
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Gently toss all ingredients together.

To serve, place one of the potato rounds on the bottom of each plate, top with about 1/3 cup of the arugula salad then arrange the sliced meat on the salad.

Serves 6-8

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Parmesan Soup with Green Onion and Parsley Dumplings

Oh my. I had a bit of an accident this morning. Nothing too serious, thank goodness. I was day dreaming and it just happened. You see, I thought about making biscuits and an hour later, I had something totally different; Parmesan Soup with Green Onion and Parsley Dumplings to be exact. My kitchen accidents rarely make it to the written word. Mostly they end in the pull out waste basket built into the counter. Dead men tell no tails I always say. This time, though, something wonderful happened and if you’ll indulge me, I’ll share it with you.

On my usual morning pantry inspection, I noticed a box of Bisquick in there. You know Bisquick, right? Bisquick is basically flour with the leavening agent already in so making pancakes and biscuits are simpler.

Biscuits sounded good. The side of the box gave the amounts of milk to add to make “biscuits or dumplings”. Dumplings? Oh!!! I haven’t made dumplings in like forever and I love good dumplings. Dumplings it is. It seems that ups the stakes a bit because now I need a brothy medium of sorts to cook the dumplings in. Well, I have some chicken stock. Good enough. Now here’s the cool part. In the back of the fridge I saw the remnants of what used to be a monster chunk of Parmesan Cheese that came from Costco. Have you ever seen the size of the Parmesan-Reggiano offerings from Costco? They are huge and I bet I had a 10 oz chunk of rind left. That’s the part that, while edible, is really too hard for anything and usually gets tossed out. I’d heard that they were good for soups so I thought this might add a hint of flavor. What I was completely unaware of was that this was to be the star of this dish and I cannot wait to make more. You will love this recipe, I think.

Instead of plain drop biscuits, I added lots of fresh green onions and parsley to the dough. Now I had lovely green lemony and oniony flavors dispersed throughout the biscuit and I was sure these would be good. You will see in the recipe that I used just a few things in the broth because that’s what I had, but visions of thinly sliced mushrooms or small potato cubes sounds quite special too.

In the end, what I ended up with was a super creamy broth that held tender bites of savory dumpling. That depth of flavor and the complexity of the buttery Parmesan-Reggiano was a welcome byproduct and not even close to my original vision of this recipe. Not only would I order this in a restaurant, but I would recommend my friends try it when they go. The dumplings were perfect with their hints of green and bright fresh flavors of onion and parsley. It was like eating Springtime against a nutty, buttery Parmesan canvas. You really should make this or your own variation.

Parmesan Soup with Green Onion and Parsley Dumplings

For the Dumpling dough, you can follow the directions on the side of a box of Bisquick to make about 12 dumplings. Add about 3 green onions, finely diced, to the dough as well as about ¼ cup chopped parsley. Mix well. Roll into balls. They should be about 2/3 the size of a golf ball.

For the soup

8 cups chicken stock
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
10 oz (or so) Parmesan-Reggiano rind (using shredded or grated will make the soup “stringy”)
½ cup chopped Italian Parsley plus some extra for garnish
12 or so dumplings

Add all ingredients except dumplings to a pot and bring to a simmer. Salt and Pepper to taste. Cook about 15 minutes to blend flavors and soften carrots and onions.
Add dumplings one at a time and ensure that there are at least 2-3 inches between dumplings because they will expand. Cook until dumplings are cooked through (about 10 minutes). Soup will thicken slightly. Using a large slotted spoon or “Spider”, remove the remnants of the Parmesan-Reggiano rind and discard.
Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with additional Parsley.

8-12 servings

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Thirsty Marlin

Hey folks… Here are a few pics from dinner at Thirsty Marlin in Palm Harbor this week. It was wonderful. The full article will be up in the Creative Loafing website. You can check out it out here.
Notice the Purple cabbage and carrots on the plates that look like confetti. Great presentations.

Wonderful Ahi tuna appetizer. That red sauce around the edge is HOT but good.

Lisa's Thai Chicken wrap. WINNER!!!!

My Bacon Wrapped Scallops. A little salty and perhaps unremarkable but I can't say they weren't good.

Huge Oysters

Grouper Atlantis. Grouper topped with shrimp and Hollandaise. I thought this was the star of dinner for sure.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Bounty on his Head, I Say... Damn Those Were Hot

If I get my hands on that Guy Fieri, I will pluck out that white hair of his one spiked clump at a time. You know Guy, don’t you? He’s that really hip California chef dude who hosts several Food Network shows. A couple of years ago he won a reality show contest called “The Next Food Network Star” and he blossomed into an onscreen powerhouse. I actually liked him until a few nights before the Super Bowl.

It all began on a recent episode of “Guy’s Big Bite”. He made a delicious looking Italian sausage and cheese combo, stuffed it into some halved and seeded Jalapeños, and topped it with mozzarella. After a minute or 2 under the broiler, he served a bubbly gooey little bite that looked unbelievable. What a spectacular little delectable to serve friends coming over for the big game. Guy said (and I’ve heard others say before) that the heat of the Jalapeño is found in the seed and white innards, not in the pepper. By removing the seeds and scraping out the inner part of the pepper, it would be flavorful but not hot.

Now while I enjoy spice a lot, I do NOT like spice for the sake of HEAT only. That heat needs to contribute in some way to a positive experience. Also, I don’t work with Jalapeños very often in their raw form. You might be starting to see where I’m going with this. No one mentioned to me that the white inner RIBS of the pepper was where the heat lived. While I think I’m following Guy’s instructions, he was ambiguous about the consequences of not fully removing the ribs, or worse, not removing them AT ALL.

So the sausage came out to perfection. The taste was unbelievable. I used a combo of Provolone and Mozzarella and under the broiler they went. Just like on TV, they came out perfect looking. Little bubbles of brown cheese surrounding peaks of protruding sausage like a mini landscape on an inviting mountain side. I plated these and photographed for future writing.

Once sufficiently cooled, I could hardly wait to take my first delicious bite. I popped the whole stuffed pepper right in. It began with the cheese. Then the sausage and spices began bathing my palate in familiar yumminess. Within 10 seconds, however, the entire experience took a dramatic turn. FU** this is HOT!!!! It felt as if my skin was melting away from my face and my eyes were nothing more than two smoldering lumps of coal.

I'm sweating

How utterly insensitive to not fully explain the anatomy of this pepper before offering such a visually stimulating recipe. I’m not a moron (don’t argue that please). I know that Jalapeños are hot. I would never consider eating Nachos without extra though. This, however, was over the top.

Then suddenly, something interesting happened. After a tall glass of milk and some fresh bread to stem the tide of the inferno in my mouth, I wanted another. And after that cycle repeated, I wanted another. Yes the heat was brutal but the flavor of that Italian sausage and ooey-gooey cheese combo was too much to resist. Frankly, the pepper tasted wonderful and fresh too.

So for the first time in my 20 or so years in the kitchen, I am recommending something that I had a difficult time eating. I will share this recipe but remember this: COMPLETELY REMOVE THE SEEDS AND ALL PARTS OF THE INNER PEPPER THAT IS WHITE OR YOU WILL SUFFER.

Normally I take some artistic liberty with these recipes but in this case I made it pretty much verbatim except I added Provolone (Just wanted to make sure I give the appropriate credit).

Italian Sausage and Cheese Stuffed Jalapeños

15 jalapeños, preferably red, cut in 1/2, seeded and deveined
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup minced red onion
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 pounds mild Italian sausage, casings removed
2 cups mascarpone or cream cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and pepper
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup shredded Provolone cheese
Minced chives

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Place jalapeños on a sheet tray and roast for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Heat the oil in a medium saute pan. Add onions, peppers, garlic and sausage and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove and place in a large bowl. Cool to room temperature, then add mascarpone, and Parmesan. Mix ingredients thoroughly and season with salt and pepper.
Place approximately 1 tablespoon of mixture into each jalapeno half, and top with 1/2 teaspoon of provolone and mozzarella cheese combined.
Place the sheet tray of stuffed peppers in oven and bake for 5 minutes or until cheese melts.
Garnish with minced chives and Parmesan.