Archive for February, 2009

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

This biscuit recipe was one of the first things to catch my eye in the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook. In fact, it’s been mentioned and planned a few times around here, but for some reason, it kept getting pushed to the back burner. Finally, we tried it last week.

First of all, I loved how easy the recipe was. I threw everything together and baked them all for a weeknight dinner. The recipe was super simple, but the biscuits were beyond delicious. The texture was perfect–moist and flaky, with a great crumb, and the slightest crunch of cheese on top. I also used my new fancy Maldon  sea salts to finish the biscuits, which added an extra level of tasty crunch.

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook

  • 2 cups of flour, plus more for kneading the dough
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 cold extra-large egg
  • 1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar (I used Tillamook Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar), plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk
  • 1 teaspoon Maldon Sea Salt, for finishing

1. Preaheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. WIth the mixer on low, add the butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas.

3. Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small glass measuring cup and beat lightly wth a fork. With the mixer still on low, quickly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix only until moistened. In a small bowl, mix the Cheddar with a small handful of flour and with the mixer still on low add the cheese to the dough. Mix only until roughly combined.

4. Dumb out onto a well-floured board and kneed lightly about six times. Roll the dough out to a rectangle 5×10 inches. With a sharp, floured knife, cut the dough lengthwise in half and then across in quarters, making 8 rough rectangles. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the egg wash, sprinkle with sea salt and extra cheese, and bake for 20-25 minutes until tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through. Serve hot or warm.

Note: I’m sure I’ll make these again. The Back to Basics cookbook has these in the breakfast section, and I understand that completely. They were very tasty as a bread alongside dinner, but they did bring to mind images of ultimate bacon, egg, & cheese biscuits or even some amazing biscuits and gravy. Maybe next time.

Top Chef Rundown: February 25, 2009 (FINALE!)

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Honestly, it’s so sad how little I have to say about this season’s finale. It speaks a little bit to how disappointing this season has been overall.

While David and I were watching the finale last night, he kept asking me who I wanted to win, and I just couldn’t seem to make up my mind. Thinking back to previous years when I clearly had my favorites (I <3 Stephanie!), it was kind of disappointing. I just wasn’t that concerned with what each of these three chefs would do.

That being said, Carla was probably, gun to my head, my choice going into the finale. She really found a way to step it up and had been getting consistently better all season long. Her finale dishes were good, too, when she let herself cook the food she wanted to cook. Unfortunately, she let nerves get the best of her.

It was a decent enough twist to have Marcel, Casey, and Richard back to help the chefs out. Because the losers popped up to help as sous chefs, I halfway expected Hung, Stephanie, and Ilan to be there as judges. In any case, I liked what they were doing here, and I think it made sense.

Unfortunately for Carla, part of letting her nerves get the best of her meant letting Casey push her way into her menu. She definitely had some highs, but she chose to sous-vide the beef, instead of making it her own way, AND she let Casey talk her into blue cheese souffles for the dessert. Casey was someone that I liked a lot, and a lot like Carla, she scraped her way into her own season’s finale. I don’t blame Casey, because Carla should’ve stepped up and made her own decisions.

Side note: Casey’s saying it wasn’t her fault, and the editors made her look much worse than the situation really called for. Not very classy to whine about it, Casey, but I have no problems believing that’s what happened.

Carla made some big mistakes that pulled her out of the running, which nearly everyone seemed disappointed about. That leaves us with Hosea and Stefan.

They both made good food. I could have seen either one winning. I was impressed by Stefan’s alligator soup, because he really pulled off something difficult there, with a tough ingredient he’d never used before. Hosea made the right call to skip dessert, I think, even though Toby criticized it. Yes, he should be able to make a dessert, and if pressed, I’m sure he could’ve come up with SOMETHING. Instead of pulling something together and trying to skate by with a so-so dessert, he chose to make three strong dishes, and it clearly worked in his favor.

Ultimately, Hosea won. And I am indifferent.


Truthfully, every season I’ve had my favorites and my least favorites, but this year most of the cheftestants landed right in the middle for me. Here’s to hoping for a better crop of cheftestants next time around!

Maple-Mustard Roast Pork Chops with Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

This recipe is from “Everyday with Rachael Ray.” Sort of. It’s actually taken from the magazine’s “No Recipe Zone” feature, which lists ingredients and outlines a general method, but doesn’t specify quantities or procedure like a regular recipe would. This month’s article is called “Let’s Roast!” and the result is a pork roast flavored with maple syrup, mustard, and fresh herbs with roasted potatoes.

Because it was a weeknight, in real Rachael Ray style, I subbed pork loin chops for the whole pork loin to shorten the cook time. Otherwise, everything was pretty much the same. Both the pork and the potatoes turned out well. The potatoes were very tasty. The pork was good, not great, but I’ll probably give this one another chance. They suggest marinating the pork for at least an hour, but I only had time for half an hour or so. The flavor would’ve been better for sure if the pork had more time to marinate.

Maple-Mustard Roast Pork Chops with Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes
Adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray (February 2009)

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus 6 sprigs
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 pork loin chops, 1 1/2 inch thick (About 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 6 yukon gold potatoes
  • salt and pepper

1. In a ziploc bag, mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil, the mustard, maple syrup, chopped rosemary and garlic. Add the pork and turn in the mixture to coat; refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the rosemary sprigs in the center of a roasting pan. Place the marinated pork chops on top of the rosemary. Cut the bacon slices in half and top each pork chop with two half slices.

3. Scatter the potatoes around the pork and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil; toss to mix. Season the pork and potatoes with salt and pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with the roasted potatoes.

Potatoes Au Gratin

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The final component to our Valentine’s day dinner? Potatoes Au Gratin. This is similar to our usual scalloped potatoes, but with a creamier texture. The Dubliner cheese added a slightly nutty flavor, as well. The nutmeg sounds strange, I know, but it actually works very well with the cream. There’s not much at all compared to the other ingredients but it adds to the flavor in a big way. If you don’t have fresh nutmeg to grate, I’d probably skip it though. Nutmeg from a can tastes like pumpkin pie!


Potatoes Au Gratin

  • 4-5 large baking potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced.
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour, divided
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (we used Dubliner Cheese, but Parmesan, Gruyere, Cheddar–really anything you like is fine), divided
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt & pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 3-quart casserole with cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, toss salt, pepper, nutmeg, 3 tablespoons of flour, and sliced potatoes to coat. Set aside.
  3. In a medium sauce pan, over medium heat, combine remaining 3 tablespoons of flour and 3 tablespoons of butter to make a roux. Cook until the mixture is a golden brown color. Whisk in the cream and heat until just under boiling. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, reserving half a cup for topping the potatoes later.
  4. When cheese is melted, pour the cheese/cream mixture over the sliced potatoes and stir to combine. Transfer to prepared casserole dish and top with remaining shredded cheese.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.

Lettuce Wedges with Bacon and Blue Cheese Dressing

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Since Valentine’s Day was a fancy steakhouse dinner, we started the meal with a fancy steakhouse salad. The dressing recipe comes from, with a few substitutions. The dressing was very, very good–the milk was my own addition, because the basic recipe was so thick  that it would have been more at home with chicken wings than it would have been on a salad. No worries though. The milk thinned it out just enough for a salad dressing that was rich and creamy.

The one problem: It had me craving buffalo wings.


Lettuce Wedges with Bacon and Blue Cheese Dressing

For the Salad:

  • 1 romaine heart, split into four wedges
  • 1 large tomato, seeded & diced
  • 1/2 lb bacon, fried until crisp, crumbled
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the Dressing:

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. Season with mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir in blue cheese. Whisk in milk, a tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved. Cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.
  2. Place lettuce wedge on a plate, drizzle with dressing, top with tomatoes, and sprinkle with bacon crumbles. Finish with cracked black pepper to taste.

Note: We were lucky enough to find decent tasting tomatoes in February, which helped make this salad taste so great. The dressing was rich, but overall, the salad was crisp and fresh and just delicious. I can’t wait to repeat this recipe with fresh summer tomatoes.

Big Kitchen with Food

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I have found the cutest thing in the world. Well, the cutest food thing, anyway. It’s “Big Kitchen with Food,” a cooking show that airs in Portland, Oregon. The star of the show is “Chef Julian,” an adorable five year old boy who really seems to know his stuff. The video below shows Julian baking one of his original recipes, Yummy Yummy Citrus Boys. Take the time to watch it, you won’t be disappointed.

Other episodes, available here, show Chef Julian’s take on spaghetti sauce, chocolate chip zucchini bread, and robot cake, among other things. Check it out!

New York Strip Steaks with Blue Cheese Butter Crust

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

We don’t make steaks very often around here, though I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t think it’s the cost, because we’re happy to spend too much money for a fancy cheese or a quality wine. I don’t mind though, because when we do make steak, it’s usually a treat, and this Valentine’s Day was no exception. The meal we threw together was pretty spectacular, actually. I teased you with it in my Valentine’s Day post…here’s our recipe for fabulous New York Strip Steaks with a Blue Cheese Butter Crust.


New York Strip Steaks with a Blue Cheese Butter Crust
Adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe for Pan Seared Steaks

For the crumb topping:

  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 ounces blue cheese (Something good quality and creamy, like a maytag or gorgonzola–not the dry crumbles sold for salad)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko Japanese style bread crumbs

For the steaks:

  • 4 new york strip steaks, 1 1/2-inch thick
  • Canola oil to coat
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper


Place 10 to 12-inch cast iron skillet in oven and heat oven to 500 degrees. Bring steak(s) to room temperature.

To prepare the crumb topping, combine butter, garlic, and blue cheese in a small microwave safe bowl and microwave on high at 15 second intervals until the cheese and butter are melted completely. Season with fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Stir in bread crumbs and set aside.

When oven reaches temperature, remove pan and place on range over high heat. Coat steak lightly with oil and season both sides with a generous pinch of salt. Grind on black pepper to taste.

Immediately place steak in the middle of hot, dry pan. Cook 30 seconds without moving. Turn with tongs and cook another 30 seconds, then put the pan straight into the oven for 2 minutes. Flip steak, top with bread crumbs and cook for another 2 minutes. (This time is for medium rare steaks. If you prefer medium, add a minute to both of the oven turns.)

Remove steak from pan, cover loosely with foil, and rest for 2 minutes before serving.

Note: This tasted amazing, though the bread crumbs didn’t get as crispy as I would have liked. The flavor was spot-on, though, and elevated a good steak to something great. Next time, we plan to incorporate a minute under the broiler to crisp up the topping a little bit. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do anything differently.

As an added bit of cuteness, David and I went to Wildfire the night we got engaged, and this steak was a surprisingly good recreation of the filet medallions with blue cheese crust that I had for dinner that night. A nice touch for Valentine’s dinner, I think.

Top Chef Rundown: February 18, 2009

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

First of all, I think New Orleans is a great backdrop for the finale, if for no other reason than it’s a locale that’s really known for its food.

Second of all, I think it was a great idea to let Jamie, Leah, and Jeff try to break into the finale during the quickfire challenge, and an even better idea to require that Jeff get first place in order to make it to the end. I was a little bit proud of Jeff, actually. Though he’s still convinced that he didn’t do anything to deserve elimination in the first place (and he’s wrong), he did find his focus and reign in all of his whims to create simple dishes. He did a good job on the quickfire, and I was happy to see him join the Final Five.

Third of all, the cheftestants should not have been surprised to see Emeril Lagasse–I think he was a great fit for guest judge.


Fourth of all, everyone did pretty well in the elimination challenge as far as I can tell. Stephan’s bad attitude was back, but for the most part, he’s able to back up his swagger with actual skills, so what’s the harm?

Fifth of all, my feelings could be changing about Carla. She’s been pretty frickin’ good for the past few weeks, and it’s nice to see her enjoying herself, even if she is a bit of a weirdo. Jeff got burned by the “deal with the devil” that he made, and because he wasn’t the best, he went home.  I felt bad for him, a little, but ultimately, I think that was a fair price to pay to get back in the game.

Sixth of all, I was not heartbroken to see Fabio go home. He was good all season, but he really didn’t have his best night here, and small mistakes are enough when everything is good overall.

Seventh of all, I’m looking forward to next week, when we see Carla, Hosea, and Stephan cook the best meal of their lives. No restrictions, no games, no price limits, time limits, or broken freezers–just great cooking. I can’t wait. I will admit, I don’t have a clear favorite right now, but I’m excited to see how this all plays out.

Ben & Jerry’s Uncanny Cashew Ice Cream

Friday, February 20th, 2009

It’s ice cream time again!

One of my favorite flavors of Ben & Jerry’s is something called Uncanny Cashew. It’s vanilla ice cream with a caramel swirl and caramel coated cashews. The last pint David and I shared was on our honeymoon at Treebones Resort in Big Sur. (The food was so good that we couldn’t seem to save room for dessert at the table, so we retreated to our cabin with the ice cream to eat later on).

Of course, since I got the ice cream maker, we haven’t bought a lot of ice cream, which might be why we didn’t notice that the flavor had been cancelled. A trip to the Flavor Graveyard at Ben & Jerry’s website confirms it–Uncanny Cashew is no more.

Of course, that just made me crave it even more. So what to do? Make my own, obviously! I took the Sweet Cream Base recipe from the Ben & Jerry’s cookbook, spiked it with a little bit of vanilla, and made another batch of the caramel from the Peanut Butter Cookies with Salted Peanut Caramel for the swirl and to coat the cashews.

Ben & Jerry’s Uncanny Cashew Ice Cream
Adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert Cookbook

  • 1 cup of cashews
  • 1 batch of salted caramel sauce, cooled (recipe follows)
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Dip single cashews into caramel sauce and place one at a time onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Freeze until caramel hardens, about an hour.

2. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the vanilla extract and blend again.

3. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker. Add while the mixer is on the low setting, then turn it up to high.

4. Once the ice cream is almost finished (about 1 minutes before it is done) add the chilled cashews. Once the cashews are mixed in, drizzle in about a half a cup of the caramel sauce, for the caramel swirl. You will have extra sauce, and you should save it. It’s delicious on top of the ice cream.

When it’s done in the ice cream machine, the ice cream will be the consistency of soft-serve. Freeze for at least two hours for a solid, scoopable ice cream.

Salted Caramel:

  • 1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (100g) finely chopped roasted salted peanuts

1. Start by warming the cream in a saucepan or in the microwave. You want it to be hot, but not to the point that it boils.

2. Cook the water, 1 cup sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it turns a nice, golden brown color.

3. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the hot cream in a slow, steady stream.

4. As it cools, the caramel will set up. When it has thickened to a caramel sauce, but is still pourable, dip your cashews. Allow to cool completely before adding to the ice cream base.

Note: Delicious! And very, very close to the original, if not the same. It’s hard to say, without a sample to compare. The only thing that didn’t work is the caramel swirl–it ended up just kind of blending into the ice cream. I’ve got some ideas on how to prevent that next time, but I’m not entire sure it’s possible to get a good, frozen swirl at home. I don’t mind testing out my theories though–I know I’ll be making this ice cream again. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to give up on Uncanny Cashew just because Ben & Jerry’s did!

Corniest Corn Muffins with Honey Butter

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

This recipe came to me by way of my friends Jordan and Roxy, who brought these as the dinner rolls for our annual Fake Thanksgiving. Everyone ooh’d and aah’d and begged for the recipe, including myself, and Jordan was happy to oblige: he found the recipe for these corn muffins over at Smitten Kitchen, who in turn, borrowed the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours.

So, now that that’s settled…Corn muffins. These turned out to be the perfect cornbread, in my opinion. Just a little bit sweet (but not too sweet), and with the perfect crumb (that is, crumbly, but not dry). They were also pretty easy to make, and had me wondering why I ever needed a Jiffy mix. Even David, who doesn’t like cornbread was almost converted here. I don’t think he’ll be craving them anytime soon, but he ate some, which is an achievement in and of itself.

I upped the ante a little bit by mixing up some honey butter, which was super simple and totally worthwhile. If the corn muffins were good without the honey butter, they were heaven with it. So good!

Corniest Corn Muffins
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours

Yield: 12 regular-sized muffins or 48 miniature ones

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 tablespoons corn oil (I used olive oil, because that’s what I keep around)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup corn kernels – fresh, frozen or canned (in which case they should be drained and patted dry; I used frozen.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and  salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, oil, egg and yolk together until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. The batter will be lumpy, but don’t worry about it. The lumps will work themselves out as the muffins bake. Stir in the corn. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes (12 minutes for mini muffins), or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from the pan.

Honey Butter

  • 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Pour the honey over the butter and mash together with a spoon. Slather on warm cornbread muffins. Devour. 🙂

I used salted butter, because I like the salty sweet combination, but you certainly don’t have to.