Sunday, February 20, 2011

Recipe 2: Beef and Asparagus Stir Fry

This recipe was chosen because I had a bundle of asparagus that I bought and I also love stir fry. Putting asparagus in a stir fry seemed like a novel idea. I had heard of broccoli and other such vegetables in a stir fry, but never asparagus. This was a recipe I definitely wanted to check out.

Beef and Asparagus Stir Fry
Williams-Sonoma Simple Suppers, 2007.

1.5 lbs. sirloin steak
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 c. Hoisin Sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon chile oil
1/4 c peanut oil
1 thinly sliced yellow onion
3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
steamed rice for serving

Chop, chop
 Lightly season the beef with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, sherry, chile oil and 1/2 c water. In a wok or large frying pan, warm the peanut oil.

Working in batches, add the beef and cook until lightly seared, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to plate. Add the onion and asparagus to the pan and cook until tender-crisp, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir fry for about 15 seconds.

There's the beef!

Return the meat and juices from the plate to the pan, add the hoisin mixture and mix well. Simmer briefly until heated through. Divide the rice and serve with beef and asparagus.

First off, this recipe was fun to prep, (although it did take me about 20 minutes to get my things in order and chopped) fun to make (using a wok is both fun and exciting!) and tasty. I bought a cheap wok from Ikea and this was one of the first times I was able to use it. Even though it was under $10, it still was able to conduct heat well and made for an even cooking surface. I enjoyed the cooking capability of the wok as compared to a normal frying pan.

The ingredient choice for this recipe was a bit more on the pricey side after you bought the ingredients that may not always be in your pantry. The hoisin sauce was not terribly expensive and can be used for a multitude of dishes-- same way with the chile oil. The peanut oil was a bit tough for me to find. Our Kroger did not carry it, thus launching me on a journey for peanut oil.
Wok and Roll
A good tip, try basamati rice instead of the usual Minute rice. This rice can still be made in under 30 minutes like the rest of the meal and provides a delicious, nutty flavor that the dish can stand up to. The rice has a different texture than what most may be used to and cooks as simply as the Minute rice from the obnoxious red box (Not to mention, you can get a 2lb. bag for $2 bucks and feed yourself for months!).

The book mentions having your butcher cut the sirloin into thin strips or simply freezing it for 30 minutes to help slicing go a bit more smoothly. I am not sure how close you are to the local butcher (let's face it, it's not like the Brady Bunch where our housekeeper is dating the butcher), but I aimed for the latter. Putting the meat in the freezer does make it a bit firmer, thus aiding the cutting process.

All in all, the dish was delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed the ease of preparation, the fun of 'wok'ing and rolling, and the overall taste of the dish. Some might guess a salty overtone, however the salt content is really up to the cook. The onions taste a bit sweet, but still have the bite that you hope for and the asparagus has a wonderful crunch. If you try this and enjoy it, feel free to swap asparagus for any vegetable -- broccoli, cauliflower and carrots would all make a lovely dish.

So far so good with this one.... I think we might be onto a book worthy of purchase, but I'll try a few more just to be sure.

Catch ya on the stir fry..... Ok, so maybe that one is a bit of a stretch!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Recipe 1: Penne with Basil and Pine Nuts

To my beloved followers, I wanted to take a minute to let you know that Cookbook Crack Down is undergoing a face lift. I have been informed that I can now include the recipes, along with more information from the book. With that said, I am issuing a challenge to those who are serious about justifying the purchase of a cookbook. Give the recipes I am trying a chance yourself and then decide to purchase the book or not. So..... here is the first recipe from this book.

Penne with Basil and Pine Nuts   
Williams-Sonoma,  Simple Suppers Copyright 2007

Penne-1 lb.
Pine Nuts- 1/2 cup
Olive Oil- 6 Tablespoons (Be sure to use olive oil)
Fine Bread Crumbs- 1 cup
Garlic- 3 cloves, minced
Dry White Wine-1 cup
Red Pepper Flakes- 1/4 Teaspoon
Parmesan Cheese- 1/4 lb., freshly grated
Fresh Basil Leaves- 2/3 cup

Mise en place! (Things in order!)
Toasting the nuts is key!
Cook the pasta according to the package. While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry saute pan, until fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan, add the bread crumbs, and toss until toasted and golden, 1-2 minutes. Add to the bowl with the pine nuts and stir to mix. Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the wine and red pepper flakes, bring to a boil, and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes.

Such good wine, such good sauce!
Add the hot pasta along with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil to the wine sauce in the pan and toss to coat the pasta. Add the bread crumb mixture, the cheese, and the bail and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Since I have posted the recipe, I feel like I should share my experience while I cooked. Here it is....

First off, I chose to use penne rigate instead of normal penne. Penne rigate is penne with ridges. This allowed more of the sauce to adhere to the pasta and gave more sauce per bite. I also left the pasta at al dente (with a bite) so that the noodle would not blend too much with the texture of the sauce.

The finished product!
Also, be sure to toast your nuts! Seriously, this is a key step to giving the best flavor profile to the dish. By toasting the nuts, the essential oils are able to be released and you will be able to see them in the pan. The nuts gain a deeper flavor and make the dish feel a bit more rich.

Now onto the best part--the wine! I want you to be sure you use "quality" ingredients for your meals. Before you jump in and say, "Hey Abb, I thought you were a tightwad who doesn't like to spend a lot on food!", I want to make myself clear. When I say quality ingredients, I mean ingredients which are still affordable, yet have a good amount of flavor. For example, when the recipe calls for a dry white wine, you don't have to spend $15 bucks on a bottle of cooking wine. Au contraire, mon ami! I am an advocate of Two Buck Chuck, or for those of you who don't know Chuck, Charles Shaw wines found at Trader Joe's. While the wine is not literally two bucks (in Ohio), it is under four dollars and is ideal for cooking.

With my tips and tricks out of the way, time to "crack down" the recipe. I have to say I was a bit timid at first. I am a pasta traditionalist who loves the red sauce out of the jar. I am, however, a carboholic who can't turn down a new carbtastic treat. The idea of a wine and breadcrumbs sauce was a bit of an eyebrow raiser for me, however I eagerly tackled the challenge.

The overall meal is amazing! I love the rich sauce, full of cheese and basil. Be sure you use fresh basil because dried basil just won't have the same effect. The noodles cooked to al dente are able to deliver the sauce, yet have a flavor all of their own. The sauce has a nice consistency and is not dry or gritty like you might think. I was taken aback when I looked at Andy's plate and his was gone.... but then I looked at mine, and it was gone too! We loved this dish. To round out the meal, I paired it with a salad of baby greens and a light vinaigrette.

I certainly hope the new format of Cookbook Crack Down will allow you to be more engaged and give you the ability to share your own thoughts and ideas.

I'll keep'em coming!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cook Book Crack Down Vol. 2: Williams Sonoma Simple Suppers

So here comes the next cookbook to crack down.... Williams Sonoma Simple Suppers. This little book was picked up a while ago and has sat on my shelf ever since. I felt like I should give time to this reputable brand cook book, so after thumbing through I found a few decent sounding recipes. As a side note, I would like to mention that this book (along with many other Williams Sonoma) books can be found at discount stores such as Big Lots and half priced books.

Starting out, the book is filled with vibrant, large photos of the dishes. You might be fooled by the size of the book, however it contains approximately 45 recipes. Also featured is a useful section in the back that is chocked full of information about pantry staples and kitchen tools, among other things. My favorite part of this entire book is the organization of recipes by time. Let's face it, we don't all have the time to spend mulling away in the kitchen. This book is broken down into 30 minute, 15 minute and, my personal favorite, the more to store section. The convenience of knowing about how long the recipe should take is like knowing how many times Rachel Ray is going to say "EVOO" throughout her show (if you knew that, then you probably wouldn't even bother watching). Although we are all guilty of having a few hiccups while following a recipe, the general time frame can be taken into consideration.

For this crackdown I have chosen to make six total dishes. I will start off with a pasta dish ( penne with basil and pine nuts), then move on to two beef dishes (beef and asparagus stir fry and steak piperade), next to lighten things up a bit will be a salad (Vietnamese chicken salad), a classic (herbed turkey meatballs) and finally a wine craving (chicken in orange Riesling sauce). This variety is a bit of everything from the book. I will be sure try all six recipes and promise not to lose interest like my last lackluster book of choice (lame).

Check back tomorrow for the first recipe-- penne with basil and pine nuts!

TTFN-- Abbie

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Recipe 4: Cornmeal Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

I have to admit that pancakes could be one of my favorite things to cook and eat. At a very young age, I learned to make pancakes with my grandmother. To me, pancakes always came from the Bisquick box and were pretty plain. My grandma liked to add vanilla and extra sugar to the batter to put her own creative spin on the pancakes. Although many tend to over look the beauty and simplicity of pancakes, I believe they are a dish with a lot to offer.

I was a bit skeptical of the use of cornmeal in the pancake batter. Cornmeal, to me, seems to be too gritty or coarse for something as delicate as a fluffy and gentle pancake. The blueberry syrup, on the other hand, was right up my alley and I was eager to make it for breakfast.

I got up a bit early on a Sunday morning to attempt these pancakes. Another thing I learned from my grandma was the Sunday breakfast and its importance in the house. It is nice for everyone to gather around a table and enjoy a great breakfast. Even though it was just Andy and I, we were still eager to try this recipe.

For the dish itself, the work was about the same for regular pancakes. The batter was light, and relatively smooth just like normal pancakes, however the cooking process was a bit different. A general rule of thumb for pancakes is to flip them over as bubbles develop on the surface of the cake. When making the cornmeal cakes the bubbles still rose to the surface, however they needed to be flipped before too many bubbles developed. Needless to say, I had a few victims before I got the technique.

While I was busy keeping an eye on my pancakes, I brought together the syrup. To me, the syrup was delicious. Thick, rich and different are just a few words that came to mind. The pancakes were also good, however being a traditionalist, I had a hard time accepting the consistency of the pancake. I did appreciate the different method and the taste was good as well, however I prefer the consistency of a more traditional pancake.

All in all, I enjoyed my breakfast; as did Andy. We enjoyed the meals of this cookbook for the most part. There are other recipes in the book that we might try, however I feel the overall selection of the book, coupled with the price might make it one to check out from the library.

For my followers, I realize my posts have been spread rather far apart. With this being said, it was my first book to crackdown and I have learned a lot. I will be sure to update the blog more with the next book I choose. I will also be sure to include pictures with every post. I have yet to decide which book I will choose, but I will know before the night is over. Expect my next post tomorrow afternoon!

Thanks for the encouragement and please remember that ANY feedback is appreciated!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!