Monday, March 31, 2008

Grilled Flank Steak with Arugula, Baby Romaine, Fresh Oregano Vinaigrette and Manchego Cheese

Spring has sprung here at the Red Brick Ranchero!

I’m out in the garden (believe me it’s a stretch to call it that) picking fresh oregano, tarragon, sage and thyme on any given day. The ginger mint and the peppermint are up. The Italian parsley, which has come back for years in the same pot, and the rosemary are rockin’! The grill has been officially cleaned and has been working hard.

It got a great workout last week with this recipe.

Perfectly grilled flank steak marinated for just a bit in splashes of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A sweet spicy fresh oregano vinaigrette tossed with arugula and baby romaine and shavings of Manchego cheese. If you don't have Manchego on hand, of course a bit of Parmesan Reggiano works just fine.

A grand combination and a nod to the new season in one great meal.

Grilled Flank Steak with Arugula, Baby Romaine, Fresh Oregano Vinaigrette and Manchego Cheese

Small flank steak (you know the size you like to buy)

Sprinkle a bit of extra virgin olive oil on both sides of flank steak and season with salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Then sprinkle a bit of balsamic vinegar on both sides and let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes.

Fire up the grill. Grill the flank steak for about 5-7 minutes per side. Let sit for five minutes before you slice so the juices stay in the meat.

Fresh Oregano Vinaigrette (a nod to Bobby Flay…this came from one of his books, but I can’t remember which one!)

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup aged sherry vinegar
2 tbsp honey
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 shallot, chopped

Combine in blender until mixed. Season to taste. Can be stored in the fridge.

Slice the flank steak and arrange on platter. Mix the arugula and baby romaine with a bit of the vinaigrette and put on top of the flank steak. Shave a bit of Manchego over the top and serve.

Serves 2-4, depending on how big your flank steak is.

Leftovers? Stuff a pita pocket and add some avocados and toasted pine nuts.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Franck's Roasted Duck Breast with Green Olives

I have never cooked duck.

Until now.

I’ve read the blogs that rave about duck in all its forms and thought, I’ll get around to that eventually.

Back in the restaurant days, we served duck breast…seared and served with a Merlot sauce that was wonderful, but that ‘s the only time I ever had it. We bought it from D’Artagnan, the purveyor of all things duck. When I decided it was time to forge ahead towards duck nirvana, I went to their website and ordered two magret duck breasts. And some duck fat for good measure. They arrived the next day and went straight to the freezer where they’ve been rolling around for the past two months.

Til this week.

Six ingredients and fifty minutes later you are sitting down to a meal that will make you want to put D’Artagnan on your speed dial.

Duck Nirvana has been reached.

Franck’s Roasted Duck Breast with Green Olives
Adapted from The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells

2 magret duck breasts
1 cup green olives, pitted and halved
Coarse sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
One good swirl extra virgin olive oil
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, rinsed and sliced thickly don’t peel

Preheat oven to 500.

Place the duck breasts, fat side down meaty side up. Arrange a good sized row of sliced green olives done the center of the meaty side of one breast. Season with salt and pepper. Place the other duck breast meaty side down on top of the breast with the olives. This creates the roast. Tie with cotton twine at one inch intervals and be sure to tie the ends.

Season again with salt and pepper.

In cast iron skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.

Add the duck roast and sear on both sides until golden brown, takes about 7-8 minutes. Remove duck from pan, put on plate and season once again with salt and pepper.

Pour off fat in pan and add the potatoes. Season with pepper and add extra green olives if you have any left that you haven’t nibbled on while you were slicing them. Put the duck roast on top of the potatoes.

Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Place in center of the oven and cook for 25 minutes for rare, 30 minutes for medium-medium rare and 35 for medium to well done. Best at medium rare.

Remove duck roast to carving board. Cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.
If potatoes need extra cooking, pop back in the oven.

Slice roast diagonally and serve on top of those fantastic potatoes.

Serves 3-4.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grilled Salmon Catalan

Spanish food.

How wonderful and uncomplicated it is. Straightforward flavors of smoked paprika, saffron, oranges, sherry. Almonds playing an important role in every aspect of a meal. Toasted bread crumbs, extra fruity olive oil.

How good is that!

I wanted to use those flavors last night. We had some beautiful wild salmon fillets just begging to be eaten. I also had some avocados that wanted a little more respect in a meal than just being thrown in a salad or smashed up as guacamole.

A little riff on a recipe of Joyce Goldstein’s and we’re off..grilling the salmon, toasting almonds til golden, smashing innocent anchovies into a paste and sautéing at the last minute, a perfect avocado in that extra fruity Spanish olive oil ..all joining together into something that is at once impressive for company and special for a weeknight supper.

Grilled Salmon Catalan
Adapted from
Back to Square One by Joyce Goldstein

1/2 cup sliced almonds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp capers, drained
1-½ tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp finely chopped anchovies
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 wild salmon fillets, about 6 ounces each
1 small perfectly ripe avocado, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and golden about 7 minutes.

Let almonds cool and coarsely chop them. Whisk together, olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, capers, orange zest and anchovies. Add the almonds and stir.

Fire up the grill. Brush the salmon with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grill 3-4 minutes per side
Spoon sauce over the fish and serve hot. If using avocados, halve, pit and then slice them. Warm the slices in a skillet in a little extra virgin olive oil over low heat. Place the avocado around the salmon and drizzle the sauce over all.

Serves 2. (You will have extra sauce and extra avocado left over. It’s wonderful the next day combined on a little crunchy romaine lettuce for lunch!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pork Ragout with Cannelini and Orange

There’s still a chill in the air.

Freezing in the mornings and warming up to the 50’s in the afternoon. People are pushing warm weather. At work, I look out over a main drag in Middle Tennessee, home of the Bradford Pear, which is in full bloom. Giant puffballs of white moving in the the totally unpredicted snow flurries Monday. Bending and swaying yesterday in the sunshine while ladies of a certain age drive their convertibles with the top down and all the windows up and the heat on. Kids from the neighborhood high school doing their p/e run in shorts and cut off tee shirts. Legs and faces red with the cold, but they wouldn’t put on a sweater to save their lives.

Thinking about dinner, hoping to find something that will fit the bill: warming, spicy maybe a bit of something to make you think spring is just around the corner.

Then I remembered this recipe that I had saved from sometime last fall, Cloves, oranges and red wine. That’s a bit wintry. Pork and cannelini, red bell pepper, onion. Then comes the smoky paprika and garlic and lots of Italian parsley.

There’s the hint of spring.

Whatever it is, it works.. Warming, spunky, makes your nose tickle type spicy with lots of character and flavor and cooled with a splat of sour cream and a squeeze of orange at the end.


Spicy Pork Ragout with Cannelini and Orange
Adapted from a recipe I found in the New York Times with absolutely no credit given to the cook.

2 14 ounce cans cannelini beans, or 1 cup dried, cooked cannelini
2 good swirls extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, in 2-inch chunks
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3 branches fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch red chili flakes
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Heat a couple of swirls of extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven and lightly brown pork without crowding over medium-high heat. Remove. Add onion, garlic and bell pepper. Sauté over low heat until soft. Stir in paprika, cloves and zest. Stir in orange juice and wine, scraping bottom of pan. Return pork to pan. Drain and rinse cannelini and add. Add rosemary, black pepper and chili.

Bring to boil and then reduce heat to simmer and let bubble along for about an hour. Season with salt. Serve with a blap of sour cream, grated orange zest and more Italian parsley.

Serves 5.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Chicken with Fresh Tarragon and Sherry Vinegar

I’ve got to confess. I’m a late comer to tarragon. Just didn’t like it at all when I was younger. I don’t know what the reason was, maybe too much in a béarnaise sauce…that can taste like soapy grass if it happens.

But, thankfully, taste buds do change as you grow more wonderful in years and I’m all over the tarragon thing now. I’ve had great luck growing it this past year, and thanks to the fact that we didn’t have zero degree nights, my plants are coming back with a vengeance.

I was searching for something divine to do for dinner. We were busy this weekend and didn’t do the major cook fest that we normally do, so I was knee deep in my cookbooks when I happened upon one in Patricia Wells’ At Home in Provence. This is a wonderful cookbook, with lots of fun things to try…the pantry section alone will keep you busy for weeks.

For our dinner, I decided to do Chicken with Tarragon and Sherry Vinegar. Chicken in Vinegar is a classic French presentation that I love and posted about last month . This version browns the chicken thighs in butter and olive oil, then whole garlic, shallots, sweet yellow onions are cooked slowly til they melt and become involved with a mustardy cream and fresh tarragon sauce that is such an elegant touch you immediately want to put your face in your food and lick the plate clean.

Chicken with Tarragon and Sherry Vinegar

1 medium sweet yellow onion, peeled
4-5 chicken thighs
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper tot taste
A couple of good swirls extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
½ head garlic, peeled and left whole
Bouquet garni…She loves these things and they work so well. This one uses a couple of bay leaves, couple of sprigs of fresh tarragon, rosemary, celery leaves and Italian parsley all tied up with a piece of twine
3 tbsp sherry wine vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp sun dried tomato paste
A blop of Dijon mustard
Fresh tarragon leaves, snipped
2 tbsp crème fraiche

Slice onion in half lengthwise. Place each half cut side down and slice very thin. Set aside.

Liberally season chicken with salt and pepper. In large cast iron skillet, combine oil and butter over high heat. When hot, add the chicken skin side down and cook til even golden color on one side. Turn chicken and brown five minutes on the other side til golden brown. Keep heat regulated so skin doesn’t scorch.

When all browned, remove to platter.

Pour off and discard all but about a tablespoon of fat from skillet. Add the onions, shallots, garlic and bouquet garni and season lightly with salt. Sweat veggies by cooking over low heat without coloring for about five minutes. Add the chicken pieces, pour about 1- 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar over chicken and cover. Cook very gently over low heat stirring to make sure they don’t burn until chicken is cooked through about 25 minutes. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Transfer chicken to platter and cover with foil keep warm in low oven.

Leave veggies in the pan. Over moderate heat slowly add the remaining 1-1/2 tbsp vinegar, scraping up any bits than stick to the bottom of the skillet. Add the chicken stock, sun dried tomato paste, mustard and stir to blend. Increase heat to high and bring to boil, cook until sauce is thick and glossy , at the most, seven minutes.

Off the heat stir in crème fraiche and stir to blend.

Spoon sauce and veggies over chicken and sprinkle with tarragon. Serve with rice if you like.
Serves 3.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Charlotte Russe

One recipe that has been in the family for years is an eggnog. We always have it at Christmas, doing our celebrating on Christmas Eve, so that you have Christmas Day to get over the eggnog. The flavors of the eggnog: rum, bourbon, brandy are immediately identifiable when you taste it.

For our Easter lunch, which we celebrated yesterday, Mother decided to do a Charlotte Russe. Ladyfingers lining an old silver bowl layered with a wonderful moussey mix of eggs, vanilla, and hello, this tastes like eggnog!

Eggnog? NANNY? Have I slept through a year?

Oh, no, dear. It’s a recipe from Jack Izard’s A Traveler's Table. Isn’t it divine?

Jack is an old friend of my parents who wrote a great cookbook several years ago showcasing recipes he has collected from around the world. And the photography in the book, which he did, is fabulous.

But back to Charlotte.

In the past, when Charlotte Russe showed up at a dinner party, she bore unmistakable notes of a nutty sherry.

Not this year.

Charlotte was not as ladylike as she has been in the past. She blew in after a big lunch of sautéed quail and wild rice, like the north wind. She tasted like Christmas on a cool March day. Champagne bubbling in the glasses around her, she was a bit easier to take than the usual eggnog, but was so divine.

I’m sure she’ll be asked back again.

Charlotte Russe
Adapted from Jack Izard's A Travelers Table

4 eggs, separated
6 heaping tbsp sugar
3 ounces bourbon
1-1/2 ounces dark rum
1-1/2 ounces brandy
dash of vanilla
1 quart heavy cream
2 envelopes plain gelatin (1/4 ounce each)
1/2 cup hot water
2-3 ounce packages ladyfingers

In three separate bowls:

Small bowl: beat egg yolks, stir in sugar til blended, add the liquors, salt and vanilla.

Medium bowl: whip cream until stiff.

Large bowl: Beat egg whites til stiff.

Dissolve gelatin in 1/3 cup hot water and add to egg yolk mixture. Line serving bowl with ladyfingers, split in half lengthwise, reserving 8 halves for the top.

Gently fold contents of the three bowls together and the egg whites last. Pour mixture into lined bowls and top with ladyfinger halves.

Cool in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Keeps well for several days.

Serves 8.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Picante Shrimp and Black Bean Enchiladas with Chipotle Sauce

Yesterday, on the New York Times website, Mark Bittman started a discussion about favorite cookbooks. Commentary was flying on his great food blog, BITTEN, as readers were invited to list their favorites. An extra added fillip was Bittman saying that the most erudite or funny people would be invited to review cookbooks with him on the blog.

There were the expected replies…

“Oh, Mark, I can’t make a move in the kitchen without Julia Child.’

“Oh, Mark, your cookbooks have replaced the Joy of Cooking on my bookshelf.”

I’m sure these comments were made without regard to the fact that you possibly could end up “working” with Bittman. Writing wise.

After reading about 215 entries (I was fascinated to see what people consider their “have to haves“), I was thrilled to see Heidi Swanson of 101 cookbooks fame listed as a go to source for vegetarians. Patricia Wells had several nods. Of course Julia, Jacques, Suzanne Goins with her Sunday Supper at Lucques(one I hope to get for my birthday, hint.. hint) were listed.
However, one of the greats was missing.

I’m talking about Martha Rose Shulman.
She of The Vegetarian Feast fame which won a Tastemaker Award in 1979. She who keeps health at the forefront of her cookbooks, most especially Mediterranean Light, Entertaining Light, Provencal Light (which won a Julia Child Award for Best Health and Diet Book in 1994) and Mexican Light. Martha knows food. Knows combinations of foods and knows how to make them interesting, delicious and healthy all at the same time. Recently I stumbled upon her website, and found recipes, interesting tidbits about her new book, Mediterranean Harvest……. and a contact email.

So, a glass of wine later, I wrote her. And told her how much her food meant to me over the past 20 years and how much I enjoy the way she cooks and the way she writes.

She wrote me back.

Moment of silence.

Last night’s meal is an adaptation of one of her best. Picante Shrimp Enchiladas with Chipotle Sauce. From Mexican Light.

It’s vintage Martha…spicy, self assured, healthy, and invites your creativity to join in the fun.

From a cook who will stand the test of time.

Picante Shrimp and Black Bean Enchiladas with Chipotle Sauce
Adapted from Mexican Light by Martha Rose Shulman

4 large plum tomatoes, roasted under broiler for five minutes a side til blackened
½ small can (about 6 chipotles en adobo with their sauce)
½ large head garlic, peeled
Coarse salt to taste
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, cooked til pink (you can saute or boil for 2-3 minutes til turn pink) cut in small pieces
A good swirl extra virgin olive oil
Good pinch sugar
¼ ounce Ibarra Mexican chocolate
1-½ cup homemade chicken stock
10 corn tortillas, heated
½ small white onion, thinly sliced and soaked in ice water
2 ounces queso fresco, crumbled about 1/3 cup
1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
Chopped fresh cilantro
Preheat oven to 350.

Put tomatoes in a blender with any liquid that has accumulated and add chipotles and blend until smooth.

Pound peeled garlic in mortar and pestle. Should have about 2 tbsp garlic puree.

Heat a couple of swirls of extra virgin olive oil in heavy saucepan and add the garlic paste. Cook stirring for about three to five minutes, until the garlic paste colors and smells fragrant. Add the tomato chipotle mix, sugar and salt to taste.
Cook stirring for about five to ten minutes until it thickens and begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and bring to simmer. Simmer for ten minutes, stirring from time to time and when the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
Taste and add salt and a bit more sugar if needed.

Take a ½ cup of sauce from the pan and add to the shrimp and black beans. Add ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro and combine .

Heat tortillas wrapped in a damp hand towel, four at a time, in the microwave on high for one minute.

Have a pan ready for enchiladas.

Dip tortillas into sauce, put about two tablespoons shrimp mix and roll and place in baking pan. Continue with all the tortillas and use up the filing. Put rest of sauce over top of the enchiladas and sprinkle with the onion. Sprinkle with the queso fresco.

Heat until cheese is melted.

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Serve with sour cream, avocado and fresh lime wedges.

Serves 4-5.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pollo alla Peporanata

It was one of those nights. I wanted chicken, I wanted Italian. I wanted pasta.

I didn’t want to do a tomato sauce per se, but one where the tomatoes take a back seat to another flavor. I was cleaning out the veggie drawer and realized I had a gold mine of red bell peppers. I wanted something that would show off the spicy sweetness of the peppers .

Bingo. Patricia Wells’ Trattoria had the answer. This wonderful recipe, Pollo alla Peporanata was perfect.

The butter, homemade chicken stock, melted red onions and crushed tomatoes lend a velvety richness to the sauce starring those red bells. It’s at once subtle and strong, with a silkiness brightened by a splash of balsamic vinegar at the last minute making this well suited to pasta or grilled polenta wedges.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Pollo alla Peporanata
Adapted from Trattoria by Patricia Wells

2 red bell peppers, cut into thin lengthwise strips
Coarse sea salt to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely minced rosemary leaves
1 large red onion, cut in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin slices
Good pinch sugar
5 boneless chicken thighs, cut into pieces
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 16 ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes in juice or 1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree
Several sprigs of fresh Italian parsley, bay leaves, sprigs of fresh rosemary and celery leaves tied in a bundle with twine.
½ cup chicken stock, preferably homemade (you can’t believe the difference if you use homemade)
A splash of very good balsamic vinegar

In a large skillet combine the peppers a pinch of salt, and a couple of swirls of extra virgin olive oil. Toss to coat the peppers with oil and cook, covered, over very low heat, stirring from time to time until soft and glazed about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In the same skillet, combine the onions, a pinch of salt, rosemary, sugar and a couple of swirls of extra virgin olive oil. Toss to coat the onions with oil and cook uncovered over very low heat stirring from time to time until the onions are very soft and glazed about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. In skillet combine a couple of swirls of extra virgin oil and the tbsp of butter over medium heat. When hot, add chicken and cook , in batches and be sure to regulate the heat so the butter doesn’t scorch. When all chicken is cooked, return to pan. Add the tomatoes and herb bundle and let cook 5 minutes. The add chicken stock, onions and peppers and simmer until chicken is cooked through about 25 minutes. Remove and throw out the herb bundle.

Add the splash of vinegar and cook about five more minutes.

Serves 3 generously.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Soba Noodles with Shrimp, Napa Cabbage and Cashews

I developed a love for soba noodles during the RENOVATION.

Sorry, didn’t mean to shout. That’s just how the word looks in my head when I remember what was happening in this house a year ago. Plumgood Food, an online grocery here in town had soba noodles as one of their pre-prepared foods. We ate a lot of them during THAT TIME.

Loved them.

Knew one day I would try my hand at them.

Bought some soba.

Part of the importance of having a well stocked pantry is the fact that when something falls off the shelf onto your head, you have a eureka moment and can immediately launch into preparing it.
Apparently the my little package of noodles decided it was time to shine and threw themselves on my head when I was getting some cat food out for the feline departments dinner.

I never ignore a sign from above.

A little while later I am slicing and dicing the veggies and eating the cashews. Cashews that are meant to be a part of this recipe, but were running a big chance of not making it into the final product til Groom hid them from me until the last minute.

The dressing sounds and is so good … lime juice, dark brown sugar, toasted sesame oil, pickled ginger, fish sauce (well that part didn’t sound wonderful, but it does add that certain “je ne sais quoi “to the recipe), tossed with hot soba noodles, Napa cabbage, radishes, shredded carrots, chopped green onions, sliced red peppers and to top it all off, stir fried shrimp. Or as I like to call them, quickly sautéed since I don’t stir fry.

Once dinner is ready, I put my feet on a raised pillow so they don’t swell anymore than they already have from the cashews and enjoy this meal with Groom.

This would be great with tofu, if I was a tofu person, which I am not, or scallops, some mushrooms, chicken…what ever. Use your imagination.

You never know.

Inspiration may drop on your head one night.

Soba Noodles with Shrimp, Napa Cabbage and Cashews

1 lime, juiced
¼ cup orange juice
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil (I’ll fess up. I used olive because that’s what I have, but vegetable oil will do fine)
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp toasted red chili paste
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
4 tbsp toasted rice vinegar
1 tbsp chopped pickled ginger
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped fresh mint

Combine ingredients for dressing and let sit while you chop, slice, dice the rest of the ingredients.

1 small head Napa cabbage. sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 cup shredded carrots
6 radishes, sliced
2 green onions, chopped
4 ounces soba noodles
12 shrimp, tail on, quickly sautéed/stir fried until done
As many cashews as you want to throw in with everything or eat yourself
Freshly chopped cilantro for garnish

Cook the soba noodles for 8 minutes.

Put the sliced Napa cabbage in a large colander. Drain the noodles over the Napa cabbage. And put the noodle cabbage mix in large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss with the dressing.

Serves 3 generously.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flank Steak Stuffed with Swiss Chard and Manchego Cheese

I have been thinking about this recipe for the past year.

Maybe a little bit longer.

I was watching one of those Saturday afternoon PBS food shows last winter, dreaming about being able to finally cook in our renovated kitchen. At that point in time, it was totally a dream as we were living in two bedrooms in our house…one as a living room and one as a bedroom while the opposite end of the Red Brick Ranchero was, well, basically gutted.

But that’s another story. Back to the recipe.

This one involved Swiss chard, garlic and a beef tenderloin having a meeting of the minds and ending up in a beautiful red and green swirl on a plate with a few potatoes as a side.

I have thought about this recipe and thought about it and today decided, well if life doesn’t throw a beef tenderloin at you, it can at least throw a flank steak.

I butterflied the flank, laid it out flat and beat the you know what out of it with a rolling pin. Then I put a pile of garlicky sautéed Swiss chard and shavings of Manchego cheese in the middle and rolled it all up.

Browned it on all sides on top of the stove, ran it in the oven for twenty minutes, let it sit and think for five and slices of pure pleasure landed on our dinner plates.

Sometimes it pays to think about something for awhile before you do it.

Flank Steak Stuffed with Swiss Chard and Manchego Cheese

1 1-2 lb flank steak, butterflied, click here to learn how
1 bunch Swiss chard, rinsed, stemmed, chopped
4 fat cloves garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 6 thin sliced Manchego cheese
Preheat oven to 375.

Butterfly your flank steak or have butcher do it for you. Put steak between two pieces of saran wrap and beat it til of uniform thickness. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat large skillet with a couple of swirls extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat. Throw in the garlic and let cook until golden. Add the chard and cook until it’s just wilted.

Take off heat and put in colander to let juices drain out. When cool enough to handle, squeeze as much liquid out as you can and put chard on top pf the steak. Place the cheese on top of the chard. Starting at the side of the steak closest to you, roll the steak tightly and tie with kitchen twine in several places.

Season the outside of the rolled steak with salt and pepper. Heat a bit of olive oil in saute pan and brown on all sides. Put in a small casserole dish, place in oven and let cook about 20 minutes at 375. Take out and let sit for 5 minutes or til reaches internal temperature of 130-140 depending on how rare you like your steak.

Serves 3.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Patty Melt

My all time favorite sandwich is a patty melt.

Sure, I’m happy when I have a hamburger or a cheeseburger. A Hardees’s Thick Burger once a year on the way to the beach, that’s cool. But what really gets me going is a patty melt.

When I was in college, there was a pub on campus called The Bistro. They had patty melts, which they called grilled cheese burgers. I lived on them. Give me a Tab with a lemon slice and a patty melt and I was good to go for the day.

Groom makes the best patty melt ever. He’s serious about them. He does the whole thing, the onions, the rye bread, the Swiss cheese, the ground chuck.

And they are amazing. They cure hangovers, they warm you up on a cold afternoon, they taste divine on the deck at midnight on a hot summer night.

The Patty Melt

12 ounces ground chuck
1 tbsp tamari sauce
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 pieces good rye bread
3 slices baby Swiss cheese, cut in strips
1 Spanish onion, diced
Hellmann’s mayonnaise

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat and put a swirl of extra virgin olive oil in pan. When hot, add the onion and cook til golden brown.

Combine meat, tamari and ground black pepper in bowl and form into 2 large patties. Heat a large nonstick skillet and fry the burgers on each side. Spread Hellmann’s mayonnaise on one side of each piece of bread.

When burgers are ready put on the Hellmann’s slathered side of the bread, then onions on burger and then the cheese and top with other mayo’d side of rye bread. Add a little olive oil to the pan and cook on both sides until cheese is melted and bread is golden brown.

You can, of course, grill the burgers and finish on top of the stove.

Serves 2 very generously!!!



Saturday, March 15, 2008

Black Pepper Cookies

To paraphrase Shakespeare, the worm has turned. The curse upon my baking skills, I am happy to report, has been lifted. I can uncross the rolling pins, remove the garlic from the front door. I’m back and I’m baking with success again. I made pizza crust last weekend and it worked. I made Caramel Fudge Cake. It worked. I made Pan de Jerez and it worked.

I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

I put off this celebratory post for several days just to be sure I had my chops back. And they’re here.

So , this week’s baking post is about cookies. Not just any old cookie. A Black Pepper Cookie. I’m very picky about my black peppercorns. I do a mix of three types: the Indian Tellicherry black, the robust Sarawak black and the Malabar Indian black peppercorns. The strength of the pepper flavor depends on how long the pepper is left on the vine and these are three peppercorns that stay the longest, therefore make a spicy addition to any food.

These cookies have freshly ground pepper from my mix, freshly grated ginger, cloves, cinnamon and for a little lasting surprise for the taste buds…a pinch of cayenne.

These are wonderful with a bit of St Andre cheese to completely knock your socks off!

Black Pepper Cookies
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts

3 cups sifted all purpose flour
2 tsp double acting baking powder
½ pound (1 cup) softened butter
¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1-½ cup sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400.

Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside. In large bowl of electric mixer, cream butter. Beat in the black pepper, cayenne pepper, cloves, cinnamon and fresh ginger. Scrape the bowl with spatula as necessary to keep mixture smooth while beating in the sugar, egg and on lowest speed, the sifted dry ingredients. When completely blended, remove from mix to a board or smooth surface. Knead lightly. Divide dough into three pieces. Work with one piece at a time. Do not chill the dough before rolling.

On a piece of parchment paper or silpat, roll out cookies to a ¼ inch thickness. Cut out with 2-½ inch round cutter. Transfer with a metal spatula to unbuttered cookie sheet, and place about 3/4inches apart.

Bake 8 minutes til lightly browned. Remove from pan with spatula and put on rack to cool. If you cook more than one sheet at a time, cook a bit longer.

Makes two dozen cookies, or more if you use a smaller cookie cutter.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Out of India

There are many times, when decision making in this house takes on a life of its own.

Here at the elegant Red Brick Ranchero, you have one Gemini sun Libra rising with a total of four planets in Gemini conversing with a Taurus sun Gemini rising with a total of two planets in Gemini and two in Taurus. So once Groom, the Taurus, makes his mind up…something inside makes him change it.

Makes him nuts.

While the Sybil of the family, me, is in the kitchen reading five cookbooks at the same time trying to make a decision about what to do for dinner and having an inner monologue with several of me as to how many dishes to cook.

And once the Taurus sun Gemini rising thinks he has helped to make the actual decision the Gemini sun Libra rising is off on another tangent, all the while Groom is, once again, highly pleased with his contribution to dinner.

The conversation goes like this:

Groom honey, what would you like for dinner.

Oh, I don’t know what do you want?

Well, I was thinking about doing something spicy, maybe curry.

It doesn’t matter to me, surprise me.

Does that mean you want spicy food tonight?

That would be great. I love spicy let’s have Mexican.

I was reading Maddhur Jaffrey’s cookbook and I thought about a curry.

Whatever you want to fix will be fine with me. Just surprise me. I love enchiladas.

Perfect. We’ll do vegetarian tonight. Potato Cauliflower Curry. Mushroom Bhaji..yum yum. This is going to be good.

Do they have enchiladas in India? Mushroom Bhaji, I like that, don't I?

Groom, you‘re brilliant. Excellent idea for dinner.

I don’t know how I do it.

Mushroom Bhaji

1 package white button mushrooms cut in halves, wiped with paper towel
2 onions, finely chopped
2 fresh medium tomatoes, grated
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
4 fat cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp medium hot chili powder
Coarse salt to taste
Fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish

Heat two good swirls extra virgin olive oil in a pan and saute onions ginger and garlic until golden brown.

Add tomato, garam masala, salt, chili powder, ground cumin and saute 10 minutes.

Add mushroom and about a ¼ cup water.

Cook till the mushrooms are tender. If dry out, just add a bit more water and stir well.
Garnish with finely chopped cilantro.

Serves 3.

Potato and Cauliflower Curry Punjabi Style
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's From Curries to Kebabs

1 cup chopped sweet yellow onion
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
5 fat cloves garlic, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
3 good sized Yukon gold potatoes, boiled, cooled, and cut into about 1 inch chunks
1 medium sized head cauliflower, cut florets into pieces slightly bigger than the potatoes
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup grated tomatoes
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Put the onion, ginger, garlic and 4 tbsp water in food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Put enough olive oil into large Dutch oven to cover bottom, about a ¼ inch of oil and set over medium high heat. When oil shimmers, put in the potatoes and cauliflower. Fry, stirring until they are lightly browned ,remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

Add cumin seeds, then onion mix from the food processor. Stir for 3 to 4 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Then add tomatoes and cook continuing to stir for another 5 minutes. Now add cauliflower and potatoes, 2-1/2 cups to 3 cups water, and salt to taste.

Let cook, covered til cauliflower is done, test after ten minutes.

Serves 4-5.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pasta Med

Yet another quick, simple tomato sauce.

You can’t have too many of these sauces in your repertoire. This combination showcases capers, Kalamata olives, leeks, garlic and achieves greatness when combined with cavetelli on a Monday night while you watch Sliding Doors after a late afternoon walk in the park with Groom, Lucy and Lily.

Just another day in paradise.

Pasta Med

2 leeks, washed and thinly sliced
5 fat cloves garlic, minced
Hot red pepper flakes, 2 shakes
A couple of good swirls of extra virgin olive oil
A good splash dry vermouth
1 tbsp capers
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes and their juice
Cavetelli for two, cooked
Small handful chopped fresh Italian parsley

Heat a couple of good swirls of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in large saute pan. Add leeks and cook til soft and a bit of brown on the edges and add the garlic and cook about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, vermouth, sun dried tomatoes, hot red pepper flakes, olives, capers and Italian parsley. Let cook til thick. Add hot cavetelli and a bit of pasta water if sauce is too thick for your taste.

Serves 2 generously.

This sauce is wondrous with large shrimp or grilled scallops added at the last minute.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Caramel Fudge Cake

When I was growing up, sweets were around the house, but I didn’t want to know where.

Why, you ask?

Because then there wouldn’t be any sweets around the house, they would be inside of me. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t eat them, but there was most definitely a problem with self control.

I have none.

There were a few things that my mother baked that made self control pack its little bag and catch the first cab out of my brain. Chief among these irresistibles was Caramel Fudge Cake. This is the stuff that sweet dreams are made of. One bite and you’re transported to a happy place waving bye bye to self control and hello to all out gluttony.

So in the interest of helping you, dear reader, know more about me, I humbly offer the recipe for these toothsome morsels, a phrase I have always wanted to use in a sentence. A bite of pure happiness, chocked full of walnuts, butter, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Caramel Fudge Cake

2 sticks butter
2 cups chopped walnuts
4 cups dark brown sugar
4 eggs, separated (whites beaten till stiff)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325.

Melt the butter and add the sugar and mix well. Beat the egg yolks, add a little of the butter sugar mix to warm them and then gradually beat in all the sugar butter mix. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg and sugar mix. Add nuts, vanilla and beaten egg whites. Mix until well blended together. This is something you do by hand. Do not use a mixer.

Butter 2 glass 8x8 pans and divide batter between the two.
Bake for 45 minutes and cool in the pan. Cut in squares and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or a little French grey sea salt, as shown in the picture above. So good.

Should make 18 unless you eat some of the dough.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Homemade Chorizo with Leeks, Fennel and Cannelini

The Chorizo Experiment

Phase One:

Coming off of my successful attempt at Merguez, I decided to take on the challenge of making my own chorizo.

I love chorizo.

It’s the sausage with the major kick to it. It’s a must have ingredient in paella and tapas and people are as passionate about their chorizo as they are about their wines.

If you start a discussion on chorizo and what you can do with it, people get worked up . “I only use such and such a brand.” and “don’t use that one it has blah blah in it and that’s not what goes in chorizo.”

Ok. Nice talking to you.

I’m not sure that I have had enough chorizo in my life to get that picky, but the section on sausage in Joyce Goldstein’s book, The Mediterranean Kitchen, has gotten my interest up in trying my hand at more sausage. And the idea of being able to reach into the freezer and pull out homemade sausages to go into my dishes is very appealing.

Ingredients purchased, the time came for THE CHORIZO EXPERIMENT.

I didn’t make it.

Groom did.

He has now become the official Chorizo maker here at the Red Brick Ranchero.

It took all of ten minutes. I’m not kidding. We took a bit of the spicy mix and sautéed it to see if we needed to correct the seasoning. Nope. Perfection. Feeling highly pleased with himself, Groom patted out 24 two inch patties, which we immediately froze for phase two of THE CHORIZO EXPERIMENT.

Phase Two:

Several nights later, we decided to embark on Phase Two of THE CHORIZO EXPERIMENT.

A craving for comfort food entered the picture. I took a pack of 4 chorizos out of our freezer and thawed them in their Ziploc baggy in cool water for an hour. A short time later, THE CHORIZO EXPERIMENT was complete. A fabulous pasta sauce was ready for its orecchiette and we tucked into something special, a collaborative effort that we’ll repeat often.

Adapted from The Mediterranean Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein

2 pounds ground pork, 1/3 the weight in fat
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2-½ tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp smoked hot pimenton
1-½ tbsp dried Turkish oregano
1 tbsp ground cumin
½-¾ tsp cayenne pepper
1-½ tsp coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in mixing bowl and mix well with your hands. Fry a small patty as a test and adjust seasonings to taste.
Shape into 2 inch patties and freeze in batches of four in between sheets of waxed paper.

Makes 24 patties.

Homemade Chorizo with Leeks, Fennel and Cannelini

4 two inch patties homemade chorizo
2 small fennel bulbs, diced
1 medium leek, trimmed and washed and cut in small dice
½ medium sweet yellow onion, diced
1 14 ounce can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
1 14 ounce can organic diced tomatoes
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
A couple of good swirls of extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces dried orecchiette, cooked while you’re making the sauce

Heat a large skillet and add a couple of swirls of extra virgin olive oil. When oil shimmers, add leeks and onion to pan and cook for about 15 minutes til golden. Add fennel and cook about 10 minutes, until soft. Remove from pan.

Keep pan over heat, add a little extra olive oil if needed, and put in chorizo patties. Break up with fork and cook til done. Remove from pan and put in bowl with veggie mixture. Add can of tomatoes with their juice to hot pan. Be sure to stir well as they saute so they get all the chorizo flavored oil absorbed. Add the cannelini beans. If the sauce seems a bit dry, add a little hot pasta water and swirl around. Throw in the orecchiette and toss well.

Serves 3.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Grilled Chicken Morocco with Vegetable Ragout

You can get tired of chicken. You can grill it, broil it, bake it, smother it. Plenty of ways to make it different. But you can get tired of it. That’s why it’s important to know what to do when you’re bored as hell with what you are doing to the old bird. That’s when you have to pull yourself together and find something different to do.

Moroccan flavors have become my go-to fix it for boredom with dinner. I admit it, I have gone nuts over the flavors from this area. What’s not to like? Ginger, cumin, smoked hot pimenton, turmeric, cayenne, mint, cilantro, lemon? There’s something in there that you like.

Make a marinade of these ingredients and plop some fat boneless chicken thighs in and let them think. Then, being the talented cook that you are, make a vegetable ragout of carrots, rutabagas, turnips, butternut squash and zucchini to serve on top of couscous and you have a meal that will please even the most jaded chicken eater around.

Grilled Chicken Morocco with Vegetable Ragout
Adapted from
Kitchen Conversations by Joyce Goldstein


2 tbsp smoked pimenton
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1-½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Several good grindings of black pepper
3 fat garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Several good swirls extra virgin olive oil
6 fat boneless chicken thighs
Chopped fresh mint
Chopped fresh cilantro
Vegetable Ragout (see below)

Combine spices, garlic and lemon juice and make a paste. Add the olive oil and rub all over the chicken thighs. Cover and refrigerate while you get the grill going. These can marinate overnight if you are organized.

Grill about 5-7 minutes per side depending on how thick your chicken thighs are.

Vegetable Ragout

A couple of good swirls extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp smoked pimenton
Good pinch coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 14 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch lengths
1 large rutabaga, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 large turnip, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3 inch chunks
3 small zucchini, cut into two inch lengths
½ cup raisins, plumped in hot water
Chopped parsley, cilantro and mint

Swirl the oil in bottom of large Dutch oven and cook onion over moderate heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and spices and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add carrots, rutabaga, turnip and butternut squash and pour enough water in to cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add zucchini, garbanzo and raisins and simmer 15 minutes longer or til vegetables test done.

Serve with couscous as a vegetarian main dish for something different.

Serves 3-4.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Papardelle with Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Ricotta

Ricotta is one of the wonders of the world.

It’s at home in desserts as well as entrees. Ricotta adds a creaminess to strong sauces and balances out a dish that otherwise would have seemed a bit too strong. Ricotta is subtle. The way it tempers a tomato sauce fiery with crushed hot pepper flakes, leaves just a hint of the heat and brings out the flavors of the tomatoes, parsley and rosemary is magical. Or a cheesecake , light as air and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and the zests of an orange and a lemon becomes something special.

It can do a lot for a dish.

For a fast weeknight supper, try this pasta. It showcases ricotta and how it will melt in a dish and bring out the flavors of a favorite tomato sauce. Use egg noodles for this sauce. Papardelle or fettuccine work best.

Papardelle with Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Ricotta
Adapted from Trattoria by Patricia Wells

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
A couple of good swirls extra virgin olive oil
A good sized pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt to taste
A couple of sprigs of fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme, celery leaves and a bay leaf tied together with twine.
1 14 ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
½ pound dried Papardelle egg noodles
5 ounces whole milk ricotta
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Put a couple of swirls extra virgin olive oil in a skillet large enough to hold the pasta and add the onions, crushed peppers, a good pinch of coarse salt and the herbs . Stir to coat with oil. Cook, uncovered over very low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are caramelized…… takes about 20 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, and simmer uncovered until it begins to thicken.
In large pot bring about 6 quarts water to boil. Add salt and pasta stirring so it doesn’t stick. Cook til tender. Drain thoroughly.

Add drained pasta to skillet. Toss. Add about ¾ of the ricotta and toss again and cover. Let rest off heat for a couple of minutes . Then add remaining ricotta and add chopped Italian parsley for garnish.

Serves 3-4.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pan de Jerez: A Chocolate Sherry Torte

It had been coming on for a long time. Lurking in the darkness. Slinking along at a slow pace inside closed books. A desire. No, that’s not what it was. It was a need. I needed dark chocolate in a serious manner.

I studied my cookbooks, looking for that perfect recipe to fulfill this need. Venturing into an area I hadn’t explored. The baking area.

It needed to be bittersweet. It needed an intensity. And it needed to be easy.

Enter The Mediterranean Kitchen. Joyce would have the answer.

She did.

Pan de Jerez is also known as a Chocolate Sherry Torte. When you have bittersweet chocolate melting with sweet cream butter and a dry amontillado sherry..your kitchen smells so good. A splash of Amaretto (you know how almonds and sherry and chocolate have loved each other forever) and happiness abounds in the kitchen.

This is better the second day, if it lasts that long.

Pan de Jerez : A Chocolate Sherry Torte
Adapted from
The Mediterranean Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein

6-½ ounces bittersweet chocolate
11 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup dry amontillado sherry
2 tbsp amaretto liquor
5 large eggs, separated
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1/3 cup sifted cake flour

Put chocolates, butter, sherry and amaretto in the top of a double boiler. Heat over simmering water stirring frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9x5x3 loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until it forms a slowly dissolving ribbon on the batter when the beater is lifted. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually beat in the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Continue to beat to medium soft peaks. Stir the cooled chocolate mixture, the vanilla, and salt into the egg yolks. Sift the flour over the batter and add the egg whites and fold just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Butter another piece of parchment paper on both sides and place on top of the batter.

Wrap tightly in foil and place in a larger banking pan. Pour enough hot water into the larger pan to come 3 inches up the side of the loaf pan. Cover all tightly with foil. Bake just until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. 45-50 minutes. Do not overbake. Remove the loaf pan from the water bath and let the cake cool in the pan. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and turn the cake out onto serving platter. Cut into 1 inch sliced and serve with whipped cream.

Serves 8.