Thursday, March 28, 2013

Asparagus Paired With An Exciting New Vinegar - Fig Balsamic

Asparagus is our favorite side dish to serve for Easter. It spells springtime for me and besides, almost everyone loves asparagus. It also holds up well at room temperature on a buffet. Each year I try to find a new asparagus recipe or two to add to my ever growing list of favorites. But this year, instead of finding a new recipe, I found a new ingredient to pair with asparagus and I’m very excited about it.

It’s fig balsamic vinegar. The brand I used was O and it was award the 2012 sofi Gold winner for outstanding vinegar at the Summer International Fancy Food Show. According to O’s website, juicy, ripe California native mission figs are slowly oak aged in Sonoma in O’s California Balsamic vinegar, producing a sweet, rich, dark vinegar. To use their own words, “An elixir worthy of the monks who brought this varietal to coastal California. Delicious with prosciutto and ricotta, brushed over pork loin with fresh thyme, or simply drizzle over fresh organic strawberries or our newest flavor obsession - over vanilla bean ice cream.”  You can also find fig balsamic vinegars on line at Amazon. 

I used the fig balsamic vinegar to make a rich, dark vinaigrette, tossed in some chopped shallots, and served it over crispy poached asparagus at room temperature. Chopped Mission figs can be added to the garnish if you wish for even more fig flavor. My basic vinaigrettes are always three parts oil to one part vinegar or acid. Here is my basic recipe for poached asparagus and the vinaigrette follows.

Grilled asparagus lovers could use their favorite grilled asparagus recipe and then follow the instructions for the vinaigrette.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough lower ends snapped off
Water flavored with low sodium, low fat beef broth* to taste
2 teaspoons salt

After tough ends of asparagus have been removed, peel the remaining ends unless the asparagus is thin; if thin, leave as is. Bring water flavored with beef broth and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a shallow pan. Add asparagus, turn heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, taking care not to overcook. Immediately plunge the asparagus in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain the green color. After a minute or two, remove the asparagus and dry well with a towel. Dress with a vinaigrette. Then you may either chill it for about an hour, or serve at room temperature. *I like to flavor my asparagus water with beef broth. It isn’t necessary, but it does bring a very nice flavor to the cooking broth.

Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette with Shallots
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 tablespoon fig balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
Maldon sea salt or other good sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped dried Mission figs, optional

Put the vinegar, shallot, olive oil, and sea salt and pepper in a screw top jar with a lid and shake well to mix. Easily doubled or tripled. This also saves well in the refrigerator for a day or two. Toss with poached asparagus and garnish if desired with chopped dried figs. This recipe with the fig vinaigrette is especially good served at room temperature.

My other favorite Easter asparagus dish is Asparagus Mimosa, also known as Asparagus Goldenrod. If you’ve been reading My Carolina Kitchen for a while, you’ll recognize it from Easter’s past. The name Goldenrod comes from the bright green asparagus garnished with yellow egg yolk and Mimosa because the grated hard-boiled eggs resemble mimosa blossoms.  Classic dishes such as this were a mainstay on the menus of the grand hotels in a bygone era. This year I spiffed it up a little and added some chopped radishes to the egg garnish. Prepare the asparagus from the basic recipe above.

You could also grill the asparagus and then follow the vinaigrette & garnish recipe.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic French Vinaigrette
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 tablespoon good vinegar, or freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon finely chopped shallot, optional
½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard to taste
Dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco
Maldon sea salt, or other good sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.  Easily doubled or tripled. This also saves well in the refrigerator for a day or two. Omit the shallot, Dijon mustard, and hot sauce for a more basic vinaigrette. The mustard is used to emulsify the vinaigrette and keeps it from separating and the shallot and hot sauce bring added flavor and are highly recommended.

Asparagus Mimosa, also known as Asparagus Goldenrod
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

Prepare My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for poached asparagus. Dress with My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic French Vinaigrette above, using tarragon vinegar as the vinegar of choice. Garnish with a chopped hard-boiled egg at room temperature and some chopped radishes. I like to serve Asparagus Mimosa slightly chilled.

* * *

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bistro Style Blue Cheese-Stuffed Burgers with a Port and Caper Sauce

The first bite of this burger will transport you straight to hamburger heaven. You’ll never miss the bun when you taste the tangy blue cheese as it oozes out and pairs magically with the deep, rich port wine sauce. This heavenly burger creation is the brainchild of Gordon Hamersley of the acclaimed Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston and the recipe comes from his fabulous cookbook Bistro Cooking at Home. 

Photo from Amazon
Just when I though I didn’t need another bistro cookbook, I checked out a copy of Gordon Hamersley’s Bistro Cooking at Home from the library and the rest as they say is history. The recipes are sophisticated, yet easy-to-prepare comfort food and his book now sits proudly on my bookshelf shoulder to shoulder with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. As a reviewer on Amazon commented, Gordon’s recipes are “unpretentious, friendly, practical & fabulous.”

Gordon Hamersley trained with Wolfgang Puck at Ma Maison in Los Angles and later lived in Nice, France for a year, learning everything he could about French bistros. In 1987 he and his wife Fiona opened Hamersley’s Bistro, which serves homey, French-inspired bistro food, and quickly became one of Boston’s favorites. In 1995 Gordon received the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northeast. Numerous publications, including Zagat’s, have regularly ranked Hamersley’s Bistro among Boston’s finest.

A peppery arugula salad, dressed very lightly with balsamic vinaigrette, goes extremely well with the flavors of this burger. The original recipe called for using green peppercorns in brine as part of the sauce. As it happens, our market was out of green peppercorns and I didn’t have time to shop on line, so I had to come up with a substitute and capers seemed to be the logical choice. We always have a jar of capers in brine on hand as well as the salt packed capers. I used well rinsed salt packed capers and the juice of the brined variety for the green peppercorns and the sauce turned out beautifully. However, I am anxious to try the recipe as written as soon as I can find the green peppercorns. Hamersley’s recipe turned a simple American-style stuffed burger into a sophisticated, yet easy to prepare French bistro dish deeply flavored with a high-end restaurant quality sauce, certain to be served in our house many, many times to come.  

Bistro Style Blue Cheese-Stuffed Burgers with a Port and Caper Sauce - Adapted from Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamersley – serves 4

4 ounces blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola or Roquefort
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral flavored oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon capers (or green peppercorns if you can find them)
2 teaspoons brine from the capers (or from the green peppercorns)
1/3 cup port wine (I used tawny as the recipe did not specify, but regular port is fine too)
1/3 cup low fat, low salt beef stock
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Divide the blue cheese into 4 equal pieces and shape them into balls. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions. Wrap one portion of meat around each piece of cheese. Flatten the meat and cheese to form patties. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan until it is very hot. Add the hamburgers and cook over high heat until well browned on one side. Turn the burgers over and lower the heat to medium-high. Don’t worry if some of the cheese oozes out; it will just add flavor to the sauce. Continue cooking until the burgers are done to your liking, about 10 – 12 minutes total cooking time. Remove the burgers from the pan and let them rest in a warm place.

Discard the excess grease from the pan. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, for one minute, taking care not to let the shallot burn. Remove the pan from the heat and add the capers, caper brine, and port. Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, scraping up any brown bits that have accumulated. Add the beef stock and continue to cook until the sauce has reduced by half again. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Place the burgers on plates, spoon the sauce over them, garnish with the parsley, and serve at once. Peppery arugula, dressed very lightly with balsamic vinaigrette, goes extremely well with the flavors of this burger.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Disclosure: The opinions above are my own and I was not compensated for this review nor did I receive a complimentary copy of this cookbook. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Carbonnade à la Flamande ~ Belgium Beef & Onions Braised in Beer

Carbonnade à la Flamande, a specialty of Belgium and northern France, is beef braised with onions and beer and is the last dish featured in my series on French braises. Beef Carbonnade is one of the classics and a recipe for it can be found in almost any French cookbook. For St. Patrick's Day, you can turn it into an Irish stew by braising the beef and onions in Guinness.

Julia Child, in her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, said “Beer is typical for the Belgian braise and gives a quite different character to beef than the red wine of the bourguignon.” And that is very true – the carbonnade is different from beef bourguignon or coq au vin. A carbonnade is best known for its sweet-sour combination of caramelized onions with beer. Personally I found that when comparing the beef carbonnade to the other two dishes, it doesn’t seem to have quite the depth of flavor or earthy richness of the other two French braises.

In fairness to the carbonnade however, it has only three major ingredients – beef, onions, and beer. That’s why we’ve chosen to serve potatoes and carrots alongside. But the biggest difference is that beef bourguignon and coq au vin are wine based, as compared to the beer in the carbonnade.

For the beer we used Hoegaarden (pronounced “who-gar-den”), a Belgian wheat beer with a delicious, refreshing taste. Any dark Belgian-style ale would be a good choice here.

There are probably some purist out there that would disagree with me, but I think Guinness Draught Irish dry stout is also good in a beef carbonnade, which would make it an ideal dish to serve for St. Patrick’s Day. After all, they say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

As tempting as it might sound to cook some vegetables in this, I think it's best to serve them on the side. By doing so you maintain the integrity of this classic dish and don't muddle the flavors of the sweet-sour caramelized onions. Potatoes are definitely an excellent accompaniment. I’ve seen it served over creamy mashed potatoes as well as buttered noodles. We’ve served ours today with boiled potatoes tossed with parley and butter and roasted carrots. Beer of course is the drink of choice with a carbonnade. As with most stews, this dish will taste even better a day or two after it's made.

Beef Carbonnade is definitely one of the classic braises that should not be overlooked.

Carbonnade à la Flamande ~ Belgium Beef & Onions Braised in Beer 
Adapted from Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin – serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices, about 3 inches wide
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups thickly sliced onions
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Three 12-ounce cans beer, Guinness for St. Patrick's Day
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Arrowroot or cornstarch slurry if needed for thickening

In an enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Dry the beef well with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Brown the beef in the casserole over moderate heat in batches, turning once, taking care not to crowd the pan or the beef will stew instead of browning. Transfer the beef to a plate and repeat in batches, using more butter & oil if necessary.

Add the onions to the casserole, cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the flour until the onions are well-coated, and then slowly add the beer. Return the meat to the casserole along with any accumulated juices. Add the thyme and bay leaves, cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender, about 2 hours.

At this point, you may refrigerate the carbonnade, when cooled, for several days in the refrigerator. Scrape off any accumulated fat on the top and return to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Uncover the casserole and transfer the meat to a bowl. Add the vinegar and simmer the sauce over moderate heat until thickened slightly. If necessary, thicken with a slurry using either arrowroot or cornstarch and water. Before serving, taste for seasonings.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, the Clever Chick's Blog Hop, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ina’s Coq au Vin – It’s just Beef Bourguignon with Chicken

It’s true when Ina says that coq au vin is just really beef bourguignon with chicken. The two recipes are almost identical, except that the chicken is cooked for thirty to forty minutes in the oven compared to the beef, which takes a little over an hour. My post last week was Ina’s beef bourguignon recipe and today we’ll explore her version of French coq au vin.

In last week’s post on beef bourguignon there was a discussion in the comments section regarding whether to flambé the cognac or just use it to deglaze the pan without the flambéing step. I’ve always been under the impression that the reason dishes were flambéed was to burn off the alcohol or raw taste, leaving a more rounded, complex flavor. But is that true or is flambéing just for show?

I’ve done a bit of research and found that American’s Test Kitchen conducted a test to see whether flambéing made a difference in the flavor of a sauce or not. Here’s what they found – when cognac was flambéed, the temperature at the surface of the pan quickly climbed past 500 degrees. When it was simmered, it maintained a steady temperature of about 180 degrees at it surface. When they tasted the flambéed cognac, “it was far deeper and richer in flavor than its simmered counterpart.” They concluded that “a flambéed sauce burns off most of the alcohol and the final result is a sauce with a greater depth of flavor” - making flambéing more than just for show. To read more of the article, click here.

To make matters even more interesting, The Food Network has videos of Ina preparing these two dishes, both which call for cognac. In the first video of the coq au vin, she does not flambé the cognac. However, in the second video for the beef bourguignon, she does flambé the cognac.

So, the question remains – should you flambé the cognac or should you just use it to deglaze the pan by cooking it rapidly to get up all the brown bits, or fond as it’s called in the culinary world. My feelings are that’s up to you. If you are comfortable flambéing, then by all means flambé. You do achieve a higher heat point which produces a more flavorful sauce and the test kitchen proved that. If you are uncomfortable flambéing (count me in this group), then simply deglaze the pan with the alcohol over high heat and be done with it. Or better still, do as I do and get someone else to do it for you. Meakin is the flambé expert in our family and I’ll share his tip with you. He likes to use a long instant push-button lighter – the kind you use to light charcoal in your grill – to ignite the cognac. It works great and there’s no need to search for a long match.

I would love your opinions – do you flambé or don’t you, and if you do, do you think it makes a difference in the flavor of the sauce?

Presenting Coq au Vin - another great French classic.

Ina’s Coq Au Vin
Adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and the Food Network – serves 3 - 4

2 tablespoons good olive oil
4 ounces good bacon or pancetta, diced (I don't recommend heavily smoked bacon for this)
1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8ths
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy
1/2 bottle good dry red wine such as Burgundy
1 cup low sodium, fat free chicken stock, preferably homemade
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 pound frozen small whole onions
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms (also called baby bella or baby portobello mushrooms), stems removed and thickly sliced
Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, taking care not to crowd the skillet. Turn the chicken to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.

Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add the Cognac. Either flambé it or return the pan to the heat and reduce it down on high heat for a few minutes while scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. To flambé, leave the pan off of the heat, stand back, and ignite with a long kitchen match (long instant push-button lighter) to burn off the alcohol. After either method, add the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate back into the pot, then add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through but not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Stir in the frozen onions.

In a medium sauté pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste, garnish with plenty of chopped flat-leaf parsley, and serve hot. Noodles make a nice accompaniment.

Cook's note: As with the beef bourguignon or any braised dish, this can be made ahead and keep covered in the refrigerator for several days. Skim off excess fat with a spoon that collects on the top before re-heating. We think it's best served after it's had a chance to sit overnight in the refrigerator.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone.