Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Dinner


This year I had the great honor of cooking our Christmas dinner, which is always an adventure when you're trying to squeeze in entertaining family for the holidays. I'll leave it up to my guests to determine how successful I was in all endeavors, but I did enjoy the cooking.

I went back and forth over what to make for a while, and I thought I'd settled on a chateaubriand until I actually tried to find one on Christmas Eve. Poor planning on my part, to be sure. I ended up at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods, and they did, in fact, have a beef tenderloin. For $29.99 a pound. I would have needed about 2 1/2 lbs, so that ended up being prohibitively expensive for me. Fresh Direct, which I usually think of as being convenient and awesome, but expensive, actually has then for $21.99/lb. Food for thought.

What I ended up doing was getting a giant top round roast, which while not nearly as tender, is a more manageable $7.49/lb. Cooked slowly, it can certainly be a tender piece of meat, and I planned on making a similar sauce to go along with it.

The initial inspiration for the chateaubriand was this recipe at Epicurious, and I played with it a bit to end up with the recipe for the roast and the sauce. The end result was pretty different, but the goal was the same - a tasty meat.

Christmas Roast Beef

Ingredients:


Roast:
1 3-4 lb top round roast (mine was 5 1/2 lbs, but I'm a bit of an idiot)
Celery salt
Kosher Salt
Freshly-ground black pepper

Sauce:
1 lb sliced baby portabello mushrooms
4 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 1/2 cups beef demi-glace
2/3 cup port

Directions:



Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Rub the roast down with the celery salt, kosher salt, and black pepper. I'm very liberal with the spices. Insert your meat thermomometer. PLace the roast in a roasting pan or other suitable vessel and cook until the thermometer reads 120 degrees. This will take 20-25 minutes per pound of beef, but I keep a close eye on the thermometer, not the clock.



For the sauce, start by melting the butter along with the mushrooms and rosemary. Mix the contents of a 1.5 oz pack of demi-glace (I use Demi-Glace Gold, which is amazing stuff) into 1 1/2 cups of water and then add to the mushrooms. Once that has simmered a bit, add the port (or a dry red wine).

Once the mushrooms are soft and cooked through and everything is combined, you can remove from the heat and set aside until you're ready to quickly reheat and serve.

The beef and sauce turned out great, and I sliced the leftover meat and have kept it in the fridge marinating in the leftover sauce. I can tell you with all sincerity that this stuff makes the best roast beef sandwiches ever.

We needed some sides to go along, and I ended up making a potatoes gratin along with some kale as well as a quick salad.

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin
Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature, divided
2 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, rinsed
1 1/2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled
2 cups whole milk
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup whipping cream


Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.* Coat 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with 2 tablespoons butter. Thinly slice all potatoes; place in prepared dish. Bring milk and next 5 ingredients to boil in medium saucepan; pour over potatoes. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Cover with foil. Bake until potatoes are tender and milk is almost absorbed, about 50 minutes.



Bring cream to boil in saucepan. Uncover potatoes, pour cream over, and dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Bake uncovered until top is golden brown in spots, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly.

*This was a very poor choice of recipe on my part since I had the oven at 300 for the roast. I felt the roast was more important than the potatoes, so I kept it at 300 and just cooked the potatoes a lot longer. It didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. I think this is a good recipe, but not if you already need the oven set at another temperature. Amateur mistake on my part, there.

Kale with Panfried Walnuts
Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious

Ingredients:

3 pounds kale, stems and center ribs discarded
1 cup chopped walnuts (3 1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Directions:

Tear kale into large pieces, then cook in a large pot of well-salted boiling water, uncovered, until tender, about 6 minutes. Drain kale, and, when cool enough to handle, press out excess liquid.

Cook walnuts in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until pale golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add kale and salt and pepper to taste and cook, tossing, until heated through.

Serve kale warm or at room temperature.


The salad was just spring mix with some walnuts, goat cheese, and dried cranberries tossed in along with a quick and basic balsamic vinaigrette. Nothing fancy there.

I hope everyone reading had a safe and happy holiday, and that not all of you feel as fat as me right now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Red Velvet Cheesecake


Well, I've been talking about this one for a while on Twitter. There have been a few cheesecake ideas floating around in my noodle for a bit, but none of them have been enticing as a red velvet cheesecake. I mean, come on.

My main worry here is that with the Oreo crust and cream cheese frosting, this would end up being far too rich. Those worries proved to be valid, as it turns out, as this thing has no regard for human life whatsoever. You will get a rampaging sugar high from this, there's no two ways about it. I've been mulling over how I'd tweak the recipe in the future - maybe a mascarpone frosting instead? - but I haven't come to any decision yet. In the end, this is a very, very good cheesecake that should be consumed with extreme moderation. I think it goes well with any holiday dinner, but give yourself at least an hour after eating before you dig in. I post the recipe below. Use at your own risk.

Red Velvet Cheesecake
Adapted from the recipe at recipegirl.com

Ingredients:

Crust:
17 regular-sized oreo cookies, crushed finely (I use a rolling pin and a Ziplock bag - works wonders without having to get out the food processor)
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tbsp granulated sugar

Cheesecake:
3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbsp cocoa
1 cup sour cream
½ cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
2 1-oz bottles red food coloring

Frosting:
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Crust:


Stir together oreo crumbs, melted butter, and 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar; press mixture into bottom of 9-inch springform pan.


Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare water bath: Fill large roasting pan (big enough for springform pan to fit into) with about 1 inch of water. Place in oven and allow to preheat along with the oven.

Cheesecake:


Beat cream cheese and sugar at medium-low speed with an electric mixer for 1 minute. Add eggs and remaining cheesecake ingredients, mixing on low speed just until fully combined. Pour batter into prepared crust.

Place the pan in the oven above the water bath. Note: Some recipes call for sealing the pan with foil and placing in the water bath itself. This is a great way to cook a cheesecake, but is also a bit more difficult. I choose to just cook with the water below the cheesecake in the oven.


Bake for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 300°F. Bake for an additional 75 minutes or until the center is firm via a toothpick test. Mine took about an additional 30 minutes of cooking before it was properly set, so be patient. Remove from the oven and let sit for 30 minutes before placing it in the fridge to cool further. I prefer to wait until the cheesecake is fully chilled before removing it from the pan.

Frosting:


Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth. Spread evenly on top of cheesecake. Garnish, if desired.


This recipe ended up making about twice as much frosting as I chose to use, so you could safely cut that in half. I'd also recommend using unsweetened cocoa instead of the cocoa/chocolate powder I used, but that was all I could find in the area.

This was a great cheesecake, if a little more work than usual. Not sure if it's my absolute favorite, but with a little tweaking, it might grow to be. I still have 3/4 of the cheesecake left if anyone wants to come try it.

Fraternal Pre-Christmas Dinner


I've had family coming in and out of town all weekend, and on Christmas Eve instead of trying to finagle yet another family dinner, my brother decided to throw together a light-ish dinner for the two of us. I must say that I came away pretty impressed with what he made. I didn't make it, so I don't have the exact recipe, but he basically sauteed some sea scallops in butter, and ended up creating a pesto, red pepper and mushroom concoction to go along with it. Everything was then served on a bed of egg linguine.

That description really doesn't do it justice, but I hope the picture does. There were a variety of interesting flavors going on, and it's certainly something that I'll try to replicate in the future.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

So for my final dessert gift, I had planned on making double chocolate macadamia nut cookies, which isn't something I've ever tried but just sounded uber-tasty to me. Unfortunately for my grand plans, I had great difficulty finding any macadamia nuts while I was doing my shopping. I cursed the heavens, but decided to go a different, but equally tasty, direction.

I've made basic chocolate chip cookies before, but this time I went out looking for a new recipe to try. I settled on this one from Martha Stewart and modified it just a bit by using bread flour instead of all purpose and eschewing the nuts.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe

Ingredients:

2 2/3 cups bread flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm and cut into chunks
1 cup packed light-brown sugar (there's dark brown sugar pictures, but rest assured I used light brown sugar)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream
2 cups semisweet chocolate, chopped (it took both packages, about 16 ounces)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a few baking sheets; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; and set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until combined. Add sour cream, and beat until combined. Add flour mixture; beat until just combined.

Fold in chocolate.

Chill the dough for at least an hour.

Scoop out tablespoons of dough and roll into balls, spacing them evenly on the cookie sheet.
Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden brown but still soft to the touch, about 17 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on sheets; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

So there you go. Who doesn't love chocolate chip cookies? I like this variation, as the bread flour and sour cream make for a more cake-like cookie, while the chocolate chunks make them a bit more interesting with the variety of chocolate amounts throughout the cookie. I've sampled one and enjoyed it. I plan on sampling a few more.