April Dinner Club

Given the fact that today is the last day in May, I think its time I fill you all in on April’s Dinner club. April was a difficult theme to choose. We wanted something that was seasonal and reflective of Spring. Early Spring can be a weird time seasonally because all the Winter produce is no longer as good and no one wants to eat heavy meals anymore yet the Summer produce isn’t ready to be eaten yet. Perhaps that’s why Easter candy  is one of the first things I think of when trying to come up with a Spring theme ingredient! We did all finally agree on the theme ingredient mint.

We were chosen to cook the main course this month and mint is not an herb that I find myself using very often; I loved being forced to use it in a recipe that  was not a salad or a dessert. Immediately, lamb came to mind as a good protein to go with mint however I’ll admit lamb intimidates me. I made braised lamb for Christmas this year and I killed it; it was so dry that I think it resembled jerky more than the braised lamb I was going for. After that incident, I haven’t attempted lamb again. I tried to look up other recipes involving mint but kept coming back to lamb.

After finally giving in to the lamb I needed to find a recipe that cooked the lamb in a relatively short period of time, due to the fact that dinner club in progressive, I’d only have about 30 minutes to get everything together. I came upon a recipe for lamb that was marinated and grilled. It got excellent reviews online and seemed very simple, sold. The bonus was that dinner club was scheduled for the week following Easter and I scored a nice cut of lamb on super sale!

This recipe turned out better than I ever could have imagined. Not only was the lamb perfectly medium rare but the marinade had made the meat incredibly tender and flavorful. We devoured the entire thing and all agreed that, it had been the best dinner club to date. The marinade contained some Asian flavors which I’m convinced made the dish especially good. This is the first recipe I made from my new Jacques Pepin cookbook that Eric bought me for Christmas and it was the perfect choice.

Like I said, this dish was beyond easy but be sure to marinate it the day before. Prep all the ingredients including cutting the string mesh from the lamb roast. I had double the amount of meat so I doubled the marinade. Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl and then pour it over the lamb in a large freezer bag.

Turn the bag a few times in the fridge.

The following day, sear the lamb on a hot grill for about 7 minutes per side and then bring it inside to finish in the oven. The recipe calls for the oven to be 170 degrees. I was skeptical at first thinking it was not hot enough, but as I do with all first time recipes, I followed it. I was right, 170 is not hot enough to get the meat cooking more and I ended up turning the oven up to 250 degrees and cooking it another 15 minutes. By then, the lamb was perfectly medium rare.

**Do not cook lamb more than medium, ideally you want it rare to medium rare otherwise the flavor gets weird and its incredibly dry. The exception to this is of course when braising lamb, that can be cooked longer and is delicious but grilling the lamb or lamb chops you want to cook rare-medium rare.**

Here it is in its glory:

While the lamb was cooking, I cooked down the marinade in a small saucepan and poured it over the lamb when it went into the oven. It was SO GOOD!

We all wanted to lick our plates. I served two sides, green beans with crispy shallots and fresh mint.

I also braised carrots and brussel sprouts and tossed them with balsamic vinegar.

These were also a hit. The only thing I had leftovers of was the green beans. The mint was fresh and light in all the dishes, a great theme ingredient.

I won’t leave out the other courses! However, we forgot to take any pictures of those at all this month, sorry! The first course was an amazing Asian spring roll with shrimp and stuffed with rice noodles and mint. They were beautiful, fresh and light; a perfect starter. They were accompanied by strawberry mojitos.

The third course was a chocolate and mint trifle with chocolate shavings on top. It was cool and sweet, not to mention pretty. Chocolate is always a great way to end a meal.

So there you have it, the quick overview of April’s Dinner Club! Now, on to May and hopefully some warmer weather again.

Beer Mac n Cheese

Last week, while perusing Pinterest, I spotted this picture:

It had the description: beer mac n cheese. I clicked and it took me to the blog, How Sweet it Is with the full recipe. The author compared the taste of it to beer and cheese soup and it looked nice and easy to make.

Now, I don’t love the typical mac n cheese. Cheese itself has never been one of my favorite foods, on its own. I like it on pizza and used in recipes, but eating it straight or a dish like mac n cheese has never really been my thing. But add in some beer and this is now a dish I could get along with!

I did adapt the recipe according to my tastes. Start the dish by cooking the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and set aside. You can use whole wheat pasta in this recipe, it holds up to the cheese sauce well and makes the dish a bit healthier. While the pasta is cooking, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.

Once melted, add the diced onion and cook for about 5-7 minutes until translucent but not brown.

Add the flour and stir. Cook, stirring, until the mixture gets a nice golden color, about 2 minutes.

Add the milk, beer and cheeses, while stirring. Stir until the cheese is melted and the mixture thickens slightly. Add the paprika, nutmeg and pepper.

Pour the cheese over the noodles in a stir slightly.

Top with bread crumbs and some parmesan cheese and small pieces of butter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until the cheese is bubbling. Top with sliced fresh basil.

Serve with a side of arugula tossed with vinaigrette.

The mac n cheese tasted good. The consistency was great with the whole wheat pasta and I enjoyed the fresh basil however I think next time I will add Gruyere cheese instead of parmesan and use a darker beer. I only had Yeungling in on hand so that’s what I used this time and I would like liked more of a beer taste. The whole thing was good, I just found myself wanting stronger flavors. I can’t wait to make it again!

Here is the recipe:

Beer Mac n Cheese
Print
Author: adapted from How Sweet It Is
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
Total time: 50 mins
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked whole wheat elbow noodles
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 8 ounces milk
  • 8 ounces beer
  • 8 ounces freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 ounces freshly grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • pinch of black pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 10 large basil leaves, chopped for garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Prepare water for pasta and boil according to directions, shaving 1-2 minutes off of cooking time since pasta will continue to cook in the oven.
  3. Heat a saucepan over medium high heat and add butter. Once melted and sizzling, cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Whisk in flour to create a roux and cook until bubbly and golden in color, about 2 minutes. Add milk and beer into saucepan whisking constantly, then add cheeses and stir until melted. Turn heat down to medium and continue to stir, cooking for 5-6 minutes while mixture thickens. It will most likely NOT thicken like regular mac and cheese because of the beer, but you want it to thicken a little bit. Stir in pepper, paprika and nutmeg.
  4. Add noodles (once cooked and drained) to a casserole dish, then pour cheese over top, mixing gently to combine. Top with panko bread crumbs and an additional sprinkle of cheese if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.
  5. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then top with fresh basil.

 

Not you mother’s beef stroganoff

I grew up eating beef stroganoff a few times a year and always enjoyed it. The beef flavor along with mushrooms and sour cream, over pasta, sign me up! I recall even requesting it as a birthday meal once. It’s safe to say that I really do love the stuff. I think I grew up eating a very traditional and basic recipe for it which consisted of cooking the floured beef cubes, allowing them to simmer with the mushrooms and finally mixing in the sour cream right before it was time to eat. The first year I was married, I called up my mother, wrote down her recipe and proudly made my very first beef stroganoff.

Eric was less than impressed. Picture the wind in my sails going down, fast. He was not as into the eggs noodles covered in sour cream sauce as I had been. I mean, I still thought it tasted delicious, but I could tell he was forcing it down. Since then, I’ve enjoyed my childhood beef stroganoff only once or twice; I just can’t watch Eric try and eat it so I stopped making it, until last year.

While paging through an issue of Bon Appetit, I came across a new version of beef stroganoff in which I could leave out the egg noodles and instead serve it over toasted bread. It also used sherry and shallots, two things my old beef stroganoff was without. I made the recipe and quickly won back Eric’s heart. Admittedly, it was better than the stuff I grew up with and has become our beef stroganoff staple recipe.

The recipe itself is not complicated, but it does have a few steps, especially when it comes to assembling the final dish.

Start by prepping the ingredients and then cooking the mushrooms. Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms until they release their liquid, about 6 minutes.**Try to get a mushroom medley or more than one kind of mushrooms, like white and cremini. The varieties add great flavor.**

Add the sherry or vermouth and simmer the mushrooms until the liquid reduces, about 1 minute. Take off heat and stir in creme fresh or heavy cream, season with salt and pepper. Let sit while you cook the beef.

In a separate skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Cook the beef for about 30 seconds on each side to sear it.

Transfer beef to a plate and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the sliced shallots to the skillet and cook until brown, about 4 minutes.

Stir in flour and tomato paste and stir around, it will clump. Add in broth and paprika.

Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the beef cubes back into the sauce and remove from heat.

Stir in sour cream.

While the sauce is cooking, toast the sourdough slices. Mix together olive oil and tomato paste and spread on one side of the bread slice.

Toast about a minute per side under the broiler, on a large baking sheet.

To assemble, spoon some of the beef mixture onto the toast.

Top with a scoop of the mushroom mixture.

This dish is so good and I love the use of tomato paste on the toast, it adds such a great flavor to the dish. If you like mushrooms, you will love this recipe!

Here is the recipe from Epicurious.com:

Tri-Tip Beef Stroganoff with Wild Mushrooms on Sourdough Toasts
Print
Author: Bon Appetit
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Total time: 55 mins
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (such as chanterelle, oyster, crimini, and stemmed shiitake), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup dry white vermouth or dry Sherry
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1 1/2-pound tri-tip roast, excess fat trimmed, meat cut against grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices, slices cut crosswise into 3-inch lengths
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large)
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon plus 2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
  • 6 5 x 3 x 1/2-inch slices crusty sourdough bread
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Instructions
  1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add sliced wild mushrooms to skillet; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper and sauté until mushrooms release juices, about 6 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high; sauté until mushrooms are tender and brown, about 4 minutes longer. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Remove from heat. Let stand at room temperature.
  2. Add vermouth to mushrooms and boil until almost evaporated but still moist, scraping up browned bits, about 1 minute. Stir in crème fraîche; remove from heat. Season to taste with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Cover; set aside.
  3. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in another large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add beef slices to skillet and sauté just until brown outside but still pink in center, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer beef slices to plate; sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Add sliced shallots to same skillet, reduce heat to medium, and sauté until golden brown and tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in flour and 1 teaspoon tomato paste (mixture will clump). Add broth and paprika and whisk to blend, scraping up browned bits. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Season sauce to taste with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Remove from heat; cover and keep warm.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons oil and 2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste in small bowl to blend. Arrange bread slices in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Brush oil-tomato paste mixture lightly over both sides of bread slices. Broil bread just until lightly toasted, watching closely to avoid burning, about 1 minute per side. Arrange sourdough toasts on large platter.
  5. Add beef slices and any accumulated juices to shallot mixture in skillet; bring to simmer, stirring occasionally, then stir in sour cream. Remove from heat. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Rewarm mushroom mixture over medium heat.
  6. Divide beef mixture among toasts, then top each with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

 

Dinner Club – February

A few weeks ago, we participated in our very first evening of dinner club and I can’t wait until next month’s already! We had so much fun with our friends and eating good food. I wish every night was dinner club!

Back in January, we were given the idea to start a dinner club from our friends we visited in Colorado, see that post here. They told us about their dinner club and I immediately told them we were stealing the idea. The “rules” of the club are to get 3 couples who live fairly close to one another. The evening is progressive, which means you eat each course at a different house and move from house to house throughout the evening. To add on to the progressive fun, we also chose a theme ingredient that had to be used in each dish.

Since we were getting together in the month of February, we all agreed on the theme ingredient of chocolate and then chose courses out of a hat. Eric and I chose the appetizer course, which meant we were kicking off the entire chocolaty evening, no pressure.

I had no clue where to start. First, I rarely make appetizers. I’m not sure why, but finding an appetizer that wasn’t too sweet and contained chocolate was a little daunting. After doing some searching online, I found a recipe for roasted parsnip soup that contained white chocolate and was topped with cocoa dusted croutons. It was perfect in every way, and it looked fairly simple; bonus!

Since the soup was rather simple and I didn’t have the burden of making a main course or dessert, I chose to have some fun and whipped up some chocolate butter (which we first ate at the Hershey Hotel and it was amazing!) for the bread and the chocolate drizzled popcorn that you saw in this post from last week. The popcorn would be the perfect precursor to the soup; we could eat it with drinks while everyone arrived.

To make the soup, start by roasting the parsnips in the oven after coating with olive oil, salt and pepper.

After the parsnips are roasted, saute the onion in melted butter.

Add chicken stock and a vanilla bean sliced lengthwise with the seeds scraped out and into the stock. You can find whole vanilla beans with the regular spices at the grocery store, however they are very expensive so be prepared to pay about $7 for 2 beans. (It’s totally worth it, I assure you.)

Add the roasted parsnips to the stock and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer until the parsnips are tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the white chocolate chips and remove the vanilla bean pod.

Using an immersion blender or a regular blender in batches, blend until the soup is smooth.

Squeeze fresh lemon juice into the soup and keep warm.

To make the croutons, slice some country bread. Drizzle with olive oil and then gently sift cocoa powder on one side of the bread.

Place in the oven at 400 degrees, just until crispy. Slice into cubes.

Garnish the soup with fresh dill, the croutons and a lemon wedge.

The soup was really good. At first I wasn’t sure about it, I’m not a big fan of vanilla or sweet flavors in my savory meals but this was a perfect balance so that it wasn’t actually very sweet at all. The lemon and dill really brought out the flavors of the soup and along with a slice of bread and chocolate butter, it was the perfect start to our evening.

Next we moved on to the second and main course and the second house. Here we were served a salad that boasted a home made chocolate balsamic vinaigrette. It was so delicious!

And next, we ate short ribs topped with dark chocolate an served over fresh pasta. It was out of this world delicious. The dark chocolate added such a nice sweet and subtle flavor to the dish.

These dishes were paired with a chocolate bread that had a swirl of chocolaty goodness through it. This was home made without a recipe so you’ll just have to look at the picture and wish you were there.

Following dinner, we moved on to the third and final house for dessert. Dessert was a decadent and beautiful chocolate and whiskey bunt cake served with ice cream and strawberries. We also enjoyed chocolate martinis!

Here’s a tutorial from our dessert couple about making the bundt cake. (Wasn’t it stellar of them to write me up a little blog post?!):

The following is the Brobst recipe for Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake, with help from Epicurious:

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process) plus 3 tablespoons for dusting pan
  • 1 1/2 cups brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup American whiskey (the original called for American, I used Jameson.)
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Special equipment: a 10-inch bundt pan (3 1/4 inches deep; 3-qt capacity)
  • Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • Garnish: confectioners’ sugar for dusting


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Butter bundt pan well, then dust with 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, knocking out excess.
Heat coffee, whiskey, butter, and remaining cup cocoa powder in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, whisking, until butter is melted.

Remove from heat, then add sugar and whisk until dissolved, about 1 minute.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool 5 minutes.

While chocolate mixture cools, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together eggs and vanilla in a small bowl, then whisk into cooled chocolate mixture until combined well.

Add chocolate to flour mixture and whisk until just combined (batter will be thin and bubbly).

Pour batter into bundt pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

Cool cake completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

Loosen cake from pan using tip of a dinner knife, then invert rack over pan and turn cake out onto rack.

Enjoy with fresh berries and French Vanilla Ice Cream!

We had so much fun and our next club will be meeting on St. Patrick’s day. I’m sure you can only guess the possibilities for a theme for that dinner! I have to say thanks to our Colorado friends for this awesome dinner club idea and thanks to our fellow dinner club couples who have been so much fun and such great sports through our first dinner club. Food truly does bring people together!

Here is the menu from our evening and each item is a link to the recipe.

First Course:

Chocolate Popcorn

Chocolate Butter

Roasted Parsnip and Vanilla Chocolate Soup

Second Course:

Fresh Greens Salad w/ Chocolate Balsamic Vinaigrette

Short Ribs Tagliatelle

Third Course:

Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake

Macaroni and Goat Cheese with Rosemary

I saw this picture on Pinterest a few weeks ago:

Post image for Mac and Cheese with Roasted Chicken, Goat Cheese, and Rosemary

And if you’re anything like me, your first thoughts when seeing something like this are, “mmm, I want to make that.” I clicked on the picture and found it belonged to a blog called My Baking Addiction. That author got the recipe from famous chef, Michael Simon (he’s an Iron Chef and is now on the new talk show, The Chew.)

The recipe combines cream, goat cheese, garlic, chicken and rosemary into a creamy and delicious sauce. I’ve never been a big fan of mac n cheese, sorry folks, I just never liked it. Let me explain. I grew up not really liking cheese in general. I’m not sure why, but even today its not my favorite. I cannot sit and eat an entire cheese course nor do I enjoy a snack of cheese and crackers. For me, cheese needs to be in a dish or on a pizza. One of my brother’s favorite meals growing up was my mom’s macaroni and cheese, we ate it pretty often. My mom did the whole make the cheese sauce and bake it thing, it wasn’t Kraft, but I still didn’t enjoy it much. It was too bland and too much of the same flavor for me. Naturally, this twist on that dish intriqed me. The ingredients were simple and since the recipe didn’t take long to make, it looked perfect for a week night meal.

To start the recipe, combine the heavy cream, garlic and rosemary in a medium sauce pan and place over medium heat until it begins to simmer. Watch so it doesn’t boil over and keep it at a low temp so that its still simmering and reduces by half. The recipe says this shouldn’t take too long, for me, it took about 40 minutes to reduce properly; plan accordingly.

While the mixture is reducing, cook the pasta and shred the chicken.

Once reduced, stir the goat cheese into the cream mixture until smooth and thick.

Add the roasted chicken to the mixture.

Combine the mixture with the cooked pasta and top with some fresh rosemary.

The flavors are subtly delicious, but this dish is extremely rich.

Another tip is to make only half of the recipe depending on how many people you’re feeding. It doesn’t reheat well because of the cream sauce and you never eat as much as you think because the sauce is so rich.

This recipe was simple and delicious, a mac n cheese I could get used to!

Here’s the recipe that I got from My Baking Addiction (her blog is really nice, be sure and check it out!):

Macaroni and Goat Cheese with Rosemary
Print
Author: Adapted by My Baking Addiction from “Live to Cook”
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 40 mins
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound dried rigatoni
  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, crushed
  • 8 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 cups shredded roasted chicken
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a rapid boil. Add the oil and rigatoni to the water and cook according to the directions on the package, 10-12 minutes.
  2. While you are waiting for the water to boil, pour the cream into a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the rosemary and garlic to the cream and bring it to a simmer – take care not to let it boil over. Allow the cream to reduce by about half.
  3. Stir in the goat cheese and chicken and continue cooking cooking it till the cream coats the back of a spoon.
  4. Thoroughly drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce. Coat the pasta in the sauce and simmer over low heat for a few minutes. Serve hot.