Monday, October 1, 2012

Slow Cooker Revelations from a Reformed Food Snob

We're all busy ... and the idea of cooking a roast, or any other meal for that matter, in a slow cooker has always seemed a little antiquated to me.  The slow cooker always reminded me of Sunday dinner at one of my high-school friend's grandma's houses ... not exactly what I envisioned for my urbane lifestyle.

Snobby, you might say ... and you'd be right.  For quite some time, I was under the impression that anything not cooked 'a la minute' or if slow cooked, then at minimum in a Le Crueset, was sub-par.  I was wrong.

Seriously, I am admitting it.  I was wrong about slow-cookers.  They are sort of amazing ... 

Slow Cookers - a Haiku

save me time tonight
infuse flavor, tenderize
delight the palate

Super Simple Beef Barbacoa in a Slow Cooker - 20 Minutes to Dinner

Though I am far, far, far from replicating my favorite barbacoa at Torchy's Taco's here in Austin, TX, I did find that without much fanfare I could create a darn tasty and similar dish.

Pre-Work Prep Time: 7 Minutes
Post-Work Finish & Serve Time: 12 Minutes

Ingredients for the "Lazy Gals Version"
  • 2-3 Pounds of Rump Steak or Tri Tip, Cut Into Small Slabs
    • many of the less tender and inexpensive cuts work just fine
  • 5 Cloves Garlic, Smashed and roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsps Chili Power
  • 2 Tbsps Cumin
  • 1 Tbsp Coriander
  • 1 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1-2 Cups Chicken or Beef Broth, from concentrate (Better than Bullion is great)
  • Optional - I dosed these at the very end to mix up the flavor
    • Balsamic to taste
    • Jalapeno simple syrup or Honey to taste
    • Soy Sauce to taste
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
Pre-Work Prep:
  • Heat a pan with oil
  • Season beef with salt & pepper
  • Add chopped garlic
  • Sear each piece of beef on both sides till lightly browned
  • Put into slow cooker on low for 8-10 hours
  • Add all seasonings and chicken or beef broth
  • Cover and head out
Post-Work Finish:
  • Enter home to tasty scents ... mmmmm
  • Shred meat with forks, taste
  • Add the optional items as desired to your personal taste
What would make this better?
  • We didn't have any onions or fresh Jalapenos/other hot peppers handy ... that would have added a lot of additional flavor.  I'll be trying it again ... but honestly, these had us going back for seconds!
How to serve your tasty Beef Barbacoa
  • In a tortilla with sauteed bell peppers, cheese & avocado
  • On a plate of rice and beans with some pico de gallo
  • Re-fried as a steak & egg breakfast
This will likely be the first of many delicious and easy to make slow cooker recipes for the insanely busy among all of us ... but don't fret, I'll be back with 20-30 minute a la minute recipes that will make you look like a healthy genius in your kitchen too!

Lastly, for those few who have read my blog off and on ... apologies for the hiatus.  As usual, life got in the way ... and now I've decided that I enjoy cooking and sharing it all way too much for life to interrupt (at least for now).

Enjoy and let me know what snazzy thing you've simmered up in a slow cooker recently!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pear & Honey Bread Pudding on the Grill!

5 months since my last post.  Bad.  But I do have an excuse ... new job, splitting time in two cities, tenant in my house and now living at John's in SoCo!  A lot of change ... one part of which is that I now have a MUCH smaller kitchen in each home.  Boston is small but complete, Austin's while slightly larger is lacking an oven.

No oven! you say ... yes, no oven.  For a woman who loves to way to broil her way into guests hearts & tummies, this is quite a change.  But new challenges forge creativity.  Which is why last Sunday night when craving something delish for dessert I brainstormed what I could create with a combo of gas stove, microwave & grill.  Fundamentally, if you get a grill hot enough and keep the lid closed ... that grill is just a different kind of oven.  Now it isn't one I'd try to make a sensitive souffle in ... but bread pudding?  Why the hell not!?

Enter the final 2009 edition of Bon Appetit, which I hadn't had time to peruse until now.  Their recipe for Apple and Mape Bread Pudding just spoke to me!  Those images of caramelized goodness ... who wouldn't fall for it?  But, alas, no apples & no maple in our kitchen.  That's ok ... got honey, got pears and got a great loaf of sourdough in the freezer that a neighbor made for us a few weeks ago.  Jackpot!

Modified Bread Pudding: Pear & Honey Bread Pudding on the Grill

Gooey Good Bread Custard Mixture
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 C honey - we used local Austin honey (mmmm)
  • 1/2 C dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I ran out, so I did half vanilla & half almond extract - tasty)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream (this is not for the faint of heart)
  • 1/4 C Calvados (pear brandy - I know, only a Knipp would have this on hand ... from my Dad's last visit) 
  • 1 1-pound loaf neighbor's Sourdough, most crust trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 1/2 to 7 cups)  
Apple Topping & Partial Mix Element
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 5 Pears quartered, cored, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices (about 7 cups) - I left the peel intact for fiber
  • 1/4 C honey
  • 1/4 C dark brown sugar

First you make the bread mixture.  I am cribbing liberally from BA with my own tweaks ... Whisk eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, almond extract cinnamon, and sea salt in large bowl. Add milk, cream, and 2/3 of the brandy and whisk until well blended. Add bread cubes and press to submerge into custard. Let soak at least 30 minutes or more.  I let it sit for about an hour.

Meanwhile, heat the grill ... we were making Salmon for dinner so we fired her up for that. Grease a dutch oven - used my Le Crueset round.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high. Add pears and sauté until golden and beginning to soften, stirring and turning frequently, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in honey & brown sugar and the remaining brandy. Simmer until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens to syrup, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Mix half of pear mixture into bread-custard mixture. Transfer bread pudding mixture to prepared pan. Arrange remaining apple slices atop bread pudding in whatever pretty shape pleases your little heart. Spoon any remaining syrup from skillet over apple slices.
Now comes the fun ... be brave!  Put your dutch oven full of bread pudding into the grill and resist the urge to open it!  We had the grill on medium to low and left that bad boy in there for about 2 hours.  I was more concerned that the bottom would burn, so I preferred a slow cook to a quick burn.  If I could have found my thermometer, we could have inserted it into cthe enter of pudding to see if it reached the desired 170°F to 180°F, but we had to play it by gut.

Perhaps the most difficult part ... they want you to take the pudding out and let it rest for 45 minutes!  Really - it smells sooooo awesome!!!  But we had it with the new Haagen Dazs 5 all natural vanilla bean ice cream - DELECTABLE ... and we've been eating & sharing leftovers all week ...

Anyone out there who has great grill dessert or baking recipes to share ... let me know in comments!  This was a fun, delish experiment and despite the calorie count, I think bread puddings will become part of my repertoire as long as I am a grill mama.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Best Pizza in Boston ... (so far)

A rainy Saturday night in the South End with friends and Rock Band lends itself well to pizza ... and luckily, one of the benefits of coming from Austin to Boston is killer Pizza.

Now - we do have a few great pizzerias in Austin (my fave is Homeslice in SoCo) - but nothing like the variety and quality that exists in the northeast in general and Boston in specific.

So last night was pizza from The Upper Crust ... and no ... I don't have a pic of the pizza because it was too good and we ate it!! (image courtesy of The Upper Crust:))

An MGH (spinach, broccoli & feta) plus mushrooms and canadian bacon was delish and sort of healthy (I told myself).  The crust is super thin with perfectly crispy edges that just defy being burnt ... eat the first bite or two with a knife and fork ... then fold that bad boy and get a huge bite!

When I was here during grad school, there was only one Upper Crust ... but now Boston is blessed with 13, count'em, 13 pie shops!  That means you can have hot, crispy and delish pizza in your house in like 30 minutes!!!

This town could get fattening ... especially since I still don't have a kitchen of my own.  Till then, I'll be eating and posting about restaurants:)))

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Party Pictures were terrible ... help!

Today's post is just a quick hit prompted by the feedback I got from my team here at HubSpot upon seeing my last post about party planning for our recent October shindig at my house ... they liked the party planning advice but were disappointed in my pics' image quality.  Rightly so.

With that backstory, my friend John, a pro photographer, decided to post a few tips on Getting the Most from Your Point & Click camera.  Regardless of the type of event you have - he posits that there is one tenet to aid in excellent images:

Lighting, Lighting, Lighting ...

In short, ensuring there is a significant difference in the fore- and back-ground of your subjects will take care of it ... but read his post for the full details.

Something else that I learned from John is that it really isn't as expensive to hire a pro photographer for your events.  In fact, he mentioned rates on the order of $50-100/hour for an event like the party I had last week. (John, maybe you can post a blog about some advice in this realm?) While maybe I wouldn't splurge for that particular party, I will certainly think twice when it comes to something like my 40th Bday (far far away I assure you:)))). 

His posts and advice have opened my eyes (pun intended) ... next time you plan a significant milestone event I encourage you to think ahead about who is going to record those memories!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cocktail Party Tips for Evening Events that Satisfy without a Full Meal ...

This blog post will mark a slight departure from the original theme of this blog ... because I am expanding the scope to include dinner party and other party planning ideas and tools here and on a new site I am building called (feel free to check it out ... it is under construction now:)))

That being said ... I recently had three wonderful reasons to throw a party:

1) John's birthday is this month ... this weekend in fact
2) I landed a new job in Boston at HubSpot and have hopped a plane to work here 3 weeks a month
3) ACL (Austin City Limits Music Festival) needed a kickoff!!!

Knowing how many people would want to celebrate these three occasions, I realized it couldn't be an intimate dinner party ... in fact I invited about 100 folks and we had around 45-50 over the course of the evening that were able to make it. Now, that may seem like a daunting number, but I was thrilled and find it so much fun to entertain. This is the reason that I'll be adding this theme to the blog ... there are so many things in life that deserve to be celebrated and taking the pain out of party planning is something that needs to be done.

So to keep it short and sweet ... what are the lessons learned and tips that I can share from this most recent party?
  • Be clear about food in your invitation: because this was such a large group and my home isn't huge, a full meal was not an option. My start time was 8PM because it was a 'school night' for many, but they all knew that there'd be heavy apps and snacks and therefore came prepared. I had enough for everyone without too many leftovers considering the size of the party.
  • Only serve things that you like and are willing to eat leftover: the above comment aside, we had hummus and cupcakes and a few other items after the party wound down at 1AM. Since I planned things I loved, John and I had great snacks all throughout ACL weekend:)
  • Don't serve more than 1 or 2 hot items unless you have an army of helpers: between the need to finish the item while your guests are arriving and trying to keep it hot doing anything more than 1 or 2 will just stress you out.
  • Consider a single hot passed hostess hors d'oeuvre: I experimented with a passed item (Pears with Sage wrapped in Proscuitto, courtesy of my gal Amy, blog post to follow) and used the passing as a really great excuse to chat briefly with all my guests making sure everyone felt welcomed and I could make quick introductions. If you have the right crowd, you won't feel like you are 'serving' - rather you'll feel like you have a great reason to mingle with speed:)
  • Make a list & a timeline: I had so much going on that week and couldn't leave most things till the final day of the party. I ran errands and did items in all four days leading up to the party ... and found that I wasn't missing anything when the time came for the corks to be popped!
  • Get all your serving dishes out early in the day: as you finish items, plan out what will go where. If you have a helper or two, you can even write up a quick post it note on each dish and let your helpers do some of the last minute 'placement' without distracting you from any of your last minute work.
  • Plan your music in advance ... or better yet ... use Pandora! OK, not so subtle plug for my favorite music service which will play a random list of music all based on a genre you select - saves you the hassle of creating a playlist if you aren't a total music buff. In fact, John even created an 'ACL' station for the party by putting in a few artist names of bands that we were going to see at the event ... fun and apropos
  • Keep the decor simple: If you are not hosting a themed party and it is at your home, you really don't need much in the way of decoration. Good food, beverage and laughs will be all you need to get smiles on your friends' faces.
That's it for this time around ... look out for more healthy recipes, party suggestions and thoughts on this channel. Cheers!!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer Salad of Nectarines, Heirloom Tomatoes and Roasted Corn on Greens ...

Once again, Costco had shockingly beautiful flats of perfect nectarines (perhaps I have to thank modern pesticides and growth hormones for that ... but I will pretend I don't know about that:) ... which when complimented with other summer delectables inspired a new creation...

Nectarine, Heirloom Tomato and Roasted Sweet Corn Salad with Mixed Greens
  • 2 Ripe Nectarines
  • 2 Ripe Heirloom Tomatoes, ideally one red & one yellow or variegated
  • 15-20 Heirloom Grape Tomatoes, varying sizes and colors is ideal
  • 2 Ears of Corn, Microwaved & the briefly grilled for roasted flavor & markings
  • 1 Shallot & 1/4 of a Red Onion, Finely sliced
  • 1 Orange, Zested & Juiced
  • 1/4 cup Rice wine vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsps Olive Oil
  • 1-2 Tbsps Honey
  • Fresh Mint & Basil, 10 leaves each, finely minced
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • OPTIONAL: Cayenne Pepper 1-2 tsps
Cut the nectarines and tomatoes into quarters and then finely slice them crosswise. Cut the corn off the roasted cob and mix the niblets with the tomatoes and nectarines. Add the sliced shallots and onions.

Combine the juice+zest, vinegar, oil, honey, herbs, salt & pepper blending thoroughly. I love the addition of the cayenne for a little bit of heat. Pour 1/2 of the dressing over the fruit portion of your salad and reserve the rest. Let the fruit sit and mascerate with the dressing for an hour or two before serving atop a bed of greens that will be dressed with the remaining salad dressing. If you prefer a creamier dressing, add yogurt or buttermilk to the mixture and shake to blend - this cuts some of the acidity without adding a lot of calories.

Voila ... a shocking little summer fun salad that is easy to make and can be prepared a few hours ahead! It was a hit at our recent couples grill out:)) See it served here alongside a buffalo blue cheese burger and sweet potatoes (courtesy of Chef Jeremy Martin) - YUM!!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Flank Steak with Chimichurri, Purple Potato Salad & Fresh Summer Tomatoes, Avocado & Mozz!

Dinner party Saturday night ... OK a few Saturdays ago ... at my place ... and it is, guess what, 100+ degrees - who knew?

Right. Austin this summer has been a veritable inferno ... and I was NOT about to cook something warm and toasty in my house where I don't have a patio to grill. But serving my guests fish again was not optional either ...

Enter a nice flank steak over salad idea ... inspired by my lovely subscription to Bon Appetit (a bday gift courtesy of my friend Michelle:) ... about seven steak & chimi recipes later, I arrived at the below which was heralded by all as fantabulous!!! (measurements may be less than exact;))))

Try to have 3-4 hours for marinating ... so plan just a lil' ahead plz!

Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, Purple Potato Salad & Summer Tomato, Avo, Mozz Salad
(will post the potato salad recipe separately) Serves 8-10

Steak & Marinade
  • 3 lbs Flank Steak (it was a bit much for my 6 person table, but mmmm the leftovers!)
  • 1/2 cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsps Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic, Smashed
  • 1-2 Shallots, thinly sliced
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
Chimichurri Sauce - Kir's Tweak ...
  • 1 1/2 large bunch fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/3 bunch fresh cilantro (my add - not in traditional chimi)
  • 1/3 bunch fresh basil (my add - from my garden - sweetness that popped)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves(must be fresh - don't even think about dried)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled (or 5 ... that's what I used:))
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (add a smidge of balsamic to sweeten it & cut the acid)
  • 2 Tbsps dried red chili flakes (start with 1/2 of this and then taste periodically as you add - mine had heat, but not too much ... just right for my crew)
  • Salt to taste, sea salt is best
The beauty of this whole deal is that once you make the chimi & marinade ... it's all downhill!

Mix all the marinade ingredients and then place the meat in a shallow pan with the marinade, ideally covering it. You can also use the plastic bag methodology (which creeps me out for some reason ... flesh ... in a bag ... ugh). Put this in the fridge for 3-4 hours ... or overnight if you are that well planned (I usually am not).

Make your chimi a bit in advance to let the flavors meld and give yourself time to get dressed for guests:))) Because I use a really small Cuisinart (which I love - if I haven't told ya before - and you can get at Costco for like $40 - best gadget EVER) ... I usually do a large dice of my ingredients so I don't kill the thing. Therefore, smash your garlic and chop the leaves of your lovely herbs. Drop this plus your olive oil and vinegar into the food processor and blend away. Once you have a pretty sauce consistency ... start adding salt and red pepper flakes ... perhaps that drip of balsamic ... this is the fun part. You must taste. Add things, blend more and taste. I tasted with some pita chips ... and ultimately reached a heat that left me just wanting a bit more ... addictive heat is what we got ... and what my guests LOVED.

I was asked to blog about this and, Jeremy, now that I have ... I challenge you to try it ... tweak it ... and improve upon it!

OK. I digress. You've got your chimi and your meat chillin ... I then made a really nice potato salad and prepped my veggies for the evening ... so finally, the cooking happens.

Several options:
  1. Grill - I don't have a grill ... my man does (since I bought it for him two bdays ago ... but it resides at his abode ... so ... I'll give you my guess on cooking times). 4-5 minutes per side on med-hi heat.
  2. Grill Pan - Aha! A gift from my father, Le Creuset Grill Pan, results in very nicely scored flank steak ... that ... well ... I got 1/2 right and 1/2 overcooked since I had two big slabs. The good one was about 4 minutes per side and then rested. The bad one I did 3 then 4 and then put it in the oven to keep ... oops ... probably could've done 3 and 2 or so and then in the oven to keep warm and it would've been great.
  3. Broiler - I am not going to guess on this one ... go check another recipe!

Let that bad boy rest ... cut it on the bias* (very important!) and serve over your fave salad. My trick here was to take my chimi sauce and turn it into a much milder salad dressing by mixing about 2 tbsps chimi with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp buttermilk. MMMM.

Cutting on the Bias - if you don't know is cutting at an angle ... ideally against the grain of the meat. This breaks the sinew allowing your guests to enjoy the shortest muscles and therefore tenderest mouthfeel ... and if you've marinated well ... then 'like butta'!

Enjoy beating the summer heat with this delish recipe inspired by Argentinian classics!!!!