Friday, February 25, 2011

Pan-Seared Steak with Horseradish Sauce

The pairing of horseradish and beef is a heavenly one. I usually love a good horseradish sauce with rare prime rib, but steak was on sale at the grocery store and I couldn't resist pairing the two.
What on this world is better than a nice steak? The steak has got to come to room temperature, so take it out of the fridge before you do anything else.

Take your steak out of its wrapper and blot it well on both sides with some paper towel. You want the outside to be as dry as possible.

Give it a nice coating of vegetable oil.

And then a liberal salt and peppering.

Don't forget to do both sides!

Now set the steak aside somewhere away from kids with poking fingers and from cats who like to jump up on the counter.
While your steak rests, you can start on the sauce. With just a few simple ingredients from your kitchen, you're ready to start making your very own horsey sauce.

In a small bowl, plop in a tablespoon (or two, if you like things spicy!) of horseradish. I like this brand of creamy horseradish, but use your favorite kind. If you've got fresh grated, all the better!

Add some mayonnaise.

I like mayonnaise as much as the next person, but it sure isn't a very attractive substance.

Some dijon mustard and sour cream are next. I used the grainy kind, but if you like seeing your horseradish sauce pure and creamy and white, regular smooth dijon mustard is fine.

I would advise steering away from yellow mustard, however.

A nice squeeze of lemon brightens things up a bit.

A dash of cayenne pepper and a few twists from your pepper grinder add a little dimension to the sauce.

A few stirs later, and you've got yourself a spicy horsey sauce! Pop it in the fridge to hang out while you go back to the steak.

By this time, your steak should be nice and room temperature. Get out a heavy-duty pan (not nonstick if you've got it) and heat it over medium-high heat. Sprinkle water onto your pan...when it sizzles and then disappears, your pan is hot enough to (carefully!) add your steak.

Oh, did I mention that this method creates a lot of smoke? If you've got a kitchen hood, now would be the time to turn it on. If you don't, well, open a window, grab some fans, and don't be surprised if your smoke alarm goes off!

My steak wasn't very thick, so I gave it about two minutes a side. If you've got a big, fat steak (like a cowboy steak), you might want to extend the time to 4 minutes a side, or pop the steak, pan and all, into a 450F oven for a few minutes.

Let the steak rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with your horseradish sauce!

Recipe: Pan-Seared Steak with Horseradish Sauce

1 steak (ribeye, strip, or T-bone work well)
vegetable oil
salt and pepper

1-2 tbsp. prepared horseradish (to taste)
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour cream
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
juice from 1/4 of a lemon
pinch of cayenne pepper
black pepper, to taste

Remove steak from refrigerator and packaging. Pat dry with paper towels. Brush with oil and salt and pepper both sides.

In a small bowl, combine horseradish, mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Set aside.

Preheat nonstick pan on the stove over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, carefully place steak in the pan. Cook 2 minutes a side for medium rare. If steak is very thick (1"+) increase time or pop in a 450F oven for an additional minute per side.

Let steak rest before slicing. Serve with horseradish sauce.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Pecan-Brown Sugar Butter

Sweet potatoes are a great accompaniment to a weeknight meal. Just pop them in the oven and leave them alone, and after a while you've got a flavorful (and healthy) side dish. They're a nice change from regular potatoes and are also just plain pretty. I served mine with a compound butter with pecans and brown sugar.

Compound butters are so easy to make. Basically, it's just a fancy word for flavored butter. You can use fresh herbs, or spices (try mixing my BBQ Dry Rub in with some butter, and then topping a hot-off-the-grill steak with it!), or citrus flavors (great on fish and vegetables). Today I went the sweet route and used brown sugar.

Start with some softened butter. Usually an hour at room temp will soften a stick up sufficiently.

Chop up some pecans. You can leave them in bigger chunks, or you can finely chop them. You could even give them a whirl in a food processor, if you really want them chopped up fine. Since my main plan for this butter is to serve it with the sweet potatoes, I left my pecans in bigger pieces.

A little brown sugar will sweeten the deal.

By the way, I love how packed brown sugar stays in shapes. I would build a sand castle out of brown sugar.

For a little zing, I added just a touch of cinnamon.

A bit of ginger adds a bite too.

Stir your compound butter well until the nuts, sugar, and spices are well mixed.

Scoop your butter mixture onto a piece of parchment or wax paper, or some plastic wrap.

Use the paper to press the butter into a log shape.

When your butter is about the thickness you like, twist the ends of the paper tightly. Store your butter in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

If you plan on freezing your butter, I recommend wrapping it in plastic wrap and also placing it in a Ziploc bag, just to keep out the freezer flavor.

While the flavors in your butter come together, you can start roasting your sweet potatoes.

Pop the sweet potatoes right into a 425F oven. There's no need to prick the skins.

You may want to place a baking dish beneath the potatoes, though. The sugary, starchy liquid inside the potatoes leaks out a bit, and your kitchen will start to smell like burned sugar if it falls to the bottom of the oven.

After about an hour of baking, your sweet potatoes should be tender and caramelized. Make a cut down the long way of the potato, and squeeze the ends gently to open the potato all the way.

Now you can get your butter out!

Slap a big slab of your Pecan-Brown Sugar Butter onto your steaming hot sweet potato and dig in!

Recipe: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Pecan-Brown Sugar Butter

3 sweet potatoes

1 stick salted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. finely chopped pecans
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a small bowl, combine butter, pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Mix well. Spoon onto wax or parchment paper and shape into a log. Set aside.

Place sweet potatoes in preheated oven (do not prick skin). Let bake for at least an hour.

When potatoes are cooked through, slice the potato the long way and gently press the ends to reveal the inside of the potato. Top with compound butter, and enjoy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fabulous Fudge Brownies

The Kid asked me the other day if I could make her some "browns". After some important questions (like, "What are browns??") I finally figured out that she meant brownies. So I whipped out a mixing bowl and a spoon and the Kid and I made some fabulous fudge brownies. These are great to make if you've got a tiny sous-chef!

She must have had a good time--after the brownies were in the oven, she told me that I "was a good helper." Well, thanks, Kid!

They start with butter and unsweetened chocolate.

Microwave (or heat over a double boiler) until the chocolate and butter are joined in a holy union of deliciousness.

Add some packed brown sugar to your bowl of chocolate and butter.

White sugar, too.

If you only had one or the other, you would be fine. I do like to use both, though. The brown sugar adds a nice fudgy-ness to the brownies, though, and the white sugar reduces the "dark" taste of the brown sugar.

Stir the sugars to combine with the chocolate. By this time, the chocolate shouldn't be scalding hot and you can add two eggs.

You want to make sure your mixture isn't scalding hot, or your eggs could curdle. And biting into a piece of cooked egg when you're expecting chocolate isn't really all that fun.

Now add in just a little flour, to hold your brownies together.

A bit of cocoa increases the chocolate-y goodness and makes these brownies that much more fabulous.

Add some vanilla, too. The Kid got excited about squeezing the vanilla bottle and I didn't get a picture of it. But baked goods without vanilla just aren't right--so be sure to add it!
Once your batter is blended, you can add some chocolate chips (and nuts if you like--I would have added some but the Kid said no nuts, and they were her "browns", so...she got the final say this time around.)

Pour your batter into a greased 8x8 or 9x9 pan.

Make sure the top is smoothed down and you're ready to bake!

After about 25 minutes, you'll have a pan full of fabulous, fudgy, rich chocolate brownies just waiting to be devoured. I gave mine a dusting of powdered sugar, but think of how great these would be with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and a squirt of Chocolate Syrup For Your Sweetie!

Recipe: Fabulous Fudge Brownies

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate

1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs

1/2 c. flour
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a microwave safe bowl (or double boiler), melt chocolate and butter together until smooth. Stir in brown and white sugars. Cool slightly, if necessary.

Stir in eggs, making sure to blend well.

Add flour and cocoa powder. Stir gently to combine.

Add vanilla and chocolate chips. Stir to combine.

Pour batter into a greased 8x8 or 9x9 cake pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Great Granola

One of my favorite breakfasts is a bowl of Stonyfield Farm yogurt with some fresh fruit and granola. They sell a yummy yogurt cup with strawberries and some really great granola at Panera, but at $3.50 a pop it's not exactly an everyday treat. There's no way to decrease the cost of the yogurt (it's sooo worth it!), and the cost of fruit is so dependant on the market, but great granola is inexpensive, easy to make, and customizable to whatever flavors, tastes, and textures appeal to you. Check the bulk bins at your grocery store or food co-op to get great deals on the ingredients for your next batch of granola.

The base of your granola is, of course, rolled oats. I used a combination of regular rolled oats and thick oats. The thick oats, if you haven't guessed, are thicker and have a more solid texture than the regular oats, and are good for granola. You could use all regular rolled oats if that's what you like and if that's what's available.

Nuts are the next base ingredient.

I used a mixture of almonds, pecans, and walnuts, for variety.

Hazelnuts would have been really good here, too.

Other things you could add include (but are not limited to!) flax, wheat germ, seeds like pumpkin or sunflower, or puffed rice.
Unsweetened flaked coconut adds some natural sweetness as well as extra fiber. It's high in fat but it's the good kind of fat.

I wish I had had shaved coconut, rather than shredded. I like the big, wide pieces so you can see that there's coconut. But I had the shredded already at home.

Now mix the oats, nuts, and coconut together. Then set it aside.

In a separate bowl, measure out some brown sugar.

Drizzle it with (real!) maple syrup.

Add some vegetable oil. This will help your granola get crunchy. You could use butter instead, but vegetable oil increases the granola's shelf life, and since I'm usually the only one eating it, vegetable oil works to my benefit.

A few squeezes of honey will add more sweetness, and will also help your granola clump into bunches. If you're into large pieces of granola, I'd decrease one of the other sweeteners and add more honey.

I think honey has a very distinctive flavor and can sometimes be overpowering, so I kept the honey to a minimum, and because of this, my granola didn't clump at all.

Half a teaspoon of salt will tempt your taste buds.

The same amount of cinnamon will add just a little spice.

A big squirt of vanilla will give your granola a nice, home-y flavor.

Stir your wet ingredients together until everything is incorporated.

Then pour over your oat mixture.

Stir everything really well (make sure every oat gets some flavor!) and then spread your granola out on a baking sheet. If you only have dark baking sheets, I'd recommend using parchment paper, to keep your granola from getting too dark. I bought some homemade granola this week and I think the flax they added got a little too dark--there's a slight burned taste to it.

Put it in a 250F oven. Bake it for an hour and 15 mintes; set a timer for every 15 mintes to give your granola a stir.

When your granola comes out of the oven, stir in your dried fruit. I used dried cherries today. Next time I think I may do apricots--I love dried apricots!

Like I said earlier, I like to eat my granola with some Stonyfield Farm yogurt (vanilla or flavored) and fresh fruit. I used strawberries but I think there's a banana in the kitchen with my name written all over it.

Make your picky eater happy by making them their very own granola! Find out how easy it can be to make something that tastes so good.

Recipe: Great Granola

4 c. rolled oats
2 1/2 c. nuts
3/4 c. shredded unsweetened coconut

1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. maple
1/4 c. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. vanilla

3/4 c. dried fruit

In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, and coconut. Stir well.

In another bowl, combine brown sugar, maple, vegetable oil, honey, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir well.

Pour wet mixture over oats. Stir well.

Spread granola onto a baking sheet. Bake at 250F for an hour and 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir every 15 minutes.

After removing granola from oven, stir in dried fruit. Let cool before eating!