Linguine with pink sauce

photo 1(8)It’s a cold night tonight, and even the cat is hungry for some comfort food. In her case, it was a bite of triple cream brie (she’s fond of dairy); in our case, it was a big bowl of pasta. I wasn’t in the mood for marinara or Alfredo, and instead opted to go for a kind of hybrid: tomato cream sauce. This is a rich, decadent sauce that clings well to noodles and imparts a tangy, buttery flavor to every bite. It’s also a lovely shade of orange-pink, something that makes it just as attractive to look at as it is delicious to eat. This is one of those dishes that tastes like it’s much harder to make than it is, perfect for impressing that someone special in your life. Unless that someone is my cat: she just wants brie.

Pink sauce

  • photo 2(10)One large can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes with juice. In a pinch, you can use crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, but don’t use canned tomato sauce.
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in half along the equator
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (don’t cheap out; use something like Plugra; 1 stick’s worth is about half a package)
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and red pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Place your onion halves face down in the butter and let them hang out for a bit, just until they start getting really fragrant. Add the minced garlic and cook for two minutes. Add your crushed tomatoes to the pot, and gently stir so that the onion halves are surrounded; add a pinch of salt and the wine. Allow this mixture to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you like a chunky sauce, remove the onion halves and discard — your tomatoes are done.

For this version, we wanted a smooth sauce, so we removed the onions and let our sauce cool for a few minutes, then ran it through the blender. This does something else nice in addition to breaking up the chunks: it emulsifies the butter into the sauce, something your taste buds will thank you for. Once the sauce is smooth (or if you kept it chunky, pick up here) stir in the heavy cream and bring the pot back to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes until thickened, stirring regularly. Stir in a dash of red pepper and some more salt (if needed) and serve. This ain’t diet food by any means, but my goodness is it good. Enjoy!

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Pan-seared trout with buerre blanc

IMG_9985As you can see, the first gardenias of the year have just come into bloom — a noteworthy occasion to me, since gardenia is one of my favorite smells of all time. This being a food blog rather than one about horticulture, however, I couldn’t just get a picture of my favorite flowers without including one of my favorite dishes: pan-seared rainbow trout with buerre blanc.

“Buerre blanc” in French translates simply as “white butter,” and while it isn’t considered to be on quite the same level as classic sauces like hollandaise or bernaise, it’s still a simple, yet versatile addition to your culinary repertoire. The sauce is formed by the creation of an emulsion, one of our favorite food tricks that forces oil (melted butter in this case) to mix with liquid (a white wine reduction). The result is a luscious, tangy sauce that won’t overpower our fish, but will add a great deal of flavor. I especially like it with trout, because while trout is a wonderfully flavorful fish, it isn’t a very fatty one — and the addition of this buttery sauce is exactly the kick it needs. To cook your trout, simply heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a skillet, pat your filet dry, then salt and pepper both sides. Start skin side down, flipping the fish when the edges begin to brown, then turning again after about 3 minutes — simple as that. Now, the sauce:

Buerre Blanc

  • IMG_99954 tablespoons white wine. The traditional wine used is Muscadet, which shares a home in the Loire Valley of France with this sauce. I used a semi-sweet Mount Bethel wine, and pretty much any wine that pairs well with fish will work here.
  • 4 tablespoons white vinegar, rice vinegar, or lemon juice. Depends on how tangy you like your sauce.
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots.
  • 14 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces. Keep it chilled until you are ready to use it!
  • Salt and pepper. Some folks like to get fancy and use white pepper, so do that if you want.

IMG_9987Put your wine, vinegar, and shallots into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cut the heat down to a simmer, and allow the liquid to reduce to approximately a teaspoon and a half of liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in two pieces of the chilled butter, whisking so that the butter does not melt but rather emulsifies with the wine reduction. The tricky part of this sauce is the balancing act that takes place now: you must keep the sauce warm enough to slowly melt the butter, but not hot enough to cause the butter to separate — which will break the sauce. I place the sauce pan on a very low flame and swirl the butter in one piece at a time, raising the pan off the burner whenever the butter seems to be getting too frisky. The end result should be a light, airy sauce that coats food well. The tangy flavor and velvet mouthfeel of this buttery concoction are fantastic.

If you need to hold the sauce you can put your saucepan into a larger pan of warm water. The addition of herbs such as tarragon or dill to the reduction can take this sauce into entirely different (and wonderful) directions. Some people prefer to remove the shallots for a smoother sauce, but I like the stronger flavor that comes from keeping them in. Good luck, and happy cooking!

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Homemade Butter

IMG_9184In this amazing age of supermarkets and convenience stores, why would anybody want to make their own butter? For the food nerd in me, the answer is simple: to see if I can. But I came to home butter-making for a practical reason, too — I had a couple of baked potatoes almost done in the oven and not a stick of butter to be found. Now yes, there are several places to buy butter nearby, but those taters were ready to GO, and I was hungry for the New York strips I had coated with pepper and ready for the skillet. So I had resigned myself to butter-less potatoes when it hit me: I had a half-pint of heavy cream in the fridge leftover from another recipe I had made a few days before. And what is butter made from? Cream. Lacking a proper butter churn, I took down the Kitchen-Aid, slapped on the whisk attachment, turned it on and within a few minutes I had a ball of pale golden butter, perfect for my potatoes. It’s a fun process, so if you want to play Little House on the Prairie (with a Kitchen-Aid Mixer), keep reading.

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First off, you’ll need that cream and your stand-mixer. Dump it right in, and put on the whisk attachment. You can make this stuff in bulk, but we like to just make small batches of table butter — there’s only two of us, and we like the stuff too much to make a lot. Turn your mixer on high-speed, around an 8. Let it whirl.

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Soon enough, the cream will thicken and you’ll have one of the most wonderful things on earth: whipped cream. You may be tempted to add a touch of simple syrup and vanilla to the pot now, mix, and eat with a spoon — but stay with us, we’ve still a ways to go.

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Keep beating, and soon enough the cream will get kind of gnarly looking. We call this the “steakhouse butter” stage because it looks a lot like the whipped margarine you get at cheap steakhouses (but it tastes a lot better). Whipping the cream has forced the fat in the cream to cling to itself, which first allowed air to be trapped (whipped cream) and now the fat globules are getting so big that they are losing their fluffiness and beginning to turn into real butter. There’s still a lot of moisture here, though, and we want to get it all out so that we only have the pure butter-fat. Keep beating.

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There will, at last, come a magical moment where the fat finally turns loose from the water. This happens rather suddenly, and if you’re not careful, the liquid — buttermilk — will splash everywhere. Turn the mixer down until it looks like no more fat will separate. Strain the butter from the buttermilk — and take a taste of that buttermilk. You’ll find it’s nothing like the cultured product sold in the supermarket (it’s quite yummy). You can return your butter to the dry bowl and beat it some more; more moisture will come out. Finally gather your butter together and rinse it with ice water, changing the water until it stays clear. This gets the last of the water out of the butter and keeps it from going rancid. Add a touch of sea salt if you like, or add herbs, or leave it unsalted for baking. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, the need for butter on my spuds made for a fun discovery. Happy cooking!

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Sage

Autumn is my favorite of all the seasons, and there aren’t many foods that I associate with the fall and winter holidays more than sweet potatoes.  They’re very versatile, because in addition to the classic (and delicious) sweet potato pie, I’ll wager that nearly every family you meet has their own variation on the traditional sweet potato casserole.  My great-grandmother used to make sweet potatoes with marshmallow and pecans, and I have many memories of my mother’s candied yams.  My sister loves them simply baked and eaten like a regular baked potato – except with sugar to go along with the usual butter.  All these ways are good, but there are times when I just don’t want my sweet potatoes to be covered in all that sweetness.  They’re a pretty flavorful root vegetable on their own, and some simple roasting can really produce some surprising flavors – and the addition of just a little browned butter and sage creates a unique taste that Jess and I just love.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Sage

  • Sweet potatoes – allow for approximately one potato per person.
  • 3-6 tablespoons olive oil; use more oil for more potatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 7 large sage leaves, cut chiffonade.  To chiffonade, stack the leaves flat on top of each other, then gently roll them into a cigar shape.  Using a sharp knife, slice the roll in thin strips, then break apart with your fingers.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Scrub and then peel your sweet potatoes.  Slice them into 3/4″ medallions.  Toss the sweet potato slices with the olive oil and salt, coating thoroughly.  Lay the medallions flat on a cookie sheet and place into oven.  Roast for 10-15 minutes per side, or until the potatoes develop a deep brown color and are soft in the middle.  Remove potatoes from oven.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  The butter will foam up as it melts, and when this foam subsides, add the sage, gently stirring.  Allow the butter and sage to cook for 3-5 minutes – the butter will start to brown and the sage will become crispy.  Arrange sweet potato slices on a plate and top with the crispy sage and as much of the butter as you’d like.  Roasting the potatoes will concentrate their natural sugars, and the savory herb flavor of the butter and sage really compliment them well.  Enjoy!

 

Herbed Blue Cheese Butter and Filet Mignon

Jess and I take a very simple view of making a steak: a good cut of meat, salt and pepper, and a good sear. Serve rare. We don’t use rubs or marinades with a good steak, and god forbid pouring A-1 or Heinz 57 sauce all over it: a good steak should speak for itself, both in taste and texture, and the only acceptable reason for steak sauce is to cover the taste of a poorly cooked steak.

Having said that, allow me to completely make a liar out of myself and mention that there is something we sometimes like to put on a steak, especially a piece of the tenderloin. Steaks cut from the tenderloin are very tender, but often they lack a lot of flavor. This is due to a lack of fat, and like the chicken breast, we’ve got to find a way to add some flavor to this melt-in-your-mouth cut of beef.  Our butcher has already wrapped the filets in a strip of bacon, which will not only add flavor but also keep our steaks nice and moist (basically basting the steak in bacon fat), but we’re going to break our salt-and-pepper only rule and put something over the top of our finished steak: Blue cheese.  Now, blue cheese by itself can be a little overpowering, and so we mix it with with some butter to make a creamy, slow melting topping. The butter adds that savory flavor of fat missing from the steak, and the tangy blue cheese compliments the seared meat better than any flavor I can think of.  The blue cheese butter is very easy to make and keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer.

Herbed Blue Cheese Butter

  • 4 ounces of softened blue cheese.
  • 6 tablespoons of softened, unsalted butter. Use real butter, margarine just doesn’t have the right consistency (and honestly, doesn’t actually constitute anything we consider “food”). Make sure it’s unsalted, because blue cheese is pretty salty to begin with.
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley.
  • 2-3 teaspoons finely chopped shallots. If you use onions instead, use only 1 teaspoon.
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic.
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice.
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste).

Mix everything in a bowl until creamed together. Place into a butter mold, or just wrap up in plastic wrap to make a log and chill at least 30 minutes prior to use. Since I was using these nice little round steaks, I wrapped the butter in some wax paper and molded it in a small ramekin. Slice a decent piece of the butter and place on top of your filet; Serve.  Feel free to add other herbs to this basic recipe; thyme, basil, or tarragon can all be excellent additions.  Happy Cooking!