Sunday, March 22, 2015

Into the Baskets

I am so totally enjoying myself.  I love the classes and lectures that you can attend in our retirement village.  It has actually come to the point that I need my calendar with me at all times, because it fills up so quickly.  It is such fun.

My newest adventure is finding a neighbor from New England who teaches Nantucket basket weaving.  For some reason, I have always wanted to try basket weaving, but just did not attempt to teach myself.  Then dear Dorothy came along and now I am rolling full steam ahead.

 I wanted to start small, so this is a 6 inch basket.  I felt if I was due to make mistakes, it should be in a small basket.  Luckily, this is just about perfect.  It was definitely a learning experience that I enjoyed.  That small white button on the bottom is ivory and fills up the bolt hole that holds the basket on its form.  The wood is cherry.

A gentle spraying of shellac at the finish helps to preserve and shine the basket.

I need to claim this as my own, so it is signed by the artist.  sigh....

The basket was woven by cutting reeds into tapered ribs and using cane to weave in and out of the ribs.  Sort of addictive.  So much so that....I have started a potbelly basket with a cherry lid.

I am having fun, working at my own pace and knowing that my teacher is in the neighborhood and available if I need help. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Slow Cooker Red Wine Beef Cheeks

Once again, I am reminiscing about France.  In 2012, we spent some time in Paris, renting an apartment on Rue Riovoli.  It was typically small, but very quiet and located across from the Tivoli Gardens and quite accessible to walking to the Louvre and other places of interest.  Our first evening in Paris, we had made reservations for dinner at REED on Rue Amelie which is a street which runs next to Rue Cler.  Owner, Catherine, is a Canadian, and I learned about her restaurant from blogger friends.  Our dinner that night was is every dinner in France.

I had Osso Bucco and The Trout had Beef Cheeks Bourguignon.  Beef cheeks...those large meaty lumps in the cow's face.  Yes, they were butter knife tender and delicious.  This was the  first time we had heard of them and the first time we had eaten them.  Oh yes, I got my share off his plate also.  The meat simply melted in your mouth.

Of course, when back home, we talked about the beef cheeks and in the last three years have never seen them in any butcher shop.  Until.....a couple of weeks ago.  We did not buy immediately, but went home first to research how we were going to prepare the cheeks.  So last weekend, we went back and bought the cheeks and then we smelled them all day in the slow cooker.

The butcher had not cleaned and trimmed the cheeks.  It was a job and I immediately decided no one wanted to see photos of this procedure.  There was fat and silver membranes that needed to be removed.  The next time, I hope to find the cheeks cleaned.  It is a lot of work to prepare them.  Otherwise, beef brisket or chunks of chuck roast could substitute, but I doubt they would be able to duplicate the melt in your mouth pieces of meat that the cheeks provided.

Slow Cooker Red Wine Beef Cheeks
From Recipe Tin Eats

Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil, separated\
3 lbs beef cheeks (4 large or 6 small)
1 onion, roughly diced, about 1 cup
1 celery stalk, roughly diced, about 1 cup
1 carrot, roughly diced, about 3/4 cup
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
4 dried bay leaves
1 cup beef stock
2 cups red wine
3 tsp salt, separated
Black pepper

Prepare the beef cheeks; cut off any large, fatty membrane.  Pat dry and then season each side with 1 tsp of salt and a good grind of pepper.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large, heavy based pan over high heat.  Sear the beef cheeks on each side until nicely  browned.  Remove cheeks onto a plate loosely covered with foil to keep warm.

Turn down the heat to medium and heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Add garlic, onion and carrots.  Sauté for 3 minutes until onion is becoming translucent.  Then add celery and sauté for 3 minutes.

Pour the onion mixture into a slow cooker and place the beef cheeks on top.  Pour the wine into the fry pan and return to heat.  Bring to a simmer and let simmer 1 minute.  Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Pour the wine into the slow cooker, then all the remaining ingredients.  Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 6 hours.

Open the slow cooker and remove the beef cheeks.  Remove the bay leaves.  Using a hand held blender stick, puree the braising liquid into a smooth sauce.  Pour into a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer until the sauce turns a darker color and reduces by 1/4 to 1.3 to a gravy consistency, about 10 minutes.  Whisk in a tablespoon of butter to smooth it out.  Add the beef cheeks to the sauce and serve ladled over mashed potatoes.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Steak au Poivre and Asparagus/Mushroom Risotto

Whenever I think of risotto, a very favorite dish, I can't help but  think back to 2003 when we were traveling in Italy.  We were in the Piedmont, traveling in Northern Italy.  We stayed at a beautiful hotel on Lago d'Orta.  We were seated outside overlooking the picturesque lake and I was sick.  Flu symptoms and just feeling punky.  The menu sounded so good, but I told the waiter that I just could not eat.  He was most sympathetic and asked my symptoms.  I told him that my stomach was having a war with itself.

Immediately, he asked if he could order something for me. " I  will talk to the chef and bring out something that will taste wonderful," he said, and so he did.

I had the most delicious dish of risotto placed before me.  It was perfect food for a jumpy stomach.  Since then, my love for risotto has only grown.  It even tastes better when I am not ill.

Shopping for groceries, I saw a 2 pound bag of fresh asparagus and one whole pound went into my risotto along with mushrooms.  Though both the Trout and I were each in charge of 2 burners getting this dinner on the table, it turned out to be a very great meal.

Steak au Poivre

Adapted from Bistro24 at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix

Servings:  4

3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
Four 3/4 inch thick beef strip steaks (about 8 oz. each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whiskey

Coarsely crush peppercorns.  Pat the steaks dry and then brush with oil on both sides.  Gently press the peppercorns to coat both sides.  Season both sides of steak with salt.

In a large skillet over medium high, heat the oil.  When it is hot, reduce heat to medium and cook the steaks for 4 minutes on each side until medium rate.  Transfer to a place and cover while making the pan sauce.

Return the skillet to the heat and add the shallots.  Cook over medium heat, stirring 1 minute.  Add the wine, bring to boil and simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan until reduced by three-quarters.  Add the stock and cream, bring to a boil, then simmer until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.  Add juices from the plate of resting meat, whisk in mustard and whiskey.

Transfer steak to serving plates, spoon sauce over each.

Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto
Recipe by Deseree Kazda, "Life's Ambrosia"
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound asparagus, bottom inch discarded, cut into 2 inch pieces
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup white wine

In pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and cook asparagus and mushrooms until softened, about 7 minutes.  Stir in salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to low and cover and keep warm.

In pot, heat broth over medium heat and keep warm while preparing risotto.

In another pot, heat butter and remaining olive oil over medium heat.  Once butter melts, stir in shallots and cook just until softened, about 2 minutes.  Stir in arborio rice just until coated in the butter.  Do not brown.  Pour in wine and and cook until wine absorbs.  Pour one ladle of hot brother over rice and stir consistently until liquid is absorbed.  Repeat until all the broth is used and absorbed.  Stir in asparagus and mushrooms.  Serve immediately.