January 27, 2008

Seared Tuna Steak on White Beans and Stuff

OK, it's actually seared tuna steak(s) on white beans and grape tomatoes and garlic chips but that was too long a title. As is my goal here, I wanted to try something new each week. This week it's seafood's turn. Confession: I hate seafood. I'm such a picky eater. But I'm working on changing that. The main course then is a tuna steak tastily seared. As an exciting side note: this is the first week where I actually needed only the express lane at Price Chopper to pick up my ingredients. Win! In addition, I'm trying out a "new" camera. So I hope you can handle fewer but better photos.

The first step was to slice up some garlic thin into chips and throw 'em on a skillet to brown over EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). After a few minutes, remove and replace with half an onion sliced and celery diced with red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Having done this kind of preparation on (almost?) every meal so far, this was now easy and fun. I like big knives. Cool!

For the tuna, heat another large skillet. Once it's good and hot, throw the tuna on for a couple minutes to sear one side. I've never cooked tuna before, so this was pretty much all done on faith. Flipping it and turning the heat down to medium, you're supposed to cook from five to seven minutes longer depending on how rare you prefer (not very?). Here's a neat little step: this required the use of an aluminum foil tent over the tuna to keep the heat in. It worked; the tuna was cooked very nicely through with both top and bottom seared beautifully. Nifty!

While all that's going on, I added some chicken broth to the onion/celery mix. Confession #2: white wine could work in addition, but for some reason even I don't understand, I passed. The cannellini (white) beans are added with the grape tomatoes. My grandmother said grape tomatoes are interchangeable with cherry tomatoes, but I have no idea what either tastes like (picky, I told you) so I just bought a box of the grape variety. Lightly boiling these ingredients until they're all soft, I removed them from heat as I removed the tuna. It's worth noting (or is common sense) that simply removing the meat and skillet from heat does not mean it stops cooking. The tuna went from medium to well-done while I was finishing up the veggies.

Put the tuna on top of the beans and tomatoes on a plate and - voilĂ - instant sophistication. The resulting combination of foods was intense. For me, a lot of new flavors going on. The tuna was surprisingly good, though, like I said, I think I cooked it more well than medium or rare. The beans and sliced garlic were also excellent. I think I'm beginning to like onions and garlic now. Interesting. The grape tomatoes were super soft, exploding sweet juices into your mouth... it was kinda gay. Overall, I can't say as this was my favorite meal, but there were some new taste experiences and, well, you ought to try everything once (and most things twice).

January 21, 2008

Smoky Black Bean and Rice Stoup

I assumed that "stoup" was a real cooking term that I just didn't know, but it looks like it's an invention of Rachael Ray's - a portmanteau of "stew" and "soup". (Full disclosure: it's also a real word with (possibly) a completely different meaning.) Rachael described this meal as "chop, drop, and open", which seemed like a nice break from my more complicated dish of last week. And, since I had experimented with other black bean soups the previous week, I'd like to see what a real version tasted like.

It was easy to lay everything out at the start. I picked up some Worcestershire and Tabasco along with coriander to supplement my seasonings. Chopping up celery, half an onion, and some garlic, I left these out on the cutting board. The recipe called for bay leaf, but I had no idea what that was until later (it's a spice? I was looking with the fresh greens). I measured out half a cup of frozen corn kernels and half a cup of rice to add along with the chicken broth, tomato sauce, diced fire-roasted tomatoes, and black beans.

I sliced up some bacon and started cooking it in the pot. After a few minutes, I added the celery, onion, and garlic. After these had simmered together, the corn and black beans were added. I poured in half the beans' can and its juices and then (on Rachael's recommendation) smashed the rest together to achieve a more paste-like consistency. I then seasoned this concoction with the Worcestershire, Tabasco, coriander, cumin, and chili powder. The smell now coming off the stove was to die for!

Next to go in was the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and chicken broth (I told you this was a simple recipe!). The pot was nearing capacity now and, adding the final ingredient - rice, I left it to simmer for ten minutes. I halved the ingredients for this meal so as not to make way more than I'd eat (even though soup will store well). As such, I decreased the final recommended cooking time for this last step. The rice came out not as soft as probably intended, but OK nonetheless. Jeremy and Allison bravely volunteered to join me again for dinner before watching Blade Runner. Here's to hoping they're still alive to read this!

January 14, 2008

Steak with Corn Relish and Smashed Spuds

I wasn't as excited, beforehand, to make this dish as I had been for the drunken pasta; though, I suppose, any dish that involves red wine in its preparation gets immediate bonus points. Nevertheless, the heart of this week's recipe is the corn relish. Served on top of the steak, the two are accompanied by (what are basically) mashed potatoes. But since preparing these three items offered three distinct chances for something new, I thought it would be a good second attempt.

The three dishes are prepared, cooked, and served mostly independent of each other. This made it easy to lay out all the ingredients and photo them separately. First, the steak (with its seasoning) in its cast-iron skillet. Second, the onion, garlic, scallions, cilantro, corn, chicken broth, and new spices for the relish. And third, a bag of red boiling potatoes and some cheese (not pictured) to mash in.

On the advice of my friends, I tried Hannaford instead of Price Chopper and (though it had a smaller selection) found that it had a larger variety of goods (including that mysterious pancetta from last week!). Once the individual ingredients were assembled (it took two trips to Hannaford, two to Price Chopper, one to Target, and one to Marshalls... don't ask), I started slicing up the vegetables before anything else. This had proved to be a hassle when rushed last week, and - since I had no time constraints this time - I took it slow. The only person waiting on the food was me, and I'm hardly important.

Putting the potatoes on to boil, I started sauteeing the chopped garlic cloves, onion, and scallions. Confession: the scallions were meant to go into the potatoes but I didn't pick up on this until later (the inclusion must've struck me as silly at the time I started cooking). Spicing these with chili powder, ground cumin, sugar, salt, and pepper left the room with a fantastic aroma (though short-lived, the steak took care of that).

Now I seasoned the steak and threw it onto the stove-top in its skillet (pre-heated with EVOO). I left the steak for "last" since, though the three dishes all cook at the same time, I figured that the meat needed more watching and attention. As the steak was grilling, I added the chicken broth and corn to the pan with the vegetables (now golden). Flipping the steak after five minutes revealed exactly how messy grilling on a stove-top is: oil had sizzled its way all over the rest of the flat surface. What a mess! I assume Rachael Ray never had to clean up after herself on her show (where's my cleaning crew and/or small dog?).

The steak, however, turned out fantastic. These pictures do not do it justice. The corn relish was also very tasty when served on top of the steak. I must say, I enjoyed those dishes far more than the pasta from the previous week. The potatoes, however, were poorly neglected. Now lacking their scallions (and cream cheese, which I "purposely" left out), I added some grated cheddar which melted in and (though I'm sure it was fine) didn't look too appetizing. Maybe I should have skinned the potatoes first (I've been told the skin adds fiber, though?). Anyway, here's the result: a delicious meal and an absolute mess. The savory steak left its oily patina and I'll just thank the cooking gods (Alton Brown and Rachael Ray?) for surface stoves and Windex!

January 9, 2008

Drunken Tuscan Pasta

For my first dish of the year, I thought I'd try something that Rachael Ray was kind enough to put a picture of in her book Express Lane Meals: drunken Tuscan pasta. It's just pasta, right? With some extra veggies thrown in? How hard can it be?

Well, when you're starting from zero (zero knowledge and zero preparedness), it's very hard. And expensive. I had to buy a number of ingredients: rosemary (I bought both the "spice" kind and fresh sprigs), portobello mushrooms (pre-sliced, thank you very much), nutmeg, red pepper "flakes", garlic (not knowing what a clove was, I bought three bulbs), spinach, two bottles of red Chianti (I couldn't find Rosso di Montalcino), a couple bottles of EVOO, spaghetti (I couldn't find perciatelli), bacon (what is pancetta?), and Reggianito Parmesan cheese.

For the record, Price Chopper has a horrible selection. Wherever Rachael Ray actually shops for her ingredients, it is most certainly not in the Northeast. Though there was a nice selection of Tuscan wines in my local liquor store, none were Rosso di Montalcino. I purchased two Chiantis instead (one for cooking with, one for drinking). They were both excellent. Price Chopper didn't have any perciatelli either (spaghetti was a recommended substitute) and the cheese requested was only available in one container. I still don't know what pancetta is, but the bacon was awesome.

A note about preparation: I think only one of my large stove-top burners works. But when I tried boiling the red wine/water mix, it seemed to heat OK. I poured the bottle of Chianti into a large pot, added some random amount of water and, once it was boiling, dropped a pound of spaghetti into it. For future reference: half the wine and half the pasta (or less) would be perfectly sufficient. The pasta came out very red, unlike the pictures in Rachael's book.

The pasta boiled very fast and I had to set it aside as I started simmering the vegetables together. With a couple tablespoons of EVOO, I chopped up some bacon and cooked it on a large, stainless-steel skillet. Once it was cooked (and it cooked exponentially: not at all and then very much), I transferred it to a plate to be mixed in later. Into the remaining grease/EVOO mixture, I added the mushrooms and rosemary (forgetting to chop them, ooops). Cooking a little bit (the mushrooms showed no sign of state transition), I moved them to the side of the skillet. I had to keep the temperature down very low on this pan, as a side note. Once Jeremy and Allison arrived (my victims!), I was shown how to cut up garlic cloves (and what the cloves actually were). Adding to these some ground red pepper, I mixed the mushrooms, garlic, and bacon together and, tearing up spinach leaves, tossed them about briefly before turning off the stove top. Here, I must point out, I "forgot" two steps. The pasta cooked so quickly that I had to drain it a number of minutes before. As such, I could not add any of its starchy liquid to this pan. I then forgot to add the cheese (ooops, again).

Mixing the drained pasta with what I had browned in the pan, it was clear that I had far too much pasta for the amount of greens I had thrown together. Nevertheless, I mixed a portion of spaghetti together and divvied it out onto three plates.

My guests were all very polite and told me it was quite delicious. All I know is, I devoured my plate and I don't even like mushrooms or garlic. Mmm. In retrospect, the ratio of greens to pasta was too low. A pound of spaghetti is a lot of spaghetti. And, even though I don't like mushrooms, anything cooked in bacon grease is fantastic. All-in-all, I learned a lot, I have some great ideas for how to do this better, I'm eager to try again, and I will soon have a stocked kitchen and pantry. Win!