From Brisket to Steak & Cucumber Salad

On really hot days, nothing is better than a cool salad.  We are back in the upper 80’s and lower 90’s again for this week, which means it is still salad weather.  And since I had a ton of cucumber salad, as well as a lot of other leftovers Lots of Leftovers that still needed to be used, and some of the delicious brisket, I combined them to make a nice cool steak and cucumber salad, Cool Cucumber Salad .  It was just perfect for dinner.

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This cucumber was HUGE.  It was about 1 foot long and about 6″ in diameter.  We were afraid it would be bitter, but it turned out just fine, especially with a little bit of sugar from the dressing.

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The brisket is in the middle , on the top white plate.  YUMMY! It was so tender and full of flavor.  I did not cook that, so unfortunately, I cannot have bragging rights, but take my word for it, it was out of this world!

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After chopping a bit of romaine lettuce and boiling a couple of eggs, all I needed to do was add some of the cucumber salad and slice the brisket.  The dressing was the vinaigrette that was in the salad already.  To finish it off, I toasted a couple of the slider buns that were also left over and finished the dinner off with a smooth South African Shiraz.  This quick and easy salad, along with the wine, was the perfect ending to a long, hot day.

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Recreating From Leftovers

If you read yesterday’s blog, you learned I had a ton of leftovers from a small party we had over the weekend.  Lots of Leftovers We could easily eat them just as they are, since they are already delicious and tried and true.  But more so than not, I like to recreate my leftovers into something completely different than what they were originally.  That makes it much more fun, and it also switches things up a bit, giving us more variety with our menus.  I love to create, but I also love to re-create as well.

The first recreation from this weekend’s stock of leftovers is enchiladas from the smoked chicken.  Sometimes when I make enchiladas I layer them, and sometimes I roll them.  This time I rolled them.  Enchiladas are so versatile.  You can fill them with anything you like and you can use whatever salsa you like with them as well.  This time, when I made them, I pulled and shredded the chicken, and made a filling with garlic, onions, jalapenos, red bell peppers and corn, but I have also made them with spinach and mushrooms and layered them.  Chicken Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms  I make enchiladas quite often, and I make them with different fillings and different sauces all the time.  You can be as creative as you like when it comes to the fillings you choose when making enchiladas.

Recreating from leftovers, using my leftover smoked chicken and leftover tomatillo sauce to make enchiladas.

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I shredded the chicken and sauteed all my vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper, cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper, then mixed them together to make the filling for my enchiladas.

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Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and add a little of the sauce you are using to the bottom of the pan.  Heat up the tortillas for about 15 seconds in the microwave to make them soft and pliable, then add your filling and either roll or layer your enchiladas.  This time I rolled them.  If rolling, roll them nice and tight, and stack them side by side.

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Once your pan is filled, cover the rolled enchiladas with your sauce and then with whatever cheese or cheeses you like.  I used mostly cheddar, then added some jalapeno jack cheese on top.  Bake in the oven at 375* F for about 40-45 minutes or until the cheese is all melted and the inside filling is hot.

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Once you remove the enchiladas from the oven, top with tomatoes, green onions and cilantro, or toppings of your choice.  If you like a little sour cream and salsa on your enchiladas, top it with those as well and serve.  I had some leftover rice and beans that I served along side my enchiladas to make a perfect meal.  Enjoy with a nice cold margarita especial and you are all set.

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Lots of Leftovers

The other night, we hosted a potluck get-together with friends we met back from our days when we volunteered with the Colorado Saint Bernard Rescue.  We all had a good time catching up with each other and visiting, and while we were visiting we were also busy filling our tummies with some delicious food.  Everyone brought a ton of food, and of course, I made a ton of food, which means we had two tons of food.  We had a wide variety of delicious and delectable foods.  I alone made a smoked pork loin and some smoked chicken, a Southwestern sweet potato salad, a cucumber-tomato-onion salad, Cool Cucumber Salad and an apple spice streussel cake Apple Spice Streusel Cake.  Then our guests all brought food as well, including more smoked, pulled pork and a smoked brisket, both of which were out of this world delicious; chicken wings and a beautiful antipasto salad.   We had enough food to feed a small army, and then some. But alas, there were only a few of us, and there was no way we could possibly eat all the food we had.  In fact, we barely even made a dent in the abundant spread of food, which means we have a ton of leftovers that need to be used.  It is a good thing the Queen of Leftovers is here.  I will be busy for quite some time re-creating dishes out of all these wonderful leftovers.

The pork is ready for the smoker.

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The finished product.  Delicious!

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After everyone left and took home what they wanted, this is all the food that was still left over.  It looks like so one even ate anything at all, but believe me, we did.   It looks like the Queen of leftovers will be busy for awhile.

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Apple Spice Streusel Cake

I am looking forward to the changing of the seasons once again.  I grew up in Southern California, and there really was not much ado about the changing of the seasons, but in Colorado it is pretty evident and spectacular, nothing like it is in New England, but still pretty darn good all the same.  Here in Denver, the weather is already starting to make some subtle little changes.  Daytime temperatures are much cooler than they have been during the heat of summer; the nights have a bit of a cool crispness to them; the sun is beginning to go down earlier each night; and the colors are beginning to change ever so slightly.   My favorite season of the year, fall or autumn as some call it, is just around the corner.   We Americans have a hard-core love of all things apple, and the apple orchards are almost at their peak, which means it will soon be apple season too.  Soon houses everywhere will be filled with the warm scents of apples, cinnamon and pumpkin, as well as all the rest of the fabulous scents of the season.  Cooking with apples is most definitely a fall tradition, and I am already getting a jump start on that.   We are having a small get together later tonight, and one of the dishes I made was an apple spice streussel cake.

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Gathering all my ingredients for my cake.  In culinary terms, this is called mis-en-place, or getting everything needed and ready to use.

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Making the streusel.  I used streusel both as a filling and for the topping.

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Cooking the apples until they are soft and tender in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.

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Once the streussel is made and the apples are cooked, it is time to make the cake.  Just like with most recipes for baking, mix your dry ingredients together in one bowl, and the wet ingredients separately, then combine them together.  Once everything is ready and prepared, it is time to assemble the cake.  I followed the recipe and tried my best to layer the ingredients as they recommended, but that did not work out so well because my batter was not spreading out like it should and was definitely not cooperating as it supposed to.  What I should have done was fold the apple-cinnamon mixture into the batter, then add a layer of streussel filling so it would run through the middle of my cake like a ribbon.   I attempted to put a layer of batter, then the streusel, then apples, then more batter.  Instead, I just ended up blending it all together and then adding the streussel on top.  The taste will still be the same.  The only difference will be in the presentation, and I don’t think people are going to be terribly concerned about that.  They will be more focused on the taste, as they should be.

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Ready to bake.

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Once the cake has cooled completely, I removed it from my springform cake pan, and made the apple icing to drizzle on top.

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Apple Spice Streussel Cake

Stressel filling/topping

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon (or if you have it 1 tsp of apple pie spice rather than using all these different spices)

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

Mix all the dry ingredients together and add the melted butter.  Using a fork, mash everything up together until it is crumbly.  Set aside.

 

Cake

Preheat oven to 350* F

Spray an 8-8 1/2″ cake pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2 cups apples, peeled and diced small (about 2 medium-sized apples.  I used gala apples, because they are my favorite, but you can use your favorite type of apple as well.  There are certain types that lend themselves better to baking than others, but in the end, it really is a matter of choice.)

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP brown sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 egg

1/2 cup buttermilk (I always use the powdered buttermilk mixed with milk, but if you prefer regular buttermilk, that’s fine too)

1/2 tsp vanilla

 

Cook the apples in the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon for about five minutes or until the apples are soft and tender.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Mix the rest of the dry ingredients together and set aside.  Whisk the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and butter together then add to the dry ingredients.  Gently fold the cooked apples into the batter.  Add half the batter to the prepared cake pan, then add about half the streussel, and repeat, finishing with the rest of the streussel on top.

Bake at 350* F for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and the streussel topping is golden brown and slightly crusty.

 

Once the cake has completely cooled, remove it from the cake pan and drizzle the apple spice icing over the cake in a random pattern.

 

Apple Spice Icing

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 TBSP apple juice, or apple cider or milk

 

Mix everything together.  If your icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar to thicken it up, as needed.

 

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Caramelized Onion, Herb & Polenta Loaf

Due to my Southern heritage, I instinctively make either corn bread or biscuits whenever I have red beans & rice, or any other Southern dishes for that matter.   Those are just staples that go with every meal in the South.  When making the same things over and over, sometimes it is easy to get into a rut though.  Don’t get me wrong though, I love both cornbread and biscuits, but I also love to try new ideas as well.  I love to shake things up and make old recipes new again.   My husband said he wanted red beans & rice along with our Linguisa sausage for dinner.  No problem; easy-peasy.  This is a pretty typical Southern meal, and we eat it quite often.   This time though, instead of falling back to my old stand byes, I found a new recipe I tried that complimented the meal very nicely.   Corn meal, as it is known in the South, is known as masa in Latin America and polenta in Italy and the rest of Europe.  So in essence, one man’s polenta is another man’s cornbread.  I made a polenta loaf, or a cornbread loaf, with caramelized onions and herbs.   I served it with honey butter, but you can also serve it with creme fraiche as well, if you prefer things a bit more tangy rather than sweet.  If you choose to use creme fraiche, drizzle a little extra olive oil and add some cracked pepper to the topping as well.  In one word – DELICIOUS!

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Caramelized Onion, Herb & Polenta Loaf

1-2 sweet onions, sliced thin

2 TBSP butter

1 TBSP white balsamic vinegar

2 tsp sugar

4 large eggs

3/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup milk

2 1/4 cups flour

1/3 cup fine ground corn meal or polenta

1 TBSP each fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary – dried is fine too, but use a little less of each if using dried – about 1 1/2 tsp each

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 350* F.

Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray.

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Slice the onions thin, about 1/4 “.  In a very hot skillet or pan, melt the butter and add the onions, the white balsamic vinegar and the sugar.  Cook the onions until they are soft and a golden brown in color, or caramelized.   If you like the onions darker and sweeter, cook them a little longer.  Once they start to brown, they cook very quickly, so be careful not to let them burn.

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While the onions are cooking, mix all the dry ingredients and the herbs together and set aside.

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Whisk the eggs together and slowly add the olive oil while they are whisking.  Then add the milk and continue to mix until everything is well blended.  Add the dry ingredients and continue to mix just until everything is well incorporated together.

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Fold in the caramelized onions to the mixture then pour or spoon into your prepared loaf pan.  Make sure that the batter is evenly distributed in the pan.  Bake at 350* F for about 1 hour, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean and the loaf is golden brown and set.

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Once the polenta loaf has completely cooled, enjoy it with either honey butter or creme fraiche and olive oil and black pepper.

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Panzanella Salad with Peppers and Onions

As you all know, I absolutely LOVE trying out new things.  I also love to try different food combinations that may even seem a little “out there” to some.  Those are actually the most fun to experiment with.  Being adventurous and bold, both in and out of the kitchen, is what makes life interesting and spices things up.   With this recipe, I love all the individual components of the salad, but I never put them together as a salad before.  I am so glad I did though.  I wasn’t sure how my husband would like this bread and pepper salad, but to my pleasant surprise, he really liked it a lot.  He is a pretty adventurous eater as well, luckily for me.  This easy-peasy salad may just make it into our regular side salad rotation and just may become one of our new favorites.  This bread and pepper salad is Italian in origin, and is known as a panzanella salad.  Panzanella is very versatile.   All you need to really make this salad is roasted or grilled vegetables of your choice,  any type of crusty bread that is rich in texture, and something juicy and/or saucy to soak up the bread.  Making a panzanella salad is not only very tasty and rich in texture, but it is also a really good way to use up old bread as well.  As with most things, there is no right or wrong way to make this versatile salad.  Just make it by using what you like and what you have.  Throughout the ages, more so than not, most recipes come from using up the ingredients that are on hand at the time, as well as what was readily available in local areas.   For me, when I cook by just using what I have on hand, especially if it turns out really good, the hard part is remembering exactly what ingredients I actually used to make sure I can repeat it again.

I roasted everything together in the oven, but if your prefer to grill it, that’s fine too.  Grilling everything adds to the flavors of the ingredients, but it was raining outside, and I did not want to use the grill, so I chose the oven instead.

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Panzanella Salad with Peppers and Onions

1/4 loaf of your favorite crusty bread, cut into large cubes about 1×1″ in size

1 each red and green pepper, cut about 1″ in size

1-2 small red onions, cut about 1″ in size

1 small eggplant, cut into cubes about 1″ in size – optional

6 TBSP olive oil

3 TBSP sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tsp paprika

2 TBSP green onions, sliced thin

salt & pepper to taste

 

I mixed everything together, except the green onions and roasted it in the oven at 375* F for 10 minutes, then stirred it up and continued roasting it for another 10 minutes, or until all the bread was golden brown and crusty.  After removing the baking sheet from the oven, add just a bit more sherry vinegar and sprinkled the green onions on top.  This salad is best served either warm or at room temperature.

If you choose to make this a grilled salad instead of roasting everything together, grill the peppers whole and the onions and eggplant in very large, thick slices, and then cut them to your desired size.  Same with the bread.  Grill it in thick slices, and after it is cooked, then cut it.  Once everything is cooked, then toss it all together with the remaining ingredients.

I added green peppers too, but the green peppers and eggplant were both an after thought, hence, they are not featured in my picture with the ingredients.

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Mangia and enjoy! A delicious panzanella or bread salad.

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Citrus-Brined Pork Loin with Peach Mustard

We ate quite a bit of very good, very fresh seafood while on vacation.   And we loved every bite of it too.  But we are now craving something other than seafood.  Now that the weather is getting a little cooler, and it is certainly cooler than it was in the tropics, it is time for something a little hardier than either salads or seafood.  I thought a spicy pork loin would be just perfect.  I found a recipe that really brought the pork loin to life and gave it a saucy kick as well.  And it still had just enough of an island taste to make us feel we were still somewhat on vacation, and not really at home yet, getting back into our daily routines.  I served it with garlic roasted red potatoes that I wrapped in foil and  grilled, (we do this a lot) and a pepper and onion salad, along with a crisp chardonnay that had hints of citrus and apples.

IMG_2868Citrus Brine 

1/2 onion, chopped

1 TBSP garlic

1-2 bay leaves

1/3 cup salt, kosher salt if you like.  I tend not to use a lot of Kosher salt because I find it too “salty” for my tastes, but that is just a personal preference. _

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp fennel – either whole or seeds.

1-2 tsp black pepper

1/3 cup orange juice – or juice from 1 orange

1/3 cup lemon juice – or juice from 1 lemon

4 sprigs of fresh thyme or about 1 1/2 tsp of dried thyme

2 cups water

 

Mix everything together in a saucepan and bring to a rapid boil.  Boil long enough for all the salt and sugar to completely dissolve.  Add 2 cups of cold water once and pour our the pork loin.  You can either put everything in a large plastic bag or a pan deep enough to hold the pork and all the liquid.  Let chill in the refrigerator for at least 6-7 hours, up to 24 hours.

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Once the pork has brined, dump the liquid and all it’s ingredients, then and pat the meat dry with a paper towel.  Then coat completely with the spicy dry rub.

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Spicy Dry Rub

1 TBSP coriander

1 TBSP fennel seeds

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 TBSP salt

1 TBSP black pepper

1 TBSP paprika

Mix everything together well and completely coat the pork loin or chops on all sides and let rest until you are ready to cook it.  I cooked it as pork chops, so it does not need as long to cook as it would if I were cooking the whole pork loin.  I grilled it, but you can also sear it and then roast it too if you choose.  If you are cooking the whole pork loin, you want the internal temperature to be at least 145*F, and will take 45-60 minutes cooking, at a temperature of 400* on the grill or about 425* for 10 the first 10 minutes or so in the oven, then reduce the heat to 375* and continue cooking until it reaches the 145* internal temperature.

I topped my pork with a peach mustard, still using up some of my Palisade peaches Peaches from Palisade for the mustard.  This tangy, spicy, sweet mustard really perked up the pork, especially with the spicy rub.  All the flavors just blended together perfectly for a fabulous taste sensation.

Peach Mustard

1 large, ripe peach, peeled, seeded and cut into a small dice

2 TBSP sugar

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

1/3 cup whole grain mustard – I used garlic whole grain mustard

1 TBSP fresh chives or green onions, chopped fine

black pepper to taste

leftover spicy rub to taste – optional

 

Mix everything together and let chill.  Spoon it on top of your pork when ready to serve.  It will also go well with chicken too.

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