Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beef Stroganoff

I have fond memories of beef stroganoff. Besides eating it as a kid, it was also one of the first things Joe ever cooked for me back in college. We weren't even dating yet, but I would go over to his place from time to time and eat dinner with him and his roommate.

All the versions of beef stroganoff I've ever had were made in a slow cooker, so I was very surprised when I came across this Mark Bittman recipe that boasted a cooking time of 30 minutes or less.

What the what?

Isn't this is a dish that's supposed to use a cut of tough meat that's cooked all day long until it's falling apart?

After reading the recipe, I realized the short cooking time is achieved because you start with a very tender cut of meat to begin with. Beef tenderloin is ideal here.

While I will always have a special place in my heart for the slow-cooked version, this recipe is great too, especially when you are short on time.

One other note; After I plated this dish, took something like 20 photos, and sat down to eat it, I realized that we forgot to add the sour cream! I was so upset that the picture wouldn't accurately reflect the dish because it wouldn't have a creamy-looking sauce, so I poured the contents of our bowls back into the pot, stirred in the sour cream, re-plated and took another 20 shots. It's times like this where I realize how lucky I am that my husband so patiently puts up with my obsessive food blogging bull-sh*t.

Real Beef Stroganoff
adapted from Mark Bittman - The Best Recipes in the World
serves 4

Notes:  Both the mushroom and tomatoes are optional here; the dish will be just fine with either or both. We opted to use the mushrooms but not the tomatoes, because that sounded more like the way we were used to having it.

3 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, sliced
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 pound mushrooms, trimmed and sliced, optional
1 1/2 to 2 pounds beef tenderloin or boneless sirloin, cut into 1 1/2 - 2-inch chunks
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 plum tomatoes (canned are fine), chopped, or 1/2 cup good tomato sauce, optional
1 cup beef or chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup sour cream
Chopped fresh dill or parsley leaves for garnish

Put the butter into a large deep skillet or flameproof casserole with a lid and place over medium-high. When melted, add the onions., a little salt and pepper, and the mushrooms if using. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are very soft but not brown.

Add the beef and cook, stirring, for about one minute.

Stir in the mustard, the tomatoes if using, and the stock. Adjust the heat to get the mixture to a steady simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the meat is tender.

Stir in the sour cream, taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Garnish the the parsley or dill and serve over buttered noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, or just alongside some crusty bread.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Avocado-Mango Salad with Blue Cheese, Bacon, and Toasted Pumpkin seeds

I just got back from California, where I spent a glorious week with my family. While I did manage to work out every single day (yay me!) I was, unfortunately, a lot more lenient when it came to my diet.

I ate stuff like this:

And this:

And a few too many of these:

All I can say is that I'm SO GLAD I don't eat like this all the time.

Oh yeah, did I mention that at one point during my trip I was a few feet away from the delicious Mario Lopez? One word: Flawless.

Now that I'm home I can get back to my regular eating habits, which include this salad from Rick Bayless. After coming off of a week-long binge of nothing but fats and carbs, this salad felt like the perfect transitional meal. It feels indulgent because of the bacon and blue cheese, but well-rounded because you are including good unsaturated fats from the avocado and olive oil. The pumpkin seeds are rich in iron, and the mango is chock full vitamins A and C.

Honestly, I never expected to see mango and avocado on the same plate as blue cheese, but I say with confidence that it is a trio I would be happy to eat again and again. If you are wary, you can always use queso fresco, as Bayless suggests.

The dressing is really what makes this salad sing. We couldn't believe it when we tasted it. Lime juice, garlic, jalapeno, pumpkin seeds, honey, it's such an amazing combination of flavors. I'm salivating just thinking about it.

Avocado-Mango Salad with Blue Cheese, Bacon, and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
adapted from Rick Bayless - Mexican Everyday
serves 2 as a hearty main dish salad

Notes: I have adjusted this recipe to serve two (his recipe serves 4), but you will have extra dressing and pumpkin seeds - enough to go on a small salad the next day for lunch. Our favorite type of mango these days is the Ataulfo mango. It's yellow, very sweet, and they are sold in 6-packs at Costco! They are ripe and ready to eat when they get slightly squishy and shriveled.

4 slices bacon
1/2 cup hulled untoasted pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup vegetable or olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large serrano or 1 small jalapeno, stemmed (and seeded, if you like)
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
6 cups lettuce (I used mixed baby greens, because that's what we had, Bayless used Boston/Butterhead lettuce leaves
1 large ripe avocado
2 small or 1 large ripe mango
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese, Gorgonzola, or queso fresco

Lay the strips of bacon on a paper towel-lined plate and microwave on high, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes, or until crispy to your liking. Set aside to cool.

Put the pumpkin seeds into a small skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly as they pop. Once they have all popped from flat to round and look a little toasty, pour them onto a plate. Put about 1/3 of the seeds to a blender or food processor and add the lime juice. Leave the rest to cool on the plate for topping the salad later.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the oil. Add the garlic and jalapeno. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic had softened and is lightly browned. Slowly add the entire contents of the skillet to the blender or food processor with the pumpkin seeds and lime juice. Add the honey and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth (Since I was using a small food processor, I pulsed a couple of times to break things up more carefully since it was so hot, then after that I was able to process constantly). Taste. Freak out because it's so fabulous. In the off-chance that you don't think it's seasoned enough, add a little more salt.

Divide the lettuce between your two plates. Pit the avocados, scoop out the flesh, then slice or dice. Peel the mangos, then cut the flesh from the pits, and slice or dice. Arrange the avocado and mango over the salads. Drizzle with dressing, then add the blue cheese and pumpkin seeds. Crumble or chop the bacon and sprinkle over the top. Serve immediately.

There are lots of ways to vary this salad. Use smoked salmon instead of bacon. Pine nuts instead of pumpkin seeds. Peaches or nectarines instead of mango. Goat cheese instead of queso fresco. You could also top with grilled chicken to increase the protein content.

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