Thursday, February 25, 2016

Crispy Seared Salmon

I posted a picture of my dinner last night and received a few questions on how I made it. I love being asked questions like that, keep them coming! It always surprises me when spontaneous food posts cause more traction than when planned!

I have a love/hate relationship with salmon. I want to love it! I've had it many times and enjoyed it but then takes a not-so-good experience to make my nose turn up to it again.

I decided to buy different types of seafood this week to switch up my go-to protein sources like chicken, pork, and beef. I love seafood for quick weeknight meals and ended up having salmon two nights in a row, rather than saving the extra filets in the freezer for next week.
Sesame crusted tuna from Saturday night
Fish tacos with avocado, lime juice, pineapple salsa, and chipotle yogurt slaw from Monday night,
Similar to my {perfect filet} method, it's really important to pat the salmon dry with a paper towel. If the fish is wet it will likely steam instead of giving you that nice crispy crust. 

Seared Salmon
6-8 oz salmon filet, skin on or off
Salt and pepper
Favorite seasoning blend ( I used cajun seasoning last night and herbs de Provence tonight)
1tbl coconut oil  (or olive oil, whatever you prefer)
Oven safe nonstick pan

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Pat the salmon dry with paper towel. 

Season lightly with salt, pepper, and a spice blend. 

Preheat your pan over medium high heat until light wisps of smoke appear. 

Add the coconut oil and swirl to coat the pan evenly. Add the salmon, presentation side down! If you are serving with the skin side up that would be your "presentation side". If you're taking the skin off then sear with the flesh side down. I like to sear the flesh side first but keep the skin on. It's so much easier to remove the skin after its cooked!

Sear for 2-3 minutes or until it's golden brown. Flip the fish carefully and cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. Stand back when the skin hits the hot pan! It'll spit hot oil around and you don't want to get burned, that'll leave a mark.
Transfer the pan to the oven and continue cooking for 6-10 minutes. 
I don't particularly enjoy eating the skin but I will tell you, it was so crispy, it actually could have been picked up and eaten like a potato chip. I had a bite, just to test this theory of course! 
Last night I served this with sesame brown rice, a nice arugula salad with avocado and tomato, and a healthy drizzle of Sriracha.
Tonight I served it with an arugula salad with quinoa and tomatoes with a drizzle of fresh chimichurri sauce. 


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Blood Orange Margarita

Happy National Margarita Day! 
So, maybe it isn't an official holiday, but I like to celebrate the small things in life! Although I'm not a huge tequila fan and the thought of a tequila shot turns my stomach, I love margaritas. It's the perfect summer beverage and Saturday afternoon sipper! In recent days, Chicago has been in the 50s and 60s and it's making me more than ready for spring! I'm craving a good spring cleaning, pastels, and all things citrus. Maybe I'm in need of a vacation, that's quite possible, but more than ever, I love a new fresh season. I originally intended on making a grapefruit margarita until a blood orange caught my eye at the grocery store and I changed my mind instantly. 
I love blood oranges! They are similar to an orange but sweeter and almost tart, not to mention the gorgeous color!

I made a few rounds of these margaritas and truthfully, there's no right or wrong way to make these. Margaritas are a pretty personal cocktail. Some prefer salt over sugar. Some prefer over-the-rocks over blended. Some prefer dark tequila over light. Take this recipe and make it how you like!

In celebration of the holiday I'll be eating fish tacos with pineapple salsa and a pitcher of these blood orange margaritas! More on the tacos to come.

Blood Orange Margaritas
(makes one margarita)
You'll Need:
2 oz tequila (whichever one you like)
2 oz blood orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 oz lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 oz Elderflower liquor
slice of blood orange or lime for garnish

In a glass measuring cup, combine the tequila, blood orange juice, lime juice, and elderflower liquor. Give it a good stir and set it aside.

Meanwhile, take a lime wedge and run it along the rim of the glass and then dip it into a plate of sugar or salt. You can also omit both if you like. Fill the glass with ice (crushed or cubed).

Fill your cocktail shaker with crushed ice and pour the margarita mixture in and give it a good shake for about 30 seconds. Alternatively you could blend with ice!
Strain into your glass and garnish with a slice of blood orange or lime.

*Chef's note-
I like to use St. Germain instead of a sweetener like simple syrup. It adds a floral sweetness with a little complexity, that I really like! Feel free to sub out for agave, triple sec, etc.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Perfect Filet

When thinking about what to get for your sweetie for Valentine's Day it can be quite the head scratcher! Instead of buying a gift I like to prepare a nice meal! It doesn't have to be fancy, it can be a smoothie or toasted bagel, but you want to make something they love. The way to any one's heart is through their stomach, so food is my go to!

Sean, like most Midwest men, loves steak. Any kind really but he always requests filet for special occasions. The first time I made it for him it really stressed me out! Partly because I wanted it to be cooked perfectly to (impress him), but mostly because it's expensive and I would be so mad at myself for screwing it up!

I prepare it the way most steakhouses do and honestly, it's comes out perfect every time. Not because of my wickedly talented culinary skills, but because of this fool proof method. Here's how to make steaks like a professional and enjoy steakhouse fair from home!

Steakhouse Filet
You'll Need:
2 8-9 oz filet mignon, tied (*Buy a good one, it's worth it!)
3 tbl pepper corns, cracked (I like tricolor)
1 1/2 tbl kosher or course salt
3 tbl butter
Cast iron skillet
1/2 cup red wine, or beef broth (just a splash of whatever red wine you're drinking!)
2 tbl heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Pat the steaks dry with paper towels. Tie the steak with a string of twine around the center or ask your butcher to. This just keeps it's shape and ensures it will cook evenly.

Crack the peppercorns open with a rolling pin or pan in a large Ziploc bag. Pour these onto a plate and combine with salt. (*you could also add a tiny sprinkle of dried herbs, like herbs de Provence)
Lightly roll the steaks into salt and pepper pressing slightly to adhere.
Place a cast iron skillet in the oven while it's preheating. After about 6 minutes pull the pan out and put it on a burner over medium high heat. While you're waiting, pour yourself a glass of red, play some mellow music, and relax. It's just steak. Have fun and get your inner chef on! Check out some of my recent favs, linked below.

When you see wisps of smoke add the butter and melt stirring the butter to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Place each steak in and sear over medium high heat for 2 minutes on each side or until nicely browned and caramelized.
Don't neglect the sides! 

Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 6-9 minutes, depending on how you like your steak.
So deliciously browned!!

Remove the pan from the oven and press the steak lightly with your finger. It should give slightly but shouldn't spring back as a chicken breast would. You could also temp it with a thermometer and make sure it reads 125 degrees. Transfer the steaks to a plate or cutting board and cover with foil to let rest for about 8 minutes.
I like to make a simple pan sauce deglazing the delicious buttery drippings with red wine and reduce until slightly thickened. Finish with a touch of cream because...why wouldn't you want to? Fresh or dry herbs would also be a nice finishing touch.
I like to serve filet with a really nice bottle of red wine. Since we aren't paying steakhouse prices I like to splurge a on a nicer wine than my everyday sips! A few of my favorites right now are linked below! These are wonderful on their own but complement the savory notes of the beef..and butter!
When it's cold out I love a nice full bodied red wine with complex notes and character. These definitely hit that mark! Oh, and they are all under $30!

2013 JUSTIN Cabernet Sauvignon 
2013 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir 
2013 Smith Hook Cabernet Sauvignon

Enjoy and Happy Valentine's Day!!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs

I wouldn't consider myself a baker for several reasons. For starters, the whole precise measuring and weighing ingredients thing is a little intense for me!  Also, baking requires planning and thought, like leaving the butter, eggs, and milk out ahead of time to get to room temperature. By the time I decide to tackle a baking project...I'm stuck with cold ingredients! One of the main reasons I like to limit my baking exposure is that I have a huge sweet tooth and will eat ALL of the baked goods! Sean loves candy and could take or leave a baked treat but me? Zero self control! The only time I bake is if I have a plan to shell out the goods to family and friends.

Okay, enough about me, let's talk about my sister Meghan for a second. She loves to bake (has self control) and is seriously talented! She didn't go to school for baking but has always had a natural knack for it. She has been making these sugar cookies for years now and I'm not even sure how she's cracked the cookie code but she has! She makes them for every holiday and special occasions like bridal/baby showers. These are perfect for cut-outs because they don't spread when they bake, not to mention they taste utterly irresistible. Although she won't give us her royal icing recipe, she's given us similar ones (links below). Nonetheless, I'm here to share the cookie recipe (hers!) and a couple royal icing recipes that are similar! These cookies are soft, buttery, melt-in-your mouth, delights and her icing is glossy and pure perfection. Thanks sister :)

Meghan's Sugar Cookies
You'll Need:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla (use a good one!)
5 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a bowl fitted with a mixer (or large bowl with hand mixers) beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until combined. Add the vanilla and beat until fluffy.

Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients (slowly!) until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap (or large ziplock) and combine into 2 disks and set in the fridge to firm up for at least 2 hours.

Flour your counter top generously and roll the dough out evenly, a little thicker than 1/4 in. thickness. (I think that's the secret for how soft they are!) Cut out your desired shapes and place on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes (my x's browned at 10 minutes but my hearts were perfect) until the bottom is lightly golden.
They don't get color on top-so don't wait for that golden brown color anywhere except the bottom. You don't want brown edges here!
Let cool on a wire rack and decorate once they are cool!
See that one tiny heart with browned edges? I had to eat that one as a tester since it didn't make the visual cut! Baking is a tough job but someone has to eat the mistakes! :)

Royal Icing Recipes:
Spoonful of Flavor
I heart nap time-Love the step-by-step instructions and pictures!
Sweet Sugarbelle

This is the cookie pro in action! Please excuse our handwriting...
Happy baking!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Oven Calibration

In a previous post I mentioned the impact a calibrated thermometer has on properly cooked protein. That's all fine and dandy, but what if your oven thermometer is off? Did you know that could even happen?! It's a real problem that could be the culprit for uneven cooking and baking. Ever since we moved into our new house I noticed the oven was "off" based on how long it would take to cook things I had down to a science. For months I complained that we need a new oven (I still agree) but it's a costly investment for a solution that could easily be fixed for under $10. How, you might ask?

Easy. Grab an oven thermometer from the hardware store and place it/hang it in your oven. The easiest test is this: preheat your oven to whatever temperature, say 350 degrees. After the oven is preheated simply turn on your oven light (don't open the door) to see what the temperature on the thermometer reads. I let it "warm up" for an additional half hour just to be sure that the thermometer wasn't just slow moving. I came to the realization that my oven said 350 but in fact was only registering an internal temp of 325. That makes a big difference!

I also moved the thermometer to different areas of the oven to see what it read to account for hot spots, which is very common.

If you find the differential like I did, you can do one of three things. Mentally note the difference and set your oven that much higher/lower when you're using it. Secondly, you can actually make a calibration adjustment to the oven(link here). Lastly, you can call in a professional to repair it.

This little thermometer has been a huge help for me to monitor what's going on inside my oven! Hope this helps you too!