Saturday, January 30, 2016

Green Beans Almondine

This recipe is so simple I never thought to post it, but I had a few inquiries after last week's Filet Mignon which I served with green beans almondine. I make this pretty regularly and just assumed everyone else did to. So today I'll give you this little recipe which will quickly become a weeknight staple of your kitchen and require no recipe at all.

Julian's Green Beans Almondine
Amandine is a French culinary term indicating a garnish of almonds. Dishes of this sort are usually cooked with butter and seasonings, then sprinkled with whole or slivered, toasted almonds. The term is often spelled almondine in the USA, so that's what I use.

You'll love how the almonds add a crunchy texture, and the nutty flavor they impart really takes the bean's fresh green flavors to a whole new level. While I know some cooks that use frozen beans in this recipe, I strongly recommend you take the extra five minutes and get fresh beans and snip off the ends before cooking. Simple as can be.  You'll note I gave no measurements. You really don't need any. Make enough for your family and add as much or as little of the other ingredients as you like.

Green beans
Olive oil
Water (1/4 cup or so)
Garlic (crushed and optional)
Slivered Almonds
Salt & Pepper to taste
Lemon juice (optional)

Rinse and cut the ends of the green beans and cut them to the size you prefer. Heat a little oil in a large skillet for 2-3 minutes until hot but not smoking. Add the beans, a pinch of salt and stir for a minute or two. Add the water and place a lid on the skillet and let the beans cook for 3-6 minutes until just becoming tender. Remove the lid and add the optional garlic and almonds, and stir to combine. Let cook another minute until the liquid is all evaporated. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Add fresh ground pepper and more salt if needed. Stir and serve hot.

The perfect side for many meals.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pan Roasted Filet of Beef with Cognac Cream Sauce

About this time of the year I get hungry for a piece of steak. But I don't keep the grill out in the snow nor do I have a desire to go out into the cold to make a steak. As such, doing these little fillets stove top with a delicious Cognac cream sauce is the perfect solution.

Julian's Filet Mignon with Cognac Cream Sauce
For this recipe we are using the Filet Mignon, which is a steak cut of beef taken from the smaller end of the tenderloin. In other words, the most tender and expensive cut. In French this cut is called filet de bœuf. While this cut is exceptionally tender, it is less flavorful than some other cuts of beef. So a sauce with bold, rich flavor compliments the dish well. I'm using 4 ounce steaks today and with the rich sauce that really is big enough, although you may want larger if you have big eaters.

2 beef tenderloin filets
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4-8 tablespoons Cognac
1 small shallot or onion (about 2 tablespoons)
     very finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt
freshly cracked pepper
Kitchen Bouqet browning sauce (optional)

In a medium sized skillet over moderately high heat, melt the butter and olive oil. As soon as the butter and oil begin to turn golden and smoke, place the steaks in the pan. For medium-rare to medium, cook for 4 minutes on each side. Once done, remove the steaks to a plate, tent with foil and set aside. Pour off the excess fat but do not wipe or scrape the pan clean.

After the flame dies down, saute the onion/shallot with butter.
Move the skillet off heat, add 4-6 tablespoons Cognac to the pan all at one time and carefully ignite the alcohol with a long match or firestick. Stand back, even a small amount of Cognac will initiatlly make a big flame. Gently shake pan until the flames die.

 Return the pan to medium heat and the shallot/onion and the butter. Stir for 2 minutes or so until soft and lightly browned. Add the cream and bring the mixture to a boil and whisk until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 minutes. Add the remaining Cognac to your taste and season with a little salt and lots of freshly cracked pepper (to taste). If you prefer the sauce to be more brown, add a couple drops of Kitchen Bouquet and stir in. Add the steaks back to the pan, turning them in the sauce and serve. Spoon remaining sauce over plated steaks.

An Easy Quick Weeknight Dinner

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Heartwarming Winter Cocktails and Toddies

With winter in full swing in the north, I'm sharing a few of my favorite winter drink recipes with you today. I served all of these over the holidays and will continue to do so as we make our way through the long winter. Give them a try. You'll find them great on a cold winter day.

A number of the recipes use the Smirnoff brand of caramel vodka. It's an excellent choice and doesn't add additional sweetness the way butterscotch schnapps does, but the two can be substituted as needed.

Hot Apple Cider Caramel Toddy
This one makes a great after dinner drink, and hits the spot after you've been out in the cold and snow.
4-6 ounces warm apple cider
2 ounces Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka

Add the warm cider to a small mug and stir in the caramel vodka. Make sure the cider isn't too hot.

For my full list of hot toddies check out my prior post.

Apple-Cranberry Champagne Cocktail
A perfect start to gathering or festive dinner party. 
1 ounce apple juice or cider
1 ounce cranberry juice
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
Champagne or Prosecco

Mix the juices and orange liqueur (triple sec, curaçao, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier) together. Pour into champagne flute and top with champagne or prosecco. Serve with a twist of orange peel.

An elegant twist on the always popular tart Appletini.
2 ounces Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka
4 ounces apple juice or clear cider
cinnamon stick

Fill a shaker with crushed ice. Add the vodka and apple juice. Shake for 30 seconds and pour into Martini glass. Add a cinnamon stick as the stir.

Cider Rum Butterscotch Collins
This drink can be served cold or warm. 
2-3 ounces dark rum
4-5 ounces apple cider
1-2 ounces butterscotch schnapps

Mix the ingredients together and pour over ice in a tall Collins glass. Alternatively, warm the cider and pour into serving mug. Stir in the rum and schnapps.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

New Orleans ~ Better than Ever!

My husband and I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans recently, having not been there since prior to hurricane Katrina. I'm pleased to report that the city is better than ever. There has been significant construction and investment in infrastructure since my last visit in 2005. Many entrepreneurs have moved to the area and great chefs have flocked to the city, which has always been rich in food history.

Julian in Jackson Square
New Orleans is unique in America. It doesn't feel so much like a Southern city, but perhaps more of a Caribbean city. The area once populated by the Choctaw, Houmas, and other Indians, was strongly influenced by the French, French-Canadians and Spanish during colonial periods and the introduction of African slaves in the 18th century. Here all these cultures intermingled and yet survived together.

Creole or Cajun?

Cajuns were the French colonists who settled the Canadian maritime provinces (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) in the 1600s. The settlers named their region "Acadia," and were known as Acadians. The name "Acadian" eventually became known as "Cajun." They developed their own distinct lifestyle in the swamps and surrounding areas of South Louisiana.

Creoles as an ethnic group are harder to define than Cajuns. "Creole" can mean anything from individuals born in New Orleans with French and Spanish ancestry to those who descended from African/Caribbean/French/Spanish heritage.

Both groups have contributed greatly to the local cuisine. A simplified way to describe the two cuisines is to deem Creole cuisine as fancier “city food” while Cajun cuisine is often referred to as rural “country food.” While many of the ingredients in Cajun and Creole dishes are similar, the real difference between the two styles is the people behind these famous cuisines and their preparation and presentation techniques.

Carnival Parade Costumes Based on Historical Tribal Wear


There are many things to see and do in New Orleans, and I'll just give you a few highlights. Get a good tour book before you go and review all of your options.

French Quarter: Of course you can't miss the French Quarter. Travel down Royal Street on foot and enjoy the many shops, most all of them local. Parallel to Royal is the famous Bourbon Street, home to the city's night life. There isn't too much going on here during the day, but some shops are interspersed and it's a good time to take photos or enjoy an buggy ride with guide, which you can catch in nearby Jackson Square.

Classic French Quarter Design
The square faces the Mississippi River and is surrounded by historic buildings, including the St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere and Cabildo (Louisiana State Museums), and the Lower and Upper Pontalba Apartments, the oldest apartment buildings in the United States. The Pontalba Apartments offer retail shops, museums, galleries and restaurants on the ground level; their second and third floors still house a selection of prestigious apartments.
Jackson Square
For well over a half-century, there has been an open-air artist colony around Jackson Square. Local artists paint, draw, create portraits and caricatures, and display their work on the square's iron fence.

Tremé and Louis Armstrong Park: The French Quarter borders North Rampart and Louis Armstrong Park, and is adjacent to America's oldest black neighborhood called Tremé . As the area is the site of significant economic, cultural, political, social, and legal events that shaped the course of events in Black America for the past two centuries, I suggest you get a local guide to walk you through the neighborhood and park. The guide will describe all of the significant events, buildings and architecture in the area, making your foot tour more meaningful.

Julian and Louis Armstrong
Riverwalk, Aquarium and Outlet Mall: If you have the time, walk from the French Quarter's Jackson Square along the river until you reach the aquarium and entrance to the riverfront outlet mall. On the river you'll see everything from classic river paddle boats (now for tourist tours and dinner cruises... take one if you have time) to colossal container ships. The Mississippi is a working river and the amount of traffic and cargo making their way up and down the river is impressive. If you have children, stop into the aquarium which is also popular. And if you enjoy outlet shopping, work your way through the outlet shopping mall, which provides for duty free shopping (rebate desk) if you are not from the USA.

Tourist Cruise on the Mississippi
WWII Museum: If you'd like to take a break from local culture, visit the National WWII Museum, formerly known as the D-Day Museum, which is a military history museum located in the Central Business District of New Orleans. Founded in 2000, it was later designated by the U.S. Congress as America's official National World War II Museum in 2003. The Museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and is an excellent way to spend at least half of a day.

Hotel, Dining and Nightlife

Like touring, there really is too much to enjoy on the food and nightlife front to do all in one trip. So again, I'll give you my favorite highlights, but do your research before you go and plan accordingly.

Brennan's Egg Sardou
Brennan's:  At least once during your visit, start your day with breakfast (or brunch if you've had a late night Brennan's in the French Quarter. Make a reservation in advance as it can be busy, especially on Sunday mornings. The restaurant opened in 1946 where bananas foster became the signature dessert. Originally located in the Old Absinthe House, after ten years it moved to the present location at 417 Royal Street.  Brennan's classic breakfast includes a baked apple or turtle soup, followed by eggs sardou,  a Creole dish made with poached eggs, artichoke bottoms, creamed spinach and Hollandaise sauce. Many other options are available, most of which are unique and intriguing. Be adventurous!

My husband, Kevin, at Cafe Du Monde
Café du Monde: A coffee shop on Decatur Street across from Jackson Square in the French Quarter is known for its café au lait and its French-style beignets, a local pastry akin to a freshly fried doughnut (without the hole) and coated in powdered sugar. There is always a long line. Riverside is the line for take out, and street side is the line for seating. Both move pretty quickly due to the limited menu. If you don't feel like waiting, there is another new location in the outlet mall at the end of the riverwalk. It has a better view (you can actually see the river) but of course it is not the original.

Cafe Du Mond's Cafe au Lait and Beignets
Royal Sonesta Hotel: If you are looking to stay in the heart of the tourist area (French Quarter) then the best choice is the Royal Sonesta, which combines timeless elegance, southern refinement and modern facilities. It is also home to Restaurant R’evolution which takes a modern approach to Cajun and Creole cuisine, and comes highly recommended. We had a superb dinner here followed by an evening at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse, also located in the hotel. Even if you don't stay at the Royal Sonesta, do enjoy her restaurant and jazz. Superb!

Chargrilled Oysters: There are at least a dozen restaurants famous for grilled oysters in New Orleans, and you should sample as many as possible. Some call them charbroiled and others chargrilled, but they are basically the same technique. Cooking oysters in their shells over a grill's fire, topped with some mixture of butter and garlic, seasoning and sometimes cheese, yields meat that is firmer but just as juicy as raw.

If you can get a seat with a view, the grilling itself is dramatic, becoming part of the show at places like Drago's and Neyow's Creole Café, where the grills sit in plain view of diners.  If you're near the outlet shopping mall which connects to the Hilton hotel, Drago's is located inside the lobby. You can even have cocktails in the hotel lounge and order a platter of Drago's oysters mid-day, should you need a little refreshment. Highly recommended!

Drago's Charbroiled Oysters
Expert Chefs: New Orleans is brimming with celebrity chefs. Many have made national fame while others are known only to locals and foodies. Of course, the most famous of these is Emeril Lagasse. As much a celebrity and entrepreneur, as an actual chef, Emeril has built an empire and uses his celebrity and corporate operations to support charities in New Orleans.

Kevin at Lagasse Foundation Fundraiser
We were there for his fundraiser called Boudin, Bourbon & Beer, which was a sold-out event. His restaurants include Emeril's New Orleans, Emeril's Delmonico and NOLA. All three are well established and the food is good. The crowds can be large and the restaurants noisy, but if you haven't ever been to one it's worth the visit. It's unlikely you'll see Emeril onsite, but if you do he'll gladly autograph your purchased cookbook. Otherwise, check out some of the other options I've mentioned above.

Other Local Favorites: Of course do make sure you have enough time to take in the many other local favorite foods. I don't know of any city in America with so many local specialties. Of course you must have the seafood and andouille sausage gumbo, blackened alligator, and a low-country crawfish boil. Fried chicken and jambalaya should also be on your menu.

Crawfish Boil
Enjoy the crawfish étouffée (gumbo's spiced-up cousin), shrimp creole, a muffaletta (Italian sandwich on French bread usually with salami, ham, provolone and olive spread) , a PoBoy (sandwich piled high with meat such as roast beef, turkey or sausage, with gravy or sometimes seafood), red beans and rice, bread pudding, and bananas foster. And for a local candy, you must have the Creole pralines (pecans in a caramel base).

As I said, there is much to sample in New Orleans. And while you're at it, there is live music of all kinds everywhere you turn. What could make the city more perfect!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Coconut Curried Chicken

While the term 'curry' is generally associated with Indian cuisine, curried dishes can be found throughout southeast Asia and have of course been imported throughout the west. As I noted in my prior post on curried pork, they are also popular in the Caribbean.

Julian's Coconut Curried Chicken
Just to be clear, curry is generally understood to mean vegetables or meat cooked with spices in a gravy. Curry powder (from the Indian word "Kari") was commercialized by the British East India Company in the mid-17th century where it found the flavors along the coast of southeast India. So, as they were in the business of exporting spices, the combined the spices into a mix and called it 'curry powder' and the term went from meaning a slow cooked stew to a spice blend,

Today's dish is perhaps more Thai than it is Indian. While Indian dishes tend to use more dry spices, Thai cuisine often uses curry paste and fresh herbs instead. Thai curries are cooked for a shorter period of time and typically include vegetables, chicken, seafood accented with fresh herbs like mint, cilantro and basil. They also tend to be soupier, thanks to the addition of coconut milk.

You can make your own coconut curry sauce as noted at the bottom of the recipe, or purchase a good quality pre-made sauce from your grocer.  Today I'm using the one pictured below, although you can purchase many brands that are good. Our favorite market has an isle of both Indian and Asian specialty foods, and there were many choices.

A good quality white rice is traditional for this dish, but as you can see above I'm using leftover yellow (Spanish) rice. As I always say, use what you have in the house. But it is better with freshly made white rice.

Ingredients  (serves 4)
4 chicken breast halves (boneless and skinless)
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons curry powder
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
1/2 bell pepper (thinly sliced)
1 large garlic clove (finely chopped)
18-24 ounces coconut curry sauce*
1 cup frozen peas

white steamed rice

Seasoned Browned Chicken
Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks and slice the vegetables. To the flour add the curry powder and combine. In a Dutch oven or heavy skillet, heat half of the oil on medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. In small batches, toss the chicken in the flour mixture to coat, and carefully place it into the hot oil. Let cook on one side for 3-4 minutes until browned and the turn the pieces and brown the remaining sides. Remove from the cooking vessel and reserve, then brown the remaining chicken using the additional oil as needed.

When all of the pieces are browned and removed from the pan, use a paper towel and tongs to wipe out any burned seasoning. Then add the vegetables, garlic and some additional oil if necessary and stir and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes, scraping up any browned bits that were stuck to the pan. Add the curry sauce, stir to combine and reduce heat to very low. Simmer covered for 30-60 minutes. Add water if the sauce becomes too thick. 10 minutes prior to serving, stir in the peas and let cook. Serve over white steamed rice with fresh chopped or whole cilantro.    

*Homemade Coconut Curry Sauce
As noted above, you can purchase pre-made sauce, or you can make a batch of your own. Here is the recipe I follow when I want it to be homemade.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large clove minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

In a small bowl, combine the coconut milk, soy sauce, sugar, and salt.

Place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add red pepper flakes, garlic, and curry powder and stir for 15 seconds until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring regularly for 5 minutes. Then add the lemon juice, coconut milk, soy sauce, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, 2-3 minutes. Add cilantro and stir to combine. Pour into a bowl and reserve for recipe.