Friday, March 29, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Grilled Rib Eyes, in a Lobster Shirt

First things first. Let me get something off my chest. Namely, the views I enjoyed the past week.

View #1, to the right from the condo where we stayed in Dana Point, CA.
View #2, to the left.
View #3, to the right from the beach house my parents and brother's family rented, and

View #4, to the left.
As if that weren't enough, we enjoyed the last few days of our vacation gazing out at a par three from my in-laws' new patio near Palm Springs.

Whew. It was a rough couple of days.

Now - onto a favorite staple in our house during the warm summer months. Grilled steak. My favorite cut is the coveted tenderloin, primarily due to the tender, melt-in-your mouth, butter consistency of a good, prime, lean cut of beef, but a very close second has to be the beautifully marbled rib eye. Rib eyes are best when simply grilled over a very hot fire - as hot as you can get it - to char the outside with a deliberate crusty outer core, then cooked to medium rare perfection over indirect heat so as to not burn the outside.

My friend Carrie makes a killer gorgonzola cream sauce to top the delectably cooked rib eye, and my favorite campfire ribeye sauce is Bobby Flay's twist - top the rested cut of beef with a schmear of herbed goat cheese, then a simple Meyer lemon honey mustard sauce. Devour over a bed of greens while soaking in views of Echo Lake. I'm now officially ready for the ice to melt so we can start some cabin campfire dining!

Mr. Musky visited his parents several weeks ago to check out their new digs, and he fired up their shiny new outdoor grill. They asked for a repeat performance when we visited last week.
Apéritifs for the evening? Wine for the in-laws, the standard Sapphire and water for Mr. Musky, and for me?
CVC, also known as Cranberry-Vodka-Club Soda. Thanks to the warm, sunny Southern California weather, my palate screamed for something refreshing, slightly tart, yet not too sweet with a little effervescence. This was the perfect cocktail to trick my mind into thinking it's summer.

I cook a lot in the winter months, but Mr. Musky takes over all protein-laden preparation and execution once the weather warms up. He loves grilling, whether it's smoking on the Green Egg all day, roasting over charcoal, whipping up a weeknight meal on gas or experimenting over the firepit at the cabin. I usually prepare the side dishes indoors, but this time, my lovely mother-in-law mixed us up a fresh salad, some fruit and a potato dish to accompany our steaks. Meanwhile, I milked the last few days of vacation.
Mr. Musky is very particular about the preparation of his steak, and after decades of trial and error, he's mastered it to an art form.
Ideally, he prepares a rub of dry ingredients, adds canola oil with some microplaned shallot and garlic and rubs it into the meat. We microplane the shallot and garlic versus chopping it so it doesn't burn when coming into contact with the hot grilling surface, and the flavors penetrate the meat better. However, my mother-in-law doesn't revel in cooking like her offspring. She provides a mandolin when asked for a microplane, and the fact that she even owns a mandolin is a miracle in and of itself, but that's OK. This time we just made a paste with the garlic, omitted the shallot and called it a day.
Just before placing the meat on the grill, Mr. Musky liberally covers the surface in kosher salt. This is what sears in the juices, creates the beautiful char and delicious outer crunchy texture when biting into the meat. But DO NOT salt your meat until just before you place it on the grill, or it won't char properly.
And that, my friends, would be a tragedy of monumental proportions. Charred, juicy steak is the essence of summer.

Can I just pause to say how lovely is it to dine alfresco in 80 degrees in March while watching your son practice chip shots, barefoot, on the fifth hole? I'd like to go back. Now.
 
It's just about as much fun as watching your husband and his father cook together. Or, at least, your father-in-law providing unsolicited advice to his son, but secretly loving that he does no work and he's passed it on to the next generation.
My family bank is full right now. I'm cherishing the warm fuzzies I feel from spending time with the people I love most over the past week. More to come soon on all that.

XOXO,
Jen

Friday, March 22, 2013

Apéritif Friday! - Stuffed Pork Tenderloin and Roasted Cauliflower


Apéritif Friday discussions start about Wednesday morning over coffee in my house. "What're we doing this weekend?"

"Nothing but the usual. No plans."

"What're we going to cook on Friday night?"

"I dunno. Whaddya want?"

"I don't care."

"I've got a pork tenderloin that we need to do something with."

"OK. Sounds good."

Skip to Thursday morning."Hon, I think you should stuff that pork."

"That's funny. I already bought the ingredients to do just that."

It's a little eerie sometimes how Mr. Musky knows what goes on in my skull. Maybe if I'm ever kidnapped, he'll know exactly where to go to rescue me because he's so intimately in tune with my grey matter. Or will he lose our life savings and follow the rules my kidnappers demand, paying the ransom while they execute me anyway? Will he botch the whole thing like the Dude in The Big Lebowski? Nah. He'll barge in all John McClane-like. Yippee-ki-yay and all.

Sheesh. Total digression.

So here's how it went down a few weeks ago. It was actually Saturday, so I'm already taking liberties with Apéritif Friday on my first post. Whatever. My blog, my rules. Apparently, I'm a sassy little thing today. Here are the ingredients.
The Pizza Hut box is not photobombing my ingredients. It IS an ingredient. Lemme explain.

The night before we ordered pizza for the kids, as we needed a grown-up time-out at a local restaurant. I ordered a large portion of breadsticks, unaware that it would fill an entire pizza box and feed a small army. After several snacks for the swipers in my house, we still had leftovers. Mr. Musky suggested we use them in the stuffing. My knee-jerk reaction: "Eewww. Nasty. No way."

The bread options in my pantry were limited, I had no desire to make a trip to the store, and the breadsticks were already seasoned. I changed my tune. Haute cuisine? No way. Sometimes we get fancy, sometimes we get original. I hate throwing away leftovers of any kind. And for this, they actually worked. Really well. I'm even thinking about sending a large batch of breadsticks to my mother in November on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so she can use them as a base for her stuffing this year.

So in addition to about 6 breadsticks from Pizza Hut, or the equivalent (maybe about 5-6 pieces of good, stale sourdough or multigrain? Wonder Bread, albeit nasty, would work too), you'll also need a 3 lb. pork tenderloin, 1/2 a medium onion, a granny smith apple, a stick or two of celery, two garlic cloves, an egg, 3/4 cup of mushrooms (I used shiitake), a green pepper, bulk Italian sausage, some butter and olive oil. Oh - and some fresh sage, or any other seasoning (oregano, basil, thyme, or all 3) you like. I just had the fresh on hand so I used it up.

Start by chopping up the onion, carrot and celery and sauté it in some olive oil and butter. When it's cooked down a bit, throw in a couple of minced garlic cloves, a bit of kosher salt and a couple of grinds of the pepper mill.

It'll all start to stick to the pan a bit, which is good. Just don't char it. Pour a couple of glugs of Chardonnay around the pan to deglaze, scraping up the goodums on the bottom of the pan. When the alcohol has magically disappeared, imparting its flavor into the colorful mixture, add the mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Dump it into a dish, add the chopped Granny Smith apple, and set aside.

Reheat the pan and add the sausage. Leave it alone for a bit. Let it brown up, sticking slightly to the pan, getting some good color. Grey meat = grody, so leave it undisturbed as much as possible to get a good little char on the outside. Then flip it over, and after it chars on the other side start breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Don't worry about what sticks to the pan, because guess what?

The wine wants some more action. Pour some in, scrape it up, let it get married.

Once the meat is done cooking, pour it in a side dish and reheat the pan. Again. Add a bit of olive oil and butter, and toss in the chopped-up breadsticks. Stir them around and get them good and crunchy. I had to drizzle more olive oil on them to accomplish the texture I wanted, so be not afraid of thy fats.

I kept the pork out the entire time I prepped the stuffing so it could come to room temperature - probably about an hour, considering pauses to sip my cocktail du jour.
Effervescent Blood Orange Italian Soda and Vodka. Yummy, light, fizzy goodness. Mr. Musky sipped his standard - Bombay Sapphire and water with a lemon twist. He kindly asked what he could do to help, so I sliced the pork tenderloin lengthwise down the middle, but not completely in half. Just enough to fold it open, butterfly style. I asked him to pound it out a bit, as it was pretty thick. I continued with the preparation of the stuffing ingredients.

His pounding resonated off the walls, nearly drowning out the Dave Matthews Band Radio on Muse. I turned to check out the ruckus, and saw this...
Homeboy took me literally. He pounded the meat with his fists. So I introduced him to a very handy kitchen tool. They became fast friends.

Finally, it was time to mix the stuffing. A great crowd assembled to cheer me on. I used all the vegetables, half the sausage, all of the breadcrumbs (broken up a bit), the egg and mixed it up.
Mr. Musky thoughtfully considered the Pizza Hut concoction, at the ready to provide his expert recommendation for additional ingredients.

He deemed it ready for the pork, so away I stuffed and rolled.
He helped me tie it up with kitchen twine, about every couple of inches. I seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, plopped it in a roasting rack and cooked it in a preheated 350 degree oven. MM monitored it with the iGrill app until it reached an internal temperature of 155 degrees, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes. Then we rested it, while sipping on some of my favorite - Paraduxx. A bit of an indulgence, but so, so worthy of a meal like this one.
Meanwhile, I cut up some cauliflower, drizzled it with some olive oil, sprinkled it with kosher salt and cracked pepper and roasted it at 500 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning a couple of times. After removing it from the oven, I shot it with a couple of squirts of truffle oil. Heavenly stuff. One of my favorite roasted vegetables.

And...wha-lah. Divine goodness.
The meat was juicy, succulent and wonderfully seasoned. The stuffing complemented it perfectly, with hints of freshness thanks to the sage and granny smith apple. And the breadsticks?

Genius secret ingredient. I may just be buying Pizza Hut again before my next holiday meal. Mr. Musky declared this dinner "Christmas Day worthy." You may want some guests over when you make this though - it makes a ton of food.

Unless your husband enjoys eating the same dish for lunch for six days in a row, like mine does. This one is that good.

XOXO,
Jen








Friday, March 15, 2013

Apéritif Friday!

When we were youngins, Mr. Musky and I were out of synch. I wanted to stay home and hibernate on Friday nights after fruitless efforts to convince mankind to switch their phone service, mentally and physically exhausted from cold-calling on every small business owner in the Chicagoland area. He, on the other hand, found the the logistics business titillating, was wound for sound and ready to party. There were plenty of Friday nights when I asked the bartender for toothpicks not to garnish my drink with, but to prop my eyes open.

Introduce a kid, then another, and he finally came around to my superior level of reasoning. Now we stay in on Friday nights, and we actually look forward to it more than any other time of the week. Our kids get the drill - they understand that from about 5:00 until 8:00 Mom and Dad are in the kitchen together, sipping apéritifs, dancing very badly and cooking up something yummy with our music blaring over the speakers. The volume rises exponentially with each cocktail consumed. The kids will drift in and out, sometimes with friends, sometimes without, sometimes interested in what we're doing, sometimes to just find out when is dinner going to be finished already?!?

At times we have friends over ourselves; but usually we don't. Oftentimes we'll cook a casual meal, like homemade pizzas - a feat Mr. Musky's been working on perfecting for decades. Or we'll prepare full-on haute cuisine, like the recent Chilean sea bass over lentils with beurre blanc sauce or Lobster Thermidor. Sometimes it's mainstays - lasagne or grilled steaks; now and then it's a new effort, like timpano or porchetta, both of which are on the upcoming list of reasons why I drink while I cook.

We will certainly have guests over for those experiments. I'm thinking about inviting the entire Great Lakes Naval Base. We're going to need that many sailors around to finish off those gargantuan dishes. Plus they'd be fun to look at.

Regardless of the food we cook, an apéritif (alcoholic drink taken before a meal as an appetizer) or two is always present. As predictable as Miller's drool, Mr. Musky always imbibes on Sapphire and water. I, on the other hand, thrive on variety. I may sip a margarita if we're cooking up fish tacos, or some of my infused vodka with soda and juice if I'm looking for something flavorful and effervescent. And of course, I can't jilt my other boyfriends - Mr. Rye, Mr. Bacardi, Mr. Sapphire - I figure out ways to get them all into the rotation.

Once dinner is ready, we invariably move to a wine that pairs well with the food we've cooked. Now, I don't want any of you to think we are wine snobs. Far from it. But we keep the wine cooler well stocked because:  A. 90% of what we cook has a splash of wine in it somewhere, and B. Once opened, one must consume the rest of the bottle. It's sacrilege to save it for another day.

OK - enough. Why am I blathering on about food and drink?

Drink is present in nearly all of my posts here on Genuinely Speaking. Food was present before, after or during every story told. And so...to keep things fresh and the content more consistent on my fourth baby, er, blog...I give you...

Apéritif Friday!

Here on out, I will do my very best to bore you with the goings on in our kitchen every Friday night, what we did, who joined us (or not), the music we played, what we drank and the culinary effort we mastered or botched. I'll include the recipe for the meal, and if I'm lazy, just the recipe for the cocktails I consumed. If for some reason I miss posting an Apéritif Friday, maybe I'll include a recommendation for a local restaurant. But I promise not to be so lame as to suggest you drive through McDonald's for a Shamrock Shake.

And for those who could care less about food...I really don't understand you whatsoever...but I still love you for reading. I will continue to post stories that I find funny, that highlight my dorkdom, showcase my inability to catch a musky, etc. So please come back for those.

Enough blathering. Here's a little tease for next week's post:

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin.

See you next Friday!

XOXO,
Jen

P.S. - Kudos to Mr. Musky for coining the phrase. I'll keep you around for awhile, Babe.



Friday, March 8, 2013

A Night at Beth's Table

A few weeks ago I received an email from Teri, asking if Carrie and I wanted to join her on a Wednesday night at her friend's new business called "Beth's Table." Beth delivers clever home entertaining tips, ideas and recipes through her hands-on workshops and cooking demonstrations. Despite guitar lessons, Lent service at church, hockey practice, and the list goes on and on and on...I said yes.
In addition to running an upscale cocktail catering business, Beth hosts classes focused on throwing memorable parties with delicious food in a relaxed, authentic environment using the stunning Liam Brex showroom as her 'office.' Amaury Rosado is a renown Chef serving up an inspired, award-winning, eclectic menu in the Western Suburbs. The gal in green, below, described the wine pairings for the evening, is "a self-proclaimed example of when Med School doesn't work out" and "grew up Italian, drinking a nice glass of red wine while doing Geometry homework at the kitchen table." Put them all together in the same room with fresh ingredients, Truchard wine and engaging conversation?
Entertaining. Decadent. Educational. Welcoming. Approachable. A night that I will not soon forget.

Just let me talk about Beth for a minute. I've been in the same room with her only twice, but I already dig her. She's a former chef, former restaurant owner, former sales gal (I knew we had something in common immediately) and is now chasing her dream (that's two for points in common). Have you ever met someone who you just know is cool, successful and gives off an I-must-know-her-better vibe? That's Beth. 
And then there's Chef Amaury. I think I died and went to foodie heaven about seven times that night. I learned some new tips that are probably sophomoric to most in the food world. Dry your grouper thoroughly with paper towels to crust it with a colorful, crunchy sear. Toast some amaranth, then simmer it with saffron in chicken stock to create a unique bed for that perfectly seared fish to lay upon. Reduce some blood orange juice, red wine and fresh tarragon to a mere two tablespoons of richly flavored goodness. Then transform it slowly with a cube of butter at a time, being careful to not break the sauce by whisking on the heat, off the heat.

Chef Amaury oozes passion for his craft, evidenced by his enthusiasm, wildly dancing eyebrows and contagious smile that can't help but mesmerize the pickiest of eaters. His excitement and energy in the kitchen infectiously created impatience in the small gathering to sample his cuisine, not to mention the aromatic, savory scents that filled the room. He made it abundantly clear that he's as approachable in his restaurant as he was at Liam Brex that night.  I've already booked a reservation.
His meal of pan seared grouper atop a bed of saffron-seasoned amaranth, topped with buerre rouge sauce aside a crisp, fragrant blood orange salad exploded into a fiesta of richness and texture in my mouth. He came to our table offering more amaranth. 
Um, yes please. Ladle it up, Buddy. And Beth graciously poured us more wine.

I've talked about things in the past exceeding my expectations and how giddy it makes me. I can add this to the list. While I cannot wait to someday go hibernate in the woods and avoid civilization at all costs, it's nights like last Wednesday that cause me to pause. I love experiencing something totally unique and different while meeting engaging, REAL people who already invited me to join them again in their kitchens. Not to mention the new techniques and tricks they taught me, which I've since employed in my own kitchen. Mr. Musky and a tribe of teenagers are the benefactors of my newfound intelligence. Truffle risotto with shrimp and pan seared scallops - perfectly crusted, thanks to the drying technique. Divine. Mussels in a savory, white wine cream sauce with crunchy french bread. Lemme lick the bowl. And the coup - pan seared chilean sea bass atop superbly seasoned lentils and carrots drizzled with a luscious, creamy buerre blanc sauce.

Booyah.
I enjoyed my evening so much that I rejoined Beth at her Table four days later with Kahley to eat some of her awesome chorizo chili, white chicken chili and bacon wrapped stuffed jalapeño peppers.  
All the while, a production crew filmed pilate footage for her friend Debbie who's pitching a show for the cooking channels on home entertaining and how to keep parties fresh and interesting.
Did I mention that Beth earned a top 100 spot in the Master Chef Season 2 World Food Championship? Or that she won the Sterling Wine Ultimate Host Challenge last August? How about the fact that she interviewed Nigella Lawson (now I'm officially jealous) and actually cooked alongside Paula Deen?
Family members hailing from the South! Aunt Betty, Aunt Jackie, Aunt Lennie! Sandy, Lisa and Chris! All the rest! Did you hear me?  SHE COOKED WITH PAULA DEEN IN SAVANNAH! As in cheesey grits and mushroom casserole and all that is buttery and gooey and divine. 
Needless to say, I'm going to be seeing more of  my new friend Beth in the very near future. And Chef Amaury. And I've already cashed my coupon in at Peterson's Wine store and will be back for more there.

So if you get an invitation to come to a Blackhawks party at my house because there'll be a production crew here to shoot more footage for a cooking show pilate, go with it. Just don't throw back my famous bloody mary's until the crew says "Roll Camera!"

Loving Life in Plainfield...

XOXO,
Jen

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Fashion Intervention

In a few short weeks, we will escape the bitter cold and snow for some beach and family fun in Southern California. Warm sun on the cheeks? Exercise on the beach? Kayak through some coves? Book it. And as a bonus, we get to wrap our SoCal adventure up in Palm Springs to check out my in-laws' new digs.

My brother's family lives in Northern California, so naturally I contacted him to see if they could join us to curb my desperate niece and nephew withdrawals. With minimal coaxing, they agreed to meet up with us along the beach. And of course, if their two offspring are connecting, how can Mama and Papa Bear stay away? So Mom and Dad are flying out too.

A few weekends ago Kahley and I visited my folks, and as we were loading up our bags to head home my mother came into the bedroom to show me the bathing suit she purchased last season. I think it was more to prove to herself that she actually did buy a new suit, as she questioned herself and thought she might go shopping after we left that day. She reminds me all the time where I get my absentmindedness. Regardless, she showed us a couple of suits and cute cover ups and determined that she needn't go shopping after all.

Then she pulled out another cover up. Then another. And another. They were constructed with cheap, pastel-colored terry cloth. Hideous. I told her they had to go. Because years ago, she made me promise to tell her when / if she started to dress like an old lady. I'm not sure who wears terry cloth cover ups, but in my opinion, they need to be eradicated from the face of the earth.
That's all it took. Kahley opened the closet doors Pandora's box and started going through my mother's clothes.

Silly girl. Little did she know that at least five closets contain the past two decades of my mother's wardrobe - not to mention four dressers. Mama loves to shop and hates to purge when it comes to her outfits. Seriously - she's a borderline attire hoarder. The only difference is she's able to hide away her stash instead of sleeping on top of it with a menagerie of stray animals defecating all around and moldy pizza crusts sharing her pillow.

We ended up getting really wrapped up in the project, laughing hysterically as Kahley pulled one atrocious item after another from the depths of her closets.

Exhibit A. Jungle print velveteen turtleneck.
Ugh, Mother. That's just one redundancy too much. I love how Kahley displays the fashion faux pas with her fingertips, as if by osmosis she'll fall prey to a bad mix of velvet and cheetah.
Apparently Shere Kahn made a big impression, and Mom was on the prowl for her very own Mowgli.
And Mama. Your summertime garden provides a serene, breathtaking, visually stimulating locale to rest and enjoy an early evening cocktail for many. But for the love of Pete, please refrain from wearing your favorite summer activity across the mammary glands.
And stop with the seasons. This has been a pet peeve of mine for awhile. You must swear off wearing your favorite collectible, the snowman.
And the snowman's essential building block. Watch it fall while you sip a cup of Earl Grey. Don't wear it with a mock turtleneck.
Why she ever thought the caricature of a skinny woman out for a stroll in Paris blazoned across her midsection would make a solid fashion statement just baffles me. Kahley attempted to work it. But no.
She tried harder with the denim top adorned with delicate flowers and a sweet little ladybug. I had to make her stop.
At times, we kindly attempted to understand the rationale. "What is that Mom, a bowl of cherries?"
"Nope. It's a bushel of apples." But of course. We should all wear the fruit of the fall season over our left breast. Good idea.

(And COME ON, Kahley! Why do you keep giving these frightful garments your attempt at the sexy look? Why do you even have that look? Gah!)

Shocked by the sheer volume of ghastly tops, we had to pile them up and record them for posterity.

Seven large garbage bags later all set for consignment (minus the few gems Kahley snagged for cheesy sweater day at school), we pared down my mother's closet to the best items and gave her a list of rules to follow as she shops for new outfits. Look out, Stacy and Clinton. Kahley and Jen (yes, I get to be the gay guy) are in town and are going to give you a run for your money.

Our show? What Not to Allow Your Grandmother to Wear, coming soon to a channel near you. She's been given her directive, and we will judge her wardrobe adjustment in California. I'll share more photos later to let you all decide if it's a fashion success or bust.

Good luck, Mama! The world is watching you now...resist the urge to buy Lee jeans and theme-based, bedazzled tops. When you get stuck, refer back to this picture for inspiration - Kahley showed you how to pair patterns and texture with a simple silver chain to set it off.
And please. No more tops with an identity crisis between The Matrix and The Lion King.

XOXO,
Jen