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FARRO-STUFFED FLANK STEAK

Stuffed flank steak has been one of my favorite foods for over 50 years. It is one of my family’s favorites, too. But honestly, our version has gotten a little boring. The tradition is to stuff the flank steak with a conventional bread dressing and – don’t get me wrong – it is delicious. But my thought is that surely you can do something different after 50 years. Once again, it was my turn for the main dish at our Sunday family dinner. A wonderful new market had opened in the little shopping center across the street, and they had some beautiful flank steaks in their butcher shop. Like a conjunction of the planets, flank steak stuffed with something different seemed like an inspiration. Evan and Brandin Rice at Rich Table have been experimenting with farro lately, and I was interested in how I might make it work in my more plebian dishes. Inspiration! – farro-stuffed flank steak. Of course, there needed to be something to perk up meat and grain, so the addition of a green sauce – chimichurri is a natural – came to mind. Mushrooms and pine nuts added to the flavors. It all came together.

I made a serious miscalculation by buying two flank steaks for 6 people.  That is way more than you need, The recipe that follows is for one flank steak. On the other hand, leftovers of this dish are a bonus, so you may want to make two stuffed steaks. Regardless of your decision, I am sure you will enjoy the result.

RECIPE

Farro-Stuffed Flank Steak

Ingredients

  • 1 flank steaks, about 1½ pounds
  • ½ cup cooked farro
  • 1 recipe chimichurri, divided (see previous post for recipe)
  • 4 cremini mushrooms, chopped finely
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ cup panko
  • 1 egg
  • all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. With a sharp knife, butterfly the steak so that it opens like a book. Flatten the meat with a heavy pounder. Chill until ready to fill.
  2. In a. Medium bowl, combine the cooked farro, half of the chimichurri, mushrooms, pine nuts, panko, and egg.
  3. To fill the flank steak, open it on a flat surface, cut side up. Spread with the farro/chimichurri mixture leaving a half-inch border around the edge. Begin to roll the steak beginning from the narrow end until the roll is sealed. Tie the rolled steak with kitchen twine at two-inch intervals, making sure the ends are tied closed.
  4. Heat the oil in a heavy lidded oven-proof casserole over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, brown the stuffed flank steak, turning frequently until browned on all sides. When the steak is browned, add the beef stock and tomato paste. Bring to the boil and then transfer the covered casserole to the middle of an oven preheated to 275°F. Cook, covered, for 2 hours.
  5. Remove the steak from the oven and transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove the twine, slice into ¾ inch slices and serve with the remaining chimichurri to be spooned over the top if desired.
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PASTA-BEAN SALAD PRIMAVERA

Spring is well along, and the local farmers’ market is in full swing with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables available. Everyone in our local family is on one or another diet, not to mention their variety of food proscriptions: no onions, no mayonnaise, nothing spicy. So when it became my turn to cook our weekly family dinner, I decided it was a good time for salads. Let everyone push to the side whatever ingredient they wouldn’t or couldn’t eat. The main dish was a cross between a pasta and bean salad with the addition of vegetables and eggs from the farmers’ market as well as some canned items from the grocery store. There was a lot of prep time. I shelled fresh fava beans. I roasted corn. There were eggs to hard boil, chicken to cook and dice, and cans to open. But once that was all done, assembly was quick and easy so that I could sit in the family circle and participate in the discussion. The beauty of pasta and bean salads is that there really is no recipe, and you can add or subtract whatever you want. This version came so loaded that finicky eaters could have a field day picking out ingredients. Since I didn’t include onion or chiles and dressed the salad with vinaigrette, I addressed those objections at the outset. I didn’t see anyone picking at his or her plate,

RECIPE

Pasta-Bean Salad Primavera 

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled, blanched, husked. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 2 ears fresh corn, dry roasted and kernels removed. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 4 jumbo eggs, boiled and peeled. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble
  • 1 large chicken breast, poached, cooled, and cut into ½ inch cubes. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 2 bell peppers, seeds removed, diced. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 2 ribs celery, diced. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • large cucumber, seeds removed and diced. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • ½ pound mushrooms, boiled for 15 minutes, cooled and halved. Set aside, refrigerated, until ready to assemble.
  • 4 ounces pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet. Set aside until ready to assemble
  • 1 cup each of pasta shapes, cooked and drained.  (I used orecchiette, penne and farfalle, but you can use your favorites)
  • 1 cup olive oil vinaigrette, home-made or bottled
  • 14 ounce can, cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce  can, black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce can, black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce can, large, pitted black olives, drained and rinsed
  • 14 ounce can, quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 5 ounce can, sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 5 ounce can, sliced bamboo shoots, drained
  • 8 ounces feta, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • ½ cup snow peas, ends removed and cut into ¾ inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Boil the pasta according to directions. If cooking times for the various pastas are greatly different, add the individual varieties at the appropriate time. Drain the cooked pasta and combine with half of the vinaigrette.
  2. In a very large bowl, and reserving the hard-boiled eggs, add all of the remaining ingredients to the pasta: fava beans, corn, chicken, peppers, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, pine nuts, cannellini beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, olives, artichoke hearts, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, grape tomatoes, snow peas, and feta.
  3. Stir in the remaining vinaigrette and sesame oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a large serving bowl and arrange sliced hard-boiled eggs on top.

Cook’s Notes

  • This recipe makes LOTS of pasta salad. It is easily enough to serve at least 12 people generously. It also makes great leftovers for the next day’s lunch
  • Roasting corn in a dry skillet over high heat gets a nice char, but you can also achieve the same thing in the oven or over an open flame.
  • I used four different colors of bell pepper for contrast and used only half of the diced peppers for this recipe, reserving the other half for another recipe.
  • Boiling the mushrooms causes them to compact and absorb the vinaigrette better. If you like, you can boil them in water with a little vinegar and pickling spices to make them a little tastier.
  • Dry roasting of pine nuts brings out their distinctive flavor. Just be careful not to scorch them.
  • You can use whatever shape pasta you like, but ones with ridges or indentations – like macaroni, penne, or orecchiette – will soak up the dressing and the melded flavors. Just be sure to check on cooking times because if they are too different you could wind up with a mixture of firm and mushy pasta.
  • You can substitute crumbled feta or any other cheese you favor. I like cubes of feta because they hold their shape and have a distinctive tart flavor.

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SHRIMP-STUFFED MUSHROOMS

We’ve had our son and his two daughters visiting us the last few days. He was in town for a meeting, and the children flew in by themselves for the weekend. During their visit they took a couple of hikes and spent an afternoon at the swimming pool at the Community Recreation Center. The pool is a favorite place for all of our grandchildren because of the giant water slide.

The fist day, they visited Tent Rocks National Monument. The tent rocks are columns of volcanic tuff as high as 80 feet and topped with more durable cap rocks. The site has a slot canyon that you have to squeeze through to get to the top of the mesa. There are also petroglyphs if you look carefully.

The second day they visited Tsankawi Ruins, part of Bandelier National Monument. The trail leads to the top of a mesa where the ruined ancient village is littered with decorated pottery shards. Much of the trail winds through the volcanic tuff layer. It has winding, deep grooves, probably worn by countless foot steps, but possibly also carved out so that potential invaders had to come up the steep hillside in single file.

On our son’s arrival, we had refreshments on the patio. Something more substantive than salted nuts but less than a full meal seemed in order. Stuffed mushrooms sounded like the perfect alternative. Shrimp was a perfect stuffing. As you’ll see in the recipe, there is a lot of chopping. You could use a food processor instead. Just be careful not to turn everything to mush. I prefer hand-chopped ingredients to give contrasting textures and bursts of different flavors.

RECIPE

Shrimp-Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 12 3-inch crimini mushrooms
  • olive oil
  • ½ pound boiled shrimp, cleaned and tails removed
  • 1 scallion
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup panko
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a small dry saucepan
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside.
  2. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, sauté the mushroom caps on both sides in about 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer to a small baking sheet, hollow side up.
  3. Chop the mushroom stems and sauté in the same pan using more olive oil as needed. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Chop the shrimp finely. Chop the scallion finely, including the green top.
  5. In a bowl, combine the chopped shrimp and scallion, reserved chopped mushroom stems, mayonnaise, panko, and pine nuts. Stir in Old Bay seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Fill each mushroom cap with the shrimp mixture. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a plate, and serve while still warm.

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SANTA FE STYLE CHICKEN AND WAFFLES

Chicken and waffles has become a trendy dish often featured in trendy restaurants. Supposedly it had its origins in soul food. There are definitely clues that reinforce that attribution: fried chicken and waffles is apparently a stand-by in Baltimore, there is a temple of the dish in South Los Angeles, and at least two places in Harlem have built their reputation on fried chicken and waffles. Honestly, I have never understood the enthusiasm. I love fried chicken as much as the next person, and waffles can be a terrific breakfast or dinner. But crisp fried chicken and sweet-sticky maple syrup together just doesn’t sound like a combination I want to give a try.

Turns out there is another version of chicken and waffles. It traces its origins to the Pennsylvania Dutch area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The dish is essentially the filling for chicken pot pie served on top of a waffle. To me, that is an interesting concept, and one that sounds like it might be delicious. My mother’s family traces its origins from Pennsylvania Dutch country through Wisconsin, Iowa, and eventually South Dakota. My wife’s family hails from Wilmington, Delaware, just a short drive to Lancaster. I don’t remember chicken and waffles ever showing up on either family table.

That made me think that maybe a Southwestern version of chicken and waffles incorporating some regional ingredients would make a good alternative to either of the better known traditions. Blue cornmeal waffles seemed like a good starting place. Green chiles and piñon nuts would serve as tasty additions. To brighten up an otherwise monochromatic dish, I topped it all with pico de gallo. For that, you probably have your own recipe. If you don’t, I’ve added one without the kick (There is a serious medical reaction to capsaicin in our household) but you are encouraged to zip it up to your own tastes.  So here it is: Santa Fe Style Chicken and Waffles with blue cornmeal waffles and green chile chicken sauce. If you can’t find blue cornmeal at your local store, you can order some from Talon de Gato farms. Otherwise, substituting yellow or white cornmeal is perfectly acceptable.

RECIPES

Blue Cornmeal Waffles with Pine Nuts

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blue cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • ½ cup pine nuts

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In a separate medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, maple syrup, and melted butter. Whisk in the separated egg yolks until completely incorporated
  3. In a small bowl, beat the separated egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold into the batter in thirds.
  4. Stir in the pine nuts.
  5. Spoon into a heated waffle iron using slightly more than the amount recommended by the manufacturer. Bake until golden brown. Bake the remaining batter.

Green Chile Chicken Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (chicken fat if you have it)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 ounces canned chopped green chiles (choose your heat)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock + more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 whole chicken breast, cooked and shredded

Method

  1. In medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, cover and sweat the onions for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so as not to brown.
  2. When the onions are translucent, stir in the green chiles and cook, uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the flour and cook for 5 additional minutes to remove the raw flavor of the flour. Add the chicken stock, stirring to remove any lumps. The sauce should be about as thick as a medium white sauce.
  4. Add the oregano by crumbling it between your hands over the pan. Add cumin and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir in the shredded chicken and simmer for 15 minutes more, or until the mixture is heated through.

Pico de Gallo

Ingredients

  • 1 large ripe tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3 scallions including green tops, chopped
  • ½ onion, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped green bell pepper (substitute jalapeño for more heat)
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper
  2. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve.

Assembly

Place two waffles on each plate. Top with about 1½ cups of the green chile chicken sauce. Garnish with pico de gallo. Serve immediately with more optional Cholula sauce, if desired.

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BLUE CORNMEAL WAFFLES WITH PINE NUTS AND BACON

Food with blue corn in it is always popular when family comes to visit. Blue  corn tortillas are ubiquitous, and blue corn chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce and a fried egg is one of my all-time favorites. Blue cornmeal pancakes are also good. Add pine nuts  and you have a classic New Mexico combination. During her recent visit, Carol specifically requested blue cornmeal waffles,  so of course I had to accommodate her.

RECIPE

Blue Cornmeal  Waffles with Pine Nuts and Bacon

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blue corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons, bacon drippings, melted
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • ½ cup crumbled crisp-fried bacon

Method

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, corn meal, baking powder, soda, and salt.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, syrup, bacon drippings and 2 yolks from the separated eggs
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together until just combined.
  4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold in thirds into the batter being careful not to overbeat.
  5. Fold in the pine nuts and bacon pieces
  6. Spoon a little more of the batter than recommended by the manufacturer into a hot waffle iron. Bake until golden brown.
  7. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup. Eggs and bacon on the side is a nice addition
  8. Makes about twelve 4-inch square waffles.

 

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STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS REDUX

It’s the time of year again when squash blossoms make their appearance at the local farmers market. When that happens, I always buy a dozen for stuffing. Of course, if you have your own zucchini patch, you can harvest your own squash blossoms. Choose the male flowers without the swelling at the bottom that will ultimately become the mature squash.

It is surprising how many things you can do with these delicate flowers. There is a lovely soup, sopa de flor de calabazas, and you can use them in quesadillas, pancakes, etc., etc., but I always wind up stuffing them.  Whatever you do with them, use them the day you buy or pick them because they fade very quickly. If the blossoms have stems, you can keep them fresh in ice water in the refrigerator with a plastic bag over them, just as you keep parsley and other herbs. Even then, you should try to use them the same day you buy or pick them.

Exactly three years ago, I posted a recipe for stuffed squash blossoms which I liked a lot (still do), but the batter was a little heavy. The mushrooms I used to stuff them were tasty, but there are so many other options, that I thought you might like this version which has a lighter tempura batter and a stuffing of local ingredients. You can even fry squash blossoms with no stuffing and no batter at all. In truth, whatever you do with the flowers, they almost always turn out delicious.

One step that is often overlooked is the removal of the stamen. You can stuff the blossoms with the stamen still in, but it may make things a little bitter, and besides you want there to be as much room for the stuffing as possible. To perform that little surgical task, you can use a pair of long tweezers. I use a surgical hemostat. Scissors might work, and if your fingers are not too fat, they might work, as well. An important caution with this step is not to tear the sides of the blossom cup or the leaves. If you do that you run the risk of having all the filling run out while frying, even with a patch job. Some images on the internet show part of the flower cut away. If you are just going to stuff the flowers, that will work, but if you plan to fry them, the stuffing needs to be hidden away.

Stuffed squash blossoms sound a bit complicated. They aren’t really, and they are certainly worth the effort.

RECIPE

Fried Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces chèvre-style goat cheese softened at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons shallot very finely chopped
  • ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 fresh, large squash blossoms
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1½ cups ice water
  • peanut oil for frying

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine the softened goat cheese and lemon juice to form a smooth paste. Stir in the shallot and parsley.
  2. In a small dry skillet over medium heat, roast the pine nuts for a few minutes, stirring them frequently, so that they brown slightly and release their oils. Be very careful not to burn. Remove from the heat. Cool. Chop coarsely if you like, and stir them into the cheese mixture. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the blossoms by removing the stamens, being careful not to tear the petals of the flowers. If the flowers are dusty, you may rinse them, although they do best with as little handling as possible.
  4. With a spoon, pastry sleeve, or your fingers, fill each blossom with stuffing. I have found the greatest success using my fingers. Fill only to the base of the petals so that you can fold them over one another and seal them with a dab of the cheese mixture. Arrange on a plate and chill for the few minutes needed to prepare the batter and heat the cooking oil.
  5. Place one cup of flour in a pie plate.
  6. In a small bowl that is big enough to dip the blossoms individually, beat the egg yolk and ice water together and then stir in the remaining cup of flour. The batter should be smooth, but it is not essential to get out all of the lumps as long as they are not too big.
  7. Fill a deep heavy-bottomed pot with 2 inches of cooking oil and heat to 375°. It’s a good idea to use a thermometer if you have one. Temperature will plunge when you start to fry, so you will need to regulate the flame.
  8. Remove the filled squash blossoms from the refrigerator, and one at a time, dip them into the flour, shaking off any extra. Then dip them into the batter, drain for a minute, and transfer to the hot cooking oil. Working in batches of no more than three or four, fry the blossoms, turning them frequently until they are lightly browned and crisp on all sides.
  9. Drain on multiple layers of paper towel and transfer to a plate in the oven at 200° until they are all fried. Serve immediately.
  10. Three to six individual blossoms make a good appetizer-sized serving for one person. You can gild the lily, so to speak, with a dipping sauce or salsa, but the stuffed flowers can easily stand on their own.

 

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LYTRO CAMERA, PART TWO – ASPARAGUS AND PESTO BUNDLES

I’m still learning to use my new Lytro light field camera. It has several features that make it absolutely unique. Most importantly you can focus any part of the image while it is still in the viewfinder, and unbelievably you can focus again once you upload the image to your computer (As long as you have the provided software installed). You can make images of something very close to the lens and something in the background. Then you decide which you want to emphasize or bring everything into focus. The camera is especially useful for ultra-close-ups.

I decided to play around with the camera for images of a dish to go with the shrimp, mushroom and artichoke mac and cheese from my most recent post. Actually, I had some fresh asparagus in the fridge and some puff pastry I needed to use up. I added a little pesto from the freezer, and I wound up with something easy and  a little different. The way I did things, I was only able to make three servings, but very easily – and undoubtedly better – you can make six servings by just cutting more of the stem off of the asparagus spears. The crowns are the better parts anyway.

When basil is in season and plentiful. you can make fresh pesto, but we often make extra and store it in the freezer for later use. It is also readily available in jars or frozen so that you don’t need to take the somewhat laborious extra step of making fresh pesto.

RECIPE

Asparagus and Pesto Bundles in Puff Pastry

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to directions
  • 9-12 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed of the woody ends
  • 1 cup fresh, frozen, or bottled pesto
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly browned in a dry skillet
  • 1 whole egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Method

  1. On a lightly floured surface, carefully unfold the thawed puff pastry and roll with a lightly floured rolling pin until it is about 1/16 inch thick
  2. Divide the rolled dough into three strips along the fold lines.
  3. Place 3 or 4 asparagus spears in the center of each strip ( If you wish, you can divide the dough into 6 strips and use only enough of the asparagus crowns to fit the strip.)
  4. Spread a generous tablespoon of pesto over each of the asparagus bundles.
  5. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top of the pesto.
  6. Paint the edges of the dough strips with some of the egg and water mixture. Fold the dough over the asparagus and pesto. With your fingers, seal the edges of the envelope. Then finish sealing, using the tines of a dinner fork and gentle pressure.
  7. Arrange the bundles on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Paint the tops of the bundles with egg and water mixture, trying not to let the mixture run down onto the parchment where it is likely to burn and may stick the baked bundles to the parchment
  8. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until the bundles are golden brown.
  9. Serve while still warm. A little Hollandaise couldn’t hurt if you like.

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