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Filet Mignon with Port-Strawberry Reduction

29 Jun

Alright, so I made this a while back, got lazy about posting it, lost the pictures and thought I’d just wait to post till I made it again, eventually decided I should just post it since strawberries are nearly out of season, and then couldn’t find the recipe. Obviously I simply do not have it all together for strawberries. But I’ll tell you this recipe the best I can remember, and if I ever get around to making it again, I’ll post the pictures and we’ll pretend this never happened.

[UPDATE: I found the pictures! They were on my digital camera. Obvious, right?]

I do remember that the first time I made this, my big mistake was that the reduction took wayyy longer than I thought it would, and the steaks were finished for quite some time before the reduction was presentable. Because a sauce can just sit in the stove and simmer for a while, I recommend going ahead and making the reduction in advance and grilling the steaks when it looks about ready.

Strawberries!

Sliced Strawberries!

In a sauce pot, I heated 1 1/2 cups port wine over medium-low heat. If you’re not picky, you could substitute any red wine, really, preferably on the sweeter side. I added in 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup sliced strawberries (cut to the size you prefer — I like them small), 1 diced shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme. I let this cook down till it was thick like a sauce rather than a runny liquid. It took about half an hour over medium-low heat.

Simmering Strawberries! Sounds like my new curse word.

When it looked about done, I seasoned two small filet mignon steaks (you can use whatever cut you prefer) with salt and pepper and then sent the BF out to the grill to cook them to about medium-rare. When they were finished, we served the steaks with a spoonful of the port-strawberry reduction on top and accompanied with rice pilaf. Very tasty, plus, it gave the rice some flavor as well. The BF was very happily surprised that I served red meat, and I was happy with the fruit reduction served with it!

Filet Mignon with Port Strawberry Reduction

I acknowledge that it looks a little gross like blood. But it’s really tasty, I promise. And I thought even this was a bit watery, but I was hungry and impatient. Simmer it for a long time and it will thicken even more.

We also made this delicious salad with spinach, carrots, strawberries, walnuts, and goat cheese:

Spinach & Strawberry Salad

Bon apetit!

Seasonal Ingredient: Blueberries (mid May – mid July)

26 Jun

Of any one food, blueberries may be the quintessence of summer. With these 95 degree days and Independence Day just around the corner, blueberries and strawberries are where it’s at. All the home magazines profile blueberries for their July issues, and people just go blueberry crazy. I’m not a huge fan of just eating plain blueberries, but I do appreciate a good blueberry cobbler or some such.

And, blueberries are super healthy for you. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, this superfood has a huge amount of antioxidants, which “help to neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules linked to the development of a number of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s.” And they’re low-fat and have a lot of vitamin C and fiber. (The Council website has a bunch of health tips, and even better, tons of blueberry recipes. Check it out!)

Blueberries!And now, so you can impress everyone at your next cocktail party, Blueberry Trivia!

  • While Maine is the leader of lowbush blueberry production in the United States, (and possibly the world, but Wikipedia didn’t seem to be very clear on that), Michigan is the leader of highbush production.
  • Different species of blueberries are found all over the world. North Carolina has pretty good ones.
  • My dad loves blueberries! He has a huge blueberry bush in the backyard, but they’ve already ripened and been picked.
  • Although blueberries are not among the most contaminated and therefore aren’t officially part of the Dirty Dozen, there’s still a lot of question about them. It’s probably best to just buy organic.
  • Sorry, you missed the North Carolina Blueberry Festival, which is held annually in Pender County every June. Don’t worry, more are still to come! The Blueberry Council keeps a list of upcoming blueberry festivals. And if I have any readers up north, happily for you, blueberries and their attendant festivals are still in season for a couple more months.
  • Color layering technology was just being developed when Denise Nickerson, the actress who portrayed Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, needed to be blown up like a blueberry. They were able to turn her face blue, but not her hair.
    • Trivia Bonus: Where Is She Now? Denise Nickerson is an accountant and single mom in Denver, Colorado.

North Carolina’s blueberry season lasts only a couple more weeks. If you can find any left, try out these recipes:

Fresh Strawberry-Lemon Bars

11 Jun

I was joking in my last post about how I don’t really like strawberries, but I actually do. I was just joshin’, y’all. They’re just not my fave. But if I thought I didn’t like strawberries, this dessert would totally change my mind. It took a bit of time but was way worth it. I found the original recipe in an issue of Better Homes & Gardens, and it actually called for raspberries. But I thought, Hey, strawberries are in season, and they will probably work just as well. And damn was I right! These are good!

I started off by preheating the oven to 350 F and preparing my baking pan. I lined a 13×9 inch pan with aluminum foil, making sure I had enough to hang over the edges to make handles for later.

I threw 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted organic butter into a large bowl, and then beat them with my hand mixer on medium about 30 seconds. Naturally, maybe because I forgot to cut them into chunks first, the butter got all stuck in the mixer and I had to push it all back into the bowl.

Then I added 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. I mixed that on low speed for another 30 seconds.

I added 2 cups all-purpose flour and beat on low speed until incorporated. Then I increased the speed to medium and continued mixing until it formed a dough. For a long time, it stayed really crumbly and seemed like it wasn’t going to form into a dough. I turned off the mixer and scraped the mixer and sides of the bowl. When I started mixing again, it came right together into the dough. I don’t know if it needed a break or if I just needed to keep going or what, but it worked. Since you want a bar crust and not just a crumble bottom, it’s better to over-mix then under-mix, so don’t stop too early.

Now there's a dough

Once I had a dough, I dropped it in chunks into the foil-lined baking pan. This made it easier to smooth it out into an even dough. I popped it in the oven for 20 minutes, which was the perfect amount of time to clean up and then chop 1 pint strawberries into quarters.

Dough chunksDough layer
Once the dough finished its 20 minutes, I let it cool for 5 minutes and then brushed the exposed foil with butter. Then I spread a small jar (10 oz? I don’t remember) strawberry jam evenly over the crust.

Jam layer

For the next layer, I spread the quartered strawberries evenly.

Strawberry layer

Now for the custard filling. In another large bowl, I mixed 4 oz. (1/2 package) cream cheese and 4 oz. goat cheese with a hand mixer on high for about 30 seconds. Then I added in  1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, the zest of one lemon, the juice of one lemon, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Of course when I tried to get just the egg yolk, I accidentally poured the whole egg down the drain. But take two worked just fine. And then I beat the whole mixture on medium until smooth, about one minute.

Custard

A tip or two about lemon… To zest a lemon, use a flat grater to grate the lemon peel directly into the bowl. Grate the yellow, but stop when you see white — you don’t want to use that part. To juice a lemon, roll it around on the counter under your palm, putting a bit of weight into it. This will loosen up the juices a bit. Then cut it in half and squeeze each half directly into the bowl. If you have trouble keeping seeds out of your bowl, wrap a paper towel around the lemon and squeeze the juice through it. The paper towel will hold back the seeds and any pulp.

Custard Layer

I poured the lemon custard batter evenly over the strawberries and then baked it for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, I pulled them out and let them cool for about 10 minutes. I asked the BF to help me remove them from the pan — we each took an end of the foil and lifted it out, pulling it tight so it wouldn’t slide in on itself. Since I wanted to serve them for dessert and dinner was already halfway through, I stuffed them in the fridge to cool a little faster.

Strawberry Lemon Bars

When I was ready to serve, I cut them into bars and served a little piece to everyone, and omigod they were soooo good. Lots of strawberry, very lemony, really rich, and oh so sweet. But even though the goat cheese and cream cheese made it rich, the lemon also made for a pretty light, summery flavor. Deelish.

Strawberry Lemon Bar

Notes:

  • Wow, these are good. I am actually kind of surprised how much I like them considering they don’t have any chocolate.
  • I was a little skeptical that these would hold up as bars. I’m guessing I didn’t chill them long enough because they were a little runny at first. But when I chilled them again and sliced the other half the next day, they held up really well. And I figured that even if they didn’t, this would make just as delicious and satisfying a dessert if it were called a cobbler, crumble, or custard. Try them the first day with a spoonful warm out of the oven and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Then refrigerate the rest, and after they’ve chilled, try them the next day as a firm, chilled bar. Both are pretty delicious!
  • This recipe could be made the exact same way but with a variety of fruits. I’d love to try raspberries, blueberries, peaches, anything really. Maybe I’ll try this again with other seasonal produce.

Seasonal Ingredient: Strawberries (mid May – mid June)

2 Jun

Strawberries! Everyone gets excited about strawberries! They’re the first sign of spring, The Beatles love them, cartoon has-beens love them… everyone loves them! Everyone except me. I don’t love strawberries. I never did much — I prefer super sweet fruit like pineapple and watermelon rather than tart fruit, so I never ate plain strawberries. And as a kid, I basically would only eat chocolate desserts, nothing else. But now, I have an appreciation for strawberries. I enjoy many strawberry desserts and have occasionally been known to eat a plain strawberry or two.

But I still don’t love them. You know why? Because I don’t like liars or fakers. And I found out that strawberries aren’t real berries. They’ve been posing all this time. Imposters!

Posers.

Well, other than my weirdness about berry fakers, I really don’t have much to say about strawberries. We’re all pretty familiar with them. They taste good, they’re good in salads, they’re good in desserts, they’re good with chocolate, blah blah blah. I can sit here and think up a few different strawberry desserts in my head right now, but it’s a little more  a difficult to think up a meal. I’ll have to do some research and plotting, and hopefully I’ll get a few recipes posted before strawberry season ends.

Oh, and don’t forget! The strawberry is one of the dirty dozen, so buy organic!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

31 May

The final broccoli dish I prepared is this Broccoli Cheddar Soup, perfect timing since broccoli season in North Carolina technically ends today. (Procrastinate? Me? Only all of the times.) This recipe also requires the use of a food processor or a blender, but if you haven’t bought a food processor yet, go get one. They’re amazing. Also, advance apologies here: I could have sworn I took pictures of this process, and now I can’t find them anywhere. Who knows where in the black hole of the interwebs they ended up? I do have a picture of the final product though. Read on!

I started off sauteing half a chopped red onion in 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat, and then set that aside. Then I made a roux by whisking together 1/4 cup melted butter and 1/4 cup flour over medium heat for a few minutes. Then, as I whisked, I added 2 cups half-and-half and then 1 cup chicken broth and 1 cup beef broth. (The original recipe called for 2 cups chicken broth, but I had some leftover beef broth from another recipe, so I just mixed that in. If you need a vegetarian soup, just use a strongly flavored vegetable broth.) Once all this was together, I turned the heat down to low and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Now for the veggies. I added in 3 cups chopped broccoli,  1 cup shredded carrots1 cup shredded red cabbage, and the cooked onions. I continued cooking everything over low heat for about 20 minutes. I added in a little bit of salt and pepper, and then 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

The soup was fairly thick by this point. I poured it in batches into the food processor (or you could use a blender), and after blending each batch, returned it to the pot over low heat. Once all the soup was back in the pot, I stirred in 3 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese – about half white cheddar and half regular cheddar, since that’s what I had in the fridge. And that was that! I had a bit for dinner, and then saved half for lunch the next day and half for the freezer for later.

Soup's on!

How Sue Sees It:

I think this would make a great side dish, but it wasn’t really good enough to satisfy me for a main dish. The original recipe claimed to be just like Panera Bread, which was just not true. I know I didn’t follow it exactly, but there’s no way that beef instead of chicken broth and a handful of cabbage made that much of a difference. It just wasn’t cheesy or creamy enough. I kind of figure that to get even more cheese flavor, this would have to be extremely unhealthy. And if it’s going to be that unhealthy, I shouldn’t eat it very often, so instead of trying to make it myself, I’ll probably just go to Panera when I need to satisfy my cheesy craving. So honestly, even though this soup was decent, I probably won’t be making it again.

If you do try to make it yourself, I recommend steaming the vegetables separately beforehand. I’m not sure the vegetables cooked well enough — the soup ended up with a slightly grainy texture.

Seasonal Ingredient: Broccoli (end of April-May)

2 May

Broccoli is a rather short-lived crop in North Carolina, so when I checked my produce schedule and realized I only had a month to profile these tiny trees, I decided I better get crackin’. I researched broccoli a little bit, and I found out that it is a cruciferous vegetable What does this mean? I have no idea. But I do know that broccoli is super healthy! Check this out:

Broccoli Nutrient Chart

Vitamin C and Vitamin K are off the chart!

I never really thought much about how cooking style affects the nutrients of what you eat. But this is apparently a big deal when it comes to broccoli. Here’s the gist: you shouldn’t boil broccoli because it will lose all its nutrients and basically become pointless. Stir-frying and microwaving are not fantastic options, but aren’t terrible. The best way to prepare broccoli is to steam it. This website gives a lot of information on why this is the case, and why the other methods suck, but that’s the most important part. Read here for basic preparation of broccoli.

a.k.a. Tiny Trees

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand why the standard sitcom punchline for which food kids hate was broccoli. I didn’t think broccoli was so bad. As an adult, I now realize this is because my mom only ever served broccoli completely smothered with cheese. Delicious! I now eat broccoli prepared in more ways than just cheese-drenched, though that is my favorite. Check out there delicious broccoli recipes:

Sorry none of my broccoli recipes are super healthy. But there were just too good to pass up. Okay fine, here’s a healthy recipe for you: Chop up some broccoli, separating the tree part (floret) from the trunk part (stem). Throw the stems into your steamer or steam pot and steam for 2 minutes. Then throw in the florets and steam for 5 more minutes. Serve immediately as is, or garnished with dressing, herbs, or some such. So easy!

Seasonal Ingredient: Leafy Greens (March-December)

5 Apr

Aside from peanuts and sweet potatoes, which grow year-round, pretty much the only seasonal produce in March in North Carolina is leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, cabbage… the list goes on. And the list of nutrients they provide goes on and on too: calcium, fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and E, and more.

Leafy Greens
A lot of people must love leafy greens, because there’s even a Leafy Greens Council! As a kid, I hated leafy greens. Everything from the bland taste and the hard-to-chew texture to the way that no one can eat a salad gracefully, well, just gross. But as an adult, I’ve slowly broadened my tastes. I enjoy a good salad – at first I would only eat iceberg lettuce and cucumbers with ranch dressing (my little sister called me “Plain Salad Girl” for a while), but now I’ve expanded to more variety. And after salads, a whole new world opened up. I still am pretty inexperienced in the wider world of leafy greens, but I am a huge spinach fan. I add spinach to everything — stews, pastas, curries. I love adding it in during the last couple minutes of cooking and watching it shrink down to a fraction of its original size. And I love that it tastes like the dish I added it to instead of like leaves.

The Center for Young Women’s Health reminds us that our bodies need healthy fat in order to absorb all those vitamins, so when you eat them, you should add things like butter, canola oil, olive oil, cheese, or salad dressing. I think I can handle that.

So what are leafy greens?

  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard

I’ve never even eaten probably half the things on that list. I probably could not identify half the things on that list. I guess I should research a little.

Time to get crackin’ on my leafy greens recipes. Here’s what I’ve got so far: