Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day Experiments - Day 1

With as much travel as I've had to do lately, I was so excited about a 3 day weekend to cook up a storm. My mission was to find stuff, not necessarily on the diet, that evoked the sense of Americana. I trolled the cookbooks and clipped recipes and had a full weekend of cooking as the reward. IceDaddy contributed his part with plenty of grilling.

Before I get to the main event, the undercard of the weekend was a Foodventure about 15 years in the making - a pilgrimmage to Monica's Aca y Alla in Deep Ellum. Voted one of the top 10 restaurants when it opened in 1993, it's a funky, fun atmosphere with strong margaritas and a nice mix of traditional Tex-Mex and Mexico City. The bar bill for the foursome was higher than the food, both a reflection of how long we hung out and a tribute to the decency of the margaritas. Monica's is owned by a longtime Dallas resident/restauranteur Monica Greene. Her funky approach to the restaurant business has won fans in spades. Our dining companions recommended the Mexican lasagna, and it did not disappoint. Layered corn tortillas, tomatillo sauce, chicken, corn, black beans, and cheese layered up and served with tomato sauce. It had echoes of King Ranch chicken, but without the taste of Campbell's cream of chicken as the predominant flavor (and it tasted better). Culinarily inspired, I turned to the cookbooks for the rest of the weekend's fare.

On the menu Sunday: Prime Ribeyes (thanks Market Street) with garlic/lemon butter, baked potatoes, and homemade creamed corn. Dessert was a strawberry cheesecake tart in phyllo dough - YUM!

A meal so simple owes its success to the best ingredients you can afford. In this case, our local Market Street is a great source for USDA Prime (or Priiiiiiime Tiiiiiime - oops, Deon Sanders reference) beef. Prime is usually only available at restaurants, so the opportunity to cook it at home (at a much cheaper price than the $50+ a typical steak entree at a nice steak place costs) is a great option. Now, if you suck at cooking steaks on the grill, you might not want to drop $20 on a steak and ruin it. Leave that cooking to the professionals. But, if you're reasonably decent with a grill, you can have a wonderful steak that is absolutely tender and juicy without a)forcing your spouse to dress up b)saving over half the money you would normally spend and c)eating your meal in your pjs if you want.

IceDaddy is certainly happy about not having to get dressed up, drop $50 on a bottle of wine, and can have steak in his flip-flops watching the Rangers game, so he was up for the meal. He is darn good at grilling, and he achieved a great char on the steak, while cooking it to the point of tender juiciness that I so love. I baked the potatoes for a couple hours in the oven since a steak dinner needs a baked potato, and I rounded it out with two super-simple sides.

First, was a really simple creamed corn that is a simplified version of one in "Joy of Cooking." "Joy" murdered the flavor of the creamed corn with too much shallot flavor. I kept it really basic - I cut the corn off of two large cobs and scraped down the milk with it. As far as I'm concerned, the start of summer really occurs when fresh corn is available in the market. I threw the kernels in a pot with a tablespoon of melted butter and sauteed for about 3 minutes to cook the corn. I added about 3 Tbsp of heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste and cooked another 4 minutes or so. Seriously simple and, if you're using the fresh sweet summer corn you will not be disappointed. PS - IceDaddy loved it so much he ate the leftovers out of the pot!

Second side is one that I've made for years. It's a riff on the mushrooms and onions my mother always served with steaks on the rare occasion we had them. I updated mine with baby bella mushrooms and a Vidalia onion since they're in season. Basically, I sauteed up a chopped Vidalia in 2 tsp. of oil on medium low heat until translucent and starting to carmelize. Then, I added 4 oz. of chopped Baby Bellas (aka baby portabella mushrooms). They add a meatier texture and more flavor than the white button mushrooms. After browning those up a bit, I added something a little different - Worcestershire sauce - about 1 Tbsp. I really think it helps do a quick carmelization, but also adds some flavor without a bunch of fat. Salt and pepper to taste and voila!

Dessert was an adventure - TRUE CONFESSION: I am a phyllo-cooking virgin! Never cooked with that before (though I've eaten plenty!). Recipe was pretty simple - layer the paper-thin phyllo dough on parchment paper inside a greased glass baking dish (buttered liberally). Between each sheet of phyllo, butter liberally. How can you not love a recipe that requires butter as a base of a crust. After baking the phyllo for a little while, you pour over the cheesecake filling (pretty typical cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla concoction) and bake some more. After cooling, strawberries are judiciously sprinkled, er placed, over the filling and brushed with melted jelly. Though the recipe called for currant jelly, not having it readily available in the store, I subbed strawberry jelly.

I have to tell you, one bite of that buttery pastry combined with fresh strawberries and a decent, if thin layer, of cheesecake - my taste buds were doing the happy dance.

Now, this wasn't even the cooking for Memorial Day!!! That's a different post!

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