Monthly Archives: September 2016

Melt in Your Mouth Delicious!

Thai is one of my favorite cuisines, so when Thai Watercress and Steak Salad popped up in our “Make It Tonight” series from Fine Cooking, I knew we had to try it. Perfect for supper on a warm weeknight—which are starting to dwindle now that summer is but a not-so-distant memory. Plus, no cooking other than the few minutes the meat is on the grill.

A bright, tangy, fruity Thai dressing enhances the peppery bite of raw watercress, fabricating a myriad of flavors and colors to engage your senses. And engage it did. The steak was amazingly tender, and all of the flavors came together in perfect harmony. Russ was even surprised to learn there was jalapeño in the dressing. Yes, it was only a half of one, but it added just enough tang to be the perfect counterpoint to the sweet pineapple chunks.

Thinking ahead, we purposely chose a flank steak that was over 1 1/2 pounds, so that we’d have some leftover slices for a future meal—or to be honest, just to munch on when the urge arose.

Those of you who do not include red meat in your diet, feel free to substitute some leftover chicken, pork tenderloin or tofu.

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Oil and season the flank steak with salt on both sides.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. skirt steak or flank steak
  • 1 Tbs. canola or other neutral oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 large bunch watercress (about 7 oz.), stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped unsalted peanuts

IMG_7217Grill the steak for 3 minutes on each side over direct heat.

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After resting under tented foil for 10 minutes, the steak is sliced against the grain.

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Once cooled enough, toss the meat slices with the other ingredients before plating on the bed of watercress.

Directions

  1. Prepare a medium (350°F to 375°F) gas or charcoal grill fire or heat a grill pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Brush the steak with the oil and season all over with 1/4 tsp. salt.
  2. Grill the steak, turning occasionally, until cooked to your liking, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare (125°F). Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes (if the steak is too hot, it will wilt the greens).
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and jalapeño.
  4. Thinly slice the steak against the grain. In a large bowl, combine the steak, tomatoes, pineapple, and onion. Add the dressing and toss to combine.
  5. Just before serving, put the watercress on a platter, lightly salt, and toss. Top with the steak mixture and peanuts, and serve.

by Laura B. Russell from Fine Cooking

IMG_7225Top with peanuts for an added crunch factor.

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Flavor on Main; A Wedding in Reva

Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains / Shenandoah National Park, and just an hour drive from Washington D.C, Culpeper, Virginia has so much to offer with its vast history and nicely preserved historic buildings. (Coincidentally, just a few short weeks ago, we were visiting friends at the HEAD of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Nazareth, PA.)

We were in town to attend a friend’s daughter’s wedding, so a little bonding time with Culpeper was in order—as it was our first time in the area. After a slight mishap at checkin (our friends had mistakenly reserved the room for a Russell Bishop instead of Russell Hartman), we familiarized ourselves with the layout of the town via online maps. On the ride down I made early dinner reservations because we were invited for an after-the-rehearsal get together with the bridal party and families.

For this dinner we stepped back in time at Flavor on Main, a roaring twenties and thirties themed restaurant on an historical art deco style main street that was voted “Top Ten Main Streets in America.” History comes to life in this beautifully decorated restaurant with its wonderful ambiance, delicious cuisine and amazing specialty and prohibition cocktails. They also have hotel rooms that can accommodate everyone from the curious tourist to a large bridal party.

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The Chaplin Room.

While we chose to sit outside on the veranda, inside dining options include rooms with elaborate 1920’s and ‘30’s detail, with the décor vibe in Prohibition jazz style showcasing hand-stamped ceilings and chrome, exuding an overall slick, clean look. These theme inspired dining rooms are appropriately named The Great Gatsby and The Chaplin Room. When combined, the private dining area can seat up to 80 guests. (I was so impressed with the bathroom, below, that I had to take a photo!)

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ONE CANNOT THINK WELL, LOVE WELL, SLEEP WELL, IF ONE HAS NOT DINED WELL.

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In addition to the regular menu, our waitress informed us of the night’s specials, and one intriguing appetizer, Bison Carpaccio, caught my immediate attention. It arrived on a piece of slate with a smooth river rock heated to 500 degrees. The tenderloin of bison came uniformly sliced atop a bed of chimichurri sauce with healthy dollops of an olive tapenade and a delicious cherry compote accompanied by a lightly dressed arugula salad offering a bright note to the dish.

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It was worth ordering for the visual presentation alone, but then you add in the interactivity of searing each slice of bison on top of the hot rock to cook to your desired doneness, what fun, and oh how amazingly delicious! I was so caught up in it that the Executive Chef Garth Hansen—a very young guy—came out to personally thank me for my enthusiasm over his creation.

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Russ enjoyed Flavor’s Caesar Salad with grilled baby romaine hearts, buttermilk caesar, homemade croutons, parmesan, heirloom tomatoes and anchovies. Simple in it’s origin, you can tell they used the best local ingredients. And to his delight, Russ noticed the anchovies were “fresh cured”—in Spain known as boquerones. 

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For our main entrees we went with items from the regular menu. I chose the Crispy Crab Cakes on a mound of crisp-tender brussels sprouts (in exchange for the white truffle whipped potatoes), topped with asparagus spears and playfully surrounded with quarter-sized balls of a Cajun remoulade.

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Russ’s Southern Comfort, was a new take on fried chicken because it was pickled. It came plated over a mound of the most creamiest white truffle mashed potatoes he’s ever tasted with red-eyed gravy and the aforementioned brussels sprouts. So good that this Northern boy almost licked the plate!

During our meal we engaged in a conversation with another couple who were born and bred in Culpeper and have remained there for their entire lives. They got to describing some of the sights and happenings around town which we were able to take advantage of the next day before the onset of the late afternoon wedding.

In addition to a Friday evening festival, a Saturday morning farmer’s market, historical museums, famous distilleries, breweries and wineries, Davis Street is the place for shopping—offering quintessential Southern boutiques in spades. And we contributed generously to their local economy… not surprisingly, most of it food-related with imported chocolates from Frenchman’s Corner, gluten-free uncommon pasta shapes and flavored vinegars and oils from Taste, and fabulous imported and local cheeses from Culpeper Cheese Company, to name a few.

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Shopping aside, I have to mention the wedding venue. OMG, what a place! Walden Hall, a luxury bed and breakfast, is a short drive from Culpeper and sits on 10 acres of rolling farmland in the tranquil countryside of Reva, Virginia.

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It was a mostly cloudy day, until just minutes before the ceremony began when the clouds parted and brilliant sunshine lit up the countryside.

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The barn is getting ready to receive guests for a reception after the ceremony.

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Cocktail hour was held by the pool prior to heading for the barn reception.

The owners, Dave and Julie, took possession of the property (appropriately) on Valentine’s Day, 2015, and over the next three months, oversaw an incredible renovation that included adding two bathrooms, knocking down walls, adding windows, and repainting, decorating and furnishing the 16,000 square foot home. The final product was revealed on May 1, 2015, and Walden Hall opened for business.

Five guest rooms, each with en suite bathroom, feature hand-picked furniture inspired by the 19th-century poets for whom they are named. The bridal suite where the bride and groom stayed was a four-room affair with a shower as big as someone’s bedroom!

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Just one of the attention to details scattered about the barn reception.

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A live band played an array of tunes long into the night.

If you ever get the opportunity, take a trip to Culpeper and check out all the town has to offer, and top it off with a visit to Walden Hall. After all, it is a fantastic destination for weekend jaunts with interesting places to stay, fantastic food, and plenty of liquid love to go around.

Color Your World Healthy

Like vegetables? Even if you don’t so much, preparing them this way may persuade you to eat them more, because it’s totally up to you exactly which veggies and fresh herbs to choose, and there’s no measuring!

Russ and I have been grilling a fresh vegetable medley, three out of four seasons, for years. Not only is it extremely healthy for you, and tasty to boot, but you can round up any that are starting to be questionable, or if you have dribs and drabs that would otherwise get thrown out (hopefully into your compost bin.) Plus we enjoy discovering new varieties such as the mini-oblong eggplant and tiny green-yellow bell peppers used this time.

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Our medley included vidalia onion, shallot, red bell peppers, mini green bell peppers, summer squash, eggplant, garlic cloves, rosemary and thyme.

One of our favorite additions is incorporating cloves of fresh garlic. Make sure to smash them slightly with the flat blade of a chef’s knife to infuse their flavor onto the rest of the participants. In the end, they caramelize adding a soft, mellow flavor to the overall dish.

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The cut veggies are added to a ziploc bag.

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Once the oil, herbs and spices are added, seal the bag and toss around.

Once you’ve cut them down to bite-size pieces, add them to a ziploc bag, pour in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or a good flavored one of choice), sprinkle in your minced herbs, and add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt and a 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Zip up the bag, toss around for several seconds to coat everything evenly. It’s best to let them marinate between 1-4 hours—any longer could compromise the integrity of some vegetables. If marinating longer than one hour, put in your frig until a 1/2 hour prior to grilling.

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Use a grill basket to keep the vegetables corralled. 

Turn on the burners on one side of the grill, placing your basket over the indirect heat side. Cover with grill lid, and turn every ten minutes or so for about 30-40 minutes, depending on which vegetables you are cooking. Once they seem soft enough, move over above the direct heat, turning every couple of minutes until you get the desired char. If you want to add cherry or grape tomatoes, don’t incorporate them into the mix until you move the basket over direct flames.

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The veggies are perfect once you see this slight char all over the medley. Move from grill basket to serving dish.

Some other vegetables to try in the medley:

  • Mushrooms (any kind)
  • Peppers (any kind)
  • Zucchini
  • Asparagus
  • Greeb Beans
  • Scallions
  • Butternut/Acorn Squash
  • Pattypan Squash
  • Fennel (sliced thin)
  • Fingerling potatoes, sliced in half (you should microwave these first for a few minutes)

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With a few slices of grilled flank steak, this made a perfect lo-carb meal.

So go ahead and experiment, just make sure you use a variety of colors, after all, we eat with our eyes first!

 

Be Proudah Yo Corn Chowdah

Corn season is winding down, so why not end it with a grand finale? This Creamy Corn Chowder is NOT one of those quick, get-it-done-in-15-minutes recipes. All said and done it’s going to takes nearly 3 hours to prep and cook, so take a page from my book and do the first two steps the night before—unless of course you have time on your hands… (and who the heck are you people anyway?)

It’s not necessarily diet-friendly either. But who says you have to shovel down a large bowlful? Enjoy a smaller amount (after all, it is filling), with a side salad for a complete meal—very French—all about pleasure. Eating is sensory, so eat with all five senses, and appreciate the little experiences of small portions and bites.

Fresno chiles are not the easiest to find, so the best substitute is a Jalapeño; and if you want to kick it up a notch use Serrano chiles (we incorporated 3 Serranos and the kick was barely discernible.) To make this vegetarian, just omit the bacon and replace with more shiitake mushrooms; sautéing them until they’re golden brown.

We both concurred, this was THE BEST corn chowder we’ve ever had! You’ll be dreaming about it until next corn season rolls around… Mmmmm… savor the flavor…

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Slice the corn right off the cob with a large, sharp chef’s knife.

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To catch errant kernels, use a rimmed baking sheet as you slice corn off the cob.

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To make broth, add 8 cups water, cobs, parmesan rinds, mushroom stems, bay leaf and thyme.

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After simmering for nearly an hour, drain the solids from the broth.

Ingredients

  • 8 ears of corn
  • 2 Parmesan rinds (about 4 ounces; optional)
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and reserved, caps cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 2 Fresno chiles, seeded, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped marjoram
  • Chopped parsley and crushed oyster crackers (for serving)

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Heat butter in a large heavy pot, add corn kernels cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is tender and juices have evaporated and browned on the bottom of the pot.

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Add wine to pot and cook, scraping up browned bits, until liquid is syrupy.

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Cook bacon until golden brown and fat has rendered.

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Add potatoes, shallots, leek, garlic, and chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened.

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Add reserved broth, and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fork-tender; the chowder starts to thicken at this point.

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Next, add cream and corn mixture and cook, stirring, until chowder has thickened.

Directions

  1. Cut kernels from cobs and place in a large bowl. Place cobs in a medium pot and add Parmesan rinds, if using, mushroom stems, thyme, bay leaf, 2 tsp. salt, and 8 cups water.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until broth is fragrant and reduced by half, 40–50 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl; discard solids and set broth aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 4 Tbsp. butter in a large heavy pot over medium-high. Add corn kernels, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is tender and juices have evaporated and browned on the bottom of the pot, 12–15 minutes. Reserve ½ cup corn for serving; transfer remaining corn to a medium bowl.
  4. Add wine to pot and cook, scraping up browned bits, until liquid is syrupy, about 2 minutes. Scrape into bowl with remaining corn.
  5. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. butter in same pot over medium and cook bacon until golden brown and fat has rendered, about 6 minutes. Add potatoes, shallots, leek, garlic, and chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened but haven’t taken on any color, 12–15 minutes.
  6. Add chiles and cook until fragrant and softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook until nutty and fragrant, about 1 minute.
  7. Add reserved broth, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fork-tender, 10–15 minutes.
  8. Add cream and corn mixture and cook, stirring, until chowder has thickened, 5–10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in marjoram. Let sit 15 minutes before serving.
  9. Divide chowder among bowls. Top with parsley, oyster crackers, and reserved ½ cup corn; season with pepper.
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Recipe by Rick Martinez from Bon Appetit

 

The Baum Shelter

As has been our practice for many years now, in late summer we often visit good friends Merry Sue and Fred Baum at their home of 16 years in Nazareth, PA lovingly dubbed “The Baum Shelter.” Their expansive panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains (with the Appalachian Trail on the other side) is to die for, and it is so blissfully peaceful one can’t help but relax and decompress. So after some quick chit-chat, we don our swimsuits and head down to the in-ground pool to get our chill on…

In the early evening we’re back up in the house for cocktail hour. My view from the kitchen barstool was watching Freddie prepare dinner. I’d be remiss if I didn’t blog about his chicken wing contraption. It was brilliant! He got the main piece from a local tractor supply company and did his mechanical engineering magic on it so that the drumsticks fit perfectly in the notches on one side, and the wings are threaded onto a skewer on the other side.

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Freddie threads the wing pieces onto the skewer side.

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The foreground displays the drum knuckles in the notches, while the wings hang in the background.

First, he made a dry rub mix, coated the chicken pieces, assembled them appropriately onto the wing gizmo, and then set the entire thing on a hot grill, resulting in perfectly cooked, nongreasy, crispy deliciousness. I liked mine with a squirt of Sriracha (I know, you’re shocked…)

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Russ and Fred pose in front of the wing gizmo, while Merry Sue buzzes by in the background.

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The wings are cooked over a hot fire on Fred’s engine grill.

Along with the wings, we did “simple” for dinner including our shrimp cocktail, and the fresh corn on the cob picked the day before at our local farm market—can’t get much easier than that. Also on the menu were Fred’s homemade baked beans in a bourbon sauce, and his ginormous burgers made from a mix of ground beef and pork, chopped onion and spices, with your choice of cheese (I did Swiss), sliced red onion and fabulous tomatoes—compliments of the neighbor’s garden. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!

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The aroma of Fred’s tasty homemade baked beans in bourbon sauce wafted through the house upon arrival earlier that day.

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The burgers dwarfed the buns but allowed plenty of room for toppings.

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Weimaraner Lucy looks out from under the table hoping one of us will accidentally drop some food.

Sunday morning Merry Sue was the hostess-with-the-mostest serving as a short order cook making individual breakfast requests, one at a time. Apparently their new son-in-law-to-be who works in the hotel industry, informed them of the correct ordering system:

(Eggs over easy are a Merry Sue specialty)

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Russ’s #47: 2 eggs over easy on a bed of crispy hash browns with a side of bacon—hold the toast.

All four of us are crossword aficionados, and Sunday morning/afternoon we outdid ourselves solving four different versions in a row—which included the two biggies: The NY Times and Los Angeles Times. My head was hurting after that marathon…

As we filled in those squares, a conversation over a trip to the NY Finger Lakes in October began to take shape. So online we went only to find out every single B&B was booked up through Thanksgiving—people are serious about their fall foliage sightseeing in the Northeast. I guess I had a few brain cells left because I suggested the Hudson River Valley as an alternative, and luckily we scored—that story to be continued…

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Attire for the weekend is T-shirt and sandal casual.

Only an hour and a half away via several major interstates, yet it feels like another world when visiting The Baum Shelter. Late Sunday afternoon crept up on us and it was time to head back to reality—but we know in a few short weeks we’ll be getting together again and exploring the Hudson River Valley… and patronizing some of their restaurants…

 

You’re Definitely Going to Want Leftovers

This recipe was originally developed by Pierre Franey in 1991 for the 60-Minute Gourmet column, a weekly feature dedicated to Times-worthy dishes that were easy, quick and inexpensive. Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Capers fit the bill perfectly, and it still does today. Just sauté the chicken breasts until they are lightly browned. Then add shallots and garlic, tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar, capers, white wine and tomato paste. Stir well and cook for about 9 minutes more. That’s it. Or at least, that’s what they wrote…

A slew of ripe locally-grown tomatoes lined our countertop which we used as opposed to plum or canned. If using fresh, the directions didn’t mention removing the tomato skins, which can create a stringy, unappealing texture in an otherwise lovely sauce. So off they came!

I have found the easiest way to remove skins is to slice a shallow X on the bottom of the fruit, drop them top down into a pot of boiling water for only 30 seconds, remove and place the tomatoes directly into a prepared bowl of ice water and let them cool off. This will help to stop any “cooking” that has started.

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After boiling for 30 seconds and plunging into a cold bath, the skins are easily removed.

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Slice down the skinless tomatoes and remove the seeds and liquidy flesh, then chop down and drain.

Nor do the directions indicate to drain the plum tomatoes, and even though I sliced our big boys and removed the seeds and liquidy flesh, I still should have drained them of excess moisture. Several reviewers removed the chicken while the sauce cooked down to a desired consistency, avoiding overdone, rubbery fowl, so I decided to heed their advice.

Our mixture was quite watery indeed requiring an extra 30 minutes (not exactly desirable on a weeknight) to reduce and thicken the sauce to the desired consistency. Then I replaced the chicken, and covered the skillet for about 5 minutes until done. Russ thinks next time, after the garlic and shallots are fragrant, we should pour in the other liquids (wine and vinegar) and let it burn off some, thus eliminating some moisture up front. That’s what I like about that guy, he’s always thinking…

Our changes are incorporated in the directions below. Do yourself a favor, to save time use canned San Marzano tomatoes, you’ll eliminate several steps—and I’m guessing with equally amazing results! Luckily, we had leftovers, so we shredded the chicken, reheated the sauce and served over pasta. Would also be really good over mashed potatoes, rice, or polenta.

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Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 1/4 pounds)
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped (or 8 ripe plum tomatoes cut into small cubes and drained)
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup drained capers
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

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Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts.

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In a large skillet, brown all sides in butter and oil.

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After the chicken is browned for about 5 minutes, sauté the minced shallot and garlic.

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Next time, we will add the white wine and vinegar to the shallot-garlic sautée before adding the rest of the ingredients to reduce down the amount of liquid. 

Directions

  1. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottom skillet. Add the chicken breasts and saute over medium-high heat, turning the pieces often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
  2. Move chicken to a platter and cover with tin foil.
  3. Add the shallots and garlic to the hot skillet. Cook briefly; then add the white wine and red wine vinegar, reducing down about 2 minutes.
  4. Next add the tarragon, tomatoes, capers, and tomato paste. Stir to dissolve the brown particles adhering to the bottom of the skillet.
  5. Blend well, bring to a boil, and simmer for 9 minutes or more, reducing to preferred consistency.
  6. Add the chicken back to the skillet, cover and simmer for 5 minutes (longer if necessary, check with a meat thermometer.)
  7. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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The original meal was so good we were glad there were leftovers… 

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Leftovers mixed with pasta and a side of sautéd spinach, really good!

The New Kid in Town

Oh, my, my… There’s a new kid in town
Ooh, hoo
Everybody’s talking ’bout the new kid in town
Ooh, hoo
Boccaccio come lately, the new kid in town…
(paraphrased from The Eagles song)

For reasons we couldn’t fathom, one of our favorite BYO’s in Newtown, Tiramisu, closed unexpectedly this past spring. Every time we’d drive by the shuttered facility on State Street, we’d anxiously glance to see if a new restaurant had taken over. Finally we were rewarded with the sign “Now Open, Boccaccio, authentic Italian food.”

The first opportunity I had to check it out was a night Russ had other commitments so I enticed my “gal-pals” Rosanne and Jeremy to join me on a maiden voyage. Arriving first, I was greeted by the host Rosalba (who I’d later find out was the owner), and once seated, John our waiter asked about water preference and explained the specials will be revealed when the rest of the party appears.

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Husband and wife team Rosalba and Antonio.

While I waited, it gave me a chance to eyeball the new decor which was fresh and clean, leaning toward the modern, but not drastically changed. With the extra time I also scrutinized their dinner menu, and while not huge in scope, it offers about a dozen choices each under their tempting Appetizers, Pastas, and Main Entrees lists.

My gals appeared shortly and we set about uncorking the wine and chatting up a storm before John came by to entice us with the specials of the night. As we pondered what to order, we received a bread basket containing a few varieties paired with a dish of olive oil layered with fresh herbs and spices.

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As an appetizer we all agreed to share the Gamberoni, consisting of three large, pancetta-wrapped shrimp that were dipped in beer batter, lightly fried to perfection and served with homemade buffalo sauce. OMG, you have to try these babies! The sauce had a bit of a kick to it, but nothing overwhelming.

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Side salads are not usually something to write home about, but I must admit, their homemade dressing  contained stone ground mustard that was just delicious topping the crisp-fresh salad ingredients.

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For some odd reason it is uncommon for me to order pork when we dine out—I don’t know why, I love pork! Although several decades ago there was about a 10-year period when I did’t eat it at all. Again, don’t know why, just didn’t. But I kept going back to the Macellaio on the menu and decided that was the dish for me. Jeremy was torn between a few different items, but in the end, copied me and got the pork too.

The 10-ounce tenderloin finished with sun-dried tomatoes came plated with a crown of broccoli rabe and sliced garlic resting on a bed of the most creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve indulged in recently, all nestled in a shallow wash of marsala sauce. While the broccoli rabe was very tasty, my only complaint about the dish was that the stems were a bit tough to cut through. Nonetheless, the meal was a winner!

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After careful consideration, Rosanne opted for one of the night’s specials, Lobster Ravioli which arrived bathing in a white wine and cheese sauce with pancetta bits and cherry tomatoes—although they weren’t visible to the eye. When Rosanne mentioned that the tomatoes were missing, she was told they were part of the sauce. OK, we went with that…

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As you know, dessert is just not my thing, but Jeremy and Rosanne couldn’t resist sharing an order of the Crème Brûlée, and what a pretty presentation it was. The dessert consists of a rich custard base, traditionally flavored with vanilla, topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel and served at room temperature. A two-spoon effort, I wasn’t hearing any complaints from the gal-pals.

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Crème Brûlée is also one of Russ’ faves, and after hearing our rave reviews, he can’t wait until we go back.

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As noted on their website, Chef Ciro started cooking in Italy at the age of 8 and studied to become a chef in Tuscany, after which he moved to the U.S. and worked in Atlanta for a hotel chain before opening Boccaccio. Lucky for us, Ciro (above in the chef’s jacket) agreed to pose for a photo with waiter John. It was becoming a family affair—and that’s exactly how they made us feel, like family!

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A parting gift, Italian chocolates!

Congrats to the entire Boccaccio team. All hail the new kid in town, who hopefully will become a well-known neighbor for years to come!

Multi-Dimensional Steak Glaze

Here’s another recipe using my much beloved Miso, which makes me-so-happy! This time we made sure to have the white variety on hand for the Hanger Steak with Spicy Miso Glaze. Failing to locate it in the refrigerated section of the supermarket where we’ve always found it in the past, a grocer lead us to a container sitting on a shelf in the ethnic food aisle. Who knew? We didn’t, but now we do.

What the supermarket did not have though, was hanger steak. Grrrrrr. A butcher saw our frustration and said he would order it for us to pick up later in the week. Unfortunately, that was going to be too late. For a long period of time it wasn’t even sold to the general public, reserved mostly for ground beef, or taken home by the butchers (earning it the nickname “butcher’s steak”)—hmmm, maybe they DID have some lurking in the back chiller after all…

These days, it’s become so popular that it’s no longer as dirt cheap as it used to be—after all, there are only two on each steer, and they aren’t particularly large—but it still comes in at around half to a third the price of a typical high-end steak at the supermarket. If you can’t find it, use sirloin tip steak like we did, keep in mind it just cooks more quickly.

And for this reason, we made adjustments with the directions. Figuring the steak would be overcooked if we finished it in a 400 degree oven, we eliminated that step. And good thing because after only 6 minutes of pan searing, the meat was perfectly medium-rare. And that glaze! It hinted at most of the five basic tastes—salty, sour, sweet and umami (savory)—except perhaps bitter—providing a multi-dimensional tasting experience.

So if you plan to make this delicious recipe, ask your butcher to order hanger steak for you ahead of time. Lesson learned.

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Simmering the mirin, shallots, ginger, and garlic over medium heat until the mixture is syrupy and large bubbles form.

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Grapeseed oil, miso, and the hot sauce are added after the skillet is removed from the heat.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 2 Tbs. minced shallots
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. grapeseed oil
  • 2 tsp. light miso
  • 1/4 tsp. Asian hot sauce, such as Sriracha
  • 1 1-3/4- to 2-lb. hanger steak, trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

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Cook the steaks over high heat, flipping once, until browned, about 4 minutes total.

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We spread the glaze evenly over the steaks with a spoon instead of a pastry brush. It is here that you would put into a 400°F oven if cooking hanger steak.

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Instead of putting in the oven, we cooked the sirloin a minute or two longer in the skillet until it reached 130°F to 135°F for medium rare.

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After resting for five minutes, the sirloin was sliced down, topped with the glaze and sprinkled with sliced scallions.

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Simmer the mirin, shallots, ginger, and garlic in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat until the mixture is syrupy and large bubbles start to form, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 Tbs. of the grapeseed oil, the miso, and the hot sauce. Set aside.
  3. Season the steaks generously with salt and pepper. Heat a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the remaining 2 tsp. oil, swirling it until the pan is well coated. Cook the steaks, flipping once, until browned, about 4 minutes total.
  4. Using a pastry brush, spread the glaze evenly over the steaks, transfer to the oven, and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak reads 130°F to 135°F for medium rare, about 4 minutes.
  5. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board, let rest for 5 minutes, and then cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Pour any juice remaining in the pan over top and sprinkle with the scallions.

Adapted from Arlene Jacobs of Fine Cooking

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Side Dish: Scallion-Sesame Sweet Peas

  • 2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (white and black if you have them)
  • 2 scallions, slivered
  • 1 tsp. Asian sesame oil

Cook peas until tender, about 3 minutes over high heat, drain. Toss with the sesame seeds, scallions and sesame oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Short on Time?

If spicy is your thing, and it sure is mine, than you have to try this very easy, very healthy, and very, very quick Spicy Miso-Broiled Shrimp dinner. In it, white miso, ginger, and cayenne combine to give this shrimp dish a bright, savory flavor with a punch of heat. Keep it brisk and serve it with some sautéed watercress and bok choy, a quick Asian take on sautéed greens.

One side note, if you are using a gas stove, the broiler will take quite a few more minutes than an electric stove broiler would. I swear, next time we purchase a new range, we’re highly considering a gas stove top with an electric oven for that very reason… As you can tell, I am not a fan of gas oven broilers ;(

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Ingredients are gathered for the shrimp dish.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium scallions, sliced, whites and greens separated
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. white miso
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne; more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1-1/2 lb. colossal shrimp (13 to 15 per lb.), peeled and deveined, tails left on

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The colossal shrimp marinate in the pungent chunky paste.

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In a half sheet pan lined with foil, we arranged the shrimp in preparation for the broiler.

Directions

  1. Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler on high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. In a small food processor, combine the scallion whites, ginger, fish sauce, miso, garlic, cayenne, paprika, and 2 Tbs. water and pulse to a chunky paste. Transfer to a large bowl, add the shrimp, and toss to coat.
  3. Spread the shrimp on the baking sheet and broil, flipping once, until opaque, about 7 minutes.
  4. Drizzle any liquid from the shrimp pan over the shrimp, and garnish with the scallion greens.

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by William Mickelsen from Fine Cooking

Sautéed Watercress and Bok Choy

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Ingredients

  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 7 to 8 oz. watercress, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 oz. trimmed baby bok choy, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. chicken broth or water
  • 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

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Directions

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the watercress and bok choy; sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt. Add the chicken broth or water, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

by Genevieve Ko from Fine Cooking

La Salade de Pommes de Terre

Seems I’ve been on a French kick the last few blogs, so I thought I’d follow up with yet another one, this time with French Potato Salad with Fennel, Tomato and Olives adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

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Barb, Lynn and Fran pose by the flowering mandeville.

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Grant, Russ and Brad are enjoying the evening and the fact that Hurricane Hermine was a bust for us.

We were invited to a weekend BBQ, and offered to bring a side dish—but the main course had not yet been decided. What goes with just about everything that might be grilled? One answer to that is potato salad. To be perfectly honest, we are not huge fans of mayo-based potato salads, so Russ mentioned a French recipe he recently found that was vinegar and mustard-based. C’est génial!

Of course we often find ourselves altering a recipe, and this was no exception. Instead of all small red potatoes, we used the red, white and blue variety (after all, it was patriotic Labor Day weekend.) And because we thought the coloring might bleed while boiling, producing an unappealing muddy-gray color, they were boiled whole and sliced afterward.

A couple of other tweaks were eliminating the tomato altogether, and using only about a quarter of the fennel bulb, sliced wafer-thin. Fennel can be overwhelming if used with a heavy hand, and we wanted the potatoes and other ingredients to “have their say” as well. Oh, and I completely forgot to save a 1/4 cup of the potato water, even though I put a measuring cup right next to the boiling pot (I cashed in a “senior moment” card), so I added about an 1/8 cup hot water to the dressing to thin it slightly.

Deliscioso!

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Ingredients

  • pounds small red potatoes (about 2-inch diameter), unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • tablespoons table salt
  • medium clove garlic, peeled and threaded on skewer
  • 1 ½ tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • bulb fennel, sliced very, very thin
  • medium tomato (about 6 ounces), peeled, seeded, and diced medium (optional)
  • ¼ cup black olives (oil-cured), pitted and quartered

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A clove of garlic is skewered and partially blanched in the hot water.

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I parboiled the potatoes first before slicing them so the colors wouldn’t bleed.

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The mustard vinaigrette is drizzled over the warm slices.

Directions

  1. Place potatoes, 6 cups cold tap water, and salt in large saucepan; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Lower skewered garlic into simmering water and partially blanch, about 45 seconds. Immediately run garlic under cold tap water to stop cooking; remove garlic from skewer and set aside.
  2. Continue to simmer potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm (thin-bladed paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potato slice with no resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Arrange hot potatoes close together in single layer on rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Press garlic through garlic press or mince by hand. Whisk garlic, reserved potato cooking water, vinegar, mustard, oil, and pepper in small bowl until combined. Drizzle dressing evenly over warm potatoes; let stand 10 minutes.
  4. While potatoes are standing, trim fennel bulb of stalks and fronds; roughly chop fronds (you should have about 1/4 cup). Halve bulb lengthwise; using paring knife, core one half of bulb, reserving second half for another use. Cut half crosswise into very thin slices.
  5. Toss shallot and parsley in small bowl. Transfer potatoes to large serving bowl; add shallot/parsley mixture, fennel, tomato, and olives; mix gently with rubber spatula to combine. Serve immediately

For best flavor, serve the salad warm, but to make ahead, follow the recipe through step 2, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Before serving, bring the salad to room temperature, then add the shallots and other ingredients. When chopping the fennel fronds, use only the delicate wispy leaves, not the tough, fibrous stems to which they are attached.

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The French Connection

Take a schlep out to Montgomery County to try this quaint little bistro with chef extraordinaire Sam Jacobson, who brought his signature skills to Jenkintown (the town where Russ resided before we shacked up together 😉  The place? Shabby chic Leila’s Bistro, an ambitious 28-seat BYOB serving innovative French-inspired American fare. (It’s previous life was an optometrist’s digs.)

LEILA: Name of Arabic origin, and means “night beauty”. An exotic, beautiful, caring name—describing a beautiful woman, who has charm and class.

Good friend and previous coworker with Russ, Lorraine “Witty” Winsey suggested we pick the venue so we researched convenient destinations somewhere between her place of residence and ours. Russ immediately thought of a restaurant he’s been itching to try that garnered great reviews with an overall rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. With Lorraine’s blessing, reservations at Leila’s were made for the Friday of Labor Day weekend.

Situated on a street corner with one small sidewalk bistro table, it’s not exactly an ideal al fresco dining experience, so we ventured in and were offered a choice of tables. You have to understand, for most of the second half of the summer, East Coast weather ran inhumanely hot and humid, but on the day we patronized Leila’s it was spectacular, a 10-out-of-10! Luckily we had both taken off of work and enjoyed the great outdoors for most of the day, so sitting inside was not an issue.

With Lorraine treating, we offered to bring the wine, a red and a white also of French persuasion, which we thought would pair perfectly with the restaurant’s theme. It had been over a year since we all saw each other so we spent a good twenty minutes catching up while sipping our libations. During this chat we found out “Witty” (my new nickname for her since she is just a hoot a minute) had a connection to Jenkintown too. Apparently her ex-husband was from the town, yet she hadn’t been there in nearly 30 years!

Their menu is a simple white piece of paper with an unembellished list of that days starters and entrees, offering 6-8 of each. Both Lorraine and hubby ordered uncommon appetizers with Russ choosing the Fried Brussels Sprouts with bacon and caramel. I tasted them and WOW were they good!

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Lorraine selected the very summery Peach Gazpacho with pickled grapes and cucumber. What an interesting combination and beautiful presentation! And apparently very tasty too because that bowl was almost spotless when she was done. While my choice, Mixed Green Salad with stone fruit dressing and arugula, was boring in comparison, it was none-the-less trés bon.

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I should have bet money on Russ’ entree choice beforehand because he barely hesitated before choosing the Duck Breast which came with an outstanding mushroom ragout and parsnip puree. It apparently called out to Lorraine also because she got the same thing—and they concurred, the meal was magnifique!

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Me, I felt adventurous and selected the Fish of the Day: Black Drum served in a spicy yellow pepper sauce on a bed of kale. What I learned was Black Drum Fish have a mild, sweet flavor with firm flesh and large, moist flakes—comparable to Red Snapper—but the flesh of Black Drum lack hues of color and are simply white. Both the Red Drum and Black Drum Fish have similar flavors, although Black Drum has a coarser, meatier flesh. The smaller fish of both species tend to be sweeter and flakier. Yes indeedy, I would order it again.

In fact, we will make a concerted effort to return to Leila’s because small little “J-Town” is making a name for itself as a destination spot with it’s new restaurants (yes there are several more), and the nostalgia factor for Russ who lived there for 17 years.

Leila connection factoids: Back in my 20’s I had decided if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Leilyn; and to this day Eric Clapton’s song Layla invokes many a good memory…

French with a Touch of Italian, Ooo La La!

Now is a great time of year to get mouth-watering tomatoes and local fresh basil, and Pasta Niçoise incorporates both. In this riff on the classic composed salad from the south of Francespaghetti is tossed with seared tuna, green beans, olives, and, of course, ripe tomatoes. Simple. Quick. Tasty!

Obviously with Russ’s wheat intolerance, we use gluten free pasta whenever possible. Our brand of choice is Barilla because it stays al dente and basically tastes as good as the regular. We only wish they’d make more shapes 😦

When selecting our olives, the supermarket was not carrying the Niçoise type, fresh or jarred, so we opted for the oil-cured black olives which tend to be saltier, but that works for me!

The instructions say to sear the tuna for only 30 seconds per side, which leaves the tuna very rare. I went ahead and seared it for 60 seconds per side, let it sit under foil for 5 minutes and sliced into it. Still too rare for our intentions, I placed the slices back into the hot skillet for another 20 seconds per side, with medium-rare results. Perfect!

And to our mutual delight, we agreed it might have been actually a tad better as leftovers. I guess we’ll just have to make it again to find out…

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The tuna is seasoned, the tomatoes chopped, the beans prepped, and the olives and capers measured.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 oz. dried spaghetti
  • 6 oz. green beans, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 lb. large tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup Niçoise olives, pitted and halved
  • 3 Tbs. capers in vinegar (don’t drain)
  • 3 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh basil, plus small leaves for garnish
  • 1 lb. fresh tuna steak (1-1/2 inches thick), cut into 1-1/2-inch-wide strips

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In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil with the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper.

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After searing 60 seconds per side and resting under foil for 5 minutes, we found the tuna still too rare.

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Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk 2 Tbs. of the olive oil with the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions for al dente, adding the green beans to the water when 2 minutes remain.
  3. Drain the spaghetti and beans and toss with the vinaigrette. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, and basil, and toss. Season to taste with more pepper.
  4. Season the tuna on all sides with salt and pepper. In a large heavy-duty skillet, heat the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil over high heat until shimmering hot. Sear the tuna on all sides, about 30seconds per side. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  5. Divide the pasta and vegetables among four wide, shallow bowls, top with the tuna, and garnish with the basil leaves.

By Ronne Day of Fine Cooking