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Thai-Style Steak Salad

July 2, 2012

At least once a week we opt for a dinner salad.  Tired from a long day of work or summertime adventures as it may be, dinner can be on the table in minutes with just a bit of forethought.  Our secret… grill enough meat on the weekend to have hearty leftovers.  Perhaps it is a breast of chicken spared from our ravenous tots or a generous morsel of salmon craftily hidden from my husband’s lunch, or as the case was last weekend, a nice piece of hanger steak.  Steak salad takes on endless incarnations, but this is one of our favorites from Sunset magazine years ago.

Thai-Style Steak Salad bursts with flavor from a mixture of fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables, salty peanuts, and a tangy dressing.  Using leftover grilled meat makes it a cinch to pull together, but you could certainly grill up a steak for the occasion.  The dressing is super light and oil free helping this dinner balance out the indulgences of the weekend.  The chili garlic sauce is spicy so adjust the amount to your own taste.

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This is no ordinary burger, in fact, it is quite possibly the best burger I have ever had.  I know, it is a bold statement, but one spoken from the stomach heart.  We make burgers once a month or so, usually as an easy dinner.  That is how this meal began, as an answer to what to make for dinner that would be easy, popular, and satisfying.  That was all well and good, until I got it in my head that I could make everything from scratch. Oh, and add bacon to the beef.  Whoa.

After we picked up a meat grinder attachment for our Kitchenaide, we discovered the magic of burgers made with freshly ground meat.  This burger includes not only beef chuck roast, but also a very special not-so-secret ingredient, bacon!  This was a perfect use for some bacon ends we had from our piggy in the freezer.  Using a ration of 4 parts beef to 1 part bacon, I ground the two meats with the course grinding plate.  After lightly tossing them to mix, I loosely formed them into patties.  I pressed the meat just enough so they would hold together on the grill, but so there were still some small air spaces between the meat pieces.  This gives a place for the juices and fat to collect (did I mention this is not a low-fat meal).  Grilled over medium high and plopped on a fresh toasted bun, these burgers taste amazing.  The bacon flavor is strong enough to make itself known, without being overpowering.  The best part is that unlike a burger topped with slices of bacon, the bacon does not slide out of the bun as you try to bite through it.  The flavors of the beef and bacon are perfectly blended.  And then there is the bun…

This recipe came from King Arthur Bread.  They were so good that my son declared, “Mom, these are CRAZY.  I never want to buy buns again.” (I love that my kids love to eat!)  The recipe uses an egg and some butter, so the buns are very tender and hold together well under the pressure of the burger and condiments.  They browned up beautifully and some extra butter brushed over the top yields a very tender top, making it easy to bite into the burger.   They came together very quickly and rose through the day.  The recipe makes 8 buns large enough for 1/4 pound burgers or bigger. This is enough for two meals for my family, so I froze half of the buns for another dinner.  You could also make the buns smaller and use them for sliders.  They would be delicious with pulled pork.  Mmmmm…  We will definitely make these again.

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Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup

February 27, 2011

Somewhat recently, I discovered Vietnamese Pho and its cousin Hue.  There are a number of restaurants in town that dedicate almost their entire menu to these hot and spicy soups.  At first, they seemed so exotic and indulgent with the fresh bean sprouts and peppers topping the hot rich broth perfumed with fresh basil or cilantro. When I first made the soup myself though, I realized how incredibly simple and healthy they are.  A few simple fresh ingredients come together with some basic Asian cooking staples: rice noodles, fish sauce, and sambal oeleck.  The result is a hot and spicy nourishing soup.

To speed up cooking time, consider cooking the broth and meat in a pressure cooker.  In just ten minutes, the meat is cooked to an almost divine tenderness.  You save time and energy, and the dish is possibly more delicious than the traditional method of slow simmering.

This recipe for Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup is incredibly versatile.  Feel free to substitute chicken or even tofu for the beef (and decrease the cooking time).  The garnish is also very adaptable.  We have an uncommon fondness for cabbage, so that is our go-to condiment, but that can be replaced with bean sprouts as well.  Trade the fresh hot peppers for dried chilies if you prefer.  If you do not have lime on hand, give the soup a splash of rice vinegar at the end to add the bright acidic finish.  This soup is very good, one of our favorites. Try it and let me know what you think!

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Big Beef Chili

February 1, 2011

I love the Superbowl, but not for the reason you may suspect.  Football doesn’t hold much sway with me.  What I do relish is the captive, hungry audience to feed.  To me, the Superbowl is more about food than it is about the game.

A rich pot of chili may be the ideal meal for game day.  It can be made ahead and kept warm on the stove or in a crockpot.  Hungry guests can easily fill their bowl whenever they like.  I prepare it in the morning and let it cook long and slow on the stove or in the crockpot.  All that is left to do before the game is to make sure there is enough beer in the fridge and whip up some cornbread.

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Wine Braised Short Ribs

January 1, 2011

New Year’s Eve demands attention.  It is the last day of the year, and like many big deadlines,  it pressures us to make the most of our final minutes.  We often feel obliged to stay up late and live large on this cold night.  We either celebrate the blessings of the previous year or say good riddance to a year that treated us harshly.  For my husband and I however,  times have changed.

This year we did not ring in the new year as we once had.  There were no loud parties, drunken dances, or boisterous cheers.  Perhaps it is as the checkout gal at the butcher shop and I agreed, we have paid our dues by partying wholeheartedly in previous years and we deserve a night off.  Perhaps we are lured by the calm and seemingly more desirable option of staying in with a delicious meal and a bottle of bubbly.  Perhaps we just don’t have a babysitter.  Whatever it is, the food made the night (and the company of course!).

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Swedish Meatballs (Kottbullar)

December 13, 2010

Growing up in a Scandinavian American household, the tradition of Santa Lucia was always one that spoke to me, not only as a connection to my Swedish heritage, but also to the rhythm of the seasons.  Last night, my children and I gathered around our Santa Lucia doll and I told her story (generously interpreted).

Santa Lucia

A long time ago in Sweden (which is near the North Pole, a meaningful landmark for those obsessed with that region of planet this month), the days were short and the nights were long and cold.  The people of Sweden did not have enough food to eat.  One night, they looked out over the water and saw a beautiful woman gliding towards them.  Upon her head, she wore a crown of light and in her arms she carried food for the hungry.  Santa Lucia  saved the people of Sweden, not only from their hunger, but from their despair as well.  The food she brought filled their aching bellies and the light she wore reignited their hope of brighter days to come.

Many cultures have special ways to celebrate the Winter Solstice, the Northern hemisphere’s shortest day.  This is naturally a time of year to draw inward, hibernate, and nourish our minds and souls with quiet time.  The holidays though, provide an opportunity to gather, share, and allow us to look forward to the brighter days of spring and summer.  As a child, I loved Santa Lucia Day.  I would dress in a white robe, crown myself with lit candles and then, with hesitant steps, deliver cookies to my family or classmates.  It is easy to hook children into a tradition, when cookies are involved!  My daughter is still too young to wear a crown of fire, but still she  glowed with pride at being the chosen one to carry the cookies to our table.

carrying cookies

The foods we prepare and serve our loved ones on these special days define our traditions.  In honor of Santa Lucia, I prepared a hearty feast of Kottbullar (Swedish Meatballs).  To complete the meal, I served them with mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce, and agurke salat (cucumber salad).

Santa Lucia mealThis meal ties my family and me to our ancestors.  The meatball recipe originates from my maternal great-grandmother, Agda, who grew up in Sweden.  I never had a chance to meet Agda, or Gigi as she was affectionately known by her grandchildren.   Nonetheless, I feel a connection to this special woman through the rosy stories shared by my mother and her cousins.  Of course, her spirit lives on through her recipes as well.

These meatballs are outstanding.  If you have only experienced Swedish meatballs from the cafeteria line at IKEA, you are going to be blown away.  They are tender and moist without any of the strange chewy texture that plagues store-bought meatballs.  The subtle sweetness and hint of allspice make for a delicious treat.  In this recipe, you broil the meatballs to brown them.  This is a huge time saver over browning them in a pan.  You still get that yummy caramelization without all the time and trouble of  stove top browning.  One significant change from the family recipe is the omission of veal.  I have too many fond memories of feeding calves on my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm to consider veal good eats.  If anyone knows of a source for humanely raised veal, let me know.   This dish is a huge hit with my whole family.  Serve as a main dish or a popular appetizer!

kottbullar plateSwedish Meatballs (Kottbullar)

Adapted slightly from my Great-grandmother Agda

serves 6 as a main dish

1/3 cup minced onion

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 pound ground chuck

1/2 pound ground pork

Soak bread for 5 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  (I like to use my hands to mix instead of bothering with a spoon).  Roll into 3/4 inch balls. Wet your hands well to prevent sticking.  After several meatballs, if your hands begin to stick, simply rinse them in warm water and begin again.  Place meatballs on baking trays, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Remove trays from refrigerator and uncover.  Brown under broiler.  Put in a baking dish with 1/2 cup beef broth.  Cover and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  Alternately, place in a slow cooker on low.

Serve meatballs over potatoes, egg noodles, or eat them with a toothpick.  They are delicious enough to stand on their own, but yummy with gravy too.

These meatballs freeze very well.  Feel free to double the recipe and make enough for another dinner.

Here is a printer friendly version of the recipe: Swedish Meatballs (Kottbullar)

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