Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pre-Muffuletta


I was in Junior High on vacation with my parents and my younger brother and sister when I tasted my first Mufalletta. It was lunch time, we were starving, and happened upon a small restaurant with a long line of people stretching out the front door.

My mom, the adventurous one of the family, said it would be worth the wait.

I was skeptical. A sandwich? A line that long for a sandwich?

Up until then, my only reference for a good sandwich was a flimsy piece of pimento loaf slapped between two pieces of Roman Meal and some mustard. I lived a pretty contented life up until then. But that was pre-muffaletta. Once you've had a good muffaletta, there's no going back.






It all begins with the Olive Salad.

A sandwich, in theory, is made up of equally important components: bread, meat, cheese, some type of dressing - but a Muffuletta sandwich without the Olive Salad is, well, like an orchestra without it's conductor. It just won't work. This concoction of tangy, green olives and vegetables marinated in olive oil and vinegar along with oregano and garlic is what brings this sandwich to life. There's something about that vinegar taste that I crave. Like Pavlov's dog, I literally salivate whenever I take a whiff of this olive salad. Note: Some recipes call for lots of black olives or even Kalamata in this salad, but I prefer lots of plain old green olives for the most kick.

Next we have the bread, a nice round Italian to soak up all that vinegar and oil goodness.

Last but not least, we have thinly sliced, high quality, deli ham, salami, and Provolone cheese, stacked so high I could barely get my mouth around it.

And that's pretty much all there is to a Muffuletta. Sometimes I put finely shredded lettuce and thinly sliced tomato, but I didn't have any today, and the sandwich was still excellent without it, if not better. Also, I recommend making it ahead of time, wrapping it up and sticking it in the fridge to marinate a bit. That'll really gets the flavors going.

The bakery I go to was out of ciabatta bread, so I went with a French boule instead. Which was a bit too rustic for this sandwich and a bit too thick, so I scooped out some of the inner bread.

Next time, I think I'm going to try baking my own bread for this sandwich. I'll let you know how it turns out.





Monday, May 25, 2009

Smoked Tri-Tip

How was everyone's weekend?

I am here to say that smoked tri-tip is FANTASTIC(!).

If you or anyone in your family has a smoker, run to the store, buy a tri-tip, and cook one up right now. Serve it with some Jalapeno Brown Beans, Coleslaw, Corn On The Cob, and you will have one happy family.

My hubby did a great job smoking our tri-trip this weekend. I let it refrigerate overnight in a Williams Sonoma Cowboy Coffee and Spice Rub that I had bought last fall. And even though I am normally not one to use pre-made, store bought rubs (I prefer to make my own), this stuff was pretty darn good.

My only regret is that I didn't have time for a picture of this beautifully prepared beef which had a good layer of fat on it, similar to a brisket. It cooked up spicy, and tender, and juicy, and melt in your mouth delicious. And that is what we all kept saying, in a baffled but happy sort of way, while we were eating - This stuff melts in your mouth. I think there is something about the earthiness of the coffee that brings out the flavors of the meat. I will definitely make this again.

I've got a brother who is an avid outdoor cook, and I can't wait to impress him with this recipe. Also, the beans - he will like the beans - cowboy style, with bacon, and onion, and jalapeno, seasoned with cumin and chili powder. Meat and beans. That's pretty much all the guy ever eats. And he's actually pretty thin and healthy. Amazing.

What did you cook this weekend?


Smoked Tri-Tip
adapted from Williams Sonoma website

Ingredients:

1 beef tri-tip, about 2 lb.

3 Tbs. coffee and spice rub

Sea salt, to taste

Directions:
Rub the tri-tip on all sides with the coffee and spice rub. Place the meat in a sealable plastic bag, seal the bag and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

Preheat an electric smoker to 225ºF.

Smoke the tri-tip according to the manufacturer's instructions until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 140-150ºF for medium done, 4-5 hours, or until done to your liking.

Transfer the meat to a carving board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 minutes. Thinly slice the meat across the grain and arrange on a warmed platter. Sprinkle the meat with sea salt.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chapel Creek Winery

I had a spectacular time at a nearby wine festival this weekend.

First off, Oklahoma isn't exactly known for it's vineyards. And we don't have many historic buildings either since we've only been a state for a little over a hundred years. Also, I don't get out much. So when I experience all these things at once - beautiful scenery, wine, food, and good music - well, it's almost overwhelming.

Chapel Creek Winery is located just west of Oklahoma City near El Reno. It is part of an agricultural college, and to the best of my knowledge, the first to teach viticulture in our sate.




A beautiful church located on the property was built in 1913 by a women's group called Order of the Eastern Star and was once used as a school for orphans. Sadly, its dilapidated state prevented us from going inside, and funds are being raised to restore it. So I did my part by contributing the best way I could, and going home with some delightful White Zin in the back of my car.



There are other buildings located on the property as well.

And at first I hesitated to tell you about them, as I wanted this post to be idyllic and picturesque, like you see in the photos above. But like our weather, the architecture of Oklahoma can often be harsh and contrasting as well.

It's such a dichotomy. Directly adjacent to this majestic, old, beautiful, crumbling church, sets a foreboding structure, sound and austere, that resembles something out of a Rob Zombie movie. At least, that's what my son said when first drove up, in that laid back tone that young men have. Eerily and ironically, we later learned that the building once served as an insane asylum.




And in a nod to Hitchcock, birds have built nests beneath the eaves around the entire perimeter of the roof, thereby enhancing the buildings creepiness. The sterile, stark white exterior casts an ominous aura of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. People say it's haunted. And I believe them.




Ghosts and all, it was a spectacular day. My son performed beautifully on the classical guitar, the sky was blue, the birds were chirping, the burgers were tasty, and the wine was pleasantly smooth.



Monday, May 18, 2009

Hi All


I'm going on a business trip with my husband this weekend.
And I'm terribly excited, because as I've said before, we don't have good grocery stores here. But we will be stopping by a Whole Foods on our way home from the trip, and I am so excited. Does anyone else love grocery shopping as much as I do?

On a side note, for those of you who watch what you eat, here's the final word on nutrition and health.
It's a relief to know the real truth after all these conflicting studies we hear about.

1. The Japanese eat very little fat
and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat
and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

3. The Chinese drink very little red wine
and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine
and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

5. The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and fats
and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.


CONCLUSION

Eat and drink what you like.
Speaking English is apparently what kills you.







I picked up some fantastic, locally made, rye bread at the farmers market this weekend and made Reuben sandwiches for Saturday night supper.

A Reuben is a hot sandwich, and I usually prepare these in the oven, under the broiler. But this time I used the panini press instead, and I think I liked this method better. It was much easier and crispier. And my hubby and son loved them.

Since my son is allergic, and has an aversion to anything prepackaged and containing preservatives, and also because all salad dressings contain corn syrup, I went online and found this recipe from The Russian Tea Room for a Russian salad dressing to go on the sandwiches. This dressing brought back fond memories of an Iceberg lettuce salad with a wedge of tomato on it, that I used to have as a kid, in an old, art deco cafe with my grandparents. It was quite good.



Your Basic Reuben Sandwich

Rye bread
Russian Dressing
Sauerkraut
Corned Beef
Swiss Cheese

I like to toast the bread first, just to crisp it up a bit, so that way, the sandwich doesn't get soggy from all the juicy sauerkraut. Then I grill the sandwich in a skillet or a panini press, or toast it in the broiler of the oven.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Due To The Weather

I gotta confess, I think I've been in a bit of a slump lately.

I call it a slump because I can't think of a better name for it. It's not the blues, or depression, or even a midlife crisis. I'm not on Prozac or curled up in a fetal position or anything. But I did spend an entire Sunday in sloppy, gray sweatpants and a t-shirt with a stain on it, curled up in bed watching chick flicks, strung out on Coke Zero and Entenmann's Chocolate Donuts. But that's a whole other story. I'm just lacking my usual zest and energy for life. And I think it's mostly due to the weather.

With all the topics in the world, I hate to write about something so mundane as the weather. One would think, I would have more to say. But we've had an extraordinarily wet, cloudy, windy, grey, spring and it's beginning to wear on me. And funny thing is, I've often romanticized about living in rainy Seattle, or dreary London, spending long, quiet days inside cozy cafes, sipping soup, reading Voltaire. But I think I know how those people feel now. Damp and depressing.

Just like that bunch of White Asparagus I saw at the grocery store the other day, I'm beginning to grow weak and pallid. I need sunlight. I need warmth.




On the good side of things, soup season has been extended, and my son and I ate lunch at a great little place yesterday, Cheever's Cafe, housed in an old flower shop in OKC. The large, walk-in, wooden, refrigeration coolers, formerly holding rows and rows of colorful flowers, now hold wine and desserts. I loved the atmoshpere. And in deference to this unending, torrential, precipitation we are experiencing, I ordered a great big bowl of Tortilla Soup. It arrived in a large, white, shallow bowl, generously sprinkled with thinly sliced, yellow and blue corn tortilla strips. Much like a creamy tomato, but smooth, spicy, rich, and loaded with tender pieces of white chicken at the bottom. I savored it. And was tempted to lick the bowl - but that would have really embarrassed my son. It was the perfect remedy for such a grey day and I can't wait to go back to Cheever's again.

Hope your week is going good!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cinco De Mayo


Wikipedia says, Cinco De Mayo celebrates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

The way I look at it, from a culinary point of view, it was a win win situation. French or Mexican? I can go either way(!). Lord knows I've drank enough wine and eaten enough cheese to kill a rat. But I must admit, as far as my taste buds are concerned, I'm having to side with the Mexicans on this one. For there are few things I crave more than fresh Fajitas, Chicken Enchilada's, Carne Asada, Tortilla Soup, Roasted Poblano sauce, Cotija cheese, Salsa, Avocado's, and of course, Margarita's. As a matter of fact, I enjoy cooking and eating Mexican food so much that once, I considered taking a cooking class to learn more about it, but my family revolted. No more Mexican food, they said. They were burnt-out.

So you can easily imagine my thrill and excitement to be granted a special day like today, a day designated solely to the cooking and eating of Mexican food.


This year I wanted to do something different, something authentic, something fun and exciting that I had seen Rick Bayless do on Mexico: One Plate At A Time. Like roast a bunch of peppers along with some skirt steak and chicken outside on the grill, and serve it up on homemade tortilla's. But a lack of time - and torrential rainfall - put a damper on that idea. So I went with hubby's suggestion and decided to make Easy Chicken Enchilada's instead.

I don't know if you have heard, but here in Oklahoma, it is monsoon season. It has rained so much, that we are beginning to mold.

Today, in between downpours, I hurried to the store to pick up provisions, including a bottle of Rick's Frontera Tomatillo Salsa with roasted Serrano and cilantro that goes perfectly with this dish. I don't normally tout products here, but this is a good timesaver. And the fact that Rick is from OKC is kinda cool.

This dish turned out so good that is was worth traipsing through the parking lot in the pouring rain while juggling a purse, an umbrella, and two flimsy shopping bags just as my cell phone began to ring, as I was trying to reach for my keys, when a giant burst of wind came, turning my umbrella inside out, ripping it in half, forcing me to step into a puddle, ruining one shoe. And by the time I got home, I looked like I had just lost the Battle of Puebla - and on my return home to France - been given a burial at sea. It was a soggy Cinco De Mayo.


Easy Chicken Enchilada's

In a large bowl, mix 3 or 4 cups cooked, shredded, chicken breasts; 2 small cans chopped green chili's, drained; 1 heaping cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese; chopped jalapeno pepper; 1/2 cup chopped cilantro; salt, pepper; and 1/3 cup sour cream.

Fill flour tortilla's with this mixture and roll up into enchilada's and place in pan; spray tops of enchilada's with cooking spray - or brush with cooking oil - so they brown nicely. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve topped with an easy sauce made of 1 cup sour cream, and 1 cup green tomatillo salsa, mixed together.

Top with black olives, cilantro, pickled red onions, pico de gallo, and more cheese if you like.


This is by no means an authentic Mexican recipe, but it is quick and easy, and my family loves this simple sauce made of sour cream and tomatillo salsa. We enjoyed the meal so much that we almost forgot about the rain. Almost.