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Mar 21, 2018
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Stocking Up on Dates

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

020812_datesI’ve yearned to try dates ever since I saw Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (“bad dates”). Last month, someone brought some over to my house as a holiday treat and they’ve been the butt of my “bad date” jokes ever since (juicy first date, got a hot date tonight, etc.). Needless to say, they were certain to make their way into my Valentine’s dinner plans.

After a touch of research, I discovered that this Middle Eastern fruit, which has been sweetening dishes of the region for 6,000 years, is quite useful in a variety of cuisines. Alone, they look like prunes but taste like sweet jam. On menus, they often appear stuffed with candied citrus, nuts or cheese. I’ve taken to picking up packages of Medjool dates (no sugar added) and noshing on them instead of cookies for my after-lunch snack.

For my big “date” night, I decided to use them as the base for a sweet sauce for pork. The pairing worked beautifully and the recipe even works well on oven-roasted chicken. Just be sure to add your spices and hot sauce; otherwise, you’ll be having dessert for dinner.

Sticky-Sweet Tenderloin with Dates and Molasses
4 to 6 Servings

1 2-lb. pork tenderloin, whole

1/3 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. full-flavor molasses
¼ tsp. liquid smoke
¼ tsp. hot sauce
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. D’anjou Pear Vinegar (or a really nice apple cider vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste

2 shallots, chopped
2 tsp garlic, diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1¼ cups dates, pitted and chopped
4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. D’anjou Pear Vinegar
1 Tbsp. candied ginger
1 Tbsp. orange zest
¼ tsp. cardamom
¼ tsp. chili powder
1½ cups chicken stock, plus additional if needed
Salt and pepper to taste

• Place the tenderloin in a shallow, ceramic oven-proof pan. In a medium-size bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients and whisk well. Brush the marinade over the tenderloin. Cover the tenderloin with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Let marinate overnight.

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Remove the tenderloin from the refrigerator and discard the plastic wrap. Bake the tenderloin in the baking pan for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the meat. (A general rule is 20 minutes per pound, but trust your thermometer first. Cook pork just until well-done (155 degrees).
• Meanwhile, sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil until caramelized.
• Add the dates, vinegars, ginger, zest, cardamom and chili powder, and stir until well-mixed and the dates begin to soften.
• Pour in the chicken stock, salt and pepper, and simmer over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes or until reduced by at least half.
• Pour the sauce into a food processor and blend until smooth, thinning with additional stock if necessary.
• Remove the tenderloin from the oven. Allow the pork to rest for 5 minutes.
• Slice the pork into 1-inch medallions and place on a bed of arugula or couscous. Pour the sauce on top of the pork and serve.

Stocking Up on clementines

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

012512_clementinesAre you as confused about the weather as I am? I keep running to the grocery store on these occasional 60-degree days looking for watermelon and fresh heirloom tomatoes only to find ruby beets and hearty kale. But there is one fruit that’s bringing a little bit of summer cheer to these chilly winter months: clementines.

I’ve always been a fan of this tiny, easy-to-eat winter snack, bringing home whole bushels of them, taking handfuls to work, even keeping them in my car, purse and desk (Just don’t forget they’re there!). But I’ve recently discovered the myriad ways to use clementines in culinary confections that are sure to brighten up even the most blustery winter day without lending the cloying sweetness of summer snacks.

When searching for clementines, forgo political correctness. Buy the imported Spanish varieties instead of the Cuties from California. They’re bigger and have fewer seeds and more juice, which makes them perfect for baking.

This recipe is enough to turn even the most passionate panna cotta-hater (my aunt) into a panna cotta believer. It has enough creamy spice to be a rich winter dessert, but the citrus glaze keeps it bright, cheerful and delicious.

Panna Cotta with Clementine Glaze
6 Servings

Panna Cotta
1/3 c. skim milk
1¼-oz. packet unflavored gelatin
2½ cups heavy cream
½ cup white sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1½ tsp. vanilla extract

Clementine Glaze
2/3 cup white sugar
½ cup water
One whole clove
Three whole allspice
8 clementines, in segments
2 Tbsp. Cointreau

Candied Lemon and Clementine Peels
1/3 cup clementine zest
¼ cup lemon zest
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

• First, make the panna cotta: Pour the skim milk into a bowl and gently mix in the gelatin. Set aside.
• Stir the heavy cream, ½ cup of sugar, ground cinnamon and ground cloves together in a saucepan over medium heat.
• Carefully bring to a boil, then stir in the milk and gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved.
• Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
• Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla extract and pour into individual ramekins.
• Cool, uncovered, at room temperature. Once cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
• Meanwhile, make the clementine glaze: Bring 2/3 cup of sugar, ½ cup of water, 1 whole clove and 3 whole allspice to a boil in a separate pan, stirring regularly for 4 to 5 minutes.
• Add the clementine segments and Cointreau, stirring well. Set the pan aside to cool.
• Once cool, remove the whole spices, transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend until smooth. Strain through a sieve, and reserve the liquid.
• For the garnish, blanch the two citrus zests to remove the bitterness of any leftover pith by dunking the zest in boiling water and then ice water three times.
• Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture becomes a simple syrup. Add the blanched zest and cook until the peels are transparent, about 5 minutes. Drain the zest and spread it on a parchment sheet until you’re ready to serve.

To serve: Turn out the panna cotta onto plates or into a glass and drizzle with the clementine glaze. Top with candied orange and lemon peels.

Stocking Up on venison

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

011012_vensionDeer-hunting season is quickly coming to a close, but the good news is that there’s still venison to be had. In fact, there’s plenty of it! In years passed, hunters in the area participate in the Share the Harvest charity, which donated more than 300,000 pounds of venison to soup kitchens and shelters in 2010 alone.

Although venison is a dark red meat, it’s surprisingly low in fat and has a strong, but not unappetizing, wild flavor. I happen to be lucky enough to have a kitchen-conflicted hunter as a neighbor, so we have a barter system every season. He sends raw meat (venison, goose, duck), I send some cooked meat back (kebabs, smoked goose, duck à l’orange), and everyone eats well. It’s a bit tough to find, because wild, hunted venison is difficult for local butchers to sell, but whether you’re receiving extra portions from a bewildered friend or buying fresh or frozen venison online at places such as Underhill Farms from central Kansas or Broken Arrow Ranch, venison will always be a healthy showstopper on your dinner table.

The secret to cooking good venison is timing. Whether you marinate your deer in red wine and veggies for days or just toss it on the grill, keeping the venison medium-rare is your best defense against dry, chewy chunks of meat. For those new to the venison field, this quick and easy recipe will have you singing the praises of wild game very soon.

Easy Venison Kebabs
4 servings

1½ pounds whole venison (not ground)
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. garlic pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1 large white onion
1 package baby portabella mushrooms
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 1 hour
1 cup basmati rice, steamed
2 cup red wine (I use a strong merlot)
2 tsp. garlic minced

• Cut the venison into 1½-inch chucks and place in a large Ziploc bag. Sprinkle with onion powder, garlic powder, garlic pepper and cumin and toss to coat. Close and place in the refrigerator to let the spices marinate the meat for at least 1 hour.
• Cut the onion into large slices, and slice the baby portabella mushrooms in half.
• Prep your grill (or well-ventilated griddle if cooking indoors), and start skewering in a meat-onion-mushroom-meat order.
• Cook the meat on all sides, turning every so often, until it reaches 130 degrees for medium-rare, approximately 10 minutes on a hot grill.
• Meanwhile, prepare a quick red wine reduction by mixing the wine and garlic in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the wine has reduced by about half and has reached a thick, syrup-like consistency.
• Serve the venison and vegetables (unskewered) on a bed of basmati rice. Drizzle with the red wine reduction.

Stocking Up on artisan cheeses to ring in the new year

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

122311_cheeseThe season of holiday parties is coming to an end, but there’s one quick appetizer that can satisfy your guests whether the weather is frightful or not: the cheese plate.

I got hooked on cheese plates in France, where I indulged in a platter of dairy delights at every opportunity (and gained 10 pounds). So as soon as I got back to The States, I was overjoyed to discover the myriad locations to purchase quality cheese in the St. Louis area. But even a cheese head could use a little guidance once in a while. So I turned to my go-to cheesemonger, Simon Lehrer of The Wine Merchant in Clayton. Here’s his rundown on building a palate-pleasing cheese plate for your festivity.

“You don’t want more than three cheeses for any plate,” advised Lehrer. “That’s plenty of different flavors for people to try. Any more and you’ll just get palate fatigue. Also, crackers are fine, but fresh bread is always the best foil for a good cheese.”

My basic formula is a three-cheese system of strong, mild and soft. For example, mix a Stilton bleu, some Bodensee Käse (a mild, hard cheese from Germany) and creamy Brillat Savarin with a fresh baguette. Lehrer also recommended pairing your cheese with fresh, seasonal fruit such as apples and pears for autumn and dates and figs for winter.

But because it’s almost New Year’s Eve, I had to inquire about the best cheese plate to close out 2011. (Some crave confetti; I crave cheese.) “You’ll be drinking Champagne, so you want some lean and acidic fresh goat cheese or some really rich and decadent triple crème,” Lehrer noted. “My favorites now are the Clochette (“little bell” in French) goat cheese, which is nice and bright with a mineral acidity, and the Rigald de Bourgogne, a triple crème wrapped in golden raisins and Mirabelle (a plum liqueur).”

Do your friends normally refuse to deviate from grilled cheese? Lehrer suggested opting for a crowd-pleaser like Saint Angel triple crème, which is milder and creamier than normal Brie and is even popular with the kids.

Run with more of an adventurous crowd? Try the truffle Brillat Savarin – a luxurious cheese wrapped in truffles with complex notes through and through. Truffles, cheese and a little bubbly? Not a bad way to bring in 2012.

— Photo by Carmen Troesser

Stocking Up on Pappardelle’s dark chocolate linguine

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

121411_choclinguineI’m not your average pasta fan: Noodles and Co. is my fast food, I savor udon as much as linguine and I can whip up a drastically doctored umami version of ramen with bok choy and shaved ginger in five minutes flat. But lately, I’m adding less to the sauce and getting more from my noodles.

Pappardelle’s Pasta is the solution to my present predicament. Although many St. Louis markets and fairs have closed for the season, Soulard Farmers’ Market is open year-round and with it comes some fantastic fresh and dried pastas. A small-batch pasta company based out of Denver, Pappardelle’s only produces about 100 pounds of pasta per batch, which means opportunity for endless creativity. Pappardelle’s website currently lists 129 different kinds of pasta, including flat-cut or shaped noodles, orzo, gnocchi and ravioli, as well as 18 pasta sauces. The company recently launched a gluten-free collection, including garlic-chive rooster combs and porcini mushroom trumpets. Always on the lookout for an unusual ingredient, I bought four peppercorn fettuccine and a dark chocolate linguine.

I was most excited to try the dark chocolate linguine, which the recipe on the package advised to serve chilled with macerated berries and whipped cream as a dessert. Instead, I went with the vendor’s advice and used it as a substitution for a mole sauce served beneath a gently sautéed chicken breast with a sweet-and-spicy chile pepper glaze. The result was fantastic. The chocolate pasta lent a rich, flavorful base to the simple chicken, and the chile gave the dish a truly elevating kick. I’m certain that the next time I go to Soulard market, I’ll be picking up some wild mushroom ravioli in cracked pepper dough and one of Pappardelle’s newest varieties: lavender fettuccine.

Mole Chicken Pasta
2 Servings

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
¼ tsp. chile powder, plus additional to taste
½ Papardelle Pasta’s dark chocolate linguine
2 Tbsp. honey
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp. lemon juice
Hot sauce to taste

• Toss the chicken breasts in enough olive oil to coat. Season lightly with kosher salt and a dash of chile powder.
• Transfer the chicken breasts to a pan and gently sauté over medium heat.
• Meanwhile, boil the pasta in unsalted water for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just a touch softer than al dente. Strain but don’t rinse.
• Once the chicken is cooked through, divide the pasta into 2 plates and top with the chicken.
• In the pan used to cook the chicken, add the honey, minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon of chile powder, lemon juice and a dash or two of hot sauce. Stir continually until combined, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan.
• Pour half the sauce over one chicken breast and half over the other. Serve immediately.

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