Beef Sandwiches & Aïoli

While riding the train home last night, I was going back through the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living, reading any articles that I had skipped on my initial read-through the magazine. I came across an article about French Savory Sauces, and not recognizing any of their names aside from Vinaigrette, I decided to read on. After dismissing the recipes with anchovies (2 of the 6), I found two that intrigued me: Pistou and Aïoli. According to MSL, Pistou is the French answer to Italian Pesto. Perhaps one day when I try it, it will go significantly better than my attempt at Pesto several years ago. MSL described Aïoli as a “garlicky mayonnaise” from the South of France. In the list of suggested foods to compliment Aïoli was steak sandwich, and upon reading that, dinner was decided.

This turned out to be a relatively quick meal to whip up, and we already owned most of the ingredients. After picking up a few that we didn’t have (garlic cloves, steak, bread, spinach and some additional extra virgin olive oil – never want to run out of that liquid gold) I was ready to get started with the Aïoli.

I halved the recipe and still had plenty of Aïoli left over, so the ingredient amounts are based on the half recipe – double everything that I’ve listed for the full recipe.

First you need to chop up 1 clove of garlic

Mash the chopped garlic and a pinch of salt in a mortar, or use the side of a knife. Since I had been given a mortar (thanks Helene!), I decided to take it for a test ride.

Whisk the egg yolk (1) in a bowl along with a few shakes of salt. Add in 1/2 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 Tbsp of water while continuing to whisk until blended. Add in 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (slowly drizzle it in while whisking) until the oil has been emulsified. Do the same thing with the remaining oil (5/8 cup of oil). At the end, stir in the garlic.

Now you’ve finished the Aïoli. Seriously, wasn’t that simple! Since you’re inevitably going to have some left over, even with halving the recipe I had plenty to spare, MSL says you can store it covered in the fridge for 2 days. If the Aïoli separates you’re instructed to whisk in 1 egg yolk with a tablespoon of tepid water (not sure if that should be halved or not).

Cut the bread for the sandwiches. Key learning: this particular bread is REALLY tough to eat – perhaps something less crusty next time.

I seared the steaks (traditionally steak sandwiches are made with Flank Steak – Trader Joes didn’t have that cut of steak, so I bought the next thinnest type) and lightly toasted the bread.

I put a ‘schmear’ of Aïoli on the bread before topping it with the steak and spinach leaves.

There you have it: Steak Sandwiches with Aïoli.

Key Learnings:
1) That bread is too tough, as a result it over-powered the taste of the contents of the sandwich
2) You can be generous with the Aïoli, when Mike was on his second sandwich he poured more on, and that helped with the over-powering bread. Aïoli isn’t super pungent.

Dunking Donuts

The ingredients for Chocolate Donuts made in the Babycakes Donut Maker.

For Christmas my brother Ian gave me a Babycakes Donut Maker. At first I wondered how many times I’d actually find myself making mini donuts – but as with most kitchen appliances, I figured I’d give it a try at some point. That point in time came a couple days after Christmas: Mike and I had just woken up and were puttering about the kitchen when he suggested that I make us a batch of donuts for breakfast. Of course, we had next to none of the necessary ingredients for the majority of the donuts in the little recipe book that came with the donut maker, with the exception of one made with apple sauce and cinnamon (if I remember correctly).

Since then, I’ve actually made donuts several times. As long as I have all of the ingredients, I find the recipes to be very quick – the only time consuming aspect of the donut creation process is the ‘baking’ of the batches. See, each batch can only make 6 donuts at a time, and each batch takes 4-5 minutes to bake. And there are several batches to come out of all of the batter. All-in-all though, it’s really a piece of cake to whip up a plate full of donuts (particularly if you’re not glazing or coating them).

The donuts seemed like a logical choice for Mother’s Day – and an even more logical choice to be made the night before so as not to tie up the kitchen on the big day.

Ingredients for Chocolate Donuts found on the Babycakes website:
1.25 cups of all-purpose flour
0.5 cups cocoa
0.5 cups sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 egg
0.75 cups buttermilk (good thing I had some left over from the soda bread!)
0.25 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla

Foreshadowing of later events

Stir together the dry ingredients.

Add the egg, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla to your mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until smooth.

Fill each section of the donut maker with approx. 2 Tbsp of batter. Be careful not to over fill a section, otherwise your donuts have pieces sticking out of them or don’t cook evenly.

You can see what happens if you overfill a section (if you put wayyyyy too much batter in the lid won’t close properly – I know this from an experience I had donut-making a couple months ago. Anyhoo, bake for 4-5 minutes (less time as the machine gets hotter and hotter with each batch). A tooth pick should come out clean.

Thank goodness for my stackable cooling racks!

After making two cooling racks of full, it was time to start the dipping chocolate to coat the tops of the donuts. The ingredients, or ingredient I should say, is a bag of chocolate chips. The last time that I made donuts with a chocolate coating on top I used the double boiler method to keep the chocolate melted while I dipped the donuts in.

Simply bring your water to a low (in temperature and in water-level) boil and set a glass bowl filled with chocolate chips on top. Be careful, the glass bowl will heat up, so make sure you’ve got your oven mitts handy!

 

Use a spatula to keep the chocolate moving.

I suppose that I was a little over zealous, or had forgotten a few of the cardinal rules of melting chocolate using this method, because within seconds of placing the bowl onto the pot:

I heard a loud crack, and then a second one. My glass bowl had split in two! Hmmm, I’ve used that particular bowl for this purpose in the past and never ran into this issue… so I did what I do best: made a phone call.

I called my good friend and domestic guru Alex. First she asked if my bowl was cold. Nope. Then she asked if the chocolate chips were cold. Nope. Then she asked how hot I had the water. Full boil. Well, there was my first mistake. Lastly she asked how high the water was. Touching the bottom of the bowl. And there was my second one. A perfect recipe for a cracked glass bowl.

When I went to try again, I noticed that none of my older glass bowls would fit into that pot (I didn’t want to risk using something new). After much consideration (and a phone call to my sister Tory to ask if she knew of a bowl I could borrow), I figured out that if I used a smaller pot, most of my bowls would fit.

Problem = solved! After that it was smooth sailing as I dunked each donut into the warm, melted chocolate, and set it back onto the cooling rack.

 

 

Voila! I topped the coated donuts off with some festive sprinkles. Some of you may recognize those Christmasy-looking sprinkles from the donuts that I made Mike for Valentines day… but before you jump to the conclusion that I need a bigger selection of sprinkles (I do!) let me try to rationalize the red/white/green sprinkles this way: My mom is Italian – the sprinkles were in honor of her heritage! (or they were because that’s all I had – you decide which sounds better).

Soda Bread

My late-godmother’s basket, I have a feeling it will become a staple in my last-minute walks to Trader Joes – it’s perfect for picking up a few ingredients.

I didn’t have a particularly bad day today, but by the time I got home from work I was in a foul mood. After knocking out a few quick revisions to a wedding program, I decided that I wanted to make something with my hands. I eyed Becky’s basket sitting near me in my office, checked how late Trader Joes was opened until and set off with 45 minutes til closing. While there I picked up the butter and buttermilk necessary to make soda bread, as well as some greek yogurt and pita crackers, because well – I enjoy them.

This is a new soda bread recipe for me (Mike wasn’t too keen on the seeded version that I made the last time, though I did enjoy it), so Betty Crocker, let’s take you for a spin!

Ingredients + recipe written out

Ingredients: 3 Tbsp Butter (softened), 2.5 C Flour, 2 Tbsp Sugar, 1 tsp Baking Soda, 1 tsp Baking Powder, 1/2 tsp (a few shakes) of salt, 3/4 C Buttermilk

Heat oven to 375 degrees and grease your pan/cookie tray (I used a Le Crueset loaf pan)

Stir together your dry ingredients and then cut in the butter

The recipe (or one of the many that I read this evening) called for the hook attachment.

Taking the new KitchenAid Mixer for a first-time spin!

Once the butter is cut in, and crumbs have formed, add in the buttermilk as needed. The dough will separate from the walls of the bowl.

Knead the bread for 2-3 minutes until it’s smooth. Then put in/on pan and cut 1/2 deep slices into the dough. Bake for 35-45 minutes (mine finished in 35).

The finished loaf

I broke a few little pieces off the top to sample: there’s nothing like fresh bread straight from the oven. This recipe is a keeper.

I think my favorite part of cooking/baking since moving into the new house has been using the presents that Mike and I received for our shower/wedding and thinking fondly of each giver as I used their present. So tonight’s thoughts go out to: Aunt Kelli, Meg Hoppe, Tory, Aunt Dawn and of course my godmother Becky.

Lessons From My ‘New’ Oven

Yesterday morning I wandered (I love that it’s within wandering distance) over to Trader Joes. While there I picked up some stuffed pork chops (Mike LOVES pork chops) to make for dinner at some point this week.

I set out to make those stuffed pork chops for dinner tonight – which meant that I was using the ‘new’ oven for the first time. I put ‘new’ in quotes since it’s by no means a new oven, it’s just new to me.

The first thing I noticed was that the gas burners have a greater range than the gas oven at the Wilson house. While browning the outside of the pork chops, I had the oven preheating. When I peeked inside, something underneath glowed orange. I immediately thought of the griddle that we’d stored below the oven, donned our new oven mitts (that aren’t burned… both Mike and my dear friend Meg Hoppe have set fire to different sets of my oven mitts over the years – so I finally got a new (hopefully more fire-proof) pair for our wedding shower) and pulled the griddle out from its hot new home (the griddle wasn’t what was glowing in case you were worried). I decided a good place to put it while the oven was on would be across two of the burners (I should clarify our griddle is made to sit on burners, it isn’t electronic, just in case you were trying to foreshadow and started to panic).

Once it was time to put the pork chops into the oven I saw the little thermometer perched inside read a toasty 450 degrees. That would be wonderful if I set my oven to 450… what I was hoping to see was 400 degrees.

Later when I went to check on the pork chops I noticed that the temperature inside the oven had dropped to 350 and was climbing again. Note to self, the oven has a 100 degree temperature range whilst on.

When our fancy metal kitchen timer (also a registry gift) alerted me that my pork chops were finished I went to move it (not sure why) and noticed that it too was hot to the touch. That prompted me to touch the metal spoon rest as well – it too was hot. Good to know, anything that touches the oven while it is on will become hot. I believe this means finding a new home for the griddle, spoon rest, tea kettle and kitchen timer.

Before removing the meat from the oven I pulled out a meat thermometer to make sure we were good to go. The first chop came in at 150ish, 10 degrees below the suggested 160 degrees. The second chop teetered around 145. I racked my brain, I remembered back when The National Pork Board was one of my clients at work, they were promoting a new suggested cooking temperature for pork that was lower than the temperature conventionally suggested for pork, 160 degrees. But how much lower. I thought back to a poster that I’d designed and recalled it being somewhere in the ballpark of 140 degrees. A quick check of the internet validated that the new suggested cooking temperature for pork is 145 degrees. I was in the clear and both pork chops were ready for dinner!