Wednesday, October 5, 2011

El Jeffé's Birthday Meal

Like I said in my previous blog: birthday weeks are a big deal around here. So big, in fact, that I'm barely getting around to writing this blog.

For Jeff's pièce de résistance, I decided to make all of his favorites. El Jeffé is a simple man who doesn't ask for much. The poor guy works his buttocks off AND puts up with his feisty Mexican wife, so I tend to go a little overboard for his birthday meal. I've inserted hyperlinks to my recipes in case you would like to create them in the comfort of your own home.

Birthday Menu:
Green Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

Ribeye Steak, grilled to perfection
Crab Legs
Homemade Macaroni and Chérieezy
Homemade Chocolate-Covered Toffee and Caramel Ice Cream
Crème Brûlée, topped with fresh berries

We celebrated his birthday with our dear friends, The Zaleskis, and had a great time. As always, I've included step-by-step instructions for every recipe. Let me know if you try any of them! Here are some pictures of our fantastic dinner:

Homemade Ice Cream with Toffee and Caramel

Crème Brûlée (pronounced "krem broo-lay")

Yes, you can make creme brulee in the comfort of your own kitchen! Fancy restaurant prices be darned--it's so easy that you'll never order it off of a high priced menu again! As always, I've included step-by-step pictures for my culinary challenged friends (you know who you are).

Here's what you'll need to begin:

1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle and scraped
1 cup sugar, divided
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water
6 Ramekins (Bed, Bath and Beyond is a great place to purchase these)
Torch (optional, but 90% of the fun. You can purchase one at Williams Sonoma or Bed, Bath & Beyond)


1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp (all of the sandy black stuff that you scraped from its inside) into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.

Here's what the mixture will look like when it's finished.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. 

4. Add the cream a little at a time, constantly whisking as you drizzle in the cream. You want to whisk as you slowly add in the cream to temper the eggs (the last thing you want is scrambled egg brulee!)
5. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan.

6. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 

I add the boiling water to the roasting pan after I've put it into the oven. I prefer this because the pan isn't too heavy when I'm attempting to put it into the oven.

7. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. You can make these ahead and refrigerate them for up to 3 days.

8. Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. For a flavored sugar, put a few drops of vanilla into the sugar and mix well before sprinkling it on top of the creme brulee.

9. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

 10. Top with fresh, sliced fruit. I like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. The tartness of the blackberries pairs quite well with the richness of the vanilla custard.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homemade Mac and Chérieezy (Yes, I'm lame.)

FACT: You will NEVER find day-glow orange, boxed macaroni and cheese in my house. NEVER.

I went on a quest to find Denver's finest mac and cheese. Steuben's, Sputnik, Jonesy's Eat Bar... let's just say I've had my fare share of the creamy side dish. Here's my version of the perfect mac and cheese. Feel free to experiment with different cheeses to suit your taste. For a smaller portion, simply cut the recipe in half.

My local grocery store (King Soopers) has a specialty cheese counter, complete with a cheese expert. I call her the "Cheese Lady" (I'm sure there's a fancy name for someone who specializes in cheese, I just don't have the time or the care to look that up.) My highest recommendation: BE NICE TO THE CHEESE LADY! (and the meat guy, and the produce guy, and the baker...) She lets me sample different cheeses, makes me special orders and gives me awesome suggestions based on the fact that I'm nice to her. Heck, she even lets me know right before she marks down certain cheeses so I can get them at discounted prices.

Mac & Chérieezy
1 lb. cavatappi or elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
1 stick unsalted butter, divided
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
.35 lb. Cave Aged Gruyere, grated
.70 lb. Jarlsberg Swiss Cheese, grated
.25 lb. Cantalette Cheese, grated
.25 lb. English Cheddar, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 dash (or pinch) ground nutmeg
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Oil (vegetable or canola)

The cheese measurements don't have to be exact, just in the ball park.

Top Left: Cave Aged Gruyere, Jarlsberg Swiss / Bottom Left: Cantalette, English Cheddar

1. Drizzle oil into a pot of boiling water. Add generous pinch of salt to the boiling water. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it.

3. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.

4. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, nutmeg, salt (to taste) and pepper (to taste). Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

5. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top.

6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Crab Legs

FACT: I don't own a large pot with a steaming basket.

I've taken my large pot, filled it with approximately 2 inches of water, then placed an oven-safe glass bowl on top of the water. Make sure the water isn't near the top of the bowl because you want to steam the crab, not boil the crab. Nothing ruins your taste for crab like breaking open a leg and having scalding water drain out. Here's my MacGyver creation of a large steam pot:

While you're waiting for the water to boil, place the crab legs (I used snow crab legs) onto a plate and season them generously. My crab legs come wrapped in butcher paper, so I arrange the crab legs on the paper and sprinkle them with Old Bay seasoning. 

Once the water starts boiling, turn the flame down to simmer, put the seasoned crab into the bowl and cover the pot. Cook for approximately 15 minutes.

Use tongs to pull out the steamed crab and enjoy. Some people dunk their crab into melted butter. That's not how we roll.

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

1 (5 ounce) container of Treasure Cave Crumbled Blue Cheese (or your favorite blue cheese)
1/2 c. milk (use buttermilk for a richer flavor)
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1 t. red wine vinegar
1/4 t. sugar
1/4 t. garlic powder
1-2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper (to taste)

Personally, I throw all of the ingredients into my food processor with the blade attachment and let the machine do the work. I don't like huge chunks of blue cheese in my dressing, so preparing it in the food processor makes it creamy, with a ranch-like consistency. If you'd like a thicker dressing, add less milk. If you'd like a thinner dressing, add more milk.

If you don't have a food processor (sad face) simply put the blue cheese and milk into a bowl. Mash the mixture with a fork so the cheese resembles a curd-like consistency. Then stir in the remaining ingredients.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Livin' on The Edge

Birthdays are a big deal in our family, so we celebrate "Birthday Weeks" instead of just the one day. It's not like those "Super Sweet 16" shows where Chloe is carried into her party Cleopatra style by a bunch of greasy muscle men... we just make the week special. For instance, this week was Jeff's birthday week. He's really into surf music, so I ordered him some vintage CDs online and he received them throughout the week, a subscription to a surf magazine, season 5 of "Dexter" on blu-ray, then his big "wow" gift today (a 1964 Fender Reverb Tank). The kids don't get anything nearly as expensive as Jeff. Jeff is special because, well, he pays the cost to be the boss. When your husband works 80-hour weeks to bring home the bacon, you better darn well bet that I fry it up gourmet-style in a pan!

I also cook an array of "favorites" throughout the week for the birthday boy/girl. Yes, thanks to me, my children are probably going to grow up to be food snobs. Heck, Trevor is already well on his way. I decided to treat Jeff to a romantic dinner this evening for just the two of us.

FACT: Noting says "classy" like pulling your swagga' wagon with the taped-on mirror into the valet at The Four Seasons.

I opted for "The Edge", a well-reviewed restaurant at the swanky Four Seasons Hotel. Oh. My. Goodness. It was WELL worth the money! Since Jeff frowned upon me bringing in my fancy camera with the huge lens, you'll have to settle for cell phone pics. Yeah, I know.

The Edge had a great ambiance. Clean lines, stone walls, fire places that looked like aquariums, simple candelabras... but the best part was the music. They played Weezer, Radiohead, Nirvana... it was a great mix of music that you could hear, but it wasn't belligerently loud.

I originally wasn't going to take pictures. It was Jeff's romantic birthday dinner and it was about him and not me, so I was going to be a normal dining patron for the evening. Then Jeff gave me the "okay, go ahead and take pictures in this swanky restaurant" look, so I pounced. Sadly, he gave me this look halfway through our appetizers. Here's the Dungeness Crab Cake with a Blood Orange Fennel Salad and a Basil Sauce. Seriously, this was the best crab cake that I've ever put into my mouth.

Jeff ordered the Prosciutto with Melon Mache Salad and Shaved Manchego Cheese. The salty prosciutto mixed with the sweet greens, the fullness of the manchego cheese and balsamic vinaigrette drizzle was delightful on my taste buds. Here's his last bite.

For our entrees, we ordered the Pecan Wood Grilled Filet Mignon, Crispy Truffled Mac N Cheese, Grilled Asparagus and a Brandy Peppercorn Reduction. It was flipping fantastic! The pecan wood really complimented the flavor of the steak, and the brandy reduction rounded out the flavors quite nicely. See the white stuff? That's a mornay sauce ("mornay" is the fancy way of saying "cheese sauce"). It was fan-freaking-tastic. As for the truffled mac n cheese... it was high-end macaroni and cheese rolled into a ball, coated in bread crumbs, then flash fried into a crispy truffle. 'Nuff said.

We also ordered (notice how I say "we"? We [I] insist that we order different things so that we [I] can try more than one thing) the Orange Flamed Muscovy Duck Breast with an Orange Reduction, Roasted Squash and a Citrus Salad. The duck was cooked to perfection and the orange sauce brought out the unique duck flavor. Oh. My. Word. It was ah-mazing!

For dessert we had the Bananas Foster with a Banana Semi Freddo and a Roasted Hazelnut Sauce. There were also flecks of gold (yes, I said gold) in the caramel. We also had the Decadent Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and a Salted Caramel Sauce. This was probably my favorite dessert. We literally fought over it. I'm not going to lie... it wasn't my proudest moment.

Then after dinner, they brought us these cute, dark chocolate cow pops. I wasn't going to have one, but dark chocolate is known to aid in digestion (we lie best when we lie to ourselves).

After all was said and done, we were stuffed! We walked out of the restaurant and headed for the valet. I told the attendant, "Be careful with her, she's a 'beaut." I would have paid to see the look on his face when he walked up to the lot and realized that he would be driving a mini van. Man, I'm the funniest person I know...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hello. My name is Chérie and I take pictures of food. (Hello, Chérie.)

Before you start judging me, realize that we all have our "weird" habits. You know, that thing that people say while mentioning you to another person. "You know John Doe... he's the guy who wears extremely short shorts and runs everywhere."  One man's food pictures is another man's Star Wars collection. Hey, at least I own it--embrace it even. I'm that girl who whips out her professional grade camera in a fancy restaurant and starts to snap pictures while the other patrons look at me with equal parts of intrigue and judgement.

Many people have told me that I should write a food blog. (Yes, people other than my mom and husband... and for the record, I guarantee my mom won't be reading this.) In this blog, I will write about my many Colorado adventures... be it cooking, eating in dive restaurants, exploring my great state, attending concerts, etc. I've put a lot of thought into this blog before it came to be. I've come up with a "code", if you will, of things I will keep in mind while writing said blog.

1. I promise to post pictures. I recently purchased a fancy camera to take pictures of food--I mean, my kids. I promise to post those pictures. I also promise that the pictures won't be as spectacular as they could be... I'm just learning how to use my camera.

2. I promise to be honest. Okay, this is probably the part of the code that is going to get me into trouble. You know liars? I'm the opposite of that. I am brutally honest, and people have told me that I should strongly consider taking up lying... or at the very least, I should consider "bending" the truth and sugar-coating my opinions. Now what fun would that be?

3. I promise not to lead you astray with my opinions on food/places. If I say a place is awesome, you can bet your bottom dollar that it's awesome. If I post a recipe, you can bet the farm that it's spectacular (assuming you follow the recipe). Like I said, I never lie--especially when it comes to something as sacred as food!

4. I promise to post step-by-step, user friendly recipes. I realize that many people can't just read a recipe and prepare it. I will try to take pictures along the way to make things a little easier for you novice cooks out there. (Assuming people other than my husband read this blog.)

If you fancy food and entertainment, I encourage you to keep reading. I also encourage you to comment so I know that someone out there is reading. Besides, we all like validation, right?

Here's the Scrambled Eggs on Ciabatta with Hollandaise from the brunch menu at Olivéa Restaurant in East Denver. This is also the first food picture I took with my new camera.