Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sweet Potato Pecan Hash

As we creep further into October and the weather starts to cool, I start to crave not only eating but cooking heartier foods. Stews, roasts, casseroles, and root vegetables. As much as I like pumpkin pie and butternut squash soup, sometimes I want a good side that makes me think of fall. This hash fits the bill, and it's a double duty recipe because I also love it for breakfast, with some eggs and some thin pan fried pork chops.

It's just a few simple ingredients, but they are all so flavorful and blend so well together, and it's satisfying in a way that regular potatoes (which I LOVE, don't get me wrong) aren't always able to be. They're just heartier, somehow.

I start with a few good sized sweet potatoes, peeled, rinsed, and cut into 1-inch size chunks. They don't have to be perfect or uniform. Rustic is fine for hash.

I par-boil the sweet potatoes until they are a bit soft, but still hold their shape. While those are working, I start the pecans toasting.

Onions, garlic, and sage are next. I like them nice and soft and caramelized in yummy butter and olive oil.

K checks my onion chopping skills

I check on my little sous chefs...

D is annoyed he's not already eating
K is drawing, he stayed home sick and has been taking it easy today
Now that the potatoes are par-cooked, I drain and add to the onion mixture.

I also like to add a little fresh nutmeg here, and then chop the nuts and fold them in.

And it's as simple as that! I stir to combine all the flavors, add another pat of butter to bring it all together, let it simmer for a few minutes, and top with some chopped sage.

My sues chef approves!

Sweet Potato Pecan Hash
2-3 large sweet potatoes, around 3 pounds
1 large red onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup pecans
5 TB butter, divided
2 TB olive oil
small bunch of fresh sage
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

Peel and rinse the sweet potatoes. Chop into 1 inch large chunks. Put in a heavy bottomed skillet and cover with water. Bring to a boil and par-boil until they just start to get tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, toast the pecans in a dry skillet or cast iron pan, on low. Give the pan a shake every few minutes. Toast 8-10 minutes, until you just start to smell them. Keep a close eye on them, once they start to toast they will burn quickly. Pull off the heat and set aside to cool.

Melt 4 TB  butter and 2 TB olive oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet (I prefer cast iron). Chop red onion and garlic and add to the skillet. Add in about 3/4 of a small bunch of sage, 8-10 leaves, finely chopped. Saute until soft and translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add in the cooked sweet potato, fold to combine. Add freshly grated nutmeg to taste (if you don't have fresh nutmeg, pre-grated is fine, about 1/4 teaspoon). Roughly chop the pecans and fold in. Add the last pat of butter and stir to combine, cooking until all the flavors meld, about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with the last bit of chopped sage. Serve with any grilled or roasted meat and veggie (shown here with roasted chicken and sauteed green beans), or with eggs for a great breakfast.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nana's Soy Garlic Wings

Nana Tormey ♥
My husband has told me that he always used to say, when he was younger, that he wanted to marry someone who cooked like his nana. Nana's recipes are stuff of legend, dishes that are cooked up now by his Auntie Jean, that the cousins and aunts and uncles remember her preparing fondly now that's she's passed. They bring up memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings, of birthdays and Sunday afternoons spent crowded into their small Weymouth home. The large Irish brood spills out onto the back deck and driveway, unable to be contained as each year more and more grandchildren get married, more and more great-grandchildren are born.

I have a printed out booklet of some of her favorites, recipes she'd collected over the years from the various cooking magazines and programs she used to love. Pup, my husband's grandfather, put them together at some point, and she passed them to me. They're typed out, done on a word processor, and stapled together. On the back page, in true Pup fashion, there is an index, alphabetical, detailing on what numbered page each recipe can be found. There are some great ones in there, but they aren't the Nana recipes, the recipes the family loves and prepares at every gathering. Those aren't written down in any neat little booklet. They lived in Nana's head, prepared by muscle memory, and have been shared and duplicated by her daughter and sons and grandchildren.

My father in law (blue tie) and his brothers and sister, at our wedding
My husband (the redhead) and his brothers and sister, also at our wedding
I remember very clearly the first time I had Nana's wings, at some gathering over the summer. One of the birthdays, years ago when everyone still got together for them all. I remember that I thought they were delicious, garlicy with just the right amount of salt. I asked Johnny about them, and he said to ask his aunt for the recipe, or her son, his cousin Tommy. I never got around to it that day, and it became something that I'd mean to do and always forget until we had them again. The lore of them built up, this secret recipe, and I was nervous about eventually finding it out and being unable to duplicate them properly. One day, I finally remembered to ask his aunt.

The ingredients? Soy sauce, garlic powder, light oil. End of list.

I thought, this can't be true. They're so good! It must be more complicated than that! But really, sometimes the best things are the simplest. And even though the list is short, the technique matters. I've found that it's actually taken me a while to duplicate these wings, to prepare them and have them come out as good as when Nana or Jeanie or Tommy make them. I may never be as good of a cook as Nana, but I'm grateful that I've learned to make her wings, that our kids will hear about her over the foods she used to make.

One important step to making the best tasting wings is giving them enough time to marinate. Now, they'll still be good if you throw them in in the morning and cook them that night, but I've found through trial and error that to get them to perfection, they need at least three days. The marinade is so easy to prepare that I like to whip it together and put them in as soon as I get home from the grocery store. That way, when we want them later in the week, they're good to go.

I take them out, give them a rinse and pat dry, and into a gallon storage bag (freezer ones work best for a few-day marinade, they don't tend to leak like regular ones do).

Then, I mix the marinade. I like low-sodium soy sauce, it's still got the salt but waaaaaay less than the regular version.

Once combined, I just pour over the wings, squeeze out the air, and mix them around with my hands really well for a few minutes to make sure they are all coated. I put the bag inside a bowl or tupperware container in the fridge, in case it does leak, and just let it do it's thing for a few days. Try to remember to turn them once or twice a day to make sure they coat evenly.

When you're ready to cook them, let them sit on the counter for 15-30 minutes while your grill heats up, to take the chill off them. Because of oil and the sugars in the soy sauce, if you cook them too high, they'll cause a flare up and the wings will char. I like a good char on my BBQ, but these wings are best when that doesn't happen. Let them slowly brown, turn them often, tend to them.

In my husband's family, they've been known to bake them off in the oven for 45 minutes or so at 350, to cook them most of the way, and then finish them off on the grill. This is good for parties, I find, when you have lots of other things to grill. Or when you're making a huge batch of them. But I like to cook them on the grill all the way through, as long as I have someone to watch the kids so I make sure they don't burn!

I'm so happy to pass on these family recipes to my boys, and hopefully this blog will help their kids and grandkids to grow up with them, too.

All the Tormey cousins and their significant others, at cousin Sara's wedding, New Years Eve 2009
Nana and Papa at a family party at the lake house ♥

Nana's Soy Garlic Wings
3-4 pounds of wingettes, or whole wings broken down
1/3 cup less sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup light oil (canola or vegetable)
2-3 TB garlic powder, to taste

Rinse the wings and pat dry. Put the wings in a gallon sized freezer storage bag, or large tupperware container. Mix the soy sauce, oil and garlic powder and pour over the wings. Seal and mix around until all wings are coated. Refrigerate and let marinade for at least 3 days.

When you are ready to cook, let the wings sit for 15-30 to take the chill off. Heat the grill to medium high and cook the wings, turning frequently, until lightly browned and crispy on both sides, about 30 minutes. Alternately, cook on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, and then finish off on the grill. Great for parties, even better cold the next day.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Grilled Steak with Thyme Red Wine Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Sauce

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a huge caramelized onion fan. I love them with sauces, on pizzas, heck, I'd eat them with a spoon if it were socially acceptable. Truth be told, sometimes I'll cook steak just so I can have an excuse to make them. And as a bonus, another thing that pairs wonderfully with steak is mushrooms. This recipe spawned from my love of caramelized onions, but wanting to do something different with them. Red wine always goes with steak, and I find that the thyme really helps brighten it up. I call it a sauce, but it's really only that in the sense that it tops something. It's thick and almost meaty with the mushrooms, and when I make it, I end up eating more of it than the steak.

Start by taking the steaks out and letting them sit at room temperature. You really want them to sit at least a half hour before you put them on a hot grill. I used bone-in sirloin strips this time, but any steak you like works with this.

While that comes to room temperature, start with the onions. Red onion is my go-to, but white or a few yellow are also tasty. Slice and saute in a mixture of olive oil and a few tablespoons of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper.

It takes at least a half hour to get onions properly caramelized. You want them to be very soft and browned, but not blackened. They become very sweet when cooked way down this way.

While these are working, prepare your mushrooms. You can use any you like, though I find that regular button mushrooms really don't have much flavor. I really love criminis, which are baby portabellas. When I can find it, I get the mix packs. For this I used criminis, oysters and shitakes.

Mushrooms usually need a quick cleaning, but can get too waterlogged and rubbery if you run them under water. A wet paper towel and a quick brush off of any visible dirt is all you need. I like to cut them into large chunks.

Once the onions are caramelized, add these right in.

Cook them for about 10 minutes, until they brown up and wilt a bit, then add in the thyme. I like to strip a few stems and mix in the leaves, and also to throw a few stems in whole and then pull them out after.

Mix that up and let it cook on low while you prepare your steak. Then, when the steak is resting after cooking, come back and finish it off.

I cooked this steak on the charcoal grill. I alternate between that and the gas, though I've been on a gas kick lately, and I think steak tastes best when cooked over charcoal. Get the grill roaring hot, and then to about medium high (our grill has a grate where the coals can be raised or lowered with a crank, so I lower it a few inches). Season the steak with salt and pepper and drizzle a little olive oil, then on she goes.

For a steak of this thickness (1-1 1/2 inches) to be medium/medium rare, I cook for about 6 minutes on the first side and 3-4 on the second. It takes some practice, but eventually it's something that can be determined by touch. The steak will be a bit soft and bounce back in the middle at that doneness when you press on it.

While the first side cooks, I test the wine I'll be using in the sauce. Grilled asparagus will be our side this evening.

When the 6 minutes are up, flip and cook the second. How long it takes will depend on how hot the grill is and how well you want it cooked, so give it a poke after two minutes or so and keep testing. When it's done, pull off and let rest for at LEAST 10 minutes. Cutting the steak too early will make all the juices run out and the steak will be dry.

We usually tend to do one steak/two people around here, and load up on the veggies, so this steak is for Johnny and me (and whatever Declan can steal once he's full of vegetables himself. Kieran, of course, will have peanut butter and jelly).

While the steak rests, it's time to finish the sauce. Turn the heat back up and add in the red wine. It will boil up a bit, and this is when you scrape the pan to deglaze. Then, while it simmers, add in another pat of butter to finish off the sauce.

Once the wine has reduced down and the sauce is a smooth, silky consistency, pull out the thyme stems. Spoon over the steaks and serve. Try to resist coming back to the pan and eating the rest straight out with a spoon. Though it you do have leftovers, they are delicious over a piece of charred crusty bread.

Grilled Steak with Thyme Red Wine Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Sauce
Steak of your choice
1 large red onion, sliced
1 pint of mushrooms (crimini, oyster and shitake used here), roughly chopped
5 sprigs of thyme, 2 with leaves stripped, 3 whole
3 TB butter, divided
3 TB extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on steak
1 cup of good red wine

Pull the steak from the fridge, remove wrapper, and let sit until it comes to room temperature, about a half hour.

While the steak us resting, prepare the sauce. In a large, heavy bottom skillet (I prefer cast iron, but stainless steel is great too), heat 2 TB butter and 3 TB olive oil over medium-high heat. Slice the onion and add to the skillet. Cook them until they start to brown and give off their juices, stirring often. Turn the heat down to medium/medium low and cook until onions are caramelized, about 30 minutes. While onions are cooking, wash the mushrooms by brushing them with a wet paper towel. Roughly chop and add to the caramelized onions. Cook until they are wilted and browned, about 10 minutes. Add in the thyme leaves and sprigs and stir to combine. Turn the mixture low while you prepare the steaks.

Heat your grill to medium-high (if you are using a charcoal grill, start the coals around when you put on the onions.) For medium/medium-rare steak, cook for 6 minutes on the first side and about 3-4 on the second for a steak 1-1 1/2 inch thick. When the second side is cooking, press your finger in the middle of the steak. If it springs back after 2-3 minutes, it's done. If you like it more well, wait until it's got less give when you do a finger press. (*Note: if it's not grilling weather, this same principle applies to indoor cooking. A cast iron skillet is my favorite indoor steak cooking vehicle.)

Let the steak rest for at least 10 minutes once it's done. Meanwhile, turn the heat back up on your sauce. Once it starts to sizzle, add the red wine. Scrape the pan to get the cooked on bits up and stir to boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the last TB of butter. Cook until the sauce reduces, thickens, and becomes silky, 2 minutes or so. Pull the sprigs of thyme and serve over your steak. (Also great on crostinis).