Omaha Steak

Of all the exotic places one can go to have a steak, I ended up in Omaha, Nebraska. What's in Omaha you ask? Warren Buffett. Fields. And some well fed and groomed cows.

Did you know that there are only 3 Zagat rated restaurants in the entire state of Nebraska? That says a lot...mostly about Zagat though. It's hard for me to believe that the 3 rated ones (all chains) are the only worth rating. Yes, there are a lot of corn fields and it's not a metropolitan hub, but there is something to be said for a slower pace and lifestyle. When I am ready, I do want a beach nearby please.

In the interest of staying close to the hotel, we went to Fleming's. The level of service was impressive. A great wine list with lots of Pinot noir options and a modest selection of entrees (pet peeve: giant menus).

I ordered the petit filet (Omaha's own corn fed) topped with lobster (certainly not Omaha bred) roasted asparagus and seared scallops in béarnaise sauce. The surf and turf combo, though common is hard to pull off. It was pretty great here; both meat and seafood cooked to perfection. The seasoning on the meat was lacking but the sauce on the lobster was spot on. For sides we ordered creamed spinach and roasted mushrooms. For me, the creamed spinach was flavorful, mushrooms on the other hand had too much spice rub going on, which added an unpleasant texture component. Accompanied by the Leyda Chilean Pinot noir, my dinner partner enjoyed his prime rib, on which I can't comment, since I had no more room for taste tests. Overall, pleasant restaurant that exceeded my expectations.

Buzzy Bee Cookies

Once in a while when I dust off my cookbook collection I find interesting recipes that I have yet to make. Last week was just one of those times when I came across Buzzy bee cookies that I decided to bake for a neighborhood party. The result were lovely and not too sweet zebra-striped (or bee I guess) cookies. They were simple, though required some time investment.

Recipe From Williams Sonoma

1 stick butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1.5 c flour
1.5 oz chocolate (bittersweet)

Cream together sugar and butter. Mix the dry ingredients and add slowly to the creamed butter. Stir in the vanilla and egg, until smooth.

Divide the dough in half, retaining half in the mixing bowl. Add in slightly cooled, melted chocolate (over a double boiler) to the bowl and mix until even and incorporated.

Cut out four 8 x 6 inch rectangles out of parchment paper. Roll each ball of dough separately between two sheets, to the size of the parchment, about 1/8 of an inch thick.

Refrigerate the two dough sheets for 1 hour.

Lift one sheet of parchment from each of the dough rectangles. Place one atop the other with the paperless sides touching. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Trim the edges of any overlap. Remove the remaining parchment, but do not discard. Cut the sheet into three 2 inch sections lengthwise. Place atop each other in alternating colors. Wrap in the parchment and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Slice into 1/8 inch thick cookies and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until turning golden. Cool on a rack fully before eating.

Note from me: These make amazing sandwich cookies. Especially with yellow butter cream to perpetuate their...buzziness.


Parisian Carrots

I couldn't resist these carrots at the market. Born round, they are called Parisian carrots. Try 3 cup fulls slow roasted in a pan with a little olive oil and butter, seasoned with sea salt. They make a perfect side dish...cause they are cute!

Pork Shnitzel

Bad day?! This is the most aggression relieving meal yet. After beating pork steaks into paper thin format you'll feel like a winner; they don't fight back. Promise. Just watch your fingers!

2 lbs pork loin (cut into 2cm thick steaks) or precut loin steaks
2 cups panko crumbs
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
3/4 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp pepper
vegetable oil

Cover steaks with plastic wrap, one at a time, and tamp the meat down with a mallet into about 1/2 cm thickness. Start at the center and work your way out to the edges. Try to keep the thickness of the steak as even as possible throughout.

With a fork whip together the egg, salt, pepper and milk. Lay out panko crumbs on a flat surface. Get a pan hot, add oil and turn the heat down to medium. Dip steaks, one at a time into the egg mixture, then the panko crumbs on each side. Lay carefully (again, one at a time) into the preheated pan with oil. Depending on the heat in your pan and thickness of your steaks, they will take about 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.

As you cook these, lay them on a flat plate with a paper towel for draining off extra oil. You may need to add more oil into the pan every 2 steaks or so, and clean off any leftover crumbs so they don't burn.

I served these with tzatziki, but they hardly need a sauce.


Buckwheat and Mushroom Stuffed Roast Chicken

1.5 cup of buckwheat
1 cup dry, cubed shitake mushrooms
1/2 onion, chopped
1 chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp sour cream

Wash the chicken and remove giblets and trim any fat. Reserve a piece of fat (and of course the chicken) and disgard the rest.

Rinse buckwheat until the water runs clear. Simmer in 3 cups of water until cooked through. Drain and set aside. Soak mushrooms in hot water. Roast the onions in olive oil until golden. Add in drained mushrooms, chicken fat (Yes! Really!) and buckwheat. Cook for a few minutes to allow some of the fat to render out, and season to taste. Disgard the remaining fat solids. Set aside to cool.

When cooled, stuff the buckwheat mixture into the chicken and stitch closed. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and rub with sour cream. Place into a foil covered baking sheet, sitting up. Think beer can chicken, without the can. The stuffing inside allows for the balance to be maintained. Set into a preheated 350F degree oven for 40-50 minutes, lower to 300 and cook another 20-30 minutes. Baste every 20 minutes and cover part with foil as needed to protect from burning.


Quinoa Salad with Grilled Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Cilantro

It's time for New Year's resolutions. This year among the ones I have, is trying to make my own lunches. I am not going to pretend I want them to be healthy, but my attempt is at home-made instead of cafe-purchased. The challenge is making them ahead of time, and...not forgetting them on the way to the office. Today's was a bright quinoa salad; that's perfect served at room temperature (a definite plus).

1/2 cup quinoa (uncooked)
1 grilled chicken breast
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp lime zest
salt + pepper

Cook quinoa in 1 cup of water, until the liquid fully simmers away, about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and lemon zest. Mix and add in the olive oil. Let cool to room temp. Mix cooled quinoa with tomatoes, sliced chicken and cilantro.
This salad, a cup of Greek yogurt, some berries and a dark chocolate truffle were perfect for lunch!


Adventures in Fondant

Since the Chinese calendar marks the next year (I mean this year) as the year of the Water Dragon. I decided it would be fun to make an appropriate cake topper. Of course, in my usual fashion, I got too excited about the project and didn't plan on the time this seven inch fondant monster would take.

I took some pictures of the process and the final "crowning glory" atop the cake (excuse my dyed fingers). Note to self...leave more then 3 hours for this type of a project.

Cake "Kiev" or Киевский торт

As part of my dessert entry into a potluck style New Year's celebration, I decided to make two popular Russian/Ukrainian cakes. This post will feature one of them; namesake of Ukraine's capital. The cake is essentially an egg white/nut flour base, similar to merengue in texture, with butter cream frosting.

One version of this cake's history is that it was invented at a confection factory in Kiev in the late 1950's, as a result of an accidental mismeasure. Another version of the story is that it was invented by the master-chef at said factory. Personally, I find the taste / recipe for the cake layers too similar to Provencal country-style macarons that have been around since 1700s, to believe my own version of the story.

I took a shortcut on this cake, and used store-bought layers.

2 sticks, butter (unsalted)
1 can, condensed milk
2 tbsp cognac
4 tbsp cocoa powder

Whip room temperature butter together with condensed milk. After 2 minutes of whipping, slowly whip in the cognac. Separate out half the mixture. This will go between one set of cake layers. Whip in the cocoa into the other half - this will be the top layer and will cover the sides.

Traditionally the cake is decorated with hazelnuts, shaved chocolate and fruit jellies, but I stuck to shavings on top and sliced almonds on the sides.