February 06, 2006

Weekends together in the kitchen

Weekends like this one, I'm really thankful I found a man who loves working in the kitchen as much as I do. It's so much more fun to cook WITH someone... especially someone you love!

We'd been looking at Cooking Light's Thai Style Ground Beef (J/F 2006) since the magazine arrived in December, and decided a cold and windy Saturday night was as good a time as any to give it a shot. Other than omitting the cooking spray in favor of a dash of olive oil (I don't typically do the cooking spray thing) we didn't change the recipe a bit and it worked out just fine. We served it in lettuce cups with couscous which did a great job of absorbing the surprisingly complex coconut curry sauce. The magazine touts this as 'kid-friendly'... not sure I buy that (it was pleasantly spicy but might overwhelm some kids) but it's one that will make my weeknight rotation when I'm looking for a combination of comfort food and something ethnic.

Satisfied with dinner, we spent the evening making stocks from scratch: beef, chicken, & veggie. We love the depth that homemade stocks add compared to canned broths.

Sunday we spent the day prepping for the week: Banana bread for breakfasts and some hearty, healthy and quite tasty Creamy Tomato Balsamic Soup to warm me up at lunch. Roasting the veggies really does bring an amazing depth to this soup. I followed the suggestions of those who'd reviewed it before me and didn't bother straining the finished product -- it's far more rustic that way.

Since tri-tip was on sale this week and it didn't rain this weekend, John got a chance to use the grill for dinner on Sunday. I have no idea how he marinated the meat - red wine, mustard, spices, and who knows what all else - but it was divine. Served it with dad's infamous cole slaw and the last of the corn we froze this summer. BBQ in February is one of the things I love about living in California...

The Recipes:

Creamy Tomato-Balsamic Soup

Cooking the vegetables at the high temperature of 500° caramelizes their natural sugars and deepens their flavor; the liquid poured over them ensures they won't burn. Prepare the soup up to two days ahead; reheat over medium heat before serving.

1 cup less-sodium beef broth, divided (I used John's stock)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
5 garlic cloves
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, drained
Cooking spray
3/4 cup half-and-half
Cracked black pepper (optional)
(I sprinkled Parmeggiano/Reggiano on top)

Preheat oven to 500°.

Combine 1/2 cup of broth, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce in a small bowl. Place onion, garlic, and tomatoes in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Pour broth mixture over tomato mixture. Bake at 500° for 50 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned.

Place tomato mixture in a blender. Add remaining 1/2 cup broth and half-and-half, and process until smooth. Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids. Garnish with cracked black pepper, if desired. Yield: 4 servings (serving size: about 1/2 cup)

This dish appeals to adults and kids alike, which answers Sasha Wall's challenge to prepare one dinner that satisfies the whole family. Serve with lime wedges. Enjoy leftovers with warm tortillas.

Thai Style Ground Beef
Cooking spray
1 cup thinly sliced leek
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
1 pound lean ground sirloin
1 teaspoon red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen)
1 cup tomato sauce (I used Dad's homemade)
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
3 cups hot cooked short-grain rice (we substituted cous cous)
Iceberg lettuce wedges (optional)
Chopped cilantro
Chopped green onions (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add leek; sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beef; cook 7 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring to crumble.

Stir in curry paste and tomato sauce; cook until half of liquid evaporates (about 2 minutes). Add milk and next 4 ingredients (through fish sauce); cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Serve with the rice and lettuce wedges, if desired. Garnish with cilantro and green onions, if desired. Yield: 4 servings (serving size: about 1/2 cup beef mixture and 3/4 cup rice)