Archive for December, 2010

Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon

If your holiday entertaining calls for something special, filet mignon is a good choice and couldn’t be easier to prepare. Cut from the tenderloin, filet mignon is the most tender cut of beef. It’s not the most flavorful cut, so wrapping the filets in a strip or two of bacon secured with toothpicks adds a bit of flavor as well as helping the steak hold it’s shape while cooking.

Because beef filet lacks the rich beefy flavor we love in other cuts of beef, I almost always grill it outdoors. Filet mignon can also be pan fried or broiled, but this is how we like it best.

Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon
4 beef tenderloin steaks, about 2 inches thick
4 slices of smoked bacon, regular thickness
2 large cloves garlic
Salt & pepper

Place the tenderloins on a large dish and wrap a slice of room temperature bacon around each filet, gently stretching the bacon if needed. Secure the ends of the bacon with a toothpick.

Cut the garlic cloves in half and rub both sides of each filet with the cut ends of the garlic. Season well with salt and pepper on both sides.

Pre-heat grill to very hot. With tongs, place each steak on the grill and for medium-rare cook for 3-4 minutes, rotating the steaks halfway through 90 degrees for nice grill marks.
Turn the steaks over and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Remove from the grill and let rest loosely covered for 5 minutes before removing toothpicks and serving. Serve as is or with sautéed garlic mushrooms. Serves 4.


Brown Sugar Pecan Pizzelles

Growing up with an Italian grandmother, holidays always meant pizzelles would be included on a big cookie tray. Those Italian waffle-like cookies were flavored with anise, vanilla or sometimes cocoa.

My Italian pals may raise an eyebrow over this, but I wondered what the result would be if I switched the white sugar in the traditional recipe with brown sugar. And while I was tweaking the recipe, I decided to toss in some pecans that I ground in my food processor.

The result was better than I expected. Not as dry as the traditional recipe, the pecans toast as the cookies bake and give a butter-pecan flavor to the cookie. This experiment turned out far better than the year I decided to try to cook brownie batter in my pizzelle maker (bad idea-it ruined my pizzelle maker and I had to buy a new one).

Pizzelle makers are similar to waffle makers, and many waffle makers have reversible grids that produce breakfast waffles on one side and Italian pizzelles when flipped over. They are available in many kitchen supply departments and on-line everywhere.

Brown Sugar Pecan Pizzelles

½ cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 cup flour
½ cup finely ground pecans
½ tsp. vanilla
6 Tbsp. ice water

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla.

Stir in the flour and ground pecans, mixing well. Add water until batter is the consistency of thick cream.

Preheat pizzelle maker according to the maker’s instructions. When hot, pour a scant ¼ cup of batter on each side (don’t worry if the first ones don’t come out as planned, the first ones rarely do.) Cook until lightly browned, watching closely since the pecans will brown quickly.

Repeat until all batter has been used. Makes about 2 dozen pizzelles.

Orange Glazed Lamb Chops

I love a perfectly grilled rosy pink lamb chop cooked on the outdoor grill with a garlicky mint sauce on the side, but when lighting the grill isn’t part of the plan, this is the next best thing.

Simply seasoned and sautéed, these chops sauced with a zippy orange glaze are easy enough for midweek dinners, and special enough for company.

Depending on the size of everyone’s appetite, six two-inch thick loin lamb chops will serve two or three people.

Orange Glazed Lamb Chops
6 loin lamb chops, about 1½ to 2 inches thick
1 clove coarsely minced garlic
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire or soy sauce

Orange Glaze
½ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon vinegar (any type)
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1½ teaspoons corn starch
¼ cup water
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Season the chops on all sides with the garlic, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour before cooking.

Preheat a non-stick sauté pan over medium heat and add the chops. Sauté on both sides for about 3-4 minutes. Tip the chops over on their sides and sauté on the edges of the chops until lightly browned, another minute or two on all sides.

While the chops are cooking mix juice, zest, soy sauce, sherry, vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and add to the mixture. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat as soon as the glaze thickens. If glaze thickens too much dilute with a few drops of water or orange juice. Add the red pepper flakes and set aside but keep warm.

Remove the chops from the pan and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve the chops with the glaze drizzled over the top.

Serves 2-3 people.

Banana Rum Cake

The base for this recipe is a simple, buttery Italian cake with the texture of a pound cake. The cake is very good all by itself or with dollops of jam, pastry filling or Nutella baked inside.

In this recipe I’ve used a store-bought banana pie filling (one of my top ten food finds for 2010) but any flavor of store bought pie or pastry filling works equally well (cherry pie filling is another one of my favorites for this).

This dense, sturdy, one-bowl cake is no-fail and does double duty as base for strawberry shortcake when fresh berries are in season in the spring. I’ve taken the basic recipe a step further to give it a holiday flare by soaking the top with rum while the cake is still hot from the oven, but this is optional. The cake is still very nice without the rum and can be omitted if a non-alcoholic cake is desired. If you’re looking for a good yellow cake that stands up well to soaking with a flavored syrup or alcohol, this one is perfect.

There’s no baking powder or soda in this recipe, it hasn’t been omitted in error.

Banana Rum Cake
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) room temperature butter
1 cup all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar (plain or vanilla)
3 eggs
1 cup banana pie filling (or any other pie filling or favorite jam)
½ cup rum (optional but very good)

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease & flour a 9 inch springform pan.

In a mxing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and salt together until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well.

Add the flour and with a spatula, mix just until the flour is incorporated. Don’t over mix.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan and drop spoonfuls of the pie filling randomly over the top of the batter, do not mix in.

Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the batter comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and while the cake is still hot drizzle the rum over the top of the cake. Let cool completely before cutting.

Broiled Crab Cakes

Simple and elegant, crab cakes are perfect for holiday entertaining. High quality fresh crabmeat is available in eight-ounce containers in many supermarkets these days and is often on sale around the holidays. The best crab cakes contain only enough of a binder (crushed saltine crackers are used here), to hold the crabmeat together. Gentle tossing with a fork will prevent breaking up the pieces of crabmeat.

It seems fussy to insist on fresh parsley, but when working with a pricey ingredient like fresh crabmeat, fresh parsley makes a world of difference. These delicate crab cakes are broiled. The touch of butter placed on top of the cakes before broiling gives them a lovely nutty flavor as it browns and keeps the cakes moist.

Serve two of these crab cakes as a main course per person or smaller ones as an appetizer.

Broiled Crab Cakes
1 lb fresh (not canned) crabmeat
10 saltine crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely minced peppedew or pimiento peppers
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ tsp Old Bay seasoning
2 tsp very soft butter

Place all of the ingredients, except the butter, in a large bowl. With a fork, very gently toss the ingredients together until just blended being careful to avoid breaking up the crabmeat too much.

Gently form into 6 slightly rounded cakes and place on a non-stick baking sheet (non-stick aluminum foil works great here). This can be done up to a day in advance and refrigerated, covered, until ready to cook.

Preheat broiler on it’s lowest setting. Gently spread softened butter on each cake and broil until golden brown and hot throughout. Let sit for 5-10 minutes minutes before carefully removing the cakes from the baking sheet with a spatula.

Serves 3 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer.

Zaytoon Market and Restaurant

A recent craving for falafel lead us to Zaytoon, an absolute gem of a family owned and operated neighborhood restaurant and grocery store specializing in Persian cuisine on the west side of town on South Durango across from Desert Breeze Park.

This beautiful market and casual restaurant, perfumed with the exotic aromas of Middle Eastern spices and freshly baked bread, is a total sensory browsing pleasure. Aisles of well-stocked shelves offer an amazing selection of oils, teas, spices, seasonings, canned goods, dried fruits and Middle Eastern pantry items.

The produce department featured gorgeous pomegranates, fresh herbs and enormous plump dates. A nice selection of olives and cheese was on display in the deli and dairy cases and irresistible fresh Middle Eastern breads and pastries were impossible to pass up.

The spotless café specializes in halal meat kabobs, Persian inspired sandwiches, salads and appetizers. We started with an outstanding version of hummus served with a sheet of freshly baked, crisp, flatbread. Our falafel was perhaps the best we’ve ever had. Our generous portions of moist, savory chickpea fritters were wrapped in fresh lavash flat bread and served with a traditional Persian salad of finely cubed cucumbers and tomatoes in a lively citrus & herb dressing.

We will be making a return visit very soon and if we’re lucky, lamb kabobs will be the daily special again. If they can work magic with the humble falafel, we can only imagine what they do with lamb. Zaytoon is now on our top ten list for outstanding ethnic dining and grocery shopping in Las Vegas, and with so much to choose from in Vegas, that’s saying quite a bit.

Zaytoon Market and Restaurant
3655 S. Durango Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89147
website and menu

Food Photography on the Las Vegas Strip

With a camera in nearly every cell phone and the availability of seriously good point-and-shoot digital cameras, anyone can be a food photographer these days. There’s no better place to snap great photos of world class cuisine prepared by top chefs than Las Vegas.

The main problem with shooting great photos in a restaurant is lighting and Caesars Entertainment is trying something new to solve that problem and accommodate the growing interest in food photography. Now anyone who wishes to photograph their Grand Seafood Tower, Beef Wellington or anything else on the menu at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas need only let their server know and they will gladly come to your table with a small, unobtrusive hand held photography light to make sure your photos look as fabulous as the dishes taste.

Right now, this is only a pilot program at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant but we’d be thrilled to see this available at the other Caesars properties on the Strip. More info is available at the official Caesars blog, The Pulse of Vegas. (photo courtesy of Scott Roeben)