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Category Archives: Beef Recipes

Fit for Man and Beast

short-ribs

I have always wanted to cook short ribs, but for a number of reasons, I have never tried. They are expensive enough that if I really screwed them up, I would be wretched. I have also been pretty sure that they’d be too wierd for the kids. (Note to people with nonexistent or exceptionally game children: this potential aversion to eating strange foods is not in any way the result of my failure to introduce foods other than chicken nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches. It is a form of subtle and vicious mind control practiced by the small and weak in order to control the large and powerful).

I have eaten short ribs in restaurants and at the odd dinner party for years and marveled at their flavor, texture and versatility, but not until my recent cooking renaissance did I decide to throw caution to the winds and try them at home. I have a little tweaking to do, but I am mostly pleased by the results of grabbing life by the short ribs. They were tender, the sauce was perfectly spiced (although I would make it hotter next time) and the brightness added by the cilantro and a bit of lime was money. The meat was too fatty for my taste, but I think I’ve found a solution to that problem for next time.

I served the ribs with grits, which proved excellent for soaking up the glorious sauce, and a Mexican salad which was a tarted-up version of one of my mother’s old standbys.  Do try this at home.

Beef Short Ribs in Chipotle and Green Chile Sauce

(Adapted from The Bon Appetit Cookbook)

[Note: my adaptation makes this a two-day recipe. Plan to start the day or night before you want to eat this dish]

  1. 1 teaspoon salt
  2. i teaspoon ground black pepper
  3. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  4. 1 teaspoon ground chili powder
  5. 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  6. 8 3-inch-long meaty beef short ribs
  7. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  8. 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  9. 6 garlic cloves, minced
  10. 1 14-ounce can low-salt chicken broth
  11. 1 cup drained canned diced tomatoes
  12. 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  13. 1 1/2 tablespoons canned chopped chipotle chiles (I doubled this)
  14. 3 large, fresh Anaheim chiles stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch-thick-rings
  15. Chopped fresh cilantro
  16. Lime wedges

Mix salt and next four ingredients in bowl; all over short ribs. (If you want to get good coverage, plan to do this in two layers, sprinkling half of the spice mixture on a large side of 4 ribs at a time). Place ribs on a plate and cover; refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Heat oil in a large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the ribs and brown on all sides, about 9 minutes; transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining ribs. reduce heat to medium. Add onion and garlic to same pot; cover and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add broth and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add tomatoes, lime juice and chipotle chiles. Return ribs to pot, meaty side down, in a single layer. Bring to a boil, cover and cook until ribs are just tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove pot from oven. Tilt pot and spoon off fat. (I did not find this effective – keep reading for my alternative suggestion). place pot over medium heat and simmer uncovered until sauce coats spoon and ribs are very tender, about 25 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper. (Okay, this is where my genius idea comes in: at this point, I would refrigerate the meat and sauce overnight so that the fat solidified and I could easily remove it all before proceeding. I found that attempting to de-fat as the recipe suggests caused me to remove some of thge broth mixture, but not all of the fat, which left me with not enough sauce and too much grease in the sauce I had left).

(Remove pot from refrigerator) and bring to a simmer over medium heat; add chile rings. Simmer until chiles soften, about 10 minutes. Transfer ribs and sauce to large bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro; garnish with lime wedges and serve.

For Your Beasts

Our dogs got the bones from the short ribs, and enjoyed them tremendously. I don’t think they are dangerous and splinter-y; if you know otherwise, please let me know before I do this again!

mexican-salad

Mexican Salad

I started to follow a recipe for this salad before realizing that it was one of my mom’s standards. Here’s how we do it:

  1. 1 head red leaf lettuce (or any leaf lettuce
  2. 1/2 red onion cut in half and sliced into thin rings
  3. 2 seedless oranges or tangerines, peeled and sectioned (if using oranges, cut sections in half)
  4. 1 avocado peeled and cut into slices or cubes
  5. red wine vinaigrette

Place first four items in a salad bowl. Dress to taste, toss and serve.

What’s For Dinner?

george-bailey

I have planned menus throughout my recently concluded career as a campaign press person, but actual execution was pretty spotty. Sometimes I came home at 4:00, slept until 6:00 and had to order a pizza or make soup and grilled cheese because people were starving and couldn’t make it until I finished cooking the planned meal. Other nights my parents took pity on us and took us to dinner, or I discovered at 5:30 that some essential ingredient had been used up, never purchased or was otherwise unavailable. It would be an understatement to say that I had neither the interest in nor the capacity to whip up something creative using what actually was available. I was interested only in how quickly some Pad Thai, gyros or subs could be made to appear in my house.

This week, I am ready to cook again. Like George Bailey on the snow-covered bridge near the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I have seen what life is like without home cooking, and “I want to cook again!” I am not quite ready for adventures in the kitchen; I just want to make good things from scratch. Then I want to eat them. Here’s what we’re having on Forest Street this week:

Saturday

Grilled Sausage, Macaroni and Cheese, Salad, Brownies & Ice Cream

A group of boys who lived up the street during their senior year in college are coming back to town for a football Saturday, and having dinner here between the game and their evening activities. (Which undoubtedly include lots of alcohol and probably things i don’t want to know about).  I used to have the pleasure of feeding these gentlemen fairly often, and i know them to be big eaters with fairly straightforward taste. For the 6-8 of them and the 3 of us, we’ll grill a bunch of kielbasa, I’ll make two pans of macaroni and cheese and a big salad with some interesting additions (maybe some slivered Granny Smith and some pepitas) and we’ll finish with homemade brownies and ice cream.

Sunday

Beef Curry, Basmati Rice, Fresh Pineapple

I have missed this curry so much that I could weep. I have posted the recipe previously, but I love it so much, and want so much for you to share my joy, that I am posting it again:

Annie’s Out-of-the-Box Beef Curry

  1. 1 1/2 pounds lean beef strips (can be from any cut of beef, but fatty and/or tough cuts will require an additional step)
  2. 8 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  3. 2 tbsp fish sauce
  4. 2 cans unsweetened coconut milk
  5. 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  6. 2 tbsp Brown sugar
  7. 3-4 crushed garlic cloves
  8. 1 large or small onions halved and thinly sliced
  9. 3 carrots peeled and cut into rounds or 1 1/2 cups slaw or stir fry mix (not frozen)
  10. 4 tbsp chopped basil (optional)

1. If you are using tough or fatty meat (chuck, for example) cook with no oil over medium- high heat until all visible pink is gone, remove meat from pan with a slotted spoon, pour off fat, and return meat to pan. If you are using lean meat (almost no visible marbling) heat oil in pan over medium-high heat and cook until no visible pink remains.

2. Add onions and carrots or slaw mixture to meat and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat for about 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 more minute.

3. Add coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce and brown sugar; stir to combine. Reduce heat to “low” and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until meat can be cut with the side of a fork but is not mushy. (You are looking for a texture that is firm, but not so firm that you will essentially be serving beef chewing gum). Cooking time will vary depending on the type of meat used.

5. When meat has reached desired consistency check sauce for taste and add salt or pepper if needed.

6. Serve curry over steamed or boiled rice, and garnish with fresh basil if you like.

Monday

Chicken & Dumplings and Lima Beans

I am going to use this recipe, in my final salute to the crock pot that got me through so much of the past four months. I am making lima beans, which Mr. Annie hates, but which I worship and crave with unnatural fervor. He just won’t have any.

Tuesday

Potato Leek Soup and French Bread

C’est magnifique, this soup. It’s comforting, elegant and subtle. I might make a simple green salad, and I might not. I plan to commune with the spirit of Julia Child as I cook.


Wednesday

Topopo Salad

Another craving to satisfy.

Thursday

Bucatini all’Amatriciana, Bread, Green Salad

Simple, authentic Italian pasta with many of life’s best things (including bacon, San Marzano tomatoes and Bucatini), a warm loaf of bread with good extra virgin olive oil, and some greens dressed with olive oil, sea salt and Balsamic vinegar.

Friday

Flash Chicken Saute with Cider and Almonds, Pilaf and Butternut Squash

I figure that by Friday I’ll be capable of trying something I haven’t made before. This recipe comes from Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s “Splendid Table,” and sounds autumnal and delicious.

Guinness Braised Chuck Steaks with Mashed Potatoes: A Winter Dinner

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”

-William Blake

 

I do enjoy winter. Aside from the holidays, which can be as stressful and maddening as they are glorious, there is a natural exaggeration of the contrast between “outside” and “inside,” between the biting cold and isolation of a Michigan winter and the warmth and community to be found at home. There are very few experiences I prefer to that of coming into a warm house after spending time outside shovelling, sledding or taking a walk with the dogs; my body naturally melts into the ambient warmth, and (with a little luck) there can be hot chocolate or a cup of tea in my immediate future.

Its good to come in from the cold, but I can ratchet my pleasure level even higher if there is something delicious in the oven, scenting the house and promising good things to come. Winter is not about the quick, refreshing fruits and vegetable of spring and summer which often require just a knife and maybe a little kosher salt. Winter is a time for the slow, deep flavors that come from long cooking of root vegetables and cuts of meat too tough and complicated to be thrown on the grill. It is a perfect time for braising and stewing, which let you begin with tough (but flavorful) protein and thick, starchy vegetables and end with tender meat and vegetables as well as sauce or gravy infused with the flavors and scents of meat, vegetables, and the aromatics of your choosing.

The main elements of a braise are the searing of the meat to insure beautiful color and to seal in flavor, and the long, slow cooking to break down connective tissue and make the meat silky. As an added bonus, most meats suitable for a braise are inexpensive because they are tougher and less “convenient;” think chuck roast, stew meat and bone-in chicken rather than lean fillets and boneless, skinless breasts.

One of my favorites is this recipe for Guinness-Braised Chuck Steaks with Horseradish Potatoes from the October 2005 issue of “Cooking Light” magazine. I’ve adapted the recipe to make it a little more kid-friendly (no horseradish in the mashed potatoes, alas, and no mushrooms in the sauce) but I’ll give you both my version and a link to the original so you can choose for yourself. Here’s the original. Here’s mine:

Guinness-Braised Chuck Steaks with Mashed Potatoes

(Adapted from “Cooking Light” Magazine)

For the steak:

  1. 1 1/2 pounds boneless chuck steak, trimmed
  2. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  3. 2 teaspoons olive oil
  4. 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
  5. 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  6. 1/2 cup chicken broth (homemade, if you have it)
  7. 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
  8. 1 teaspoon chopped, fresh rosemary
  9. 1 8 ounce package pre-sliced mushrooms (I leave these out)
  10. 1 garlic clove, minced
  11. 2 bay leaves
  12. 1 (12 ounce bottle) Guinness Stout

For the Potatoes:

  1. 2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered (I like Yukon Gold)
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1/2 cup skim milk
  4. 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
  5. 1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
  6. 2 tablespoons horseradish (I leave this out of the dish until the end, and stir some into the adult portion)
  7. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  8. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Add steak, cook 5 minutes per side, or until browned. Remove steak from pan, and add onions, carrot, 2 tablespoons of broth and brown sugar. Cover, lower heat and cook 10 minutes. Add bay leaves, stout, remaining broth and steak and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour and 30 minutes or until steak is tender. (Note: this is not an exact science; start testing the meat for tenderness at 90 minutes, but depending on the piece of meat, it may take longer).

To prepare potatoes, place them in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes and return to pan; add butter and beat with a mixer until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients and keep warm.

Remove steak from pan and keep warm. (I put it on a platter tented with foil). Discard bay leaves. Increase heat to medium high and cook five minutes or until slightly thickened. Slice steak, spoon sauce over it and serve with potatoes.

Random Dinner Snapshot: Yet Another Pot Roast

I am still writing every day during the month of November, and have designated Tuesdays as Random Dinner Snapshot Days for the duration. Tonight I tried another pot roast recipe. You may, at this point, be of the (reasonable) belief that we eat nothing but pot roast, but the truth is that it sounds good to me at this time of year, it makes use of a cheap cut of meat and seasonal vegetables, and it makes the house smell good.

In the past several weeks I have prepared Mark Bittman’s sublime version of pot roast and a regrettable specimen from a Gooseberry Patch cook book which featured undercooked meat and great lashings of creamed soup. Tonight’s version comes from the October 2007 issue of “Cooking Light,” and was not only healthy but well-received by everyone around here. It has tender meat, tasty “juice,” tender vegetables and the possibility of good hash the next day if you grind it up in the food processor with a little raw onion.

pot-roast.jpg

Yankee Pot Roast

(from “Cooking Light” Magazine, October 2007)

 

Ingredients

  1. 1 teaspoon canola oil
  2. 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed
  3. Cooking spray
  4. 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  5. 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
  6. 1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
  7. 1 teaspoon salt
  8. 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  9. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  10. 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  11. 2 bay leaves
  12. 2 1/2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled rutabaga (about 1 pound) (I couldn’t find any rutabagas, so I added more potatoes, parsnips and carrots)
  13. 2 1/2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled parsnip (about 1 pound)
  14. 1 1/2 cups (1-inch-thick) slices carrot (about 8 ounces)
  15. 2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled baking potato (about 1 pound)
  16. Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

Preparation: Preheat oven to 300°.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef to pan, browning on all sides (about 8 minutes). Remove from pan. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Stir in broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat; add mustard and next 5 ingredients (through bay leaves). Return roast to pan; bring to a simmer.

Cover and bake at 300° for 1 1/2 hours. Stir in rutabaga, parsnip, and carrot. Bake, covered, 1 hour. Stir in potato; cover and bake 30 minutes or until roast and vegetables are very tender. Discard bay leaves. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired.

Yield

8 servings (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups)
Nutritional Information

CALORIES 325(28% from fat); FAT 10.2g (sat 3.3g,mono 4.6g,poly 0.7g); PROTEIN 28.7g; CHOLESTEROL 79mg; CALCIUM 72mg; SODIUM 642mg; FIBER 5.8g; IRON 4.3mg; CARBOHYDRATE 29.3g

 

Brisket: An Heirloom Recipe

I have published this recipe before, but it is tucked away as a page inside a post, so I am cheating a little by “outing” it for today’s heirloom recipe post.

This is my mother’s brisket recipe, and was also my grandmother’s and her sisters’. The three of them, Berniece (my grandmother), Harriet and Dorothy were all exceptional cooks of Hungarian Jewish extraction, and while they all developed their own specialties as they married and raised their own families in Ohio, they all made The Brisket.

My experience is that brisket takes the place that ham holds in gentile households; it is the Great Ancestral Meat on A Platter, emblematic of prosperity and family history. It adorns the table at a Hanukkah meal along with potato pancakes and homemade applesauce, but is also appropriate at a family gathering when everyone is together for the first time in months. It is meltingly tender, salty, and has no fat that can’t easily be cut off. It is fantastic with root vegetables such as glazed carrots, and mashed potatoes or (if you really want to do things right) a big bowl of farfel with butter.

In my mother’s family there is tremendous tension between the desire to eat every scrap of brisket and the equally powerful yearning to save enough to make perogen (meat-filled pies served in broth) the next day. For next Monday, I’ll try to get the perogen recipe out of mom so that you can all hit the culinary grand slam that has delighted three generations of my family for nearly 100 years.

Brisket

(serves 10 but not if you’re going to make perogen the next day)

  1. 6# brisket single cut of brisket (Its very important to ask for a “single cut”)
  2. 1 large, or 2 small sweet onions
  3. Vegetable oil or cooking spray
  4. Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325. Remove a portion of obvious fat from the brisket, but not all of it. Thinly slice your sweet onions

Place a large, heavy, oven safe roaster or dutch oven on the top of stove. Add a thin layer of oil or cooking spray, and onions. Over medium heat, brown brisket on all sides. Be sure the heat is not high enough to burn the onions, and also be sure that the meat is really brown. This will take about 20 minutes.

Pour off fat, and add water to barely cover brisket. Raise heat and bring the water to a boil, cover pan and place in preheated 325 oven.

Cook two hours, turning meat over twice. Taste a chunk at two hours; if its really tender, remove from oven and proceed to the next step; if not continue to cook until meat is tender and not chewy.

After removing from oven, place meat on cutting board and pour pan juices into a cup or bowl, and refrigerate. (Note: brisket may be prepared to this point a day or two ahead, and if you refrigerate the juices you’ll be able to skim off the solidified fat before proceeding). Discard cooked onions.

On the cutting board, slice the meat against the grain and return to the pan. (Again, you could refrigerate it overnight or longer).

Add 1.5 cups of cooking juice to pan and cook uncovered for 1/2 hour at 325.

salt and pepper to taste

Step Away from the Recipe….

I have rarely in my life done anything the way I was supposed to, or the way anyone else did it. My parents swear that my first complete sentence was “me do it myself,”and my brother has commented that I not only “think outside the box,” but do not know the actual location of the box. I am not particularly ambitious or energetic; I have just always been offended by rules, customs or “expert opinions” that seem to have no purpose beyond making things safe and easy.

I follow state and local laws, have a strong moral code, and observe most social conventions like waiting in line and taking turns merging. On the other hand, against all advice, I opened a law office when I had no clients and little experience, bought a house in a neighborhood full of student rentals because I loved the house, and consistently choose not to make my son participate in 50,000 extracurricular activities that will improve his shot at a full scholarship to Harvard. The office was a success, I still love the house, and my son is turning out pretty well without Math Camp or an intensive after-school course in obscure Lithuanian dialects.

Given my (somewhat erratic) profile, it has always surprised me that I have historically been terrified to deviate from a recipe when I cooked. I would substitute almond extract for vanilla in a cookie recipe, or use Yukon Gold potatoes in place of Russets, but most of the time I felt that I not only needed a recipe, but needed to refer to it continually like an obsessive compulsive ritual. If I didn’t look at the recipe again, I might forget to add the finely chopped asparagus before the addition of the last half cup of broth, thus destroying my risotto. Even if I had made the same recipe 20 times. And the consequences, according to my subconscious conformist, would be truly terrible. No starch with the chicken! Wasted Arborio rice and asparagus! The decline of Western civilisation!

Last night as I made Thai Beef Curry for dinner, I observed that I had really deviated so far from the original recipe that I was really doing something fairly different. The basic “bones” of the curry were in tact; I was still using coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce and a little sugar. I was not cooking the beef sous vide or presenting an envelope of rice-flavored paper which released a puff of curry-flavored air when bitten. I was just changing the recipe based on our tastes, and on my experience in the kitchen.

Here is the recipe as it originally appeared in the blog on August 6th:

Thai Red Beef Curry Recipe

(from epicurean.com)

Ingredients:

  1. 500g lean beef strips
  2. 1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  3. 1 tbsp fish sauce
  4. 300ml canned coconut milk
  5. 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  6. 1 tbsp Brown sugar
  7. 1 tsp crushed garlic
  8. 1/2 red capsicum (large mild pepper)
  9. 80g button mushrooms
  10. 80g spinach
  11. 4 tbsp chopped basil

Directions:
Mix the beef strips with oil and garlic. Heat wok on high. Stir-fry the beef strips in batches 1 minute, removing each batch when cooked. Before returning beef strips to wok, add capsicum (sliced) and sliced mushrooms with a sprinkling of water. Stir for 2 minutes.

Return beef strips. Add curry paste, fish sauce, coconut milk, brown sugar, chopped spinach and chopped basil. Toss to heat through. Then serve with boiled rice and fresh basil leaves.
Serves 4.

Here’s what I’ve changed:

  1. We like it hot, so I use 4 tablespoons of curry paste instead of 1
  2. I like garlic, so I use 3-4 crushed cloves
  3. Sam doesn’t eat mushrooms so I don’t use them; “our” Thai restaurant uses carrots, and we like the sweetness in contrast to the heat, so I use them instead
  4. I didn’t like the flavor or texture of the spinach in this, so I use a sliced onion, instead
  5. The basil is a great fillip, but not necessary
  6. The quick-frying and removal of the beef recommended in the recipe only works if you use beef that is quite tender (and therefore expensive) to begin with. Tougher, cheaper, flavorful cuts of meat can easily be substituted but require longer, slower cooking with a little more liquid added. Its also necessary to cook the fat out of them and drain it off before adding other ingredients.
  7. Tougher vegetables like carrots also take much longer to become tender than either mushrooms or spinach, and benefit from cooking a little longer and slower
  8. A packaged broccoli/cabbage/carrot/cauliflower slaw/stir-fry mix is an excellent, convenient way to get a greater variety vegetables into the dish with no labor
  9. This does NOT taste as good made with “light” coconut milk
  10. If the dish is cooked longer and slower to allow the meat (and vegetables) to become more tender, its necessary to add more liquid. Broth and water are okay, but dilute the flavor. The best flavor is achieved by making enough sauce to allow it to reduce during cooking but still leave plenty to soak into one’s rice. I decided to double the sauce ingredients while leaving the quantities of meat and vegetables as they were; even if I use leaner meat and do not require as much simmering time I have never heard a complaint from anyone in my family about the existence of “too much sauce….”

Here is the recipe that has become my curry recipe:

Annie’s Out-of-the-Box Beef Curry

  1. 1 1/2 pounds lean beef strips (can be from any cut of beef, but fatty and/or tough cuts will require an additional step)
  2. 8 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  3. 2 tbsp fish sauce
  4. 2 cans unsweetened coconut milk
  5. 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  6. 2 tbsp Brown sugar
  7. 3-4 crushed garlic cloves
  8. 1 large or small onions halved and thinly sliced
  9. 3 carrots peeled and cut into rounds or 1 1/2 cups slaw or stir fry mix (not frozen)
  10. 4 tbsp chopped basil (optional)

1. If you are using tough or fatty meat (chuck, for example) cook with no oil over medium- high heat until all visible pink is gone, remove meat from pan with a slotted spoon, pour off fat, and return meat to pan. If you are using lean meat (almost no visible marbling) heat oil in pan over medium-high heat and cook until no visible pink remains.

2. Add onions and carrots or slaw mixture to meat and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat for about 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 more minute.

3. Add coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce and brown sugar; stir to combine. Reduce heat to “low” and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until meat can be cut with the side of a fork but is not mushy. (You are looking for a texture that is firm, but not so firm that you will essentially be serving beef chewing gum). Cooking time will vary depending on the type of meat used.

5. When meat has reached desired consistency check sauce for taste and add salt or pepper if needed.

6. Serve curry over steamed or boiled rice, and garnish with fresh basil if you like.

Planned-Overs: The Transformers of the Kitchen

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”
-Calvin Trillin

Mine is not a family of happy leftover-eaters. While I would gladly eat the same thing twice in one week (provided, of course, that it was good the first time around), neither my husband nor my son is best pleased by the reappearance of anything unless it was a spectacular hit. In that case, they ate it already.

For reasons both budgetary and moral, I hate to waste perfectly good food. This waste-hatred dovetails neatly with the fact that I am entering the time of year when everything seems to move faster, and it is a blessing to have at least part of dinner prepped in advance. Enter the Planned Over. In a cosmic coincidence, as I was planning this entry, I happened to see Lidia Bastianich on “Lidia’s Italian Table” making a braised Pork Shoulder with a Salsa Genovese. She demonstrated the traditional pattern of saving the small, incidental chunks of pork broken up during the removal of the bone and carving, and adding them to the Salsa left over after serving the pork shoulder. The next day, Sunday dinner consists of pasta topped with the pork-enriched Salsa thinned with a bit of hot pasta water. Planned Overs.

The Planned Over is basically intentional recycling of food from one form to another, rendering it barely recognizable to other family members. If you re-heat a casserole and serve it two nights later with a different vegetable: leftover. If you serve pork tenderloin and rice one night and fried rice two nights later: Planned Over. It does require some thought, but I find it to be a brilliant way to save time and money while keeping dinner interesting. Here are some suggestions:

1. Meatloaf – Spaghetti with Meat Sauce or Baked Spaghetti

I tend to make meatloaf that is very much like a large, firm meatball: 2 pounds ground beef, 1 egg, 1 onion finely diced, 2 cloves garlic finely diced and about 1/2 cup of Italian bread crumbs or my own bread crumbs with some Italian spices (rosemary, oregano, parsley) added separately. I mix this with my hands, shape into a loaf and cook at 350 for an hour.

I cut leftover meatloaf into small cubes, about 1-inch in diameter (about the size of a meatball) and either refrigerate or freeze, depending on when I plan to reuse them. They freeze beautifully. When I’m ready, I boil a pound of pasta, and heat purchased or homemade tomato sauce with the meatloaf “meatballs” in it, and serve. Sometimes I mix the cooked, drained spaghetti with the meaty sauce, place into a 9×13 inch pan, cover with fresh, shredded mozzarella or Provolone cheese, and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted.

2. Pork Tenderloin – Pork Fried Rice

To accomplish this feat of transformation, I buy a large or two small pork tenderloins. I cook all of the pork at once – on the grill if its warm enough, and in a slow oven if its cold out. If the pork is going to be grilled, I marinate the half for the first dinner, but leave the other half unadulterated. If I’m cooking the pork indoors, I brown it with some onions and garlic, put it in a Dutch oven with some carrots and celery and a bay leaf, cover the pot and cook slowly (275 or 300 degrees) until the meat is tender.

For dinner one, I make twice as much rice as we will actually eat (which is quite a lot) and serve the pork with rice, a salad and another vegetable or some pan-fried apples. After dinner, I cut the remaining pork into small pieces and either freeze or put in the refrigerator.

For the second dinner, I make a westernized fried rice. In a large bowl, I put my cold, leftover rice, my chopped pork, a bag or box of frozen peas, chopped green onions and/or cooking onions (I use both), two eggs, and a couple of dashes of good soy sauce. I heat a large pan or wok with about 3 tablespoons of peanut oil while mixing up the contents of the bowl, then add the mixture to the hot pan and cook, stirring constantly, until it is heated through and the egg is cooked. I then shake on a few drops of sesame oil and serve. this is a complete meal if you add a salad, and I often add other vegetables including carrots, broccoli and green beans to the rice.

Roast Chicken – Chicken Noodle Casserole

Although I used to roast chicken using Nigella Lawson’s recipe, I am still happier with Mark Bittman’s method. When small roasting chickens are on sale, I often buy and cook two; one to eat with potatoes and a vegetable, and one to refrigerate for soup, enchiladas, or a casserole later in the week.

This casserole from “Cook’s Country” (a homier version of “Cook’s Illustrated”) is not only loved by my family, but is my standard dish to take to a family suffering a loss, enduring an illness, or (busy) celebrating a new baby or a move. It is also popular at “bring a dish” occasions, particularly with picky child eaters.

I leave the mushrooms out when I know I am preparing the dish for people who hate them (including my own child), and compensate by increasing the egg noodles from 12 to 16 ounces and using 4 1/2 -5 cups of chicken instead of the 4 called for by the original recipe or I use about 2 cups of either chopped broccoli or green pepper.

Chicken Noodle Casserole

(developed by Judy Wilson and published in the February/March 2006 issue of “Cook’s Country”)

Topping

  1. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  2. 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  3. 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  4. 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh parsley

Filling

  1. Salt
  2. 12 ounces egg noodles
  3. 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  4. 1/2 small onion, chopped fine
  5. 1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin
  6. Pepper
  7. 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  8. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  9. 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  10. 3 tablespoons dry sherry (If you are cooking for someone who prefers not to consume alcohol, just substitute 3 more tablespoons of broth)
  11. 2 cups sour cream (I use “light” for us, full fat for others)
  12. 4 cups cubed leftover chicken
  13. 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  14. 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  15. 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1. For the topping: Mix melted butter, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and parsley together in bowl.

2. For the filling: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in Dutch oven. Add 1 tablespoon salt and noodles and cook until nearly tender. Drain and set aside in colander.

3. Melt 2 tablespoon of butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook until mushrooms begin to brown, about 7 minutes.

4. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until melted. Add flour and stir until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in broth, sherry, and sour cream and cook, not letting mixture boil, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in chicken, noodles, parsley, thyme, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

5. Transfer mixture to 3 quart baking dish. Top with bread-crumb mixture and bake until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Serve.

Tips:

  1. I always deliver food in disposable containers so that the family that is bereaved, exhausted or sleepless due to a new baby doesn’t have to worry about washing your pan and returning it.
  2. If you suspect that you are delivering this meal to a family that has several other offerings waiting to be eaten, stop after transferring the mixture into a baking dish and topping with crumbs, write out the baking temperature and directions (I just use a Sharpie on the lid of the container) so that it can be cooked fresh when the family is ready to eat it.

 

 

Beef Burgundy – A Late, Great Dinner

For some reason, people who coach kids’ sports teams insist on scheduling practices at a time when any normal family is eating dinner. I fully realize that these are volunteer coaches who have lives, and can’t coach until after they are done with their own jobs; I, my very own self, was a soccer coach last year. I am allowed to dream, though, and my dream is for a world where sports practices are from 4:00-6:00 or perhaps 7:00-9:00. If I ran for office, it would be part of my platform along with outlawing gum-snapping.

But I digress. Since my son, who mysteriously arrived with genes for sports (and math), plays football, basketball, and baseball, there is almost always some kind of practice scheduled during the week. Currently, football practice is from 5:30-7:30 three days a week, but Sam likes to get there early to help set up, which means practice really starts around 5:00, and the coaches often run the practice until there is absolutely no light in the sky, around 7:50. I suppose that we could eat dinner at 4:15, but this is an idea which offends my sense of Dining Decorum as it represents both an obscenely early dinner and a sort of gobbling frenzy that undermines the whole “family dinner” idea. On the other hand, 8:00 is very late for kids to eat dinner. Its pretty late for me to eat dinner unless I am in Italy and have had a multi-course lunch and a long nap in the afternoon.

Better 8:00 than 4:15, though, so I have had to make a plan for having dinner ready at the precise moment that Sam bursts through the door, flinging cleats, pads, and sweaty UnderArmour. This is tricky since, as I have noted, the precise moment is entirely imprecise. I could, theoretically have something simmering in the slow cooker, but I am using that particular appliance very sparingly these days. A couple of times a month I can use the old crock to make something that genuinely tastes great cooked that way, but it can’t be a thrice-weekly thing lest I should have a mutiny on my hands.

That leaves me with several choices. The first is to create super quick meal which can be made or assembled after we get home from practice (think stir-fry or sandwiches). I like the quick-meal model in the warmer months when I don’t want to run the oven or stove for long. Another option is the already-assembled casserole that goes in the often and stays warm until practice is actually over (think macaroni or lasagna). The casserole plan is my least favorite for uncertain dinner times due to several several traumatic episodes of “coach kept us late” dry-out, which is most unappetizing.
A third category, which I like for fall and winter is the non-slow cooker, but nevertheless slow cooking main dish, which is flexible enough to wait at a low simmer until we’re ready to eat. The food really tastes better if it simmers a bit, I like the extra warmth in the kitchen, and when hungry quarterbacks or point guards stomp into the house after practice it always smells like something delicious. Salad can be made ahead, and if a pot of water is kept at a simmer, it can quickly be brought to a boil to cook pasta, egg noodles, or diced potatoes for smashing in no more than 10-15 minutes. A second veggie can steam in a steamer basket over the starch du jour, or in the microwave, or be quickly sauteed while the starch is cooking. Ideal foods for this kind of cooking are pasta sauces, stews, soups, and chilis.

Tonight’s dinner comes from category # 3. I cooked a Beef Burgundy recipe from “Cooking Light,” and actually found that the meat was a bit chewy after 1 hour and 30 minutes cooking time when it should have been finished; left in the oven for an extra hour at a reduced temperature it became a delicious melange of tender beef, silky mushrooms and rich sauce. I kept water simmering, and when Rob called to say they were on their way home, I cranked it up to a boil, cooked the noodles and steamed some carrots, and when they walked in the door we had a dinner that was late, but pretty great.

beef-burgundy.jpg

Beef Burgundy

(Adapted from Cooking Light Five Star Recipes: The Best of 10 Years)

  1. 2 1/2 pounds lean, bonesless round steak
  2. Vegetable cooking spray
  3. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 2 cups Burgundy, or other dry, red wine
  5. 1 can reduced fat, reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  6. 1 can beef consomme, undiluted
  7. 1 (1 ounce) envelope onion recipe soup mix
  8. 6 cups fresh, sliced mushrooms
  9. 1 (16 ounce) package frozen pearl onions
  10. 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  11. 1/2 cup water
  12. 2 12 ounce packages medium egg noodles, uncooked
  13. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  14. 3/4 cup nonfat sour cream (I used reduced fat)

Preheat oven to 350. Trim the fat from steak. Cut steak into 1-inch cubes. Coat an ovenproof Dutch oven with cooking spray; place over medium heat until hot. Add steak; cook 9 minutes until steak is no longer pink. Drain well, set aside. Wipe drippings from Dutch oven with a paper towel.

Coat Dutch oven with cooking spray; place over medium-low heat. Add garlic; sautee 1 minute. Raise heat to medium. Add wine and next 3 ingredients; stir well, and bring to a boil. Return steak to Dutch oven; stir in mushrooms and onions. Remove from heat.

Place flour in small bowl. Gradually add water, blending with a wire whisk; add to steak mixture, stirring well. Cover and bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours. (Note: after 1 1/2 hours I found the meat too tough and the sauce too liquid. I removed the lid and cooked at 350 for 30 more minutes to reduce the sauce, then re-covered the pot, lowered the oven temperature to 250 and “slow cooked” for another 90 minutes, but it was tender and ready to eat after the first 30 minutes at 250. You will need to experiment with your own oven and your own preferences with regards to chewy beef, but allow at least 2 hours of baking time).

Cook egg noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain noodles well, and place in a large serving bowl. Add Parmesan cheese and sour cream; toss mixture gently to coat. Serve steak mixture over noodle mixture.

Mark Bittman’s Basic Pot Roast

Last week, when I dove into comfort food (before hitting my head on the D-word at the bottom of the pool) I prepared Mark Bittman’s recipe for “Basic Pot Roast” from his compendium entitled How to Cook Everything. A well-prepared pot roast is a glorious thing; tender, flavorful and home-y. It has other advantages, as well: a chuck or rump roast can usually be found inexpensively, and if the meat is trimmed and the fat is skimmed, it can be fairly lean protein.

Unfortunately, many pot roasts are not all that well prepared. A dry, tough pot roast is kind of like eating bland, damp beef jerkey. At the other extreme of pot roast nastiness is the Extreme Slow-Cooker version where the meat has been cooked so long that it has become a sort of brown meat paste with all the flavor cooked out. (She said, raising a guilty hand). Both types of bad pot roast tend to be served with over-salty gravy which neither compliments nor disguises the essentially unfortunate state of the main event.

I’m not sure I made Mark Bittman’s pot roast exactly according to his vision, but it was fabulous, and I recommend it highly – made “by the book” or using my variations. It is not as “hands off” and easy as pot roasts left to cook for hours in the oven or slow cooker, but you will be rewarded with something that tastes intentional and rich rather than hasty and utlitarian. We had our with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.

Basic Pot Roast

(Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)

  1. 1 clove garlic
  2. 1 3-4 pound piece chuck or rump roast, tied if necessary
  3. 1 bay leaf
  4. salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  5. 2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
  6. 2 cups chopped onion
  7. 1 cup peeled and chopped carrot
  8. 1 celery stalk, chopped (Note: I chopped all of the veggies in my food processor, which probably resulted in a finer dice than the recipe called for, but it worked out fabulously when it was time to make the gravy)
  9. 1/2 cup red wine or water
  10. 1 cup chicken, beef or vegetable stock or water
  1. Peel the garlic clove and cut it into tiny slivers; insert the slivers into several spots around the roast, poking holes with a thin-bladed knife. Crumble the bay leaf as finely as you can and mix it with the salt and pepper. (Note: eating the bay leaf will not kill you. We are all still alive and its been a week). Rub the meat all over with this mixture.
  2. Heat the oil over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or other heavy pan that can later be covered; brown the roast on all sides, raking your time. Adjust the heat so the fat browns but does not burn. Remover the meat to a platter and add the vegetables to the Dutch oven. Cook them over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until softened and somewhat browned, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the red wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the wine has just about evaporated. Add about half the stock or water, return the roast to the pot, and turn the heat down to very low. (Note: the recipe does not say to cover the pot during cooking, but I did, since he specifies a pot that “can be covered.”)
  4. Turn the meat every 15 minutes and cook until it is tender – a fork will pierce the meat without pushing too hard and the juices will run clear – about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, but possibly longer if your roast is higher than it is long (very thick roasts may require as long as 4 hours if you keep the heat extremely low). Add a little more stock if the roast appears to be drying out, which is not likely unless the heat is too high. Don’t overcook; when the meat is tender, it is done.
  5. Remove the meat from the pot and keep it warm. Skim the fat from the surface of the remaining juice. Turn the heat to high and cook, stirring and scraping until the liquid is thick and almost evaporated. Check for seasoning. Slice the meat and serve it with the pan juices. (Note: Bittman gives no instructions for disposal of the vegetables, and since mine were chopped very fine, they sort of became nothing more than tiny lumps in the “juice” at the end. After I skimmed the fat, I thickened the liquid a bit, vegetables and all, then put it into the food processor and pureed it until it was smooth and creamy, and served it as gravy. It was complex with red wine, beef, bay and vegetable flavors, and very yummy).

If you have leftovers, try a sandwich of pot roast and melted provolone on an onion roll.

Not a Total Crock

If you are busy with work, a family, or both, you probably own (or have been very tempted by) a slow cooker. The promise is that no matter how frantic your day, your family will be greeted at the end with a home-y whiff of pot roast or stew, and that your cares will be forgotten as you sit around the table together enjoying a hearty repast that was thrown together by mom in minutes between removing her Whitestrips and finding Suzy’s poster outlining The Life of the Mayans.

If you are an astute observer of modern culinary culture, you will notice that you find slow cooker recipes in womens’ “home” magazines, and in cookbooks dedicated either to the slow cooker or to recipes for harried families. You will rarely, if ever, see a slow cooker recipe in “Gourmet,” “Bon Appetit,” “Food & Wine,” or “Saveur.” You are equally unlikely to see Christopher Kimball, Ina Garten or Tyler Florence using the slow cooker to cook on TV. It is possible that you might see Sandra Lee using one. That isn’t (just) because of elitism or snobbery; its because in most cases food is better prepared using any of a myriad of other methods.

My “case,” and I do have one, is that a slow cooker can save you time, and help you to make healthy and delicious meals with less hands-on time than other methods, but there are many things that should not be prepared by slow cooking. The problem is that many sources encourage us to believe that everything can be cooked in a slow cooker either by using special recipes or by making adjustments to “regular” recipes. I have no doubt that it is possible, physically to cook anything in a crock pot, but sometimes its just the wrong thing to do. Here are some reasons:

1. With the exception of some foods (about which more later) that benefit from really long, slow cooking, most dishes are really, thoroughly cooked in a slow cooker in 4-6 hours. That’s great if you are at home during the day and can put dinner together at 12:00 or 2:00 to be ready for dinner at 6:00, but if you work all day outside the home, that’s impractical. In order for the slow cooker to be a true convenience if you are busy during the day, you must put food in the cooker at 8:00 or 9:00 or some time before you head out for the day; the meal then remains either on “low” or “warm” for as many as 10 hours until dinner time. Noodles turn back into flour paste, vegetables turn limp and mushy, and many cuts of meat (boneless, skinless chicken breasts, for example) break down so much that they resemble a meat paste.

2. About those vegetables: the process of slow cooking causes loss of vitamins and other nutrients , so they are not only visually unappealing but less healthy than if they were served raw, blanched, roasted, grilled or steamed.

3. In many cases, even if you use one of those clever plastic liners, your dish will develop a layer of slightly to massively burnt crust around the bottom and outer edges where the pot gets hottest. Its obviously best if you can catch dinner before the crust forms, but the whole idea of using the slow cooker is that while you are at a meeting, or picking up from soccer practice and flute lessons, dinner will be taking care of itself without any intervention on your part.
4. Although there are recipes for all sorts of “normal” dinner options that can be prepared in the slow cooker, many of them are so substantially different in appearance and texture that you may have an uphill battle getting your family to accept them. I have made meat loaf, lasagne, enchilada casserole and scalloped potatoes with ham in the slow cooker. All of these things tasted okay, but the lasagne noodles and tortillas basically disintegrated into mush, and the meat in all cases became something so soft and lacking in distinct flavor that it more closely resembled baby food meat. For me, part of the beauty of a dish like lasagne or enchiladas is the contrast of flavors and textures. I like the ham in my scalloped potatoes to be firmer and chewier than the potatoes.

All of that being said, I have learned to use my slow cooker to do some very good and useful things. Since I gave you four “negatives,” I’ll give you four good ideas for using your slow cooker:

Poaching chicken is a fabulous thing to do in a slow cooker. Here’s how:

  1. Spray the crock with non-stick spray
  2. In the bottom of the cooker place several stalks of celery (this is a great use for gnarly, bendy old celery), a few carrots, and an onion cut in half. No need to peel carrots or celery.
  3. Atop the vegetables, place 4-6 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Turn cooker on “Low.”
  4. Check back starting in about 4 hours. Chicken should be tender but not mushy, and juices should run completely clear. If you’re unsure, give it another hour but don’t take the lid off sooner than that as every removal of the lid causes heat loss and dramatically slows cooking.
  5. When chicken is thoroughly cooked, fill a bowl of water or one side of your sink with cold water and ice. Place the chicken pieces in a plastic bag and cool in icy water before refrigerating. (This will keep the hot chicken from raising the temperature in your refrigerator while allowing it to begin cooling).
  6. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, skin it, remove bones, and store. You now have flavorful, tender cooked chicken for casseroles, enchiladas, soups, or salads. This chicken can be frozen; I freeze it in one-cup portions as recipes tend to call for (___ cups cubed, cooked chicken).
  7. Bonus: at the bottom of the slow cooker, under the vegetables, you will find liquid. This is a delicious essence of chicken-y, vegetable-y goodness. First strain the contents of the crockpot through a sieve to separate the liquid from the vegetables and miscellaneous bone and skin pieces that have fallen off during cooking. Place “juice” in a container overnight. The following day, use a spoon to remove the layer of fat and other flotsam that will have formed on the top of what will look like tan jelly. That jelly (which is kind of like consomme but not really), heated and mixed with some water to taste, will make a delicious chicken broth for use in soup, risotto or other dishes. And its free!!!!

Large, tough cuts of meat benefit greatly from long, slow, moist cooking. There are lots of recipes out there for slow cooker pot roast, but my method is simply to brown the meat on all sides with some onion, make a “bed” of peeled potatoes and carrots in the crock, place the meat and onion on top of the vegetables, add about 1 cup water or beef stock and cook on “slow” for at least 8 hours. You can make gravy out of the liquid in the bottom if you like, and mash the potatoes which should be quite soft by the end of the day. You can also make great pulled, barbecue beef or pork to serve in sandwiches.

Bean soups, baked beans stews and chilis are all natural choices for the slow cooker. I always make my pea soup in the slow cooker, and I usually cook baked beans in it, as well. Chili or stew made with tough little chunks of meat will come out tender and flavorful (although I add carrots to mt stew half way through to avoid mushiness) and a soup, stew or chili made with fatty meat can be prepared the day before, refrigerated, skimmed of fat and reheated in its crock. I often make pea soup a day ahead, as well, and then put the crock right back on “low” the next day; I find that the flavor and texture improve dramatically during a night in the refrigerator.

Applesauce made in the slow cooker will be delicious and make your house smell heavenly. Apples are coming into season now; buy a bunch, then peel, seed, core and cut into chunks. (Note: if you buy transparent apples, you may not need to peel them. I often leave the skins on anyway, because that’s where all the fiber is).

Spray the slow cooker with cooking spray, fill the crock with apples and add about 1/2 cup of water – remember that apples contain a great deal of water, and the slow cooker does not allow evaporation, so the apples will contribute a fair amount of liquid. Cook on “low” for about 4 hours (longer if necessary; nothing bad will happen) and then stir, add liquid if necessary, and taste. At this point, if you like, add some sugar but no spices, yet. In 2-4 hours check again, stir if needed, and add water if necessary. When the sauce is done to your liking, add cinnamon and (if you like) a grate or two of nutmeg.

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