RECIPE CARD: 3 Cheese Beef & Noodles + How To Get The Most Out Of Prep Day

Posted on April 5, 2016

Beef and Noodles-I have always said, “if I am going to cook one chicken, I might as well cook two.”  It’s not really any more work.  I have come to believe the same about pot roast, pork roast, and just about anything that is braised, smoked or roasted.

In the case of this casserole you could make it anytime by using cooked ground beef but if you do as suggested and make extra pot roast for a Sunday dinner then this is the perfect way to make use of it midweek.

3 Cheese Beef & Noodles (serves 6)

1 small onion, minced

12 oz. fusilli pasta

1 lb. chuck roast, cooked and shredded

1 cup Pomi brand strained tomatoes

1 ½ cups beef broth

8 slices American cheese

5 thick slices of fresh Mozzarella

1 ½ cups of Edam or Fontina Cheese

 

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and onion then cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Drain the pasta and onions and place it back into the pot.  Stir in the tomatoes, beef broth, and chuck roast.
  4. Dump the pasta into a large casserole.  Jiggle the casserole to spread the mix out evenly.
  5. Layer the cheese on top starting with the American, then the Edam, and follow with the mozzarella.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes or until browned and bubbly.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

RECIPE CARD: Slow Cooker Baked Potato Soup

Posted on March 13, 2016

This is the Midwest and we like baked potatoes and we aren’t ashamed to say so.  Loaded baked potatoes, twice baked potatoes, simple baked potatoes, in my part of the country it is un-American not to like them.  For that matter, how good is a baked potato on those nights when they are what you crave?  Truth is we like all kinds and cooked lots of ways.  That is what is so good about this soup, it can be dressed up or kept very basic but no matter what at the dinner time it is nothing short of delicious.Potato Soup

I am not the first person to make this soup.  This one is different is because most of them  I have seen use red potatoes, flour, and a boullion cube.  I didn’t.  I use russet potatoes because they aren’t waxy like red potatoes.  They also contain lots of starch, a thickener, and enough of a thickener I can keep this soup gluten-free.  Take note, this soup could easily be made into New England Clam Chowder by adding celery, clam juice diluted with water instead of chicken stock, and by adding the clams at the same time as the half and half.  Potato leek soup is another option as is a watercress soup.  Your are only limited by your imagination.

4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked crispy, cooled, and cut

1 small yellow onion (about ½ cup)

3 or 4 medium to large russet potatoes, scrubbed, skin on, and cut into 12-inch cubes

1 TBS. flat leaf parsley, minced

½ teaspoon dried thyme

3 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

¾ cup half and had

¼ cup heavy cream

Green onion, cut into thin rounds

Cheddar cheese, grated

 

  1. Layer the potatoes into the bottom of the slow cooker.  Top with bacon, onion, parsley, and thyme.
  2. Pour in the stock and turn the heat to high’ put the lid in place, and set a timer for 3 hours.
  3. When the timer sounds, remove the lid and stir the soup gently.  Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.  Add half and half and the cream.  Stir and place the lid back on a cook another ½ hour.
  4. Serve with green onions and grated cheddar.

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (For the Slow Cooker)

Posted on March 5, 2016

I am new to slow cookers. I bought mine with the intention of immersing myself into the world of the crock pot.  My reasons are simple I need to create a few bigger blocks of time each week to immerse myself into other projects. It feels like the right thing to do.

But I have a problem, I am a helicopter cook . I need to walk by the stove and stir the stew, open the oven door to check the slow roasting ragu, or lift the damp towel to see if the bread is rising.  I have to be no more then a few steps away.  I can’t leave my babies be or they will fail.  So for the better part of two years the slow cooker sits relegated to a remote corner in the back of my pantry.  No longer.  I am going to make use of it, but it’s not easy.  After all it’s like letting a stranger into the kitchen to cook for the family.  I can’t say I am comfortable with this aspect of crock pots but I am trying.Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup-

My other issue with the slow cooker is the dump it in, stir, and set it and forget it mentality.   Don’t get me wrong.  I understand there are days when this method is the only way dinner would get to the table.  I am not above it, I have done it, and there is nothing wrong with it.   But as a chef I know there is a process, there are reactions that occur when food is put to high heat that make it taste better. Take browning or caramelizing for instance, the sugars created during the Mallard reaction adds flavor and lots of it.  Outside of Pot-au-feu, Corned Beef,  or other simmered meats,  the vast majority of recipes rely on caramelization to attain the flavors important to that particular dish.  Other simple things like hot cooking oil in the bottom of the pan.  Fat is flavor so the rule goes.   This oil absorbs the flavors of herbs, mirepoix, and animal protein.  It is this oil that transfers tons of flavor to your tastebuds as it swaddles the tongue.  Have you ever added lots of rosemary to a soup and not really been able to taste it?   Then the next time you make soup the recipe has you gently fry the rosemary in the cooking oil before you add stock.  The rosemary flavor is much more pronounced when it is emulsified with oil.

See why I have trouble with slow cookers.  I mean,  I’ll admit I hover to much and spend to much time in the kitchen,  way more then I should.  You should see it when I am depressed, worried, or problem solving.

Nevertheless I am giving slow cookers another chance and I am determined to make them work this time.  To do that I decided I wouldn’t be afraid of dirtying an extra pan for browning vegetables, meats, and deglazing.  If cleaning the pan is more then you care to be bothered with then just skip the step and add everything to the slow cooker as is.  I just can’t.

My other concern, especially when posting a recipe, and this is because I want it to be successful for anyone who bothers to cook it, is all slow cookers are not created equally.  The low temperature on mine  seems like high to me.  It starts to simmer heavily, meaning bubbles are rising at the edges as if it is getting ready to break out into a boil, long before I think it should.  If you use your slow cooker often then you understand its nuances.  Use good judgement and make the necessary adjustments.

It’s hard to believe it’s possible to braise meat until it is dry but you can.  Often times we use very lean meats when slow cooking and this becomes a problem.  To get around dryness issues and to be assured of a great dish I use chuck roast that has a good fat content.  I also like to use fresh Asian noodles.  Surprisingly I don’t have to go to a specialty grocery for them either.  I have noticed lots of groceries carrying them along with dumpling and egg roll wrappers.  The good news is any noodle works so if you have spaghetti noodles use them.  Star anise is a specialty product as is Sichuan peppercorns.  If you would like a substitute, fennel or anise seed is good exchange for star anise,  and red pepper chile flakes work in place of the Sichuan peppercorns.  Yes your soup will be different if you substitute but it won’t be any less good.

Taiwanese Slow Cooker Beef Noodle Soup (serves 4)

1 large onion, thinly sliced
canola oil
2 1/2 lb. chuck roast
1/2 cup rice wine or sake
1 qt. rich homemade beef stock or no sodium beef stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 star anise
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns (optional but recommended)
1 1/2 TBS garlic, minced
1 1/2 TBS. fresh ginger, minced
1 cinnamon 3-inches long
1 TBS. tomato paste
16 oz. wheat noodles
Green onion

  1. Place a skillet over high heat.  In the dry pan sear the onions until they char at the edges.  Remove them to the slow cooker.
  2. Let the pan cool for a minute or two, add a healthy glug of oil to coat the bottom and sear the chuck roast on both sides until it is very deeply browned.  Remove the roast to the slow cooker as well.
  3. Carefully pour out the excess oil into a heat proof container.  Set the pan back over the heat and add the rice wine or sake.  Be careful it might flame.
  4. Add the stock and deglaze the pan.  Add the liquid to the cooker.
  5. Add soup, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and tomato paste to the slow cooker.
  6. Turn the heat to low and cook for 5 hours or until the meat is tender but not falling apart.
  7. Remove the chuck roast from the pot and place it on a plate.  Using oven pads, remove the crock pot insert and strain the broth into a large bowl
  8. Pour the broth back into the cooker, add the roast, and dispose of the solids in the strainer.
  9. Cook the noodles according to the package.
  10. As the noodles are near to being done throw a couple of handfuls of spinach in with the soup broth.  Stir and cook until it has wilted.
  11. Cut the roast into thin pieces.  Strain the noodles and divide them among 4 bowls.  Top with broth and spinach.
  12. Garnish with green onion and serve.

 

 

RECIPE CARD: All-American Crab Cakes

Posted on February 24, 2016

I can’t tell you how many times I made crab cakes while working at different restaurants.  I am pretty sure even I don’t  want to know.  What I do know is many times they had lots of flavors sans one, crab and I often thought the cakes were more bread crumb than crab.  So here is a quick, easy, and very crab tasting recipe that can be made any night of the week.  This recipe makes a lot of cakes but realize you can make the cakes and freeze them in sets of 4 cakes or whatever works for you.CRAB CAKES-

All-American Crab Cakes

1/2 cup yellow onion, fine dice

1/2 cup celery, fine dice

2 tsp. Garlic, finely minced

Grape seed or canola oil

1 lb. pasteurized crab meat, preferably from the claw

25 saltines, crushed

2 TBS. mayonnaise

1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1 TBS. parsley, minced

2 large eggs

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. Place a medium sized sauté pan over medium high heat.  Add a glug of oil to the pan and give it time to heat.  Add onion, celery and garlic.  Cook the vegetables gently until translucent.  Do not let them brown, adjust the heat if need be.  When finished let the vegetables cool.
  2. Place the cooled vegetables into a large mixing bowl.  Add crab, cracker crumbs, mayonnaise, Old Bay, parsley, and eggs.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  It’s nice to bite into meaty crab pieces of cake, so gently turn the mixture with your hands being careful not to break the crab meat.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, set it into the refrigerator, and let it rest for 1 hour to over night.
  4. Place a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add a good glug of oil so there is a thin layer across the bottom surface of the pan.
  5. Form tangerines size balls of crab cake working the mixture with your hands.  Pat them into a patty.  Repeat making patties until all the mixture has been used.
  6. Gently place 4 patties into the pan.  You don’t want to crowd the.  Sauté until dark. Gently turn and do the same.  Remove the patties from the pan.  Either keep them warm in a 200 degree oven while you sauté more or serve them immediately.  

 

RECIPE CARD: Celery and Lemon Tom Collins (mocktail or cocktail)

Posted on February 17, 2016

My wife Amy and I had the pleasure of eating a multi-course vegetarian meal a few years back. The dinner came with many drink options, wine, cocktails, and homemade sodas/mocktails.  For no reason other then curiosity, we chose to drink the mocktails and we were glade we did.  It was an amazing dinner all the way around.

This recipe is based on a recipe in Bon Appétit.  It’s a delicious non-alcoholic drink perfect for those times you want to feel like an adult but without the buzz.  It’s impressive, bold, and very drinkable —vodka would be a great addition too.Celery and Lemon Tom Collins

4 stalks celery, chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/3 cup simple syrup

1/4 tsp Angostera bitters

Ice

Sparkling water or club soda

  1. Place the celery into a blender along with 1/4 cup water.  Puree until smooth and foamy.
  2. Strain into a cocktail shaker full of ice.  Press down on the pulp with the back of a spoon to get all the extraction.
  3. Add the lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters.  Stir.
  4. Fill two rocks glasses with ice.  Strain the Collins mix into the glasses filling them about 2/3 full.  Top off with sparkling water, stir, and enjoy.

Octopus and Potato Salad with a Tomato Vinaigrette

Posted on February 17, 2016

I like the unexpected.  Especially when it is something new to me, or it tastes and sounds exotic but in reality it has a longstanding history—a marriage of flavors that is natural. Flavors tried and tested over time, in this case,  in towns all across Portugal.

Octopus is a food that falls into a category that not to many foods do—it is either flash cooked very quickly or it is stewed for a very long time. Both methods intended to render the octopus meltingly tender.  I have tried flash cooking octopus several times and either I am an idiot and just can’t get it right or my definition of tender is radically different from everyone else who uses the flash cooked method.Octopus and Potato Salad

For me, I used slow cook them.  It takes about an hour for a 2 pound octopus, give or take 15 minutes.  There is nothing at all wrong with this method.  It takes time but it renders a perfectly tender octopus but ever since I wrote my pressure cooking book, An Idiot’s Guide to Pressure Cooking I invariably started cooking lots of things under pressure, octopus being one of the many.  The pressure cooker turns out the most tender octopus in a lightning fast 10 minutes.  You can also cook the potatoes just as quick and quicker depending on their size.  I have thought about combining the two and cooking them both at once but I am not convinced I want my potatoes to taste like octopus.  I want to keep the flavors separate, let the potatoes have an equal roll.

The tomato vinaigrette is bold with roasted garlic and sweet with sun dried tomatoes.  The acidity brings out the best in the octopus and the potatoes.  Once the garlic is roasted it comes together easily in the food processor.

Note: if you are using traditional cooking methods place the octopus in a large pot with the bay leaf and lemon.  Add water to cover, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook the octopus 2 hours or until tender.

Octopus and Potato Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette (serves 4)

1 octopus, about two pounds

1 bay leaf

1 lemon

6 Yukon gold potatoes, medium sized and cut into 1/2 inch rounds

1 roma tomato, halved

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil

1 garlic head, roasted until gooey and soft

3 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp. red wine vinegar

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

flat leaf parsley, minced

 

  1. Place the octopus into a 6 quart (5.51l) pressure cooker along with the bay leaf and lemon.
  2. Add enough water that the octopus floats.  Place the cooker over high heat and bring to a boil.  Lock the lid into place and bring the pressure level to high.  Once the pressure is reached reduce the heat to low and set a timer for 10 minutes.
  3. Once the timer has sounded remove the pot from the heat and perform a cold water release.  Carefully open the cooker, insert a knife into the octopus and if it slips through easily it is done.  If not place it back onto the heat, put on the lid and bring it to pressure. Cook another 5 minutes.   Remove the octopus to an ice water bath to cool it quickly.
  4. Rinse out the cooker.  Add 2 cups of water and place the potatoes into a steamer basket.  Bring the water to a hard boil, add the steamer basket, lock on the lid and bring the pressure to high.  Once pressure is reached, reduce the heat to low, and set a timer for 4 minutes.
  5. Once the time sounds perform a cold water release.  Remove the potatoes and let them steam dry.
  6. Place the tomato, sun dried tomatoes, vinegar, three cloves of roasted garlic, olive oil, a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper into a blender.  Blend until the dressing is airy and creamy.  It will deflate so don’t worry.
  7. Slice the octopus tentacles into 1-inch pieces.  Add them to a bowl along with the potatoes.  Season them with salt and pepper and toss gently.  Add half the dressing and toss again.
  8. Plate up the salad onto a platter.  Drizzle on the remaining dressing and top with minced parsley.

 

 

 

Bar Pizza—It’s What You Crave

Posted on February 3, 2016

 

bar pizza-There has never been a more one-of-a-kind pizza like the bar pizza.  For the most part they are never good,  many times they are awful, but that has never stopped anybody from ordering one. Patrons order them because they are drinking.  Combine it with hunger and it makes these pizzas far better then they would ever be if a shot of better judgement was in hand.  Without exception a bar pizza reigns over the pink pickled eggs languishing in the murky liquid of the large glass jar back by the whisky.  Bar pizzas are also infinitely better then the microwavable cups of Spaghetti-Os or the burritos ensconced in a cardboard tortilla.  Even so, that doesn’t make them good.

Here is the catch, in Indiana this food exists and maintains a life all its own because in Indiana if a bar sells liquor by the drink it has to be able to serve food to a minimum of 25 people at all times.  On top of that many bars(mostly working class bars) don’t have room for a kitchen much less the money for one.   To get around this law most bar fly  type establishments bring in a microwave, a toaster oven labeled as a pizza oven, or a snack rack where pork rinds rule.   Sporks and disposable tableware abide, as do paper towels used as napkins.  It is less then the bare minimum and ordering anything while the bartender is busy is likely to make him/her hate you.

In the moment though, when hunger and alcohol meet, a bar pizza is the best pizza ever.  It doesn’t happen often but it does happen enough that people continue to order them.   If  all things aline, it hits the sweet spot—that meaty place on the bat that makes hitting a home run feel effortless.  In food speak it is the moment when something is at its best, it is perfectly ripe for eating, and waiting longer is to watch perfection in its decline.

Here is the problem, why would I want to make one of these awful pizzas at home?  If I do make them at home it doesn’t mean I am drinking at home, well not often anyway.   It means I have kids, kids that want pizza—all the time.  I make a great pizza dough.  I make great pizza but then there are those nights where I don’t want too.  It is readily apparent to me why I need to perfect this pizza.  Make it a dinner everyone requests on any given night.

The point is, this is a great pizza to have in your back pocket and I never would have thought much about it until  I read an article at Serious Eats.  At that moment I knew I was going to start making bar pizzas, I was diving in deep and going for it, and I did.  Like lots of recipes though, and maybe even more so,  this one takes practice.   Myself, I always make a recipe three times before I give up on it and in this case it took all three times.  It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with eating your mistakes when it comes to food.

Besides it is not a lot of work and here is why.   My kids love spaghetti and there is rarely a day I don’t have a homemade tomato sauce of some kind in the fridge.  Bacon, ham, salami, or even pepperoni are always in the deli drawer.  I almost always have some sort of mozzarella too, either fresh or grated.   I have taken too keeping tortillas in the freezer for quesadillas, so adding tortillas as pizza crusts to the list of uses is a plus. .  Even so, if you had none of these specific ingredients you have something, say eggs, ham, and gruyere.   If not you won’t make this pizza anyway.

But as I said,  I am looking for the sweet spot, with practice I found it, and ever since making bar pizzas is like effortlessly hitting one out of the park.

  1. ©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights ReservedWhen it is time to sauce the tortilla put a dollop of sauce in the middle of the tortilla and using the back of the spoon spiral your way to the outer edge.  If this were a regular pizza I would tell you to stop short of the edge by about 1/2-inch but with this kind of pizza take the ingredients to the edge.  It keeps the tortilla from being charred beyond recognition.
  2. I have used all kinds of pans to make this pizza, stainless steel, enamel, cast iron and a camol (pictured).  I like the camol best but I also know not everyone has a camol.  I made these in a 12-inch cast iron skillet for a long time before I started using  the camol.  I use a camol simply for ease of access to the tortilla.  I makes the pizza easier to assemble.
  3. Turn on the broiler before taking anything out of the fridge or putting a pan on the stove.  It needs time to get hot.
  4. Keep all the ingredients at pans edge.  These go fast and you have to be ready with the ingredients.
  5. It is important to brown the the tortilla deeply before turning it.  If it isn’t brown enough the pizza will lack the crunch that makes it so good.
  6. Place the top oven rack 7 to 8 inches from the broiler.  This prevents the pizza from cooking to fast and keeps the edges from burning.

The Bar Pizza

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 traditional 10-inch flour tortilla per person

2 to 3 tablespoons pizza sauce

mozzarella cheese, both fresh and grated

8 pepperoni, or any other cooked meat topping you desire, prosciutto and pancetta are good choices

1 hot pepper, thinly sliced

flat leaf parsley, minced

  1. Place the top rack approximately 7 to 8-inches from the broiler.  Heat the broiler.
  2. Organize all you ingredients and place them within arms reach from the stove.
  3. Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Add olive oil and swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom surface.  The oil should be very hot.
  4. Place a tortilla into the pan.  Let the tortilla brown deeply but not burn.  Using a pair of grill tongs, turn the tortilla so the cooked side is up.
  5. Place a healthy dollop of pizza sauce into the middle of the tortilla.  Using a spoon spiral the sauce outward.  If you don’t have enough sauce dollop on a small amount and continue spreading.
  6. Sprinkle the pizza with grated mozzarella, spread out the pepperoni evenly, and top with torn pieces of fresh mozzarella.
  7. Place the skillet into the oven.  Turn on the oven light and keep and eye on the pizza.  It will melt quickly and begin to brown just as fast.  When it is bubbling and brown, using an oven mit,  remove it from the oven.  Tilt the pan at about a 45 degree angle and using the tongs, pinch the very edge closest to the cutting board and gently slide the pizza out and onto the board. Sprinkle with parsley and pepper,   slice and serve.
©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights Reserved

©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights Reserved

 

 

Barley Salad with Kalamata Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Parsley

Posted on January 28, 2016

I have cooked with whole grains for a long time.  My fascination began, simply enough, with bulgur wheat used to make tabouleh.  It was a gateway to all sorts of other grains; winter wheat, soft summer wheat, oat groats, farro,  you get the idea.  There are lots of grains readily available that a few short years ago were very difficult to locate.  A good earthy health food store went a long way to rectifying the shortage but now about every food store carries some sort of whole grain.

There are multiple ways to cook grains but I feel it easiest to follow the directions on the package for the simple method.  Generally speaking the company knows how best to cook their own product.  I am a proponent of pressure cooking and I more often then not cook grains under pressure by using the same amount of grain and water for which the recipe calls.  In the case of my barley the ratio was 1 cup barley to 3 1/2 cups water.  I reduce the cooking time to a third of the original, 1 hour becomes 20 minutes..  When my cooker cools and I remove the lid there is often extra water but when cooking grains for a salad, as opposed to porridge, it is no issue to drain any excess moisture.

The salad add-ins are interchangeable as well.  If green olives are preferred over black, fresh tomatoes over sun-dried, then by all means use what you like.  Mint would be a good addition to the parsley, maybe arugula, even pine nuts or almonds.  This is a versatile salad and it is best when you make it your own.

2 cups pearl barley, cooked

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil

1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/3 cup goat cheese or feta, crumbled

Extra-virgin olive oil

Juice from half a lemon

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.

  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Season with 1/2 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Stir thoroughly to combine then drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the top.
  3. Stir in a 1/4 cup parsley leaves.
  4. Taste and adjust the seasoning.  If needed you can add more oil and lemon juice to taste. Serves 2

Peanut Butter, Butter, and Lingonberry Jam Sandwiches

Posted on December 10, 2015

I went to my regular restaurant, the one I favor over all others. I ordered my favorite dish only to be disappointed. It lead me to wonder why it wasn’t as good as usual. In my head I worried the quality of the restaurant was slipping, are they ordering a lower quality product that isn’t as flavorful? To be fair I stopped and thought it might be me, maybe my taste buds were off that night. It happens.

I think a lot about taste, not so much about the five taste receptors; bitter, sour, sweet, salty, and umami but more about the law of diminishing returns. Take for instance today, I am making a tomato soup that clearly states in its recipe title it’s the only recipe I will ever need. I hope it’s that good and it may well be delicious but I also know after I eat it 5 or 6 times I will more then likely move on to another recipe for tomato soup, say, the world’s best tomato soup. Knowing my taste buds become familiar with tastes, if the food on the plate in front of me becomes to familiar at some point it is less likely to excite me. I also know there are people who don’t care. They eat simply to survive, their interest lies elsewhere, or they want the familiar. I don’t.

How many times have you eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Are you ever excited to eat them anymore? As a kid I could eat them breakfast lunch and dinner if my mother would have let me but they began to wear thin and I started to eat ham sandwiches or turkey, sometimes a grilled cheese. As an adult there are times I get a kick out of eating a PBJ but they never seem to match the intensity and joy of eating them as a child. I compare it to going back to the neighborhood sledding hill as an adult only to find what at one time seemed like the Rocky mountains now looks more like a speed bump. Childhood can make experiences larger then life.

Peanut  Butter, Butter, and Lingonberry Jam Sandwiches

While I am and always have been enamored with simple foods that use honest ingredients it doesn’t mean I don’t stray from time to time. My cooking has become more about good technique and nurturing rather then showmanship. In a way simple food is like going back to my childhood experiences without fear of being disappointed.

1 brioche hamburger bun or 2 slices of brioche, toasted almost burnt

1 1/2 tablespoons Skippy Natural Peanut Butter

2 unsalted butter pats, about 2 teaspoons at room temperature

1 tablespoon lingonberry jam or red currant jam

Maldon Sea Salt (this is a big flaky sea salt meant for finishing dishes)

  1. When the bread has cooled enough not to melt the peanut butter spread the peanut butter evenly across the bottom bun.  On the top bun smear the butter and top it with the lignonberry jam.
  2. Sprinkle the peanut butter with Maldon salt to taste.  Smush the top bun onto the bottom and serve.

 

A Very French Beef Stew

Posted on October 30, 2015

DSC_2850If you are like me, you have made what seems like hundreds of variations on beef stew; the classic tomatoey American version, a Korean version, Chinese, Irish, with beer, or with wine. It’s all done in the name of variety and the constant quest for new flavors to excite the taste buds. We do it in order to make dinner ever more interesting, because let’s be honest, if you only cook the same 5 or 6 meals and present them over and over again at some point they become lackluster and boredom sets in. This is not to say, as a cook you need to know how to cook a hundred variations on beef stew because you don’t. If you are like me though you are curious, always looking for upgrades, and it is nice to have some surprises in your back pocket when you need them.DSC_2888

While I call this a French stew it is far from a classic daube.  Daube’s make use of lots of red wine, olives, and orange peel. This stew does not. What this dish does do is keep flavors separate. By cooking the meat on its own, roasting the vegetables, then combining them only when it is time to serve the dish some very wonderful flavors only become present when everything is in the bowl.

Let me say a few things about clay pot cooking.  Clay is unique, so if you have a clay pot stored in a cabinet somewhere begging to be used then this is a great place to start and here is why.  Cooking in clay pots feels like cooking.   The smell of the clay as it heats, the aroma that reminds you of the last meal you cooked,  the cracks in the glaze, the smell of olive oil as it heats seems basic in an elemental way.  It is comforting.  It’s as if you a are connected to every cook that came before you and every meal too.

When you heat clay on the stove the culinary history of the particular pot makes itself well known very quickly. Often pots are dedicated to certain kinds of cooking like curry, or rice, or beans. They are used for meals made with similar spices.  They are the original slow cooker and you can find them being used all around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia and throughout South America.

The recipe doesn’t require cooking in a clay pot for it to be good but it does add to its mystic. It can be cooked in a slow cooker or in an enameled Dutch oven on the stove top.

 

Clay Pot Beef Stew with Roasted Vegetables (serves 4)

2 TBS. olive oil

2 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/2 TBS all-purpose flour

3 medium yellow onions

15 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

3 cups homemade beef broth of sodium free beef broth

1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. Japanese tonkatsu sauce or Heinz 57

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. flat leaf parsley, minced

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cylinders

7 fingerling potatoes, washed and halved

  1. Peel and trim one onion.  Halve it and dice both halves into a small dice.
  2. Place a 3 1/2 quart clay pot or enameled Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add olive oil and let it become hot.  Add half the beef and brown it on all sides.  Remove the meat to a tray.  Repeat with the remaining beef.
  3. Add the flour to the oil and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour begins to color and smells nutty (do not taste the roux it will burn your tongue off.)
  4. Add diced onions and garlic.  Stir.  The roux will stick to the vegetables and clump.  This is as it should be.  Add the hot broth while stirring. Continue to stir until the liquid comes to a boil.
  5. Add a 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, Herbes de Provence, tonkatsu, bay leaf, parsley, and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper.  Add the brisket back to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and let it gently bubble until the brisket is tender but not falling apart.  About 4 hours.
  6. About 1 1/2 hours before the brisket is tender heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Peel the remaining 2 onions and cut each into 6 wedges.  Place the onions, carrots, and potatoes into a bowl.  Toss with enough olive oil to coat them.  Season them with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Toss them again.
  7. Spread the vegetables out onto a sheet tray and roast them for 1 hour or until they are brown and blistered.  Remove them from the oven.
  8. To serve place a sprinkling of vegetables into the bottom 4 bowls, ladle over meat and broth over the vegetables and them top with some vegetables.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

 

Cheats, Lies, and Hucksters (How to Cook a God Damned Grilled Cheese Sandwich)

Posted on October 21, 2015

As a kid, learning to cook a fried egg and bologna sandwich is like teaching me how to load a gun without establishing any safety guidelines. While the combination of griddled bread, egg yolk, mayonnaise, seared bologna, and American cheese is white trash foie gras, perfecting the fried bologna without having made a grilled cheese, well, it is Picasso without a Blue Period, Miles Davis having composed no song book before Bitches Brew. There is no reference and no history, a drifting ship with no anchor. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage done by using the cliff notes without ever reaching for the novel.

But here we are, in that time of year when we think about grilled cheese. It is the age old discussion, as if we forgot the combination to the safe and it needs to be cracked again, of how to cheat a grilled cheese. As if the answers locked away are new kinds of offerings; in a waffle maker, with an iron, use mayonnaise instead of butter, or turn a toaster on its side.

So I am just going to say it, I am tired of hucksters and cheats. It pains me to be over sold or even worse, blatantly lied too. I am not putting myself on a pedestal, far be it from me to cast stones, I am no practicing perfectionist and neither am I an Elmer Gantry. I have my faults and I try to be honest about them. Even so, when I witness an egregious wrong I can’t keep my mouth shut. After all, I can’t have my children wondering around this world thinking they will be able to succeed without ever learning the fundamentals. It happens everywhere and now, of all arenas, the kitchen is under attack.

Why can’t we just learn to cook a god damned grilled cheese? What are we afraid of, actually learning how to cook? There are so many basics to be learned by placing a sauté pan onto the stove to griddle two pieces of bread with cheese stuck in between and yet at all costs we try to avoid it. I don’t care what kind of cheese is put between the slices of bread, I don’t even care what kind of bread you use but I do care that you know how the different kinds of bread are going to react to the heat, that types of bread with more sugars and fats are going to brown faster then lean breads made with nothing more then water, flour, and yeast. Or that certain kinds of cheese are so stringy when you go to take the first bite every bit of the cheese is going to come along with it.

Cheats and shortcuts are wonderful but only after you know how to cook the original dish in the tried and true fashion, only after you have mastered the grilled cheese is it okay to riff on it. If you ignore, or fail to recognize, the subtle nuances of cooking you can follow a recipe to the T and still have it fail. It is because there are so many variables that can lead you down the path to disappointment that it becomes imperative to learn how to cook, which is wildly different from simply following a recipe.

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich (makes 2 sandwiches)

4 slices Pullman bread
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
a splash of heavy cream
fresh ground black pepper
unsalted butter, softened

1. Combine the grated gruyere, horseradish, green onions, and a splash cream in a medium sized bowl. Add a grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything with a spoon to combine.

2. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Liberally butter one side of each of the pieces of bread making sure to cover the whole surface. Place the bread, buttered side down into the pan. Top each piece with one quarter of the cheese mixture. Turn the heat to medium low.

3. Once the cheese begins to compress and soften check the bottom of the bread. If it is browning to fast turn the heat down. Once the bread is browned and the cheese melted put the sandwiches together. Cut the sandwiches into 4 crusty cheese sticks and serve.

 

Searching for the Perfect Risotto

Posted on October 12, 2015

I don’t get the allure of risotto. Years ago at culinary school, every student revered the dish except me, and slowly I’ve come to hate it. It’s overrated.

I’ve practiced making it at home with the guidance of some of the best cookbook authors of the day. I stand at the stove as instructed, stirring, hot broth on the back burner, and all of the ingredients at hand. Inevitably after the required 19 minutes of stirring, ladling, and coddling as instructed, I have a pot of hot, goopy rice, but I am never impressed.

I never get tired of cooking, but eventually I did tire of making risotto.

I had given up ordering risotto in restaurants long ago for the same reasons I quit making it at home. But on a chance, just like the dollar I dropped into a slot and pulled the arm as I walked by, I ordered it. I took the gamble and it too payed off, just like the $1600 slot earlier in the day.

I don’t eat at restaurants often. Not because I don’t enjoy them – because I do – it’s more that my wife, Amy, and I splurge when we go out to eat. A few times a year we spend lots of money at a few restaurants. A weekend in Napa or New York City is perfect for this. This time we headed to Las Vegas where there are lots of great restaurants tucked within a confined space. We made plans to hit several famous chef’s restaurants. It’s what we do when we go to Vegas. Others gamble, we eat.

On a whim, we decided to go into Le Cirque, the off shoot of the famous New York City restaurant. Le Cirque is whimsical. It ’s dinner under the big top, draping curtains hanging from the ceiling like a technicolor circus tent, highlighting a huge chandelier centered in a huge circular room. No corner table. Gaudy at best but it pairs perfectly with Cirque Du Soleil playing one ring over.

As I glanced at the veritable circus around us, the ringmaster balanced hot plates on his arm and delivered them to our table. The risotto dish set in front of me was the most exquisite rice dish ever. Tender rice but with a spring to it. The acidity of the white wine, added and burned off au sec, is a perfect match for the Parmesan and the starchy rice. Brothy, but not too much so. Fine dinning at its best. It is out of place in Vegas: to simple, not garish enough. Still, that rice dish will hold a place at the front of my mind for the rest of the weekend and follow me around for a long time to come.

I arrived back home with renewed determination. I had to figure out how to make risotto like that. It’s like a three-ring circus in my kitchen: ingredients spread all around while I’m stirring and ladling and stirring and measuring and stirring some more. Another carefully measured attempt ends yet again with disappointment. How could it not? I can make a perfect pot of rice, but I can’t make risotto. No amount of hope can fix that.

I did my best to just move on. There are so many wonderful foods in this world; there is no point in getting hung up on any one failure. It’s not like anyone notices a gaping risotto hole in my cooking repertoire. And what if they did? It’s only risotto.

But I do. I notice. And for me it is an empty pan smoking over high heat. Cooking is what I do. Making food the best that I possibly can is what drives me. Once my palate has experienced something new and exciting there are no lengths to which I won’t go in order to replicate that experience.

And so I head back to the stove with another recipe for Risotto Milanese, seeking yet again that illusive pairing of a creamy texture and toothsome rice. I carefully ladle in the broth, stirring and stirring and seeking to master the ultimate balancing act.

Perfect Risotto Milanese (serves 4)

2 tsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup arborio rice

1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 3/4 cup homemade or sodium free chicken broth

1/2 tsp saffron

2 TBS. unsalted butter, cold

1/2 cup Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

1 TBS. chives, minced

  1. Place a 4-quart pressure cooker over medium high heat.  Add the butter, and when it begins to bubble, add the onions.  Sauté until the onions begin to soften.
  2. Add the dry white wine and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the wine by half and add the rice and stir to coat.  Add salt, chicken stock, and saffron, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  3. Lock the lid into place and bring the pressure to high.  Once the pot is to pressure start a timer set for 7 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and use the cold water release method to drop the pressure.  Remove the lid.
  4. Stir in the chilled butter followed with the Parmesan.  If the risotto is stiff, add more broth 1 TBS. at a time until you reach the desired consistency.  Divide the rice into 4 bowls, garnish a little more cheese and chives.  Serve immediately.

 

 

Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans

Posted on October 7, 2015

I don’t know when it came to be that chefs and cooks decided that your veggies needed to be cooked al dente. While I know they retain more of their vitamins when cooked a minimal amount I also know it’s not like the vitamins just vaporize into thin air but instead I am pretty sure, and take note I am not a scientist, that they wind up in the cooking broth.

Either way and no matter how you slice it I like veggies that can stand up to multiple cooking methods giving me choices as how best to enjoy them. I like green beans blanched then sautéed al dente but then I also like them long cooked. That doesn’t mean I want mush because I want something that still has character and a bite.

So after cooking green beans and eating green beans pretty much all my life with potatoes or onions, and even bacon and onions I was looking for a change. This last summer I found a wonderful recipe for okra that was stewed and I liked the recipe so much I made it two or three times.

The other night I was thinking how good that recipe would be with green beans and, actually even easier and less time consuming then the okra. So here is a link to the original article and recipe from the New York Times’ Recipes for Health by Martha Rose Shulman http://tinyurl.com/7ebxpk3 just in case you have any interest in the original okra recipe which I will make again this coming summer.

Middle Eastern Braised Green Beans  (Serves 6)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 pounds green beans, clipped and cleaned
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
juice of half a lemon
14 oz chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons tomato paste
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. Place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and once it is hot add the onions. Season the onions with a pinch of salt and some pepper. Sweat the onions until they begin to soften trying not to brown them.
  2. Add the garlic and once it becomes fragrant add the all spice and sugar. Then add the beans and stir them to coat with the oil.
  3. Now add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Cook on medium until you hear the pot sizzling then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for an hour remembering to stir about every twenty minutes. They may take longer the an hour but not much.
  4. Taste, adjust the salt and pepper and serve.
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