Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (For the Slow Cooker)

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.

 

 

Bar Pizza—It’s What You Crave

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

Chocolate Chiffon Pie

Years ago, when I was first starting out in the restaurant business, I put together a business plan.  The idea came to me early one morning while rolling out Danish dough in pastry class.  Lots of ideas came to me while I was in pastry class.  I think it was all the coffee and sugar.  At the time it was just talk and I had no real notion of putting them into place.  But this particular idea stuck with me.  I wanted to open a diner, and not just any diner, but a classic 1940’s Silk City diner.  To me the Silk City is the the Cadillac-Airstream-Harley-Davidson of diners.  I located an empty one just up the road.  It had recently shuttered its doors and gone out of business.  I thought I might get it for a steal.

The Duroc Dinette, that is what I was going to name it because it was to have a pork heavy menu.  I would move the thing to Indianapolis if I had it my way and open in a neighborhood where it was much needed.  A dear friend even owned a lot in a prime location downtown and I was talking to him about giving it up for a reasonable sum and he was ready too.

I don’t know why I didn’t push it any further other then in those days I didn’t have much confidence in my abilities.  At that point I had never worked in a restaurant.  I wanted to get a few years under my belt before I made the leap.  As is the case with many of these things you drift in other directions.   A plan gets put into a file and it never gets pulled out again.

I still love diner food.  I especially like the desserts at diners.  Diner desserts are interesting because they are streamlined much like a diner itself.  In a diner food cost have to be kept down but that doesn’t mean the food is short on flavor.  The desserts are always somewhere between kitsch and homey, lots of gelatin and coconut but mind you that doesn’t mean the refrigerated glass case full of pies won’t grab my attention like I hope this delicious chocolate chiffon pie grabs yours.

For the crust:

12 chocolate graham crackers
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter plus 2 tsp.

For the chiffon:

1/4 cup water
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
4-oz. 72% dark chocolate or unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

.
1. In the bowl of a food processor pulse the graham crackers, cocoa powder, and butter until a fine crumb is formed and a crust forms when you push the crumbs firmly to the side of the processor bowl.
2. Dump the crumbs into a pie pan. Starting with the edges press the crumbs firmly into the pan. Bake the crust in a heated 350˚ F oven for 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
4. While the crust is cooling, combine water, espresso powder, and gelatin in a small bowl and let the gelatin bloom.
Add milk and chocolate to a small sauce pan and place it over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat.
5. In a mixing bowl combine salt, half the sugar, with the egg yolks. Add 1/4 cup of the cream and while whisking add the hot milk and chocolate mixture.
6. Pour milk mixture into the gelatin mixture and whisk until smooth and the gelatin has completely dissolved.
7. Clean all the pots and pans.
8. In the bowl of a mixer begin whipping the egg whites until they become stiff. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to whip until the whites become glossy and stiff.
9. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate filling until not trails of white remain.
10. Pour 3/4 of the chocolate filling into prepare pie crust. Refrigerate the pie and the remaining filling.
11. To make the whip cream whisk the remaining 1 3/4 cup of cream until it begins to stiffen. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract until and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
12. Whisk the extrea cold chocolate filling. Fill a pastry bag fitter with a star tip with the filling and pipe a it around the outer edge of the pie.
13. Fill the the circle you just made with whipped cream being sure not to cover up the piped chocolate.
14. Grate chocolate over the top of the pie and refrigerate for another hour.
15. Cut the pie into pieces. Serve cold.

Pan Bagnat – Summer’s Best Sandwich

DSC_0785In a sense, to smush, press, or mash a sandwich could feel redundant but it’s not.  It is a tool employed to make certain kinds of sandwiches better.  Case in point, a Cuban, panini, a shooter’s sandwich, and pan bagnat.

I love all these sandwiches.  Classics, each and everyone.

In the heat of summer, I rely on the pan bagnat, which when translated means bathed bread.  It is a vegetable based sandwich from the south of France, it is light and I find it refreshing.  Often the ingredients list is patterned after a Salad Nicoise subbing in anchovies for the tuna.  For me I like to use omega-3 oil rich sardines but use whatever tinned fish you fancy.

The sandwich is built in layers, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and then some sort of weight is put on top of it.  At my house the sandwich gets sandwiched between sheet trays and the milk and juice jugs set on top compress it.  Because the sandwich is lightly salted and weighted after a couple of hours under pressure a lot of liquid is released only to be soaked back up by the bread.

And that’s the genius of this sandwich.  In my experience it never gets soggy but instead it becomes meltingly tender, the juices mingle, and in the end this makes for a perfect sandwich on a hot summer day.

Pan Bagnat (makes 1 sandwich)

a 6-inch (15.25cm) piece of French baguette

1 tin skinless, bonleless, sardines in oil

1 small cucumber, peeled

1 medium sized tomato, sliced

5 or 6 thinly sliced red onion rings, skin removed

8 picholine olives or olive of you choice

salsa verde

mayonnaise

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

  1. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise.  On one piece of the bread coat the interior with mayonnaise.  On the other spread out a tablespoon or two of salsa verde.
  2. Using the peeler, peel thin strips of cucumber, 10 or more of them.  Lay them in an even layer across the salsa verde side.  Give the cucumbers a sprinkle of salt.
  3. Top the cucumber with the sardines, on top of the sardines lay out the tomatoes.  Season the tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
  4. Top the tomato with red onion.  Place the olives onto the mayonnaise so they stick.
  5. Place the olive/mayonnaise bread on top of the sandwich.  Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and then either place a brick on top, a sheet tray with weight, something heavy.  Let the sandwich remain weighted for at least three hours to overnight.
  6. To serve remove the plastic wrap, slice on the diagonal, and serve with a glass of chilled dry white wine.