Building a Better Burger

If you think about it, a hamburger is nothing more than a sausage without a casing. Once you accept this notion, you open yourself up to endless burger possibilities! I mean really, there are as many burger recipes as there are cooks. Everyone has their own little tweaks and a go-to recipe.

With that being said, I am not going to sit here and try to convince you this is a recipe for the best hamburger in the world — even though it is — because someone will undoubtedly draw a line in the sand, slap me with gloves in hand, and challenge me to a duel. It’s inevitable. Continue reading

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

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.
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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. Continue reading

A Very French Beef Stew

If 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.

 

Asian Spaghetti, Changing Seasons

If your weekend was anything like mine then you are comfortable having put summer to bed, tucked-in snugly with the knowledge it will sleep tight until it awakens again next year. Windows will close, doors are shut, and the nuanced smells of long simmered foods become more prevalent.

I can’t imagine a life without seasons.  Not because I like the hot and cold but because they are markers, clear delineations that it is time to get on with life, a deep breath of reflection before pushing on, no summit to conquer, no eye on a prize, just a moment to reflect on the journey.

I am back to doing what I love—cooking, my way.   This time of year I always cook Asian cuisine.  It is such a departure from what I have done all summer, cooked from the garden, be it mid-western or southern foods, or farm favorites.  Now I go to the Asian grocery and buy up bok choi, pigs liver, shiso peppers, lemon grass, and Chinese celery.  Foods that I have done without since last fall.

For a few months I will get my fill, until winter.

Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)

This is great for weeknights.  The sauce like many gets better with age and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (you can even double the recipe and freeze half.)  Then simply make your noodles, warm the sauce, and serve.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb. ground beef

1 medium red onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)

3 celery stalks, trimmed, fine dice (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 cup Hoisin sauce

1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 Fresno red pepper, chopped

3 Shiso peppers, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro

rice noodles, cooked

  1. Set a 3 quart (3l) enameled cast iron pot, or any heavy bottomed pot onto the stove.  Turn the heat to medium high.  Add oil and let it become hot.
  2. Add the ground beef, break it into small pieces and let it brown.  Add red onion, celery, ginger, and garlic.  Stir, let the vegetables soften and become fragrant.
  3. Add Hoisin sauce, tomatoes, lime juice and soy.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce until it thickens, about 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  4. Place the hot noodles onto a platter, top with sauce, and sprinkle the peppers and cilantro over the top.  Serve with a nice stir fried vegetable like bok choi in oyster sauce.
Aside

DSCF4507There is something about big hunks of meat cooked over long periods at low heat that appeals to us at a very basic level. Pit-cooking traditions like hog roasts, barbacoa, and luaus aren’t just barbecues — they’re celebrations. They conjure up visions of earthen pits and long buffet tables with folding chairs, all set up for a multitude of guests.

This kind of cooking takes judgement and practice, though, so unless you host these kinds of events on a regular basis, you’re more than likely cooking blind. After all, you probably aren’t buying a whole lamb or calf more than a couple times a year. It could take you a few years to get it right. Continue reading

Small Batch Barbacoa Beef for Tacos

Cuban Style Skirt Steak + 5 Tips for a Better Sear

Cuban Style Skirt Steak

I won’t lie to you — I like steak. To be specific, I like pan-seared steak. It’s the roar of the hood fan as it comes up to speed; the exhilaration and anticipation of the pop, crackle, and sizzle of red meat on a hot pan; and the wisps of white smoke curling around the steak’s edges, like a passionate embrace that gently kisses the bits of ground black peppercorn and fat. And, as always, the resulting taste of the brown butter against the crispy-edged meat. This kind of carnivorous zeal should be illegal.

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Mustard Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Sauce Robert

Brown the tenderloin first for added flavor before crusting and baking in the oven.
Brown the tenderloin first for added flavor before crusting and baking in the oven.

Through most of the month of December, I spend a lot of my time preparing recipes that taste great but don’t absorb a lot of my time. It’s the holidays after all, and not only do I want to enjoy them but I have other things to do: trim the tree, make cookies, go to the neighbors’ caroling party where they serve the punch that requires a second cup of coffee and a little extra recovery time the next morning. Continue reading

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While it might not be haute cuisine, chopped meat is surely economical, flavorful, and versatile. From meatballs to croquettes to tacos, it can do it all and can do it with ease. It is an uncomplicated ingredient, often interchangeable, and more often than not is a beacon signaling out comfort food to anyone within range.

Take for example chopped steak: it is nothing new. Salisbury steak for instance has been around since 1897. Named after a doctor, Dr. Salisbury, who created it. Salisbury was also a believer in a low-carb diet, fancy that. Continue reading

Recipe Reclamation: Bringing Back Chopped Steak

Grilling: Tips, Skirt Steak and more…

Skirt Steak with Greek Salsa

I use a pair of kitchen tongs and quickly flip a steak, pull back to let my hand cool for a split second before diving in again behind the safety of the tongs to flip another. The hair on my forearm recoils from the heat. Even with a long pair of kitchen tongs I can’t bear the sting of the glowing coals like I used too.

I have lost my commercial kitchen hands. The hands that could take the heat without flinching, the same hands that could grab thermonuclear plates, or could move steaks around on a grill without ever noticing the heat. The heat abused hands that were once this line cooks badge of honor.

The wind shifts, a wisp of white smoke blows back. My eyes catch a little before I can turn and shut them. The smoke underneath my eyelids stings and my eyes begin to water. Continue reading

Laotian Beef Salad (Larb)

Laotian Beef SaladI really enjoy making and eating the foods of Southeast Asia.  I make trips to the Asian grocery and buy up all kinds of different produce that aren’t found in my garden or at the local grocer.  I don’t really drive but an extra five minutes to get there, the groceries cost less which makes up for the extra in gas and I usually find some gem of a new product that I have never eaten, cooked with or sometimes never even seen.  It is always an adventure.  This time I happened in a day or two before the Chinese New Year and in honor of the holiday they gave Lynnie a box of the funkiest most savory cookies ever.  I couldn’t eat them but she loved them and this from the little girl who finds Chinese food sour.

I did something different here, something I wouldn’t  normally do.  Usually I would get the pan smoking hot and sear the protein but I didn’t get the wok hot enough and when meat hit metal it cooled down right away.  It became a happy mistake.  Instead of panicking I just let it sit.  I watched as all the beef juice bubbled up around the meat and then slowly subsided until it was gone.  Then the skirt steak caramelized really well and the fond, the sticky delicious stuff on the bottom of the pan, added tons of beefy flavor to the final dish.

It’s a great dish to serve with rice and a couple of nice vegetables.

Serves 4

canola oil

1 pound 2 ounces skirt steak, sliced then minced

6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon grass, minced

1/2 cup shallots, julienned

3 red Thai bird chile, minced

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons water

1/3 cup mint leaves, torn

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, torn

1/3 cup green onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup peanuts, smashed

1. Heat a large wok or skillet over medium high heat.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and when it is warm add the minced skirt steak, garlic, lemon grass and shallot.  It should cool the pan down and as it cooks liquid should release from the protein.  Let it gently bubble while you occasionally stir.  As the juice begins to evaporate stop stirring.  Patiently wait for the meat to brown and the fond to build on the bottom of the wok or pan.

2. Add the fish sauce, soy and water.  Stir the larb to combine and until almost all the liquid is absorbed.  Using a spoon taste the larb and add a little salt if necessary.  Stir then remove the pan from the heat.

3. Once the steak isn’t so hot but still warm stir in half the chili, mint, cilantro and green onion.  Plate up the salad and then top with the remaining herbs and the peanuts.  Serve.

Beef Medallions with Mushroom Madeira Sauce

Beef Medallions with Madeira Mushroom Sauce

A la minute. A French cooking term used to describe a meal that is cooked of the moment. Meaning every thing is fresh and the dish should come together easily, in other words, if you have done your prep you can bring this dish together in less then 3o minutes.

This dish is a great date night, put the kids to bed early and have some alone time with your spouse kind of meal because it is really easy to cook for two. It is also easy to make for a larger crowd buy you have to do a few things differently.

So this is about prep. My prep starts with a whole beef tenderloin. I cleaned them for years while working in restaurants and always buy them whole. If you aren’t comfy doing this then by a couple of filets and simply cut then in half or into thirds depending on their size.

I have backed away from the buffet and have cut down on my portion sizes so I like the total portion size to be 5 to 6 ounces of beef and I call it a day. If you are a hungry man kind of eater then up it to 8 ounces. Regardless of the amount per portion you want the medallions to be no thicker then an inch and no thinner then a 3/4 inch. I am being specific here because you want to be able to cook them quick but you also want to be able to cook them to your desired temperature, rare, medium rare and so forth. Which also means you want all the pieces to be the same thickness so they finish cooking at the same time. It is not as complicated as it sounds and once you get into the thick of it you will easily see what I am rambling on about.

A beurre manie is nothing more then equal parts cold unsalted butter mixed with equal parts flour. It thickens without clumping, it is a short cut for a roux, but you have to be careful to simmer your sauce long enough to keep it from tasting floury. You see in a roux you have already cooked out the flour flavor.

Serves 2

6 two ounce beef medallions

1 1/2 cups of mixed mushrooms of your choice

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

canola oil

unsalted butter

1/3 cup madeira

1/2 cup broth of your choice

2 teaspoons beurre manie

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced

salt and pepper

1. Season the medallions with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until really hot but not smoking. Add enough canola oil just to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the medallions to the pan and very quickly sear them till golden brown and delicious.

3. Remove the medallions from the pan at least one temperature below where you want them, so if you want them cooked medium remove them from the pan at medium rare.

4. Add the butter and while it jumps and sputters add the mushrooms. Season them with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms until they are brown and a little crunchy. then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

5. Carefully add the madeira from a measuring cup not from the bottle. Madeira can easily ignite so be careful and this is the reason not to pour from the bottle because if it ignites the stream of madeira acts as a fuse and then you will have an exploding or at least burning bottle of madeira.

6. Once the madeira has reduced by half add the broth and let it start to reduce. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the parsley and stir to combine

7. Add one teaspoon of the beurre manie to the mushroom sauce and let it dissolve. Let sauce come to a gentle boil and thicken the sauce. If it is thick enough add the parsley and the medallions and warm everything to your liking then serve. If the sauce is not thick enough add the rest of the beurre manie, let it dissolve and the sauce come to a boil again. Now proceed with warming everything. Plate on hot plates and serve.

Mother’s Grits and Debris

I snuggled in behind the wheel of what became known as the Starship Enterprise, it was no longer a minivan fit for a family vacation.  Instead it morphed into a party pod for a convoy of misfits headed to Mardi Gras.  I was old enough to know better but I never let that stop me.

Fortunately,  we only lost one car and one person both of which later turned up in Florida.  I guess they just needed a change of venue, besides the important thing is we all managed to stay out of jail.

I could smell the chicory coffee wafting out the front door and blowing down Tchoupitoulas.  It drew me in like a voodoo king casting a love spell and deposited me at Mother’s front door.  The sign about the world’s best baked ham didn’t even register as I walked past it and sat down near a window hoping the low morning sun would cast some clarity onto the crumpled two day old newspaper I was trying to read.  I thought the sunlight might help me focus but it didn’t and in the end I had to leave that to the coffee.

The bite of the chicory brought me around long enough to order another cup and a bowl of Grits and Debris, which was really all I could afford.  What the coffee couldn’t do, breakfast did.  I didn’t realize how bad I needed food.  It was one of those occasions when you realize booze and nicotine isn’t a sustainable diet.  My breakfast was nourishing from the first bite to the last.

I only ate at Mother’s this one time but I revisit often on mornings when what is needed is a little something more.

Debris: the parts, bits and crumbs of roast beef that fall onto the carving board while you are slicing the meat.

Serves 2

1/2 cup brown rice grits, fine grind or corn grits

1 1/2 cups water plus 2 tablespoons

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup debris, chopped pot roast or some sort of chopped cooked beef

1 cup au jus or beef broth

1 shallot, peeled and sliced thinly

2 eggs, optional

oil or butter for frying the eggs, optional

chive is you feel so inclined

1. Place the grits and water into a sauce pan.  Add a healthy pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.  In another sauce pan combine the shallots, au jus and debris.  Place both pans over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat of the grits to a simmer and cover.  Reduce the heat under the debris to medium low and let it bubble briskly.

Optional eggs:  Heat a saute pan over high heat and add the butter.  Fry the eggs to your liking.

2. Bowl up the grits, ladle half the debris and au jus over each then sprinkle with chives.  Serve with some good coffee.

Japanese Beef and Noodle Soup

Japanese Beef and Onion Soup

For real, once you make this soup and see how easy it really is you will make it time and again. It will fall into your weeknight rotation and you will start stocking the stuff you need in your pantry. It is seriously good folks.

You are going to have to take a trip to the Asian grocery. Don’t you think it is about time? First off, I have said it time and again, the vegetables are great and, as is true with most ethnic grocery stores, the prices are great. Think of it as and adventure. A cultural adventure and realize that the people working in the store are there to help you, want you to know about their food culture and will do their best to get you the product you are looking for

Dashi is a Japanese stock made from dried bonito flakes. They are smoky and rich and key to making this right. Also you will need kombu, konbu or dried kelp sheets which is seaweed, but don’t substitute other seaweeds they are not the same. You want kelp. And finally don’t try to substitute dried ginger for the fresh, again, it is not the same. Ginger purchased at the Asian market is like a third of the price as your regular grocery because people are actually buying it before the owners have to throw it away so there is no lose of overhead due to spoilage.

I also use an organic Japanese soy sauce but you don’t have too. Just realize you want a Japanese style soy that doesn’t have a lot of additives. Pretty much it should have water, soybeans, maybe wheat, and salt and nothing more. Do not get aged or reduced or thickened soy for this recipe either.

You literally can use any kind of thin noodles you want. If you feel most comfy with spaghetti because that is what you have always cooked then go for it. Just make sure, one, you salt the pasta cooking water heavily, it will make your noodles taste good, and when they are done cooking cool them immediately in a cold water to stop the cooking. This way you won’t have mushy tasteless noodles.

This recipe is the culmination of many but is probably most closely related to Japanese ramen or even sukiyaki. I think you will like it. Enjoy.

Japanese Beef and Onion Soup

Serves 4

1 tablespoon grape seed or canola oil
2 large onions, peeled and julienned
1 leek, white part only save the green end for stock
1/4 cup garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/3 cup mirin
1/2 cup soy sauce
8 cups dashi
12 very thin slices of beef tenderloin at room temperature
fresh ground black pepper
salt
a handful of cilantro leaves
1 pound of thin noodles of your choice, cooked

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Add the onions , ginger, and the leeks and sweat them, stirring occasionally until they begin to brown.   The less you stir the sooner they will brown but eventually you also want to stir so they brown nicely on all sides.
2. Add the garlic about halfway through the browning process.  You want to soften the garlic but not brown it or it can become bitter.  Now add the mirin and let it reduce by half.  Then add the dashi and soy.  Taste and add salt if necessary or more soy if you think it needs it.  Reduce the heat and let the broth simmer for a bit, about 20 minutes or so.  Just enough to let the flavors come together and the onions to be very tender but not mush.
3. If the noodles are cold place them in a strainer and run hot water over them for a few minutes to warm them.  Shake out the excess hot water  then divide them between four bowls.  Arrange 4 tenderloin slices in each bowl and top with some cilantro.
4. Bring the broth to a boil and ladle it over the noodles.  It will slightly cook the beef and will heat the noodles.   Grind some fresh pepper over the top along with some cilantro and serve.

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Swiss Steak

This dish epitomizes Midwest and plains state farm food of German heritage.  It is something that your grandmother most definitely would have made and when you walked into the mud room to park your dirty boots on the old rag rug you would get the warm fuzzies.  You knew not only would the steak be tasty but more than likely the mashed potatoes or the buttered egg noodles with parsley and stewed green beans would be accompanied by home made yeast rolls.  Some sort of carrot salad or slaw and a piece of spice cake for dessert, well, makes for a great Sunday dinner.

Serves 4

1 round steak, 2 1/4 lbs.
canola oil
2 cups yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, cored and sliced thin
8 oz. white mushrooms, brushed of dirt and sliced
1 garlic clove, large, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon flour
2 to 3 cups of water
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
minced parsley for garnish

1. Season the round steak on both sides with salt and black pepper.  Let the salt dissolve before you continue.  Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Heat a 14 inch heavy bottomed saute pan (you will also need a lid) over medium high heat.  Add the canola oil, it should shimmer if if doesn’t let it heat some more, then carefully place the steak into the pan.  Sear it until it is very brown and caramelized on both sides.  You want to build what is called a fond on the bottom of the pan.  The fond is the gooey brown stuff that is sticking to the pan and you want to take care not to burn it.  The fond is going to give loads of flavor to you sauce.  It is ok to let it become deep brown but if it is getting to dark to quick turn the heat to medium.
3. Remove the steak to a tray.  Place the butter into the pan and add the onion, mushrooms, and peppers to the pan.  Let them cook until they wilt and start to take on some color.  Add the flour, garlic, marjoram and thyme.  Stir the flour in and let it cook for a minute or two to burn off the starch flavor,  add the water.  Using a wooden spoon scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil and then place the steak on top of the veggies.  Put the lid on the pan and slide it into the oven.  Set a timer for 1 hour.
5. At the end of an hour check the tenderness of the round steak.  You don’t want it to be fall apart tender but you don’t want it to be tough either.  So cut a little sliver off and give it a go.  Either bake it with the lid on for another half hour or serve.
6. To serve:  Place the steak on a platter, preferably warmed in the oven for a minute or two,  and ladle on the sauce, finally, garnish with parsley and serve.