Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beef and Broccoli

Most of the time cooking is fun.  Preparing your own meals can be pleasurable.  If you do it right, home-cooked meals taste good.  It's also nice to know exactly what you're putting in your body.  But it's not always easy.  On occasion, there is some not so joyful stuff like washing dishes and scrubbing ovens.  You may even have to tend to a burn, laceration, or grease fire.  One of the hardest aspects though, is the meal planning.  You've got to hit the trifecta- dinners that are tasty, can be prepared in a certain amount of time, and are within your budget.  Oh yeah, and you need to have a bunch of recipes so you're not eating the same thing all the time.  Shouldn't they also be nutritious?  Stretching ingredients is key and repurposing leftovers can be challenging.  Having leftover protein usually starts the process- what to do with the extra chicken breast from Sunday's roast bird?  It's going on this delicious bbq chicken and mushroom pizza right here.  


What about all that remaining cilantro from the bunch after devouring that pie?  Some of it will be used to make this yummy and healthy salmon, a quick weeknight meal.  The rest of it will decorate a giant pulled pork nacho platter for this Sunday's super bowl.  Before Sunday gets here though, we're having pulled pork sammiches with tangy slaw and homemade pickles.  You seeing how ingredients can work in circles?

However, some of the best home-cooked meals are the exact opposite of careful planning.  As in when have a crisper drawer full of veg that needs to be eaten, cause you're gonna feel bad throwing it out and wasting money. In that situation, and desiring a change of pace in going Asian, puts this Beef and Broccoli (with a ton of other stuff) on the dinner plate.  As you see from my mis en place below, I used red and green peppers, carrot, red onion, bok choy, pea pods for both of us, and just for me a serrano and jalapeno pepper cause I like it hot.  The broccoli is cut up, sauce is made, ginger and garlic are mingling, and the flank steak is in a quick marinade. Everything in place to start cooking. 

Beef and Broccoli (and other stuff)
4 servings

1 TB rice wine vinegar
2 TB low-sodium chicken stock
5 TB oyster sauce
2 TB light brown sugar
1 ts toasted sesame oil
2 ts cornstarch
3 TB soy sauce
1.5 lb flank steak, sliced with the grain into 1/2" slices, then against the grain into 2" strips
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1" fresh ginger, miced (about 1 TB)
1 head broccoli, about 1 lb, cut into small florets
 3 green onions, halved and sliced lengthwise
assorted vegetables, optional
2 C cooked brown rice

Combine the rice wine vinegar, stock, oyster sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Whisk together and set aside.

Marinate the strips of flank steak in a medium bowl with the soy sauce for at least 15 minutes, up to 30, covered with plastic wrap.

Assemble your chosen vegetables, or just broccoli if you want to keep it simple. 

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a TB or so of EVOO.  Cook the strips of flank steak quickly, in batches, for just a minute on each side- you don't want to overcook them and have tough meat.  Set aside. 

Cook your vegetables in the same manner- a bit of oil, high heat, quickly.  You want them to be tender but crisp.  The broccoli will cook for 2-3 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and then cook whatever else you got.  Add the garlic and ginger last, and only cook them for a minute.

Add the beef back to the skillet and the sauce, turn down the heat to medium-low.  Stir everything together, the sauce will thicken after a couple minutes and the meat will be heated through. 

Serve over brown rice and top with the sliced green onion. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Flank Steak Roulade

Food cravings are strange, and sometimes can't be traced to any particular source.  A few weeks ago, I had the sudden urge to make some meat stuffed with some stuff.  No idea where the desire came from, only that it occupied so much of my brain I knew I had to get it on the table quick.  I thought of things that I like to put on top of my steak- mushrooms, onions, blue cheese.  Put those inside a lovely piece of meat, that should be super yummy!!  And it was.  And you can do it too! 

This recipe is one of those that at first glance seems time-consuming, but it's relatively quick and quite simple.  Pound some meat, throw some stuff on it, roll it up and tie it, then sear and roast.  Rest, slice, eat.  Reminds me of the double oinker. You want to add nuts? Go for it.  Don't like stinky cheese?  It's not absolutely necessary.  Don't like to shroom?  Forget about em.  Wanna get weird?  It's your dinner, not mine. 

Is it French or Italian?  Roulade is from the french verb 'rouler', which means to roll.  Braciole is Italian, and in most parts of Chicago pronounced bra-zhool.  The latter uses thinner pieces of steak, so let's go Francois for this dish. 

Remember the Simpsons when Homer asked the waiter for their finest food stuffed with their second finest food?  "Excellent choice sir, lobster stuffed with tacos."

Flank Steak Roulade
serves 4-6

2 lb flank steak
4 oz cremini mushrooms
4 oz shiitake mushrooms
1 medium onion, small dice
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 C loosely packed fresh baby spinach
2 TB breadcrumbs
2 TB fresh parsley, chopped
2 oz blue cheese

Fire up the oven to 350F.  Get your meat out of the fridge so it will warm up while you prep.

In a large skillet over medium heat, toss in the mushrooms.  Yes, a dry skillet, and don't crowd them, spread them in a single layer so they can brown properly.  Let them brown on one side for a couple minutes and they will release some moisture.  Stir and continue to cook for another minute or so, and then you can add a few TB's of EVOO.  Add the onion next, cook for about 6 minutes or until nicely softened.  Then comes the garlic, only for 30-60 seconds- stirring during this time.  Don't burn the garlic!  Remove from the heat and empty into a bowl to cool slightly.

Back to the stovetop goes the skillet, add the spinach and a splash of water.  Stir and then cover, cook for 1-2 minutes until the spinach has wilted.  Add to the reserved bowl.  Try to separate as much as possible, cooked spinach likes to clump.

Spread a few layers of plastic wrap on a board, then place your meat, cover with a couple more layers of wrap.  Using a mallet, rolling pin, or skillet, pound to about 3/4" thickness.  Season both sides with S&P.  Ditch the plastic, then slide a few strands of kitchen twine underneath the meat.  Evenly layer the onion and shroom mixture, then add the blue cheese. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and parsley. 

Roll up your flank steak from one side, tie the strings to keep all the goodies inside.  Sear over high heat in a heavy cast-iron skillet for 2-3 minutes per side, then place in the oven and roast for about 25 minutes for medium-rare, depending on the size and shape of your meat log. 

Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing, you don't want to lose all the delicious jus.  A red wine would pair well- a cab or syrah perhaps. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Colicchio's Braised Short Ribs

Short rib, I love you.  You are so humble, yet so decadent.  You might be small, but you pack a massive amount of flavor.  You aren't expensive, yet you taste like a million bucks.  You take some time to prepare, but you don't command a lot of attention.  You are the most perfect winter Sunday dinner.  For us, anyway.  Maybe you work on the weekend.  Then maybe for you it'll be the most perfect Monday or Tuesday dinner. 

We've been here before, but this is a little variation on the old recipe.  As the title states, this is Tom Colicchio's recipe for braised short ribs.  If you're a fan of Top Chef, maybe you have heard of him.  I have had the fortune to eat in his flagship restaurant in Manhattan, Craft.  One of the best dining experiences we've had.  Everything was simple, but it was perfect.

Most often, you will find short ribs at your preferred grocery emporium or butcher cut crosswise, into little squares.  Colicchio calls for flanken-cut short ribs, which are cut parallel to the bone and are longer, like a beef or pork rib.  I don't think it makes much of a difference, so get whatever you like.  If this were served in one of his restaurants, they would braise fresh vegetables instead of serving the veg braised with the meat and wine.  I don't find the twice-used veg offensive, in fact they're quite yummy, and not reduced to mush as you might think.  

Colicchio's Braised Short Ribs
 2 servings

2 TB canola oil
4 large short ribs,  cut (typically) English style, or 6  ribs cut flanken style.
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 large or 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs celery, roughly chopped
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 750ml bottle dry red wine, i.e. cabernet, syrah, or zinfandel.  None of that stinkin' merlot.
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 C chicken stock, homemade preferred
sliced and roasted mushroom and onion, optional
mashed potatoes, recommended

In your big ass cast-iron dutch oven or large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat until shimmering.  With the short ribs at room temperature, season on all sides with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Sear on both sides until nicely browned and crusty, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a shallow baking dish and turn down the heat to medium.  Add the carrot first, cook for a minute, stirring.  Bring in the onion, garlic and celery next and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Add the wine and scrape up any fond on the bottom of the skillet, then toss in the thyme sprigs.  Turn up the heat to bring to a boil, then pour the hot marinade over the ribs and let cool.  Cover and park in the fridge for about 12 hours, turning the ribs once if you want to get up in the middle of the night, I skipped that step.

Fire up the oven to 350F.  Place the ribs meat-side down in that big ass cast-iron dutch oven.  Pour the marinade over and add the chicken stock to the party.  The bones should just be covered by the liquid.  Bring to a boil over high heat on the stovetop, then transfer to the lower third of the oven and cook for 90 minutes.  Uncover and cook for another 30-45 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about half.

Fire up the broiler to high.  Transfer the meat to a clean, shallow baking dish.  Remove the bones, they should fall or slip out easily.  Strain the sauce, you should have about 2 C. Reserve the vegetables if desired.  Pour over the meat  and place under the broiler for about 10 minutes, turning the meat once or twice, until nicely glazed and delicious.

Plate up some mashed taters, then the meat, add the braised vegetables if using, top with additional roasted veg if you like.  Serve with plenty of the braising liquid.  Save/freeze the leftover liquid, there should be 1 C or more....that will be a super tasty addition to making a pan sauce for a steak, poured over a baked tater, or used for any type of gravy when you need a shot of awesome flavor. 

Short ribs, after reducing the braising liquid

Short ribs, on a bed of mashed potato and surrounded by the most delicious sauce you could imagine

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Homemade Honey Mustard

What food trends are you forecasting in 2013?  What's gonna be the next kale?  Will kale continue to be the next kale?  I sure enjoyed a kale Caesar salad at Balena a few months ago.  What do you want to see less of this year?  Kale?  Can cupcakes and doughnuts really keep up their pace, or will they end up like the pizza and burger joint explosion of 2010 and 2011, with one on every corner?  Are small plates still popular or do diners finally want their own plate?  Will restaurants continue to list which farms their produce and meat comes from for 97% of the menu?  Can I actually forage locally for my own food like some dude in Scandinavia?  Will the Chicago health department and the city's politicians finally get their heads out of the holes in their asses and find a way to allow and regulate cooking on mobile food trucks?  And finally, has the complimentary bread basket really gone the way of the pay phone?? 

Here's what I'm thinking.  2013 on the Chinese calendar might be the year of the snake, but it will really be the year of the chicken.  I remember a few years ago this little joint on Broadway showed up specializing in the bird, Crisp is a Korean fried chicken restaurant that is jammed anytime they are open.  A new steakhouse in town (Mastro's proved in 2010 there is still not enough seared cow in this town) is Bavette's Bar and Boeuf, from Brendan Sodikoff, who started Gilt Bar, Maude's Liquor Bar, and Au Cheval.  The most popular dish on that menu is the fried chicken.  In Chicago.  Yet we're the meat-and-potatoes town.  Stockyards, bubbly creek and all thatPecking Order is now open in Wrigleyville, and you might need something to distract you from the Cubs until about 2015 or so.  Leghorn is obviously a chicken-focused establishment coming from the Van Camp people and Old Town Social Club, NellcoteHoney Butter Fried Chicken is soon to open in my old hood, right next door to someone I've known and loved for a long time.  Even Stephanie Izard of Top Chef fame is getting on the chicken craze, rumored to be opening another place dedicated to the bird.  She and her group just opened The Little Goat, a few years after her smashing (and always packed) debut The Girl and the Goat.

Now back in the day when I was a bachelor, I had no problems with an occasional unhealthy eating habit- baking most pieces out of the box of Banquet frozen fried chicken.  I thought it was better than Popeye's, and they don't have the tastier Brown's in my neighborhood.  With a box of frozen fried chicken in my freezer, next to some frozen White Castles, I had plenty of options whether dining at 8PM or 3AM. 

Chicken stock.  It's one of those foods that you can buy at the store, but are so much better when you make at home.  What else is on that list?  Applesauce.  Croutons.  Salad Dressing.  FriesPizza doughDill PicklesMayonnaise BurgersPizza sauceColeslaw.  And honey mustard.  

Some of this honey mustard was deliciously used to coat some seasoned chicken thighs, sprinkled with panko breadcrumbs, and baked in the oven for a quick weeknight meal, served with a salad and a gratin that went something like this.  You could do the same thing with a pork tenderloin, that would be yummy.  The rest of it will last for many months in the fridge, ready to be slathered on a sammich, turned into a salad dressing, or simply served on its own with some cheese and summer sausage.  I like to keep an assortment of used, clean jars on hand for storing stuff like this recipe, pickles, chili, etc. 

Homemade Honey Mustard
makes about one cup

6 TB mustard seeds
1/2 C mustard powder
3 TB cider vinegar
1/4 C cold dry white wine
1/4 C cold water
2 ts kosher salt
3.5 TB honey

Crush the mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.  You don't have to reduce to a powder, but you do want to crack up most of them.  Whisk all ingredients in a bowl and then pour into a airtight jar and stash in the fridge for 2 days, to allow the flavors to mellow and the mixture to thicken.  It will look runny when first made, but will thicken up after a couple days.  You'll be tempted to taste it right away, but don't do it- like that pizza right out of the oven or the ice sheet as soon as the Zamboni doors shut- let it set up.  Keeps for up to 6 months in the fridge, but you'll use it before then.  Need somewhere to procure mustard seeds

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


When it's this easy to make homemade applesauce, there's no more buying it from the store.  This is Alton Brown's recipe, straight-up, but halved.

If you don't have a microwave safe container with a lid, use two bowls to cover the apple mixture yet vent the steam, as I did.  

makes 2 C

2 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 Fuji apple, peeled, cored, and quartered
1/2 C apple juice
1 TB brandy (optional)
1.5 TB honey
1/4 ts cinnamon

Add all ingredients to a microwavable container.  Close lid but vent one corner for the steam to escape.  Zap on high power for 12 minutes, or until apples are completely soft.  Mash with a potato masher or spoon.  Serve warm or chill in the fridge if you like your sauce chilled. 

Potato Pancakes

Every good German boy needs a recipe for potato latkes, although they are very popular throughout Europe.  Did you know it's the national dish of Belarus?  This version is pretty quick and super easy, quite delicious when you're craving some potato pancakes.  I recommend serving with a side of applesauce, some folks like sour cream as well.

For crispy cakes, make sure to remove as much moisture from the potato mixture as possible.  Also important is to heat your oil until hot but not near the smoke point.  Before frying a cake, drop just a pinch of potato mixture into the skillet....if it sizzles right away, the oil is ready. 

Potato Pancakes
makes about 12

1.5 lb large russet potatoes, peeled (about 2-3)
1 medium yellow onion
1 large egg
3 TB dried breadcrumbs
1.5 ts kosher salt
1 ts baking powder
freshly cracked black pepper
vegetable oil, for frying

Fire up the oven to 325F.  Line one sheet pan with a couple layers of paper towel, place a wire rack on another sheet pan. 

Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the peeled potatoes and the onion.  Place on a clean kitchen towel and twist the ends to squeeze out the moisture.  Unwrap, stir things up a bit, and repeat.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, breadcrumb, salt, baking powder and a pinch of pepper.  Add the potato mixture and combine gently.

Heat about 4 TB vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, drop large spoonfuls of potato mixture into skillet, pressing down to slightly flatten.  Fry for about 2-3 minutes per side, until golden brown and crisp.  Transfer to the paper towel lined sheet pan to drain for a minute, then place onto the rack.  Keep warm in the oven while frying the rest.  Add more oil to the skillet if needed.  Serve with applesauce. 

Beer-Battered Fried Cod

Happy New 2013!  Do you resolve anything food-wise in this new year?  I would like to reduce our kitchen waste and eat less Cheez-its.  Seriously, I love those things, and that's a lot of salt.  

Many years ago, I was first introduced to my in-laws on a Friday night.  In Wisconsin.  A very popular thing to do up dere is enjoy a Friday night fish fry.  Of course, cocktail time begins at precisely 5:00PM.  Old fashioneds and Miller Lite are the common choices.  As for the fish, it's delicious golden brown fried cod served up with french fries, coleslaw, and lemon.  I think some places do perch too, but cod is my preference.  And to ensure a good first impression, the Chief pulled up in a 1989 convertible Chevy Iroc Z.  He got cool points for that.  

Before the usual posts of lighter, healthier fare as the new year comes around, here's some yummy fried food before the diet starts.  I promise your kitchen won't smell like fried fish for days, it's just a few pieces of cod.  One of those thermometers with a clip is very handy for measuring the temp of your oil-  if it's not hot enough, the fish will become soggy and your cardiologist won't be happy, not to mention your taste buds.  And if it's too hot, you'll have over-crisped fish before it's cooked through.   Always advisable with seafood, purchase from a good fishmonger and cook it the day you get it.  Recommended accompaniments for this meal are tartar sauce, potato pancakes and homemade applesauce.  And a Miller Lite wouldn't hurt either.    

Happy New Year!!

Tartar sauce-
mix 3/4 C mayo with 3 TB sweet pickle relish and 1 diced kosher dill pickle, 2 ts fresh dill, chopped.  Season with S&P.  Fridgerate until dinnertime. 

Beer Battered Fried Cod
4 servings

vegetable oil
2 C AP flour
1.75 C cold beer, Miller Lite preferred
1.75 lb skinless cod fillet, cut into four 6x2" pieces
freshly cracked black pepper
kosher salt
tartar sauce

Heat 2" of oil in a big ass cast iron dutch oven or a deep skillet, to 325F.

In a large bowl whisk 1.5 C of the flour with 1.5 ts kosher salt, then whisk in 1.5 C of beer.  The batter will be a bit lumpy which is fine.  Stash in the fridge for 15 minutes, then stir in the last quarter cup of beer.

Season the cod pieces with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Place the remaining half cup of flour in wide, shallow bowl.  Dredge the fish in the flour, shaking off any excess, then dip into the beer batter, allowing any excess batter to drip off.  Fry in the hot oil, turning a couple times, until nicely golden brown and cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.  Drain on a rack over a sheet pan.  Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and serve with the tartar sauce.