Oof!, Part 2

Mon, Dec 31 • 0

So, as a follow up to this post, the short ribs were quite the success. I can tell you now that I was making an elaborate and unusual beef stew that Alton Brown described in a recent episode. The hardest part was reheating everything up at the family house in Connecticut. I was prepared to bring some of my tools, but I wasn’t going to bring up anything I wasn’t 100% ok about leaving behind if I forgot it, or for whatever reason. So that meant leaving my enameled french cast iron at home. I did bring the one cast iron dutch oven I had because I hardly ever use it here. And I ended up using a cast iron dutch oven that normally sits next to the fireplace, and was completely covered with dust. After washing it inside and out, the inside still had a whiff of the oil that was applied to its inside who knows how long ago. I couldn’t get rid of the slightly rancid odor, and unfortunately, half the stew ended up taking on a little of that flavor. All’s well that ends well, because everyone seemed to like the stew anyway. And, for dessert, I served the Ina Garten’s rice pudding.

As for the competition, it ended up not really coming off, since my oldest brother didn’t get a chance to prepare his meal, since we all raced home a day early due to a threat of snow. Still, everyone had a great time, and everyone enjoyed the meal I made.

Potato Gratin

Mon, Dec 31 • 0

Traditionally, this recipe calls for shredded gruyere cheese, but jack cheese, or even smoked gouda works well, too. If you want to save some calories, you can replace the cream with either milk or chicken stock that’s been thickened on the stovetop with a roux of a tablespoon each of butter and flour.

2 or 3 yukon gold potatoes, sliced thin
2 shallots diced; or 1 onion, diced; or 1 leek, cleaned and diced
2-4 oz of your favorite cheese, shredded
¼-½ c cream
salt and pepper

Potato Gratin

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an oval gratin pan, or even a small cast iron frying pan, with a little butter or olive oil. Lay down a layer of potato slices, covering the bottom. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and the diced onion. Add a little cheese, and moisten the layer with cream. Repeat 2 or 3 more times. Cover the pan with foil, and bake for 60 minutes. Remove the foil and cook 10-20 minutes longer until the liquid is bubbly.

Cooking a Steak

Mon, Dec 31 • 0

The first step in cooking a steak is picking the right steak. Part of it comes down to personal preference, and part of it comes down to having the right eye for it. The cut you choose is mostly preference. My favorite cut is the New York Strip. The Ribeye is good — though a little too fatty for my taste. The Tenderloin is extremely tender, and is my wife’s favorite, but I think it completely lacks any flavor, and isn’t worth the money. (I make it and buy it for her, though.)steak

When I’m buying a steak, I look for decent marbling. The flavor is in the fat. I also try to get a steak that’s at least an inch thick. Usually you’re not going to find these in the styrofoam containers in the refrigerated case. You’ll need to talk to the butcher.

So here’s what I do when I’m gonna prepare steak for dinner. An hour before I’m ready to start cooking, I take the steak out of the refrigerator and let it sit out on the counter, to get closer to room temperature. 30 minutes before dinner, I turn the oven on and get it preheated to 300°. 10 minutes later, I put the cast iron pan onto the stovetop and turn the burner on beneath it to high. I’ll also probably turn on the exhaust fan then, too. Then I take some paper towel and dry off the steak as much as I can … moisture inhibits browning. I’ll usually just sprinkle the steak on both sides with a little kosher salt, but I sometimes use a salt/spice mix like McCormick’s Asian or Mediterranean Sea Salt mixes. (Avoid mixes with things that go bitter when they’re cooked at high heat … this includes garlic flakes or paprika.) I’ll also dab the steak with a couple drops of canola oil and rub the salt into the flesh.

Depending on the thickness of the steak, I’ll cook it in the hot cast iron pan for 3 – 4 minutes on each side. There’s usually quite a bit of smoke involved here. After I’ve seared both sides, I put the steak into the oven, and set the timer for 8 minutes. After that, I check the steak with my tongs. If the steak is still too rare, it’ll feel like the fleshy part between your thumb and forefinger when your hand is relaxed. It’ll be medium when it feels like the same spot with your thumb flexed. You’ll want to undercook it a little, because the heat will carry over a little while it rests, which you should always do — 10 minutes, minumum, on the plate before serving.


Thu, Dec 27 • 0

This is what 23 pounds of beef short ribs looks like, or about $60 worth of meat from the warehouse store.

short ribs, 12/27/07Whenever my extended family gets together, my two brothers and I engage in a little — ok, quite a bit — of friendly competition. We each agree to make the main meal for one of the nights we’re together, like we’re doing over this weekend. I agreed to make dinner for the first night. What we decide to make is all very hush-hush, top secret. At the end of the get-together, all the kids decide which was the best meal. (Unfortunately, I think the one they last ate always seems to win out, regardless of who made it or what it was.) Anyway, this time, I chose a recipe that I figured I could start here at home, and then pack up in a cooler and finish it off with minimal effort at the place where we’re gathering. Unfortunately, the recipe I was working from was designed to feed 4 people. I need to feed 18. So I quintupled the quantities. I’m hoping that since I’m starting off with a slow braise of these short ribs in a relatively cool oven, upping the volume won’t play havoc with the cooking time. I may add an hour to the braise time, just in case. I’ll let you know how it all works out in a couple of days.

What’s the Aversion to Kneading?

Thu, Dec 27 • 0

bread image (pd. corbis)Well, I tried the modified “no-knead” bread recipe in the most recent Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required), and I guess it was ok. It’s not completely no-knead, but it’s pretty close. It calls for just 15 seconds of kneading the dough in on itself, just to distribute the long protein chains, or some such. The kneading is required because, unlike the infamous no-knead recipe that Mark Bittman wrote about in the New York Times last summer, this one calls for much less liquid, so the dough isn’t a sticky, gloopy mess, but since there isn’t as much liquid, the proteins can’t form quite the way they do in the original recipe, hence the 15 second knead.

But what I don’t get is why everyone is so averse to kneading dough? I mean, it seems to run right in the face of the whole “slow food” ethos, doesn’t it? Making bread is all about the kneading. It’s all about getting in there, with the yeasty smells, and giving it a little elbow grease. Granted, the no-knead recipe isn’t fast — it takes upwards of 16 hours to make, but I sort of think this follows the letter of the law of “slow food,” while not really obeying the spirit of it. I mean, no-knead bread dough is like playing baseball without a bat. It’s like dancing without moving your feet. It’s like swimming without the water, for pete’s sake. Sure, kneading dough is a little messy. Sure, you need a little clean counter space, and Lord knows how tricky that is to manage…

Next, they’ll be pushing the next food craze: food that doesn’t require chewing.

I mean, I guess the idea is appealing. Heck, I did try the recipe, after all. But I’m thinking that if you’re the type of person who will only make bread that you don’t have to knead, it’s probably better than nothing. Still, just go out and buy a loaf at Whole Foods instead.

My Favorite Knives

Tue, Dec 25 • 0

They say that a cook’s knives are a very individualized thing. What works for me probably won’t work for you, and that you should never buy a knife without holding it — feeling its balance and heft in your hand.

When I first started getting serious about cooking, I tossed out just about every knife I owned. Years before, I’d bought a knife block at a discount store that came with a variety of blades, all with that little nubbley micro serration.

So my first real chef’s knife was a Global. I didn’t follow the rules, and bought it from Amazon. It is a pretty good knife, but it’s not the one I reach for. It’s a little too lightweight for me, though it keeps a good edge.

My brother gave me a Henckels Twin Cuisine 6-Inch knife and I realized what I was missing with the Global. It had the right weight and it fit in my hand like it was made for me. A few months later, my wife got a gift certificate for William Sonoma, so I bought a full-sized chef’s knife in the same line.

The problem is, those knives cost a fortune, and so if you’re on a budget, I suggest you try the knife set they sell at Ikea called the Distinkt. For $19.99, you get a chef’s knife, a utility knife, and a vegetable knife / cleaver. They have wooden handles, and they’re not real heavy, but they still work pretty well, and for the money, they can’t be beat.  Update, 11/09 — Looks like Ikea dropped this line.

If you’re still looking for a good knife for not a lot of money, I’ve read really good things about the Victorinox Chef’s Knife which costs less than $30.

What’s for dinner? Roast Duckling

Tue, Dec 25 • 0

Christmas Duck Harris Teeter had fresh duckling on sale the other day, and I just couldn’t resist.

I used Ina Garten’s technique of lightly scoring the duckling’s skin with a fork, and cooking it in hot chicken stock for 45 minutes, which gets rid of a lot of the fat, letting it dry off for 30 minutes, and then roasting it in a really hot, hot oven (500°) for 30 minutes, followed by a rest for another 30 minutes. Before roasting, I tossed a little salt and pepper on the outside, as well as a little chinese five spice, but if I’d had my act together, I would have made it the way my mom used to … by basting it with some honey and curry towards the end of the roast.

While the duck was resting, I used some of the oil in the pan to fry up some onions and parboiled potatoes. The skin turned out pretty crisp, and not at all flabby. Still, needs more work. Unfortunately, my wife refuses to touch duck, so while I ate duck, she had steak. (Also, I meant to snap a picture before I started carving. Sorry about that!)

Unusual Meat in the Mail

Mon, Dec 24 • 0

Here are some sources for unusual products. (If you’re on this list, and you’d like to send me samples, by all means…)


  • D’artagnan (Newark, NJ) is a pretty well-known supplier of packaged pàtés … in fact, my supermarket carries it for the holidays in the specialty cheese case … but I had no idea they also sell game meat for not completely outlandish prices.
  • Cajun Grocer (Lafayette, LA) is your source for authentic Cajun and Louisiana foods. I’ve bought from these guys before — andouille, boudin, chaurice. They also ship crawfish and turduckens.
  • Exotic Meats (San Antonio, TX) seems to sell the hardcore game stuff — antelope, elk, wild boar, even yak. Their prices seem a little high to me, but then, I don’t really know the going price for a good hunk of yak.
  • Lobel’s (New York, NY) is a high-end, high-class butcher. They offer more than my grocery store butcher, but at prices that make me lose my appetite. I bought a single hanger steak from them more than 5 years ago, as part of a promotion, and I’m still getting email from them. If you order from them, you’ll get a friend for life, I think.

The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine

Mon, Dec 24 • 0

book cover : scavenger’s guide to haute cuisineI found this to be a surprisingly readable book. The author, Steven Rinella, is a writer for sports magazines, and he and his friends spend much of their free time hunting and fishing. When he got a copy of The Escoffier Cookbook, it started him on a year-long quest to create a fabulous feast for his friends using wild game and products he scrounges up over the course of a year. With detailed information about his successes and failures (including the dreaded food poisoning), as well as the prosaic and interesting adventures he has to get the goods for his feast, I had a hard time putting the book down. He goes above and beyond what most of us would ever imagine doing for a holiday feast. While the author does relish in his intimate knowledge of exactly where his food comes from, this book is definitely not for the squeamish. And, make no mistake, there’s not a single recipe in this book. An excerpt from the book’s second chapter can be read on Culinate.com.

The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, by Steve Rinella.

Scaling Up a Recipe

Mon, Dec 24 • 0

I’ll be cooking for a crowd in a couple of days over the holidays, and I have a recipe that I’ve settled on. Unfortunately, the recipe as it’s written says that it serves 4, and I’ve got to make it so that it feeds 18.

I was able to find an online recipe converter that helped me figure out the quantities, but I couldn’t find any real hard and fast rules that help me figure out what I need to do to alter the cooking times. One source suggests that when you’re baking an increased recipe in a double size baking pan, “you should drop the oven temperature 15-25 degrees and increase baking time, to allow center to cook without burning edges” On the other hand, the same page says that if you’re cooking multiple pans of the same thing, you should increase the oven temperature by 25 degrees, and allow for more cooking time. But it doesn’t say how much more.

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