Beef Stew

Mon, Apr 28 • 0

It’s a chilly and rainy Monday here, so I decided that even though the weather has recently been unseasonably warm, today would be a good day for beef stew.


I picked up a couple of pounds of bottom round chuck steak, which I cut into chunks and got rid of as much of the fat as I could. I also found a discounted package of boneless beef ribs that I couldn’t pass up. I’m a believer that less is more when it comes to beef stew. I’ve seen recipes that throw in all kinds of aromatics and vegetables, but I like to concentrate on one or two vegetables and a thick gravy to accentuate the beef. So, in the produce department, they’d set aside about a pound of sweet grape tomatoes that were a little past peak for 43c. I also picked up some fresh thyme and a couple of big spanish onions. For my cooking liquid, I knew I had a couple of bottles of Guinness at home, but you could cut a single bottle with some chicken stock if you think Guinness alone would be too much.

So the procedure is like this : Leave the meat out on the counter to get to room temperature. About 4 hours before dinner, preheat the oven to 300° — low and slow. Cut the meat into chunks and dry on paper towels. Salt and pepper generously. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides in a cast iron pan, and move it over to a dutch oven, until all the meat is good and browned. Don’t hurry this procedure. Let everything get a dark mahogany crust. While you’re waiting, prepare your vegetables. In this case, I sliced the onions, and then I tossed them into the frying pan once the last of the meat was browned, with a half a stick of butter, and worked off all the little crusties left behind in the pan. Meanwhile, I emptied two bottles of dark beer plus the whole bag of tomatoes into the dutch oven on top of the meat. I shook a couple tablespoons of flour over the onions … I could have also added some tomato paste, too. Then I transferred that to the dutch oven, too. I wrapped some cooking string around a thick bundle of thyme, plus some smoked paprika, and then put on the lid, and started the pot to boil. You’re wasting your time if you don’t get the liquid good and boiling before transferring it into the oven.

Let it cook for a couple-a-3½ hours. Maybe longer. I took it out about 2 hours in and stirred it. Also, about 20 minutes before I was set to serve it up, I took it out and put in some israeli couscous, to give it some body, but dried pasta would probably do well, too. It turned out really well, and it made a ton of leftovers.


The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs

Wed, Apr 16 • 0

Adding bunches of fresh herbs to your cooking is the easiest way to add huge amounts of flavor. Unfortunately, they can be expensive and tend to go bad quickly. Here’s a good, cheap, hassle-free way to store your fresh herbs once you get them home from the market.

First, rinse them under cold water, and if you have a salad spinner, spin them in there to remove excess water. Next, dampen a length of paper towels with cool water. You don’t want wet, you want damp. Now, wrap your herbs inside the paper towel, and then put the whole thing in a plastic or zip-top bag, and then into the refrigerator.

Use this method for basil, thyme, dill, tarragon, cilantro, mint, chives, and parsley. And there’s no reason to make multiple bundles, just add more herbs as you’re rolling up the paper towel. This method also works well for bunches of lettuce, like arugala — though I’ve found that these store pretty well all by themselves in those plastic bins they come in. It’s not so great for the woodier herbs, like rosemary or bay leaves. For them, skip the paper towel, and just slip them into a zip top bag, remove as much air as you can, and put them in the refrigerator.


Southern Fried Chicken – “The Virginia Way”

Sun, Mar 9 • 1

rwf-chicken.jpgFunny how my brother and I sometimes end up being simpatico but always with slightly different perspectives. My wife had been talking about feeding our kids Kentucky Fried Chicken when I ran into a deal at our local Asian food market – chicken legs for 69 cents a pound. I knew I had to use the chicken legs immediately (there presumably was a reason why they were on special).

Soup was a possibility, but my boys love fried chicken. So fried chicken it would be (and no, I had not seen my brother’s posting before making this decision).

So, as my brother asks: “what breading?” I started making a batter coating that has been successful in the past, but then thought better of it. I grew up in Connecticut, but I now live in Virginia. How do Virginians make southern fried chicken?

To find the answer, I looked in some of my favorite southern cookbooks. [Footnote: Camille Glenn’s The Heritage of Southern Cooking is a true authority from which I have learned a lot. I also sometimes look at Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking since I know it’s meticulously researched. I haven’t picked up the Lee brother’s book yet, but plan to one of these days.]

The authorities I consulted were consistent: the coating is flour mixed with some salt and pepper (Claiborne cautions that “pepper is important in this recipe”). Thus, Southern Fried Chicken is really very simple. Take some chicken. Rinse and dry it. Coat it in flour mixed with some salt and pepper (you can shake in a bag if you like). Shake off the excess. Fry in hot oil (preferably in a large cast iron skillet) for 8 minutes, turn over and fry another 12 minutes (or more) until it’s “cooked through”. (Ms. Glenn talks about covering the skillet for the first eight minutes, presumably to reduce the spatter. She has you take off the cover when you turn it because you have to watch it).

How do you know when it’s “cooked through”? Good question. Undercooked chicken is dangerous. This is where experience comes in. Ms Glenn has the experience to know when its done just right. Lacking that, do what I did – simply take out a piece, cut it up and see if it’s done.

Other variations: Claiborne tells you to soak the chicken in milk with some tabasco sauce for an hour before your coat. I did not do this. Claiborne seems to always put in something extra to make it special. I knew my boys wanted plain old fried chicken.

Of course, eating this stuff every day is not good for you. It’s also not good for your kitchen – the oil spatters and you have a big mess to clean up. But the kids do love it!!

Any real southerners out there with comments? How did your grandmother make fried chicken?


Fried Chicken

Sat, Mar 8 • 0

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This is how I make fried chicken…


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Basic Baked Potato

Thu, Feb 21 • 0

po tay toe

Set your oven to 450°. Wash the potato, removing all the dirt you can. Then, fill a deep bowl with warm water, and a bunch of salt. Pierce the potato with a fork all over, and then let it sit in the salt water while the oven preheats. Put the potatoes in the oven, right on the rack, and let them cook for an hour. How do you like to top your baked potato? And do you eat the potato skin, or do you leave it on the plate?


“En Papillote”

Wed, Jan 30 • 0

roughy.gifSo the other day, my wife said she wanted fish for dinner. The pickings at the fish counter seemed pretty slim, but there were some orange roughy fillets, a firm fleshed white fish, that looked pretty good, so I picked up a couple. It occurred to me that I should try cooking them in a pouch. So I picked up some aromatic vegetables — a leek, and a parsnip. I also picked up a yellow squash, to round out the meal. Now I needed to think of a liquid that would work with all of these things. I settled on a bottle of extra-strong ginger beer.

So, I preheated the oven to 450°, and then I cleaned and sliced up the leek, and softened it in some butter in a frying pan. Then I julienne’d the parsnip, and put them in with the leeks, and added about a quarter cup of the ginger beer, and some salt, and popped on the lid, letting them steam for a couple of minutes. I’ve also found this great sweet and smoky paprika spice mix — not sure who puts it out, but I’ve been sprinkling it in everything lately.

Traditionally, “en papillote” is done in a parchment paper pouch, but I used some aluminum foil instead. I sprayed it with a little canola oil spray, though there was enough liquid left from the softened vegetables, it wasn’t necessary. I laid out the fish on the foil, and topped it with the softened veggies, and then diced up the yellow squash, and topped it with that. Then I folded up the edges of the foil and made a tightly closed packet, and popped it on a cookie sheet and into the oven for — not exactly sure. 30 minutes, maybe. I don’t think the timing was particularly critical, since the steam was gently cooking the fish, and there was still plenty of liquid left. For all I know, I completely overcooked it, but it still came out great. The fish was firm and sort of reminded me of lobster meat. I served it over the multi-grain israeli couscous that T.J.’s sells.


Chicken Fingers

Tue, Jan 22 • 0

42-17207108.jpgSo, either buy a package of prepared chicken tenders, or buy boneless chicken breast and slice them into strips. Put them in a bowl, and pour in enough buttermilk to cover them. Then stir in enough hot sauce to turn the buttermilk a light orange. Stir to make sure that all the chicken gets coated, cover, and marinate in the fridge. I figure, an hour, minimum, but I usually let them set overnight.  And don’t worry. You won’t taste the heat of the hot sauce. When you’re ready to start cooking, grind up a bunch of soda crackers — probably a whole stack, preferably salt free — in your food processor. (Short of that, put them in a zip top bag with all the air removed, and beat them up by hand, with a rolling pin, heavy pan, whatever.) You’re looking for the consistency of sand. Now’s the time to mix in any spices you like. I like a mix of granulated garlic and smoked paprika, plus salt (but only if you’re using salt-free crackers). Old Bay works well, too. Pour the mix out onto a plate. Remove the chicken bits from the buttermilk, let most of the buttermilk drip off, and coat with the crushed crackers.

Now, in a frying pan, pour in enough canola oil to make a puddle about a quarter inch deep, and heat it until you just barely see whisps of smoke. Add the chicken bits into the pan, and fry on each side for 3 minutes or so. Remove to a paper towel to drain.

Option 1 : This is basically how you could make whole fried chicken pieces, though you’ll need more oil in the pan, and you’ll need to cook them for longer. For some reason, the white meat takes a bit longer than the dark meat pieces. Skip the cracker meal and use a mixture of flour and cornmeal, or just flour, spiked with salt, pepper, and spices, and you’ve got traditional southern fare. Expect the whole chicken pieces to take about 15 to 20 minutes, total, turning once.

Option 2 : No need to stick with chicken. You can do the same with almost any meat. Chicken-fried steak, pork cutlets, tilapia filets, eggplant, even.


4-hour Survival Bread

Sat, Jan 12 • 0

breadMy mom typed this up on a couple of index cards and gave it to me when I was going off to college. She told me that even if I couldn’t afford to make anything else, I could always make this. And it really is economical. For the cost of one loaf of bread, these ingredients will make 3 loaves. If you make this with stone-ground flour and whole milk, it really is nutritious. And you can make it, start to finish, in 4 hours. If you have the time, decrease the yeast by half, and let the dough rise overnight, and you’ll be rewarded with a better tasting loaf, but make no mistake — this is not like those artisanal loaves of bread. It’s about as basic as it comes.
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White and Brown Stock

Mon, Dec 24 • 0

When making chicken stock, using raw chicken will give you “white” chicken stock, while using a roasted bird will give you “brown” chicken stock.

According to Escoffier, white stock is used for the base of white sauces. Brown stock should be the color of “fine burnt amber” and used for the base of soups and thickened gravies, and for meat glazes after it’s been reduced. He also suggests using it to moisten meat for braising.

In both cases, he suggests breaking the bones, and that if you want the stock to be gelatinous, you need to simmer the stock for at least 8 hours.

His recipes (below the break) aren’t limited to just chicken meat, either, and they’re naturally more involved than almost any other recipe for chicken stock that I’ve ever come across.


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Pie Crust Recipes

Sun, Dec 23 • 0

Haven’t had a chance to try this recipe. It’s in a cookbook that I’m giving away, so I thought I’d save it here. According to the book, “This dough rolls easily and will take a lot of handling and still make a flaky crust.” I’ve never seen a recipe for pie dough that calls for an egg or vinegar.

3 c flour
1 t salt
1 c (8oz) lard
1 T vinegar
5 T water (or milk for a more golden crust)
1 egg

Mix flour, salt, and lard together in a bowl, cutting in the lard with a pastry blender until you produce a crumbly texture like that of uncooked oatmeal.

In another bowl, mix vinegar, water (or milk) and egg with a rotary beater. Then blend into the flour-lard mixture a little at a time. Blend well.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, enough for two double-crusted 9-inch pies. Refrigerate or freeze until needed.

———–

Here’s another — it doesn’t use lard. And you can make it savory by omitting the sugar, and adding thyme. (Actually, there’s so little sugar, that I usually toss it in even for a savory crust.) I’ve also added grated lemon peel — it makes a great addition to a blackberry pie.

2 c flour (10 ounces by weight)
¼ t salt
¼ t sugar
1½ sticks of frozen butter, chopped into 1″ cubes
1 T crisco
1/3rd cup ice water

Put the flour, the sugar and the salt in your food processor bowl, and pulse a couple times. Add the butter and the crisco, and pulse 10 times. Add the water and pulse 10 times more. The dough should be crumbly but will stick together if you squeeze a small handful.

Put it all in a ziplock, and form into a round patty. Put in the fridge for at least half an hour, or longer if you can afford to. (You can use it right away if you must.)

Rolled out, it makes more than enough for a large pie.


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