Hungarian Goulash

Sat, Mar 12 • 0

2 large red bell peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lb boneless beef shank, or normal stew beef, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt & pepper
2 large onions, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 t caraway seeds, toasted and ground
3 T Hungarian sweet paprika
3 T all-purpose flour
2 T red wine vinegar
1 15 oz can tomatoes, diced
2 c low sodium beef broth
2 c low sodium chicken broth, or water
2 large russet potatoes, cubed
½ c lite sour cream
8 oz wide egg noodles, cooked according to package

Preheat the oven to 450°. Roast the peppers on the rack for 15 or 20 minutes, turning once. Remove them from the oven, and put them in a paper sack until they are cool enough to handle. Pull out the core, remove the skin and all of the seeds, and slice into bite-sized pieces. Set aside. Reduce the oven to 350°.

Trim the fat from the beef, brown in small batches in a dutch oven. Pour off the oil if it is scorched, and replace with fresh. Cook the onion until it is wilted, then add the garlic, the roasted red pepper, and the spices and cook until fragrant. Add the flour and stir until dissolved. Add the vinegar, tomatoes, and stock (or water) and bring to a simmer. Clamp on the lid, and put it in the oven for 1 hour in the oven.

Stir in the potatoes, and cook partially covered either in the oven or on the stovetop until the potatoes are tender. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the sour cream. At this point, you might decide to let the whole thing cool and then refrigerate for a day. (Some people think it improves the flavor.) When ready, serve over egg noodles.


Julia’s Method for Cheeseburgers

Wed, Jul 8 • 0

I watched an old episode of Cooking with Jacques and Julia, on the topic of beef, and they demonstrated their methods for making hamburgers, so I decided to give Julia Child’s method a try for dinner last night. The result was really good.

1 lb. ground beef (85/15)
1 shallot diced
1 tablespoon butter
4 poppy seed kaiser rolls
salt and pepper
optional toppings : arugula, cheese, bacon, sliced tomato, ketchup, etc.

Saute the shallot in the butter until translucent, and set aside. Separate the beef into 4 equal parts. Work each part into a rough, thin patty, ½ inch thick, using a chopping motion with the back of a knife, working in a quarter of the sauteed shallot and salt and pepper. It’s not crucial that the resulting patty is perfectly round. Fry the patties on a cast iron griddle for 2 or 3 minutes per side. When you flip each over, you can add the cheese to get it melted. Remove from the heat and let rest. Meanwhile, spread a little butter or oil on the cut sides of the kaiser roll, and toast on the griddle.


Pan-roasting the Best Steak

Sun, Jun 28 • 6

My wife and I have pretty much stopped ordering steak when we go out, since I seem to be able to cook it better than they can, for less money… granted, I can’t say how my steak compares to the really expensive steak houses. They probably have access to better cuts of meat than I can get, so they might have an edge in that department. Still, I’m sure we’re saving money, even if it is an extravagant meal, but since I only do it about once a month, it’s bearable.

First off, you need to buy the proper steak. It won’t do to go to the Safeway, and buy whatever red meat they’ve got on sale. The cut of steak that you choose is important. It boils down to three, as far as I’m concerned : filet, strip, or ribeye. My wife prefers the filet mignon, but I usually always go for the strip. I’ll only buy ribeye if it’s on sale, since it’s a substantially fattier cut.

You’ll also want to find the best butcher that you can. For me, that ends up being at Whole Foods. Look for good marbelling — little lines of yellow fat flowing through the  deep red of the meat. I also like to get one that’s an inch thick.  I’ll sometimes go for the dry-aged steak, which costs $4 more per pound, but most times, I’ll just go for the prime. Recent prices peg that at $17 a pound, with one steak usually coming in at one pound, and one strip steak like this will feed both of us for one meal. Pricey, yes, but if you went to a fine steak house,  there’s no way we’d both eat for $17.

45 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to start cooking, take the steak out of the fridge and to let it start coming to room temperature. 20 minutes before you start cooking, set your oven to 300º and let it preheat. 5 minutes before you start cooking, turn a burner on high, and put a cast iron frying pan on it, and let it start getting hot.

Meanwhile, unwrap the steak, and dry the surface off with a paper towel, then liberally coat the steak with salt and fresh ground pepper. You can also put a couple drops of canola oil on one side, and rub it all over that side.

Now turn on the exhaust fan, and open a window a little bit, because there may be a little smoke. Put the steak(s) in the pan, oiled side down, and let it cook for 4 minutes. Then turn the steak over, and cook another 4 minutes. Then move the pan into the oven, and let it roast. The amount of time you let it roast really depends on how thick the steak was. I’ve found that for a 1 inch thick steak, roasting it another 8 minutes seems to give a good medium-rare.

There’s a way to tell how your steak is cooked by touch. Hold your left hand out, relaxed, and feel the section of skin at the base of your thumb and forefinger. This is how a rare steak will feel when you press it. Now flex your hand, stretching your fingers and thumb out. Press your finger at the fleshy base of your thumb near the palm. This is how a medium steak will feel when cooked correctly. (I can’t tell you how to figure out what a well-done steak feels like because I’ve never done it, and think it’s a bit of a sin.)

Once your steak is of the proper doneness, you’re still not ready to eat. You have to let the meat rest. Let it sit on a plate for 15 minutes, loosely covered with foil. This lets the piece of meat relax a little, and allow all the juice that’s been forced into the center of the cut to redestribute.

Bonus : You can do this same method on a charcoal grill. Follow the instructions for preparing the meat, but instead of preheating the oven and the pan, prepare your charcoal grill as you normally would, but keep the coals only on one side of the kettle. (In a gas grill,  if you only light one element, you should be able to replicate the same cooking conditions.) Grill the steak over the hot side, similar to above, at 4 minutes a side. (You could even cook it 2 minutes, then turn the steak a quarter turn, and cook it for another 2 minutes. This will give you those professional looking grill marks.) Once that’s done, move the steak to the cooler side of the grill, and put on the lid. There’s no telling how long you’ll want to cook it this way, since it really depends on how hot your coals are. You can try telling by touch, or by using an instant read thermometer.

On an instant-read thermometer, your rare steak should read about 110º in the center, before resting. Medium rare, 120º, and medium, 130º. If you must eat your steak well done, you’ll be ok if you get it up to 145º.


Revenge of the Roasted Beast

Wed, Jan 21 • 0

This past weekend, we had a late family holiday get-away in the Pocono’s and I volunteered to make dinner for one of the nights, so I pulled out my recipe for Roast Beast, the same one I posted here last month. This time, I made four roasts instead of just one, for a crowd of about 20 people, kids and adults. Each roast was about 3 pounds each. And instead of just plain pepper, I coated each with a mixture of Penzeys’ Mignonette and minced, dried garlic. Despite all the problems with the kitchen in the lodge we’d rented (only the 2 smaller of the 4 electric burners worked, and the only pan I could find was a very, very scratched non-stick griddle pan), the dinner was a total success. The meat turned out perfectly done … though I probably should have rotated the pan in the oven during the long, slow roast, because the uneven heating made one roast more cooked than the other three. Still, even the pickiest of kids finished what was on their plate, and many people came back for seconds and thirds. My sister-in-law raved so much, I ended up giving her the print-out of the recipe I was using.

I do think one crucial necessity for the recipe is a good, accurate probe thermometer. I use a Thermapen, but the high price ($89) makes it a total luxury item for most. (I have read that there’s a cheaper alternative that is used in the air-conditioning industry that has a slightly larger probe diameter, but is otherwise identical to this one, and costs about half as much.)


Roast Beast

Sun, Dec 21 • 0

I just tried a new technique for taking a relatively inexpensive cut of beef (the eye round roast) and turning it into a juicy and flavorful roast beef dinner. As usual for the meals I post about here, it’s not fast, since it takes about 30 hours total, but it’s definitely easy. Note: If your roast is smaller (2-3 lbs, 1 kilo), use 2 teaspoons; bigger than that, use 3 teaspoons of salt.

2-4 lb. (1-2 kilos) eye round beef roast, tied
2-3 teaspoons kosher salt (half that for table salt)
2 teaspoons fresh black pepper
3 teaspoons vegetable oil

42-17660079The day before: Remove the roast from the packaging, and coat all sides with the salt. Wrap it up in plastic wrap, and return it to the fridge, on a plate to catch any escaping liquid, and let marinate for 18 to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 225º/110º c. Remove the plastic wrap and rinse the excess salt off, then dry the meat off on paper towels. Coat the roast with 1 teaspoon of the oil, and apply the pepper to all sides of the roast. The oil will help the pepper stick. Put the remaining oil in a cast iron pan, and sear the roast on all sides, about 3 minutes each side.

Why tie a roast?  First, to keep it in a uniform shape so that it cooks evenly, and second, to hold in stuffing. Be sure to only use butcher’s twine or reusable silicone bands.

Put the roast on a rack in a roasting pan, and cook it for about an hour and a half, or until a thermometer reads 115º/46ºc. for medium rare. Turn off the heat, and let the roast sit in the cooling oven for another 30-45 minutes, where the internal temperature should be 130º/55ºc. Remove the roast from the oven, and let rest at room temperature for another 15 minutes, then remove the butcher’s twine, and slice crosswise, slicing as thin as possible.


La Cense Mail Order Beef

Tue, Jul 15 • 0

Last week, the good people at La Cense Beef sent me a quantity of their products to try for free in the hopes I’d tell you good things about them here. And after trying some of the items they sent, I am certainly impressed.

Their website proclaims that their beef is all natural, hormone free, grass fed beef. The product comes in a styrofoam cooler, deep frozen with a block of dry ice to keep it that way. After allowing them the thaw, my wife and I have sampled two of the items they sent — their steak burgers, and their NY strip steak.

The hamburgers were fine, though not anything really to write about, but their strip steak was delicious. Strip steak is my favorite cut when I make steak. I usually go for the thick steaks that sell at Whole Foods for similar price, per pound, as La Cense, but they’re cut much thicker, and require a bit more care to cook.

The La Cense strip steak was about three-quarters of an inch thick. It arrives in a vacuum package, so the steak was a little misshapen when I removed it from the packaging. (Somehow, during shipping, the packaging on this steak had developed a small hole, so it left a bit of a bloody mess in my refrigerator as it thawed. You’d do well to thaw your steak in some sort of a tray or zip top bag to avoid a similar fate.) The steak displayed a good amount of fat and marbling, and the flesh was deep red.

After cooking the steak in the usual way (warming on the counter for 30 minutes to take the refrigerator’s chill off, drying the surface with paper towel, and then generously sprinkling with salt and fresh ground black pepper, I cooked the steak in a hot skillet for 3 minutes per side, putting a lid on the pan for the last 2 minutes of the second side, to cut down on the smoke, and to push the heat deeper into the steak. I then allowed the steak to rest for 10 minutes.) My wife proclaims that this is one of the best steaks I’ve ever made, better than the dry-aged steaks from Whole Foods.

Since I’m suffering from a head cold, I will have to take her word for it. I thought it fared better than a similar cut from the normal grocery store, but wasn’t quite up to par when compared to Whole Foods. Add to that the inconvenience of having to thaw the steak for several days puts it slightly lower in my book. However, if I had ample freezer space (which I don’t), I wouldn’t hesitate to order several of these steaks to keep on hand.

A 7.5oz strip steak will set you back $17.49, considerably less than a similar steak from other mail order companies (Lobel’s sells a 10oz. natural prime dry-aged bonless strip steak for a whopping $46.99, and Omaha Steaks normally sells four 8oz steaks for $69.99, which works out to be exactly the same as La Cense. My local Whole Foods sells its grass-fed beef for $15.99 a pound, dry-aged for $17.99 a pound.)

La Cense Mail-order All-Natural Beef


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.


Fajita Seasoning

Sat, Apr 26 • 0

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 package Adobo seasoning

Next time, I think I’ll add a little heat, in the form of cayenne pepper.


Hamburgers

Sun, Apr 13 • 2

I made hamburgers for dinner last night. A pound of 85/15 ground beef, a small diced onion, some finely diced herbs like rosemary and parsley, some of my favorite smoky paprika mix, salt, pepper, maybe a little steak sauce … and here’s where I may lose you. Trader Joes sells canned roasted beef in beef broth, straight from Brazil. It’s a lot like canned tuna, but with beef. I don’t think I’d eat it straight, but I’ve seen them have cans of it open for sampling at TJ’s, and it’s perfectly edible. I used to buy the premade pot roast in the boil bags that they have near to packaged mac & cheese in the grocery store for this purpose, but this canned beef is just as good, and costs a half as much ($3?), with no left overs. Adding it adds a beefy flavor and stretches a pound of hamburger to 6 good sized burgers easily. I chop up the beef chunks even more than they are in the can, and add it to the ground beef, and mix well.

Another thing I do is avoid the thick, meatball-like burgers. I make mine thin, thin, thin. One or two minutes on a side, and then let them rest for a few minutes while I prepare the condiments. Usually in a pita with spring salad mix, and a few drops of mayo or ketchup. Jarred fried italian sweet peppers are really good on burgers, too, especially if you’ve put some provolone on to melt.

What do you like to put on your burger?


Antibiotics in Meat

Sat, Mar 1 • 1

mooSenators Ted Kennedy (D., Mass) and Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) must have read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, because he recently introduced a bill to limit the use of antibiotics in chicken, beef, sheep and pork farms. According to the book, modern industrial cattle farms force the cows to eat something they normally wouldn’t touch — corn. As a result, cows are prone to acquire all kinds of illnesses that normally wouldn’t be an issue, and so industrial farmers feed their animals large doses of antibiotics to keep infections down, even if a particular head of cattle isn’t showing any signs of needing them. Critics claim that this abuse of antibiotics contributes to increased antibiotics in humans. In the book, an industry insider flat-out admitted that if government were ever to step in and ban the use of antibiotics in farm animals, all of the modern industrial farming practices that have been in vogue for the last 30 to 50 years would cease to be profitable, and farmers would have to go back to raising livestock the old-fashioned, but more natural (and humane) way. This would have an impact on consumers at the check-out, doubling the cost of beef.

Other benefits of doing away with the modern industrial farm practices include making the food supply safer from e-coli contamination, and less risk of bovine spongiform encephalitis, aka “mad cow” disease.

Interestingly, corn farmers probably won’t be too upset about the passage of this bill, since the US government pays them a certain amount of money for a bushel of corn, regardless of market prices or demand. You can expect big opposition bill from industrial agrifarm giants like ADM and Tyson’s Food, though. Until the bill’s passage, you should probably stick to only buying meat with the green “USDA Organic” seal.


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