Hoisin BBQ Sauce

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My mother became intrigued with international cuisines after her move to the USA from France in 1954. It might have begun when she purchased the set of cookbooks from Time-Life, called Foods of the World. After that, she set herself on a mission of culinary discovery.

I so wish there had been the concept of food photography in my youth, and digital photography would have been a plus, because I’d love to share photos of my mother’s creations. I remember a Russian salmon en croute, called coulibiac, that my mother turned into a fish, precisely carving the fins and scales out of pastry. It didn’t hurt that she was an artist and sculptor.

My mother also became a huge fan of Indian and Ethiopian cuisines. We probably had the best smelling house when those dishes were on the menu. Then, there was her Chinese phase, with my favorite meal being hot pot!


To learn about global cuisines, my mother followed lots of recipes, which I think is the best way to learn cooking techniques. But it also teaches about ingredients and seasonings, and what go well together.

That’s exactly how this sauce came about.


It’s simple, and probably not a unique combination for many home cooks, but for me, this sauce was over-the-top-good and I loved it. My mother’s “recipe” is based on hoisin sauce, using ketchup as a “carrier oil,” plus fresh ginger and garlic. Simple but sublime.

Hoisin Barbecue Sauce

1 cup ketchup
2/3 cup hoisin sauce
6 cloves garlic, minced
2” piece ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
6 pounds baby-back ribs, at room temperature

Combine The first six ingredients and stir until well combined.

Set your slow cooker to HIGH, and spray the inside with Pam.

Cut the rib slabs into halves, then slather them with 3/4 of the sauce; refrigerate the remaining sauce for use after the ribs are cooked.


Place the ribs in the slow cooker for one hour, then reduce the heat to LOW and cook for 5 more hours.

Turn on the broiler and get the sauce out of the refrigerator. Get the ribs out of the slow cooker and lay them in one layer on a rack placed in a roasting pan, meaty side up.


Brush the remaining sauce on the ribs. Broil the ribs for a few minutes until there’s some serious caramelization.

Serve immediately; they’re also good at room temperature.

Cut the ribs into smaller pieces, if desired, although the meat is very delicate.

I served these ribs with plain white rice. Besides tasting the hoisin component, the ginger and garlic really stand out.

The sauce is equally good with chicken, pork, and even salmon.

The rib meat is so tender. Truly this technique is one of the best ways to prepare ribs inside, whether you’re using a marinade or a rub.

As a note, the hoisin in this marinade/sauce can be substituted with Gochujang to create a Korean-inspired version. It’s equally good!

Searing

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There is one important cooking technique that is impossible in my home kitchen, and that is searing. I can get good browning, but in order to sear you need your skillet super hot over the highest flames. In order to prevent my smoke detector from going off, I must also use my ventilation system, which is at the back of the stove behind the burners.

When the vent is on at the highest suction position, it literally pulls the flames out-of-place. Sideways.

Highest flame without vent. The vent is on the right of this burner, and this is the front burner.

And with the vent on.

You can see on the left the flames are practically non-existent, the flames are horizontal to the right, and at the front of the photo they’re all over the place.

Searing colors the meat and creates flavor from caramelization. Searing is important to me because it’s an important first or final step when cooking meat Sous Vide. The Sous Vide does the cooking, so all that’s required is searing the outside, without further cooking.

So if you’re trying to sear with my situation, the meat must sit longer in the skillet waiting for a sear, actually cooking the meat more. And this is wrong and practically defeats the purpose of using the sous vide.

I may have a found a solution for this problem, when I was reading a book called Mastering the Art of Sous Vide Cooking, by Justice Stewart. The book was recommended by fellow Sous Vide aficionado, Conor Boffin, of the One Man’s Meat blog.

I purchased the Kindle version of the cookbook; I was less interested in photos and food styling, and more interested in Sous Vide times and temperatures.

But there it was, at the back of the book, a photo of a Searzall attachment, that is placed on a butane torch.

We all own the little butane kitchen torch, I think use mostly for caramelizing the tops of creme caramel. But have you noticed that nasty butane odor? For that reason, I haven’t used mine for years.

Here is the description of the one I ordered from Amazon.

This thing sears without cooking, and doesn’t have the “off-putting aroma often associated with blowtorches.” Problem solved!

The photo on the left shows an example of a little torch like most of us own, compared to my new one. And on the right, the butane torch with the small Searzall attachment.

So to test it out, I seasoned a 24 ounce piece of beef called London Broil, and cooked it in my sous vide machine for 7 hours at 130 degrees F.

When I was ready to sear the beef, I wiped off all of the liquid and some of the remnant seasoning, and brushed on a little oil. And then I seared away!

In case you’re not familiar with a London Broil, it’s wonderfully tender, and a perfect cut to sous vide and share.

That night I served it alongside hummus and a tomato salad.

Notice that beautiful seared outside!

I’m so excited about this searing technique. I’m going to try it on shrimp next!

Café de Paris Butter

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Café de Paris butter is something I’ve never come across, until I saw it on the blog called Food is the Best Shit Ever.

I know, I’ve told friends of mine whose children I’ve taught cooking to that I’ll never swear on my blog, but that is the name of some Aussie guy’s blog.  And I love it. Not just because of great food, of course, but also because that’s what I’d call my blog if it wouldn’t embarrass my kids.

I’m pretty sure he owns a restaurant or at least cooks at a restaurant and he especially loves to grill. He’s got a great sense of humor, and is irreverent – two really important personality traits in my book. Here’s a batch of tacos he made using barbequed pork belly and chorizo. Brilliant.

A quote from the author’s ABOUT page: Food is “my thing” through and through. I’m up in the morning (that is not a euphemism… although, maybe it is) thinking about food. I go to work and cook food for people all day. I come home and cook dinner for family and friends. I cook some more on my days off. Sure I do other things… but I just can’t remember what they are right now.

So this “guy” (obviously) gives no historical reference to this butter other than it obviously being French. Maybe he’ll read this post and help us out and at least give me his name. Maybe it is Guy!

This butter uses anchovies and capers. I prefer jarred anchovies. My only capers were salted so I gave them a rinse before using.

You’re going to have to have some steaks on hand so you can devour this butter!

Café de Paris Butter
(enough for a few steaks. Remaining butter will last in the fridge for 2 – 3 weeks)

1 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 shallot or ½ brown onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
20 g Indian style curry powder
250 g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup picked parsley leaves, chopped
2 tbls lemon juice
1 tbls Worcestershire sauce
5 anchovy fillets
½ tbls baby capers
1 tspn sea salt
1 tspn ground pepper
4 – 5 basil leaves, chopped
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic and curry powder over low heat until soft and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Place all of the remaining ingredients through the basil and thyme leaves in a small blender jar.

Then add the cooled shallot mixture.

Process all ingredients until just combined. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Put a big ol’ spoon or two onto your steak as it’s resting.

I can honestly say that this butter is spectacular! I even added a little salt to it, which surprised me.

I used Penzey’s sweet curry powder, which I love when I’m not using individual spices, but I think there must be a high ratio of turmeric in it. The flavor of the butter is a little curry-strong, and it’s certainly quite yellow!

Next time I will cut back on my curry powder but, trust me, it did not keep me from enjoying the butter on the filets.

I also think that next time I will process the butter more. I don’t really like chewing on parsley! But the butter flavor is outstanding.


Thanks, Guy from Australia!

I googled Café de Paris Butter and it became popular at a brasserie of the same name, Café de Paris, in Geneva, Switzerland.
 

David Chang’s Short Ribs

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Soon after starting my blog, I discovered sous vide, and knew I had to own a machine. Because it was a big purchase, I asked for one as a Christmas present. I won’t complain about how many years it took for me to get one, because I now have one and use it constantly. Even more than I thought I would.

I especially love it for “inferior” cuts of beef like brisket, hanger and flank steaks. Often I sous vide pork loin and chicken breasts. I can cook all of these meats “properly,” but their sous vide counterparts can’t be beat with traditional methods in my opinion.

Which brings me to short ribs. For some reason, I’ve never thought to sous vide them. I think because I always enjoy the process of making short ribs, sometimes in a traditional way with red wine and herbs, other times with Southwestern adobo flavors. I’ve also used short ribs in a sauce for giant pasta, and in cheesy sandwiches with pickled onions. The rib meat has many uses.

Then I read Momofuku, by David Chang. Published in 2009, it tells the delightful story of David Chang, who at 27, opened his first restaurant, Momofuku.

As I read through the book, which covered recipes from each of his four restaurants, the three others being Ko, Momofuku Milk Bar, and Ssäm Bar, I realized these were recipes that I would not be making. However, the stories are hysterical, scary, on-the-edge-of-your seat crazy about life as a restaurant owner.

Then I came across his recipe for sous vide short ribs that really intrigued me.

From the book: “Low-temperature cooking affords cooks an accuracy and a measure of control over the oneness of meat that we have only dreamed about since humans first witnessed the marriage of meat and fire.”

When he first was exposed to sous vide cooking at a restaurant, David Chang originally thought that it was a “cop out,” a way to not really have to know how to cook a steak.

“Then, I grew up a little bit and came to realize that sous vide cooking is amazing magic. (Or at least it can be; all good techniques can be poorly used.)”

But I don’t think he realizes the sous vide options for the home cook.

In Momofuku he writes: “This recipe is not a reasonable proposition for the home cook unless you are willing to buy a vacuum-sealing machine and fabricate a water circulator situation. And even then, 48 hours is a world of time to cook something.”

This is a photo of my sous vide, which has gone up only a little in price over the years. I like it because it’s a smaller size; perfect for a small family.

Now, Mr. Chang is right in his opinion that you can’t just set your sous vide and leave town. I sometimes worry that my electricity will go out during sous vide’ing. I’m lucky it hasn’t. But maybe it’s the 9 years since his book was published, that sous vide has made it into home kitchens, thankfully.

So the only thing that I hesitated about following David Chang’s short rib recipe was his suggested accompaniments to the short ribs: dashi-braised daikon, pickled carrots, and pickled mustard seeds. Not the prospect of cooking meat for 48 hours.

David Chang’s Short Ribs

2 2/3 cups water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon pear juice
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon apple juice
2 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
10 grinds black pepper
1/2 small onion, 1/2 small carrot
3 scallions, whites only
2 garlic cloves
8 pieces bone-in short ribs, trimmed

Combine the water, soy, pear and apple juices, mirin, sesame oil, sugar, pepper, onion, carrot, scallions, and garlic in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat.


Reduce the heat so the liquid simmers gently and cook for 10 minutes.

Strain the solids out of the marinade and cool it in the refrigerator.

Combine each short rib with 1/2 cup marinade in a vacuum-sealable bag and seal it. Then seal the bagged rib in a second bag.

Set your sous vide to 140.2 degrees F. Add the bags of ribs and cook for 48 hours.

When the ribs are done, remove them from the water and plunge the bags into a large bowl of ice water. Refrigerate the bags.

Cut the ribs out of their bags over a mixing bowl to catch the braising liquid; set the ribs aside.

Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil over hi heat and reduce it until you have about 2 cups, no more than 10 minutes. Reserve.

Slide the bones out of the short ribs. Trim off any large, obvious pieces of fat, and trim the ribs into neat cubes or rectangles.

Prepare a skillet over high heat with a little grape seed oil. Sear the ribs on all sides, repeat batches.

When ready to serve, put a couple of tablespoons of the reduction in the center of the plate and top with the ribs.

Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Oh these ribs!


I knew the rib meat would be tender, but the flavors!!! You can taste every ingredient in the marinade.

And the liquid is fabulous. I actually strained it twice. I’ll be making these ribs again. Thanks David.

Spaghetti Bolognese

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This post came about in a funny way. My virtual food blogger sister-friend Linda Duffin, of the impressive blog Mrs. Portly’s Kitchen and I were commenting back and forth one day discussing the cooking of our mothers.

Linda wrote, “And don’t get me started on her spag bol.” Now, Linda is British, and I’ve spent many months-worth of time in the UK, or whatever it’s called now, and I have always tried local specialties in the various countries, whether Cullen Skink, Bedfordshire Clanger or, my favorite – Spotted Dick. But I’d never heard of Spag Bol.

Linda, probably thinking I’m an unsophisticated daftie, explained that spag bol was simply short for Spaghetti Bolognese. Of course.

Which then got me thinking that I’ve never made spaghetti bolognese in all of my years cooking. The cookbook I immediately grabbed, was Giuliani Buglialli’s Buglialli on Pasta, published in 1988.

Buglialli is so strictly Italian, and he’s so familiar with Italy’s regional cooking, that I knew he would be the proper resource. When I call him strict, I’m not kidding. He practically yells at you from the pages of his cookbooks if you dare grab a chunk of Parmesan.

“One should not indiscriminately sprinkle Parmigiano over everything if all dishes are not to melt into an unappealing sameness.”


On his research in studying and documenting authentic Italian recipes: “Arriving at an authentic version of a recipe with a long tradition requires work. The dish as prepared at one regional restaurant or by one family from an area is not necessarily an authentic version of that region’s preparation. It is important to compare many different sources, printed and oral, especially the oldest available ones. But let us not forget that even some Italian grandmothers are poor cooks.”

I find him really entertaining, and I love his passion. And there it was, in the cookbook, Tagliatelle al Ragu alla Bolognese.

“The famous Bolognese ragu is one of several meat sauces and the most popular. Its distinctive features are the sautéing of the meat together with the aromatic chopped vegetables, the omission of garlic, the combination of snipped, chopped, or ground beef and pork, the use of white rather than red wine, and the use of heavy cream.”

Furthermore: “I should like to remind once again that pasta with meat sauce is not automatically alla bolognese. Only those pastas specifically using a Bolognese meat sauce are such; the many employing such sauces from other regions would never be considered alla bolognese.”

I looked online for any recent information on Buglialli, and did find his website, called Buglialli Foods of Italy, and under his cooking courses, held at his farmhouse in Tuscany, none are listed beyond 2015. If he is still alive, it’s estimated that Buglialli is approximately 80 years old. Seems like his date of birth was always kept a secret.

Ragu Alla Bolognese
printable recipe below

1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 large stalk celery
3 ounces pancetta, cut into cubes
6 ounces lean boneless beef, in cubes
6 ounces boneless pork, in cubes
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup lukewarm beef broth
3/4 cup heavy cream

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery.

Coarsely grind the pancetta, beef, and pork all together in a meat grinder. (I used my food processor.)

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy, flameproof casserole over medium heat. When the oil mixture is warm, add the chopped vegetables and ground meats, and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill, using the disc wth smallest holes, into a glass bowl.

Add the wine to the casserole and let it evaporate for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.


Then add the broth. Cover the casserole and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Add the cream, mix very well, lower the heat, and reduce for 20 minutes; for the last 5 minutes, remove the lid.


Remove the sauce from the heat and let rest until cool, about 1 hour.

Tagliatelle Al Ragu Alla Bolognese, from Bologna

Cook the pasta according to package directions, although Buglialli suggests fresh tagliatelle. (I used pappardelle.)

Place 4 tablespoons of sweet butter in serving bowl; add a little boiling water to melt the butter.

When ready, drain the pasta, transfer to the serving bowl, and mix well with the melted butter.

Pour the sauce all over, mix and serve immediately.

Pass freshly grated Parmigiano cheese at the table.

This ragu is fabulous. If you close your eyes, it’s like you’re eating blended lasagna!

My only regret is not making a quadruple batch of this lucious sauce.

 

On the Side

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On the Side is a cookbook I had no business purchasing. It’s all about side dishes, and I’m already the biggest proponent of side dishes. My favorite part of Thanksgiving are the sides. I have some turkey, but I love the sweet-tart cabbage, the garlicky sweet potato mash, and the crispy roasted Brussels sprouts.

So you don’t have to convince me that sides are important, but I bought it because I agree with the author, London-based Ed Smith.

From the author: “This book is for anyone who already realizes that the best bits of a Sunday roast are the trimmings. And for everyone else too – because you’ll see the light soon.”

Mr. Smith originally worked as a corporate lawyer, while also keeping a blog, called Rocket and Squash, to which I now subscribe. Eventually he became a chef, and worked in the food industry.

During this time he’s also been an observer, a student of food – “I’ve watched trends arrive, and some of them crash and burn; I’ve seen a million and one ways with chicken, hundreds of crumbles and nearly as many chocolate fondants. And yet, in all this time, barely a handful of side dishes. Which is madness.”


The dish I chose to make from the book is Chinese cabbage with black vinegar, which is called Chinkiang vinegar. It was an opportunity to try it, as well as Sichuan chile flakes, called Gochujaru.

Chinese Cabbage with Black Vinegar

1 Chinese cabbage
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar
2 teaspoons golden caster sugar
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
4 cm fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks
2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon lightly crushed Sichuan peppercorns

Prepare all the ingredients first, as the cooking process is quick. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then each of those halves in two again. Cut out the core from the base of each quarter, then roughly chop the lengths into 5 or 6 pieces widthways.

Mix the soy sauce, vinegar and caster sugar together in a bowl and set aside. I can see why sugar is an ingredient. Black vinegar has a delightfully deep earthy flavor.

I divided the cabbage into two bowls – one with pieces from the root end, the other bowl with the thinner pieces.

Place a large wok over a very high heat, add the oil and allow it to heat almost until it smokes.

Drop the ginger onto the hot oil and let this soften for 30 seconds before adding the chili flakes and peppercorns, then pretty much immediately start to add the pieces of cabbage cut from the root end.

Stir fry for 30 seconds, before adding the softer top part of the cabbage. Cook for 45 seconds more, stirring occasionally, before pushing the cabbage to one side and pouring the soy sauce mixture in.

Quickly move the cabbage around for 20-30 seconds, then remove from the heat so that the cabbage takes on the flavors of vinegar and soy but retains its bite.

Serve immediately.


I served the cabbage alongside noodles topped with sesame seeds.

This cabbage is fabulous. The only different thing I would do is to use a grinder on the peppercorns.

The cabbage would be a great side to meatballs, tofu, shrimp, or beef. The next day I cooked a filet of salmon and it was a wonderful meal!

 

Chicken Teriyaki

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My husband, thanks to me, has quite a developed palate, considering how he was cooked for growing up. He loves Indian food, he loves Ethiopian food, he loves most Mediterranean cuisines, minus the olives and capers, and he absolutely loves dim sum.

However, there’s no dim sum or Indian restaurant where we live. So when we go out, it’s more for me to get out of the kitchen, and much less about either of us having a great food experience. (Sometimes our experiences are downright comical.)

But I admit he seriously sacrifices himself when we go to this local Japanese restaurant.

The restaurant has the most beautiful salad, called the avocado ball salad with a crabmeat filling. It’s divine; I could have it every day. It’s really the main reason I ever want to have lunch at this specific restaurant, although their sushi and sashimi are also outstanding.

However, all my husband orders off of their menu is chicken teriyaki, and it’s not good.

One day I received a Nigella.com email, sharing her Chicken Teriyaki recipe, and it dawned on me that I’d never made it at home before. Chicken Teriyaki was something I learned early on, was grossly over-sweet. I think I figured that out when I purchased a bottle of teriyaki sauce. Horrible stuff.

So I decided to test out Nigella’s recipe, even though she made it abundantly clear that there is sugar in it.

From Nigella: “I know the world is full of good parents who never give their children food with salt or sugar, and this recipe proves conclusively that I am not one of them and, on top of these dietary failings, the following also contains alcohol!”

Here’s her recipe:

Chicken Teriyaki
printable recipe below

2 tablespoons sake
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
Splash of sesame oil
1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
Sushi rice

In a glass baking dish, combine the sake, mirin, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and sesame oil. Stir well.

Add the chicken pieces and let them marinate for 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a braiser. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the chicken out of the marinade, and let it cook until browned on all sides.

Pour in the marinade, and cook the chicken for five minutes longer. Remove the chicken with the slotted spoon to a serving bowl, loosely covered with foil to keep the chicken warm.

Lower the heat and reduce the marinade until thick and syrupy. Pour over the chicken, toss gently, and serve, with cooked sushi rice.

It’s a wonderful recipe, and of course my husband thought it was a thousand times better than what he orders locally.

I served the teriyaki with some chopped green onions and sesame seeds.

I looked at my Japanese cookbook just to see what an authentic chicken teriyaki recipe included, and I discovered something unexpected.

Teriyaki sauce is made up of mirin, soy sauce, and chicken stock. To turn it into a teriyaki glaze, sugar is added – 1 tablespoon of sugar for every 1/4 cup of teriyaki sauce.

That’s actually pretty sweet, which is why, obviously, teriyaki becomes such a syrupy glaze. Also, to serve the chicken, the recipe says to “spoon a little of the glaze over each serving.”

So maybe it’s not just the sweetness that can be overpowering, but also the volume of teriyaki glaze on the chicken in Americanized Japanese restaurants.

But in any case, if you dislike chicken teriyaki at your local Japanese-American restaurant, do try this recipe. My husband said, “It’s wonderful.”

And now I’ll probably never get him back to the Japanese restaurant so I can have my avocado ball salad…

 

Tomato Beef Curry

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It’s not out of disrespect for Indian cuisine that I don’t often use recipes from my Indian cookbooks. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Indian cuisine is our favorite cuisine, if we had to pick only one. As a result, I quite often turn a soup into a curried soup, lentils into curried lentils, or seafood crepes into a curried version. And I don’t mean simply adding curry powder.

Cooking Indian food is about being familiar with Indian ingredients. When I began cooking, I followed recipes in order to learn about Indian cuisine as well as other international cuisines, but now that I’ve been cooking for almost 40 years, I enjoy creating Indian-inspired dishes without relying on recipes.

I want to point out that I’m very aware of the various regional cuisines, meat-based and vegetarian, that exist in India, from the south to the north, from west coast to east. So of course I’m generalizing when I refer to its cuisine when there isn’t only one.

My first experiences were from this ancient cookbook, from the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Eventually I purchased other cookbooks over the years, and that’s when I figured out that many recipes – again, generalizing – are similar. Most begin with onion, ginger, and garlic, for example, cooked in clarified butter, or ghee.

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A meat, poultry or seafood curry can be prepared in a yogurt-based sauce, or one that is tomato based. Some are enriched with creamed nuts, like almonds or cashews, which are some of my favorites.

Regarding spices, there are many. Cumin, cardamom, coriander (seeds and leaf), turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon, pepper, garam masala (as varied as curry powder), cloves, fennel, saffron, and more. Some recipes contain many spices, some only 3-4.

Sometimes chile peppers are included for heat – both fresh and dried. But, of course, the temperature can be controlled.

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So following is an example of an easy beef dish in a curried tomato sauce. It was done in 15 minutes.

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Tomato Beef Curry

6 ounces ghee, divided
1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 – 1″ piece of fresh ginger, diced
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
Cayenne, to taste
4 ounces drained diced tomatoes
4 ounces tomato purée
2 teaspoons garam masala
Fresh cilantro, optional

Heat 3 ounces of ghee in a heavy pot over high heat. In batches, brown the cubed beef, then place in a bowl until all the beef has browned; set aside.

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In the same pot, add the remaining ghee and lower the heat to medium-low. Sauté the onion, ginger, and garlic for a few minutes, being careful not to let them brown.

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Then add the salt, spices and, if using, cayenne pepper. Stir well and cook for about 1 minute.

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Add the diced tomatoes and purée. Stir, then let the mixture cook at a gentle simmer for about 5 minutes.

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You want the mixture fairly thick. Because I am using beef tenderloin in this recipe, the cooking time is minimal.

Add the browned beef from the bowl, including all juices, to the sauce.

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Stir to coat the beef and cook for about ten minutes, uncovered; the beef should be tender. Remove from the heat.

Just before serving, add the garam masala and stir.

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Normally I would sprinkle fresh cilantro leaves over the curry, but I decided instead to make a cilantro rice as a side dish, seasoned only with cumin and coriander.

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If this dish is too meaty for you, chickpeas can be added.

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If you want the dish creamier, you can add some heavy cream, a bit of yogurt, or even creme fraiche to the sauce.

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Many years ago I turned friends on to Indian cuisine, and my friend Claire bugged me to show her how to “cook” Indian. I told her that there is no difference in cooking techniques with Indian cooking, but she didn’t seem to believe me. So she came over once, and we cooked maybe 4-5 dishes. And we had a wonderful dinner. Her verdict? She wasn’t impressed! I don’t know what she thought I’d be doing in the kitchen, but it’s the same pots and pans, knives and spoons. She now cooks Indian food! Everyone should!

Chili

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I didn’t have chili, or even hear about it, until I was in my early twenties, after moving to Texas. In “Big D,” it wasn’t long before I was initiated. There still exists a well-known restaurant that specializes in chili, too, called Tolbert’s, that co-workers took me to for my chili introduction. (I thought their chili only adequate…)

The first time I made chili, I followed the recipe in The Great West. It was one of the many books of the Foods of the World series put out by Time-Life a million years ago.
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If I hadn’t made it myself, I might have hated chili. Not to sound horribly critical, but have you ever been to a chili cook-off?!! Oh my. Such terrible chilis. Really inferior meat, chili too often watery, and horribly under-seasoned to top everything off.

But no, I followed a recipe, and fell in love with chili.
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There are a few things about chili about which I feel strongly. The meat, the liquid, and the tomatoeyness.
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First of all, the meat has to be good quality. I’m not saying use beef tenderloin. On the contrary, a good chuck works well. You need some fat, and you need a meat that can hold up to a couple hours of cooking. What I personally don’t like is ground beef. It pretty much dissolves, and you’re left more with a beef sauce than a chili. I like chunks!

Secondly, chili, in my book, should be meaty and thick. That means very little liquid. You need some beef broth in which to cook the beef, but you don’t want to serve the beef drowning in broth. Otherwise, it’s beef soup.

Thirdly, many people think that chili requires lots of tomatoes. Much to the contrary, chili doesn’t have a tomato base to it because it’s not a beef stew – it’s a chili. It’s different.

I might mention a fourth aspect of chili that many people can’t agree on – and that’s the addition of beans. There is the no-bean camp and the bean camp. There is only one reason that I add beans to chili, and that’s the health factor. It’s a no-brainer to me, but good chili is good either way!

Chili

5 pounds beef chuck, trimmed
Oil or bacon fat
Salt and pepper
2 onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground chipotle
2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chile powder
2 tablespoons ground ancho chile powder or 2 tablespoons home-made ancho chile paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional
16 ounces beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cans kidney beans, drained well, optional

Cut up the beef into small pieces. They don’t have to be perfectly uniform in size.
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Place a large Dutch oven on the stove. Add some oil, and turn up the heat to high. When the oil is hot, begin browning the beef in batches. Add a generous amount of salt, and some pepper. Brown, moving the beef around occasionally, until very little pink remains.


Although browning each batch of meat takes a while and is a tedious process, it has to be done this way. If too much meat is added to the pot at one time, it lowers the internal temperature of the pot, and instead of browning, liquid is produced and the meat poaches instead. We don’t want that.

When meat is nicely browned, remove it to the bowl, and continue with the remaining meat, adding oil as necessary with each batch.

After browning all of the meat, turn down the heat to medium and add a little oil to the pot. Add the onion and sauté for about 4 minutes.


Then add the minced garlic, the seasoning, and stir well. The mixture will be dark and rich. Cook it for about one minute.

Then add the beef broth and stir to combine, scraping all the caramelized bits of browned meat that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Carefully return all of the meat to the pot, including any juices that have accumulated. Stir well.
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Bring the chili to a boil, cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer for at least 2 hours. At that time, remove the lid and look at the chili. The beef will have shrunk in volume. If you think there is too much liquid in the chili, raise the heat a bit and let the liquid reduce for maybe 15 minutes or so, uncovered.

Then stir in the tomato paste and the drained beans and heat through. Taste for seasoning. You might need more salt, but taste first!
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There are probably many different opinions regarding what to put on chili. I personally love the addition cheese, and chopped purple onions.
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But sour cream is a lovely addition as well.
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However you serve it, enjoy the richness of the chile peppers and other seasoning that flavor the beef.
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Pastitsio

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My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

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Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

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When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

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Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
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Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
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Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

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If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
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