An Evening with Boardwalk Empire: The Classic American Appetizer, the Mushroom Canape

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

During the Prohibition era of the American 1920s, canapes were the most commonly served appetizer both at the restaurant and at home. They can be made with virtually any ingredient, making them quick and easy to make. They can be as decadent as smoked salmon and caviar to more affordable cheese spreads on toasts with parsley.

I made this very easy recipe for mushroom canapes because mushrooms are in season now and I found some gorgeous ones at the market. The recipe is based on Paula Deen's, who makes it even easier using canned mushrooms (simply substitute the whole mushroom saute part below with a small can of drained canned mushrooms). But in my opinion, there's nothing better than freshly sauteed. I also added a little thyme, the classic herb friend to mushrooms, for more flavor. We loved these and they will go with any "cocktail" you wish you serve.

freshly sauteed mushrooms adds better flavor and texture

Mushroom Canapes
8 oz mushrooms (white button or baby bellas), stems removed and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
a small pinch (about 1/4 tsp) fresh or dried thyme leaves
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 of a 2.8-ounce can of french-fried onion rings (or homemade fried onion rings), plus more for garnish
rye or pumpernickel bread
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, very finely chopped

the mushroom mixture, ready to be spread

Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook on medium-high heat until beginning to caramelize, but still tender, about 7 minutes. Add the thyme the last minute of cooking. You can keep the mushrooms sliced or chop them up further if you wish -- a matter of personal taste. Combine the mushrooms with the mayo, parmesan cheese, and onion rings in a bowl. Cut the crusts off the bread slices and then cut bread into triangles or square shapes -- bite-sized -- then spread with the mushroom spread. Place the canapes on a baking sheet and broil until the top is bubbly, about 3-4 minutes. Remove promptly and garnish with a small sprinkling of parsley and onions if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature (they're better hot though).

*Note: You can make the spread a day in advance, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Just bring it up to room temperature about 10 minutes before you start assembling to make it easier to spread on the bread.

An Evening with Boardwalk Empire: Shrimp and Horseradish Canapes

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Appetizer. Tapas. Amuse-bouche. Finger foods. All describe the canape. Pronounced "can-a-pay," it's a little bite of usually savory and salty heaven given during cocktail parties or as appetizers. An import from France, the practice became popular in England and America as well, and during the 1920s we saw a surge of the canape as the preferred appetizer of choice for most American restaurants and within the home.

The rules are simple: a small piece of bread, cracker, or puff pastry cut into a shape (even squares count) that are toasted or fried, then topped with a savory cream or spread of some type, and then decoratively garnished. The idea is to have a small, one-bite composed item that easily fits in your hand that can be popped in your mouth. The idea is to compliment the cocktails -- you got a cocktail in one hand, move to pick up a canape with the other and goes directly in your mouth in one bite. No need for napkins, forks or knives, or anything at all.

The canape can be as complicated or simple as you desire. You can use brioche bread cut into a flower pattern, toasted, topped with creme fraiche and expensive caviar and lemon zest. Or you can have a slice of cucumber topped with cream cheese and fresh dill. It's an extremely versatile appetizer and cocktail party food stuff that can suit any budge, any theme, and any restriction. I'm a huge fan of the canape.

I used smaller, 19-25 count shrim for their sweetness and perfect fit on the toasts.
1920s America saw a big push for the canape in the foods served both at restaurants and at home, predictable the ones at restaurants being fancier and requiring more skill to prepare. For the Boardwalk Empire season premiere, I decided to make two kind of canapes -- one fancier and one more "homely" to demonstrate the versatility of the dish. This posting will showcase a fancier version, inspired straight out of a newspaper cutting from 1921 using shrimp as the fancy pants ingredient. The result was simple and absolutely delicious, and I was struck by how easy they were to eat.

Despite the now-plebeian ingredients of shrimp and sour cream, these can be quite the elegant appetizer to entertain with even today. Shrimp is boiled in water flavored with lemon and bay leaf, then sliced in half. Rich sour cream is combined with spicy fresh horseradish and scallion, then spread on toasted white bread rounds. The preparation is simple but clean and elegant, and the flavors are strong without being overpowering. This is classic elegance perfect for any episode with a class of champagne, or fancy enough to serve at a cocktail or dinner party for guests. Be sure to recycle this one for your holiday and new year's party in a few months as well!

Shrimp Canapes with Horseradish Cream and Chives
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined and tails removed
2 lemons, cut in half
1 bay leaf
1 loaf white bread (I used regular sandwich bread for this)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted or non-stick spray such as PAM
1 cup sour cream (can also use creme fraiche if feeling particularly fancy)
2-3 Tbsp freshly grated horseradish to taste* or bottled horseradish, drained
dash of Sriracha hot sauce (or your favorite)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp fresh scallions or chives, very finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a 1 1/2-inch round cutter, cut rounds from each slice of bread. Place the rounds on a sheet pan and brush both sides with the butter. Toast in the oven until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes. Watch it so the bread doesn't burn! Remove from broiler and set aside.

Add cold water to a pot large enough to hold all the shrimp. Add the lemons and bay leaf to the water, and bring to a boil. Prepare a medium sized bowl with ice and water for the ice bath. Once boiling, add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook until they turn bright orange and are firm, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon directly into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Once cool enough to handle, slice each shrimp in half lengthwise and set aside. You can do this step up to a day in advance; simply cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble canapes.

Combine the sour cream, horseradish, sriracha, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. This can be also done a day in advance, covered well and refrigerated until ready to assemble the canapes.

The addition of the sriracha adds a beautiful pale pink hue to the cream when mixed in. I love this because not only does it add a pop of flavor, but it also compliments the natural pink-color of the shrimp, making for a very pretty presentation.

To assemble, simply spread some of the sour cream spread on each slice of bread and then top with 1 shrimp. Garnish with chives, set on platter and serve.

*Note: if using fresh horseradish, it's most potent after you've freshly grated it; the longer it sits, the more it will lose its potency so it's better to prepare the spread right before serving if using fresh horseradish.

These are best if assembled right before guests arrive. You can boil the shrimp and make the sauce a day in advance, then toast the bread before guests arrive. I personally like the contrast of the warm bread with the cold cream and shrimp, but you can certainly toast the bread even an hour or two before. They can stay at room temperature for about an hour before they get a little soggy.

Cup o' Soup: Get Well Chicken Noodle Soup (for kids)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The weather's changing up here in Seattle and that means of course, we're all getting sick. This recipe is based off of the one my grandma would make me and my brother throughout our childhood, whenever we would get sick. It's made completely from scratch and a little time-intensive, but I promise you the flavor pay off is worth the investment. And, it makes a heap so you have plenty of leftovers for a few days. The best part of it is it's all natural; I can control the sodium, flavorings, even oragnic-ness of the ingredients to make a truly nourishing soup I don't feel at all guilty about giving to my kids (and me and The Hubsters too!)

The part that makes this fun for kids is the noodles I use. Instead of the clumsy broken up fettucine noodles often associated with chicken noodle soup, I use teeny tiny alphabet and star pasta. They're super easy for kids to eat and fun to spoon out of the broth. You can find them (sold separately; I just combine the two in a large container) in the pasta section of your grocery store. 

I swear this soup makes you instantly better. Thanks Grandma!

Get Well Chicken Noodle Soup
1 large roaster chicken
5 carrots
4 celery stalks
1 large parsnip (that's the large white looking carrot thing) or 2 smaller ones
1 very large white onion or 2 smaller/medium ones
1 head of garlic
1 large green bell pepper
1 large beefsteak sized tomato
3 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 bunch fresh thyme
cold water
alphabet and star pasta

Special Equipment: stock pot

Take the chicken and rmove any gizzards inside (usually they're found in a bag nicely packaged for you; if not, fish them out) and discard. Wash the chicken under cold water (do NOT use soap) and place the chicken directly into a very large stock pot.

Wash all the vegetables. Peel the carrots and parsnip and throw into the pot with the chicken. Trim the ends off the celery and throw that in as well. Peel the onion and throw in; cut it in half if you need to to fit in the pot easily. Take the garlic and slice the whole head lengthwise, then throw that in too. Cut the bell pepper in half, remove the seeds, then throw it in the pot. Pierce the tomato a few times with a knife and throw it in whole as well (cut it in half if you need to fit it in). Add the salt, peppercorns, bay leave, and thyme right on top, then cover the whole thing with cold water until the water reaches about 1 inch from the top of the pot.

Transfer to the stove top and bring to a boil on high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. During this time, some filmy foamy brown stuff called "scum" may rise up to the surface. This is from the bones in the chicken. Using a spoon, carefly skim this stuff off the top and discard.

After 2 1/2 hours you'll notice all the vegetables are quite tender, the chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender, and the liquid has reduced a bit. Take the soup off the heat and let stand 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon and tongs, carefully remove the vegetables and chicken out of the soup and transfer to a platter to let cool. Take the remaining soup liquid (don't worry if you've got peppercorns and pieces of stray vegetables or chicken in there) and prepare to strain.

Take another large pot and set it in the sink. Place a strainer over the pot (have someone hold it over the pot to help you if you need it) and pour the soup liquid from the stock pot through the strainer and into the new clean pot. The strainer will catch all those rogue pieces of "stuff" for you. Discard the stuff in the strainer and return the now "clean" soup liquid to the stove.

Return back to the vegetables and chicken. Carefully remove the meat from the bones. I like to separate the white meat for chicken salad and use the dark meat for the soup, but what you use is up to you. Take the carrots, parsnips, celery, and onions if you like and chop them up. Return them to the soup now (or just leave the broth as is, or just add the chicken back in...whatever you want to do). Taste the soup and adjust with salt to taste.
At this point the soup is finished. You can cool it down and use it later, save just the broth part and freeze it for fresh chicken broth for other dishes, or proceed to make the chicken noodle soup:
Heat the soup back up to a boil on high heat. Add about a cup of the alphabet/star pasta (or however much you want) to the pot and cook on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the pasta is nice and tender like you would any normal pasta. Ladly into cups or bowls and drink piping hot to get rid of that cold!

Autumn Chicken Stew (or Chicken Stew with Beans, Corn, and Plantains)

Monday, September 19, 2011

File this one under "WTF am I gonna do with you?!"

I bought plantains over the weekend fully intending to make tostones for the football game. Which, of course, never happened. And now one of my plantains had ripeend too much to be good for tostones anymore, but wasn't ripe enough to do a sweet plantain dessert (I have yet to blog about). am I gonna do?

The weather got cold here fast the last 72 hours and I felt like something hot and soupy for dinner. I originally intended to make my really delicious Chicken Tortilla Stew but to my dismay, lacked half of the ingredients. And I'm too lazy to go to the store for them. So, I let instinct take over and let the ingredients talk to me, telling me what they wanted me to do.

The result? OMG I love this soup!!! It's based on my Chicken Tortilla Stew recipe, but takes a couple of decided turns into South American heaven with the secret ingredient for absolute deliciousness: PLANTAINS! I remember now a delicious Colombian soup I had long ago that had plantains in it. This was brilliant! The plantains not only thickened the soup ever so slightly, giving a perfectly comforting texture, but balanced out the savory soup with their natural sweentess. A twist of fresh lime juice before serving a small dollop of sour cream bring this soup home. And the fall colors from the red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow corn, and rusty kidney beans are just beautiful. This soup made me giddy in fall delight.

Enjoy it!

Autumn Chicken Stew (or Chicken Stew with Beans, Corn, and Plantains)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 chicken boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and chopped small
1 medium sized white onion, peeled and chopped small
2 large roma tomatoes, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium-riped plantain (between green and yellow in color), peeled and cut into small chunks
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen corn kernals
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed and roughly chopped or torn by hand

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides, then remove chicken from pot with slotted spoon. Set aside. Add the onions and carrots to the oil and season with some salt and pepper. Saute on medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the chicken back in, the garlic, tomatoes, plantains, and beans and stir to combine. Add the spices -- bay leaf, cumin, chile powder, oregano, and cinnamon and stir to combine. Add the broth and scrape up any brown bits off the bottom of the pan using the liquid to help you. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce heat, cover with lid, and cook for about 20 minutes or until the plantains are nice and tender. Add the corn and cilantro and cook (uncovered) another 5 minutes or so, to warm the corn through. No need to defrost the corn first; just add it in straight frozen. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste if needed. Ladle into bowls and serve with a fresh squeeze of lime and sour cream.

*If you wanted a soupier consistency, amp the broth up to 8 cups.

Everything You Wanted To Know (or not) About: Different Cuts of Beef

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

[photo from]

Not sure if I  mentioned this before, but a little while ago we bought a 1/4 of a cow. From a real life cowboy guy, who raises cattle. Here in Washington. He had a rope and everything. And we met him in the parking lot of Lowe's. But that's another blog. At any rate, the end result is me having one complete refrigerator's freezer's worth of beef in various cuts, sizes, and proportions. Normally, I like me some beef. But in all honestly I've only worked with ground, rib eye steaks, stew meat, brisket, flanks and skirts, and maybe the occasional random t-bone. But now, after having purchased said amount of beef, I have a whole shitload of cuts I have no idea what to do with: chuck, round, top round, etc.

I figured, if I had no idea what half of this stuff is, neither did a lot of other people. So I've prepared now a dictionary of beef cuts for you to reference.

You're welcome.

You can divide the cow up according to area on the body. Each general area has a name, and then within that area various cuts are done which yield the specific meat you cook and eat.

1. The Round

The round is the rear, basically the hips and ass of the cow. A frequently used muscle, the meat from this area is lean but tough. Because of the toughness, the best cooking technique to apply to these cuts are the braise. For a braise, you season the beef with flavorful root vegetables (the classic combination is carrots, celery, onion, garlic), liquid (beef broth, vegetable juice, wine, beer, etc.), and aromatics (spices, orange peel, etc.). The cut of meat is submerged in the braising ingredients, quite literally covered by liquid, then slowly roasted in a low oven (300 degrees) for a few hours. The idea is the lower indirect heat breaks down the toughness, while the liquid replenishes lost moisture and infuses the meat with amazing flavor. The only exception here is the London Broil cut, which can be grilled or braised. A popular dish using round and the braising technique is Pot Roast.

Here are the different cuts of meat found in the Round area:

Bottom Round: One area is tougher than the other, and it's usually divided into two smaller cuts -- bottom round roast and rump roast (the end that comes to a point).

Bottom Round Roast: Roasts from the bottom round. A bit tough and best suited as corned beef or pot roast. This is called beef silverside in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Eye Round Roast/Steak or Eye of the Round: A boneless roast that looks like tenderloin, but it is much tougher. Used as a roast or cut into steaks. Steaks cut from the roast are used in stews or processed into cube steak. Also called breakfast steak, wafer steak, sandwich steak, minute steak.

London Broil: The name of the finished dish, not the cut of meat. Butchers will use the name London Broil for flank steak, top round steak or top blade steak.

Top Round Steak or Butterball Steak: Thick steaks from the top of the round. Usually broiled, braised or cooked in liquid.

Round Steak: Very lean, but not as tender and juicy as other cuts. Served broiled, braised or cooked in a liquid.

Round Tip Roast or Tip Roast or Sirloin Tip Roast or Tip Sirloin Roast: A cut away from the sirloin section, this roast is tender enough to be oven roasted or used as kabobs. When trimmed it's called a trimmed tip roast or ball tip roast.

Round Tip Steak: A steak cut from the untrimmed round tip roast.

Rump Roast: Cut from the bottom round. When the bone is left in, it is called a standing rump roast.

Top Round Roast: A lean and fairly tender cut as compared to the other cuts from the round.

2.  The Shank

Located just below the Round is the Shank, or the legs of the cow. There are 4 shanks (aka legs) and the meat is lean and not very tender, and because of its location, you're going to get a lot of bone with the meat. This means extreme flavor if you know how to coax it out just right.

Shanks are wonderfully flavorful cuts of meat, but must be braised. A common dish using veal shank is ossobucco.

3.  The Short Plate

This area is located in the belly of the cow, just under the ribs. The meat is fatty but tough, an unusual exception to the rule (usually fat = tender meat; no fat/lean meat = tough meat). However, the fat is interspersed here within the grains of the meat quite well (marbling) so if you apply the correct preparation and cooking methods, you can achieve delicious tender results. Common dishes are carne asada and fajitas.

There are two cuts in the Short Plate:

Skirt Steak: This long, flat steak comes from the diaphragm of the cow. The outside portion is longer, the inner portion is slightly shorter. The meat is tough but extremely flavorful. To help tenderize the meat, an acid-based marinade is used. Lime juice is particularly good to help break down the meat and add wonderful flavor at the same time. Or, the braising technique again to yield a tender meat. If marinated, because the steak is so thin it can then be grilled (as opposed to its much thicker cousins, the round steaks). It is also called Roumanian Steak.

Hanger Steak: Named as such because it's the piece of muscle that "hangs" from the diaphragm, its flavor and texture is extremely similar to the skirt steak. Also called Butchers Steak because butchers would often keep this cut for themselves. Again marinated to achieve tenderness and then quickly grilled and served medium-rare is the preferred method for this cut.

4. Flank Steak

Located directly adjacent to the Short Plate is the Flank Steak, in the abdomen of the cow. It's a long, thicker piece of meat similar in appearance to the skirt steak but considerably thicker than it. The meat is again quite tough, so acid-based marinades help the flank out immensely followed by a quick sear or grill. Cutting against the grain when serving is a must for this cut to achieve tenderness to the bite. The flank is often slices very thinly as used for stir frys as well.

5.  The Brisket

This meat is the lower breast of the cow, above the front shanks. Cows don't have collar bones (I did not know this prior to this post) and therefore all the weight of the cow literally rests under its shoulders, right here. The result is a ridiculous amount of connective tissue. In terms of cooking, this translates to: "tough as hell meat." The connective tissue must be cooked out to produce an edible piece of meat that won't have you chewing for days and days. The good news is, if you're committed to the process, this can be some of the tastiest beef you've ever had.

The trick to brisket is going "low and slow," be it by braise again or by smoking. The braising will be done the same exact way you'd do the round cuts, but cooking the brisket at least an hour or two more than those cuts to get the nice tender texture you want. For smoking, you can flavor the brisket by way of your rub, injections (flavored, not hormonal), and the type of wood chips you use. My personal favorite method for brisket is the smoking -- it's unparallelled in the cooking sphere and a must-try for any cook at some point in their lives.

Brisket can also be brined and made into corned beef, which in turn can be made into pastrami as well.

6.  The Chuck

This meat is found at the shoulders of the cow, right above the brisket. There is a natural fat:flavor ratio found here, making this area wonderful to grind up. In fact, this kids, is where we get our hamburger meat. Forget the stupid filet mignon burgers for $50 at fancy pants restaurants; a good burger is simply good ground chuck right from here. The meat here can be cut out from the shoulder bone and grilled or broiled, and is called 7 Bone Steak because the shape of the steak resembles the number 7.

Other cuts from the chuck include:

Chuck Eye: a boneless cut from the center

Cross-Rib Roast: aka "English roast" or "bread and butter roast", commonly used for pot roast recipes.

Shoulder Steak and Roast: good for long braises.

Short Ribs: a small portion of the chuck area together with the front of the rib section produces this gem of a cut. See below for more details.

Top Blade Steak: a really, really tough piece of meat with a lot of connective tissue. This cut has grown out of style. Braising is the only way to really get the meat to be edible, and it's too much effort for not a lot of meat.

7. The Rib

This is the most coveted part of the cow. Located on the top middle of the cow, the rib section contains all the delicious, expensive cuts we know and love. This, is where the money is. It's no wonder, since bones = flavor and the rich rib bones of the cow here add not only flavor but the fat and muscle tissue here are perfectly proportioned as well. This area is where you want to grill the meats and serve it medium-rare.

The cuts we all know and love from The Rib:

The Delmonico:  This steak cut is named after the Delmonico restaurant in NYC and refers to the style of cut in this area of the beef. There is debate about which exact cut is the true, first Delmonico style cut, but today it basically references 3 main types:

  • The Bone-In Top Loin Steak: aka, "club steak," "country club steak," or "strip loin steak," it's a short loin cut (middle of the rib area).
  • Boneless Rib-Eye Steak: the heart of the rib-eye steak is cut out, two of them put together with butcher's twine, then seasoned and grilled.
  • Boneless Top-Loin: aka New York Strip Steak
Delmonico style steaks are often served with Delmonico potatoes as well (mashed potatoes with grated cheese on top, then baked until oozing and delicious).

Fillet: see Tenderloin below.

The Rib Roast: Also called, Standing Rib Roast and Prime Rib, this is the crown jewel of the cow. Using the ribs and meat of the lower 6-12 ribs, a full standing rib roast is 6 rib-eye steaks together into one massive steak. In other words, to get the prized rib-eye steaks, you basically cut through the prime rib cut 6 times to make steaks. The rib roast is an incredibly flavorful cut of meat. Usually given with a generous fat cap around, it is seasoned heavily with salt and pepper and then roasted on higher heat for about an hour and then sliced thinly or thickly. Prime Rib often is this cut of meat served without the rib. Traditional accompaniments include a horseradish cream sauce, Yorkshire Pudding, and creamed spinach.

Rib Steak: The meat from around and include the rib bone, is extremely tender and flavorful. The marbling (fat going through the muscle) is prized here and yields tasty and moist cooked meat. Grilling is the preferred method for these steaks, including broiling and pan-roasting. Also called The Cowboy Steak. The en vogue Tomahawk Steak is basically the rib steak with the bone left long and intact and "frenched" (meaning all meat and "stuff" is cleaned off directly to the part where the steak begins; it looks like a big-ass lamb chop).

Rib-Eye Steak: Basically the rib steak without the bone.

Short Loin: The area next to the short ribs around the spine, towards the middle-back of the cow. Various popular cuts are found here including:

  • T-bone Steak: So named for the T-shaped bone in this cut, it includes the short loin on one side of the bone and part of the tenderloin on the other side. It's cut from further up in the area.
  • Strip Steaks (see above)
  • Porterhouse Steak: A larger cut similar to the T-bone, it is cut from further back (towards the rear of the cow) so the tenderloin piece of the t-bone is larger than its T-bone steak counterpart.

Short Ribs: Located at the front of the rib section together with the very bottom right of the chuck, these ribs are incredibly flavorful. Often these ribs present in 3's or 4's, with surrounding meat, tendon, and fat. They can be cut in a variety of ways:

  • "Flanken": cut across the bone, about 2 inches thick
  • "English": cut about 2 inches long
  • "Korean": accordion cut
Short ribs are braised -- especially if using the English cut which is considerably thicker -- until the meat is quite tender. The exception is the Korean style, which due to its extremely thin cut, can be quickly grilled and served. A riff on the short rib is when the meat is separated from the bones and extremely thinly sliced, producing Golbi -- a Korean style marinated bbq beef.

Sirloin: These steaks are located at the back end of the rib section, near the round area. This meat is quite delicious and tender. Sirloin is usually classified as either Top or Bottom, with the tenderloin running in between them (the top is above it, the bottom is below the tenderloin). It is not named after knights in medieval England, but rather after the French word surlongue or "above the loin." These are great simply grilled or pan-roasted.

Tenderloin: This most-coveted piece of meat is the tenderloin of the cow -- the long piece of muscle that runs on both sides of the spine. One complete fillet is similar to a long log, and is then sliced into rounds to make the fillet steaks. The ends of this tenderloin is called Fillet Mignon, or "little fillet" and is unarguably the most tender part of the entire cow because it's location at the spine, it has very little connective tissue (remember: connective tissue = tough meat). As a result, this meat is best served roasted on high heat if making the entire loin or if doing steaks, quickly seared or pan-roasted or grilled. Best served medium-rare to even rare. Some butchers will refer to the entire loin as "filet mignon" which is incorrect; the true definition is in reference to the smaller end pieces.

There are three main parts of the tenderloin: the Butt which is located near the front of the loin is used for carpaccio; the Center-Cut where the "filet mignons" and chateaubriand style cuts are done; and the Tail whose pieces are still tender but far too small to be used as steaks, are instead used for dishes like Beef Stroganoff.

8. The Rest

Of course this is not the only thing the cow yields. It's bones are wonderful to make stocks and flavor soups. Beef tongue is considered quite the delicious dish, as well as various other "cow-parts" I feel Anthony Bourdain is more qualified than me to speak about. Perhaps in another blog I can venture out into this arena of cooking...

Now you know your cow. I encourage you to not only better know the cuts of meat you're used to, but to venture out with other cuts you may not be as familiar with. And this time you'll be prepared when you order the steak at the steak house, and actually know what you're doing instead of pretending to. I know I personally feel better about this, and thoroughly look forward to flaunting my extensive knowledge of steaks to all the other men at the table.

Beefy Heaven: Wine-Braised Chuck Roast with Vegetables

Friday, September 2, 2011

As promised, if I'm going to give you just one recipe a week, I promise you it will be a great one!

The bed rest has given me lots and lots to consider in terms of advanced food preparations and easy cooking and clean up. Many people get intimidated by the words "roast" or "braised" because I think, they've had so many badly roasted turkeys and dry braised beef. In fact, roasting and braising in particular are probably the easiest cooking methods out there right after boiling a box of pasta and adding jarred sauce.

Yes, I'm serious.

No, I'm not bullshitting you.

I was getting just sick of all the take out lately. I was determined to make something healthy and flavorful, and with the weather up here in Seattle getting gloomy and cold for a few days, I took advantage of some homey, comfort food I could prepare easily during the morning, then let cook away in the oven while I rested all afternoon. Thumbing through my Zuni Cafe cookbook, I found this delicious recipe for braised beef chuck. It so happened I had a beef chuck in the freezer front and center, begging to be used! Done! Simple vegetables of onion, carrot, celery, and garlic add body and amazing flavor to the braise. While beef broth and wine add acidity and depth of flavor. I couldn't find celery root at the market for some inexplicable reason, so instead I used a combination of celery stalks and a parsnip root (i.e., the white looking fat carrot) to recreate the flavor. It turned out incredible. Simple bay leaf rounds out the flavor of the braise for classic savory goodness.

While making this I tasted it only an hour and half into braising and it was incredible. By the end, with the slightest drizzle of balsamic as they suggested, I was in pure heaven.

This recipe is classic, based on the French techniques and flavors. It's straightforward, comforting, pure heavenly beefy and vegetable goodness that is just what the doctor ordered on a colder, gloomy day. Although Irish beef stew will always hold a place in my heart, I think a very close second is this wine-braised chuck roast!

Serve with classic mashed potatoes, baked potato, risotto, polenta, or my new personal favorite side dish: Salted Roasties.


Wine-Braised Chuck Roast with Vegetables
1 (4 lb) chuck roast with fat trimmed, but some fat still left on
1 very large yellow onion  (or two small ones)
2-3 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 large parsnip (or 2 skinny ones)
1 head garlic -- cloves peeled
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 bay leaves
4 cups beef broth
2 cups red wine: recommend syrah, cab sauv, or a blend using these
2-3 Tbsp good olive oil
good quality balsamic vinegar

Take the beef and set it out to room temperature. Very generously season all sides with salt and pepper. You want to go a little heavier on the seasoning because you want to create a good crust when browning. You can season the beef up to 3 days in advance actually, and just bring it out to room temperature before ready to brown.

Prepare the braising liquid. Place the broth and wine in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered about 15 minutes, or until liquid begins to reduce. By reducing the liquid first, you're concentrating the flavor.

While the braising liquid reduces, prepare the vegetables. Trim the ends off the onions and peel them. Slice into 1/4"-1/2" thick slices. Peel and cut the ends off the carrots and parnsnips. Cut into slices or chunks, to your taste. Wash and trim the ends off the celery, then cut it into small chunks. The size of your vegetables will depend on how much you want to see and eat them with the finished product. Some people like to have them disappear in the pot roasts; to achieve this cut the vegetables thinly and small. Some (like me) like to see chunks of vegetables I can still bite into; cut them larger then and thicker. Don't worry about doneness -- the amount of time they stay in the oven will get all the vegetables super tender, no matter how you cut them.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and move the rack into the bottom third area.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof braising pan like a Dutch oven. Once oil is hot, add the meat and brown on all sides. This means you want to achieve a nice, golden brown crust all around. This will do two things: (1) create a crust, sealing in the moisture inside the meat which will make a more tender roast and (2) add tremendous flavor as the fat gets rendered out of the beef. After the meat has been browned, add the vegetables all at once and fix them around the meat and on top. Sprinkle about the garlic cloves, add some more good grinds of black pepper, and sprinkle in the bay leaves. Pour the broth-wine braising liquid right over the meat and vegetables and fit tightly with lid. Place in oven and cook for 4-5 hours. Start checking the doneness of the meat after hour 2, and once an hour move the vegetables around and spoon them back on top of the meat. Halfway through, turn the meat over.

You know the roast is done when (a) the meat is extremely tender -- "fall off the bone" and easily pierceable by a knife or fork; (b) the vegetables are extremely tender; and (c) the liquid has reduced and concentrated. If you notice the liquid not concentrating, take the lid off the last half hour or so of cooking.

Don't worry -- you cannot overcook this dish!

To serve, take the meat out very gently and let rest on a serving platter. Remove any bones and cut the meat preferably against the grain into portions. Skim off the fat and discard. At this point, if you prefer a heartier vegetable simply spoon out the vegetables and serve on top of the sliced meat. If you wish to have a more meat-centric dish as the book suggests, run the vegetables through a sieve to gain a puree. You can add more beef broth to the puree then if you want a thinner consistency. I personally like the dish chunky.

Either way, give the beef and vegetables a final small drizzle of the balsamic vinegar on top. The acidity will brighten the flavors and really make the savory pop. Serve hot.

I love serving it with these Salted Roasties.

The New Baked Potato: Salted Roasties

Trying out easier recipes from famed cookbook Zuni Cafe, I found this delightful recipe using simply potatoes and sea salt. The idea is you bake the small potatoes in a bed of salt. Not only does the salt add amazing flavor, but a wonderful crackly outside and perfectly soft creamy inside. Baked potatoes are so "yesterday." This "new" version (based on times old technique of baking) will for sure become a favorite side dish in your house, as it has in mine.

Salted Roasties
1 1/2 lb small yellow creamy potatoes, like Finnish or Danish yellows, German butterballs, etc.
about 10 cups of sea salt

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Take the potatoes and wash and scrub them well, then dry them with a towel. Add a good layer of salt to a casserole dish large enough to accomodate your potatoes. Layer in the potatoes in a single layer, trying not to overlap too much. Top with the rest of the salt, leaving a small amount of potato exposed on the top to check for doneness. Place in oven, uncovered, and bake for 40-50 minutes or until very easily pierced with knife or fork.

Let stand 3 minutes in the salt to cool a moment before removing.

My Notes:
The potatoes themselves are salted all around, so no need to offer additonal salt to the potatoes when serving. However, traditional baked potato condiments of good European style butter, rich sour cream, and finely shopped chives are just wonderful with these potatoes. They are addictive as is too.

You can serve these potatoes with any dish, from braised meats to grilled fish. They are fast and delicious.

Yes you have to use sea salt -- kosher won't work here and iodonized table salt definately won't. You need the larger rock crystals of sea salt to achieve the proper cooking. You can reuse the salt after it's cooked to make this dish again or bake other vegetables or even fish in the same fashion.