A Few of Our Favorite Things January 31, 2013Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, Food.
I love a nice, hearty stew, don’t you?
And our old stand-by, thrown-together beef stew is definitely that, that’s for sure!
But sometimes, a gal just wants something – different. Richer. And so, just like we do for chocolate, we look to our friends the Belgians.
In fact, I’m sure if you asked him, Peeps would tell you, in great detail, how, not only do Belgians excel at chocolate, they’re ace beer-makers, as well.
Boy, those Belgians sure do know their way around a menu, don’t they?
Somewhere between the beer and the chocolate, they took some of that beer, a bunch of beef, and some onions – a whole mess of onions – and came up with one of the most delightful stews we have ever enjoyed!
Of course, credit where it’s due – we wouldn’t enjoyed this stew without the good people at America’s Test Kitchen – I first printed the recipe, after we’d see it on an episode of ATK, back in 2007. And we’ve been enjoying it (when we think of it) since.
We start with:
- about 3 pounds of beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes, patted dry, and seasoned well
- several onions – a LOT of them! – sliced about 1/4 inch thick and cut in half. If you’re doing it by hand, you’ll want to halve them first, and if you’re using a V-slicer or a mandolin, you’ll want to slice them first, then halve the slices. Trust me. Ultimately you want 8 cups of sliced onions, which, for me, was 4 large-ish onions. Your mileage may vary.
Let’s start there.
Adjust your oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 300.
Take your heavy-duty Dutch oven and heat some oil over medium-high heat, maybe a tablespoon or two, and, when it’s nicely hot, start browning your dried, seasoned meat in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan, browning each side well.
You’re going to be here a while.
Remove the beef to a separate bowl as it browns, and add more oil as necessary with each batch of beef browning.
You’re going to have a bit of a mess in your pot, but that’s okay.
You know what comes next, right?
Right, we deglaze the pan.
With onions! Gosh, I love doing that!
There’s just so much liquid in the onion slices that as soon as they hit the heat, they just start leaking like crazy! And before you know it, that pot full of onions cooks down to, well, less full.
On low heat, along with the onions, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a little black pepper if you’d like, and a tablespoon of tomato paste, and stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any bits of fond.
Once the fondy bits are scraped, and the onions have started to soften and cook down a bit, you can raise the heat to medium and let it cook until the onions are starting to brown, about 12-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, gather together what I like to think of as “the rest of the stuff:”
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 Tbsp. flour
- 3/4 cup EACH chicken and beef broth – or a combination thereof. I think I had close to a cup of chicken broth and just supplemented that with a little beef broth.
- Beer! Since it’s a Belgian stew, the obvious answer is to use a Belgian ale – and we do make it a point. Usually we’ll grab a bottle of Chimay, but this we decided to have some fun. You’ll only need 12 ounces of Belgian ale for this, but if you end up getting a bigger bottle, well, I’m sure you can find something to do with the rest of it. We did.
- Some fresh thyme, a couple of bay leaves, and 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
Back to the stew pot.
Your onions are cooked ever-so-slightly browned at this point, so you’ll stir in the minced garlic, cooking just until it’s fragrant – about 30-45 seconds. Then stir in the flour, continuing to stir a couple more minutes, until the onions are fairly evenly coated and the flour is starting to brown.
Add the broth (all of it), scraping again as necessary, then dump EVERYTHING else in – the meat, any accumulated juices, the beer, the herbs, and the vinegar, plus a healthy pinch of salt & pepper for good measure.
Bring everything just up to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, then partially cover the pot and stick it in the pre-heated oven and walk away for a couple of hours.
After two hours, check the stew by inserting a fork into a hunk of beef – if there’s little to no resistance, it’s done. If it resists, back in the oven it goes for another half hour. Then it’ll be done!
Of course you’re going to want to pull the thyme springs and the bay leaves out of the stew, and, personally, I prefer to let it rest at least overnight before reheating and serving.
You will notice that there were NO vegetables (other than onions) (and really, I think onions are technically an herb, aren’t they?) and there was NO starch.
Maybe think about a salad.
Noodles or mashed potatoes are evidently traditional with this stew, but we opted to serve it with barley.
It was a good choice.
Fresh from the Garden January 24, 2013Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Garden.
In JANUARY – can you believe it?
Remember how, a couple of weeks ago, we were enjoying some unseasonably balmy weather, so I went out and finished harvesting my kale?
Of course, THIS week, we’re dealing with single-degree temperatures and, well, the only gardening that’s getting done is that I may water the Valentine’s Day cactus soon.
I held back about half a pound of fresh kale before we went on our blanching and freezing spree – after all, what’s the fun of having fresh kale in January if you don’t actually use it, right?
However, it is January, and we are in upstate New York, so the safest bet is in soup. And we do love soup.
I opted to try a new recipe – this one from what is apparently becoming my new favorite website - Vegetarian Times.
A little less meat never hurt anyone!
So the cool thing about this KALE soup is that we start out with one stealthy potato.
It’s like a bonus – you think you’re going to make kale soup, and you get kale and POTATO soup! That single russet potato actually helps thicken the soup very nicely.
We sliced the potato thin (about 1/4 inch), then it, along with all of the flavoring agents (ginger, garlic, jalapeños, coriander, and turmeric), along with the chopped kale stems (if you haven’t already gotten rid of them because you were cleaning a five-gallon bucket full of kale), and saute it a bit in some vegetable oil, then add some vegetable broth to cook until the potatoes are soft.
Here’s the thing, though.
I did have some vegetable broth, but I used it up the last time I made some vegelicious thing. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I used chicken stock instead, so this isn’t strictly vegetarian soup.
Think of it as bi-vegetarian.
So. . .
Once the potatoes were mostly cooked, now we add the kale. A whole pot full of the stuff!
And you know the really sad thing? This barely made a dent in what I had picked that day.
The other really sad thing?
After about 3 minutes in the broth, the big old pot full of bright leafy greens became a little bitty pot not even close to full of cooked-down greens.
That’s just how it goes, I guess.
The pot of soup-to-be simmers for about 20 minutes – until the potatoes are fall-apart done, and the greens are nicely tender.
Then we added about 3/4 cup of tomato sauce – I used the stuff I made last summer. If I were buying it, I’d just go with one of those little cans and call it good. As it is, I had half a pint of tomato sauce left over, give or take, to find something to use it in.
Once we checked seasoning, and everything was cooked, well, then we took the stick blender to it.
Gosh, that thing is cool, isn’t it? It’s so much easier than hauling out the real blender, then, even worse, cleaning it!
So we blended the soup, and we got it all nice and smooth (and green!) and we tried it and thought, “you know, this soup needs some texture.”
And, since I’d just picked up some chick peas at the public market, I soaked them, and Peeps cooked them the next day, at which time we just dumped them right in the soup.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t think to pick up at the market was a cucumber, so the cucumber raita was kind of out of the question.
(Aside: does anyone know – is there a difference between raita and tzatziki, other than the herb/spice used? Seems like pretty much the same thing to me.)
So, since we were cucumber-less, we just put a dab of plain yogurt on top, along with a quick squeeze of lemon juice, and it was good, chicken stock notwithstanding.
I think, in the future, I’d probably double the spices – or at least the ginger. By the time everything was cooked, those bold Indian flavors were kind of washed out. It definitely needed that bit of lemon juice to brighten the flavor, too – and the yogurt helped boost the creaminess.
All in all, though, this Kale Shorba was a very nice use of fresh kale!
A taste of India January 11, 2013Posted by Peeps in Cooking, Food, Home, random stuff.
While we were planning the week’s meals, my wife found this recipe she wanted to try. It was for Indian Samosa Casserole. I said sure, why not?
Now, the first thing you need to understand is that I am not now, nor will I ever be a vegetarian. Not that I have anything against vegetarians, mind you. The more of them there are, the more meat there is for me. That is something I am always going to approve of.
But my wife and I both love Indian food, which does tend to be largely vegetarian. And, of course, having Indian food that we don’t have to go anywhere to get it is an appealing idea. Particularly when it can be made ahead, frozen and thrown into the oven during a weeknight.
Toys was painting the new bathroom Sunday, and since there is not enough room in there to help her, I helped by putting together the casserole.
It was fairly easy to do, waiting for the potatoes to cook took longer than pretty much everything else. I think my wife finished painting the trim about the time I finished.
The crust was a little difficult. We don’t have whole wheat pastry flour in the house. Seven different kinds of flour and not the one we needed. Nuts. So, I used half whole wheat and half cake flour instead.
I also added one tablespoon too much of water. On the plus side, it was still short of the minimum amount of water the recipe called for.
Oh, and I forgot the sugar called for in the filling. Not that we really missed it much.
All in all, it went smoothly. Once assembled, I covered it in plastic wrap and stuck it in the freezer for later on in the week.
The heating directions from frozen were spot on and we had dinner on the table in about an hour and a half.
It was quite good. Although, there are a couple things I might want to tweak if we ever did this again. I would use a bottom crust as well. It would be tidier and just better all around with more crust. Toys thought about adding lentils or chickpeas to the filling to give it a little more bulk. Cooked chicken would probably do the same thing and make it seem more like a complete meal.
We had thought to serve this with an IPA, an India Pale Ale. What we had in the odd beer stash in the basement was an Extra Pale Ale from a brewery in Utah. It worked. The extreme amount of hops went perfectly with the Indian blend of seasonings.
You can find the recipe here. Try it and let us know what you think.
How’s about a little Holiday Cheer? December 14, 2012Posted by Toy Lady in Business, Cooking, most important meal of the day, random stuff.
Yeah, I thought that would get your attention!
Back when Peeps and I ran our meal-prep business, we had hundreds of recipes that were designed to be prepped ahead of time, frozen, then cooked later on. Several of those recipes, we developed ourselves, but many more were purchased from other similar businesses.
The great thing was that the recipes were simple enough for any non-cook to follow the directions in assembling, freezing, and then cooking the meals, and end up with a fairly decent (and healthy) result.
Not necessarily a fantastic result, but certainly much, much better than, say, ordering from Domino’s. Again.
To be honest, developing some of these recipes was hard! Besides needing to be aware of how certain things would freeze and thaw, we also had to be sure the recipes were simple enough to be successfully cooked by people with little to no skill in the kitchen.
That can be hard.
So it shouldn’t be too surprising if I tell you that, of the many, many recipes we bought for this business, there are only a handful that we’ve kept and actually still use.
This Eggnog French Toast is one of them, albeit a little tweaked to our tastes.
It starts with a good loaf of bread – we like Peeps’s semolina, since it holds up to a nice overnight soak.
Slice your loaf of bread into 6 fairly thick slices – I’d say maybe 3/4 to 1 inch, and set those aside – either in a freezer bag if you want to freeze it, or into a bowl of some sort if you want to cook it in the next day or so.
By the way, this will serve three, or two if you’re really hungry.
Then you’re going to whisk together (and this is so easy!):
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup eggnog (I told you this was Eggnog French Toast, right?)
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Then just dump the enhanced eggnog (because, really, isn’t that pretty much what it is?) over the bread slices.
Make sure you get the liquid all between the slices – you want it to soak all the way in!
Then just let it sit. Either let it set in the fridge for a few hours (overnight is even better) or stash in in the freezer to defrost for, say, Christmas morning.
Ah, there’s where the holiday cheer comes in!
And you thought it was suspicious-looking rum bottle. That’s homemade vanilla. Really.
So when it’s time for breakfast (or breakfast-for-dinner ahem), you’ll just want to make sure, if you froze the bread, that everything is defrosted, and that it’s all good and sogged up.
Yes, that’s a technical culinary term.
Preheat your oven to 400, and spray a sheet pan. Once the oven is hot, just toss the French toast on the sheet pan, and bake about 10-15 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned.
Flip the toasts and repeat.
A little butter, some maple syrup (I’ll bet a cinnamon syrup would be good too) and, of course, a couple of strips of bacon, and you’re all set for a busy morning of playing Santa. . .