Shredded brisket and pappardelle

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Now this, I thought to myself as I dined at Rosette with a friend, is what you should eat in the summertime. I wasn’t referring to the glorious mess of shredded brisket and pappardelle that you see above. No, I was thinking about the crunchy, raw asparagus spears that I was dipping into dukkah-dusted walnut tahini.

I made that giant batch of shredded brisket back in February, when the weather was arctic and I continued to hope that I would finally ween myself off Seamless and cook for myself.  How little I cook during the academic year has become a common lament on this blog. This past semester, it was really close to zero unless you count putting slices of steak (leftovers from a dinner with my mother at BLT Steak) on top of stale Ritz crackers and eating them over the sink as cooking. From that same steak house dinner, there were also leftover hen-of-the-woods mushrooms that I scrambled with eggs and piled on top of of pasta because I had run out of bread.

Even though the semester has been over for about a month, there still hasn’t been much cooking. It hasn’t felt like much of a vacation either. First, my mother decided that the final exam period would be the perfect time to come to visit (it’s not; it never is). After she left, I was practically comatose for about a week from the visit and the end of the semester. Then, my almost 91-year old grandfather took a tumble in the garden and hit the back of his head (the sun’s fault, he claims). I had to stay with him for a couple of nights per the doctor’s (unnecessary, in Grandpa’s opinion) orders.

My dad: “How is Grandpa doing?”

Me: “Um, a little unstable on his feet.”

Dad: “Maybe be had a mini-stroke. Is he favoring one side more than the other?”

Me: “No. Doesn’t seem like it.”

Dad: “What is he doing now?”

Me: “He is using a pair of kitchen shears to pry open a key ring that he says is too small.”

Fall or no fall, Grandpa’s fine motor skills seem more or less intact. However, that does not mean that he has completely recovered. This summer, he seems frailer and more fragile. His legs get weak — which scares me. He forgets more things more often and is sometimes confused. It is to be expected at his age, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for him and emotionally draining for us.

Doctors’ appointments and follow-up appointments have been frequent, sometimes unexpected, and long. Thankfully, my friends have been wonderful at keeping me out of my apartment in the evenings so that I get to eat something decent and think about something else. I did desperately want to get away to Europe this summer, but unfortunately failed to get organized early enough to afford airfare. And although Grandpa continues to live on his own and be very independent, his health has put some restraint on any vacation plans. Still, it would be nice to get away somewhere like . . . Gourmandistan 😉

(Dearest Michelle and Steve, I promise you a visit! The summer isn’t over yet!)

Does this shredded brisket with pappardelle look good? It is damn good, but I would hold off on making a dish like this until the fall unless you have a very powerful air-conditioner and money is no object in terms of electric bills. For those dear readers south of the equator, this is the perfect late fall and wintertime warmer.

This recipe has been heavily adapted from one on Epicurious. You can find the original here.

Ingredients:

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 ribs of celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 beef brisket (about 1.5 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and silver skin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 cups of veal or beef stock

1 16-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

2/3 of a cup of red wine

2 bay leaves

Pappardelle

Special equipment:

A large Dutch oven or another oven-safe casserole with a lid

How to prepare:

1. Preheat your oven to 325°. You may need to lower or adjust your oven racks so that you can fit your Dutch oven or casserole in it easily.

2. Using a food processor, pulse the carrots, celery, and onion together until they are finely chopped.

3.  Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and generously season it on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven or casserole over medium-high heat until it begins to just smoke. Sear the brisket on all sides. If your brisket is too large to sear at once, you may need to cut your brisket in half and sear each half individually.

4. Remove the brisket to a plate. Lower the heat to medium and in the same Dutch oven or casserole, sauté the chopped vegetables and finely minced garlic until they give up their liquid and just begin to brown. Add the stock, the chopped tomatoes, the red wine, and the bay leaves. Stir to combine before adding the seared brisket back to the liquid. Make sure that the brisket is completely covered by the liquid before covering the Dutch oven with its lid and transferring it to the oven. Let the covered brisket cook slowly for about 3 hours. After 3 hours, the brisket should be fork-tender. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully skim off any fat from the top of the sauce.

5. Remove the brisket from the sauce and use two forks to gently shred it. Add the shredded brisket back to the sauce and stir to re-incorporate it. Adjust the seasoning.

6. In a large pot of salted water, cook the pappardelle to package directions. When the pasta is al dente, drain it but reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Add the pappardelle to the shredded brisket sauce along with some of the pasta cooking water if needed. Toss to combine, adjust the seasoning, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.

Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown Update: Mac-sagna!

The heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese + lasagna!Most of you who follow this blog know that for the past couple of years I have been a regular competitor in a series of cook-offs here in NYC known as The Takedowns. However, it occurred to me the other day that for all of my blog posts announcing competitions and updating you on what happened at each one, I have never actually written about what it’s like to prepare and compete in one.

In contrast to what one might think, there is no cooking on site; the venue just isn’t set up to accommodate that. Rather, all the cooking happens at home and then the competitors — known collectively as the Takedowners — tote their creations to the venue about an hour early to stake out a table and set up the tastings. The tastings are open to the ticket-buying public — not just the judges — which means that each of us has to prep about 250 1-oz. samples for everyone to taste.

If 250 1-oz. samples sounds like a lot, it is! The majority of Takedowners do multiple test runs before deciding on a final entry, and most try to plan ahead so that they are not scrambling at the last minute to put together something that is both tasty and winsome.

I wish that I was one of those people, but partly due to my schedule and mostly due to my inability to get organized early, I am usually the Takedowner pulling out her hair and freaking out less than 24 hours before the event. I do console myself by thinking that stress and time constraints are the mothers of invention. Sometimes it works in my favor like last summer when I brought home two ice cream makers for my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet.

Sometimes it just results in something damn weird that I am still damn proud of like my Miso Awesome Cookies.

I had a couple of ideas for this year’s Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (pizza mac and cheese? garlic bread-inspired mac and cheese? chocolate mac and cheese?). Ultimately, I decided that a baked mac and cheese was the way to go.

My entry for this year’s Brooklyn Mac & Cheeze Takedown? Mac-sagna, the heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese and lasagna.

Using a gallon of homemade, three-hour pork and beef Bolognese, a gallon of béchamel, four pounds of macaroni, two pounds of shredded mozzarella, two pounds of grated Parmesan, and half a pound of garlic and parsley-buttered bread crumbs, I made two gigantic 21 x 12 inch trays of mac-sagna for champions.

It was delicious and I had to stop myself from eating it like this:

Om nom nom nom nom!

Sadly, there were so many other excellent mac and cheeses that I did not win. I did, however, get to see and spend time with good friends, taste a lot of amazingly creative and imaginative dishes, and be part of another drunkenly excellent Takedown. That alone is worth every sweaty second in the kitchen.

A scaled down recipe is forthcoming. In the meanwhile, you can check out my fellow Takedowners here and here, and read more about the lovely winner here.

Texas-Style Cottage Pie with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and A.1. Compound Butter

Flavors are bolder in Texas.
Considering the extent of my bacon advocacy, most people are surprised to find out that I used to be a vegetarian. That was not a choice based on any kind of moral imperative. Instead, it was the best way that my 14-year-old self think of to annoy my mother. Now you would think that vegetarianism would have gotten old after a couple of weeks, but I was stubborn teenager and persisted in my gastronomic rebellion for twelve long and meatless years.

I didn’t just annoy my mother, I baffled my relatives who had never heard of Tofurkys until they were forced to procure them. My friends would collectively roll their eyeballs heavenward each time that I complained about the lack of vegetarian options on a restaurant menu. I irritated significant others to no end because it frankly sucks to not share food that you are really enjoying.

So it stands to reason that on the night before my undergraduate commencement ceremony, I would have my vegetarian graduation celebration at a barbecue restaurant.

Yes, you read that correctly.

What prompted such a paradoxical decision? You see, one of the last classes that I took at my alma mater was a cultural anthropology course on food — which ended up being a prescient choice since many of the books on that syllabus found their way into the bibliography of my dissertation. I had an amazing professor who had a number of terrific guest speakers come to talk to the class, one of first of which was Chris Schlesinger who was still at the East Coast Grill (he has since sold it to the former head chef, now chef/co-owner Jason Heard).

Until that class, I had never really thought that much about food apart from how much I liked to eat it. It never occurred to me that you could craft an approach to food that could be just as thoughtful, complicated, and elegant as any in literature, or that taste — both sensory and esthetic — could be a marker of identity, a beginning of a journey, or an end to one.

In any case, Schlesinger’s passion, dedication, and approach to big, bold American flavors made quite the impression. I also remember how he wasn’t adverse to vegetables being on a barbecue menu, which is how my friends and my family ended up at his restaurant graduation eve.

I don’t remember exactly what I ate that night (probably macaroni and cheese), but I do remember that the food was good and my dad was happy that he wasn’t forced to eat another avocado burrito in a New Age-y bookstore that smelled like patchouli, incense, and beans.

This recipe is adapted from Schlesinger’s How to Cook Meat, published the same year that I graduated. I bought the book to remember that night despite not cooking nor eating meat at the time. Who would have known how useful it would turn out to be a few years later when I was no longer a vegetarian and really did want to know how to cook meat!

I must admit that the first time that I made this dish, I wasn’t impressed; I found it too sweet and the flavors a little too weird. However, after years of vegetarianism, I probably just had no idea what I was doing. Now things are different (or back to “normal,” depending how you think about it). I find the combination of flavors to be complex, rich, and deeply satisfying on cold nights like the ones that we have been having here on the East Coast.

I’ve tinkered with the recipe over the years, making it a little less sweet (tomato paste substituted for ketchup; blackstrap for plain old molasses), and deepening the flavors a little more (roasting instead of boiling the sweet potatoes). The recipe easily doubles as the one given below is the proportions of the original halved.

Like any recipe that you have made your own, its evolution is indicative of where you come from and where you are going. In essence, that is the wonderful thing about recipes in general: they all tell a story and this is one of mine.

Ingredients:

For the compound butter:

1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature

1 tablespoon of A.1. Steak Sauce

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the cottage pie:

2 large sweet potatoes

1/2-2/3 of a cup of half-and-half

1 tablespoon of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced small

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

1/2 a tablespoon of ground cumin

1/2 a tablespoon of ground coriander

A scant pinch of ground cinnamon

1 pound of ground beef

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. To make the A.1. compound butter, combine the room temperature butter, the steak sauce, and the chopped parsley in a small bowl. Season the butter with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Spoon the butter onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, roll it into a cylinder, and refrigerate it until firm.

3. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Place them directly on the wire racks of your oven and roast them until they can be easily pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes.

4. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Sauté the onions and diced bell pepper until the onions begin to turn golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, the minced jalapeño, and the spices. Let them sizzle them for about 1 minute before adding the ground beef. Cook the ground beef until it is browned, crumbly, and no longer pink. Pour off any excess fat in the pan before stirring in the tomato paste and the blackstrap molasses. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the sweet potatoes are cooked through, remove them from the oven and let them rest. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°.

6. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and discard the skins. Mash them with a tablespoon of butter and 2/3 of a cup of half-and-half. As the mixture should be on the loose side, add more half-and-half if needed. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Spread an even layer of the ground beef mixture over the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Gently top the ground beef mixture with the mashed sweet potatoes. Bake until the filling is bubbly, about 40 minutes.

8. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. To serve, you can either dot the top of the casserole with the compound butter before dividing it into portions, or you can top each individual serving with a slice of the compound butter.

The Daring Kitchen December Cooks’ Challenge: Pâté Chinois

Looks good, eh?
As some of you know, I have been participating in The Daring Kitchen’s Challenges for about a year now. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, The Daring Kitchen is an online community of cooks and bakers who commit to making one dish — the month’s challenge — and posting their results on their blogs on the same day.

I took a hiatus from the Daring Cooks (there is a corresponding Daring Bakers group) during and following my dissertation. In the interim, I missed out on some pretty great challenges. I especially regretted missing the Brazilian Feijoada and the Paella challenges. In addition, there were many more that passed me by as I just watched and salivated on the sidelines. This month, after a period of decompression and relaxation, I finally felt ready to jump back in and cook something new.

So imagine my reaction when I pulled up December’s challenge PDF for a mysteriously named dish called Pâté chinois and saw that . . .

Pâté chinois is essentially shepherd’s pie with a layer of canned creamed corn in-between the meat and the mashed potatoes.

That’s it.

And its traditional accompaniment is ketchup.

Yes. That’s it.

As Pâté chinois generally calls for ground beef, it is perhaps more accurate to say that it is a variation of cottage pie not shepherd’s pie. However, the more pressing question is why is it called Pâté chinois considering there is not much in it that can be either construed as pâté (ground meat alone does not a pâté make) or Chinese.

According to Wikipedia, the origins of Pâté chinois are rooted in the assumption that the name refers to Chinese cooks who came to Canada to serve the workers who built the North American railroad system in the late 19th century. These cooks were instructed by their railway bosses to prepare and serve something that was not only inexpensive, but that the railway workers would recognize and therefore eat As wood ear fungus and black chicken soup was probably out of the question, the Chinese cooks put together a version of cottage pie using canned creamed corn in place of the more expensive gravy.

Of course, this is all anecdotal. Alternatively, the name Pâté chinois might also refer to a variation of hachis Parmentier, which is basically cottage pie too. This is a dish that French-speaking families in Maine would refer to as Pâté chinois in reference to the towns where they ate it: China and South China, Maine.

I also read somewhere that Pâté chinois could also be an allusion to the dish’s preparation. When I read about the possible connection to Chinese immigrants, this was actually my first thought. Much like how chop suey is inauthentically Chinese and refers instead to the chopped items in the dish, I imagined that Pâté chinois got its name from the chopped meat and corn kernels that could be commonly found in Chinese stir-fry.

Regardless of when, where, and how Pâte chinois came to be, it is one of those quintessential Québecois comfort foods that everyone is familiar with, yet it is unknown to outsiders as it is hardly ever served outside of the home.

If you understand French (or even if you don’t), this is an truly awesome Youtube clip about Pâté chinois in Québec. It is narrated by a man with the dang coolest Québecois accent ever.

Given that I have made cottage pie numerous times (and even blogged about it here), I thought this challenge would be a easy one.

Wrong! Can you believe it, dear Readers? My first attempt at Pâté chinois was a dismal failure!

First of all, my fancy schmancy neighborhood supermarket does not carry canned creamed corn. Oh the class warfare! Consequently, I was forced to improvise with frozen corn and fresh heavy cream. Although my homemade version of creamed corn looked and tasted superior, it completely separated while cooking. To my horror, my cottage pie had morphed into a cream of potato soup with little bits of hamburger floating in it.

In my defense, it tasted amazing, but anything that is more than 50% heavy cream is almost always guaranteed to taste amazing.

Back to the drawing board! Still no creamed corn in a can. This time, instead of blending the corn with heavy cream, I put some corn kernels with a little bit of milk in the food processor. Once puréed, I folded in more corn kernels for better texture. The result was a mass of corn about the same consistency of my mashed potatoes.

The final result yielded three distinct and yummy layers. Pâté chinois is still a fairly bland dish, which explains the predominant use of ketchup to kick it up a notch. However, since I find ketchup generally too sweet for my tastes, I substituted a healthy squeeze of Sriracha. Can’t go wrong with that 🙂

Many thanks to this month’s host, Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook!, for the challenge. I had a so much fun learning about Canadian comfort food. Your challenge was also a great reminder that it doesn’t matter how many times you make something, there is always something more to learn!

Blog-checking lines:

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2012 Hostess is Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook! Andy is sharing with us a traditional French Canadian classic the Paté Chinois, also known as Shepherd’s pie for many of us, and if one dish says comfort food.. this one is it!

Ingredients:

4 Yukon Gold potatoes (5 if they are small), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons of butter

Milk

Salt and pepper

1 pound of frozen corn kernels, thawed and divided in half

Milk or heavy cream

One medium onion, finely chopped

1 pound of lean ground beef

1 teaspoon of paprika

1 pinch of cayenne pepper

Worcestershire sauce

1 cup of shredded Gruyère or Comté cheese

Sriracha or ketchup

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Generously add salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender. You will know that they are ready to mash when you can crush a potato piece easily against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes. In the same pan, mash them with the butter. Add the milk a 1/4 cup at a time until you get the right consistency. You don’t want the potatoes to be dry, but you don’t want them to be soupy either. Aim for a texture that is loose enough to spoon out, but not so loose that the potatoes add a lot of excess water to your dish. Adjust the seasoning.

3. While the potatoes are cooking, purée half of the corn kernels in a food processor with about a quarter cup of milk. Add more milk if the mixture looks too dry, but not so much that you end up with a corn slurry. The texture of the puréed corn should match that of the mashed potatoes. Turn the puréed corn out into a large bowl and fold in the remaining whole kernels. Adjust the seasoning.

4. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until they are translucent and begin to brown. Add the ground beef to the pan, breaking up bigger chunks of ground beef with your wooden spoon as it cooks. Continue to cook the beef until there is no longer any visible pink. Sprinkle it with the paprika, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce to taste. Cook everything until the sauce has thickened, about another two to three minutes.

5. In an oven-proof dish, spread the ground beef out in an even layer on the bottom. Carefully spread the corn mixture on top of the beef. Gently spoon the potatoes on top of the corn. Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake until bubbly, about 20-30 minutes.

6. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving with Sriracha or ketchup.

Moroccan-Style Brisket with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons


When I was an undergraduate, I had friends who could subsist on Cheerios and skim milk for the whole semester. I could never do that. First of all, I didn’t want to contract scurvy, beriberi or any other kind of disease caused by a vitamin deficiency. Secondly, the combo of cold cereal and low-fat milk remains heartbreakingly depressing and just plain unsatisfying to this day. Even after eating a big bowl of it, I still feel hungry.

Of course, those friends grew up and graduated to slightly more mature versions of “quick” meals like spaghetti and jarred sauce, or something with boneless, skinless chicken breast.

I don’t consider those to be very appealing either.

I like a meals. Real meals with real foods and real fats.

Having never been much of a snacker, I look forward to my two big square meals a day. I say two only because I still struggle to fit breakfast into my daily routine.

Believe me, if I were to have breakfast, it would be a square meal too!

What is a real meal to me? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a hot meal, but it has to be satisfying in a way beyond filling my empty stomach. I’m not looking for just the sensation of fullness. I want to feel fulfilled.

Lately, work has been overwhelming. My dissertation deadline is pretty much set for early August, which leaves me little time for much else but my good friends, weekly dim sum with my grandfather, and my parents.

But I will always make time for good food, cooking and even some blogging. Food is my passion. Cooking is how I decompress. Blogging keeps me social. Without it, I fear that I will start slinking around corners, stroking my pages and covetously purring, “MY PRECIOUS!”

Any LOTR fans out there 😉

In this period, I see nothing wrong with making something big and elaborate just for me. I can eat it for a week and feel nourished in both body and soul. This Moroccan-style brisket fit the bill this week. Preserved lemons give the brisket’s crowning sauce a distinctly delicious North African flavor. Preserved lemons can be a strong, but their strength mellows over time. This is why I would recommend that you make the sauce a day before serving the brisket. That way, the ingredients have time to meld together and their flavors can become rounder. Preserved lemons can now be found in many supermarkets and specialty stores. You can also order them online, but they are also ridiculously easy and inexpensive to make. Just remember to budget between 1-3 weeks of preservation time before they are usable. There are many recipes available online. This one and this one are good places to start.

Also, like any braised or stewed meat, brisket gets better over time. If you can resist the temptation of eating it straight out of the oven, let it cool and sit overnight in the fridge. It is also much easier to remove any fat from the surface of the sauce the next day.

This recipe is freely adapted from Joan Nathan‘s Foods of Israel Today. Her original recipe can be found more or less in its entirety here. It includes another recipe for preserved lemons.

Ingredients:

For the brisket:

1 3-3 1/2 pound beef brisket

3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced into slivers

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

2 small onions, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup of red vermouth

1 14.5-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons of honey

1/2 cup of water

For the green olive-preserved lemon sauce:

2 small onions, finely diced

Olive oil

1 14.5-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup of water

6 ounces of pitted green olives

2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of cilantro, finely chopped

2-3 preserved lemons, rinsed, flesh discarded, and peels finely chopped

Salt and pepper

How to prepare:

1. Blot the brisket dry with paper towels. If needed, trim the brisket of any excessive fat. Using the sharp point of a small paring knife, make shallow cuts all around the brisket and push slivers of garlic into the slits. Let the brisket sit uncovered on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°.

3. Season the brisket on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a very large skillet. When the oil begins to shimmer, sear the brisket well on both sides. Remove the brisket to a large casserole or baking dish. Reduce the heat to medium and add the two finely diced onions to the skillet. While sautéing the onions, be sure to scrape up any tasty brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. When the onions begin to turn translucent, stir in the turmeric, the cinnamon, the ginger and the bay leaves. Cook the spices until they are fragrant (be careful to not let them burn). Deglaze the pan with red vermouth. Wait until most of the alcohol has cooked off before adding the tomatoes, the honey and half a cup of water. Let everything simmer together until it has thickened into a sauce. Adjust the seasoning and pour it over the brisket.

4. Cut a piece of parchment paper to just fit your casserole or baking dish. Completely cover the brisket with it and make a tight seal by pressing the paper down onto the meat and onions. Roast the brisket for about 3 hours, or until the meat is tender.

5. When your brisket is tender, remove it from the oven and let it cool completely in its sauce. If you can delay gratification, let it sit in the fridge overnight. This will make it much easier to remove any fat from its surface the next day. If that isn’t a possibility, try to skim as much fat as you can before moving forward.

6. While the brisket is cooling, make the green olive-preserved lemon sauce. In a large saucepan, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Sauté the onions until they begin to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes and half a cup of water. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until it has thickened. Add the olives, the chopped herbs and the preserved lemons to the sauce. Let everything simmer together until the flavors begin to come together, about 5-6 minutes. Adjust the seasoning.

7. When the brisket has cooled completely, slice it thinly on a diagonal against the grain. Return the sliced meat to its casserole or baking dish and recover it with its sauce. Before serving, heat your oven to 350°. Cover the casserole or baking dish with aluminum foil and bake the sliced brisket for about 30 minutes, or until warmed through.

Serve the brisket on couscous and topped with the green olive-preserved lemon sauce.

The Daring Kitchen March Cooks’ Challenge: Braised Short Ribs with Braised Root Vegetables


For last month’s Daring Kitchen Cooks’ Challenge, Lis and Audax Artifex (whose parents must be congratulated for giving him the best name on the planet) gave us a very technical challenge and dared us to make patties.

This month, Carol from Newfoundland, Canada, has given us another technical challenge: braising.

When most people consider braising, they think of tougher cuts of meat that generally have a lot of muscle or connective tissue — think lamb shanks, oxtails, short ribs, or stew beef. Braising is a very easy way to cook these economical cuts of meat, transforming them into meals that are the embodiment of pure comfort and elemental nourishment.

Braising can also be used for certain kinds of vegetables — carrots, celery and parsnips, for example — that take a long time to cook to mouthwatering tenderness.

To attain braised perfection, you really only need three things:

1. Low and steady heat
2. Liquid
3. Time.

In Carol’s challenge PDF, she gave us several recipes for ideas, including one for braised short ribs from Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman’s recipe jazzes up short ribs with a snazzy gremolata. However, whenever I think of braised short ribs, I think of the traditional French bonne femme: pure, simple, and uncomplicated . . .

. . . which is of course why I chose a recipe from Thomas Keller‘s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook — ha ha! there goes the uncomplicated bit!

Reproduced in Food and Wine Magazine, this recipe from Keller and his brother Joseph is really quite simple. Though there seem to be like a lot of steps, they are all dead easy. The difficulty comes in just waiting to eat as your house fills with the wonderful smells of braised meat. The absolute most difficult thing is delaying gratification for a day, if you can, in order to be able to remove the fat rendered from the ribs and deepen the flavors of the braise.

I can only say that though it is hard, waiting is not impossible so long as you chant like a mantra, “It will be better tomorrow, it will be better tomorrow”!

And order a pizza 😉

A big thank you to Carol for the great challenge! I encourage everyone to take a look at her challenge PDF. She includes so many more ideas for braising (fennel, duck, pork belly and oxtail), and it is a great way to learn more about braising!

Blog-checking lines: 
The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.

Special equipment:

2 large Zip-loc bags

A large Dutch oven with a lid, or any enameled cast-iron casserole

(please do note though that if you do not have an enameled cast-iron pot, it is still possible to braise. Keller’s recipe calls for the short ribs to be braised in a either a large baking dish or roasting pan covered tightly with aluminum foil)

Ingredients:

4 beef short ribs (about 2 pounds)

1 bottle of full-bodied red wine like a Côtes du Rhône, minus one glass (because I drank that)

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large leek, white and tender green parts only, roughly chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

4 sprigs of parsley

2 sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour for dredging

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

3 cups of veal stock (or one 1.5 ounce package of demi-glace + 3 cups of water)

2 tablespoons of grainy Dijon mustard

1 bunch of baby carrots, peeled

1 small turnip, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

1 cup of chicken stock

2 tablespoons of butter

How to prepare:

1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring the wine to boil over medium-high heat. Remove the wine from the heat and add the vegetables, the parsley, the thyme and the bay leaf. Cover the saucepan and let the marinade cool completely.

2. When the marinade has cooled, season the short ribs with salt and pepper and arrange them in a single layer in a large Zip-loc bag. You may want to double up the Zip-loc bags, just in case they leak. Pour the marinade over the ribs. Squeeze any air out of the bags and seal them. Let the ribs marinate in the refrigerator overnight, turning the bag over every once in a while to make sure that the ribs marinate evenly.

3. Preheat the oven to 300°. Remove the short ribs from the marinade. Strain the marinade, and reserve the liquid and the vegetables in separate bowls. In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil until almost smoking. Dredge the ribs in flour, knocking off any excess, and add them to the skillet. Brown them over medium-high heat on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of a large Dutch oven.

4. Spoon off all but 1 tablespoon of fat. Add the strained vegetables and cook them until they begin to brown. Add them to the short ribs. Tip the reserved liquid to the skillet and bring it to a boil. Pour the hot liquid, along with the stock, over the ribs and the vegetables. Cover the pot with its lid and bake the ribs for about 3 hours. The meat should be very tender and almost falling off the bone.

If proceeding to step 5a, leave the oven on. Turn the oven off if proceeding to step 5b.

5a. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Skim off as much fat as you can from the surface of the cooking juices. Bring the liquid to boil over medium-high heat until it has reduced to about two cups of sauce. Whisk in two tablespoons of grainy mustard. Adjust the seasoning. Return the meat to the pot, cover, and bake for another 30 minutes.

5b. Braised short ribs are notorious having a deep layer of rendered fat floating on top of the braising liquid. If you can delay gratification for one day, let the ribs cool in their braising liquid overnight in the refrigerator. Remove and discard the layer of solidified fat from the top before preparing the ribs to be reheated. The beauty of this is that it easily allows you to get rid of all that fat. Secondly, as with all stews and braises, flavors meld together and become richer the longer the stew or the braise has to sit.

So by waiting, not only will your braise not be swimming in grease, but it will have more depth of flavor. Good things come to those who wait!

After removing the top layer of solidified fat, let the short ribs return to almost room temperature before preheating your oven to 300°. Scoop out the short ribs and transfer them to a large bowl as you finish the sauce. Set the Dutch oven with the braising liquid over medium-high heat. Reduce the liquid until you have about 2 cups of sauce. Whisk in two tablespoons of coarse mustard. Adjust the seasoning. Add the short ribs back to the sauce, cover the Dutch oven with its lid, and bake everything in the oven for about 30 minutes.

6. In the meanwhile, prepare your root vegetables. In a large deep-sided skillet, arrange the parsnips, the baby carrots and the turnips in an even layer. Add the chicken stock and the butter to the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and bring the liquid up to a lively simmer. Reduce the temperature to low and cover the skillet. Cook the vegetables until they are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the braising liquid with a slotted spoon.

Let the short ribs cool slightly before serving them with the braised vegetables.

High Point Farms Buyers Choice CSA! Sign Up Now!


As many of you know, one of the major inspirations for this blog was High Point Farm’s Meat CSA — my very first CSA ever.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The basic CSA model is that you become a member of the farm, pay for a certain amount of food up front and come to pick up your “shares” at designated times throughout the season. CSA’s have all kinds of benefits. First of all, you support local agriculture, sustainable and environmentally- sound farming practices, and small farms. Second of all, you are able to form a relationship directly with your farmer. You learn about how your food is raised, how it is harvested, how your food gets to your table.

Most importantly, you get the best quality food for your money.

The meat is from our CSA absolutely amazing. All the beef is grass-finished, which means that the cows are fattened by grass — hay and baleage in the winter — not grain. The flavor is deep, rich and incredible.

I actually can’t have steak in restaurants now because it just doesn’t taste like meat!

I had always wanted to do a CSA. However, the only kind of CSA that I ever knew of before hearing about High Point Farms was either a vegetable or a fruit CSA. As someone who hates to waste food, I feared having to throw out more food than I could prepare or eat at any given moment — which is precisely what made a meat CSA so appealing.

Our farmer gives us our meat frozen. It is vacuum-packed in super thick plastic so that it keeps in the freezer really well. For anyone who claims that fresh meat is superior to frozen, I would say that this is really spoken from a place of ignorance as so much of the “fresh” meat sold in markets (even high-end butcher chops) was frozen — it just got defrosted by the shop or the butcher instead of by you!

You can go on the farm’s facebook page and see what a happy and wonderful life the animals have. If you are going to eat meat, wouldn’t you want the animals to be raised with love and care, and humanely slaughtered with deep respect and appreciation? To the argument that eating animals is “unhealthy,” I have to say that what is really unhealthy is eating pesticide-covered vegetables imported from Chile or some other South American country with horribly lax labor and safety practices — not to mention the carbon-footprint!

Some other vegetable CSA’s in the City offer meat through partnerships with other farms. However, I have to say that though I found High Point Farms almost by accident two years ago, getting involved with them has been one of the best and most rewarding things that I have ever done in New York City.

As I live close to the pick-up site in Manhattan, I am able to help the farm out on the distribution end by helping to coordinate the CSA’s bi-monthly pick-ups. Thanks to Tina and Bob MacCheyne, the farmer-owners of High Point Farms, I have learned so much. Not only have I discovered new cuts of meat and how to cook them, I have learned so much about being a better eater, consumer, and food advocate.

High Point Farms will be starting its next CSA season next week. There are still membership spaces available. The farm will be moving to a new model for this time around called a Buyers Choice.

This is how it works: there are different share options, beginning with a Trial Membership at $225 and going up to a Gourmet Share for $1000. That money goes directly to the farm, and is also your credit at the farm store for the season. Every two weeks, you go to the online store and load up your shopping cart with what you want: steaks, osso buco, oxtails, ground beef, roasts, chickens, eggs, cheese, pork chops, sausages, bacon. You can order as much or as little as you want. You can even skip that pick-up and wait for the next one. If you run out of credit, you can add more to your account. You come, you pick up your meat, you go home and cook it. And then you shiver with delight because it tastes soooo good.

And look, you just supported local agriculture and not evil giant agro-business.

The Deets:

• Our CSA season will run from March to December. You do not have to pick up something every pick-up., only on the days when you have ordered meat for pick-up.

In New York City, we have three pick-up locations this season:

East Village: Jimmy’s 43 (on East 7th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)
Williamsburg: Crossfit Virtuosity (221 North 8th St, between Driggs and Roebling)
Brooklyn Heights: Sweet Pea CSA (you must be a member of Sweet Pea Vegetable CSA to join this group)

• For the season’s delivery dates, click here.

• Membership Share Prices:

Trial Share: $225.00 (buys $225.00 of Farm Store Credit)

Single Share: $350.00 (buys $350.00 of Farm Store Credit)

Medium Share: $500.00 (buys $515.00 of Farm Store Credit + priority on limited items)

Large Share: $700 (buys $735.00 of Farm Store Credit + priority on limited items)

Gourmet Share: $1000.00 (b $1050.00 of Farm Store Credit + first priority on limited items)

There is a $25.00 Membership fee at sign up. ne time charge per CSA Season to offset the farm’s administrative and shipping costs.

For more information and to sign up, click here!

PS. See all that nice food pictured at the top of this blog post? You too can make all that awesomeness with High Point Farm’s meat!

Brisket King of NYC Cook-Off Tomorrow Night at Santos House


As a follow-up event to last fall’s Meat Week NYC, Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 will be hosting NYC’s second annual Brisket Cook-Off tomorrow night at Santos Party House in Little Italy/Upper Chinatown.

Formerly named A Brisket A Brasket, this year’s event will feature over 10 chefs vying to be crowned the Brisket King of NYC.

High Point Farms (whose wonderful meat is all over this blog) will be paired up with Chef Jessica Wilson from Jimmy’s 43! I’ll be there taking pictures and cheering on High Point’s meat — which has been training super hard in a vat of marinade for the past few days.

So, ahem, be prepared to be there when the event gets renamed The Brisket QUEEN of NYC!

Tickets are still available for the event. For $55 you get to sample all the competitors’ briskets, in addition to UNLIMITED BOOZE in the form of Pickle Backs (shot of booze + shot of pickle juice) and Bull Shots (shot of booze + shot of BRISKET JUICE).

For tickets, click here.

See you all at Santos!

* Update: Unfortunately, we didn’t win. We ran out of brisket in about an hour! Ticket-holders who got there right at the start of the event came back for seconds and thirds. They gobbled everything up before everyone had the chance to vote, all 500 PORTIONS!

Which means we are AWESOME! Kudos to Chef Jessica for pairing brisket with a punchy roasted grape chimichurri. It was a great counterpoint to the rich, beer-brased beef, and brought freshness and a bright acidity to the palate!

For the a list of the winners, click here.

Cuban-Style Minute Steaks with Black Beans and Rice


“Hey, T! What do you do with your minute steak?”

“I don’t know,” Tomoko texted back, “It’s hard because of how it’s sliced. What do you do with it?”

“Steak sandwiches usually, but I was kind of looking for something different this time …”

Indeed.

The minute steak that we get in our CSA has always presented a bit of a challenge for me. Minute steak, as I have learned, is not cube steak. Well, not always. It’s pretty confusing, actually, when you start searching for minute steak cooking ideas.

Most sources that I have seen say that minute steak and cube steak are basically the same thing. However, there seem to exist regional distinctions: in some parts of the country minute steak and cube steak refer to the same cut, whereas in other parts of the country, they are quite different from one another.

From what I can gather, cube steak is a cut of top round or top sirloin that has been run through an electric cube steak machine. The “cubing” refers to the kind of cross-hatched pattern that appears on the surface after the meat has been tenderized. It literally looks like it is made up of little cubes. Minute steak, on the other hand, is very thin slices of steak that are stacked, formed and shaped into a steak shape. Minute steaks, like cube steaks, cook very quickly — hence the name and the confusion.

One of the best things about having a meat CSA is learning how to cook different cuts that I would have never tried on my own. Minute steak is one of these. You could probably just throw it in a pan and be done with it, but I have found that figuring out the right cooking method with the right cut of meat can turn a perfectly good meal into something downright spectacular.

Bistec de palomilla with Cuban black beans and white rice is one of those meals that is so simple that hardly anyone bothers, as Tomoko would say, to write it down. People do write it down, of course. On the web, you can easily find many recipes for it, including this one from the New York Times that I used as the base for the one below.

In all honesty, I could have chosen any recipe for bistec de palomilla since they are all almost identical. Sure, I was tempted to put my own wacky spin on it, but sometimes good things are so good that you just have to leave them alone.

The essentials are that you marinate thin cuts of beef in garlic and lime juice (it doesn’t necessarily have to be minute steak or cube steaks, just thin steaks), you cook rice with lime juice and garlic, you cook the beans with lime juice, garlic and onions, and finally you sear the beef and top it with sautéed onions.

But just because it is simple doesn’t mean it that doesn’t taste divine.

So if you like lots of limes and lots of garlic, this recipe is for you!

* If you love limes and garlic but not the meat so much, the black beans and rice are easy to make and absolutely fabulous on their own. I used canned beans here because that is what I had in the pantry, but if you prefer dried beans (and who doesn’t), by all means soak ’em and cook ’em!

Ingredients:

For the steak:

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of minute steak (or any other kind of thinly-sliced steak)

The juice of 3 limes

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

Salt and pepper

1 medium onion, sliced

2 tablespoons of olive oil

For the rice:

2 cups of white rice

3 cups of water or chicken stock

The juice of 1 lime

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Salt

For the beans:

1 small onion, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

Olive oil

2 cans of black beans

The juice of 1 lime

Salt

Fresh cilantro

How to prepare:

1. Lightly sprinkle the steaks with salt and pepper (because the limes are so punchy, you can reduce the salt without sacrificing flavor). In a large zip-loc bag, combine the lime juice, the garlic and the meat. Toss everything together in the bag until the steaks are evenly coated with the garlic and the lime juice. Let the steaks marinate for about 45 minutes, but do not marinate them for more than an hour.

2. While the steaks are marinating, make the rice and the beans. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the rice (you don’t need to rinse it), the 3 cups of water or chicken stock, the lime juice, the garlic and the olive oil to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to low. Simmer the rice until it is tender and all the water has been absorbed — about 15-20 minutes. Remove the rice from the heat and fluff it with a fork. Cover it while you prepare the rest of the meal.

3. In another medium-sized saucepan, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Sauté the chopped onion in the olive oil until it begins to turn translucent — about 5 to 6 minutes. If the onions seem to be cooking too quickly, lower the heat to medium. Add the finely minced garlic. Continue to sauté everything together for about another minute or so. Add the beans (you don’t need to drain them) and the lime juice. Stir everything together and simmer the beans over medium/medium-low heat until the cooking liquid has thickened. The beans should be tender at this point. Adjust the seasoning.

4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the sliced onion. Sauté the onion until it just begins to turn translucent and take on a little bit of color. Remove the onions to a separate bowl or plate. Lift the steaks out of the marinade and add them to the skillet. Cook them for about 2 minutes per side (they will cook even more quickly if the steaks are really thin). Remove the steaks to a large plate or platter. Add the sautéed sliced onions back to the pan to let them soak up all those nice, meaty, lime-scented juices. Heap the onions on top of the steaks. Top everything with sprigs of fresh cilantro.

Serve the steaks with heaping scoop of white rice and another of black beans.

Home-Made Corned Beef with Buttered Cabbage and New Potatoes


The idea was first planted in my head after reading a post that SweaterMeat put up on Ugly Food Tastes Better back in November: corned beef. Fatty, salty, flavorful corned beef. Yum.

But then came the holidays and that thought got buried under a bunch of other food thoughts: pumpkin pie, bourbon pecan pie, rice congee with leftover roasted turkey, glazed ham, ham fried rice, almond cookies.

Then Jen over at Fresh and Fabulous put up her post about corned beef, and I thought, “Well, now I really got to get me some of that.”

The problem was that I didn’t have any corned beef . . . yet. I did have brisket from my CSA, and as Jen reminded me, corned beef is essentially brisket that has been brined with different spices. There is no corn in corned beef. The “corn” in question refers to the large crystals of salt that used to be rubbed into the meat to cure and preserve it for long voyages at sea.

Brining has pretty much replaced salt curing for making corned beef — which brings us back to Jen’s post in which she adapts Tyler Florence’s recipe for brining brisket. That recipe was very similar to the one I ended up adapting from Saveur, but the one in Saveur includes one other curious ingredient: pink salt.

Pink salt, as I found out in a panic as you will soon read, is not Himalayan Pink Salt. Himalayan Pink Salt is a very pretty finishing salt. Pink salt is also known as Prague Powder #1, and it is a combo of table salt + sodium nitrite.

It is dyed pink so you won’t mistake it for regular table salt and accidentally kill yourself.

Because sodium nitrite in not-so-large quantities is poisonous. But it also inhibits bacterial growth and botulism, making it a common food additive along with sodium nitrate.

I didn’t know any of this when I decided to brine my brisket for 5 days (most recipes that I have seen put brining time anywhere between a relatively safe 6 hours to 14 scary-sounding days — with 5-10 days being the most common).

Once, I accidentally over-brined a turkey and was left with a pretty toxic carcass whose smell was described to me as something that we have evolved to recognize as hazardous to our health.

So admittedly, I freaked out. Oh my gosh, I thought, I am going to eat this beef petri dish and die of botulism. Or listeria.

I googled everything: was it okay to brine brisket for 5+ days without the pink salt? Shouldn’t the salt solution inhibit bacteria growth without the sodium nitrite? Sodium nitrite is pretty nasty, did I really want to cook with it anyway? Was I going to die? Did the Pilgrims have sodium nitrite? Oh crap, tons of them died!

(from my neurotic ramblings, can you tell I live in New York?)

In the end, I put my trust in Michael Ruhlman (when in doubt . . .), who assured me that even though my brisket would probably not be pinky-pink, I certainly wasn’t going to die from botulism or listeria. Besides, Ruhlman said, any excessive bacterial growth would essentially be rendered harmless from prolonged exposure to heat, ie. cooking anyway.

And he was right. I didn’t die, Sharon didn’t die, and the corned beef was really, really good.

Ingredients:

1 2-2.5 pound beef brisket, trimmed of any excess fat

1 1/2 teaspoons of whole allspice berries

1 1/2 teaspoons of whole cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons of whole coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/2 teaspoons of whole mustard seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons of whole black peppercorns

3/4 cup of kosher salt

2 tablespoons of Himalayan Pink Salt (very optional, see above post)

1/2 cup of sugar

2 cloves of garlic

1 small onion, peeled and cut into large pieces

1 small head of Savoy cabbage, cored and shredded

2 tablespoons of butter

The juice from one lemon

Salt and pepper

1 lb of small potatoes, peeled

How to prepare:

1. Combine all the spices in a small skillet. Toast them over medium heat until they are fragrant. Be sure to swirl the pan constantly so that the spices do not burn. Transfer about 3/4 of the mixture to a 2-quart saucepan. Keep the remaining toasted spices in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator.

2. To the spices in the saucepan, add 4 cups of water, the salt, and the sugar. Bring everything up to simmer. Turn off the heat, and let the brine cool to the point that you can put it in the fridge to chill overnight.

3. In the morning, double up two gallon-sized Zip-loc bags. Position the trimmed brisket in the inner bag, and add all the brine. Squeeze out as much air as you can. Seal both bags. Arrange the bagged brisket in a large dish and refrigerate it for 5 days, turning it over every other day.

4. On the last day of brining, remove the brisket and rinse it off well. Put it in a large Dutch oven with the remaining toasted spices, the cut-up onion, and the garlic cloves. Cover the brisket with water and simmer it until it is tender. I only simmered mine for an hour, but really I could have cooked it for much longer. When the brisket is nice and tender, remove it to a plate and cover it with foil.

5. In the meanwhile, boil the peeled potatoes in a pot of salted water until they are easily pierced with a knife. Drain them and set them aside.

6. Put the cabbage in a large pot set over medium heat. Add the lemon juice, about 1/2 a cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of butter to the cabbage. Cover the pot and cook the cabbage, stirring every now and then, until it is tender. This should take about 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning.

7. To serve, cut the corned beef into thin slices across the grain. Serve the slices warm, with a few potatoes and some of the cabbage. And as Jen points out, any leftovers make terrific corned beef hash!