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.

Victoria’s Maple Syrup and Garlic-Roasted Chicken with On-Ke’s Coconut Oil-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Seriously good food.
No one likes to admit weakness, but I will here: after years of heavy teaching loads and graduate school stress, I am prone to burn out. I used to think that I was invincible, a survivor who overcame those horrible stretches of apathy by plowing straight through them. In reality, I was only papering over my needs and making the situation worse.

Today things are different. I recognize the signs of burn-out more easily, those dark twinges that hang just outside of my metaphysical peripheral vision. Unlike then, I realize now that if I don’t take care of myself, I’m no good to anyone: family, friends, students, and colleagues alike. So I draw boundaries at the end of each semester, knowing that I need to take some precious time to recharge my batteries so to speak.

One thing that always helps me recuperate and regain my joie de vivre is food, particularly cooking. When life gets hectic and the stacks of papers that I need to grade grow higher, I pretty much cease to cook at home — an obvious mistake as cooking calms me and the food that I prepare nourishes both my body and spirit. I love trying new recipes and cooking from new cookbooks, but when I am really aching for something soul-sustaining, what I love most are recipes from family and friends. Those recipes and dishes are the ones that are really special because they make me feel as if that person is in the kitchen with me even though they may be thousands of miles away.

I’ve been spatchcocking a lot of chickens lately. Partly because I’ve finally invested in a good pair of very sharp, spring-loaded shears, and also because I like how evenly and quickly the chicken cooks. The white meat emerges tender and moist from the oven, the dark meat is rich and succulent, and the skin comes out crispy, burnished, and golden.

For this particular chicken, I finally got around to trying a maple syrup-kissed rub/marinade that Victoria over at Bois de Jasmin mentioned in the comment thread of her post on Hot and Spicy Cranberry Sauce. Many people think of Bois de Jasmin as a perfume blog, but I always consider it much more than that: a celebration of life and of all things fragrant, including food and drink. Given that the olfactory and the gustatory are so intimately intertwined, is it surprising that many perfume lovers happen to be fine gastronomes as well?

Victoria calls this chicken an improvisation, but I call it genius. The chicken feels infused with a terrific depth of flavor. The maple syrup caramelizes to a sticky, burnt sugar-like glaze. Victoria uses a mortar and pestle to render the garlic cloves into a smooth paste. I would have done the same if I had one. However, as I do not, I made do with a garlic press. Regardless of which technique you choose, the garlicky chicken roasting in the oven will make your kitchen smell mouthwatering good. I used a pinch of cayenne pepper in place of a pinch of paprika, but Victoria also suggests a little bit a garam masala added to the mix — a delicious idea that I look forward to trying as soon as I get back to NYC.

As for the coconut oil-roasted sweet potatoes, I never would have tried a so-called Paleo recipe if not for On-Ke, who had recently completed 30 days of eating Paleo along with her daughter Siobhan and her family. I had initially gotten to know Siobhan through her wonderful blog Garden Correspondent. When we finally met in person, it was as if I had known her for years. Laughing and chatting animatedly over Italian coffee and pastries, Siobhan decided that she needed to introduce me to her mother, another “culture vulture” who lives rather conveniently around the corner from me. Needless to say, we hit it off right away and have spent this past fall terrorizing the city in a good way: museum visits, perfume sniffing outings, theater performances, and always food, glorious food! Siobhan, you are missed!

One afternoon, On-Ke served me a roasted and roughly cut up kabocha squash that was rubbed with coconut oil, seasoned with salt, and studded with cracked black peppercorns. Super classy woman that I am, I devoured what must have been half a pumpkin in one sitting. I couldn’t help it; there was something about that subtle coconut flavor that made that roasted kabocha squash even more irresistible. Ever since that afternoon, this has been my preferred way to cook just about any squash or yam. As I thought about a perfect complement for Victoria’s chicken, I couldn’t come up with a better one than these sweet potatoes roasted in the same way.

Special Equipment:

A good, sharp pair of cooking shears

One half-size sheet pan

One wire rack to fit the sheet pan

Ingredients:

For the sweet potatoes:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons of coconut oil (I prefer unrefined coconut oil because the coconut flavor is stronger)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the roasted chicken:

1 whole chicken

1 tablespoon of dark amber maple syrup

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced or even better, pulverized using a mortar and pestle with a little course salt

2 tablespoons of good olive oil

A pinch of cayenne pepper, paprika, or garam masala

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. While the oven is warming up, you can begin to prep the chicken. To spatchcock any bird, flip the bird over so that its breast is facing down on the cutting board and its back is facing upright. Using a good, sharp pair of sturdy kitchen shears, remove the backbone by cutting along either side of it. Remove any excess skin that is dangling from the neck hole. Turn the bird breast-side-up. Remove the wishbone with a sharp knife. Now with the heel of your hand, press directly down on the breast bone until you hear a crack. Congratulations! You have just spatchcocked a bird! To finish, tuck the wings behind the breast. For the legs, you can make small slits in the skin on either side of where the tail used to be and push the ends of each respective leg through them. You can also leave the wings and legs as they are. Your chicken will taste the same either way, but as a firm believer in trussing, I like to have everything looking neat. To help visualize this, here is a video.

3. Combine the maple syrup, garlic, olive oil, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture evenly all over the chicken. Lay the chicken out on a rack-lined sheet pan and let it marinate uncovered on the counter for about 40 minutes to an hour.

4. While the chicken is marinating, use your hands to rub each piece sweet potato with coconut oil. Season the pieces liberally with flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper, and spread them out in an even layer over another baking tray or in the bottom of a cast iron pan. I like my roasted sweet potatoes to be on the very roasted side, not exactly burnt, but just so that the surface sugars are caramelized. This should take about 40 minutes or so. If you prefer yours to be less roasted, you can remove them from the oven when they are softened and can be easily pierced with the point of a sharp knife.

5. When the sweet potatoes are done, remove them from the oven. Put the chicken in the oven and carefully pour about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water into the bottom of the sheet pan. The water should not touch the bottom of the wire rack. Roast the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°, this should take between 1 hour and 1.5 hours depending on how big your chicken is. If at any point you notice that the garlic is beginning to burn, you can loosely tent the chicken with a sheet of aluminum foil, removing it when the it is almost done so that the skin can brown. When the chicken is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest for 10-20 minutes before carving.

Serve the chicken with the roasted sweet potatoes.

Jonathan Benno’s Pasta e Fagioli

Don't be a fool, eat yo' pasta fazool!
Nigella does what?!”

Steve from Gourmandistan shook his head incredulously and made a face.

She tells you to put all the fresh herbs in the foot of a nylon stocking and to leave the whole thing in simmering stock for an hour!

“Doesn’t it melt?!”

“Yeah. You would think!”

“That is disgusting.”

Agreed.

A few weeks ago, Steve was in town for the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference and we were talking “food blogger shop” at Roberta’s over craft beer and aioli-coated fried sweetbreads.

Shop that night included pasta e fagioli,

I love pasta e fagioli, affectionately known on these close-to-Jersey shores as pasta fazool. Translated simply as pasta and beans, the name of this humble Italian dish belies its power to soothe and satisfy. Pure alchemy occurs when the nuttiness of the beans Vulcan mind-melds with the pasta in rich rosemary and bay-scented broth. It is warm, wonderful comfort in a bowl and in these waning days of winter, it is the perfect dish.

My current favorite version of pasta e fagioli is from Mario Batali, who starts off his recipe by asking you to mash up a wad of fatback with the back of a spoon until you have a nice and smooth porky paste. Very Italian.

The subject of our mutual alarm was from British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson — not Italian at all. Although I like her writing, her recipes leave me cold . . . and extremely skeptical. Like this one for pasta e fagioli in which she asks you to use a “popsock” — also known as a knee-high nylon stocking — as a herb sachet instead of good, old-fashioned, food-safe, heat-resistant, and dependable cheesecloth.

Now I see the utility of bundling the aromatics used to perfume pasta e fagioli in a sachet; it makes it much easier to remove the spent herbs from the soup if you have them together. It saves you from the futilely fishing around for the gray and bitter spindles of rosemary leaves. However, I draw the line at rooting around in my sock drawer for kitchen essentials. Furthermore, Nigella includes the following sentence in her recipe: “Chuck out the corpsed popsock and its contents [after the beans are tender].”

Not yummy-sounding at all.

I am always on the lookout for a new variation on pasta e fagioli. Recently, New York Magazine published one from Jonathan Benno in which he solves the fresh-herb-removal problem by infusing the stock with Parmesan rinds and aromatics and then straining them all out before use. 

Brilliant!

Benno recommends soaking the dried beans for two days in the refrigerator instead of just one day on the countertop. I’m not sure if the additional day of soaking affects the taste, but I did notice that the beans cooked faster and more evenly. The beans were also creamier.

Heirloom beans are best, but regular old beans work just as well. Traditionally, borlotti beans — also called cranberry beans — are used in pasta e fagioli, but cannellini beans are a good substitute.

To Benno’s recipe, I have added bacon. Because I can never resist adding bacon to everything 🙂 You can omit it and the soup will still be delicious.

Ingredients:

2 cups of dried beans (preferably heirloom beans like borlotti beans or cannellini beans)

2 quarts of chicken stock (about 8 cups)

1 cup of Parmesan rinds

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 sprigs of fresh sage

5 fresh or dried bay leaves

1 pound of bacon ends, chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups of dried ditalini or another kind of small tubular pasta like macaroni

Extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly grated Parmesan

How to prepare:

This soup is not difficult to prepare. However, it does require some advanced planning. Be sure to read the recipe closely before beginning.

1. In a bowl large enough to fit the beans comfortably, cover them with about two inches of cold water. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for two days.

2. When the beans are done soaking, drain them.

3. Combine the chicken stock, the Parmesan rinds, the fresh herbs, and the bay leaves in a large pot. Simmer everything together for about an hour. Do not the let stock boil. Strain the stock and discard the Parmesan rinds and herbs.

4a. If using, brown the chopped bacon ends in a large skillet until most of the fat has rendered. Drain the bacon bits on paper towels.

4b. Add the soaked and drained beans, the bacon if desired, the dried oregano, and the crushed red pepper flakes to the strained stock. Gently simmer the beans for between 1-2 hours. When the beans are done, they will be creamy in the center. Do not let the liquid come to a boil or the skins can burst. Skim the surface of the soup if and when necessary. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the beans are tender, add the dried pasta to them. You may need to add more stock or water if the level of the liquid in the pot is too low. When the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat.

To serve, heap a generous spoonful of freshly grated Parmesan on top and finish the soup with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.

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.

Split Pea Soup with Bacon Ends


A while ago, I was gifted a giant tub of bacon ends from a member of a different CSA. They languished in the back of my freezer until a deep spring clean last week.

Bacon ends are a terrific thing to have in the house — even if you’re like me and fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” camp. Just make sure that you have them somewhere you can see them at all times, a visual reminder that every dish is better with bacon.

Not only are bacon ends a good thing to always have on hand, but they are also much more economical than buying bacon strips. Chopped up and slowly browned, they make wonderful bacon bits. The rendered fat can be used in the place of oil or butter, or in anything that could be enhanced by some smoky porcine flavor.

And let’s be honest, what wouldn’t benefit from added porkiness?

People can sometimes be a little skeeved out by cooking with animal fat. However, so long as the pigs are pasture-raised by a farmer who follows organic practices, there should be no fear of needing Lipitor. Bacon fat from pasture-raised pork even has the added benefit of being a good source of vitamin D, making bacon fat certainly as good as butter!

I’m not saying that you should sit around the house and chow down on scoops of it, but a little bacon fat is much healthier for you than all those omnipresent, heavily-processed vegetable oils. My rule of thumb is that the more steps in processing it takes to get the food to your mouth, the less healthy it is for you. I would even go as far as to argue that it’s not even food at that point. This is why I always shake my head at people who buy low-fat foods because in order to make up for the taste and flavor deficit, those items are generally bulked up with tons of sugar — which might be worse for you than the fat.

Plus low-fat foods taste bad.

Anyway, no more ranting. Back to the soup!

Dried split peas scream for bacon! But if animals are not your thing, you can leave the bacon out and make the soup with smoked paprika instead.

Ingredients:

About 3 or 4 ounces of bacon or bacon ends, cut into small dice

1 small onion, chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 pound (16 ounces) of dried split peas, picked over for small stones

2 bay leaves

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock + 1 cup of water

Salt and pepper

Smoked paprika

Special equipment:

A hand-held immersion blender (optional)

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon or bacon ends over medium heat with a little bit of olive oil until most of the fat has rendered. Reserve a few bits of bacon for garnish. Spoon off all but one tablespoon of bacon fat. Keep the bacon fat in a clean container in your freezer, and use it for other things like roasting potatoes, eggs, roasting chickens, anything really.

2. Add the vegetables to the pot. Let them cook until the vegetables have softened and the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the split peas and toss them with the vegetables until they are evenly coated with bacon fat. Add the bay leaves, the stock and the water. Bring everything up to boil, and then reduce the heat. Let the peas simmer until they are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Periodically skim the top of the soup of scum and grease. If the soup seems too thick, thin it out by adding more stock or water.

3. When the peas are tender, you can leave the soup alone if you like a chunky soup. I like to partially purée the soup so that it is creamier, but still has some interesting bits of vegetables and peas in it. This is super easy to do with an immersion blender. Just insert the stick blender into the soup and blend as much as you like. You can also transfer half of the soup to a regular blender or a food processor, then add the blended soup back to the unblended half. If you use a blender, keep your hand smacked tight onto the blender lid lest it go flying off, leaving your kitchen covered in pea soup spray. Adjust the seasoning for a final time, and thin the soup with stock or water again if it seems too thick.

Serve topped with a few of the reserved bacon bits, a dusting of smoked paprika and with some good, hearty bread.

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.

Anthony Bourdain’s Mushroom Soup from the Les Halles Cookbook


I am always puzzled when I see bloggers declaim against those who try out and post recipes from other sources. It just feels kind of snobbish to me. Most, if not all food people read recipes. Food people tend to read a lot of recipes. Food people tend to own a lot of cookbooks too. A lot of food people also watch a lot of food TV.

This is not uncommon, and it strikes me as strangely inauthentic when people deny it. Furthermore, what’s so bad about it? Trying recipes from other people is a good way to learn different cooking techniques. Blogging about your experience lets others learn from you, just like you learned from them. Don’t you like the feeling that you are joining and contributing to the larger conversation? I do.

Also, there are a lot of recipes out there. What’s wrong with bringing some of those to the attention of another audience? I mean, don’t go out and plagiarize. Don’t pass off recipes that are not yours as your own. But why look down on people who properly attribute and discuss their results?

We all blog and write because we generally want to share our knowledge and experience. I personally would be thrilled if someone made and wrote about something that I posted so long as they did it respectfully — and I think that most bloggers would be pretty darn chuffed too.

Yeah, I know. I just used a British-ism.

More importantly, if you are trying your hand at writing recipes, looking at other sources is a great way to learn how to order ingredients and write directions in a way that is clear, concise, and consistent. Recipe writing is like any other kind of writing: you get better the more you do it, and the more you read.

To those who think that their recipes are completely original, well, please excuse my bluntness, but hardly any recipes are really original nowadays unless you are some molecular gastronomist making perfectly good food into weird foamy, jellied things.

Furthermore, no one I know who cooks ever sticks to any recipe as published anyway. I’ll confess: most of the time, I don’t. I’ll breezily skim the ingredients list, and cockily cook them in the order and manner that I feel works best, passing on anything that sounds untasty to me, and adding anything that I feel was an egregious omission.

How’s that for food snobbery?

For example, I remember the first time that I read this recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook. I remember poo-pooing Anthony Bourdain‘s admonition to blend carefully. I cavalierly shrugged off his archly written, “Do I have to remind you to do this in stages, with the blender’s lid firmly held down, and with the weight of your body keeping that thing from flying off and allowing boiling hot mushroom purée to erupt all over your kitchen?

Pshaw, I remember thinking. Not quite hogwash, but I had blended tons of thick soups, all at once without incident. I certainly wasn’t going to alter my MO now.

Then I remember the blender’s lid flying off — just like TV Tony said it would — and the kitchen being sprayed with hot soup and spongy bits of mushroom.

I remember having to google, “martha stewart how to clean hot mushroom soup off the ceiling.”

After cleaning everything up, I made a mental note to always read recipes straight through before cooking, and always respect any warnings the recipe writer may give.

I learned the messy way that recipe writers do not write warnings for their benefit, but ours. If Bourdain was making a point to tell me to keep a tight lock on the blender, it’s because he very likely sprayed his kitchen with mushroom soup too, cursing the other cookbook writer who failed to mention in their recipe to keep a hold on the blender lid while blending.

If you love mushrooms, this soup is not only super easy, but very, very delicious. The original recipe calls for onions, but I always prefer the ultimate combo of butter, shallots, and booze — which is one of the ways I adapted his recipe. Be sure to use a good sherry, not a cooking sherry for the soup. If you have time, you can roast a couple shitake mushrooms in the oven for garnish. I accidentally left mine in the oven for too long, ending up with mushroom chips that taste (amazingly) just like bacon. No complaints here!

I also use an immersion blender now, so no more flying blender lids for me!

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of butter

2 shallots, thinly sliced

14-15 ounces of mixed mushrooms (you can even use all white button mushrooms if you want), cleaned, trimmed, and sliced

4 cups of chicken stock

2-3 sprigs of thyme

2 ounces of good quality sherry (I used a dry oloroso)

Special equipment:

A hand-held immersion blender

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, melt two tablespoons of the butter with a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and thyme. Keep track of how many sprigs of thyme you add so you know how many stems you need to remove before puréeing the soup. Sauté the shallots until they begin to turn translucent.

2. Add the mushrooms and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the mixture sweat for about 6-8 minutes. The mushrooms should begin to give up most of their liquid at this point. Be careful to not let the shallots brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock, and bring everything up to a boil. Reduce the temperature, and simmer the soup covered for about an hour.

3. After an hour, remove the stems of the thyme sprigs. Using an immersion blender, carefully purée the soup. Adjust the seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer and mix in the sherry. You want to just simmer the soup long enough enough to cook off the alcohol in the sherry. Serve immediately with some good bread.

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!

Warm Wilted Kale Salad with Red Quinoa and Candied Delicata Squash


In Britain, there is a variety of kale called “Hungry Gap,” named after that period at the end of winter and in the beginning spring when there is little in the way of fresh produce.

Here in the Northeast, we are in the Hungry Gap, but sadly there is no local kale yet. When one begins to tire of tubers, squash and bulbs, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and buy other things, even if they come from far away.

As leafy greens go, kale is fairly hearty. It can hold up to heat — both in terms of temperature and strong flavors. Kale is a great addition to winter salads, providing a bright and cleanly bitter counterpoint to warmed grains and roasted squashes.

Ingredients:

1 delicata squash, seeded and cut into small dice

1/4 cup of packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds, shelled

1 large bunch of lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup of red quinoa, uncooked

The juice and zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons of pumpkin seed oil (or olive oil)

Freshly grated Parmesan

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 425°.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the brown sugar, the balsamic vinegar and the delicata squash. Drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, and toss everything together until the squash is evenly coated with the balsamic-olive-oil-sugar mixture. Spread the squash out in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Roast it until it just begins to soften and the edges begin to caramelize, about 15-17 minutes. Spread the pumpkin seeds over the top of the squash, and continue to roast everything for about 2-3 minutes more. When the pumpkin seeds are nicely toasted, transfer everything to a large bowl.

3. Rinse the quinoa if needed. In a separate saucepan, combine the quinoa with about two cups of water and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, and then reduce the heat. Simmer the quinoa over low heat until all the water is absorbed, and the quinoa is tender. Fluff it with a fork when it is done.

4. In the meanwhile, wilt (or steam) the kale in a separate pan. When the kale is wilted, remove it to a colander. Once the kale is cool enough to handle, gently press as much liquid as you can out of the leaves without squeezing them.

5. Add the kale and the quinoa to the candied squash. Toss the salad together with two tablespoons of pumpkin seed oil and the juice and zest of one lemon. Adjust the seasoning. Before serving, grate a nice fluffy mound of Parmesan cheese on top.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Sautéed Brandied Apples

Is it too cliché to mention that old adage that necessity is the mother of invention?

Maybe it should be added that necessity is good, but extreme cold and laziness is a better motivator!

This was where I found myself the other chilly night, looking at the contents of my fridge and pantry and wondering what I could make for dinner without having to go out and get anything else. Pork chops and apples was what came naturally to mind as I had a pair of juicy pork chops from the CSA, and some shrivelly apples. The apples were a little past being able to be enjoyed raw, but they were still perfectly good to cook.

And then I looked up at my nice collection of booze, and thought, “Not just any apples tonight, but flambéed apples!”

Okay, I’m not being 100% truthful. My actual thought was, “Fire! Fire! Fire!”

In any case, the results were fast, easy, delicious, and perfect for an early winter supper.

Ingredients:

2 thick-cut boneless pork chops

Olive oil

2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small pieces

1 shallot, finely minced

1/4 cup of apple cider

1 branch of fresh thyme

1/4 cup of brandy

Salt and pepper

Special items:

Matches

How to prepare:

1. Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pork chops. Sear the pork chops for about 3-4 minutes. They should have a nice golden crust when you flip them. Lower the heat to medium after you turn the pork chops. Continue to cook them until they are done (you’re looking for a nice rosy pink). A meat thermometer inserted in the center of each chop should register between 140-145°. Remove the chops to a plate while you finish the dish.

2. Spoon off most of the fat in the pan, leaving only about two teaspoons. Set the pan back on stove over medium-high heat. Add the apples and shallots. Toss them together in the pan, being sure to scrape up any tasty brown bits stuck to the bottom of it. Cook them until the shallots gain a little color and begin to turn translucent.

3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the apple cider and the thyme to the pan. Cook the apples and the shallots in the apple cider until the sauce has thickened.

4. Take the pan away from its heat source, and carefully pour the brandy over the apples. Return the pan to the heat. Let the brandy warm for a just a few seconds before igniting it with a match. Stand back and let the alcohol burn off completely. To help you visualize this, here is a nice Youtube clip from the Food Network (the flambé-ing occurs around the 2:55 mark).

5. Add any juices that have accumulated in the plate where the pork chops are resting to the pan. Continue to cook the apples until the liquid has some reduced more. Remove the thyme branch, and adjust the seasoning. Set the pork chops on top of a good mound of apples and serve.