Friday, November 18, 2011

Italian Beef

At least that's what I call it. Anyway, sorry there aren't any pictures. The camera battery's dead. Oh well.

So this is what I do when I want Italian beef sandwiches and I have some time to prepare them. If I'm in a hurry, I just buy the rare roast beef from the deli and simmer it in the seasoning broth mixture.

Italian beef roast

1 beef roast (about 3 lbs - I used a 3.14 lb arm roast)
24 oz lager (I used the 24 oz can of Heineken)
1/2 Tbsp dry oregano
1/2 Tbsp dry basil
1/2 Tbsp dry thyme leaves (if you only have ground thyme, use half as much)
1/2 Tbsp parsley flakes
1 Tbsp dry minced onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
8 grindings black pepper
olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 cup water

Turn a crock pot onto high, then add the beer, all of the seasonings, and 1 tsp of kosher salt. Mix well and cover.

Heat a skillet large enough for the roast over medium heat. Coat the roast in olive oil, the sprinkle a light coating of salt over the roast on every side and rub into the meat. Put the roast into the heated skillet and brown on each side. Add the roast to the crock pot.

Return the skillet to medium heat. Pour the 1/2 cup of water into the container the beer was in and shake it around a little. Deglaze the pan with the slightly beer flavored water, using a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the goodies stuck to the bottom. Bring to a boil, then pour over the roast in the crock pot. Cover and let cook on high for 10-15 minutes. Turn down to low and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Remove the roast from the crock pot to a wire rack over a baking sheet. Let rest for about five minutes.

To serve as sandwiches, slice 1/4 inch pieces against the grain, and return the slices to the broth in the crock. Place on a hoagie roll and top with sliced Provolone.

I used hoagie rolls from a local grocery's bakery. I split them, brushed the cut sides with melted butter and toasted them in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. My daughter just had the meat and cheese, my wife and I put some Dijon mustard and diced onion on the bottom piece, then the meat, then the cheese. Served it with fries and steamed broccoli. Yum.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


So, I went to the grocery store today, and I was trying to figure out what to get to cook for tonight's dinner. I walked up to the meat counter to place an order for some Andouille links to pick up next week (jambalaya!), and while I was doing that, I spied a curious item - a 1.17 pound piece of flank steak that had been wrapped up and marked down for quick sale, because it had been in the case too long. I paid $4.67 for the steak ($3.99 per pound for those of you keeping score at home - the regular price on flank steak is closer to $6.99 per pound). It just so happens that the steak had pretty much been dry aged by the enviroment it was kept in - a cotrolled low temperature, sitting in a pan with an absorbent pad under it, with the pad changed regularly.

Once I got it home, I trimmed off the hard edges, and mixed up a marinade.

Southwestern marinade for an approximately one and a quarter pound flank steak

3 Tbsp corn oil
1-1/2 Tbsp lime juice
1-1/2 Tbsp lemon juice (I ran out of lime)
1/2 Tbsp green jalapeno Tabasco sauce
1/2 Tbsp mesquite liquid smoke
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp dried cilantro
1-1/2 tsp chili powder
4 grindings black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup water

Whisk everything together, place the steak in a gallon size plastic storage bag, pour the marinade into the bag, seal the bag, move the steak around to coat it with the marinade, then place the bag in a square dish and refrigerate for at least two hours, longer for stronger flavors from the seasonings.

After I got the steak marinating, I turned my attention to rice. Following the directions on the bag of Par Excellence brand extra long grain white rice, I put 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water into a saucepan and brought to a boil. Instead of butter and salt, I added 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp dried cilantro, and 1 tsp kosher salt. After it came to a boil, I reduced the heat to low and simmered the rice for 15 minutes, undisturbed. I then let it sit covered for five minutes before I fluffed it with a fork and covered it again to sit and come to room temperature.

When it came time to actually cook dinner, I sliced up a couple of largish green bell peppers, and 3/4 of a medium large yellow onion. The other 1/4 of the onion and a little green bell pepper from the garden got diced. I turned on the broiler and let the broiler pan heat up, then took the steak out of the marinade and put it on a wire rack over a cookie sheet to drain off any excess marinade. Next, I put the big cast iron skillet over high heat and let it preheat for about 6 minutes. I added just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then added the diced pepper and onion and a heaping tsp of minced garlic. I sauted that for a minute or so, then turned the heat down to medium. About that time, I put the steak in to broil. Back to the cast iron skillet, where the aromatics were just starting to get tender, I sprinkled on a liberal helping of chili powder, then deglazed the pan with a little beef broth. I poured in about 1/8 of an inch worth, let that cook off, poured in the same amount, let that cook off, then added a can of black beans (drained, but not rinsed). I mixed that all together, added about 1/4 inch worth of beef broth, and let it simmer while I flipped the steak. I then put the room temperature rice into the cast iron skillet with everything else, and poured the rest of the can of beef broth (about 1/2 a can). I stirred everything together, and simmered until the liquid was all absorbed or evaporated away. Then I stirred in half a jar of Chi Chi's thick and chunky salsa, let that heat up, and moved the pan off the heat and covered it.

Meanwhile, the steak is perfectly medium rare. I took it out of the broiler and put it on a wire rack over a cookie sheet to rest (not the same one the raw steak sat on, by the way). Then I put the smaller cast iron skillet on the stove over high heat and heated it for about 5 minutes, until it was screaming hot. I sliced the steak into thin strips across the grain, then prepared plates.

A little vegetable oil went into the HOT skillet, then I added a small handful of the sliced bell pepper and quickly sauted it, giving it a some nice sear and heating it all the way through, but still leaving it fairly crisp. I put the peppers on top of a portion of the rice and beans, then laid a couple of steak strips over that, and topped it all off with a sprinkle of shredded Mexican blend cheese. That was my daughter's plate (she likes her steak with a decent chance of recovery, just like her dad).

For my wife, the process was mostly the same, only I used pepper and onion, and also put her strips of steak into the pan to get rid of the pink. For mine, a hybrid of the two - peppers and onions, bloody steak. Yum!

(Sorry there's no pictures. I only took two shots of a finished plate since the action in the kitchen was so hoppin'. The first didn't have enough light, so the colors were way off, and the second had plenty of light, but I was too close and the focus was all fuzzy. Oh well. Can't win 'em all.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Improvisational Italian

We bought a spaghetti squash the other day, and I was looking at it sitting on the table today when I decided to build a pasta dish around it. So here's what I did:

Dustin's Italian Meatballs

2 lbs ground chuck (80/20)
2 heaping tsp. minced garlic
1 rounded Tbsp. dry minced onion
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 tsp dried sweet basil leaves
1/2 tsp ground thyme
2 tsp parsley flakes
2 tsp kosher salt
5 grindings black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup unseasoned plain breadcrumbs

Throw everything in a mixing bowl, and mix thoroughly with your hands (you might want to wear gloves). Roll into about 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours. When ready to cook, heat a large skillet (large enough to place all the meatballs in a single layer with a little breathing room) over medium heat, and then add about 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Add the meatballs, and cook for about 5 minutes, then turn them and cook for five more. Add 2/3 of a can of beef broth, turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until done. Remove from the skillet to a wire rack over a baking sheet, and cover loosely with foil. Serve with pasta and sauce of your choice.

I decided to serve the meatballs over spaghetti squash, with my homemade chunky marinara.

Spaghetti Squash

1 medium spaghetti squash
kosher salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp butter, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the squash in half and clean out the guts (seeds and fibery pulp). Place cut side up in a 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle with the kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sliver up 1 Tbsp of the butter and put that on the squash, some up on the edges, some down in the cavity. Pour water in the pan to get to 1/4 inch deep. Bake for 40 - 50 minutes until tender, then remove the strands with two forks. Place them in a bowl and toss with the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter and the Parmesan. Serve with pasta sauce.

Chunky Marinara

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
1 bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
2 cans tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
1 rounded tsp dried sweet basil leaves
1 rounded tsp dried oregano leaves
2 tsp parsley flakes
1/2 tsp ground thyme
5 grindings black pepper

Heat a 9-inch skillet over medium heat, then add the oil. Add the minced garlic and saute' for a couple of minutes, then add the pepper and onion. Saute for a couple of minutes until some of the onion pieces start to brown, then turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the the onions are translucent. Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce, the reserved tomato juice, and the bay leaves over medium low heat in a medium size sauce pan, covered (much less mess that way). When the onions are translucent, add the diced tomatoes and turn the heat up to medium. Saute' for 4-5 minutes, then add the vegetables to the sauce pan and stir well. Add all of the seasonings, mix well, cover, turn the heat to low and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Serve over pasta (or spaghetti squash) or as a dip for breadsticks or calzones.

(No picture of this one, the one I took turned out all fuzzy. I blame the steam.)

Of course, no Italian meal would be complete without some type of bread.

Spread for garlic toast

1 stick butter, softened
1-1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp parsley flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Mix it all together, and spread on your choice of bread before baking. Yum!

I used my batch tonight on sliced fresh Italian bread from the grocery store. It went in the oven at 350° for about 10 minutes, then I sprinkled a little finely shredded mozzarella over the slices and put it back in the oven for about 3 minutes, just long enough for the cheese to melt.

I was able to time it all out so that everything was ready about the same time (the meatballs had been resting for about ten minutes). Dished out a helping of the squash, put a little of the marinara on top of that, topped it with 2 - 4 meatballs (2 for the kid, 3 for the wife, 4 for me), poured a little more sauce over the meatballs, and topped it all with some shredded Parmesan. Served with a piece or two of the bread - delizioso!

Good ol' steak 'n taters

This was a pretty run of the mill steak and potato dinner, but I did have a couple of special twists.

First step was this afternoon, setting the frozen roll dough out the rise. Picked up the kids at school, went to the library, stopped by the grocery store to turn in some bottles for deposit, then came home and baked the rolls. After they came out and went on the cooling rack -

- I turned the oven up to 425 and scrubbed three Russet potatoes and let them air dry while I mixed up a rub for the three New York strips (our local grocery store had a sale on whole stips, so we've got steak for a little while) - fairly simple rub, just granulated garlic, onion powder, fresh ground black pepper, and kosher salt. I rubbed both sides of the steak and let them sit for while I carried on the potato prep. I rubbed the potatoes down with a clean towel to make sure they were dry, then brushed a really thin layer of vegetable oil over them. I then filled a 9-inch square baking dish about a 1/2 inch deep with kosher salt, added the potatoes, rolled them around to cover them with salt, then stuck the whole works in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.

Rubbed steaks:

I had put a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts in the fridge the thaw earlier in the day, so I took them out and realized they weren't fully thawed yet - into a bowl of running cold water to quick thaw. Then I got out the cast iron skillets, large and small, and set them on the stove. I cut four pieces of thick sliced hickory smoked bacon into the small skillet, set the burner under it to medium, then waited for the sprouts to thaw. Once they were thawed, I drained them and cut the larger ones in half, then tossed them with what was left of the rub mixture.

Once the bacon was crisp, I removed the pieces to a small platter with some paper towels to drain and added half a yellow onion, diced, and a heaping tsp. of minced garlic to the bacon grease in the pan and sauted until the onion started to get soft, then in went the sprouts.

Stirred the sprouts around into the onion and garlic, then covered the pan. About that time the timer went off for the potatoes, so they came out to be flipped over and punctured, then back into the oven for another 30 minutes.

Stirred the sprouts again and recovered, then turned my attention to the meat. Big cast iron skillet goes back on the front burner, then gets preheated over high heat for about five minutes. Added the steaks (no oil, I didn't trim the fat off the steaks, so that rendered out), turned the heat down to medium high, and let them sear on that side for four minutes then flipped them.

Seared the other side for another four minutes, then removed two (one for me, one for the daughter) and put on a resting rack and tented them with foil. (Meanwhile, the sprouts were finished, so I turned off the heat, mixed the cooked bacon in, and left them covered. Between the residual heat from the cast iron and the insulation from the lid, they were still piping hot when everything was done about 15 minutes later.)  The other steak (for the wife) stayed in the pan for another two minutes, then got transferred to a sheet pan and put in the oven with the potatoes for another four or five minutes (my daughter and I like rare to medium rare, my wife likes medium well to well done). I then deglazed the pan with about 1/3 of a can of beef broth, being sure to scrape up all the yummy brown bits of charred steak from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Added a few drops of Worchestershire sauce, and let the liquid reduce by half, stirring the whole time. I then added in 3 Tbsp. of butter, let that melt, combined it all, then transferred it to a small bowl. Out come the potatoes, and it's time to plate up and dig in!

I had my baked potato with a little butter and some shredded co-jack cheese, and drizzled the pan sauce over the steak. And yes, I ate that whole plate. All I'd had the rest of the day was that little bowl of oatmeal from my previous post and a fried balogna sandwich. I was hungry, and boy, did it taste good!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Porridge? My first breakfast post...

So this is what I threw together for breakfast today: put a cup of water in a saucepan to boil. Meanwhile, I toasted 1/4 cup of steel cut oats in 1/2 Tbsp. butter in another saucepan over medium heat until they started to get a slightly nutty smell, then poured in about 3/4 of the boiling water and 1/4 cup milk, turned the heat down to low, covered and simmered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I added the rest of the hot water as the liquid evaporated and was absorbed by the oats. While that was simmering, I combined 1Tbsp. brown sugar, 1 Tbsp. dark maple syrup, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground clove in a ramekin, added a 1/2 Tbsp butter, and microwaved it for 15 seconds to melt the butter, then stirred it all together. I also diced 1/4 of a Granny Smith apple (skin on) and tossed it in a bowl with a little lemon juice. Once the oats were done, I transferred them to a bowl, stirred in the sugar/syrup mixture and half the diced apple, then topped it with the rest of the apple. Here's the result:

In hindsight, I probably could have cleaned the edges of the bowl a bit before the picture, but I was hungry.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Allez cuisine!

So, tonight I decided to do a little impromptu amateur Iron Chef. Secret ingredient: boneless skinless chicken breast.

I only did three dishes - appetizer, salad, and entree. The pictures aren't the greatest, because I was taking them on the fly before the food got cold. Also, no photos of the work (mess) in progress. I don't know exactly how safe my camera would be in the kitchen while I'm cooking frantically.

Anyway, on to the first dish: honey roasted peanut crusted chicken fingers with a potato pancake and honey peanut sauce.

(I know it's a little one-note color wise, but I'll make up for that in the next dish.) I cut up the chicken, seasoned it with granulated garlic, white pepper, and kosher salt, then covered it with milk and a little hot sauce and let it sit while I heated the skillet with about half a stick of butter and some vegetable oil. I rolled the chicken pieces in finely chopped honey roasted peanuts, then fried them in the oil/butter mixture, and set them on a rack over a baking sheet in the warm oven to drain. I then made a roux with the leftover fat and some flower, added in a couple of tablespoons of natural peanut butter, then deglazed the pan with chicken broth. I added a little milk to thin it out some more, and a good deal of honey to get it to the right sweetness level. The potato pancakes were just a shredded russet, with most of the moisture squeezed out, fried in some butter.

Dish 2: Julienne fresh vegetable slaw with milk poached chicken, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

(Balsamic poured a little quicker than I wanted on that one piece of chicken.)

For this one, I poured off the seasoned milk from the chicken into a sauce pan, added some more milk, parsley and tarragon, then brought it almost to a boil and added several pieces of the chicken and turned the heat to low and let it simmer while I cut up the veggies: celery, carrot, and a fresh green bell pepper from the garden. In the middle of the cutting, I took out the chicken and let it cool to room temperature. Mixed the veggies in the bowls, sliced the chicken, poured a little balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil over the top, and sprinkled a little more tarragon over it.

Final dish: Sauted chicken, Brussels sprouts and sweet corn

This one was fairly simple. I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan, added the last few pieces of chicken, and partially cooked some single serving steamer packs of baby Brussels sprouts and sweet corn. They went into seperate bowls, I seasoned the corn with garlic, the sprouts with white pepper, and both with paprika and kosher salt. I added the sprouts after the chicken was no longer pink on the outside, then the corn after a few stirs. I covered the pan for a couple of minutes, stirred it all together, then deglazed the pan with a little zinfandel. Let that reduce, portioned out into bowls, then topped with some grated parmesan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Viva la Mexico!

So tonight, we decided it was taco night. The taco meat is simple, just brown the meat and use the packet of taco seasoning (convenience counts, right?). The side dishes and toppings make the meal.


2 ripe avocados
1/2 onion (red or sweet yellow), minced
1 large jalapeno or 2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 grindings black pepper
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. granulated garlic

Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit. Scoop the flesh out of the peel, and mash with a fork in a large mixing bowl. Add the other ingredients and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface, then refrigerate for at least an hour for the flavors to mingle. Taste and add more salt, pepper or garlic if needed.

This stuff is great on tacos, burittos, fajitas, or just as a dip for tortilla chips.

Southwest Rice Pilaf (adapted from a recipe in I'm Just Here For the Food by Alton Brown)

1 tsp. Kosher salt
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup diced onion
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 cups white rice (NOT instant!)
a couple of grindings black pepper
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350. Add the salt to the broth and bring to a boil in a kettle or saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Heat an ovenable sauce pot over medium-high heat, then add the butter. When it stops foaming, add the onion and garlic. Stir with a wooden spoon for about 90 seconds, then add the cumin and cilantro. Stir a few times, then add the pepper flakes, count to ten, and add the rice, stirring to coat. Stir every so often until the rice starts to smell a little nutty. Pour in the boiling broth, stirring the whole time. Cover the sauce pot, then transfer to the oven for 17 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the lid, and let sit for one minute, then fluff with a fork and serve.

In the briny deep

So here's my first attempt at brining pork. This is enough to brine 3 or 4 butterfly pork chops, about 1/2 inch thick, or a smallish pork roast.

Brine for pork

2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup Kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt, not iodized)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 Tsp. dried Valencia orange peel
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups ice water

Combine everything but the ice water in a sauce pan, and heat over medium heat until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Remove from heat, and stir in the ice water to cool the mixture. It should be cooler than lukewarm. Place the target meat in a large Ziploc bag, and pour in the brine. Seal the bag, place it in a shallow dish, and refrigerate for at least one hour up to 24. The chops are fine after an hour, a roast would take at least 5. Remove the meat from the brine, pat dry, and cook. You can bake, roast, grill, smoke, even pan fry these to good effect.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain

Here's the meal that was in my profile photo, and is now at the bottom of this post. The side dishes are not my original creations (spinach and garbanzos from a Spanish tapas cookbook, and Vigo brand yellow saffron rice), nor is the bread (Spanish white bread recipe found online and baked by my wife), but the pork and sauce were invented on the fly.

Spanish-inspired rub for pork

This can be made for as much or as little meat as you need. I just eyeballed it, but feel free to use precise measurements.

2 parts Kosher salt
1.5 parts freshly ground black pepper
1 part ground cumin
1 part granulated garlic
1.5 parts coriander
1 part turmeric
2.5 parts Spanish paprika
1 part orange zest (preferably Valencia orange)

Mix the ingredients, then brush the pork lightly with oil, rub the seasoning mixture onto the meat, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Grill or smoke the meat.

For the plate in the photo, I used two beautiful pieces of pork tenderloin. I seared them over high direct heat on the grill, then moved them to the other side and cooked them indirectly. I spiked the water in the drip pan with some more orange vest, cumin, and coriander, and let it go while I prepared the other components of the meal.

Spanish-inspired tomato viniagrette sauce

One can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1 tsp. coriander
several grindings black pepper
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
2 Tpsp. Spanish paprika
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 medium sized bell pepper (any color)

Combine all ingredients except bell pepper in food processor bowl or mixing bowl (with immersion blender), pulse several times until tomatoes are no longer recognizable. Let the mixture rest. Brush the pepper with vegetable oil, then roast it over direct heat on the grill, turning frequently until charred all over. Let it cool for a few minutes, then peel, seed and chop. Add the chopped roasted pepper to the mixture in the bowl, and process for a couple of minutes until smooth. If using the processor, transfer to a bowl and let rest until ready to serve. Stir well just before serving, then spoon over pork.

The recipe that inspired the idea...

Here's the recipe I posted that led to Lenn asking when I would start my own foodie blog.

Egg Drop Soup (inspired by #1 Kitchen, Davenport, Iowa)

Bring 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil, add in a little garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and ground ginger, then add a handful of thinly sliced cabbage and about half as much julienned carrot. Let it boil for about a minute and a half. Meanwhile, beat 2 large eggs very well. With the broth still boiling, SLOWLY pour in the beaten egg while stirring the soup clockwise. Remove from heat, ladle into bowls, garnish with thinly sliced green onion tops, and serve with soy sauce.
This works as a great opener for any Asian meal when served in small portions, or can make a great meal when served in two large bowls with sides of stir fried veggies. Enjoy!

Here goes nothing....

A friend from a totally non-food-related forum suggested that I should start a foodie blog. I've thought about it for a few days, and finally came to the conclusion that it might be fun. I'm not going to promise anything spectacular, and I don't think this will be limited to just food, but for now that's gonna be my focus. Let's see if I'm not too much of a slacker to keep up with this.

Thanks for the idea, Lenn!