Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tri-tip on the Grill

Tri-tip can be hard to find around these parts. I got mine from Coborn's in Ramsey, but I don't know of a source in the city. There are a few things you can substitute, and one of the best would be flank steak. I think boneless shell steak, hanger steak, or london broil might work too--ask a butcher.

The trick is a short and flavorful marinade with some reserved for brushing on after the cooking. Cook the steak over high heat and then finish it over medium-low. I think that it tastes best cooked medium-well, which seems to be traditional in CA--it's really not a steak that's served rare. Also, the end pieces cook faster, which gives a fun variety of done-ness levels.

Pat the steak dry and place in a large zip-loc. Combine the marinade ingredients, reserving 1/4 c. for later.

1/2 c. soy sauce
1/3 c. oil
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. red pepper paste (or 1 Tbsp. sriracha)
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped chives or green onion

Add the marinade to the bag and marinate for 1-2 hrs, turning once or twice. Grill over high heat for 3-5 minutes per side and then transfer to medium heat until cooked medium-well. You want the outside crisp and almost-burnt and the inside cooked through but not tough. Remove from heat and brush with reserved marinade. Cover loosely, and allow to rest 5 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and pour any juices from the plate over the meat.

Pink Pickled Onions and Zingy Vinegar Coleslaw

Pink Pickled Onions

Pickled onions are great to have on hand, since they make everything more delicious and are also nice to munch on as an accompaniment. Apparently they are the hip new thing, but the recipe has been around basically as long as onions have, which is to say a long time.

1 large red onion or 2 mediums, sliced into rings
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 to 1/2 c. water (depends on how zingy you want them)
1/4 c. white or red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt

optional seasonings:

2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. whole allspice
pinch oregano
bay leaves

Place the onion slices in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 1 minute and then drain. Clean a jar or tupperware well and put the onions and garlic into it. In a small saucepan, simmer your vinegar, water, salt and seasonings for 1 minute. Pour the hot mixture over the onions, cover the storage container, and shake the onions around to combine. Allow to marinate for at least 4 hrs. Can be stored for several weeks.

Zingy Vinegar Coleslaw

This coleslaw recipe contains no mayonnaise, thank god. It calls for macerating the cabbage ahead of time to remove as much moisture as possible. This has several benefits, such as: eliminating the puddle of liquid at the bottom of the bowl, increasing storage life, and improving the texture and digestibility of the cabbage.

Adding apples is optional and I still haven't decided if I like it or not. You can use red or green cabbage, and I think this would be amazing with savoy cabbage if you can find it. I added pickled onions from the previous recipe, but you could use plain red onions instead. Rinse them in cold water first, to make them less stinky. Come to think of it, this would also be good with pomegranate seeds in it.

1/2 -3/4 large head cabbage, shredded
2 tart apples, sliced into thin pieces
1 tsp. salt

1/2 c. pickled onions, chopped
1 c. pomegranate seeds (optional)

1/2 c. vinegar (I used half rice, half red wine)
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil (don't use olive oil)
4 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. pomegranate molasses
1/2 tsp. celery seed
lots of black pepper

Place the cabbage and apples in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Toss well and allow to sit for 1-4 hours. Drain in a large colander and rinse well. Spin in a salad spinner or clean dishtowel and then return to bowl. Combine the dressing ingredients and pour over cabbage and apples. Stir in the onions (and pomegranate seeds, if using) and combine throughly. Adjust the salt and sugar as needed. Keeps for several days.

Homemade Baked Beans

Our Memorial Day Welcome Home picnic was a great success! I was so wonderful to see everyone and go into food comas as a family. I got many compliments, so I will post the recipes I used for posterity.

This recipe takes long, slow cooking and and some planning in advance, but it's definitely worth it.

1 lb. dry navy beans, soaked overnight
5-7 strips bacon, sliced thin
1 ham hock
1 onion, diced
2 T. tomato or red pepper paste
3/4 c. regular molasses
1/5 c. dark brown sugar
2 T. dijon mustard
2 T. ketchup
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. thyme
several grinds of black pepper
salt (add after cooking)

Preheat your oven to 300.

In a heavy pot, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low until the fat renders and they just start to crisp. Add the onion and cook until it softens. Stir in the tomato or pepper paste until there are no lumps remaining.

Add the beans and cover with 1" water. Stir in the molasses, sugar, and remaining seasonings. Add the ham hock and bring to a boil.

Cover and place in the oven for 2 hrs. Stir and bake for one more hour. Test the beans for done-ness and if they're mostly ready, then either remove the lid and return the oven at 325 or place it on the stovetop and continue cooking until the desired amount of liquid has evaporated. If they need more time, bake longer.

Adjust the salt and seasonings at the end. I do this by adding molasses, mustard, salt, or vinegar as needed.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Warm weather supper for one

When the weather warms and my clothing has become snug, my thoughts turn to lighter foods for supper. At work I usually take a filling lunch and then have a slice of Jeff's wholesome toast at about 4:00, so by evening I just need a little something to break up the work day and the best part of the day.

My current favorite is rice noodles, in any form, floating in broth and whatever is handy. I start by boiling a big pot of water as soon as I walk in the door. (I have to do this immediately upon entering the kitchen, because if I stop and feed the dog first, autopilot will take over and I will completely forget about the noodle water. I think this is a by-product of aging memory and the fact that I am the only one waiting to eat). After I feed the dog, I get comfy and then begin preparation for my soup: chop up vegies, soak dried mushrooms, pick asparagus, onions or whatever is in season from the garden, and then cook the noodles. Sometimes I will drop crunchy vegetables into the boiling water just to pre-cook them a little. They all get drained at the same time.

Rice noodles come in many forms. Some of them need to be soaked in cold water first and some cook very quickly. It just takes a little trial and error and asking the nice folks at the Asian market for tips. I try to make enough for two meals. The broth is usually chicken, but if I don't have any, I will just boil water and the rest of the ingredients and add miso at the end. This is best done with a strainer and a spoon; you smush the miso against the strainer into the water/broth. I add the ingredients according to cooking time. First, if using carrots and onions, I saute them first in a little oil, then add the broth and let it cook a while. I drop in the pre-cooked or soaked dried vegies, like broccoli or cauliflower or shitake mushrooms, near the end. When it is seasoned to taste (usually with various Asian-oriented seasonings) I put the drained noodles in the bowl and pour the broth and vegies on top, ending with some fresh spring onions. Some people like to add fresh basil and bean sprouts at this point. I don't really like crunchy things in my slurpy food, so I leave those out.

This is a simplified version of Operation Icebox. As you can see, anything is appropriate, depending on your taste and mood.

Tapioca: Always in Season

When Alex comes home from afar, I always feel the need to make tapioca pudding. Go figure. Everyone in the family loves it but I don't usually think of making it. Last night, Alex and Lillian and I were sitting around catching up on news and making sandwiches, so I decided to start some. I was all out of Minute Tapioca, so I soaked the big tapioca balls. Oh, my. I had forgotten how delicious it is. I always follow the recipe in my mother's favorite cookbook, The Settlement Cookbook. It is barely held together by tape but I feel that the connection to my mom is what is actually holding it together. Plus all the schmutz that has been spilled on it over the years. And her funny notes to herself, written in her beautiful handwriting. Here is the recipe (I doubled it, of course):
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking tapioca*
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or more)
* when using large tapioca, measure it dry and soak it in some of the milk for an hour or so while you are doing other things in the kitchen.

The following is my version of the original, overly-complicated instructions. The only thing to remember is to STIR CONSTANTLY, and I don't mean just swirl it around on top.

Combine tapioca, milk, egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Don't skimp on the sugar. Live a little. Cook over a medium flame, stirring constantly, until it starts to bubble. Let it cook like this for about 4-5 minutes. Do not let it burn! Turn down the heat if necessary. When thick, remove from heat and beat the egg whites until thick. Fold them into the pudding along with the vanilla. Let cool.

It is most delicious chilled, if it lasts that long.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Masterful Mac 'n' Cheese (Plus bonus cupcake pin-up photos!)

Is it the artist or the tools that make greatness? In the case of this macaroni and cheese, I would humbly say it's the artist. However, tools help a hell of a you will see from these photos. Dan's dad is a photography enthusiastic and today I got to have fun with macro lenses. Nothing can make my lazy food photography look so good as schmancy camera equipment, so behold! Also, below is my definitive macaroni and cheese recipe.

Masterful Mac 'n' Cheese

Crusty, bubbling, cheezy goodness.

1 lb. macaroni noodles, cooked al dente (don't rinse!)
1 lb. cheese, grated (use more than one kind)
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. sour cream
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. dried onion flakes
1/2 tsp. half-sharp paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Optional Topping:
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. cracker crumbs
1/2 tsp. half-sharp paprika
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt

Basically you start off with a simple bechamel sauce and add cheese, making a mornay sauce. You can either serve this right off the stovetop or bake it in a 450 deg. oven to crisp the top.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the butter until bubbling and whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until slightly browned. Stir in the milk and bring to a simmer. Add the spices and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking well. Remove from heat and whisk in the sour cream. Then add 3/4 of the cheese and stir until blended. If you're serving it from the stovetop, add in all of the cheese. Pour the cheese over the noodles and combine well.

For baked mac 'n' cheese, pour the noodles into a shallow, greased baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. To make the optional topping, heat the butter until bubbling in a small frying pan. Add the crumbs and seasoning and toast, stirring constantly--take care that it doesn't burn. Sprinkle this mixture over the cheezy noodles and put the baking dish into the oven. Bake until the top is crisp, helping it along with the broiler if need be. Serve!

Americana in all its glory!


Cheddar and Monterey Jack make a good combo because the sharpness of the cheddar is balanced by the mild creaminess of the jack, but you can use any combo you like. A high-quality NY cheddar is best, but hard to find for a decent price here, so I use Cracker Barrel to good effect. When choosing your cheese, you will get better results using more than one and your goal should be to balance flavor and meltiness.

If you don't have half-sharp paprika, you can use a combination of paprika and cayenne to give your desired spiciness level.

If you don't have sour cream you can use yogurt or all milk. I wouldn't go lower than 2% milkfat.

Salt the noodles well when you cook them and don't rinse them--you want the starch to thicken things further.

Cupcake Pinup Photos!

So, I've gotten hassled by unnamed members of our family for simply linking to recipes and posting photos. I stick my tongue out at you :-P If you want this recipe you'll have to search it out yourself--it was from America's Test Kitchen. These are dark chocolate cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream frosting, and yes, they are off the hook! Click on the photos to see them biggified.

These cupcakes pity you because you can't eat them.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beef and Baby Bok Choy Stir-fry

You can use any hearty vegetable for this. It cooks pretty quickly, so start some rice first. I was going to take some cool pictures with one of the fancy cameras around here, but I couldn't figure out how to work the dang thing :P so you'll have to use your imagination. Basically it looked like this picture that I ganked from Epicurious, but with lots of tasty beef:

You will need:

1-1.5 lbs beef: tri-tip, blade steak, or flank steak work best
A lot of hearty greens, such as bok choy or broccoli
3-5 shallots or 1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
fish sauce
ground coriander
white pepper
brown sugar
soy sauce
rice vinegar
sesame oil
red pepper flakes
chicken broth or water

Slice the beef into thin, bite-sized strips and coat with with 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp white pepper, and 1/2 tsp ground coriander. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes.

If you're using bok choy, slice the larger specimens into quarters and the smaller ones in half, lengthwise. Clean as thoroughly as possible, to get any grit out from between the leaves.

Peel the shallots and chop each one only once or twice, so it's in nice big pieces. Mince the garlic finely. In a small dish, combine soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and brown sugar into a sauce that tastes good to you. You will only need about 1/4 c. sauce.

Heat a large, flat-bottomed pan until it juuuuust starts to smoke. Add the meat in 2-3 batches so that it isn't crowded in the pan. Your goal is to cook the meat on both sides on very high heat so that the edges are crisp and brown (1-2 minutes per side). Set the cooked meat aside in a bowl. If the bottom of the pan has a lot of crusty stuff, deglaze it with some broth or water and pour this into the bowl.

Heat up more oil until very hot and add some red pepper flakes. 10 seconds later, add the shallots and garlic and stir until the shallots are softened a bit and the edges are brown. Add half of the bok choy and stir fry 2 minutes. Add the second half of the bok choy, the meat and any drippings from the bowl, and your sauce. Stir well and either leave the pan open to evaporate the liquid while the veggies steam, or put the lid on--it depends on how much liquid you have and how wet you want it. Allow to steam until the veggies are a nice done-ness. The two-stage veggie approach gives you a variety of textures. Serve over fresh rice.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blog Upkeep

Hello all!

Soon the whole family will be back in town. I propose that we take a new blog photo, this time with Joe looking less cheeseball and Alex looking less like a befuddled terrorist. Let's try to remember it when we have our big BBQ.

Also, you've probably noticed that I haven't been updating as much lately. I've been busy with school stuff, but also I'm reaching a point where I keep cooking recipes that are already on the blog. I guess that's inevitable. You guys should add more stuff, especially when J & A are back in the land of fast internet. Mom, you basically have no excuse :P

See everyone soon!