Start with ground beef mixed with some Montreal steak seasoning and dehydrated soup vegetables. Press the ground beef out flat in a sheet pan, like pastry. Coat with a layer of fromage fort or any spreadable cheese. Add chopped mushrooms (or leftover sauteed mushrooms), sundried tomatoes, chopped garlic, chopped spinach, chopped basil, really any flavorful ingredients you can think of. Roll up into a loaf. Place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-30 minutes to brown and crisp the exterior, then reduce to 350 degrees until done (use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature from time to time for doneness).
Thursday, August 19, 2010
If you love cheese, and if you have my weakness for cheese, you probably end up with plenty of "nubs" of cheese in your fridge. Fromage Fort is a beautiful way to use up your last bits of leftover cheese.
Just gather up your leftover little bits of cheese and dice them up. Throw them in the food processor with a clove of garlic and your favorite combination of cream cheese and/or butter and/or white wine. Process until smooth. You'll have a fabulous gourmet cheese spread made from leftovers. How cool is that?
I first experienced Vietnamese food in 1987. My boss' boss at the time had come to Dallas from Vietnam. She took our group to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in East Dallas, so we had the benefit of a Vietnamese native to direct our choices. It was love at first bite for me. Vietnamese food is so fresh and healthy and such a beautiful blend of all the flavors. Vietnamese food has been among my favorites ever since. One of my very favorite Vietnamese foods is the spring rolls with nuoc cham sauce. Sometimes Vietnamese spring rolls are served with peanut sauce; however, I haven't found nor been able to develop a recipe for peanut sauce that even approaches the perfection of nuoc cham. I'll continue researching Vietnamese peanut sauces, but in the meantime here are some simple recipes to satisfy your Vietnamese cravings:
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Boiled and peeled shrimp and/or marinated cooked pork (about 12 shrimp or the equivalent weight in pork)
2 ounces dried rice stick noodles or rice vermicelli, cooked according to package directions
8 round rice paper spring roll wrappers (readily available at Asian markets)
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed
16 Thai basil leaves
8 cilantro sprigs
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-by-1/4-by-2-inch sticks
2 large scallions, trimmed, halved, and sliced into 3-inch lengths
Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise or julienne the pork.
Clear a work surface and place all filling ingredients in separate containers in the following order around the work surface: Rice paper wrappers, shrimp and/or pork, rice noodles, bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, cucumber, scallions.
Place a damp layer of paper towels on work surface.
Pour hot water into a wide shallow dish or large dinner plate. Submerge a wrapper until it is slightly soft and pliable. Remove from water and place on the work surface.
Working quickly, lay 3 shrimp halves or some diced pork in a row, just above the center of the wrapper. Layer a scant 1/4 cup of the rice noodles over the shrimp, followed by a few bean sprouts, 2 basil leaves, and 1 sprig of cilantro. Place 3 to 4 cucumber sticks and 3 to 4 scallion pieces on either side of the noodle pile. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top. (Think burrito style.) Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward. Serve with nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Vietnamese Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup fish sauce (nuoc nam)
1/2 cup lime or lemon juice (about 3 limes or 2 lemons)
1 large clove garlic, crushed, peeled, and sliced or minced
1 or more bird's eye or Thai chilies, seeded and sliced or minced
Sprinkling of finely shredded carrot
Whisk together the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime or lemon juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chili and let stand for 30 minutes before serving. Decorate with shredded carrot.
I won't dare get into the ongoing debate about stock vs. broth. This recipe uses wonderful beef bones as well as flavorful meat, so I guess it could be either a stock or a broth. It's based on a recipe that Alton Brown prepared on his Good Eats program. He used a pressure cooker to speed up the cooking process. We don't currently own a pressure cooker and we're not really concerned about making speedy recipes, so we used the oven to brown the meaty bones and the slow cooker (Crock Pot) to simmer the broth. There aren't any exact measurements for this recipe, just use whatever amounts your slow cooker can hold. You don't have to do a lot of cleaning/prepping of the veggies because you're going to strain everything later.
Beef shank, oxtail, and/or beef bones
Carrots, rinsed and rough chopped
Celery, rinsed and rough chopped
Onions, rinsed and cut in quarters
Garlic heads, cut in half horizontally
Homemade veggie broth if you have it
Any leftover herbs you have lying around
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the beef/beef bones on a baking rack, roasting pan, or grill pan, anything that will allow the heat to circulate well and allow some of the fat to drain off as it cooks. Roast for an hour to an hour and a half, checking regularly. You want the meat and bones to become very well caramelized to develop the flavor (the Maillard reaction), but you obviously don't want them to burn.
Remove beef and bones from oven. Start heating your slow cooker at high heat. Add the beef and bones, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, homemade veggie broth if you have it, several big pinches of salt, and lots of freshly ground pepper. Cover with water within an inch or so of the top of the slow cooker.
Cook on high heat at least 12 hours. The longer the better. Stir the mixture from time to time. If you notice any foam gathering on the surface skim it off. If you notice marrow in any of the bones, scrape it out with a spoon into the pot; it's a very flavorful addition to the stock. After 12 hours or so add any leftover herbs you have and continue cooking.
When the broth is cooked to your liking, turn off the slow cooker and let the mixture cool. When cool enough to handle, place a collander over a large stewpot. Drain the broth into the stewpot, removing the solids. Cook the broth on the stovetop over medium heat until slightly reduced. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Add a healthy splash of sherry, also to taste. Sherry vinegar will also work if you don't want the alcohol. When reduced to your liking, place a mesh strainer over a large glass measuring cup or a mixing bowl, cover the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth, and pour the broth through to strain it well. Refrigerate the strained broth. The next day, remove the fat layer that will have congealed on top of the broth.
The broth can be used immediately or can be frozen for later use. A really easy way to freeze broth is to pour it into a silicone muffin pan, freeze, then pop out the broth "icecubes" into a labeled zip-lock bag for future use.
This broth will be very flavorful and meaty-tasting. Although it's not quite demi-glace it has a lot of collagen in it. As it's beginning to freeze you'll see that it has the consistency of Jell-O. It's a great base for soups and sauces. It is amazing when heated, reduced slightly, and served over creamed potatoes. Yeah, just speaking from experience and daydreaming for a moment there :)
This stuff is beautiful. It takes a lot of of time to cook, but not a lot of hands-on time and it isn't a difficult recipe to execute. I hope you'll try it. It will give a professional touch to your soups and sauces.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I'm so excited to introduce the first regular feature on this blog, Cooking With Cuqui. My mother-in-law, Cuqui (pronounced Cookie), is originally from Puerto Rico, and has also lived in New York City, Carracas, Mexico City, and now in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. I'm anxious to learn to cook her native Puerto Rican food, which is my precious husband's childhood food, as well as some of the recipes she learned in the other places that she lived.
I'm so fortunate to have grown up in a family of great cooks. I was helping out in the kitchen from the time that I was old enough to stir a pot. With my mother and my grandparents, I learned to cook healthy, nutritious meals. My paternal grandparents were East Texas farming folks and my Papa (my paternal grandfather) also was a decorated soldier. In the time I spent with my paternal grandparents, I experienced a lot of good, old-fashioned southern "soul" food, the kind of food that is inexpensive to cook but so incredibly tasty. And when I say old-fashioned I'm not kidding. My Nanny Sue (my paternal grandmother) would have us prepare the food to feed the "menfolk" first, then the women and children were fed. That's just the way she grew up back in the day in a family of southern sharecroppers.
My maternal grandparents were well-educated city folk who decided to move to the country in search of a healthier lifestyle. They became gardeners and were interested in vitamins and nutrients long before it was trendy to care about such things. I spent a lot of fun times with them in their garden, harvesting fresh fruits and veggies. One of my biggest treats as a child was the weeks I got to spend with my grandparents in the summer, working in the garden, harvesting produce, and canning tomatoes.
At home we ate really well and really healthy. My mom is a great, nutritious, frugal cook. She's a very talented artist and she always taught us the concept that you eat with your eyes first. We learned that the food has to be pretty on the plate. You simply cannot serve a plate full of beige foods.
All this is to say that cooking is a family heritage that is important to preserve. A great part of the reason I began this blog is to collect all the recipes that my precious hubby, Gordon, and I cook, including our families' recipes, in a convenient way so our kids can access them now and when we're gone. My husband and I want to be sure that family recipes live on; therefore, it's very important to us to preserve the Puerto Rican cooking heritage of his family.
And now, without further ado, the first installment of Cooking With Cuqui: Bistec en Cebollado, Puerto Rican-Style Habichuelas, y Arroz Blanco (Steak with Onions, Puerto-Rican Beans, and White Rice)
One of the many reasons I love this type of cooking is that it's done very much by eye and by taste, my favorite way to cook. Please adjust measurements to your taste.
Bistec en Cebollado
3 lbs. cube steak
2 white onions, halved and sliced thin
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 tablespoon sea salt (or to taste)
Couple pinches coarse ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Olive oil for the frying pan
1 ripe avocado
Drizzle of olive oil for avocado
Sprinkle of sea salt for avocado
In a pilon (mortar and pestle) grind the garlic cloves with the sea salt, then add the black pepper, olive oil, vinegar, and juice from 1 lime. Rub this mixture gently into the cube steak and set aside to marinate for 1 to 2 hours.
Heat frying pan over medium heat and add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom, a couple of tablespoons. When olive oil is warm, add the onion and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion begins to caramelize, around 20 minutes.
Remove onions to a bowl. Increase temperature of frying pan to medium-high or high, add a little more olive oil, and add some of the cube steaks. (Cook in batches; don't overcrowd the pan.) Cook 3-5 minutes, then turn steaks over. Steak will release easily from the pan when ready to turn. Cook about 3 minutes on the other side. You want these steaks to be just cooked through but not overdone.
When all steaks are cooked, combine them with the onions in the frying pan. Serve warm with beans, white rice, and slices of avocado dressed with olive oil and sea salt.
Puerto Rican-Style Habichuelas (Beans)
1/3 cup diced ham
1/3 cup diced Spanish-style chorizo (such as Goya)
1 finely diced white onion
1 finely diced bell pepper
1 diced tomato
3 or 4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
pinch coarsely ground black pepper
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1 large can of Goya red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup sliced green olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 can of chicken broth (use the bean can to measure)
1 packet Goya sazon
1 or 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 small green plaintain, shredded on a cheese grater
Heat Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil to coat generously. Add diced ham and chorizo and cook for several minutes. Add onion and bell pepper and cooked until softened. Add diced tomato. Mash garlic with salt in a pilon; add black pepper and enough olive oil to pilon to form a paste. Scrape garlic paste into Dutch oven, adding a little water to pilon if necessary to get all the garlic out. Cook for several minutes.
Add beans. Add tomato sauce, olives, and capers and cook for several minutes. Add chicken broth, sazon, and vinegar. Simmer over medium heat until flavors are well combined. Bring to a boil and then add shredded plaintain, which adds flavor and is also a great thickening agent. Cook at a low boil for several minutes, then you're ready to serve.
Cuqui's Puerto Rican White Rice
White rice sounds like the easiest thing in the world to cook; however, there's something special about Cuqui's white rice, It's like a siren song to the family, beckoning everyone to visit whenever she makes it.
3 cups short-grain white rice
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 3/4 cups boiling water
3 teaspoons salt
Heat olive oil over medium heat (preferably in a Latin style caldero). Add rice. Cook and stir for several minutes. Let the rice cook enough that it develops a little toasty flavor. Add boiling water. Simmer rice until you see "tunnels" through the rice and until the rice stops making a lot of sizzling/crackling sounds. Sorry that this step is a little hard to describe.