Monday, February 13, 2017

Cacao One-Bowl Triple-Chocolate World's BEST Easy Brownies—for Your Valentine or for You?



Cacao Powder may be the secret of the brownie universe. Not cocoa, but cacao, which is raw. If you don't believe there's much difference, try a blind taste-test. Cacao is more subtle, more rich. Cacao powder is fantastic—in oatmeal, in cappuccino, and in batches of homemade brownies—and it is off-the-charts delicious.  Here’s the brownie recipe I came up with that is insanely easy—everything mixes in one bowl and the baking pan is lined, so there’s no buttering and flouring necessary. Super-fast to make and guaranteed to win you admiration.


Makes 16 larger or 32 smaller brownies 
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter
2 ½ cups turbinado (raw--also called "demerrara") sugar
1 ¾ cups cacao powder
½  teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large organic eggs
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup cacao nibs
8 ounces chopped Belgian or other quality semisweet chocolate bar (do not use chocolate chips)


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of a 13” × 8” baking pan (a lasagna pan) with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.  
  2. Melt the butter in the microwave in a large microwave-proof bowl until just melted. When cool to touch, add in the sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and salt. Stir gently to mix. 
  3.  Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, but do not over-mix. 
  4.  Stir in the nuts and chopped chocolate chunks. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
  5.  Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 35 to 40 minutes until set but not firm (should be slightly moist in the center). 
  6. Let cool completely on a rack or, if you are in a hurry, in the refrigerator.

    NOTE: This recipe doubles beautifully! Use a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. The cooking time is the same, just be careful not to overcook (it cooks faster on the outside than the inside). These brownies do not rise--this is a rich recipe without leavening. They spread a bit and firm up, but are moist and rich and incredibly delicious. In fact, I believe these to be the most delicious brownies I've ever tasted--but you must use cacao nibs and cacao powder and raw turbinado sugar to get that effect.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Tri-tip into Bulgogi: From Blah into Bravo JUSTLIKETHAT


Chances are, if you have dined in a Korean restaurant, or are lucky enough to have Korean friends or family, you probably have already tasted bulgogi, a thinly sliced marinated sesame beef barbecue that is indescribably delicious. And, if you live in California, you have probably been served tri-tip barbecue so many times it's a ho-hum deal. Growing up on the east coast, I had never heard of tri-tip. But when I moved out west, it took only a week or two to encounter my first tri-tip.

Tri-tip goes by other names: sirloin or knuckle roast. Tri-tip is the corner piece that is cut off when slicing sirloin steaks. Usually not as tender as the rest of the sirloin, it is just as flavorful and takes well to marinating and grilling. Santa Maria barbecue is just that, marinated and grilled tri-tip. Not much to it, just sugar, garlic, pepper, and salt and the technique of slow-grilling. Why then the avid following of a simple barbecue style?

In the same way as tri-tip barbecue, bulgogi is the most common barbecue of Korea. Ho-hum to those who grew up there and ate it often, but lavishly exciting and exotic to the rest of us.

Tri-tip, bulgogi . . . what's the connection? Bulgogi recipes call for sirloin roast. And tri-tip is sirloin, only less expensive than sirloin steaks. If you have access to tri-tip from your local grocery or warehouse store, then why not, instead of serving the usual tri-tip barbecue, take a tip from Korea, where some of Earth's best barbecue comes from--and add a few more simple ingredients and slices, and voila! You've got irresistible bulgogi--to wow your friends and loved ones, with no more effort than any other barbecue. With bulgogi, you get a lot of wow factor for your effort.


  • 2 pounds sirloin tri-tip, sliced thinly across the grain on the diagonal bias
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons mirin sweet cooking wine
  • 3 scallions, chopped (optional--if you substitute chopped white onion, the chances are good that the beef will be cooked before the onions are--raw onion is not yummy to most folks, so I’d either use scallions or skip onions altogether)

Serve with:

Chili paste, like Sriracha brand
Toasted sesame seeds
Green leaf lettuce leaves
Steamed jasmine rice

Arrange the raw tri-tip on the cutting board, and with a very sharp knife, slice across the grain in thin slices (1.8 inch or so). In a resealable large plastic bag, add the sliced tri-tip to the remaining ingredients. Let marinate, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours, or longer, if you have time.

Cook the beef in one layer in a nonstick pan, along with the marinade. Alternately, you could cut each piece of meat thicker--in 1/2 inch slices to make little steaks. Then you could grill those 1/2 inch bulgogi steaks on the grill--this is how we chose to cook it, but authentically, bulgogi is sliced thinly. Another option is to cut the meat into 1 inch cubes and then, skewer them and grill them on a grill.

Serve with steamed rice and allow diners to wrap each piece of bulgogi (if sliced thinly) in a lettuce leaf roll. If sliced thickly, then serve as is, with a salad.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Greens, Greens, Glorious Greens


Funny thing about greens--I never really liked them until my hubby taught me how to make them. Growing up, all I ever got was canned spinach (it was the culinarily unenlightened 70s). The first time I ever had spinach salad, I was an adult--and I thought it was the yummiest thing I had ever tasted! Finally, hubby is a greens devotee, and a gifted gardener, and he grows lots of them. (He makes a crispy collard greens that is to-die-for too--amazing.)
Anyway, I finally figured out that the way to really enjoy greens is to dress them like you would salad--with some sort of oil and some sort of vinegar or lemon juice, and salt, if needed. Also great with veggie or chicken stock. Voila! Greens that I cannot stop eating. So many kinds of vinegar that make greens fun--rice vinegar, umeboshi (pickled plum) vinegar, spicy vinegar with those little peppers in it (that's big in North Carolina, where I'm from--and I swear it is YUMMY!). Also good with garlic, bacon or ham (sorry, vegetarians!), hot sauce--you name it!
Eww--I love creamed greens too--ever make creamed spinach? Just make a white sauce and add frozen or slightly sautéed fresh spinach--add parmesan cheese, if you like--it's heavenly. I figure we could all do well to have more greens in our lives. So whatever gets them into our mouths is good.
One big thing to consider with greens is how tender/tough they are. Because that affects the cooking time completely. The more tender, the less they need done to them (thus spinach is great raw and to cook it takes only seconds--just enough to wilt it).
So here's my rough approximation of where some greens lie on the tender/tough scale:
Spinach
The tenderest of all. The "king" of greens. Most mild flavor too. What's not to love? Great wilted, great fresh. I'd eat spinach every day if I had the option. Also, makes your tummy feel good.
Swiss Chard 
The leaves are delightfully tender but the stems can be anywhere from somewhat tender (and lovely) to very tough (and inedible). Try using just the green leaf if there is any doubt about the stems. Tastes similar to spinach, with a texture that is only slightly beefier.
Dandelion Greens 
If fresh, needs only about 10 minutes in salted, boiling water to soften. They do age quickly, though, and can turn bitter and tough soon. But if you get them when they are tender, they are truly delightful! Greeks love them. They are great in Japanese shabu-shabu--one pot communal cooking, like Swiss fondue.
Kale
Somewhat chewy--needs more cooking than chard, has more robust flavor (e.g, somewhat more bitter) than chard. You may want to cut out the stems. Vegetarians eat them raw and they can easily go in green smoothies. I have to admit, kale isn't my favorite green--but, kale makes the top of the most nutritious green leafy veggies list.
Collard Greens
The toughest and most robust of all, but worth it. On the positive side, you can't hurt them. You can cook them for 20 minutes, forget about them, and when you come back, they are delicious and tender. Needs lots of seasoning, though.

Mustard 

I'm not that familiar with mustard greens. How are they? Where do they fall on the tender/tough scale? Let us know here at What I 8

Turnip Greens
I love turnip greens when they are served (in the South, look no further than Cracker Barrel, of all places!), but haven't found them available in stores.

More on Greens:
Health benefits--may be one of the healthiest foods on planet Earth. Seriously. Check this out:

CookingGreens.com

From MakeMeSweatX.tumbler.com
 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Homemade for the Holidays: Part 1—Pistachio Bark

Pistachio Bark—Easy Homemade Gift
Remember when we were little and many families used to make homemade Christmas and holiday gifts to exchange? Rum cake, the dreaded fruit cake, truffles, fudge, homemade jellies, potpourri? Ever want to thumb your nose at big box stores and, well, go all-old school on 'em and make your own holiday gifts? Well, you can. And some of the make-your-own holiday dessert gifts I'll be telling you about are so simple, any kid with a bit of supervision can make (others will take a few more steps and be trickier). I'll be featuring homemade gifts over the next few weeks—ones that have worked for us in the past.

First, I'll start with the easiest, tastiest, most-satisfying gift that anyone can make. I guarantee this gift will be well-received. Even if you don't prefer sweets, this gift is gorgeous and it's a sure-thing for bringing to the office and sharing or for hostess gifts for those numerous holiday parties that spring up. Looks like you spent a fortune or a long time crafting. Shhh. Your secret is safe with us.

Super-easy Pistachio Bark
  • 1/2 pound artisinal dark chocolate (Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy both sell wonderful bulk Belgian chocolate bars for about $4 a pound)
  • 1/2 pound artisinal milk chocolate
  • 1 12-ounce bag white chocolate chips (if you can find artisinal white chocolate, get that instead--I have a hard time finding good bulk white chocolate)
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled salted roasted pistachio nuts (again, Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy have great ready-to-eat pistachios)

  1. Melt the dark and milk chocolate together on the top of a double-boiler. If you don't have one, fake it with a stainless steel or other heat-proof bowl atop a pot of boiling water (the bowl must be larger than the pot rim in order to work--you don't want a wobbly bowl).
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Do not use wax paper as the wax will melt and you'll be eating it. Get parchment paper in the baking section of any supermarket.
  3. Add 3/4 cup (half) of the pistachios to the melted chocolate and stir them in lightly.
  4. Pour the chocolate-nut mixture on the parchment paper, spreading it out until it's no more than 1/4" thick (it will be irregularly shaped—no worries).
  5. Put in the freezer or the refrigerator to firm slightly.
  6. Melt the white chocolate on the top of the double-boiler or using the pot of boiling water and bowl trick, noted above.
  7. Remove the baking sheet and drizzle the white chocolate lightly across the surface of the dark chocolate. Do not mix it in.
  8. Here is another trick: to make the white layer look beautiful, get a chopstick and lightly slide it across and back and forth over the surface of the white chocolate to make delicate swirl patterns. Try to cover as much of the dark chocolate to the edge as possible--but DO NOT work the white chocolate in. Use a light touch.
  9. Sprinkle on the last 3/4 cup (the remainder) of the pistachios and refrigerate or freeze until firm. 
  10. Break the pistachio bark into irregular pieces. Wrap in cellophane food gift bags and package decoratively, as preferred.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Homemade for the Holidays Series

Part 1: Pistachio Bark

Part 2: Curry Powder (Garam Masala)

Part 3: Chocolate Truffles 

Part 4: Peppermint Bark

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Don't You Dare Buy Ready-made Stuffing for Thanksgiving!


Homemade Dressing
for the Holidays

If You Can Sing "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme," You Can Make Stuffing (dressing) from Scratch. Stuffing. Ahhhh. Maybe my favorite part of my favorite holiday. Growing up with four siblings, stuffing disappeared the fastest and was the most worth fighting over when it came to leftovers (if there were any). Who doesn't love stuffing? When I lived in Japan, where no one had a big enough oven to roast a turkey, even if they knew what one was or could afford to procure one—what I missed the most about American food was, not surprisingly, turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Simple, yes, if you live in the states. Exotic and impossible if you life overseas. Now that I am back home, I serve my family a turkey-stuffing-cranberry meal about once a month—I cannot get enough of it.


Growing up in a large household, my parents wisely took some shortcuts when it came to cooking. And stuffing was one of them. I never had honest-to-goodness homemade stuffing until I was all grown up and discovered how to make it myself. What a thrill to realize how easy it is. And the rewards are GREAT—when you serve it, be sure to mention you made it from scratch. You will hear oohs and ahhs. No store-bought stuffing mix can compare in any dimension. You too can do this—have confidence. Stuffing is so simple to prepare, you will wonder why you never thought of doing it yourself before now.

One last note: I dined at a friend's house for a holiday party recently. He was so excited to have made stuffing from scratch, but it was the most gosh-awful stuff you ever tasted. He had just tossed in the celery and tossed in the other ingredients--with NO sautéing, no herbs, no butter, and no chicken stock. The stuff he called stuffing was dreadful, pasty bread bits with hard chunks of celery. Don't let this happen to you.

Basically, stuffing is comprised of two steps: “Creating the Croutons” and “Sautéing the Savories.” And you hardly need a recipe. Once you know how to do it, you can whip stuffing up easily with no props. Are you ready? YOU CAN DO THIS!

Creating the Croutons
The croutons you just made
Take a loaf of bread that you find delicious—ones loaded with nuts and whole grains are wonderful for stuffing. Sourdough works great too. Anything but white bread (too fluffy—needs to be a bit sturdier). I'm a fanatic—I make loaves of "stuffing" bread to use (chock full of fresh herbs). But pick a bread you already like. Day-old bread is fine too. You will need about eight cups worth of croutons. If the loaf of bread is large, you may not need the whole loaf.

Cut sliced bread into strips and then again crosswise into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes. Place the croutons on a baking sheet without overlapping, if possible. Toast lightly in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Scoop all the croutons into a large bowl.

Sautéing the Savories

Celery, onions, butter, and chicken stock
The savories, sauteed and ready to roll
Chop up one large onion (sweet ones like Walla-walla or Vidalia are especially yummy for this) and about 6~8 stalks of celery (slice each stalk lengthwise first and then crosswise to make smaller pieces). Sauté the onions and celery in 6~8 tablespoons butter (use butter unabashedly, but start with the lesser amount and see if it needs more later, depending on the quantity of croutons you have), along with the following herbs (fresh if you can get them, and chopped coarsely): Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. Does that sound familiar? It's part of the refrain from a Simon and Garfunkle song, Scarborough Fair. Yup. It's the herbal code for stuffing (and poultry seasoning). If you have a choice of parsley, use Italian flat leaf instead of the curly kind—but fresh is always preferable to dried. How much of each herb to use? Fresh, maybe 3 tablespoons each. Dried, maybe 1 tablespoon each. It's important to sauté the herbs so that the fragrance and flavor get infused. Add in about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries if you have them (makes it irresistible—sautéing plumps them). Once the onions are slightly translucent and no longer crunchy, remove from the stove.


Stir this sautéed herb mixture into the croutons. Add about 1 cup of chicken broth—slowly—so that you can gauge when to stop adding. (Keep jars of all-natural chicken stock concentrate in the fridge for uses such as these. I recommend “Better Than Bouillon” brand, by Superior Touch. You can get it at Trader Joe’s or other high-end grocers. Cubed bouillon is too salty and has too much artificial stuff, along with MSG. Chicken stock that comes in cans and cartons is good but too pricey.) This is the trickiest part—if you add too much broth, the stuffing becomes mushy. Too little and it's chokingly dry. Just right is slightly moist, with mouth “give.” Just right is not too crumbly and holds up on the plate. Add salt to taste (I especially recommend Vege-sal vegetable salt). And more melted butter, if needed. Toss lightly and serve as is or use about half to stuff bird. Keeps well for several days.


Notes:
— You can add variations for fun: toasted chopped nuts (pine nuts are fabulous, macadamias are decadent, chestnuts if you can get them, almonds if they are slivered thinly), chopped dried fruit such as apricots (go easy on the fruit and cut it small), other herbs such as marjoram or tarragon, etc.
— Some folks love cornbread stuffing. To make it, add chopped pork sausage to the sauté and use crumbled homemade cornbread (not that sweet kind like they serve at Boston Market—eyuck!) instead of wheat bread.
—To bake or not to bake? This dressing recipe is complete right here--but if you like baked dressing, cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350. Then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes or so until browned on top.
— Be sure NOT to use Pyrex when toasting your croutons in the oven (a baking sheet is perfect). Like a doofus, I used a Pyrex pan as an overflow and voila! It exploded. I'm not the first person to have this experience, lest you laugh at me. I did a quick search and found an entire page on ConsumerAffairs.com dedicated to people who've had exploding Pyrex experiences. Just use a standard baking pan and you will be fine.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Pumpkin Cupcakes (or cakes) with Cream Cheese Frosting—Perfect for Fall or Halloween!

Looking for something easy and wholesome (don't tell the kids I said that) to feed the little ghouls this time of year? Sick of the sickeningly sweet treats folks eat under the guise of Halloween goodies? Yeah, me too. Here's an easy and quick, semi-healthy recipe you can whip together, make your whole house smell like Autumnal celebrations, and have youngsters following you around, grinning ever after. Simple pumpkin cupcakes (or cakes). Simple cream cheese frosting. No fuss. Great rewards.

Make them fancy, if you wish, with Halloween cupcake liners and black licorice candies to decorate the tops.

Recipe makes two dozen cupcakes OR two loaf cakes.



The Wet
2 cups or one can of pumpkin (I've used fresh pumpkin before and believe it or not, you cannot tell the difference—not to mention that canned takes way, way less time)
1 cup (two sticks) unsweetened butter
3 eggs


The Dry
3 cups raw sugar (can substitute white sugar)
3 1/2 cups unbleached wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Whisk together the wet ingredients in a bowl until well-mixed. In a larger bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until uniform looking. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir only until moistened. Do not over-mix.

Fill cupcake papers 3/4 full (most recipes call for 2/3 full, but this one looks better fuller), and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes (or put in two buttered and floured loaf pans and back for 50 to 55 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into one comes out clean. Let cool or chill before frosting.


Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup butter (two sticks), softened to room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz.) cream cheese (whipped cream cheese works well too)
4 cups confectioners sugar (1 1 lb. box)

With a large fork, mash the butter, vanilla, and cream cheese until blended. With a mixer, beat in the confectioners sugar, one cup at a time. When well-mixed, turn the blender up and beat until smooth and fluffy (it will only take a couple of minutes). Chill and then frost.

A note about cream cheese frosting: in warm weather, you will want to keep this chilled--otherwise, it can sag. Keep refrigerated and you will have some of the simplest, most delicious frosting ever.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Crab-Stuffed Sole: So Simple Yet Gourmet All the Way

Want a dish to impress, but have little skill in crafting intense, complex gourmet meals? This is one sure to win you kudos--and fake out anyone enjoying it that you have a master-chef's talent--all without fuss.

The dish is basically thin white fish, in this case sole (but you can use tilapia, flounder, or fluke too), wrapped around a homemade crab cake mixture. Crab cakes are simple to put together. Probably the reason why mere mortals (non-chefs) do not make them often is because of the deep-frying part. But do remember, crab cakes are lovely and delightful simply baked on their own.

Crafting the Crab Cakes
12 ounces fresh lump crab meat, picked over for cartilage, or two cans of crab meat, drained
1 egg
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
1/4 cup minced shallot or chives
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, or prepared bread crumbs such as Progresso, as needed (if using prepared bread crumbs, omit salt and pepper)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together the crab meat, egg, bell pepper, shallots, mayonnaise, and mustard. Add sufficient bread crumbs to bind the mixture just enough to form into cakes; start with a little and use more if you need it. Set aside.


Surrounding the Sole
1 pound of Dover sole or other thin white fish (tilapia, flounder, fluke), thawed, if previously frozen

Take each piece of fish and put enough crab cake mixture in it to give it body. Wrap the fish around the crab cake and place the bundle open-end down in a lightly oiled casserole dish. In this way, continue wrapping and placing each fish until you create all the fish bundles. If there is any crab cake mixture left, tuck it inside the fish--it's too good not to use it up.

Sprinkle with paprika, Old Bay seasoning, lemon juice, olive oil, etc., as you prefer. Last night when I made this dish, I used Old Bay. It has salt and celery seed and other mild spices in it and this gives a bit of color and a bit of salt.

Bake in a 375 degree oven until the crab cakes within the sole are cooked through, about 25 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Suggested accompaniment: risotto and salad

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Grilled Curried Lamb Shish Kebobs—Savory, Summery, Ecstasy


Nothing says Spring savory fun like kebobs (kabobs). And the secret of fabulous kebobs is marinating in advance. When the meat and veggies soak in a piquant marinade, they evolve into something different altogether, something irresistible when grilled. Now, you have to be generous with salt—marinating is not a good time to ration salt. Salt brings out the gorgeous flavor of meats. And lamb, ahhhhh, the king of all meats, for serious omnivores. Get as fresh a lamb leg as possible and as local as possible (not always an option—stores around here carry mostly New Zealand or Ozzie lamb, which is a bummer—why aren’t there more U.S. lamb ranches?). We always make some vegetable-only kebabs, too, for our vegetarian friends (marinate the vegetable separately to keep it all copacetic). Don’t be afraid of kebobs. Just take it in two steps: marinate the pieces the first day and load the kebobs and grill the second day.

 

Meat Preparation:

1 boneless Leg of Lamb (three to four pounds--can substitute beef tri-tip)
2 tablespoons Ground Cumin Seeds
2 tablespoons Ground Coriander Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Turmeric (optional)
½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Fennel Seeds
1 teaspoon Ground Black Peppercorns
1 teaspoon Salt per pound of meat used
1 tablespoon Grated Ginger Root
1 tablespoon Crushed Garlic
½ cup Olive Oil—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency

 

Vegetable Preparation:

4 to 5 cups Assorted Vegetables [Cut in 1 to ½ inch chunks]
Use summer squash, zucchini, patty pan, Vidalia or other sweet onions, green onions, mushrooms, asparagus, green, red, or orange peppers, etc. Veggies that don’t work well are both hard veggies (such as potatoes, parsnips, and carrots—because they won’t cook through in the same amount of time as the rest of the items on the kebobs) or soft veggies (because they’ll fall apart—don’t use tomatoes or white mushrooms, though portabellas would be good).

1 tablespoon Ground Cumin Seeds
1 tablespoon Ground Coriander Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Turmeric
½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Fennel Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Black Peppercorns
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Grated Ginger Root
1 tablespoon Crushed Garlic
3 tablespoons Olive Oil—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency

 

Putting It All Together

Make this recipe one day in advance to knock your guests out with ecstasy. If you are short on time, at least prepare it in the AM and grill it in the PM—but no less time than that, as the spices won’t get into the meat and veggies otherwise.
Marinate the lamb chunks, the spices, and the wine and oil (listed under Meat Preparation) in one large Zip-lock freezer bag. Keep refrigerated for one to two days, turning the bag each time you open the refrigerator to distribute the marinade. If the marinade is not sufficient to coat all the pieces luxuriously (if lamb leg is too big), then double the marinade quantities.
In the same way, marinate the veggies in the spices and wine and oil (listed under Vegetable Preparation) in a large freezer bad and turn every time you open the refrigerator door.
When you are ready to grill, use wooden skewers and alternately skewer meat chunk, veggie chunk, meat chunk, veggie chunk, etc., leaving at least an inch at the bottom and the top of the skewer.
Grill, turning occasionally, until you see some charring on the edges of the onions and the meat looks cooked through.
Enjoy with rice and a salad for a terrific and simple summer meal. 

Key words: kebob, kabob, kebab, skewer

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sangria: The Taste of Joy and Summertime


¡Sangre, Sangria, San–gracias!
From the Spanish word for blood, sangre, comes the bloody well delightful wine punch, sangria. Sangria is wine when it dons a fiesta dress, puts a flower behind its ear, and starts to PARTY! Sangria is the taste of joy and summertime, and can't be beat for "awe versus effort" factor. Remarkable, in fact, that a beverage served only in warm regions or when the summer sets in in earnest, a beverage that makes guests lurch toward it with gigantic grins, could be so ridiculously easy to make. The hardest part, really, is deciding which kind to make, what variations to play with, and how best to use what you have on hand. (Two major pieces of joy in cooking are 1) Getting the most awe for your effort, and 2) Using what you have on hand first. If you are struggling to make a dish that hardly raises an eyebrow, you're not going to be a happy chef. Nor will you be if you have to dash off to the store for ingredient-hunting expeditions!)
Sangria Breakdown
Here are the nitty gritty factors about sangria. Once you know these, you can whip up your own sans recipe. Just pour, chop, mix, ice, and enjoy!
  1. Start with any kind of wine you like--cheap wine, fine wine, sparkling wine, dessert wine, red wine, white wine--it all tastes fabulous when sangriad. (Note: cheap wine may give you a residual yucky feeling the next day, unless you go with a good brand, like Two-buck Chuck. More on this later.)
  2. For each bottle of wine you use, add roughly HALF the equivalent quantity of other liquids. The liquid portion could be sparkling water (good because it adds no sugar), fruit juice, sweetened sodas (like ginger ale), lemonade, or a combination. Only add more than that with caution, or your sangria will become too diluted. Feel free to add less, though, for a more potent version. But taste test to be sure.
  3. Add about two cups of fruit per bottle of wine--fresh, frozen, or a combination. Mixed fruit, all-one-fruit--you are the designer of this punch. But I do recommend you use at least a bit of fresh citrus--because it lends such a punch to the punch. Use fruit that looks pretty floating in the sangria, like peaches and sliced strawberries. Yum! Probably best to avoid bananas or any starchy fruit, but pretty much anything else goes nicely in sangria. Pineapple. Blueberries--why not?
  4. Add a kicker, if you like, in the form of 1/4 cup of booze per bottle of wine. This could be brandy or a flavored liquor, such as Grand Marnier, Kirsch, Chambord, Triple Sec, Limoncello, etc. Stay away from whiskey, bourbon, and dark liquors, but rum or vodka work wonderfully. The kicker step is optional.
  5. Taste the pre-chilled sangria to see if it's sweet enough. If not, you may want to add a bit of simple sugar. (Simple sugar is just sugar mixed with water, and then microwaved so that the sugar dissolves. You do not want crunchy sugar crystals in your drink!) I don't add sugar to my sangria, but it's all good. If you usually add sugar to your sangria, I'd suggest adding a fruit juice first, and then tasting it. It may be sweet enough as is.
  6. Cover, and let the fruit, wine, and liquid mixture rest in a refrigerator for at least two hours if you have time. This lets the flavors have a chance to mingle and get happy before their big debut. Chilling means you won't have to add ice. Ice will dilute and change the proportions of your mix-mastering.
  7. Garnish, if you like, with a few slices of fresh fruit. Citrus looks lovely, a giant strawberry would work. Pineapple too. Have fun with it.
Sangria Suggestions
  • If you live within proximity to the almighty foodie heaven called Trader Joe's, you are in luck! They sell a delightful, inexpensive wine of Napa Valley vintage called "Charles Shaw," owned by the Bronco Wine Company, and that costs a meager $1.99 per bottle. You heard right. (Surely it's more than that just to bottle the stuff.) Affectionately known as Two-buck Chuck, this stuff is decidedly NOT rotgut--it's a drinkable wine, and the absolutely best option for sangria-making. But you can use whatever wine you have on hand. Probably not a great idea to bury a truly high-end wine in a punch, but, hey, if you are feeling magnanimous—or desperate—go for it.
  • Don't forget the option of using champagne! Oh, how lovely those bubbles taste in a sangria. Whoo-hoo! You are gonna love it!
  • You can add a bit of spice by squeezing some grated ginger root into your sangria. Guaranteed to be a fun surprise for your guests. Love the combo of champagne-peaches-ginger juice-ginger ale. I made that for a Christmas party, and it was da bomb! Ginger juice works better with white-wine based sangrias than red ones, though.
  • Think about keeping some choice frozen fruit on hand--like mixed berries, mango, or pineapple--these not only are fruit that may not be in season otherwise, but the sheer coldness of the frozen fruit kicks the sangria up a notch. But if you do use frozen fruit, at least add SOME fresh fruit. Why? Because the frozen fruit isn't as pretty, usually, as fresh fruit is. Part of the appeal of sangria is visual. Think circles of citrus dancing lazily in frosty glasses. Guests languishing happily around your patio table.

¡Viva la Sangria!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Any Way You Like It Beef Stew


My five-year-old started a new school recently, with a fresh crop of kids and a fresh crop of kid's parents. Word got out that I was a professional writer and a foodie with a food blog, and I've been fielding questions--which I love. One that made sense and I never really thought about before is this, "How do you make beef stew?" Beef stew is so essential, so basic to cooking. It's like chicken soup. A sandwich. Hard to imagine using a recipe for these things. They just are, is all. You throw a bunch of stuff you like in and voila--comfort food.

But the truth is, at some time in the ancient recesses of my past, I must have watched Mom make her simple yet wonderful beef stew and figured out the beef stew meme. Over the decades, as my palate has evolved, so has my beef stew meme. Now it's up to a foodie writer to look with fresh eyes at this and break it out into steps. It's not a recipe, but more like a way of creating the gestalt of beef stew from the sum of its parts.

Searing the Beef
Use good quality beef for good quality, tender stew. We love sirloin for stew in my house. If you want to go crazy, filet will definitely reward you. But sirloin (or tri-tip, which is a portion of the sirloin) is perfect. Do not use chuck if you can avoid it, but if that's what you have on hand, by all means, go for it.

Cut two or more pounds of beef into 1" cubes, roughly, and dredge in flour, salt, and pepper. Sear these dredged cubes in some olive oil in a sturdy pot, preferably a Le Creuset or iron dutch oven, turning and cooking lightly, until they are light brown on the outside (beef should be raw inside). Remove from the pot and set aside.

Onions and Garlic, Oh My!

Sauté sweet onions (at least one large or two medium onions) cut roughly (large triangles) in more olive oil until they are slightly translucent (but not caramelized). Add in many cloves of fresh, crushed garlic (half a bulb--maybe 10 cloves). Do not sauté for long, to avoid turning the garlic bitter. Add in sliced organic carrots, roma tomatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes--your favorite veggies--in as large a quantity as you like. (See Embellish and Enjoy below for more add-in ideas.)

Wine and Then Dine
Add back in the beef to the pot and pour in at least half a bottle of dry red table wine. One bottle will reward you, but then again, who has an entire bottle of wine lying around just for cooking? I recommend Trader Joe's Two-buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) for this purpose, but any inexpensive and not sweet red wine will do.

An Herb and a Spice Are Oh-so-nice

Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Bay leaves, culinary lavender, fresh rosemary, sage--these are all optional, depending on what you have handy. Fresh herbs are always better than dried.

Simmer Until It Smells Great
Simmer this intoxicating mixture--light bubbles, not heavy ones--until the beef is cooked through, the flavors are melded, and the veggies are cooked. You probably will not need to add flour to thicken the sauce as the flour from dredging the beef--plus the potatoes--will thicken the stew.

Total cooking time will likely be at least an hour.

Serve over jasmine rice or with bread.

Embellish and Enjoy

Add in what you love and what you have on hand:
  • White or portobello mushrooms, cut in bite-sized pieces, and added 10 minutes before serving time
  • Swiss chard, cut into strips, without the stem portion—again, added toward the end of cooking time
  • Fresh fennel, in bite-sized pieces
  • French green beans (haricot verts), in bite-sized pieces
  • Fresh peas, added a few minutes before serving
  • Sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips--whatever root veggies are handy. These need to cook longer, so add them at the beginning.
  • You can make the same stew using lamb leg meat instead of beef. Shanks work well, too, although before serving you may--or may not--wish to cut the bones out. Lamb is incredibly delicious, but the disadvantage is that as leftovers, it doesn't last as long. (We enjoy eating our stew the next day as lunch.)