Please don’t judge me before you judge the salad

I had an awful time deciding on this week’s topic.I knew what I wanted to write about, but I was hesitant to do it.  It’s not that the recipe isn’t tasty because it.so.is.  It’s not that the preparation is difficult, because literally a child (with a little adult supervision) could make this dish.   And it’s not that it requires a lot of expensive ingredients, because chances are you have everything on hand right now.

No, the problem is that on the face of it, this recipe not only seems heavy, it also seems very plain—even boring.  How could these few ingredients combine to make something tasty?

I’m here now to tell you I have no idea how it does, either.  I think it’s some kind of gestalt thing; you know, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

But every time I make a bowl of this stuff I think that I really need to give you, Gentle Reader, this recipe.  I love it so much that I’ve felt guilty not spilling the beans to you.  Petey loves it, and The Kid, who wasn’t crazy about an earlier version, can’t get enough of it.

There we are…we rent the other two kids to round out the table.

So, The Kid’s coming for dinner tomorrow night and I’m serving it, along with some herbed potatoes and a new preparation of pork cubed steak.  It was the first time I’ve used cornmeal to crust meat.

But enough with the beating around the bush.  The dish I’ve been rhapsodizing about is broccoli salad.  See? I told you it didn’t sound very exciting.  But gosh it is good.

A few tips about making it, though.

Cut the broccoli into very small florets.  Small as in three florets would be bite-size.  And when you add the hot water to thin the dressing, make it as hot as your faucet gets, and whisk it in very well.  You are basically making an emulsion, and you don’t want it to separate after you’ve mixed it into the salad; that’s not appetizing.

Broccoli/Bacon Salad

broc-salad

8 cups broccoli cut into very small florets

4 slices bacon, cooked until crispy, reserving ¼ cup bacon grease

1 cup mayonnaise

2/3 cups finely shredded Parmesan. Divided

Very hot water, aprox. ½ cup

Salt and pepper

Cut broccoli into small pieces and place into a large bowl.  Add half the cheese, and gently toss.

Make dressing.  Mix mayo, bacon grease, and half the cheese.  Whisk together.  Add enough hot water to make it the consistency of thick pancake batter.  Season, taste, and re-season if necessary. 

Pour dressing over broccoli and mix until veg is coated.  Crumble bacon into salad and stir in.  Cover and refrigerate.  It’s better after twelve hours or so, and lasts 4 days in fridge.Makes 8 servings.

I haven’t found anything that doesn’t go well with this salad.  It packs up great for picnics, as long as you can keep a chill on it.  It’s terrific as a potluck too, because it doesn’t look very exciting, then you taste it.  It’s the sleeper cell of side dishes.

Tomorrow we’re having it with that cornmeal crusted pork cubed steak I talked about.  It’s really easy, with a big flavor payoff.

Cornmeal crusted cubed pork: Four to six hours before cooking make a three-part dredge of seasoned flour, non-fat buttermilk, and self-rising cornmeal.  Crust the pork in that order.  Place on parchment paper covered plate, cover with another piece of parchment (so there is no stickage), seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cooking time.When you’re ready to cook, heat a heavy skillet on medium-high.  Add about 1 inch of vegetable oil.  When the oil is nice and hot, cook pork until browned and crispy on one side then flip and cook the other side.

Petey likes his with a piece of provolone melted on top.  The Kid and I like a spritz of lemon juice.  They also make a great filling for hearty sandwiches.

And while the salad is definitely not spa food, there is only about 300 calories per one cup serving.  My trouble comes in limiting it to that one cup.  I promise you, this stuff is amazing (and so tempting).

Thanks for your time.

The Red Menace

There are three types of people.

There are folks who like brown/mushroom gravy inside, outside, and on the side of their meatloaf.  And there are those who love meatloaf to come sporting a shiny red cap of glaze.

I actually have a Kitchenaid, but other than that, this looks exactly like me when cooking.

But there are the enlightened ones, those noble humans whom, like myself, have love for both varieties.

The Kid?  Not so much.  That child likes red meatloaf about as much as flat beer and the heartbreak of psoriasis.  If it ain’t brown, The Kid ain’t down.

There is one little logistical glitch, though, with red meatloaf.

We can do way better than this…

When I make brown meatloaf, I start by making a nice, rich mushroom gravy.  I then use it in the mix, I ladle it over the top for baking, and spoon it over the mandatory buttermilk mashed potatoes.  And no matter its complexion, with an old school protein like meatloaf, potatoes are in fact, mandatory.

French fries just don’t work.  It’s like black suede boots with a white eyelet dress.  Baked potatoes are an option, but fully dressed is an awful lot of starch and fat.  And red meatloaf isn’t terribly flashy as a main, you don’t want it to disappear completely next to the showgirl that is a loaded spud.

My answer is to serve braised baby potatoes.

Braised Baby Potatoes with Herbs

braised creamers

2 pounds baby potatoes or little creamers, washed
1 cup beef stock
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped herb of your choice (like chives, dill, or tarragon)
Throw everything into a large heavy pot with a lid.
Cover and cook on medium until the potatoes are fork-tender (15-20 minutes), stirring frequently.
Uncover and let the liquid cook down into a thick, buttery sauce.
Right before service, stir in herbs and check for seasoning. Makes 4 servings.

I’ve broken down the meatloaf into small steps.You can do them early in the day; or even the day before, then put it together right before baking.

Red Glazed Meatloaf

Glazed onions:

glazed onions

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ tablespoon granulated onion

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup Marsala wine

Pinch of salt and pepper

Directions:

Heat a skillet and add veg oil.  Put in chopped onion, thyme, granulated onion.  Cook until onions start to brown around the edges.  Stir in tomato paste.  When the paste darkens, pour in Marsala.  Let the wine cook out, then take off heat.

Meatloaf mix:

red meatloaf

4 slices multi-grain bread, ground fine in a food processor

4 eggs 

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons horseradish

2 pounds ground chuck

Salt and pepper

Directions:

In a large bowl, place in bread crumbs, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, and horseradish.  Add cooked onions.  Mix everything with vigor until it is a homogenous mass.  Break beef into large chunks and put in bowl.  Using clean hands or disposable gloves, mix meat and bread crumb mix until it is completely mixed in.  Form into loaf shape.

Glaze:

red glaze

1 cup ketchup, divided

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons horseradish

Pinch salt and pepper

Directions:

Take out ½ cup of ketchup and set aside.  Whisk together the other half cup of ketchup and the rest of the glaze ingredients.  Spread 1 tablespoon of this in the bottom of the dish in which you’re baking the meatloaf.  Using a paint brush, paint the glaze all over the meatloaf.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour/paint the plain ketchup on the top.  Return to oven and bake 30 minutes more.

Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes before service.  Serves 5-6.

I served this with my cool, crunchy broccoli salad.

Bacon Broccoli Salad

broccoli salad 2.0

4 large stalks of broccoli
4 pieces bacon
1/3 cup grated parmesan, divided
1 cup mayonnaise
Hot water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Place bacon on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Put it in the oven, then set oven to 350 (if you put the bacon into a hot oven it will seize up and never fully render; it also keeps the slices flatter). Cook for 15 minutes, flip each piece over and cook until it is golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven to a paper-towel covered plate. Reserve ¼ cup bacon grease for dressing.
While the bacon is cooking, cut the broccoli into small, bite-size florets. Place into a large bowl with half the cheese.
For dressing, whisk together mayo, bacon fat, and parmesan. Thin with hot water, a little at a time until it’s the consistency of pancake batter. Mix into broccoli until it’s lightly coated. Refrigerate until service. Makes about 8 servings.

If you have leftovers, the meatloaf makes epic sandwiches.  Just slice and put it in a hot skillet.  Cook until it browns and forms a crust.  Flip and cook the other side then melt a thick slice of horseradish cheddar on it.

You know, I’ve been thinking about that “three kinds of meatloaf people” philosophy, and I think I need to amend it.

What if you don’t eat red meat? Or you like it cheese-stuffed, or bacon wrapped?  Maybe you like it spicy, or Horrors! What if you actually don’t like meatloaf at all?

You know…there is one meatloaf that I could live without.

Thanks for your time.

Meat popcorn

Better than French fries?Yup.

Better than beer-battered onion rings?

Uh huh.

Better than fresh, hot, homemade hushpuppies?You know it, dude.

It sounds crazy, and hard to believe, but last night I made something that took no time at all, and was crispy, salty, a little fatty, and completely, unrepentantly addictive.

It was deep fried steak.

I know, what the what?  But hear me out. The beef was flap meat.  It comes from a bottom sirloin butt cut.  It’s very, very thin.  Normally you sear or grill it in literally seconds; then slice it against the grain.  It’s delicious, and can be eaten as is or used for sandwiches, tacos, fajitas or salads.

Not much to look at in this state; but what a personality.

I’ve written about it before.  It’s an unsung carnivore’s hero, and the Matthews family could eat it every night (or breakfast) of the week.

 

I decided to use it in Asian-style rice noodles and vegetables.  But I’d never made authentic Chinese food from scratch.  This would be a complete first.

Fortunately, The Kid practically minored in Asian at culinary school, so I had a very handy resource.

At Whole Foods, I picked up rice noodles (I used half a 12 ounce box), broccoli (one large crown), shitake mushrooms (about four ounces), a small piece of ginger, and went home to experiment.

rice noodlesAs tasty as the flap steak is, it’s better when grilling or cooking the meat in a skillet that it is cooked no more than medium-rare.

But stir-fry cooking, which is how I planned to do the meal, is not really conducive to crusty, well-seared, medium-rare beef.  So cooking it, keeping it separate from the rest of the dish, and plating it on top of the noodles, almost like a garnish, was the plan.

Since the meal was Asian-inspired, I decided to try a technique that was new to me.  I sliced the meat into thin strips.  I didn’t pre-season it because there was soy in the sauce, which is quite salty.I took a small, straight-sided skillet and poured in about 1 ½ inches of vegetable oil.  I turned on the burner to get it up to 350 degrees.While it was heating, I put ½ cup or so of cornstarch on top of the meat (about 1 pound), covered the bowl, and shook it vigorously to coat all the meat evenly.  You want to do this right before cooking, so that it doesn’t absorb too much cornstarch, which will make it gummy.

I took a small, straight-sided skillet and poured in about 1 ½ inches of vegetable oil.  I turned on the burner to get it up to 350 degrees.  While it was heating, I put ½ cup or so of cornstarch on top of the meat (about 1 pound), covered the bowl, and shook it vigorously to coat all the meat evenly.  You want to do this right before cooking, so that it doesn’t absorb too much cornstarch, which will make it gummy.

When the oil came up to temp, I dropped in one third of the meat and gave it a very gentle stir.  In 20-30 seconds, I removed it with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel covered plate.  At this point, I gave it a little sprinkle of kosher salt, like you would French fries.This stuff was amazing.  It was crispy on the outside, tender inside, and supernaturally amazing.  I could truly eat this stuff by the handful.  But I set it aside and finished dinner.

When stir frying, everything must be ready to go when you start cooking.  Once it starts, it moves very fast, and you must be prepared.  The rice noodles get pre-cooked, the broccoli blanched, and all the veggies need to be prepped.  My aromatics were three cloves of garlic, ½ teaspoon grated ginger and one large shallot, diced.

I turned on my Dutch oven medium-high, and added about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Then I put in the aromatics and cooked them, stirring constantly.  When they were hot and fragrant, I added the mushrooms and cooked them until they were softened.  The broccoli came next and cooked until hot, and finally the noodles.  I then poured in my sauce.

Stir fry sauce

stir fry sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 tablespoon rice wine or red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sherry

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

I tossed, and when everything was well coated, I plated, adding the flap steak on top.

It turned out really well.  As usual, I made too much for just Petey and me, so we have leftovers.  But they are vegetarian, ‘cause that meat is profoundly gone.

Thanks for your time.

Fee day-o come and I want to eat some

In my daydreams, I’m glamorous and alluring.  Late at night, after an exclusive party, my driver brings me home to my large tastefully-decorated apartment in a luxury building in Art Deco City.

There, still attired in slinky velvet and expensive shoes, I whip up an intimate late supper for my gentleman friend Cary Grant and myself.

This may look like Greta Garbo, but it’s me I tells ya!

In the real world though, money can be tight, and Petey and I need some grub to fill our bellies.  So I still make dinner for two but clothed in a sweat suit and my fuzzy Wigwam socks.

But in both realities, it’s the same dish; a fideo (fid-ay-oh) frittata.  It’s an Italian open-faced omelet.  They’re usually studded with potatoes.  This one isn’t.  This one’s flecked with fideo.

Fideo is the Spanish word for noodle.  This variety is about 2 inches long, and the width of angel hair pasta.  The La Moderna brand is widely available in the Latin section of most grocery stores.  It’s also usually very cheap—like 2 or 3 bags for a dollar cheap.It’s traditionally used in a Mexican soup.  The fideo cooking process though, is not the normal noodle soup method of just tossing it raw into pot of soup.  The secret is in the toasting.

Oil is added to a skillet, and the fideo is gently tossed until brown and nutty.  In my frittata, after rendering the bacon, I pour out all the fat, but don’t wipe the pan, and what little bit of bacon grease left is what I use.

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Toasted fideo–it’s worth the effort in the finished product.

It’s the height of folly to employ neglect or abandonment during the toasting portion of the program.  It only takes 5-7 minutes, and even I; impatience incarnate, can manage that.

Getting all your fillings cooked off and out of the way will make the assembly and cooking a breeze whether you’re just in from a late night, or it’s simply time for dinner.   I make my fillings early in the day and stash ‘em in the fridge until it’s time to cook.  You can even do them the day before.  Then in less than 15 minutes you could be sitting down to a meal.

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Tossing and coating.

This frittata can be eaten with toast and a fruit salad for breakfast, or some mixed greens, crusty bread, and a glass of dry white for supper.  The other night I served it with some herb-roasted grape tomatoes (and glasses of sun tea).

Fideo Frittata

3 cups broccoli, cut into small florets and blanched until just tender

1/2 small onion, chopped

2 cups mushrooms sliced

2 tablespoons sliced sun-dried tomatoes in oil

2 slices bacon

3/4 cups raw fideo

2 cups chicken stock

6 eggs, well-beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper

1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, cubed or coarsely shredded

3/4 cup Marsala

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper

Cut bacon into 1/2 inch strips, and cook until brown and crispy in heat-proof non-stick skillet.  Remove and place on paper towels.  Discard oil, but don’t wipe out pan.

Put fideo in same pan, and stirring constantly, sauté until pasta has turned amber.  Pour chicken stock into skillet and cook pasta until tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In same skillet, add olive oil, and cook mushrooms and onions until the edges have begun to crisp and caramelize.  Deglaze pan with Marsala and cook until the liquid has cooked out.

 At this point, you can stop, store everything, and finish later.

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat pan, and melt butter.  Add all the veggies and fideo and toss to coat.  Pour in egg, jiggling so it’s evenly distributed.  Scatter mozzarella and bacon over the top.  Cook for a couple of minutes, ’til bottom is set.

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After assembly, before the oven.

Place in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven when middle is just set (check by cutting small slit in center), cheese is melted, and bacon has begun to sizzle.  Don’t let it get brown.

Slice and serve.  Serves 2- 4.

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Dinner elegante!

When sliced and plated with a crispy, bright salad, my fideo frittata looks pretty fancy (even though in my real life the closest I get to sophistication is watching BBC America while wearing pants).

Thanks for your time.

Cream Of Insert Name Of Ingredient Here Soup

Originally published in the Herald Sun 9/13/2012

When I was pregnant, and The Kid was just about done cooking, one of my oldest friends, Kiki, came to help the beached whale that was me, and to make sure Petey had food to eat, and clean boxers to wear.
While she was visiting we ate, a lot. One of our favorite things was to get a fresh baguette and a big hunk of brie, and eat until the bread was gone, or we passed out, whichever came first.
One evening, for a change of pace, and some actual nutrition, Kiki decided to make us cream of mushroom soup, with a big salad.
At this point, the only cream of mushroom soup I had any familiarity with was the gray slimy glop in the can. And then, only as an ingredient in a casserole.
But Kiki had been to culinary school, knew what she was doing, and promised me the soup would be yummy.
In about thirty minutes, I waddled out to the kitchen to taste.
It was rich, creamy, and redolent of caramelized mushrooms, chardonnay, and thyme. I was a convert.
The best part of all was that my friend assured me that the soup was a breeze to make.
A few years later, I picked up a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook at the Durham library book sale.
Leafing through it, I saw a recipe for asparagus sauce. It wasn’t a sauce for the vegetable, but a sauce made with asparagus, to serve on chicken, or fish.
Since it was in season, and there were tons of gorgeous ‘goose’ (Kid-speak for the spears) available, I decided to give it a whirl.
It was basically asparagus, sautéed with some onion, then pureed with water.
It was pretty darn awful.
So, there I am, standing in the kitchen, staring down at a big pot of beautiful, yet inedible sauce.
Then I remembered Kiki’s soup. So, I put in some chicken stock, and added some heavy cream.
I don’t know exactly what happened to it, but that pot of yucky sauce turned into a pot of silky, delicious cream of asparagus soup.
That was the day I figured out cream soups.
It’s less a recipe and more of a technique. You can use any vegetable you’d like. If you buy what’s in season, you’ll get the freshest, cheapest veggies.
For the directions, I’ll use broccoli.

Cream Soup
Serves 6
2 heads fresh broccoli cut into florets
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 Tbl butter
½ cup white wine
2 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
1 ½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbl snipped chives or chopped parsley
Optional:
Blonde roux (equal parts butter and flour cooked on low until lightly browned)
Or
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Holding back two cups florets, sauté broccoli and onion in butter, until onions turn translucent. Add wine, and let reduce until almost dry (called “au sec”; pronounced “oh seck”).
In a food processor or blender, purée cooked veg, adding a little of the stock to keep it loose enough to blend. Pour this back into your soup pot.
Add the rest of the stock and the cream.
To thicken the soup (you may not want to, but I like mine so thick a spoon almost stands up in it):
If you are using roux, allow the soup to come to a boil, and stir in roux until it is the thickness you like,
For the cheese, you want the soup below a simmer, not boiling, or it will separate and get grainy. Slowly whisk the cheddar in, a bit at a time, letting it melt completely before adding more to the pot.
Check for seasoning, and add the raw florets. When the raw broc has cooked in the soup for ten minutes or so, it’s ready.
Spoon into mugs and garnish top with chives or parsley.

The neat thing about this soup is that you can get really creative.
Using carrots? Garnish with chopped crispy bacon, and add a little cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg (Don’t use the pre-ground canned nutmeg. It lost all the volatile oils, and flavor long before it reached the grocery shelf.)
Trying to make a mushroom soup as good as Kiki’s? Add fresh thyme, and maybe a bit of rosemary. And next time you make a recipe calling for cream of mushroom soup, you can use your own, homemade ambrosia, instead of that can.
Really, any veggy that catches your eye in the market will work, even a leafy veg, like spinach or cabbage. Just remember, if you choose hard vegetables like potatoes, or a fall squash, chop them a bit smaller, and par boil or toss them in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes so they won’t have to cook from a raw state in the soup (which will take forever).
On a cool, rainy day, there’s nothing better than a grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm soup.
Actually, there is.
A grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm, homemade soup.
Thanks for your time.