Wine & Dine

When I was a kid, you could buy wine and beer at eighteen.  Once I came of age, I was legal to buy and drink any and all alcoholic beverages not sold at the ABC store.

Most of my friends cleaned out the beer coolers on a regular basis.  But I don’t like the taste.  There, I’ve said it.  The Kid is a beer nerd and often offers me a taste of something, “I think you might actually like this one!  It’s a vanilla-blueberry-Cap’n Crunch-flavored IPA!”.

Yeah, nope.

But when I turned eighteen, I could lawfully purchase alcohol, so I kinda had to.

I turned to wine.  My drink of choice was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink.  And it was worth every penny of the ninety-nine pennies it cost.  A Kool-Ade-flavored hangover for less than a dollar.  

It’s entirely possible the photographer had indulged before this photo was taken…

But, as I got older, my taste in wine matured, as well.

I discovered German Rieslings.  Then I found dry French whites, settling on my favorite of Chateau de Montfort’s Vouvray.  I buy a bottle every once in a while, for special occasions.

There are three wines though, that I always have on hand.  I use them for cooking.  First is a sherry, then a light, dry white.  Almost anything will do; lately, it’s been Trader Joe’s Espiral, a super fresh effervescent white.  And lastly, dry Marsala. 

This Italian wine is my favorite for cooking.  It has a distinctive, smoky, caramelized flavor.  I love it and use it in anything with mushrooms or tomato. 

The other night I used it in an experimental pasta dish.  The flavors of mushroom, tomato, and cream were familiar. 

The pasta cooking technique was not. 

It’s a take on those one-pot pastas which instead of cooking in a large pot of water are cooked in a smaller amount of stock that cooks entirely into the noodles along with sauce ingredients.  I made the sauce separately so I could brown the veg and get a creamy mouth-feel.  I then married the two together right before service.

One-Pot, Two Pot Mushroom & Corn Marsala Pasta

Pasta:

1-7 oz. bag of small pasta (I used vermicelli)

I tablespoon butter

2 cups + 1 tablespoon chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Big pinch of pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add pasta and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it’s caramel brown and smells toasty.  Watch this and don’t let it burn.  Add stock, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a low boil and cook until it’s al dente and the liquid has cooked in, but it’s silky and stir-able.

Sauce:

1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 ½ cups frozen white shoepeg corn, thawed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt & pepper 

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/3 cup dry Marsala

½ cup shredded Parmesan

1 ½ cup 2% or skim milk

¼ cup heavy cream

Sautee vegetables in the butter with thyme and rosemary.  When the veg are lightly browned, stir in tomato paste.  When paste has darkened, deglaze with Marsala.  When the wine’s cooked in, add cheese and dairy.  Bring to low boil and allow to reduce to sauce-like consistency.  Season to taste.  Turn to medium-low.

Assembly:

Gently stir cooked pasta into sauce until coated.

Serves 6.

Another terrific thing about this dish.  Leftovers nuke up beautifully.  Just add a splash or two of milk and it’s almost as silky and unctuous as freshly made.

And it’s a good thing I lost my taste for Tickle Pink.  Sometime in the last thirty years or so, they wised up and stopped making it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom

Hang Out with a Fun Guy (fungi, get it?)

costcoAlthough I have a deep and abiding love for it, I have a complicated relationship with Costco.

It took many years before I could walk into my local warehouse and walk out with only what I need, and not a 50-gallon drum of marinated artichoke hearts and a pallet of golf balls (I don’t even golf).  But still, each time I visit I discover something I’ve never even known existed, but also know in my very marrow, that I can’t continue life on this planet without it.costco coolerI often venture into that house-sized refrigerator where the keep their veggies and come out bearing a giant amount of this or that.  Frequently, it’s their button mushrooms, that come in like a forty- or fifty-pound box.

And when I get them home, I look at them with the same confusion and trepidation with which Petey and I gazed at the newly born Kid.newbornWhat do we do with it now?

Last week, I decided to do a creamy mushroom bake.  I love all three of those words; each one implies something tasty, and used together, connote comfort food heaven.

There were two big stars in this dish.  One’s a tub of Brie.  I love brie but rarely have it around the house because I’m scared I’ll go into a cheese fugue state and run dairy amuck.  It’s the same thing with still-warm Krispy Kreme doughnuts—I just don’t trust myself around them.  I’ve never eaten more than three in one sitting but am pretty sure I could polish off 18 or 20 without batting an eye.kristiesThe other new, but really important ingredient was mushroom stock.  I always discard the stems when I use mushrooms, but this time I tossed them into a pot with 2 cups of chicken stock, a handful of dried mushrooms, and a couple bay leaves.  I then boiled it until it reduced by half, then strained it.

Creamy Brie Mushroom Bakecreamy mushrrom bake½ cup + 3 tablespoons butter, divided

2 pounds sliced button mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and saved for stock

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 tablespoons dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

½ cup white wine

½ cup flour

1 cup mushroom stock

2 cups 2% milk

½ cup heavy cream

1 5-ounce container spreadable Président Creamy Brie

1 16-ounce box corkscrew pasta, cooked for 5 minutes only

½ cup shredded manchego

Salt & pepper to tasteshroomsMelt 3 tablespoons of butter in large, heavy pot.  Add mushrooms, onion, thyme and rosemary.  Season, then stir to coat.  Turn to medium, cover and cook until the water’s released from veg.  Uncover and cook until the liquid’s cooked out, and mushrooms start to brown.  Pour in wine and cook until dry.  Remove veg and set aside.

Melt rest of the butter and stir in flour.  Cook 2 minutes then add stock, milk and cream.  Stir continuously until it boils.  Take off heat and stir in brie until melted.mushroom saucePreheat oven to 350.  Add vegetables and noodles to pot.  Stir until everything’s coated and veg are evenly distributed.  Taste for seasoning and re-season, if necessary.  Pour into greased casserole dish.  Cover with parchment, then foil.

Bake covered casserole for 45 minutes, uncover, top with shredded cheese, and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes.  Let sit 15 minutes before service.  Serves 8.

The dish was a hit, but it almost got Petey a punch in the nose.The Brady Bunch Vintage Tv GIF by absurdnoiseWhen I told him what we were having for dinner, he asked, “Isn’t this mushroom stuff just like something you’ve made before?”

No, Petey.  It has mushroom stock and brie—it’s totally different.

Husbands.bridegroom

Thanks for your time.

Mmm…double starch

The Kid has never been a picky eater. Beets, bananas, and fish sticks are a few of the small list of items that shall not pass my child’s lips.

And there are two one-pot main dishes that are on the no-fly list.  One is a recipe I got from my friend and former boss, Bosco.  It’s a rice, chick pea and hamburger skillet.

The other dish is the scratch-made version of a treat with both rice and short spaghetti shards one might find in San Francisco.  I’ve made it for years; I’ve even written about it before, but the last time I made it, I added a new ingredient. It’s a trick America’s Test Kitchen uses when making quick versions of slow-cooked dishes.  At first blush, it seems like one of those internet hacks that sound like a life-changing miracle, but when actually attempted leaves you with regret, frustration, a wine-stained shoe, a broken bottle, and glass shards embedded in your forehead.

It’s unflavored gelatin.See?  I told you it sounded bizarre.

But hear me out.  When you cook meats very slowly, the collagen eventually dissolves.  That’s what lends the unctuous mouth feel to things like brisket or ribs.  Gelatin’s a protein which comes from collagen.

I’ll never make this without gelatin again; it’s perfect in this dish, or any dish that needs a little silkiness.

San Francisco Cheat-2.0rice a roni1 pound 80/20 ground beef

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

2 teaspoons rosemary, chopped finely

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1 ¾ cups long grain rice

1-7 ounce bag fideo noodles (found in grocery stores’ Hispanic section)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup sherry or red wine

1 ½ cups thawed shoe peg corn

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

½ cup cold water

Salt and pepper

For broth, whisk together:roni broth

4 cups beef stock

2 teaspoons horseradish

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Splash of mushroom or dark soy

3 bay leaves

Bloom gelatin: stir together gelatin powder and ½ cup cold water.  Set aside.  It will harden into gelled disk.

Turn large heavy pot with lid to medium-high.  Break ground beef into thumb-size pieces and drop into pan.  Season.  Let cook undisturbed until the portion touching the bottom of the pot browns and gets a little crust. 

When the meat is browned all over, remove meat from pan and set aside.  Pour out all but about a tablespoon or so of the fat left.

Add mushrooms, onions, rosemary and thyme.  Cook until liquid has cooked out and veg are caramelized.

Stir in fideo and rice.  Cook, stirring frequently until the rice and pasta have browned a bit.  Stir in tomato paste and let cook for a few minutes. 

Pour in sherry or wine, scraping up any bits on pot bottom.  Let cook until pan is dry.

Pour in broth and put gelatin disk into pot.  Stir until melted and liquid comes to a boil.  Add back the ground beef and stir in corn.  Turn down heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 17-20 minutes or the broth has completely cooked in. Remove from heat, leave covered, and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.  Top each serving with a pat of butter and some snipped chives if desired. 

Serves 6-8.

As far as savory gelatin goes, this beats the pants off those crazy aspics from the fifties, with tomato jello studded with celery, pimento-stuffed olives, and shrimp.

But for the love of Mike, why, oh, why, would they do that to perfectly innocent food and their digestive tracks?Thanks for your time.

Subterfuge

I blame the Kardashians.When I was in junior high, cosmetics were a pretty simple affair.  I had a couple bottles of nail polish, one lip gloss in strawberry, one in bubblegum, and one very highly prized cake of purple eye shadow.  And my collection was not unlike those of most pubescent girls.

Then Kim, her mom Kalamity, and sisters Klondike, Keester, Ketchup, and Kandy Korn, with their professionally contoured, surgically enhanced mugs exploded out of their yoga pants and into our living rooms. Now twelve-year-olds have their own You Tube channels where they offer makeup tutorials.  These children, using stuff like primers, BB and CC creams, highlighting and lowlighting, sculpt their faces to look like glowing alabaster Erté statues.

But nothing like themselves.  They become imposters inside their own skin.

Which brings me to this week’s topic.  It’s a delicious meal that looks like something you might order at a trendy restaurant.  But in actuality, it’s insanely easy, and can be completely prepped out hours before dining.  And once that’s done, finishing is literally just the application of heat.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the menu is tender, unctuous pork belly, rice pilaf with mushrooms, and spectacularly garlicky haricot verts (that’s green beans, y’all)

The rice took the most time, but was still a breeze.

Bob’s brown and wild rice pilaf with ‘shrooms

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill brown and wild rice

2 ½ cups broth:

   2 ½ cups chicken stock

   2 teaspoons umami or tomato paste

   2 bay leaves

   ½ teaspoon dried thyme

   Big splash Worcestershire sauce

   Salt and pepper to taste

   Put all stock ingredients into saucepan and bring to simmer.  Take off heat and refrigerate until     it’s time to make the ricebobs-rice-and-p-bellyMushrooms:

   16 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

   2 shallots, sliced into half moons

   1 tablespoon butter

   ½ teaspoon dry thyme

   Salt and pepper

   1 teaspoon umami or tomato paste

   ¼ cup dry sherry

  Melt butter in small skillet. Add mushrooms, shallots, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper.   Cover and cook for about 5 minutes or until water has been released from veg.  Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has all cooked in, and ‘shrooms and shallots have caramelized.  Stir in paste, and cook until the color of paste has deepened.  Pour in sherry, stir everything together, and continue to cook until sherry’s cooked off.

At this point, everything can sit and wait for you.  An hour before dinner, finish rice and cook pork belly and beans.

To finish: Stir together rice mix, stock, and mushrooms.  Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat to medium-low and cook for 45-55 minutes or until liquid is gone and rice is cooked through.  Let sit 10-15 minutes, covered. For the past few visits to Trader Joe’s, The Kid and I have been ogling their pork belly.  It’s fully cooked, which is great because cooking belly from Jump Street takes a long time.  And it’s only about 6 bucks or so for a piece large enough for two.  I finally succumbed and picked up one.

The cooking of it was ridiculously simple.  I sliced it into six ¼-inch slices, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, then threw it into my hot cast iron skillet.  I browned one side, flipped and brown the other.On the same trip I grabbed a bag of their fresh haricot vert.  They come ready to cook (BTW-they’re pretty tasty raw, as well).  I laid them into a non-stick frying pan with a couple tablespoons of water, a tablespoon of butter, ½ teaspoon of chicken base, 4 minced cloves of garlic, salt and pepper.

When the rice was resting and I’d started the belly, I covered the skillet and turned it to medium for about 5-7 minutes.  I then removed the cover, turned the burner to medium-high.  When the liquid had mostly evaporated and had made a light sauce, the beans were done.

So, even though my makeup routine consists of attempting to lube away the ravages of time, and 4 or 5 coats of mascara, I’m all about imposters.As long as it’s camouflaging a quick weeknight meal so that it looks like a fancy labor-intensive dinner, that is.

Thanks for your time.

Groats and goats

I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but I really wanted to add goat cheese.  Goat cheese, though, can be expensive; especially in an experimental dish where it might end up decorating the inside of a trash can, rather than the inside of me.

But, once again, Trader Joe’s came to my rescue with a nice little nubbin of chevre, for only three bucks.  The same amount sells at Whole Foods for $8.  Joe has a larger piece with vanilla and covered in blueberries that I’m dying to try, but since Petey dislikes goat cheese, and The Kid can’t abide blueberries, I’d be on my own to eat it—and I’m afraid I would, in one gluttonous, glorious sitting.

The “it” I’ve been wanting to make is a bowl of savory oatmeal.

I just read in Food Network magazine that in 2017 babka (a Jewish marbled, sweet yeast bread), and churros will be big this year (I’ve loved churros since a trip to Los Angeles’ Olvera Street in the 70’s). This dish is also having a moment.  Savory oatmeal is big in two catagories; savory porridge and grain bowls.  Both are as trendy as statement sleeves, platform shoes, and Mondrian-like graphics.

But rather than a craving for chic, my desire comes from a very old, very familiar place.

Ever since I was a little girl in pigtails and footy pajamas, I have loved oatmeal.  I’ve eaten it scary, with half a stick of butter and a boatload of corn syrup.  I’ve eaten it smart with a couple drops of agave and some fruit and nuts.  But I’ve eaten it, and eaten it, and eaten it.Except, never in savory form.

A note about the oats.  I used Coach’s Oats, which I buy at Costco.  But you could use slow cooking steel cut or regular rolled.  Mine cooked in five minutes, so they’re considered ‘quick cooked’.  But don’t use instant oats because there won’t be time for the broth you make to flavor the cereal.

Savory goat cheese oats

savory-oats2 servings oats, uncooked

Water for oatmeal according to directions

1 teaspoon chicken base

1 teaspoon umami or tomato paste

½ teaspoon dry thyme

½ teaspoon fresh rosemary chopped finely

2/3 cup sherry

2 tablespoons onion marmalade: Cook one chopped yellow onion in a little fat until amber-colored, season with salt, pepper, and thyme.  Add 1/3 cup sherry and cook until completely evaporated.

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

Olive oil

3 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

Big handful pea shoots

Salt and pepper

Make broth: put water in non-stick saucepan.  Add chicken base, umami, thyme, rosemary, salt & pepper.  Cook on low heat just until it comes to simmer.  Cover, turn off, and let cool.

Heat skillet on medium-high, and add a drizzle of olive oil.  Add mushrooms, season, and cook until they’re caramelized.  Deglaze with 1/3 cup sherry.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen ready to make oats, cook in broth according to directions.  When finished cooking, check for seasoning, stir in onions, mushrooms, and sunflower seeds.  Plate, then top with bits of goat cheese, and a big pile of pea shoots.  Serves two as a side, or one as a main dish.

This recipe is just a template.  You could flavor it in any manner you like.  You can travel around the world in a bowl of oatmeal.

So, you may not get to Milan or Paris for shopping.  But if you make these savory oats, you can be the most fashionable person in your kitchen.Thanks for your time.

I will not comply

I can’t live by your rules, man!

I have this contrary streak in me.  I absolutely cannot stand it when people think they know what’s best for me.  I’m not talking about highly trained, highly paid experts in their fields like lawyers, doctors, and plumbers.

I’m talking about the Mr. You Shoulds, and Mrs. You Oughtas.  The kind of folks that are ecstatic to tell you what you’re doing wrong in your life, and how to fix yourself.  Like the old lady who’s never had kids, but knows exactly how to raise them.  Or the guy, who because of his particular belief system, knows every answer to every question, and feels duty-bound to share his very special wisdom.I have such an aversion to those people and their rules, that I’m the girl that would rather have a spectacular failure than let somebody tell me what to do.

In the kitchen there are multitudes of experts, each with box cars full of do and don’ts.   But when cooking, as in the rest of my life, I gotta make my own mistakes, and learn from them.

What follows are a few rules folks have decided are mandatory iron-clad laws that should never, on pain of death be ignored.  And why I think they are so much horse hockey.

Never salt your steak before cooking.Nope, and here’s why.  Unless you’re purchasing and cooking restaurant quality aged meat, the best thing that can happen to your steak is some salt and a little rest in the fridge for a couple days.

A good portion of the weight in a piece of beef is water.  When you salt it, loosely wrap it in some paper towels, and let it rest in the refrigerator for a few days, you are doing a homemade dry age.  The salt draws out the water, which concentrates the flavor, and makes that Kroger New York strip taste closer to something you might get at Angus Barn.

Never make a recipe for the first time for guests.

No pressure there…

 

Wrong.  If this is a recipe you have the skill to tackle, do it.  Unless you’ve invited the queen or Coach K, there’s no need to be perfect.  The people who sit at your table are friends and family who want you to succeed.  Be careful, and don’t go too far off the reservation recipe-wise, but go for it.  At best you’ll have a new recipe with lots of feedback, and at worst, you’ll have a funny story they’ll tell at your wake.

The next one pinches a little.  I recently had one of the very few arguments I’ve ever had with my best friend of 37 years, Bo, over this very thing.  Neither of us changed our minds.

bo

My nutty friend, Bo.

Conventional wisdom is to never, ever wash fresh mushrooms.  Again, I say nay.

If I’m prepping for a salad that I’m eating right away, then I brush the dreck off the ‘shrooms.  If they have time to sit in a colander and dry off, I don’t.  If I’m cooking them, I always wash them.

Mushrooms are 90% water.  There is a negligible ability to absorb more.  The few drops left on them from a brief shower will make no appreciable difference to taste or texture.  And for the optimal flavor of cooked mushrooms, you should cook out all the water anyway.

So I guess the moral to this tale is learn, listen to advice, but make up your own mind as to the worth of that advice.

You do you.

Honey, you get that freak flag down from the attic, and you let it fly!

 

Thanks for your time.

The big bad wolf called…he wants to come for dinner

Alright you guys, today I’m bringing you all along for culinary jalopy ride/scientific experiment.

Here at Chez Matthews, we love smothered pork chops.  But there’s a major fly in the ointment when using modern grocery store pork.

Today’s modern mass-produced pork has very little fat.  Many pork chops, either bone-in or boneless are from the very leanest part, the loin.  This makes for a tender and juicy chop when cooked just to 143 degrees.  But when cooked low and slow this quality translates to dry and stringy.

I’ve been thinking about doing a slow-cooked smothered pork dish that would only get better by a long sojourn in a low oven.

A North Carolina gold mine.

A pork butt (or shoulder), the cut used to make NC barbecue and carnitas, is full of fat and connective tissue that when cooked slowly becomes tender and unctuous.  But, they’re huge hunks of meat.

There is though, a compromise cut.

It’s something called boneless country ribs.  They aren’t actually ribs, but cut either from the blade end of the loin near the shoulder, or the shoulder itself.  The leaner loin-cut rib works here, but the best cut for this dish is the butt.

Happily, it’s also a buck or two cheaper than its leaner neighbor.

Slow-cooked smothered country ribs

Rub:

dry rub

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon porcini powder

1/2 teaspoon caraway powder

1 teaspoon za’atar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon thyme

Pinch of fresh nutmeg

Mix together and rub all over 2 pounds boneless country pork ribs.  Cover, refrigerate, and let sit 24 hours.

Caramelized onion:

car onions

2 yellow onions, chopped

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon za’atar

I large bay leaf

Salt and pepper

Put oil in pot on medium low.  Add onions, thyme, za’atar, bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Cook on medium-low until golden amber in a large heavy pot with lid. Remove from pot.

Heat the same pot on medium-high.  Brown meat on all sides in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.  Remove from pot and set aside.

Mushroom gravy:

shroom gravy

2 pounds mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided

2 tablespoons sassafras jelly or 1 tablespoon apple jelly and ¼ cup root beer

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 cup white wine

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups beef stock

1 cup skim milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Roux:

roux ing

3/4 cup butter

3/4 cup flour

Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium-low.  Whisk in flour and cook until the color of peanut butter.  Set aside.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250.  Heat pot on medium-high.  Add mushrooms, rosemary, and 1 tablespoon thyme to pot along with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Cook until liquid has released from the mushrooms and cooked off.  Add cooked onion.  When mushrooms begin to brown, add jelly and tomato paste.  Cook until jelly dissolves and tomato paste has begun to darken (about 3 minutes). 

Pour in wine and cook until pan is dry again.  Add stock, stir in mustard, Worcestershire, and dairy.  Heat until boiling.  Whisk in roux until gravy thickness.  Check for seasoning.  Add in meat and cover.  Place in oven and cook three hours.  When done, skim off any fat from the surface.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Serve over rice.  Makes 5-6 servings.

Well, it turned out delicious.  The meat was literally falling-apart tender.  The connective tissue had completely broken down and gave it that rib-like mouth feel.

And Petey, who I sometimes think likes pork more than he likes me, loved it.  He claimed the leftover pork and rice for lunch tomorrow.  I also had two deli containers of gravy left.  One portion will be used for baked meatballs in a day or so.  The other’s in the freezer for a future project to be named later.

So, my experiment was successful.  But really, how bad can pork and gravy ever be?  It’s not like my kitchen fiddling was going to create a monstrous porcine/human hybrid.   But just think; if it did we could have had a huge pig pickin’ that could baste itself and make the sides.

Don’t worry, this is actually a still from a Doctor Who episode.

Thanks for your time.

 

Dinner as the reward of virtue

First, let me admit that I am most definitely no goody-two-shoes, uber-organized, Martha Stewart-wannabe.

I once overheard a woman say that she tries to retrieve her laundry from the dryer before the clothes go cold.  I try to retrieve my laundry from the dryer before the clothes go out of style.

There is, however, one exception.

Growing up, my father was in the Coast Guard.  Their motto is Semper Paratus – Always Ready.   My mother’s personal motto is Clean as you go along.  The result of being raised with these two philosophies is that when cooking, I am a cleaning, prepping machine.

There are few things I love more than getting into the kitchen and knocking out every step of a meal up to the final cooking.

Which is exactly what I was doing the other day when I was putting together a pot of goulash.

I grew up eating goulash.  It consists of hamburger, pasta, tomatoes, and loads of garlic.  It’s also known as American chop suey or beefy mac.

This time I did all the prep, and after adding the pasta, covered it, and took it off the heat.  An hour later I discovered that the residual heat had almost cooked the pasta.  But they were still opaque, and tasted a little doughy.  So later, when we were ready to eat, I cooked it briefly, stirring frequently, until the cavatappi was translucent and tasted cooked.

If you want to cook it right away, instead of taking it off the heat cook it on medium covered for 10 minutes, and uncovered for 10 more, or until the noodles are cooked and the sauce is thickened and clinging to the pasta.

Now-R-Later Goulash

goulash

1 lb. 80/20 hamburger

12 ounces mushrooms

1 onion

2 heads garlic

½ teaspoon bacon fat or vegetable oil

2-14 ounce can tomatoes

1 ½ cups beef stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup sherry

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 bay leaves

1 ½ teaspoons dry thyme + ½ teaspoon

1 teaspoon dry oregano

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely chopped + 2 sprigs

2 teaspoons kosher salt + pinch

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper + pinch

1 pound cavatappi pasta

Roast garlic:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut heads of garlic in half horizontally.  Lay in piece of foil about 9 inches square. Place ½ teaspoon thyme, rosemary sprigs, pinch of salt, pepper, and oil.  Wrap, and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Extract garlic cloves from skins and set aside.

Put hamburger into large heavy pot with a cover.  When it’s just about cooked through, add onions, mushrooms, salt, pepper, and remaining herbs.  Cook until the veg have released and cooked out all their liquid.

Add garlic and stir.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add tomato paste and mix in.  Cook until the paste has darkened, and started to stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add sherry, stir to pull up all the stuff on the bottom of the pot.  Cook until the sherry’s cook in.

Pour in tomatoes and juice.  Add beef stock.  Stir in pasta. 

Cover, take off the heat and let sit covered for 60 minutes.

10 minutes before service, put it on a medium burner, gently stirring frequently, so that all the pasta cooks to opaque.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream of Mexican crema.  Serves 8.

So, practicing the virtues taught to me by my parents, I was rewarded with a dinner that virtually cooked itself.

It’s like we dined on instant karma.

Thanks for your time.

Hey jalousie

Jalousie is a French word, meaning louvers.  It’s also the technical name of this week’s dish.

But I have given it an American twist, used my writer’s prerogative, and renamed it.

This new recipe is now called “Saloon Doors”.

I learn the oddest and most arcane things writing these essays each week.  I should rent myself out for trivia games.  For today’s topic I did a little research on those swinging louvered doors festooning saloon entrances in Western movies.

And discovered they’re pretty much a Hollywood invention.

Think about it, having half doors swinging in the wind would have been a horrible idea for someplace like Montana in January.  And using those doors would have left no manner of securing the saloon when closed—which it did for at least a few hours every day (Miss Kitty needs her sleep, y’all).

But they make for very dramatic entrances of black-hatted villains and white-hatted heroes into the saloon and thus Tinsel Town has implanted them irrevocably into our collective psyche.

Anyway, back to my own, edible, clichéd, saloon doors.  The recipe calls for puff pastry, manipulated, stuffed and baked.  So once you know the procedure, you can fill it to your taste and occasion.  As a jumping-off place I’ll give you four ideas for filling; breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  Where you go from there is up to you.

This recipe is made with frozen puff pastry, found in most supermarkets, and made by layering dough with butter, rolling, and refolding, countless times.  This gives it up to a thousand layers.  The water in the butter evaporates while baking.  This produces steam which gives the puff.

I offer a few pieces of advice.  Try to purchase all-butter pastry; it tastes and cooks better.  Let it thaw overnight in the fridge, or if not possible, on the counter until it can be unfolded and worked.  If you seal the edges, you will not get left.  So don’t get egg wash on them; it’ll glue them shut.  When cutting; cut, don’t press.  When sealing the two pieces, be gentle.  Egg wash, then cut the slats, so the steam can escape.

Saloon doors

(Makes 2 complete pastries)

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut each sheet in half.  Lay out two pieces on parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Spread filling on each, leaving a ¾ inch border.  Brush beaten egg on naked border.  Fill. Top each piece with the other sheet.  Lightly press border to seal.  Brush egg on top layer.  Leaving ¾ inch border, cut 1-inch horizontal slats down the length of each piece.

Bake at 425 until the pastry begins to brown and puff.  Lower oven to 375 and bake until dough is dry, crisp and deep golden-brown.

Slice and serve.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Breakfast Filling:

breakfast door

Scramble 10 eggs.  Season.  Cook 6 slices bacon until crisp. Spread eggs onto bottom sheets of pastry, leaving ¾ inch border.  Sprinkle on crumbled bacon and chopped fresh parsley.  Top with pinched off pieces of goat or Boursin cheese.  Cover with second piece, brush with egg wash, and cut slats, leaving border.

Bake according to directions above.

Lunch:

lunch door

Sauté leeks and mushrooms until browned and dry.  Spread on pastry.  Sprinkle on julienned prosciutto.  Using a potato peeler, scrape ribbons of Parmesan cheese over top.  Lay on top pastry, prepare, and bake.

Dinner:

dinner door

Spread thin layer of pesto on bottom of sheets.  Cover with shredded rotisserie chicken.  Dot with sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese bits.  Finish and bake.

Dessert:

dessert door

Spread half of a jar of black cherry preserves on each sheet.  Cut one 8-ounce block of cream cheese into small squares.  Top preserves with cream cheese, and dot with toasted, chopped pecans.   Cover, finish, and bake.  Sprinkle cooled tart with powdered sugar, and serve with whipped cream, or ice cream.

These are easy, but look impressive.  If you often have unexpected guests, it’s not a bad idea to keep a box of puff pastry in your freezer.  You could fill them with anything that you have on hand.  And when you carry out one of these puppies they’ll be so fancy looking, you’ll make Martha Stewart look like a slacker.

Thanks for your time.

My, how fun

I was born with what I believe is a legitimate congenital defect.

The technical, Latin nomenclature for this is (or should be), Lingua Infans, or “Baby Tongue”.

Regardless of appetites or desires, the ingestion of fiery, spicy foods results in pain and distress.  As a result, I can eat almost no Indian food, and Jamaican food scares the pants off me.  Even a heavy-handed use of black pepper can overwhelm.

Many people make fun of this flaw, and inform me that it’s a matter of will; that if I want to be a grown-up and eat spicy foods, I should just put on my big girl panties, and do it.  Not true.  I’d love to be able to tuck into a plate of tikka masala, or some spicy nachos, but I am physically unable to do it.

But what I also don’t do is make a big deal out of it.  It’s my habañero-covered cross to bear, no one else’s.  So when eating out I’ve become very good at avoiding suspect menu items.

I think that’s one reason why I love Chinese food so much.  While there are dishes with enough heat to really hurt me, they don’t comprise the bulk of the menu.  Other Asian cuisine; most notably Thai, are not so safe.

This week’s recipe is my home version of Chicken Mei Fun (pronounced, “my fun”).  It’s very similar to fried rice, but instead of rice grains, angel hair pasta made from rice is used (Find it in Asian markets and some grocery stores).

Chicken Mei Fun

8 ounces rice vermicelli

Lay into a pot of very hot water, and soak for 20 minutes.  After soaking, pour into a colander in which you’ve placed the spinach.  This will wilt the spinach and get it ready to toss into the stir fry.

Protein:

protien

3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken

3 eggs, well beaten

2 tablespoons chives, chopped

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Make an omelet with the eggs and chives.  Cut into 1/2-inch strips and set aside for assembly.

Vegetables:

veggies

2 carrots, julienned

1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly

8 ounces mushrooms

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

 Aromatics:

aro

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons grated ginger

1 large shallot, diced

 Sauce:

sauce

Whisk together

3/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Sherry

 Finishing:

finish

2 cups raw spinach

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

 *Stir frying goes crazy fast once it gets started, so get all of your prep done before turning on the burner.

To cook:

If you don’t have a wok, get a very large, very heavy pot almost smoking hot.  Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan.  Put in the carrots and mushrooms.  Cook for a couple of minutes, and when all the liquid has released and cooked out, add onions.  Cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in aromatics then immediately add the proteins.  Pour in sauce and toss.

When coated, pour in noodles, spinach, and thawed peas.  Gently mix to coat.

mei fun

Serves 6-8.

I’ve eaten this from a few Chinese restaurants.  But the more popular recipe is called Singapore Mei Fun.  It’s a reflection of the Indian population living in Singapore, and this version has curry.  As you can guess, because of my affliction, I do not have a good relationship with curry.

But if you would like, you are welcome to Singapore up this recipe with the addition of 1 ½ tablespoons curry powder and 3 dried bird’s eye chilis.

Bon Appetite, intrepid soul.

Thanks for your time.