Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rick’s Pub-style Beefsteak and Mushroom Pie with Ale

I can’t get my crowd to eat kidneys, so this is my take on an old pub favorite, steak and kidney pie, only in this case using mushrooms.  You can substitute a dry red wine for the ale, and it will be delicious, but very different.

3 tbs. vegetable oil
¼ cup flour for dredging, plus 3 tbs. for filling
2 lbs. beefsteak, boneless top sirloin or chuck, cut in 2 inch pieces
1 lb white mushrooms quartered
4 tbs. butter, divided
1 large onion chopped fine
1 bottle or can of ale (I used “Old Speckled Hen”)
1 cup beef stock or broth
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp dried thyme

This is another popular winter comfort dish.  Many traditional recipes for meat pies have you make the filling first, then cool it completely, even a day ahead, and then pour it into a casserole dish, top with a crust and bake.  That may be the best way, but takes more time than most of us have these days  So I cheat and do it all at once.  I make my filling in my Dutch oven, cook it for an hour or so, cool it for about 20 minutes, then transfer it and cook to finish. It comes out just fine.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Dredge beef in the flour (I just dry the beef with paper towels and dump it in a freezer bag with the flour, seal and shake.  Remove excess flour before putting in oil.)

Heat the oil in Dutch oven or pot over medium high heat.  Brown (but don’t burn) the beef in two batches, and remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.  Put 2 tbs. butter in the pot and sauté mushrooms for 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove them to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Sauté the onions for about five minutes. Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the remaining 3 tbs. flour and stir to incorporate.  Add the ale, stock, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, thyme, and bring it all to a boil, stirring, until it thickens slightly.  Return the beef and mushrooms to the pot, add the carrots, stir, cover and put it in the oven and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove pot from oven, take off the cover, give it a stir, and let it stand for twenty minutes.  Add the frozen peas.  Pour the whole thing into a 3 quart buttered casserole dish.  Cover casserole with a piecrust cut to size (you can use biscuits or puff pastry if you prefer.)  Brush the crust with an egg wash consisting of 1 large egg to 2 Tbs. milk whisked together for a golden crust.

Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. and place the casserole in oven.  Cook for 25 minutes, checking it toward the end to keep the crust from burning.  Remove and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.

The perfect beverage to go with this is a pint of the ale in the pie, or else a hearty dry red wine.
(Photo:  R.L. Floyd)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Where I Ruminate on My Long Love Affair with Food

I love food. I love to cook it, and I love to eat it, especially my own.
Mom and Dad both cooked. It wasn’t haut cuisine, but it was pretty healthy and had variety. I was born in 1949 so my earliest days in memory are in the fifties, not a heyday for American cookery. We had our share of frozen potpies and TV dinners and Mrs. Paul’s fish-sticks, but more often it was a home-cooked meal. My mother was a Midwesterner, so it was pretty simple with not a lot of seasoning. But she did have a well-worn copy of M.F.K. Fisher’s “How to Cook a Wolf” on her shelf, which was pretty avant-garde in those days. Fisher, Elizabeth David, and, of course, the incomparable Julia Child, were bringing back dispatches from the front about such exotica as olive oil and fresh garlic.

My favorite food was my mother’s fried chicken, which was a company dish. I remember fat pork roasts you couldn’t buy today for love nor money, with an inch of fat on the outside, and cooked ‘til it was gray for fear of trichinosis. The Sunday roast appeared mysteriously throughout the week in various guises and disguises. My Mom’s pork roast would supply the main ingredient for my Dad’s Pork Chop Suey or Chow Mein. That was exotica in the days before Szechuan and Hunan restaurants, when all American Chinese food was faux Cantonese. We had mac and cheese and ham steaks and haddock (frozen) that Mom would roll in corn meal and fry.

We seldom went out because it was expensive. When we did it was for pizza at an Italian bar called the Antlers (this was North Jersey) or to Westwood to the Cantonese place, where my Dad would always silently issue a “winner take all” challenge to the poor waiter with the water pitcher. Or for a real treat we might get the clam strip roll at Howard Johnson.

In those days, at least in my house, there was no extra virgin (or any) olive oil, no kosher salt, no pepper mill (that came ground from Durkees), no fresh garlic, no cilantro, no jalapeno peppers, no garam masala, or Hungarian paprika. Cheese was typically Longhorn cheddar. Steak was chuck and cooked gray. Pasta was spaghetti with red sauce from a jar, with some browned ground beef in it.

My parents didn’t drink when we were growing up, so the first wine I recall having was the sweet Portugese rose, Mateus, that was the rage when I was in college.

I started cooking when I was a young adult in the years before I married. It started with a simple spaghetti sauce or chili con carne. I added a spinach loaf that was mainly frozen spinach and crumbled Saltines.

When Martha and I were married our friends the Handspickers gave us a copy of Fannie Farmer’s Cook Book as a wedding present. That was my first cookbook, and I made my way through it and added more dishes to my repertoire: sauerbraten, shish kabob, and variety of soups, chowders, and stews. Martha gave me Joy of Cooking in our early days and I added still more. We moved to Bangor in 1979 and they didn’t have a decent Chinese rerstaurant, so I went to the Bangor Public Library and found Joyce Chen’s Cookbook and taught myself rudimentary Chinese cooking. There was a little Vietnamese place with a small market, and I found tree ears and tiger lily blossoms to make hot and sour soup.

I discovered other cookbook authors: Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Madhar Jaffrey, and Marion Cunningham. I made tandoori chicken and turkey enchiladas, paella and ratatouille. I discovered wine can be tasty. I still remember Arthur and Anne Perkins coming to dinner and bringing a bottle of Cabernet from Rutherford, and it was a revelation. In 1980 Martha and I went to Sonoma County to visit my college friend John Kwitkor, who worked for winemaker David Stare at Dry Creek Vineyards. John took us up and down the county, tasting and eating and having a ball.

When our children arrived on the scene a few years later they landed in a culinary household far different from the one I grew up in. They ate tofu with scallions in oyster sauce regularly, and curries with raita, which Rebecca called “cucumber white.” When they were four and six we dragged them off to Oxford, England, for a term, and they ate pakoras and samosas, Scotch eggs and Cornish pasties, scones with jam and cucumber sandwiches with no crusts.

On a plane ride back in the days of airline food the flight attendant asked the woman next to my son Andrew, then about age five, which entrée she would like, one of the choices being coq au vin. “What is that?” she asked. “It’s chicken, Mam,” my little guy answered. When my daughter returned from Oxford she started in kindergarten again here in the states, and early in the year the children were all asked to name their favorite food. There was lots of pizza, pasta, and hamburgers represented, but the teacher got a big charge out of Rebecca’s choice: tandoori chicken.

This little culinary autobiography was prompted by Michael Pollan’s piece in the New York Times Magazine last week about food, where he writes about how we are becoming spectators of food rather than makers of it.

I still make food. Every day. I don’t do it to be virtuous, but because I enjoy it. I enjoy making it for others and sharing it with them. As a pastor for thirty years I know the joy of celebrating the sacraments with a community. There is a near-sacramental quality about a meal well-prepared and presented and enjoyed with family and friends. I often take pictures of the foods I make for a “cookbook” that maybe someday will be Christmas presents for my family (the pictures in this blog are all of things I have made).
My parents didn’t make fancy food, but they made good food, and from them I learned the joy of the table, about taking your time, and enjoying your food and the company and the conversation. We all know we need food to live, but I believe we also have a deep hunger for this larger communal experience of which food is just one part, albeit an important one. To me food takes time, thought, and creativity so it becomes something to celebrate and not just to eat.

(Photos from top: Grilled shrimp with uncooked basil tomato sauced pasta; Littleneck clams with black bean sauce; Portuguese Cataplana; Korean BBQ'd Flanken Beef Short Ribs. Photos by R.L. Floyd)

(This is reposted from my August 10, 2009 blog at “Retired Pastor Ruminates.”)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rick’s Rich Ragu with Wild Mushrooms over Homemade Tagliatelle

This rich meat ragu is my nod to a traditional Bolognese sauce. The wild mushrooms add a wonderful earthiness to it.

OK, so I’m showing off just a little here with the homemade pasta, but you really don’t have to serve this sauce over fresh pasta. It is equally delicious over dried pasta such as Rigitoni or Penne. But if you are going to work all day on the sauce, use good quality imported dried pasta like De Cecco.

But if you have the time, homemade pasta is a wonderful thing, and it’s not really hard to make, but, trust me on this, it does take time. When my children were little, and my wife, Martha, who is a nurse, had to work at night, I would muster my little force and the kids would “help” me make fresh pasta. It kept them busy for hours, and at the end of the process we had lovely Tagliatelle hanging from all kinds of drying racks and everybody (and the kitchen) was covered with flour, and Mom didn’t even have to see it.

I have made this pasta several ways: with just a rolling pin and a sharp chef's knife, with the pasta extruder on my Kitchen-Aid mixer, and with a stainless steel hand-cranked pasta machine. I like the latter best myself. I bought mine at the First Church tag sale many years ago, and it has made a lot of pasta at the Floyd household.

So if you have the better part of a day to hang out in the kitchen this can be a great project on a cold day. Your simmering sauce will fill the house with lovely aromas. And the ragu itself isn’t very hard to put together, although it takes a certain vigilance over many hours. But the nice thing about it is that during that time you can make the pasta, and at the end of the day you will have a lovely comfort food dinner that will delight everyone at the table.

For the Ragu

4 tbs butter
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
¼ lb. pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion chopped fine
1 carrot chopped fine
1 celery stalk chopped fine
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup whole milk
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 28 oz can good whole Italian tomatoes with liquid
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 oz. dried wild Porcini mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste

The pancetta is hard to cut fine enough by hand, so I cut it into small chunks and finish it in the food processor with the onions, carrots, and celery, and that keeps it from sticking to the blade.

Cover the porcini mushrooms with hot water and let sit while you do the next stages.

Heat oil and butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet or casserole, and when the butter foams add the pancetta, onion, carrot and celery and sauté over medium high heat until it takes on some color and is beginning to brown.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the beef. Cook, breaking up the pieces and stirring, until the pink goes out of the beef, but don’t brown it. Add the white wine, turn the heat back up a bit, and let all the wine evaporate, stirring now and again. Turn the heat back down to medium and add the milk and nutmeg, and cook until the milk evaporates, stirring from time to time.
Add the tomatoes, squeezing them between your fingers into the pan. Pour the mushrooms through a sieve lined with cheesecloth (or a coffee filter) into a bowl and retain the liquid. Chop the mushrooms coarsely and add to the pot along with their liquid.

Bring it all to a very gentle simmer, partially cover, and literally put it on a back burner for as many hours as you can, stirring from time to time and watching your heat so it doesn’t start boiling. If you are gentle with this sauce it will reward you. How long? The one I made yesterday had at least six hours, but I would say at least three. It should reduce into a thick rich sauce. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

When you are ready to serve it, toss your pasta with just enough of the sauce to moisten it (it’s really rich) and serve bowls of sauce along with it so people can add more if they choose. Top each plate with freshly grated Parmegianno-Reggiano cheese and you’ve got a little bit of heaven on a plate. A salad and some crusty bread will round out this meal.

For wine, a good Tuscan red or a Nebbiola-based wine will make you smile.

For the Tagliatelle

Do not be afraid to try this. The dough for this pasta has only two ingredients, flour and eggs. Some people are dogmatic about using pasta flour, but I just use King Arthur All-purpose Flour and extra-large eggs. For six servings I use three cups of flour and four eggs.

Put your flour on a clean counter or pastry board and make a well with it. Then break the eggs into the center of the well (see photo below) and with a fork beat them, while drawing small amounts of flour from the edge of the well. Don’t be impatient; you can do this! Just keep beating the eggs and drawing flour into them until you have a nice soft dough.
Put the dough aside and scrape off your board. Put flour on your hands and on the board and knead your dough for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add extra dough a little at a time until the dough is soft and pliable. When you stick a finger in the dough it shouldn’t be wet, but not too dry. You’ll know.
It is now ready for the pasta machine. The pasta machine has two parts, a set of rollers that rolls the dough, and the actual blades that cut the pasta into ribbons. Set the rollers on your machine for the widest width. Cut a piece about the size of a large egg, and put the rest under a towel so it won’t dry out. Run the piece through the rollers 6 or 8 times until the dough is smooth and isn’t sticky. Adjust the roller to the next smallest setting and repeat the process. Keep adjusting the rollers smaller until you get the dough to about 1/16 of an inch, then put it through the cutting blades and make your ribbons of Tagliatelle. You can put the pasta on a rack, or nest it into a small bundle (see photo below). Then start again with another piece and follow the above procedures until you have made pasta from all the dough. This takes some time, but is strangely calming.
When you are ready to cook the pasta, bring a good-sized pot of water to a boil and cook pasta for only about three minutes, then sauce with the ragu. Yum. This is why my kids call me the “Pasta Emeritus!” Enjoy.

(Photos: R.L. Floyd)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rick’s Braised Beef Short Ribs

We got our first blanket of snow the other day here in the Berkshires, so it was time to make some comfort food. Cold weather always gets me thinking about stews and braises, and one of my favorites is beef short ribs, which are the ends cut off the prime rib. They’re relatively cheap to buy and really easy to make. I don’t have the recipe my mother used to make them with, but I know it involved painting them with ketchup, and it may have had dried onion soup mix (remember that?) in the braising liquid. Whatever was in them they were a treat.

Here’s my version:

3 lbs meaty beef short ribs
2 tbs olive oil
1 good-sized yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk of celery, coarsely chopped
¼ tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup beef stock
½ cup hearty dry red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Salt and pepper the ribs.  In a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a cover heat the oil over medium high heat and brown the meat on all sides, being careful not to burn it. Do this in batches and don’t overcrowd the pot. Also, dry the ribs with paper towels so they will brown properly.
When they are nice and brown, remove the ribs to a plate, drain all but 2 tbs of oil, turn down the heat to medium, and add the chopped vegetables, stirring until they take on some color.

Add the stock and wine and bring to a boil, stirring to get any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the thyme and bay leaves and return the ribs to the pot. Cover the pot and put it in the oven for two hours. The meat should be tender and almost falling off the bone. Remove the ribs to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Put the pot back on the top of the stove, and reduce liquid over medium high heat until it thickens a little bit to a syrupy consistency (you may not need to do this.)

I like to put a rib on each plate over mashed potatoes with a few spoonfuls of the rich braising liquid, but this is nice over polenta or rice.  Some green beans (or a salad) and some crusty bread and you have a simple and comforting meal.

For a wine pairing I suggest any hearty dry red. This is humble dish and needs a sturdy humble wine. I served our current Italian house red with this, Masciarelli Motepulciano d’Abruzzu, which is also the wine in the braising liquid. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Welcome to Rick's Recipes!

Welcome to Rick's Recipes!  If this is the only post on here when you read it I apologize for the fact that there aren't actually any recipes on here yet, but let me explain.

For many years I have been taking pictures of my cooking and writing up recipes for my own use and for those who ask for them.  I have always planned to self-publish a little cookbook someday and hand it out for Christmas presents.

Last March I started my first blog Retired Pastor Ruminates, a somewhat eclectic but mostly theological and church-oriented blog, and from time to time posted a recipe on it.  I soon discovered that these were among my most popular blogposts.

So I thought it would be fun to have all the recipes in one place and that is what Rick's Recipes is all about.  In the meantime you can find some of my recipes here.  Just look under recipes in the index.

I also plan to write about wine and spirits here, especially about food and wine pairings.  I wanted to call this “Rick's Cafe Americain” after the cafe in Casablanca, but it was taken.  Then I thought of just “Rick's Cafe,” but that was taken too.  Apparently there is a popular spot in Jamaica by that name.  So I raise my glass to the early adopters, and my blog will just be Rick's Recipes.  My name is actually Rick, by the way.

In the interest of full disclosure I have no formal culinary training.  I am just a passionate home cook and foodie with about forty years of self-training in my background.   I am a avid reader of cookbooks and my influences will be transparent to some of you.  I make no claims to great originality.  Many of these recipes are derivative, but I like to think I have put my own spin on them.  Like good preaching, good cooking relies on tradition.  So they are what they are.  Everything here I have made myself and people have eaten and enjoyed it.  I hope you do too, and that you will come back.

As Julia would say, “Bon appetit!”

(Photo by R. L. Floyd.  “A dinner in Provence”