Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pastor John's award-winning New England Clam Chowder

Here’s something new on Rick’s Recipes: a guest recipe! My friend John Castricum has a nice little blogsite called Reflections of a Reformed Pastor. Last week he posted his award winning clam chowder recipe in a post called the Theology of Clam Chowder. John is a native of the Bay State and serves a church near Boston, and this is the real deal.  I bumped into him this week, and asked him for permission to repost the recipe here, so here it is:

John writes:  “I prefer my chowder on the creamy side, rather than the milky side, so that is why I put in a flour/butter roux and use half and half. A good "mouth feel" is important. I know this is not exactly "health food" but I think you really need the fat to make it taste good (I know Julia Child is with me on this one). I also want to make sure people taste clams, so plenty of clam juice is important. Believe it or not, the bacon helps give it a "sea" taste. I think part of the appeal of clams and other shell fish is getting a sensation of "sea water" as you eat the clams. Same thing with clam chowder. I put in the clams at very last, since they cook pretty quickly and turn rubbery if they cook too much.

3 oz. Bacon

1 onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, with leaves, finely diced

1 1/4 lb. potatoes, diced to 1/2 inch cubes

1 quart clam juice

3/4 cup flour

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 quarts half and half

12 oz. chopped clams

salt and white pepper to taste

1. In a large stock pot, fry bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towel. When cool, crumble into small pieces.

2. Saute onions and celery in bacon fat until soft. Add potatoes.

3. Add clam juice and bring to a simmer.

4. In a separate pan, melt butter and add the flour. Constantly stir mixture on medium-low heat until smooth, about 3 minutes.

5. Add flour/butter mixture to simmering stock. Stir until thick and stock comes back to a simmer.

6. Add half and half and bring back to simmer, stirring. Gently simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.

7. Season with salt and pepper.

8. Add the clams. Simmer for a few minutes more and serve.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Provençal Savory Eggplant Custard (Gratin D’Aubergines)

Here’s a rich savory end of summer dish for those of you who have lots of ripe tomatoes and basil in your garden. It is a delicious side dish or could be a main course to serve four. Use a big gratin dish, baking or lasagna pan. In Provence they would use a soft cheese called Brousse, but Ricotta is a good substitute.

Extra virgin olive oil

4 Italian eggplants, stemmed, unpeeled and washed and cut into ½ inch slices

4 large ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, coarsely chopped, and drained of liquid

1 cup basil, washed and cut into thin shreds

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 gloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

8 oz. ricotta cheese (or Brousse)

2 large eggs

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Freshly grated black pepper


Sprinkle the cut eggplant slices with kosher salt and let them drain in a colander for half an hour. Then dry them thoroughly with paper towels. In a large stick-proof pan put enough olive oil to come up 1/4 inch and heat slices over medium heat. Cook for ten minutes, turning once. You will need to do this in three batches. After each batch place cooked eggplant on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. The eggplant absorbs a lot of oil, so you may have to replenish it a bit for each batch.

When the eggplant is finished remove all but two Tbs. of the oil, reduce heat to low and sweat the onion for ten minutes. Turn the heat up to high, add the drained tomatoes, garlic and salt and cook for about ten minutes stirring until the mixture as given up most of its juice. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Whisk together the Ricotta cheese, eggs, half the Parmesan cheese, and the cream in a large bowl. It should be the consistency of a thick cream, but pourable.

Arrange half the eggplant slices in a single layer in the bottom of your pan (photo below). Grate pepper to taste, sprinkle the basil shreds, and half of the remaining Parmesan cheese. Spread the tomato/onion mixture. Add another layer. If you have leftover eggplant slices press them onto the top.

Pour your egg/cheese,/cream mixture over the top and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese over top. Place pan in the oven and turn heat down to 350 f. Bake for 30 minutes or so until custard has set and is golden brown. Serve hot.

For a wine match-up I would suggest a dry rose from Provence.
(Photos: R. L. Floyd)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grilled Orange-Juice Marinated Pork Chops

Here's a nice summer main course that you can make on the grill and not have to heat up the kitchen.  You can use bone-in or boneless pork chops for this, although I think the bone-in kind have more flavor and stay moister better on the grill.

The main challenge with grilling pork chops is to get them properly cooked without drying them out. My marinade evolved over the years from a teriyaki sauce to its present citrus form. I think pork has an affinity for citrus flavors, and the Asian flavors are a nice match.

You can throw the marinade together in minutes, put it and the chops in a gallon freezer bag, and stick them in the fridge for a couple hours (or longer) until grill time.  Turn the bag over and slosh it around a few times.

For the marinade:

1tbs. peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1 large glove garlic peeled and chopped

1/4 cup dark soy sauce

3 tbs. dark brown sugar

2 tbs. peanut oil

2 tsp. sesame oil

½ cup orange juice

2 tsp. orange zest

Whisk it all together.

Cooking the chops:

Heat the grill to high. Remove the chops from marinade and save the marinade. Put it in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer so that it can thicken a bit. Take a small amount for basting and save the rest as a sauce for the chops.

Oil the grill, put on the chops. After a minute turn the chops 90 degrees to get nice grill marks and turn heat to medium. Depending on the thickness of the chops it will take about 3-5 minutes a side to cook them through. Baste them before you turn them over, and from time to time as you go. The brown sugar will burn if you don’t keep moist or let the flame get too high.

When they come off the grill let them sit for a few minutes then pour the hot marinade over them (not the batch you’ve been basting with.) I served this with grill-baked sweet potatoes and fresh corn. A pinot noir from the South of France rounded it out nicely.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Shrimp and Tomato Saganaki with Feta

We had something similar to this in the pretty seaside town of Molyvos on the Island of Lesbos back in 2003. Martha's grandparents emigrated to America from Lesbos, and it was her first time visiting there. It's a beautiful place.

This summer Andrew and Jess came back from the Greek Islands and reported having a version of it in Santorini, though they claim mine is better, which may just be because there is more of it. This is a tourist dish with no claim to authenticity, but it is yummy. And, once you’ve cleaned the shrimp, easy and pretty foolproof.

I use frozen easy-peel shrimp that come in 2 lb bags. You will need a heavy-bottomed skillet, and an ovenproof serving dish (I use a Le Crueset enameled one, but you could do it any shallow casserole or baking dish.)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp crushed red pepper (or to taste)
2 lbs jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 large fresh tomatoes in season, coarsely chopped (or use a 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes)
1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, rinsed and chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat and cook the onion, stirring occasionally until it is soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the red pepper flakes and tomatoes, and let it cook for another ten minutes or so until some of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce begins to thicken. Add the shrimp and cook for a few minutes, stirring now and then, until they turn pink and begin to firm up (don't overcook them).

Turn the mixture into the baking dish, sprinkle the feta over the top, and put it in the oven for 10 minutes until everything is bubbling nicely. Salt and pepper to taste (the feta should be all the salt you need), and sprinkle with the parsley.

Although in Greece this is typically a starter, it will easily feed four people as dinner with some crusty bread and a Greek salad. In the best of all worlds your kids will bring you a white wine back from Santorini to have with it (as mine did), but any sturdy crisp white will go just fine (feta is a tough flavor match for wine.) White Retsina works if you’ve acquired a taste for it, which most people who aren’t Greek haven’t. Enjoy.

(Photos: R.L. Floyd)

(This one first appeared in Retired Pastor Ruminates on September 18, 2009)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Don't be Afraid of Mussels!

I write in defense of mussels, the stepchild of the shellfish world. I am not talking about the dreaded freshwater zebra mussels that are threatening our lakes here in the Berkshires, but the delectable marine blue mussel.

The French love them. You can’t walk a block in Paris without seeing a bistro with a “Moules” sign. For some reason though, Americans, who will happily pound down their weight in steamers and Littlenecks have been slow to warm to these succulent little morsels.

Many years ago I had a wonderful congregant, Gladys Brigham, whose father had been a Congregationalist missionary to the Middle East in the nineteenth century. He had gone to Bangor Theological Seminary, and the family still had a summer cottage on Isleboro, one of Maine’s most charming islands. When my children were still children Gladys invited us all to spend a few days there and she joined us for a couple of them. At low tide there were more mussels than you could shake a stick at, so I harvested a batch, cleaned and de-bearded them, and steamed them with a little garlic and white wine. “These are delicious,” opined Gladys, who was close to ninety, and had been coming to this very spot for the better part of the Twentieth Century. “I’ve never had a mussel before.” I was dumbfounded: “Why not?” “People here don’t eat them.”

I have a theory about this. First, mussels are subject to Red Tide (dinoflagellates), which is harmless to the mussel but contains toxins that can harm humans with paralytic shellfish poisoning. If back in the day Uncle Wendell got wicked sick from eating a mussel it might have put everybody off their feed for awhile. Today governments strictly monitor for toxins at fishing sites, so that is no longer a problem. And besides, clams are subject to Red Tide, too, so I don’t get it.

The other bad rap mussels get is that they are hard to clean, and it is true that if you harvest them yourself it is a bit of a chore to scrub them up, de-beard them, and scrape the barnacles off them. And if you are not careful, there will always be a closed one that is, in fact, just a shell full of mud and it will muddy your broth.

But the last few years I have been able to buy beautiful mussels from Prince Edward Island in the grocery store. These are fresh, clean, scrubbed and de-bearded, and need minimal handling. Just make sure that they are alive, discarding any whose shells have opened or are cracked. Give them a good rinse in cold water. I put them in a bowl and leave them in the sink with the water gently running for a while.

So get yourself some mussels. This is the best time of year for them, as the claim is that the best months to eat them end in “–ber,” and here we are in September (see note below) with two more “–ber” months to go. And the best thing of all is that, although their flavor resembles that of the treasured lobster, they are cheap. My PEI mussels come in two pound mesh bags, and are often available for $2.49 a pound. I got some last week for $1.99 on sale. The lobsters in that tank nearby were $11.99. Tough decision? No.

There are many ways to treat a mussel, but I like them done with as little fanfare as possible (except when I make them Chinese style with garlic and fermented black beans, but that is another post for another day). Mussels contain a lot of water, so you don’t need to drown them when you cook them. Here’s a simple recipe similar to what the French call Moules Marinieres (they would use butter, reduce the broth, and add more butter at the end, but I like it this way):

2 lbs mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ yellow onion, chopped
2 tbs garlic, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
½ cup dry white wine.
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Drain the rinsed mussels in a colander. You’ll want a wide pan with a tight lid. Heat the oil over medium heat, and cook the onion until soft. Toss in the garlic, crushed red pepper, and parsley. Then gently add the mussels (the shells will break if you’re hard on them.) Gently stir to mix, add the white wine and cover. Give the pan a gentle shake from time to time and start checking the mussels after about five minutes. If they are not opening turn the heat up a bit and cover again. They should all be open after ten minutes. You can serve them now, but I prefer to remove the mussels to a platter with a slotted spoon, and strain the broth through a sieve covered with cheesecloth to catch any sand. You can pour the broth over the mussels or serve it on the side (as I do). Enjoy.

Wine pairings: The French might drink Muscadet with them, and they wouldn't be wrong. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc is always nice. When we were with our daughter in Provence I ordered mussels (albeit Provencal style with tomato) and she said “Try the Rose.” I did, and it was very good, so a dry Rose from the South of France works just fine. But don't break the bank on cheap eats, any good dry white will do.

(Photo by R.L. FLoyd)

(This one first appeared on Retired Pastor Ruminates on September 29, 2009.  I had some tasty ones last night at Brix Wine Bar, with chorizo, and it reminded me to move this post over here to Rick's Recipes.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brunching in the Berkshires: “Brix Wine Bar” in Pittsfield

Rick’s Recipes has been dormant for a couple of weeks, partly because it is Lent, and I haven’t been doing any cooking worthy of note.

I have never done any restaurant reviews, nor do I feel particularly qualified to do so, but we had a very nice brunch experience today at Brix Wine Bar in Pittsfield, which I thought I would share with my Central Berkshire readers.

We often go to brunch after church, and I hate (not too strong a word) buffets, because you eat way too much, and there are hygiene issues best left unsaid.

We have gone often to the ever-dependable Café Reva, where the food is good, the service is friendly, and pretension is nowhere to be found.

However, it tends to be crowded when we leave church, and it is a small room and a little too noisy for me.

I have known about Brix for some time as a first rank wine bar that also serves some food, but it wasn’t until this weekend that a visiting friend, who is both a restaurateur and French, told us that Brix serves very good food.

I can only vouch for the brunch, but it was first-rate.

Brix is in a nicely appointed narrow room in a faux Bistro style.  It is quiet, with soft (and good) music. We were by a speaker and the waiter asked us if we like the music turned down, which we did because of my brain injury. He did so, but nonetheless we enjoyed Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry“ and something from “Ladysmith Black Mambazo” in sequence, which is a hard to beat mix.

The food itself is straightforward with old brunch classics like Eggs Benedict (with Applewood smoked ham), Eggs Florentine, a variety of innovative omelets, and some nice looking crepes. Those, a variety of croissants, and the ubiquitous bistro dishes Croque Monsieur and Madame, are the only real nods to being a French bistro.

They have the usual assortment of legal beverages (a bloody Mary is $8).

The wait-staff was relaxed and professional. The food was brought promptly and was hot. Everything seems either local or homemade or both.  They have good plunger pot coffee in regular and decaf.  There were a couple of  families there and that seemed fine with the staff.

The prices are a little higher than what we usually see in Pittsfield, but considering the quality, quite reasonable.  The Eggs Benedict, for example, is $11.

I would and will go back for brunch.  It's on 40 West Street in Pittsfield, just down the hill from Park Square.  Their phone number is 413-236-9463. Give it a try.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rick’s Butternut Squash Soup with Cumin and Coriander

This is a good comforting soup that can both start a meal or be one.  It is vegetarian, which so far has not been a major feature of Rick’s Recipes, but my vegetarian sister-in-law came last weekend, and this is what I came up with.

It can also be adapted for a fatless Lenten fast by eliminating the oil, and braising the onions in a dry heavy-bottomed pan with a lid.  They should throw off enough of their own liquid to keep from burning, but keep an eye on them.

I bought a butternut squash before the holidays with good intentions, but it has been staring reproachfully at me ever since.  Maybe you have one , too, over there by the  onions and potatoes.  This is a good way to dispatch it.  Do not under any circumstances buy the peeled kind, which have the shelf life of a flounder.

The other nice thing about this soup is that the flavors taste elusively ethnic.  It could be Mexican, Morrocan, Indian, Turkish, just to name but a few, so you can match them as a starter with lots of ethnic dishes (we had then up front of cheese enchiladas with green sauce, but you'll have to wait for that recipe).  Despite its exotic palate the soup is pretty mild and lets the sweetness of the squash ring true.  And, best of all, it is easy (except for the peeling, so try to get that overly helpful guest to do it. You know the one.)

Here goes:

1 Tb vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 butternut squash peeled and cut in one inch pieces
4 cups of vegetable broth
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander seed (get a new jar if it’s over six months old, this stuff turns to sawdust.  Better yet, get some in their shells from an Asian market and grind them with a mortar and pestle. I didn’t do this and neither will you)
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

I use my ever-dependable well-seasoned cast iron Dutch Oven for this, but any big pan with a lid and a heavy bottom is fine.

Set your heat at medium low, swirl the oil around if you are using it (use low heat if not), and add the onions.  Cover and braise for 20 minutes or so, stirring from time to time. Remember, good cooking is mostly good ingredients and paying attention.

The onions will soften and lightly brown.  Then add your squash, cumin, coriander, and salt. Stir it all, cover it again, and let it braise for about a half hour, stirring now and again (but not too much) and keeping a close watch so that it doesn’t scorch.  You may have to turn the heat down.

Add your vegetable stock (I like Emeril’s) and bring it all to a boil. Then stir and lower the heat to a good simmer,  and cook it, uncovered, stirring once in a while, until the squash is tender, about forty-five minutes to an hour.

If you own one of those hand blender thingies you are golden (I don’t), but if not, put it in a food processor in batches and puree it until it looks like soup.  Then return it to the pot and bring it just to a boil.

Taste for salt, and you can add more cumin if it’s bland.  Give it a few twists of the pepper mill if you like that.   Then serve it piping hot.

It serves four as dinner or more as a starter.  You can garnish it with cilantro or parsley, or dump croutons in it, but I like it plain

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rick’s Saturday Morning Leftover Asparagus Frittata

I don’t know about you, but we like asparagus, but often it’s just the two of us, so we’re left with a pretty green pile of leftover cooked asparagus that is too nice to throw out. We often have it on a Thursday with our fish (usually salmon, a nice combo), so the solution we have come up with is to have it for brunch or lunch on Saturday in an eggy cheesy thingy that is somewhere between an omelet and a frittata. This is also a good time in the day to eat it because asparagus for some weird chemical reason is a wine killer, so better to have it in the morning or noon hour, unless you are one of those people who drink early (you know who you are!)

I actually was inspired to make this by a recipe from Provence when my daughter was studying in Aix. Their omelet had the asparagus and the grated cheese mixed right into the egg batter, which seems to break all the rules, but it works as long as you watch your heat both top and bottom since this one starts on the range top and finishes in the broiler, and may have to go back and forth a few times to get it solid without burning the bottom (or the top, for that matter.) Don’t get too hung up on the amounts. Use what you have left over, and add more or fewer eggs.

So except for the burning at the bottom potential, and sometimes getting the thing out of the pan, this is simplicity itself, but takes your total concentration for a few minutes.

1 Tb Extra virgin olive oil
1 Tb butter
4 or 5 large eggs
1 cup cooked asparagus (more or less) chopped into small pieces
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (I know it isn’t French, but that is actually what they use in Provence for some reason. Use real Parmesano-Reggiano if you can. It is worth it.)
1 Tb cream or milk (I use skim and it’s fine, trust me)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl beat the eggs with your biggest whisk or an egg-beater until they get a little fluffy.Then add the chopped asparagus, the grated cheese, and salt and pepper, and stir.

Swirl the oil around in a 10 inch non-stick pan over medium high heat, and when the bottom is covered add the butter and cook it just until it starts foams. Turn the heat down to medium and dump the contents of the bowl into the pan.

Now you have to be vigilant. Jiggle the pan very gently and slowly on the burner for a few minutes. You will need to lower your heat to that sweet spot where the bottom is getting brown, but not sticking and burning. The batter should start to firm up and bubble a bit, and this is when you want to take it off the stovetop and put it under the broiler for a brief time. It should fluff a bit like a soufflé. Don’t let the top burn. You may have to go back and forth from broiler to range top to get it firm but still moist. You can do this. It should finish in the broiler till it gets a nice light brown finish, and voila!

Take it off the heat and work a rubber spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen it up. Pop it out and put it on a pretty plate. If it sticks a bit and comes out not entirely in one piecce, worry not, it will still be delicious. You may have to reassemble it some (for example, the photo at the top is from today and it needed just a little bit of arranging.  The photo at bottom is from another time and came out clean in one piece.  It's a mystery). As Julia said about getting an omelet out of a pan, you have to have the courage of your convictions. Serve this with buttered toast. It feeds the two of us amply, but with the toast could easily feed three or four. Enjoy.
(Photos by R. L. Floyd)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rick's Gooey Inauthentic Chicken Enchiladas

These are a family favorite, but they have no claim to any regional authenticity. For one thing, I use flour rather than corn tortillas, and for another I load them with sauce, and to add further insult, they are also much bigger than usual since I use burrito-size tortillas.

For shortcuts you can use leftover chicken (or turkey) or buy a rotisserie chicken and chop it up. For the salsa you could use good jarred salsa. I use 2-cup packages of Mexican-blend grated cheese, but you can grate Cheddar (not sharp) or Monterey Jack. Be alerted that you will need a really big baking pan to get these big boys all in. I use my roasting pan. You could do it in two pans if you need to. Feeds eight normal people (or four Floyds)

For the filling:
8 Burrito-size flour tortillas
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 large chopped white onion
12 oz homemade or jarred salsa
1 cup of grated cheese (Mexican blend, cheddar, or Monterey jack)
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin (cominos)
1Tbsp chopped canned chipotle peppers in adobo (optional, makes it pretty hot)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
2 garlic gloves chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup grated cheese
chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
chopped Romaine or Iceberg lettuce

To make the sauce: Make the sauce first, because it needs to cook down a bit. In a two-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and stir in the garlic and oregano for a few seconds being careful not to burn it. Add the chili powder and cumin and stir constantly for about a minute until you get a thick paste. Then slowly drizzle in the stock while stirring. You want to incorporate the other-ingredients into the stock. Stir in the tomatoes and the chipotles and bring the pot to a boil, then turn your heat down to get a good simmer.Let the sauce simmer and cook down while you assemble the enchiladas. It will not thicken too much, but don’t worry since it will spend another half hour in the oven.

To assemble the enchiladas: In a large mixing bowl mix chicken, onion, salsa, and 1 cup cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour 1 cup of the sauce into the bottom of a large baking pan. Put a tortilla on a plate and fill with one-eighth of the filling, rolling each of them one at a time, and placing each of them into the baking pan with the seam side down to hold them together.

To cook. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the remaining sauce on top of the enchiladas so that it moistens the tops of all the tortillas.Sprinkle 1 cup grated cheese over the top of the enchiladas, and put the pan uncovered into the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the enchiladas from the oven and let them sit for 5 minutes. With a spatula put an enchilada on each plate, put chopped lettuce on either side of it, and sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro.
(Photos: R.L. Floyd)
(This was the first recipe to appear on my other blog, Retired Pastor Ruminates, on August 11, 2009, and still one of the most popular)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rick’s Five-Bean Super Bowl Chili con Carne for a Crowd

(Note: This one appeared at Retired Pastor Ruminates on October 9, 2009, but I thought I'd drag it over here for the Super Bowl this weekend. I apologize to any Vikings fans for any pain I may cause them for mentioning their team right now.)

This is an old Super Bowl favorite of ours. I made it last night. I know, it wasn’t the Super Bowl, but both the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers played like it was, and the Minnesota fans cheered and carried on like it was. All it was was Bret Favre playing against his old team on Monday Night Football.  My son had invited some of his teacher friends over, so I figured I needed to pile on (notice the football metaphor) the food.

This is a good dish for a crowd. You can make it ahead and let it get happy on a back burner, so if your guests are arriving at indeterminate intervals, it’s perfect.

You will need a very large heavy cast iron casserole or Dutch oven for this one. It makes a lot of chili.

3 tbs vegetable oil
4 yellow onions, peeled and sliced
1 bell papper, sliced (I used red but green is OK and cheaper)
2 or 3 small hot peppers, deseeded and chopped (I used long red hots, but jalapenos are fine. Just don’t use habeneros or the heat will overwhelm the subtlety of the other nice flavors)
3 lbs ground beef (I used Black Angus 80-20, but you can go leaner if fat freaks you out, but you will lose some flavor. If you use turkey, just don't tell me.)
6 tbs chili powder
2 tbs ground cumin (comino)
2 tbs paprika (use smoked if you have it, but only use 1 tbs)
1 tbs fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper (if you have it)
2 tps salt (I used Kosher, but it doesn’t matter)
1 beer (not dark, whatever you have in the fridge. I used Corona)
1 35 oz. can of good tomatoes, whole or pureed
2 tbs chopped canned chipotle peppers in adobo
1 14.5 oz. can beef broth or your own beef stock
1 15.5 oz. can red kidney beans
1 15.5 oz. can dark red kidney beans
1 15.5 oz can pinto beans
1 15.5 oz. can small red beans
1 15.5 oz can black beans.
The kernels from an ear of cooked fresh corn, or its frozen equivilent.

Chopped fresh cilantro, chopped white onion, sour cream and grated Mexican or Cheddar cheese for garnishes. Serve with tortilla chips.

Heat the oil in your big pot or in heavy-bottomed big skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion and peppers for about ten minutes stirring occasionally. Turn up the heat to medium high and add the ground beef, stirring until it is brown and there is no pink at all. This is a lot of meat so it will take a while.

Turn the heat back to medium, add the chili powder, cumin, paprika, black and white pepper and salt and stir to mix. Pour the beer over it (it will foam impressively) and stir to mix. Let that simmer for ten minutes, then stir in the tomatoes, chipotles, and beef broth, breaking the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon if you use whole ones.

Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Let this cook for one hour, stirring occasionally. Then stir in all five kinds of beans (undrained with their juices), and bring to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom from sticking. Stir in the corn and cook for ten more minutes.

I put out bowls and let people ladle themselves what they want, and I put the garnishes in small bowls and let people doctor their own. Serve with tortilla chips.

The natural accompaniment is cold beer, but red wine works fine, too. I drank an inexpensive tempranillo from Spain with it last night and it was a nice match. Enjoy.

(Photo: R.L. Floyd)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rick’s Oven-Braised Straccato (Pot Roast) over Polenta

1 Tb. olive oil
1 3 lb. chuck roast, tied with twine ( I like Black Angus)
1 medium onion chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 celery stalk chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 sprigs of fresh parsley (optional)
1 cup hearty dry red wine
2 cups beef stock plus more if needed.
1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 tsp dried sage leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt and pepper

This is basically a pot roast.  Eliminate the tomatoes and garlic, substitute dried thyme for the sage, add a bay leaf, and you have my basic pot roast recipe. That one I would serve over mashed potatoes, but this one I like over polenta. A straccato is a regional Italian pot roast, and this is my take on it. Let’s call it a North Jersey pot roast!

This is easy but takes a bit of time, which is what braising is all about.  I cook it all in my cast iron Dutch Oven, but you could do it in any fireproof pot that can go from the range to the oven. You can also cook the whole thing on the range top, but I like the even heat of the oven. I made this yesterday, put it in the oven at 4 p.m., went and had my daily nap, and it was all ready to eat by 6:45 (it needs to sit for a bit). Even better make it the day before, slice the cooled meat, heat up the sauce, and you are ready to go.

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.  Heat the oil over medium high heat and swirl it around until it covers the bottom. Dry off your roast with paper towels (it won’t brown if it’s damp) and sprinkle it liberally with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Then using tongs, or two wooden spoons, put it in the pot and brown it on all sides (don’t use a fork, because it will release the juices and you want them in there). Depending on your heat this will take between ten and twenty minutes, but the trick is to get it a very dark brown without burning it, so pay attention (which is what good cooking is all about).

When the roast is nice and brown, take it out and put it aside on a plate, and reduce your heat to medium.  Put in your chopped onion, carrot and celery, and stir with a wooden spoon now and again until the veggies are also nice and brown (but not burnt!), about ten minutes.

Add the garlic cloves and cook for another minute or so, then add you wine, beef stock, herbs and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Then lower heat to a simmer and, stirring occasionally, let it cook for about ten minutes.

Then lower the meat on top of the veggies.  The braising liquid should come about half way up the meat.  If it doesn’t add more stock, but don’t put too much liquid in, because you want to braise it and not boil it.

Bring it back to a good boil, put the lid on it, and put it in the oven.  A 325 degree oven will typically keep a simmer just about right for braising, though you may need to adjust your heat according to variations in your oven temperature.

You want to cook this for about 2 and 1/2 hours total.  After about an hour, check the pot, lower or raise the oven temp if needed, and flip the meat over. If the liquid is low top it off with some more stock.

After two and one half hours, check the meat. It should be nice and tender but still firm enough to cut.  Put it on a platter, tent it with foil, and let it sit for fifteen minutes. While the meat is cooling, put your braising liquid on the range top and simmer it to reduce the sauce, stirring now and again. Remove the parsley sprigs, taste and season for salt and pepper.

Slice your meat against the grain and plate it over the polenta or mashed potatoes, then ladle the sauce generously and enjoy.  We had this with steamed brussel sprouts last night for a hearty winter meal, but a green salad would work fine.  A dry red wine will be just right. We drank a Masciarelli, a nice inexpensive Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, that is our current house red. This makes a nice, pretty easy, meal on a cold winter night that will be a crowd pleaser.

(Photos: R.L. Floyd)