Melting Pot #8

Getting Baked!

French breadOne of the most fun things you can do in the kitchen (besides THAT) is to bake. You take on your mad scientist persona and mix all this stuff together to create magic in the oven. Unlike stove top cooking, where you add things while you are making the food, the ingredients are mixed together before the cooking process begins. A mistake in measuring can result in a waste of time and money. Exciting!

I particularly enjoy baking bread. It just smells so good when a fresh loaf comes out of the oven. Next in line would be baking cookies, they are easier to do but just as rewarding. I haven’t made a cake from scratch in years, maybe I should set that as a goal over the next few weeks…

It is really easy to find great recipes online. I like recipe.com, they have a pretty good variety but there are several places to find recipes so have a search and let me know your favorite. One of the things you have to be aware of is the authors of the recipes are not always correct in measurements. I used a bread recipe recently and there was too much flour, the loaf was way to heavy.

I will add some of my baking experiences and methods in the next couple of days. In the meantime, let me know what sort of stuff you want me to make and I will have a go.mmmmm Cookies!

Melting Pot #6

Irish Stew

Yummy stuff on a chilly day. Irish stew is one of those easy to mess up things. It seems super simple but if you get too carried away you can end up with something that is less than appealing.

The final product. It was delicious!

The final product. It was delicious!

Generally speaking, a stew is sort of a soup but with bigger chunks of goodness. For my version I use beef, some lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions, a bottle of beer, salt pepper, corn and green beans. You can add other vegetables like turnips, celery, cabbage, etc. Avoid the sissy vegetables like cauliflower.

First, chop up two baseball size onions into a medium dice. Set them aside.

Peel and cut up two or three carrots. You want about a cup of carrots so what ever that works out to, go for it.

Get your locally sourced beef and lamb ready to go. By locally sourced I mean the super market that is closest to your house. I take the beef, usually about two pounds, and rinse it off. The lamb, usually just a couple of chops are cut up into cubes. In a deep pot I render off some bacon. Then add some oil, a few tablespoons or so.

Start browning the meat. Before you put the meat in the pot, dry it off. This helps them meat to actually caramelize and

The brownin' o' the meat...

The brownin’ o’ the meat…

not go grey and boiled looking. Add beef until the bottom of the pot is almost covered, leave enough room to turn your meat. Brown it on all sides and then remove. Do this until all the beef is browned. Do the same thing for the lamb.

After browning drain off most of the oil at the bottom of the pot. Bring the pot back to temperature and throw in your onions. Stir them around, add a pinch of salt to help break down the onions. Once they start to look a little translucent throw in your carrots. Mix everything around so it seems like you are a chef.

Vegetables simmering with beer. Meat waiting to dive in.

Vegetables simmering with beer. Meat waiting to dive in.

Turn the temperature down a little and dump in a bottle of beer. NOT one of those giant bottles of Budweiser that you can buy at the CVS for a $1.49. Use a bottle of dark something…Harp, Guinness, Sapporo…you know, something made by people who care. Use a 12 bottle. This time around I used Newcastle Browne. Simmer that down and let it reduce.

As that that is happening peel and cut your spuds. When you cut them make sure they are pretty good size chunks, about the same size as the stew beef pieces. Put them in a separate pot to cook.

Go back to the stew pot and stir, scraping all the good brown bits off the bottom. Add back the meat, including the bacon that you used to render. Stir things around a little. Add water to just cover everything. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Add some pepper and salt and a couple of bay leaves. Cover. Have a beer.

When the potatoes get to the point that they are almost done, drain them out but do not rinse them. Set the potatoes aside to cool. If you have a big pan you can spread them out on even better. As they cool they will get a starchy coat which will help them stay firm in the stew and keep a nice ‘bitey’ texture.

After about an hour check the stew. The meat should start getting softer. It may take a lot longer, maybe just a little. You want the beef to come apart under a fork. If you have to work at it there is some more cooking to be done. You may have to add a little more water, but not too much. You really want as little juice as possible.

When the beef is right fold in the potatoes. Be gentle, you don’t want mashed spuds! After this add corn and green beans. I use frozen veggies so let the temperature of the stew come back to a boil and you are ready to serve.

Serve with some bread and butter along with a nice beer and you have a meal fit for a peasant.

I am sure you will have a completely different way of making stew, but that is only because the Irish are a confused lot. I am sure however you do it is fine. Wrong, but fine.

The Melting Pot #2

My mother was German. She grew up in New York and learned tons of great recipes from lot’s of different cultures. This is a German dish that she would make once every 2 or 3 months. It is one of those basic dishes that is easy to do and tastes great.

Rind Rouladin

A rolled beef dish, super easy. You need thin beef, bacon, diced onions and salt and pepper. You also need toothpicks for assembly. Figure enough for 3 or 4 rolls per person. This will probably give you a few leftovers.

First, take the beef and smash it thin with a mallet. The beef should be less than 1/8″ thick. You can buy thin sliced beef and pound that out. I put cling film over it to keep the juices from flying about the room.

The beef should be about 2.5 to 3″ wide by about 6″ long.

Take bacon and cut it in half. Enough to put bacon in each roll. Take two medium size onions and dice them, each piece about 3/16″ square.

Lay out a strip of beef, add a splash of salt and pepper, put on some onions and then the strip of bacon. Roll tightly from one end to the other, put a toothpick in to hold together. After you have prepared all your rolls take a deep, large pot and heat it up slowly. Throw in some chopped bacon to render the fat out. Brown the Rouladin, getting the color to a nice dark brown. After the pieces are browned remove them from the pot and set aside. Throw in the balance of the onions and sweat those down. There should be a nice crust at the bottom of the pot from browning. Once the onions are clear add a cup of white wine to deglaze the pot. Make sure to work with a spoon to scrape the bottom and get all the good bits off. Reduce the wine to about 1/3 in volume. Add back 4 to 6 cups of water. Put Rouladin back in pot, bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Let simmer for about 3 hours.

In the meantime:

Peel potatoes…usually two per person if they are medium sized. I always make more for left overs. You can add sour cream when you mash them if you like. I also put in some white pepper and garlic powder at mashing time just for a little kick of flavor (optional).

Make pickled red cabbage. Either from scratch or get a jar. Some Rouladin recipes call for a pickle in the middle of the roll. I think the pickle flavor can take over and mask all the other flavors. The pickled red cabbage on the side works perfectly well with this dish.

I also serve Corn with this and Brussel Sprouts. The sprouts I cut in half and pan roast, tossing in a little butter at the last minute as a light glaze.

So that’s it. This is a great meal for a cold or rainy day. I don’t think my mother ever served this in the summer. But I know in the winter I would have this and have plenty of energy to go out and play with my friends until she hollered for me to come in and go to bed.

The Melting Pot

Thai Food

When I first moved to San Francisco and was young and poor (now I am old and poor…) I used to eat pretty much every day at a little Thai restaurant called the Racha Cafe. I could get a plate of Spicy Basil Chicken with steamed rice for about $5.00. That was usually my big meal for the day.

There are lots of great flavors from Thailand. Curries, fish dishes, noodles…all delicious. So check it out: IT IS EASY TO CREATE GREAT THAI FOOD AT HOME!! All you need is a collection of the right flavors.

When you want to cook in a Thai style there are a few items to add to your pantry. First, a good fish sauce; I like Tiparos but there are plenty of good brands. Then get some Sri Racha or as we call it Racha sauce. You will also want fresh ginger, lemon grass (you can get ground up Lemon Grass in a jar or tube if fresh isn’t available), garlic and soy sauce. Another regularly used item is basil. Thai basil is best but if you can’t get that use regular basil and some fresh mint leaves too. I keep jalapenos in the fridge pickled in cane vinegar, just wash in hot water and slice before dropping them in.

THAI BASIL CHICKEN

My daughter’s favorite, easy to make and delicious.

Get boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut them into little cubes. Figure two thighs per person, but add a few for leftovers (you will want some for lunch). Brown the chicken in oil, I use canola but anything but olive oil will do. You may have to cook the chicken in shifts…

After the chicken is lightly browned, add some soy sauce and fish sauce. Figure about 4 to 1 soy vs fish sauce. I use around four tablespoons or so of liquid per 6 thighs but you will have to adjust to your own taste. BE CAREFULL WITH THE FISH SAUCE…the flavor will multiply as the liquid reduces. Stir in about 1/4 tsp each of ground ginger and ground lemon grass. You can put in a little garlic but it is not needed. I like my chicken a little more spicy so I will stir in a little Racha sauce to give a small bite.

At the end throw in your pickled jalapenos to taste and then one bunch of basil. Let the basil wilt and toss it in. Remove from the heat and serve over jasmine rice.

You can do this same basic recipe with beef, seafood or veggies. Just try using the these spices to add to your cooking bag of tricks.