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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Beef Shanks and Red Cabbage

Occasionally I'll find myself in the grocery store staring at something and thinking, "I've never used one of those before. I must have it." It's how I came to try Buddha's Hand and chicken livers. Most often, this happens as I'm browsing the meat department.

So that's how I came home recently with a bag of beef shanks.

If you're not familiar with them, here's one of the thick slices of shank I prepared. Notice the large bone running through it, along with the lines of muscle. This is not a piece of beef that you can throw in a skillet for a few minutes and enjoy.
This is a tough piece of meat, but that doesn't mean you can't cook it into something deliciously tender.

The secret to a good beef shank is slow cooking, giving the meat and tissue a chance to soften and break down. Slow cooking also allows the marrow in the center of that bone to break down and add an extra dimension of meaty tastiness to your dish. It is perfect when served with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, as below:


You don't need a whole heap of ingredients to make this dish but you do need plenty of time (slow-cooker) and some preparation.

Slow-Cooked Beef Shanks
The following amounts made enough for the two of us to enjoy dinner two days in a row, plus some left for me to enjoy on the third day.

2 lbs beef shank
salt and pepper
oil of your choice, personally I like a little coconut, bacon grease, or good old butter
a head of garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
herbs of your choice - I used oregano
1 bottle red wine
4 cups beef broth
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
about 6 oz mushrooms

Grab your cast iron skillet and heat it over a fairly high heat. Add a little oil. When the oil is hot, add your beef shanks, sprinkled with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Sear the shanks until nicely browned on each side.


They'll look pretty tasty at this point but remember what I said - this is a tough meat and needs more cooking. 
Put the browned shanks in your slow cooker.
In the same skillet, lower the heat and cook the garlic, onion, and celery until it's softened and golden. Add the herbs, along with the broth and wine. I had a box of Cabernet handy and used some of that. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Pour it over the meat, add a splash of balsamic, and leave to cook in the slow cooker, on LOW for about 8 hours. 
When there was about an hour left, I sauteed some mushrooms and added them in for a bit of extra flavor, not that the meat needs it.
I mentioned that I served this with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, so let's talk a little about the cabbage.
Red cabbage is a truly under-rated and highly mistreated vegetable.
It adds a fabulous crunch and color to dishes. I first encountered it while I was working in Bavaria. We would cook it in apple juice with juniper berries. 
Sadly, people had a tendency to boil it until it takes on a most unappetizing grey hue. No wonder no one wants to eat it then!
Don't mistreat your cabbage. First, don't boil it. Why this obsession with boiling vegetables until they are mush? Simply chop it up and braise it on the stove top with a little butter, seasoning, red wine or water, and caraway seed (if that is to your liking). But also add a splash of vinegar. The acid in the vinegar will help it keep its color. Apple cider, red wine, balsamic - whatever you like - just add a tablespoon or two.

So now you have beautifully colored red cabbage, with the most tender meat. What more could you ask for?




Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Tasty January Round-Up

Given that the month has flown by, and I have not blogged at all, I decided to do a round-up of some of my favorite foodie news from this month.

1. Siggi's yogurt. (Full Disclosure: I am a Siggi's brand ambassador which means I do get free yogurt. However, I became one because I love the yogurt so much.) 

I'm kind of picky when it comes to yogurt. I like my yogurt in the morning for breakfast, I but I don't want a ton of added sugars and colorings. If you read the ingredient lists of some yogurts, you'll be absolutely horrified. As a result, I have a few specific brands that I stick to, and Siggi's is my latest discovery.

Siggi's is an Icelandic-style yogurt, made in a dairy up in New York state. I know - you've had Greek yogurt; you may have even had Australian yogurt; so what the heck is Icelandic yogurt? Skyr, as it is known to those in the know, is a very thick, strained yogurt. It is high in protein, low in sugar, from happy hormone-free cows, and free of any artificial additives. It also comes in a great range of flavors, including vanilla, coconut, blueberry, and more. I'm hoping to convince my local store manager to start stocking some of the more unusual flavors so I can give them a try. Mango-Jalapeno anyone?

Now because it is so thick and quite tart, it is not for everyone. I've had some friends who love Greek yogurt try this and find it not to their liking at all. But it is now a regular in my fridge. 

I've also discovered it is useful in cooking too. Its super-thick consistency makes it a perfect substitute for sour cream. I recently used the vanilla when making sugar cookies, and can you imagine the mango-jalapeno in tacos? (Can you tell I really want to try that flavor?)

I have a bunch of coupons, so if you have seen this in your local store and want to give it a try for free, drop me a line and I'll mail you a coupon. 

2. Ice-cream. I may have to try some Siggi's in my next batch of ice-cream. Years ago, my in-laws bought us an ice-cream maker, but it was huge. We never used it because we could never justify the time and effort needed, messing with ice and rock salt, let alone the 5 quarts of ice cream it would make for just two of us. 



Then one of my friends told me about her awesome new machine from Cuisinart. Simple to use, with soft-serve ice cream in 15-20 minutes, and it makes up to 1.5 quarts. My wonderful mum bought me one for Christmas and this week I made my first batch - vanilla with a few leftover spoonfuls of chocolate Nutella ganache from a baking project. It made just the right amount for the two of us to indulge two evenings in a row. The flavor was wonderful - a delicate hint of chocolate and hazelnut in vanilla. Thick, creamy, and so easy to make. Expect more ice cream recipes in the coming months!

3. Butternut+maple+bacon=delicious! 

A recipe for a yummy evening risotto with a perhaps-unexpected flavor combination. I came across a recipe for farotto from Bob's Red Mill, but fancied a more straightforward risotto. No pics, but here's the recipe and I highly recommend it.

1 cup Arborio rice
4-5 cups chicken broth (Luckily, I had roasted a chicken just a few days earlier and had saved the carcass to make my own broth.)
3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups butternut squash, cubed (If you like, you can roast this in advance and toss in at the end, but I added mine raw to cook with the rice.)
3 tbs maple syrup
salt and pepper

Fry the bacon pieces until crisp. Remove from the pan, but keep the bacon fat in the pan and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and rice and stir for a minute or so. Add the white wine and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the squash and a few ladlefuls of the broth. Continue to simmer, adding more broth as needed. 
Once the rice and squash are cooked to the consistency of your liking, stir in the bacon and maple syrup.
Season with the salt and pepper. 
If you like, you can also add some parmesan.

So that's it for this month. Hopefully, you won't have to wait until the end of February for my next post, especially since I'm planning something awesome with beef shanks tomorrow. On the other hand, I will be involved in making a movie, so I can't make any promises!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's Made of What?! Potato Candy.


If you've never heard of potato candy, read on.
And if your notion of potato candy is actually something that contains no potato at all, but is simply a mixture of cream cheese and sugar, you've been fooled!
Yes, this is REAL potato candy, featuring REAL potato.

WARNING: It also contains a lot of sugar. A whole lot. Enough to make me shriek in horror when I first came across the recipe. 

Potato candy is a favorite with my husband's family when the holidays roll around, and it seems to be that way for a good number of people I've met from Eastern Kentucky. Their eyes light up when they see it, and they burst into tales of childhoods past, and the beloved candy their granny would make.

Some know it as pinwheel candy, some as peanut butter roll. But make no mistake... it's potato candy!

The origins of the recipe seem to be lost in time. While researching A Culinary History of Kentucky, I came across many recollections of it, but no real clue as to when it was first created. There are many mentions of it being popular during the Depression era, and that may indeed be true; it does, after all, require few ingredients, although I wonder about the availability of sugar in such quantities. Why a potato? It provides enough starch and liquid to bind the sugar.

Whatever its origin, potato candy is sure to be a hit at your Christmas party, and I can guarantee no-one will guess its vegetable ingredient.

Potato Candy

1 small potato
approximately 2 lbs powdered sugar
peanut butter

Also make sure you have some waxed paper before you begin.

The amount of sugar you need will depend upon the size of your potato, but I found I needed a (gasp!) full 2-lb bag for one potato.

Peel your potato and boil until soft. Drain off the water. Put the potato in a bowl and mash with a fork.

See, I told you there was a potato in this candy!
To the bowl, add about half of your sugar. Adding it all at once is too difficult to mix, but you can add smaller amounts at a time, if you like.


Using either a fork or a spatula, begin mixing the potato and the sugar. It will quickly turn into a liquidy mix as the starches in the potato break down and combine with the sugar.


Keep mixing and adding more powdered sugar until you have a stiff, sticky dough. At this point, you are ready to move on to the rolling-out stage.

I use a piece of waxed paper on my kitchen surface to help with clean up. Sprinkle the paper with more sugar, put the dough on the paper, and then sprinkle with more sugar. If you are tempted to skip the additional sugar, don't. As I mentioned, the dough is sticky and difficult to work with so it will make your life easier.

Roll the dough to a thickness of about a quarter inch.

My dough actually looks pretty good here!
Now is time for the filling.
Spread a nice thick layer of creamy peanut butter over the rolled-out dough.


Now carefully roll the dough up, as if you were making a Swiss roll. If you can make it nice and round, great. If not, don't worry. Mine was less than round, but hey, we're going for rustic!

Now roll it up in the waxed paper. This will help it keep its shape, and prevent it from hardening too much.

I cut the roll in half for ease of movement. Place the roll(s) in a Ziploc bag, and put in the fridge to set for about 3 hours. When you are ready to eat it, simply slice into rounds and you're ready to go.

Be warned though - this candy does not like room temperature. I was originally told that you have to make this on the day you plan to eat it or it will become too hard and dry. I have found that is not the case IF you keep it wrapped in waxed paper inside a sealed bag in the fridge.

I also attempted a twist on this with some peppermint potato candy. For this, I split the mashed potato in half. Mix half with powdered sugar as above. Mix the other half with powdered sugar but also add some red food coloring and peppermint extract. After rolling out the white base, spread the peppermint filling and roll as per usual.

Both of these were a hit at last night's Holiday Food with Kentucky Authors event at Joseph-Beth in Lexington.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Like Big Butts!

Don't worry, I'm not about to torture your ears with my rap skills (or lack thereof). The butt I'm talking about is a beautiful 8lb Boston Butt. Love me some pork!

As it happens, despite Sir Mix-a-Lot's love of the derriere, Boston Butt is not from that end of the pig. It is from the shoulder end of the pig, so don't go confusing your butt and your rump (which is where your ham comes from).

And here ends today's pig anatomy class!

If you're like me, you tend to get into a rut when you're shopping for meat and fish. I tend to buy the same things - chicken thighs, pork loin, etc. I am trying to break that habit by buying some different cuts and whatever I find among the shelves at my local meat department. Just wait until I get to the turkey necks and pig feet!

So when I came across large Boston Butts, I decided that I could cook one up and it would feed the two of us for quite some time.

Since I plan to use it in a variety of meals, I decided to keep the actual cooking quite simple: a salt rub and a long, slow roast in the oven. It's incredibly easy, and even the novice cook needn't be intimidated by this roast. You cannot go wrong!

First score the fatty outer layer if you want some good crackling. Then rub some salt into the skin and down into those cracks.


Preheat your oven to 425F.

Place the pork in a roasting tin, fatty side up.

Put it in the preheated oven and cook for 30-40 minutes.

When you go back to the oven, you will already be able to smell that wonderful roasting pork aroma. After about 30 minutes, the fatty skin should have started to crackle up.
Now we don't want to keep it at this temperature because remember - we're going for the SLOW roast. Covered the joint with some foil and return to the oven. Lower the heat to 325F and leave it for the rest of the day.

If at this point you are panicking - "What does she mean? How long?" - relax.
As I mentioned before, you really can't go wrong with this. The only way to mess it up is to undercook the pork.

Here's the pork, after a few hours of cooking. It's starting to crisp up but we want to leave it a few hours more.

My joint was just under 8lbs and I left it slow roasting for about 6 hours. Adjust accordingly, based upon the size of your butt (the pork - let's not get personal here!), but leave it for at least 4 hours.

Now we want some good gravy to go with our roast pork and so I followed Jamie Oliver's method.

Take the foil off, and add to the roasting pan a bulb of garlic, a couple of red onions (peeled and halved), a couple of carrots (halved), a few pieces of celery, and some bay leaves. Those veggies will mix with the fat and cook down to release their flavors for a nice rich sauce.

Put the pork and veggies back in the oven for another hour.

When the hour is up, remove the pork and cover it with foil. That gives the meat time to rest, and will keep it warm while you make your gravy. Put the roasting pan on top of the stove, and over a burner, add 2 1/2 cups of water or veggie stock. Bring it to a boil and keep stirring so you get those burnt bits that have stuck to the pan. Simmer for a while so that all the flavors can come together. Then strain through a sieve, and you've got your gravy, full of meat juices and veggie goodness.

The pork will just fall apart which is just how you want it. I served ours with roast carrots and taters. Here it is before we added the gravy:


Just look at that golden crispy crackling and moist, fall-off-the-bone meat.

Now obviously we did not eat the entire 8lb butt last night.
I used a fork to remove all the meat from the bone. Once it was cooled, I put it in freezer bags by the pound. We have plenty of pork, which I will now use for future roast dinners, tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, etc. And because I didn't use anything beyond salt when roasting, I've got flexibility when I use it.

 So there you go - the easiest way to roast pork. Don't be afraid of buying large cuts of meat next time you see a great deal in your meat department. But do be prepared for the scent - after roasting all day, I can still smell pork all around the house, even on my clothes.

It was worth it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Do I Have to Share? Plum and Apple Cake

Last week being so cold and grey definitely kicked my SAD into gear. I didn't want to go out or see anyone.

But I did want to bake. And when I did, it was so good, I didn't want to share...which is how hubby and I ended up with a whole cake at home as opposed to our usual pattern of we eat a piece and he takes the rest to work. (Sorry to any of his co-workers who are reading this!)

Plum and Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
(adapted from a recipe from King Arthur Flour)

When I started out, this was going to be a simple apple cake, but then I found a can of plums in the kitchen cupboard, and I'm ashamed to say I'm not sure how long they'd been there. Time to use them up.

Cake:

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (since that is what I found first in my spice cabinet. Apple pie spice, cinnamon, etc - all fine)
3 medium eggs (courtesy of the happy chickens owned by hubby's fab co-worker Tami)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 can plums
3 cups apple (if you don't have any plums, just use extra apple, or pear, or whatever takes your fancy)

Look at that frosting. 

Frosting:
7 tbs unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 salt
1/4 cup milk
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Drain the can of plums and mash them carefully with a fork, removing any pits.
Using your handy-dandy apple gizmo, peel, core and slice the apples, and then chop or break the slices into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Easiest cake recipe in the world: put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix.
Spread mix in 9 x 13 pan and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let it cool. I know it's tempting to try a bit now but wait.

Once it's cool, make the frosting by melting the butter, brown sugar, and salt in a pan until everything has melted together. Add the milk and bring to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, adding more sugar if needed.

Spread over the cake.

Eat cake. At this point, you realize that gooey frosting and appley goodness greatly reduce your desire to share cake. Instead, you will enjoy cake for the next few days until there is just one piece left and you still haven't taken any pictures. So grab your camera and hurriedly take a pic of the final piece before it disappears into kitchen memory (aka belly). Promise to self that you will share and take better pictures next time.

Last piece of cake



Friday, October 24, 2014

Ouita's Ourld Ouows!

It was just recently I said to hubby that we needed to make a trip to West Sixth Brewery as we hadn't stopped by in a while. And then what should I notice on Facebook but a notice that local chef extraordinaire, Ouita Michel, would be doing an evening with food samples from all of her restaurants!

For those of you not familiar with Ouita Michel, (and you are forgiven ONLY if you do not live in the Central Kentucky area), she has made a huge impact on the local food scene. As owner of the Holly Hill Inn, Wallace Station, Windy Corner Market, Midway School Bakery, and Smithtown Seafood, not to mention Chef-in-Residence at Woodford Reserve Distillery, this entrepreneurial dynamo champions locally grown food and innovative twists on traditional regional cuisine, and proves that good food does not have to break the bank. When does she get time to sleep?

But back to the event. Each of Chef Michel's dining enterprises was offering a taster plate, and with each dish came a recommended West Sixth brew to accompany. Kentucky-style tapas at its finest!

Settling down with our respective brews, the lemongrass wheat for me and the Belgian blonde for hubby, we clasped our tickets and tried to decide what to start with first.

Nic began with Stone Cross Farm sweet and sour pork belly on a puffed barley cake with candied chilies, produced by Woodford Reserve Catering and Culinary. No picture, I'm afraid as he had all but polished it off by the time I returned with my Windy Corner Kentucky Lyonnaise Salad. He had, however, saved me a bite. The puffed barley cake looked rather like a breakfast cereal creation at first and I admit to having my doubts, but it offered a crunchy contrast to the pork, which was so delightfully tender, it melted in the mouth. As for the presentation, Nic said it looked like a piece of exquisite sushi. I must learn how to make pork belly so delectable.

Meanwhile I got to enjoy my salad all by myself: organic greens with warm Andouille sausage, smoked caramelized onions, soft-boiled egg, black-eyed peas, green tomato relish, and Smithtown Brown vinaigrette. Okay, I did allow Nic a bite of the Andouille sausage, but given his dislike of eggs, he did not try the rest. The chefs did offer to make one without the egg but that would have meant losing out on the joy of breaking it open and allowing the yolk to ooze over everything. Simple salad heaven.

But we're not done yet!

We were sitting outside on the patio, next to the Holly Hill Inn booth. As soon as we saw someone receive their Boiler Maker bird, we knew we had to have one of those too. Quail, marinated in bourbon and Oktoberfest, was stuffed with roasted poblano peppers and Capriole goat cheese, and then grilled. It was served over grilled pumpkin with an apple cider and bourbon reduction.

Neither of us had eaten quail before and we had great fun playing mini Viking with the smallest drumsticks in the world! The meat was much darker than I expected but perfectly spiced, the goat cheese and peppers providing a rich creamy stuffing.

On to Wallace Station with a shared country ham and pimento cheese panini slider style griddled on Wallace Station wheat bread. Wallace Station is a local favorite of ours and I adore their Hot Ham and Brie and their Inside Out Hot Brown, and their...oh let's face it, I have never had a sandwich I didn't like at Wallace Station. The bread had the perfect crunch; the cheese was just right; this is grilled cheese done right!

And on to dessert. I must hang my head in shame as I admit that I still have not made it out to Midway School Bakery, although that may be a good thing for my ever-expanding waistline. The Coco Chocolate Porter baby cake with cream cheese and Oreo crumb icing, with an accompanying sampler of West Sixth's Pay It Forward Porter was the perfect end to our culinary evening. The cake was moist, rich and chocolatey, and although I am not usually a fan of porter ales, the sampler size was just the right amount to go with the cake. Who needs tea and cake when you can have cake and ale?



My only regret was that we did not leave enough room to try Smithtown's Scallops Crudo. On the plus side, though, Ouita Michel came over and introduced herself, something which I can only describe as the Kentucky foodie equivalent to meeting Mick Jagger. Not since meeting Gloria Steinem have I been so pleased to actually talk to someone I admire.

A huge thank you to Ouita Michel and all the fabulous folks at her eateries and at West Sixth for putting on a truly wonderful and delicious evening.



Friday, October 10, 2014

A Few Favorite Things

Even I didn't realize it has been so long since I last blogged. I've been so busy with travel, book promo, writing, and preparing for tomorrow's Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show book signing and presentation that I don't have a lot of new exciting food discoveries.

I do have one new discovery from Trader Joe's - their wonderful pizza dough. Friends had told me about it and I recently decided to try it for myself. I usually make my own pizza dough. Those flat cardboard-type bases in the grocery store are always so dry and disappointing.

Trader Joe's does three types: plain, garlic herb, and wholewheat. I bought the two latter. It's easy to work with, flexible, and tastes great. One word of warning though. I froze the wholewheat batch but found it was not as good after freezing, despite what I'd read online. My advice is to buy what you need as you need it.

This one was the garlic herb base, topped with alfredo, red onions, a few jalapenos, some black olives, and pepperoni. Plus lots of cheese, of course.

For a later one I used more pepperoni and goat cheese.

The pizza base is definitely something I'll buy again. It's priced well and much easier than making my own.



Since it's fall, I'm back to cooking with some of my favorite seasonal foods: apples, pumpkin, cranberries, squash, etc. This stuffed acorn squash is easy and filled with some of the season's best:



Cut your squash in half and scoop out all the seeds. Place each half face down on a baking tray and cook at 350F for about 45 minutes.

Saute some shallots, diced apple, cranberries, apple cider, and torn up bread.

Use the stuffing to fill the squash halves and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Great on its own or with a pork chop.

And with that, I'm off to finish my cake for tomorrow's show!