Cream Bread

Sometimes you stumble upon something so unique that you immediately and without any hesitation need to try it.

That’s how it was one Saturday morning when I wandered into D’Amici’s bakery. “what’s that round loaf of bread all about?” I asked. ‘cream bread’ was the answer. Apparently made with cream instead of eggs?? I am no bread maker and my mind was already racing with possibilities. I just had one wrapped up for me and ran home, stopping off only at the store to pick up a few ingredients…I had the perfect sandwich in mind.

cream bread

The bread has a really even, dense but tender “crumb” and a mild flavor. It’s like a really good quality white sandwich loaf.

 

…please meet the BEST patty melt you ever had:

patty melt

 

Caramelized onions, griddled beef patty, swiss cheese, griddled bread….. I can’t go on…

I have to go recreate this meal again, NOW!

Show Me The Beef!

Sorry mom , but I love a good steak sandwich! And this one was made by my husband so I love it even more!

He started by marinating a London Broil cut overnight in one of those “flavor injector” packaged marinades. It must  a “guy thing” to use those, it just sounds masculine and impressive!

To prepare the sandwiches, he fired up the grill, cooked it perfectly, sliced it thin and added some grilled mushrooms as well before piling it all onto some toasted, cheesy-topped “scali” bread!

open face steak sandwich

The only way this sandwich could be better is with some juicy sliced garden tomatoes

My Perfect Supper

Everybody has one. For some it might be simple and for others it could be quite gourmet.

For me it always have to involve tomatoes in some way. And beef.

There is just something magical about that combination that really works for me. Any combination will do: from meatloaf and ketchup all the way to a more “high-brow” Beef tenderloin stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes! I love it all!

Somewhere in the middle of homespun and gourmet is where my simple, perfect supper is:

perfect supper

Grilled steak with juicy sliced fresh tomatoes (Big slices of “brandywine” variety are best but really any tomato works) and a simple potato salad, best enjoyed on a perfect New England summer evening, on the porch.

 

What’s your idea of a perfect supper?

Sully’s Sauce

My husband always said “Sully made the best sauce!”

“Sully” (a nickname for his last name of “Sullivan”) was good friend of my husband’s father and a central figure from the neighborhood back in the day, so when my husband mentioned that Sully’s daughter Karen had recently come across the recipe card for his sauce, I knew immediately I had to make it.

What better way to pay homage to fathers who are no longer with us then by recreating something so special and lost in time?

sullys recipe

I just love the “here’s what’s cookin” part of this card – don’t you?!

I asked if there was a “back-side” to the card that might give away his technique but no such luck. Only Sully knows how it all went together originally, but I took my best guess and here is how I did it…

I used 85/15 blend ground beef and started it browning in a hot, dry pan so that I could decide how much fat I wanted to leave in the pan. I got the meat browned and decided to spoon off most of the fat. I chose to re-hydrate some fat back in the meat in the form of the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I am not sure at what point in the process Sully would have used the olive oil, perhaps right at the beginning while browning the meat? or maybe he used it to get the onions and garlic started first? Wish I knew.

Anyway after the olive oil went in, I added in a dash of salt/pepper, onions (2 cups!) and garlic and let those soften a bit before I added in the dry spices to toast a minute. After that I added in the tomato paste and gave that a minute to cook a bit. I de-glazed the pan with the wine. (1 whole cup!)

Next up: the tomatoes. I am certain that by Sully noting that these were “imported” he meant the famed “San Marzano” tomatoes so that is what used and I do think it makes a difference. Also I know that everybody has their own texture technique – some squish the canned tomatoes in their hands, some break them up with a spoon, some use scissors. I broke up 4 of the 6 cups with kitchen scissors, cutting up the whole canned tomatoes into small chunks right in their own sauce from the can. For the last 2 cups I actually used my immersion blender to puree it (not too much) so the whole 6 cups I added in ended up being saucy but with small chunks. I hope Sully would approve.

By now the whole creation was thick, yummy and begging to be tasted, so I did and adjusted the salt and pepper and turned the heat down to barely a simmer. I let it simmer with the lid on tight for about an hour. (keeping the lid on keeps things from drying out, but if it looks too dry, just add in a little water) I let it simmer another hour with the lid slightly off to allow it to actually thicken up a bit as mine was pretty juicy.

By then the delicious smell wafting through the house was more than we could take, so we boiled up some pasta and it was time…

sullys sauce

A special thank you to daughter Karen for letting me have the privilege to re-create her father’s famous sauce! And a happy father’s day to all the dads out there – the ones with us and the ones who have left us.

 

Interested in more ‘Irish-Italian” cooking?? Me too… read more about it here!

 

Author’s note: If you don’t want to use the Chianti wine – I would recommend using a cup of low sodium beef stock with a generous splash or two of red wine vinegar to give it that tangy richness that the wine adds.

 

Grilling Versus Braising

I have to admit that although I have enjoyed a classic Texas-style BBQ beef short rib many times, I never really made the connection that this was the same/similar beef “short rib” (sometimes just shorter I think and possibly called “English cut” sometimes) that we all like to cook during the New England wintertime in a slow braise of flavorful, red wine liquid served over something creamy like Polenta or garlic mashed. You can see my version of this here.

I still didn’t make the connection when I was at the store shopping for meat and thought to myself  “boneless short ribs on the grill, why not – it could work!” I thought I was breaking new grilling territory here.

So I brought them home and considered myself all clever by whipping up a little dry rub concoction of ground black pepper, kosher salt, ground cumin and ground ancho chili powder. After a suitable time I grilled them over high heat on my backyard grill till a perfect medium. (medium rare for the next time might be better as these were pretty lean cuts)

Served with grilled mushrooms, zucchini and onions, they made for a perfect “new” adventure on the grill!

(until I googled it and realized this was not “breaking new ground” stuff!)

grilled beef short ribs

These happen to be boneless and fairly lean, but on the bone would be delicious too and could benefit, I would imagine, from a wet marinade.

 

 

Dinner For Dinner

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may already know that my husband and I share a common love of “dinner for breakfast.”

But lots of times we just have “dinner for dinner” and this basic pot roast is one of his favorites. (mine too!) Simple and tasty – this can be made in one pot and put into a slow oven until you are ready to eat and if you are using one of those heavy cast iron dutch ovens like I do, it will stay hot for a long time in case you have family or friends wandering thru at different times to be fed.

Over the years I have picked up a few tips to really help make the dish shine.

1. Add lots of seasoning to the meat and make sure to brown it. I really think being generous with your spices and seasoning sets up the meat for not only a flavorful crust but tasty “au jus.”

2.Sauté those carrots. Take the time to really cook those carrots a bit along with the onions – it makes a difference!

carrots and onions

For the record… this picture was taken as soon as I threw in the carrots, so they were still raw, but they did get a nice saute in the pan!

3. Potatoes on the side please!

I used to put the potatoes right in with the roast but they were never as good as I wanted them to be, so when a TV cook from Oklahoma once suggested serving the pot roast on a mound of yummy, rich mashed potatoes, I have been doing it that way ever since! (plus this gives opportunity for extra flavor – like “garlic mashed potatoes!”)

dinner plate
My husband made these delicious mashed potatoes!

Production Notes

My basic spice blend for the meat contains sea salt, course ground black pepper, garlic powder and celery seed. In addition to this I can change the flavor profile depending on what else I add. For example…ground cumin, paprika and a tiny bit of cinnamon for an “exotic” pot roast. Or  crushed red pepper flakes for a “spicy” version.  Let your imagination run wild.

My basic “go to” for liquid is water mixed with a generous amount of Worcestershire sauce to de-glaze the pan and become the cooking liquid for the pot roast meat and veggies. But you can use stock, cider, beer or wine too. Each of this will add/change the flavor profile.

I usually add a small can of tomato paste (or a couple squirts from the tube) to the pan after I have browned the meat and veggies but before I de-glaze to add a real depth of flavor to the pot roast liquid and because I love tomatoes!

If you want a thicker consistency for the “Au Jus” than add a tiny bit of cornstarch or an arrowroot slurry about an hour before serving.

Let It Rest

Isn’t that the title to a Beatles song?

Oh wait that song is actually “Let It Be” – still… both are words of wisdom!

In my case “let it rest” usually refers to some big cut of meat like a roast or chicken or something, but in this case it refers to lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned "All American" Lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned “All American” Lasagna!

Letting lasagna rest is a must for a clean, neat cut and so you don’t burn the roof off your mouth!

This lasagna was inspired by the green baking dish it was made in. I received it for Christmas this year from Aunt Barbara and I have been cooking in it a couple of times a week ever since! Mac and cheese, lasagna, you name it!  How did I ever live without this perfectly sized dish with handles!!

Production Notes

I used standard lasagna protocol here – nothing crazy or exotic. 3-4 layers of regular meat sauce, ricotta and noodles.  This time I used standard “boil first” noodles, but I have done it both ways… here and here.

The Last Potato

I have made my last batch of mashed potatoes. Ever. By request of my husband.

Yes it is true, and while many of the dishes that come out of my kitchen are delicious and get rave reviews, my mashed potatoes are not one of them. I can’t seem to get the hang of them. I can’t even make instant mashed potatoes properly! Even when I follow the box directions precisely, something is not quite right. No matter how much butter or cream or anything, there is something wrong. Sometimes it’s the texture and sometimes it’s the flavor.

The problem

First off I HATE peeling potatoes and that was the probably the final straw on this last go round.  Secondly I don’t like getting out the big pot and waiting forever for the water to come to boil. After all that, inevitably, I pull the boiled potatoes out either over-cooked or undercooked. Sometimes, in total laziness, I oven-bake the potatoes instead of boiling them to get them cooked. Than they get mashed, peels included. The peels hold all the nutrients, right? (At least I dig out all the little “eyes” on the potatoes first!)

This last (and final) round of mashed potato was used in a perfectly delicious Shepard’s Pie. But the un-peeled mashed potatoes didn’t go over so well. Or perhaps it was the carrots that I adventurous-ly included. Maybe I will never know. But the hubby has instructed me to leave the potato-making to him. He is after all a Boston Irish guy and if that doesn’t qualify him to know his potatoes, I don’t know what would!

Steak Tips: What Are They Anyway?

You know that old question…”what would you have for your last supper?” Well mine would most certainly involve steak and tomatoes of some variety! And around New England many a folk might say “steak tips!”

It is high time we discussed this regional favorite!

What are these anyway? No one seems to really know – not even Google! In this internet age of over a million hits on any given subject, I seem to have discovered one of the last mysteries remaining on the internet. (at least culinarily)

I can tell you that they are strips of beef sold universally around New England. Most folks cut them into chunks about 2″ x 2″ for portioning and cooking. They are not the west coast “tri-tip” and they are not “flank steak” or “hanger steak” or “flat Iron” steak” – as best I can determine – they are the “tips” cut from a sirloin.

Here is an entertaining and somewhat informative discussion about what steak tips are from Chowhound.

Here is the link to Ask.com

When New Englanders move to other parts, they are  known to have friends and relatives fly down with their carry-on luggage full of steak tips to satisfy their  hankering of a taste of home! (true stories)

Of course everyone has a marinade they swear by…some use a bottled salad dressing, some use a packet, some invent their own. Terriyaki style tips are very popular too. I usually just take the opportunity to use up the last bits of any vinegar-based salad dressing I might have hanging around. Or if I am making my own marinade it always involves some “Montreal steak seasoning” blend. Whatever your secret blend, no tailgate or family gathering in the summer (or anytime of the year) is complete without “tips on da grill” (typed with Massachusetts accent of course)

They are a standard on restaurant menus as well and local places have legendary followings based on their tips. Like this local joint. (And no they didn’t reimburse me for any promo consideration – but if they are reading and want give me a free dinner – I wouldn’t say no!)

Well whatever they are, I am glad I live in New England so I can eat them….

steaktips and salad
I love me a good salad,  but don’t overlook that pile of tips back there!
If anybody out there – butchers, chefs, cooks alike can enlighten me -please do so at: cabinetstewATyahooDOTcom!

Yet Another Post About Grilling

Yep it’s grilling season here in New England and yes that means an endless stream of posts about my grilling adventures! Click away if you need to, I will understand and see you back in the fall!

In the meantime I want to show you one of my favorite grill toys……The “grill basket”basket of veggies

It looks kind of like a fry basket and maybe it could serve double-duty as one. But what I like about this contraption is how I can toss and turn lots of little things or at least little cut-up things over the grill.

In this case I had smallish white mushrooms and small white pearl onions. (Pearl onions aren’t just for thanksgiving!)

Having a basket of veggies all cooking alongside your primary meat makes things easy..Just turn out onto a platter and serve!

Marinated steak tips with grilled mushrooms and onions. Garnish with fresh chopped herbs and sliced tomatoes before serving.

Marinated steak tips with grilled mushrooms and onions.
Garnish with fresh chopped herbs and sliced tomatoes before serving.

Jumping On The Bandwagon!

or maybe I should say…Jumping on the “meatwagon!”

FAIR WARNING: Vegetarians you may want to avert your eyes now!

I finally decided to tackle beef short ribs. The universe seemed to be calling to me to cook them, as I kept seeing them being prepared on TV and on blogs lately.

They always seemed so fancy and maybe just a tad bit hard to cook but I am here to announce – they are delicious and easy, I don’t know why I waited so long!

Behold the lovely subject….(cue “angel music”)

meat

I broke out the “special occasion” bacon fat and got these beauties browning in a hot pan.

browning the meat

Next up was the “mire poix” of veggies. (celery, onion, carrots) Don’t judge me -I used shredded carrots!

the mirepoix

Now it was time to put the meat back in for its long slow braise!

adding the meatback in

Two and half hours later, I took an immersion blender to the pot of yummy goodness and behold…

A life changing meal…

Braised beef short ribs with roasted cauliflower and carrots

Braised beef short ribs with roasted cauliflower and carrots

The Recipe

I was cooking for two but still ended up with more than enough sauce, you could double the meat and not anything else and still have enough sauce for 4.

2lbs +/- (4 ribs) Beef short ribs, bone in

Plenty of salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp bacon fat or fat of choice that can withstand high heat.

1 cup each, finely diced onion, carrot, celery

2-3 cloves garlic finely minced

1 dried bay leaf

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cumin

3-4 springs of fresh thyme

1 can ( 6oz) tomato paste

1 cup unsweetened apple juice

1-2 cups of water

2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Coat the ribs in salt/pepper and brown patiently on each side in the hot fat. Remove meat, set aside and turn heat down. Add onions, celery and carrots to pan and cook down for a few mins. Add the garlic and cook a few mins more. Be careful not to burn garlic. Add the dried spices and the fresh thyme. Add the tomato paste. Stir and kinda “toast” everything for a few minutes. De-glaze pan with the apple juice and Worcestershire sauce. Add the meat back in – nestle it among the liquid and veggies. Add enough water until liquid and veggies are about a 1/4″ under the top level of meat. Cover and bake in 350 degree oven ( preheated) for 2 and 1/2 hours.

Remove the meat carefully and set aside for a few minutes, while you discard the thyme springs. Use an immersion blender to blend the remaining liquid and veggies into a thick sauce. Add a little hot water if it needs to be thinned. If you don’t have an immersion blender (why not?!) transfer the pan contents to a blender and carefully blend. Meat can be added back into the pan/sauce and kept warm or reheated after coo0ling and storing.

The Master of Gravy

THE masterYup that is the one we are talking about.

I know what you are thinking…

… “who uses that product and who uses it in meatballs?!”

Well my Father-in-law did and since he made some great Italian meatballs for a learn-to-cook–later-in-life Irish guy, I use it too. Unfortunately we never accurately got his recipe before he passed away.   (readers take note… this is important stuff to do before it is too late!) So I am always fiddling around with my meatballs to see if I can capture his essence.

www.gravy.com will tell you that the product has “NO chemical preservatives, artificial color, flavors or additives are ever used.”  I am not sure it is health food but it doesn’t seem terrible – check out the website and you can make your own decisions about this.

As for my meatballs – they turned out great, even if I say so myself. I took the time and care to chop and use fresh herbs  (makes all the difference) and I also measured everything and wrote it down so you could try them too. And they are baked, so they are just a tad easier and healthier than the pan-fried ones!

The recipe

1 lb ground pork

1/2 lb ground beef (80/20 blend)

2 garlic cloves, super finely minced/mashed (use 1 clove if you are not a huge garlic fan)

pinch hot chili flakes ( don’t leave this out – it needs it)

yah I know I use a fork - I just don't like getting all messy!

yah I know I use a fork – I just don’t like getting all messy!

1/2 TB dried Oregano

1/4 cup fresh, finely minced fresh basil

1/4 cup fresh, finely minced fresh flat leaf parsley

plenty of salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 TSP Gravy Master®

2 cups freshly ground bread crumbs (about 1/3 of a day-old Italian loaf) mixed with 3/4 cup of milk to form a thick oatmeal consistency.

Gotta test the first one!

Gotta test the first one!

Preheat oven to 425 Degrees. Mix it all very lightly in a bowl. Heat a small skillet on the stove and cook one up real quick as a tester for flavor. If it needs anything more, make the adjustments, and start forming the balls.

I personally like small ( 1″ diameter) balls. They cook quick, fit nice on my sheet pans, and tuck perfectly into leftover meatball subs. They can also be pressed into action out of the freezer ( fully cook, then freeze) as perfect little reheated  appetizer with toothpicks stuck into them for dipping!

Take the time to make them even size. rounder is nice too but hey... sometimes they are gonna be a little "square"

Take the time to make them even size. rounder is nice too but hey… sometimes they are gonna be a little “square”

Line them up in even little rows on parchment lined sheet pans and if you are paranoid like I am about them sticking anyway, spray the parchment with a little cooking spray first. Bake them  for 14 mins. Feel free to turn them halfway thru if you think you can manage not to break them apart in the process. You may want to add another minute or two to cooking time to make up for time spent outside of oven turning.

This general cooking time assumes that you will be putting them into red sauce for a little further cooking and heating. And although the baking in the oven yields them fully cooked – they are just so.. kinda like al dente pasta… so if you are not going to simmer them any further in some sauce – feel free to leave them in an extra 2 mins or so.

Cool and freeze any that don’t go into the sauce. Yields 36 balls. (including the tester)

Enjoy over a heaping mound of pasta with some extra cheese on top!

dinner is served 2

Slow-Cooker Chinese Food

Yup. Chinese food in the slow-cooker!

I was inspired by Lydia over at The Perfect Pantry to try my hand at this crazy mix of flavor and easy cooking method.

And it was easy. She was doing chicken – but I had stew beef in the freezer so that is what I went with. I added some water chestnuts and fresh broccoli florets in the last 30 mins and cooked some rice on the side in my trusty rice cooker and voila! Beef and Broccoli. A fine staple of any Chinese-American restaurant around.

It was "sauc-ier" than it looks the rice absorbed all of it! yum!

It was “sauc-ier” than it looks, the rice absorbed all of it! yum!

Production Notes

1.5 +/-  stew beef

2 Tb finely minced garlic

1 Tb rice vinegar

2 Tsp brown sugar

2 Tsp ginger (fresh, minced is nice; I used dried, powdered)

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 Tsp +/- grated orange zest + the juice of the orange

1/2 Tsp ground black pepper (or to taste)

1 Tsp Chinese 5-spice

2/3 cup chicken or beef stock

1 small onion sliced

1 Tbsp Cornstarch or Arrowroot dissolved into 2 Tbsp water

Several “crowns” of fresh broccoli chopped into bite size or 1 small bag of frozen (defrost but don’t cook first)

Combine garlic, vinegar, sugar, ginger, soy sauce, orange zest/juice, black pepper and Chinese 5-spice with a whisk. Pour over meat and onions which you have already placed in the slow cooker. Cook on high 4 hours or so OR low for 6-8 hours. Whisk in the cornstarch or arrowroot slurry about an hour before serving and add the broccoli about 30 mins before serving.

If you wanted a thicker sauce and was feeling like the extra work – you could remove the beef from the slow cooker (without adding the slurry and broccoli yet) strain the sauce and heat it to a boil in a sauce pan. Than you could add the slurry to the sauce, cook for a bit  and make it thick and rich. Add everything back in (beef, sauce and now add the broccoli) and serve once the broccoli is cooked to your liking – just keep any eye on the heat so you don’t burn. ( i.e. turn slow-cooker down) This would be great to bring to the office potluck!

Be My Valentine

Some folks get flowers. Some get chocolates. Some just a card. Or maybe just something unexpected  – a dreaded task done for them around the house or maybe a nice dinner.

For me – it was a sandwich.

My husband knows the way to my heart is through my stomach and the best sandwich for me always involves beef and tomatoes! Of course it being February in New England – the tomatoes are fairly pathetic but any tomato is better than no tomato in my book.

Broiled Steaktips with tomatoes, spicy pepperoncini rings and crumbled feta

Broiled Steaktips with tomatoes, spicy pepperoncini rings and crumbled feta

For anybody following along…you might remember the last time I posted a love story about a very similar sandwich!

ok now you can bring on the chocolate……

Snow Day Chili

Chili and a blizzard go hand in hand. So that is what I made this past weekend when the “blizzard of 2013″ hit our Boston area!

After hours of digging out, (but kudos to the neighbors with snowblowers for doing most of our heavy lifting!!) coming in to chili to warm us from the inside out was perfect!

Chili is such a great thing to eat in general but it is always good on hot dogs, burgers, tortilla chips,salad and my favorite: baked potatoes! I remember when the “Wendy’s” restaurants arrived in New England with their salad bars and baked potatoes. (Yup Wendy’s had salad bars and a good ones too at that time.) My dad and I would sneak down there on the night it was his turn to make dinner and get the salad bar with a cup of chili and the chips. We would crumble up the chips and pile on the cheese. Sometime we got the baked potatoes with the chili and extra fresh chopped raw onion of course! They still offer a “taco salad” and the baked potato with chili but somehow it is just not the same.

My version is fancied up with a little sweet Italian sausage and a can of “Ro*tel” to keep it easy. It is also not crazy spicy (like some of my other chili’s – Holy Mole!) so everybody can enjoy and add their own level of heat with hot sauce of their choice.storm day chili

Production Notes

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, out of casing and crumbled

1 lb ground beef (leaner is nice)

1 onion, chopped small

1 lg garlic clove, minced

1 can (10oz) original “Ro*tel”

1 can (13oz +/-) red beans or black beans or whatever bean you like

2 Tb ground cumin ( less if you don’t love as much as me)

2 Tsp ground chili powder

2 Tsp smoked paprika (sweet not spicy- or spicy if you like it)

2 Tsp ground Ancho Chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 Large can (28oz) crushed tomatoes

2 Tb brown sugar (you can omit or cut in half if you don’t want it too sweet)

1/2 a can ( the 28oz one) of water

Brown the meats (no extra oil needed) in a heavy bottomed dutch oven, until done. Scoop meat out and set aside. Pour out about 1/2 the fat. In the remaining fat in the pan add the onions and garlic and saute a few minutes. Add all the dry spices and kinda toast for a minute. Deglaze the pan with the tomatoes and Ro*tel. Add the meat back in, stirring to combine everything. Add the water – you may want less for thicker chili or more for thinner chili – also depends on how long you want to/plan to simmer. Add additional hot sauce at this point – I like a good vinegar based one like Tabasco or Texas Pete but you can use your favorite. Add the beans (drain them first) and simmer on low for anywhere from 1- 4 hours to let flavors develop and deepen.  This could be transferred to a low slow cooker for the day too.  Serve with all the fixin’s! Freeze the extra until the next snow day! It makes a lot!

Even the trash needs shoveling out!

Even the trash needs shoveling out!

Meatloaf # 354

We couldn’t possibly go too long without another meatloaf variation so here it is…

“Mexican Meatloaf!”

mexican meatloaf

Mexican spiced meatloaf served with Spanish rice and a black bean/onion/ sweet bell pepper sautéed side dish. Garnish with fresh lime and crema.

In general, my meatloaf always seems to be on the “tender” side. I have trouble with the ratios of liquid to non-liguid, so although these experiments are often tasty – they are always falling apart soft. And because I LOVE the combination of tomato and beef my meatloaf experiments almost always involve a small can of tomato paste. Because of this, the meatloaf has a red color and I use a meat thermometer to be sure everything is fully cooked.

The other thing about this particular meatloaf was the use of Mexican style “crema” – it tastes like a “less-sour” sour cream and looks a bit like mayonnaise. Truth be told it was actually more specifically a “Crema Salvadorena.”  Here in the Boston area, items like this are grocery-store staples, but in a less ethnic area you could probably find this in a dairy cooler with other specialty items. If you are feeling fancy and you happen to have some “creme fraiche” lying about, use that. But really you could just use American sour cream. (If you would like a short but fun side trip on the internet discussing in great detail the nuances between all these products;  here is a link to that)

So to conclude…

Just take your favorite meatloaf recipe – the basic one that uses breadcrumbs, egg and meat- and substitute out the milk or water for more interesting liquids like crema or tomato paste (or both!) and use spices that tickle your fancy. (cumin, taco seasoning and Ancho chili powder in this one!)

…and Olé! …or Voilà! … or Ecco! …or…well you get the idea!

Spicy Beef Chile REMIX

So you may have noticed I have been cleaning out the freezer lately and finding new ways to slip the leftovers past my husband!

This dish was inspired by the bag of sweet red bell peppers I picked up on sale and some leftover frozen spicy beef and green chile stew.

 

The original chile I made was QUITE SPICY -but we are kinda “spice amateurs” in my house. You may find that 1 1/2 chopped “Chipotle Chili in Adobo” is not even nearly spicy enough for you! You can see the original recipe for the stew here.

Re-Imagining the stew into stuffed peppers was easy – just add rice! Brown rice to be exact. Since it was being mixed with something I knew I could sneak in a little “shot of healthy!” (shhh don’t tell hubby.)

I just scooped out the peppers, mix the defrosted stew with some cooked and cooled brown rice. Stuff the peppers, pour a little hot water around them- about an half-inch and into the hot oven (covered) to steam them. After about 35-40 mins I took the cover off, add some shredded cheese on top of the peppers and baked further until the cheese was melty.

Serve with some sort of yogurt/sour cream/crema mixed with lime juice and ground cumin!

Sauce Matters

I made some very tasty meatballs not too long ago. They started with the standard mix of ground beef and ground pork. I added some grated Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, onion powder, pinch of hot chili flakes, generous amount of chopped fresh rosemary, salt/pepper and an egg to hold it altogether.

Here is where it gets special: roasted garlic.

Yep – you read that right. Roasted garlic.

I happen to have a head of roasted garlic hanging out in the fridge from a garlic roasting session a few nights before. (garlic mashed potatoes!)

So I thought “why not throw that into the mix?!”
After everything was mixed I even cooked up a little test patty in the skillet to make sure it was as yummy as I imagined it would be. And yes it was.

I proceeded to brown up all the meatball’s carefully and patiently in batches.
Some would be for that night’s dinner and some would go into the freezer.

At this point I made a crucial error.

I decided to pack the meatballs in a casserole dish and pour some red sauce over them and sprinkle the cheese -that way Hubby could just heat them up in the oven while the pasta boiled. Great plan right? Wrong. I was too lazy to make up a quick sauce and all the homemade was frozen solid so I decided to break out the “last resort” pantry jar of sauce. This is the one that I bought on sale on a whim that I keep on hand in case there is absolutely nothing else my husband can manage to make other than boil some pasta and open a jar.  Now I am not going to reveal the brand – but let’s just say it wasn’t a “high end” brand.

Later that night, after following the heating and boiling instructions, he enjoyed a lovely meatball and pasta dinner. He declared the whole thing “delicious!”  And it wasn’t terrible by any means, but when I got home much later to finally enjoy the fruits of my labor, I realized my error. The sauce was really not great.

Lesson Learned:
No matter how great the meatballs, the sauce has got to be nothing short of great!

Bruschetta Burgers

One night while on the way home from work in downtown Boston, I remembered that we had no buns for the burgers I was craving that night for dinner. What to do? I definitely didn’t feel like getting in the car after a long train/bus commute home to go to the store for just one item. In such a big city you think there would be a small grocery store or two, but no. Only one in the whole city and it was way across town.

So I improvised, popping into one of those sandwich places that are normally so crowded during the day but not at all at night as busy commuters rush home. I am not going to openly plug them but they make their own flat bread in brick ovens for the sandwiches and are famous for making custom salads too. I was excited to buy fresh, hot, tasty, flat bread for my burgers.

All the way home (Resisting the urge to immediately tear into the warm bread. ) I modified my burger plans to “fit” the bread. I decided to make the burgers thin; so two patties per bread. The bread is rectangular so this would work better. Than I remembered I had some provolone cheese so I knew I would reheat the bread and get the cheese all melt-y  before adding the burger patties.

But then I decided regular ketchup would never do. Too pedestrian for such a gourmet approach to a burger.
Since I had tons of fresh tomatoes still coming out of the garden I knew “fresh” was the way to go…

A classic “bruschetta” of chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, thin sliced red onions, olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Add in as much as you like and enjoy a “bruschetta burger!”

Thanks Neighbor!

Recently a neighbor of ours had some extra gravel from a home improvement project so he very nicely offered it up to me. He knows I like to use the extra gravel to keep weeds at bay and neaten up some of the landscaping around the house.

So he dumped the un-used portion where it would be most convenient to spread. Thanks!


It turned out to be a huge pile!! I have definitely got some work ahead of me! So of course when I asked him if he would like anything in exchange – he is such a nice guy – he said “don’t worry about it.”

But I couldn’t help myself – what could I do to repay the favor? I decided that the best thing would be to make him dinner. As a typical bachelor and a 20+ year Army veteran (entering at 18 years old ) with 3 tours of duty in the middle east,  I am pretty sure he orders pizza more nights than not.

Dinner it would be!

A guy like that needs “man” food! Something homemade that would stick to his ribs…

Marinated Steak Tips on the grill

Fresh Corn Casserole

Warm Cheddar Biscuits

Sliced Tomato from my garden

(oh and no dishes to wash!)

The recipe

The steak tips were simply marinated in half a bottle of steak sauce, mixed with half a bottle of water and a couple squirts of Sriracha.

The biscuits came from a little blue box, but I fancied them up with a dash of Cayenne and some grated sharp cheddar. (Sorry I am not an accomplished baker – I take the help when I can.)

The fresh corn casserole was the real star of the show. I used the recipe from The Pioneer Women, but added my own touches in the form of half a medium onion diced, a couple shakes of garlic powder, some grated Asiago cheese for the top.

Just Another Post About Grilling

The real star here wasn’t the grilled steak but the fresh “salsa” on top!

An impromptu blend of leftover roasted corn on the cob that I removed with a sharp knife, thin sliced red onion, finely chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, basil and a diced tomato. All this was tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, a squirt of lime juice and salt/pepper. The sliced avocados have a squirt of lime juice and sprinkle of salt on them too.

Best served outside on a hot evening with a cold drink!

Meatloaf # 225

Fair-warning: This is a tomato-lovers meatloaf.

I consider meatloaf the ultimate in “cabinet stews.”   You can hide put anything into them; use up all kinds of odds and ends!

My plain Irish husband secretly wishes I would just stick to one boring, plain meatloaf recipe but over the years he has learned to be a good sport about my experimentation and many versions. I can’t help it – I am all about variety!

Someday I am going to compile all my versions into a book titled: 365 days of meatloaf!

really it is just another version of “corn and tomatoes!” 

The recipe

Based on crazy odds and ends that I had in my kitchen at the time

1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs -The loaf was a very moist and but not very firm – perhaps more bread crumbs for a firmer loaf?

1 tsp seasoned salt ( I like Penzey’s brand)

3 springs of fresh basil, leaves only – chop fine (about 2 tablespoons)

3 springs of fresh oregano leaves – chop fine if leaves are large (about 2 tablespoons)

small onion grated (yes GRATED)

1 6oz can of tomato paste

1/2 cup of  tomato juice (you could use a V8)

fresh ground black pepper to taste

Mix lightly but thoroughly and put into a loaf pan. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 45mins or so until done. It should smell good and the edges will be a little crispy. Use a meat thermometer to be sure, and remember it will be pink in color no matter what because of the tomato juice and paste!

I served it with oven roasted potatoes and corn. Simply tossed with oil, S&P, and some dried herbs of your choosing. Start the potatoes with the meatloaf and add the corn in about halfway. Toss a couple of times during cooking.

Dinner for Breakfast

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Words to live by.

Big breakfast, light lunch, even lighter dinner. I am still working on that “even lighter dinner” thing. (and therefore those last 10 lbs!)

Somewhere after high school when I started to actually eat a breakfast that consisted of more than just a Diet Coke, I realized I was much better off. But the problem was I didn’t really want donuts, Danish or pastries for breakfast. I didn’t want cereal because I don’t really like milk. I wanted food I really liked. Cheeseburgers. Chicken fingers. Nachos. Or at least a savory ham and egg sandwich. So I launched into a secret life of eating last night’s leftovers at 7 or 8 am for breakfast. I only draw the line at two things I won’t eat for breakfast: Fish – I don’t like it any time of the day. Salad – there is nothing warm and cozy about lettuce at 8am.

I kept this secret fairly well hidden until I met my future husband. He is a true early riser and the day I awoke at 8am to the smell of a roast beef dinner wafting from the kitchen, I knew I had met a kindred soul. Fast forward some 11 years and we are still doing dinner for breakfast. Mostly we don’t cook these big dinners for breakfast unless it’s the weekend. Like brunch – just earlier. But we do heat up and eat some serious dinner leftovers for breakfast. A fact I try to hide everyday at the office, so my co-workers won’t think I am weird!

He has recently started working the overnight shift at the local hospital and when he comes home he is hungry and ready for a meal! So the other night ( I am the night owl in the family) I started a rump roast in the slow-cooker at midnight. I set it to low so it would be ready just in time for breakfast (dinner?) at about 8 or 9 am. Somewhere around 6am the wafting smell of delicious-ness rousted me out of bed and I checked on it – added some frozen peas, turned it to high, and went back to bed. Later after morning coffee, I buttered some warm Naan bread and we sat down to an “Indian inspired beef roast.”

The Recipe

(also delicious at other times of the day!)

3lb +/- Bottom Round Rump Roast or whatever roast cut works for you.

2 slices of uncooked Bacon – diced

2 med Vidalia onions- thick sliced into half moons

1/2 box of Beef Broth (2cups)

1 cup Ketchup

1/2 to 1 whole Chipolte in Adobe Sauce diced fine. (Once I open a can, I store the rest in the freezer and just use tiny amounts as we are babies about spice around our house. Add more if you can handle it!)

1 tbs Madras Curry Powder

Juice of 1/2 of a Meyer Lemon ( I happen to have this kind but any lemon will do)

Splash of Half and Half

Salt and Pepper to taste

Aprox a 1/3 cup Cornstarch mixed with just a little water to create a smooth slurry.

2 cups Frozen Peas

In your slow-cooker. Layer the diced bacon down first. Next the beef. Now throw in the onions. In a bowl whisk all the other items except the cornstarch slurry, the half and half and the peas. Taste for seasoning and spice level. Adjust as desired. Pour this over contents of slow-cooker. Put a lid on it and cook for many hours on low or less hours on high. Consult your slow-cooker instructions if you have questions or use a meat thermometer if you want.  About an hour or two before you want to eat add in the half and half, the cornstarch slurry and the peas. Liquid will thicken. Serve with warm Naan bread with or without rice as desired.

Ain’t the internet great?    Check out this link I stumbled upon…makes me want to visit Minocqua, Wisconsin wherever that might be!

A Love Story

My story begins with a Ciabatta roll. Still warm from the local bakery.

Next a judicious amount of “submarine sandwich dressing” on both sides of the roll.

I like to put the delicious house-made roast beef from McKinnon’s against the dressed roll, so the spices and oil can blend with the meat.

Next up: Picante Provolone cheese. (I never skimp on the cheese!)

Shredded iceberg lettuce is the only way in my book. Take the time and you will be glad you made the effort. It allows the juices to circulate through the sandwich instead of acting as a shield!

Thinly sliced green bell peppers just really amp up the fresh flavor.

And of course the tomato. I have a problem I know, I am addicted to them.

For a little spicy, vinegar kick – my sandwich would not be complete without some Pepperoncini. If you have never had these little beauties than are not living right!

A little salt and pepper completes this affair for me. “Hey Sandwich King, eat your heart out!”

Now if you don’t mind I need to be alone with my lover.

El Día de la Batalla de Puebla

… “The Day of the Battle of Puebla” … Also Known As …. “Cinco De Mayo”

Not unlike our Evacuation Day here in Boston, Cinco De Mayo celebrates the defeat of a well-equipped, large French army by a small, tired Mexican army. They effectively kicked the French out – just as we kicked the British out!

And how fitting that yesterday a Mexican jockey road to victory on “I’ll Have another!” at The Kentucky Derby.

There was some heavy decision-making in terms of food choice in our house yesterday… go Mexican or go Kentucky Derb-ian? Go all chilli pepper or go all bourbon-pecans?

In the end it was Lydia’s recipe that made the decision easy. Her recipe for slow-cooked beef and green chili stew just immediately spoke to me!

So with a few adaptations, because I have trouble following directions, we were off and running to a day of Mexican victories!

My adapted recipe

- I omitted some things from the original. I substituted and I increased amounts on others.

3 lbs +/- stew beef – I used a pot roast & cut it up and trimmed it myself
3 Tbsp margarine
1 medium onion, diced
2 4-oz cans green chiles, mild “diced”
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
1 chipotle chili in adobo, chopped. WOO HOO it was still too hot for us – use your own judgement here!
1/4 cup barbecue sauce, homemade or store-bought – Emeril’s original rocks!
2 cups homemade or canned low-sodium beef broth
2 tsp cumin
1 14 oz can of black beans drained (low sodium) optional
1/4 cup Masa dissolved into 1/2 cup of warm water – a “slurry”

Brown the beef in batches in the melted margarine. Set beef aside, turn heat down and add onions, brown for a few mins. Add cumin and chipotle chili to kinda “toast” for a minute. Add both cans of diced green chili – pan will start to de-glaze. Add the diced tomatoes and finish de-glazing the pan. Add back in the beef and any juices. Add the BBQ sauce and broth – liquid shouldn’t quite cover meat. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for two hours. I cooked mine in a heavy enameled cast iron pot – you know the one with the fancy French name – you could use any heavy bottom pot with a lid or your slow-cooker but double the time if you use a slow-cooker. Check the meat – if it is falling apart tender, then add the Masa slurry, stir and cook another hour on a slightly lower setting. If after two hours the meat is not meltingly tender cook another hour before adding the Masa slurry.  Check for seasoning level, add salt and pepper to taste.  Hot sauce too if you don’t have “baby mouths” like us! Add the drained can of black beans about a 1/2 hour before serving.

Makes a ridiculously large amount. Serve over rice with warm corn tortillas and cold sour cream – or better yet Mexican Crema!

It Only Takes A Little…

…steak to make a satisfying sandwich. A little inspiration from your own crisper drawer. And the best of all, a little early season oregano surprising you in the herb pot in the backyard!

Really, it all started with the tomato, green bell-pepper and some little cukes in the crisper drawer that were leftover from last week’s lunch fixings. All that just instantly screamed Greek salad at me. Which of course started a craving for feta cheese. (When don’t I crave any kind of cheese!) So the other night, I  strolled the meat department looking for the perfect sandwich meat and came upon a tiny (.68lbs) sirloin steak. For just a few bucks (3 to be exact) I could have a nice hearty Greek salad with steak on a sandwich. Now if only I had remembered to buy a red onion while I was at the store….

The Technique

I cut the little steak into small cubes (1/2″ or so) and marinated them in a little olive oil, red wine vinegar and plenty of oregano for a few hours. I got the fancy v-slicer out and sliced all the veggies really thin, except the tomato. I cubed the feta. I sprinkled long rolls with olive oil, broiled them until hot and then rubbed them liberally with a cut garlic clove while they were piping hot. After carefully drying the marinated cubes and discarding the marinade, I pan sautéed the steak cubes over a med-high heat to sear them. (They cooked in like 3 mins.) I piled all the items on the rolls and drizzled a freshly made mixture of the same olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh chopped oregano and some salt/pepper over the top.

If I may say so myself, these were damn good sandwiches. Hearty, fresh and honestly I could have portioned out 3 servings. So it just proves that you don’t have to have a ton of expensive, diet-busting steak on your plate to feel satisfied.

Special thanks to the hubby for stopping off on the way home for that red onion.

Spring Training

It is only March in Massachusetts, so I am really not thinking about grilling yet. But the unseasonably warm weather we are having combined with the garlic-n-cheese sausage in the fridge are just begging me to fire up the grill.

So I figure I will go out there, throw off the cover and see if it starts. If it does than I will consider it a sign of good luck and grill the sausages. No need to wait until the regular summer season.

Oh it fired right up. That is for sure.

In fact it fired right up into the sky. Don’t worry there were no explosions – just a grease fire. I remember now that last fall was going to be the last time I used the grill until I serviced it.  READ: CLEAN IT!  It needed to have the grease tray emptied and new flame-tamers installed. And I was too lazy to do that in the fall. Besides in true New England style, I probably thought as I grilled my patties on a beautiful October afternoon, “I will do it next weekend” and then… we probably got a foot of snow. Oh wait we did!  Halloween weekend. Welcome to New England!

But I didn’t remember any of that until I looked out my kitchen window the other night to see the whole grill practically engulfed! I didn’t worry for the house as we keep it a safe distance away. I didn’t worry about the neighbors calling the fire department. (They weren’t home, thankfully.) I only worried for my precious sausage and was completely thankful that I hadn’t put the burgers on yet! Typical foodie, always thinking about the food!

Anyway, I ran out and cut the gas supply (safety first) and carefully looked under the hood. To my relief the sausages had survived quite well. I moved things around with my 4 foot long tongs and when the grease fire died down a bit, I put the burgers on like no big deal.

Here is the funny part.

I was able to cook the burgers and finish the sausage without ever turning the gas back on. The grease fire in the bottom kept humming for just the right amount of cooking time!

Now if only I can remember not to use the grill again during the next “warm snap” in April…

Production notes:

The pasta salad was a last-minute creation. It was delicious and completely non-reproducible due to the use of one unique ingredient along with the elbow noodles, shredded carrot, diced sweet red bell pepper, diced scallions and tiny diced hot red Fresno pepper…

… I used up the last half of a jar of homemade giardiniera – you the stuff that makes “Chicken Vesuvio” so good! (and of course everything is better with a little grated cheese!)

Too bad I have no idea who gave me the jar….

Happy Evacuation Day (again)

(original post March 17, 2011 – have never recycled a posting before but very busy this year and upon re-reading this one I thought it deserved another year – enjoy!)

Today is a big day in Boston. (And many other cities and countries.) Not just because of  St. Patrick’s Day. It is also “Evacuation Day.” What? You have never heard of that one?! Well you are not alone. Until I started working and living in Boston I had no idea either.

Evacuation Day is holiday that commemorates the evacuation of British forces from the city of Boston following the Siege of Boston, early in the American Revolutionary War. Big stuff around here. Most importantly it falls on the same day as St. Patrick’s Day. Very convenient. So Suffolk County schools and government offices are closed. Also if March 17 falls on a weekend, like this year, than those schools and government offices are closed on the following Monday in observance. Also very convenient.

But I don’t mind. I think having the day off to attend the parade and hit the local pubs is as important as celebrating the kicking out of the British. Who knows, maybe that is what everybody is actually celebrating this morning at 8am. Yes – we get started early around here!

However my Irish husband would be very disappointed if I didn’t post an Irish recipe today.  So here goes….

Irish Stout Beef Stew

1-2 lbs of lean stew beef or lamb cubed into 1″ or 2″ chunks

1 lb +/- of turnips peeled and cut into large chunks (2″ and up)

1 lb bag of carrots peeled and each long one cut in half to fit into pot. If really thick, cut the width once or twice.

2 large onions, peeled and sliced into thick slices.

1 can Guinness© Stout Beer (14.9 oz)

All purpose flour to coat meat

several tablespoons of vegetable oil for browning meat

plenty of salt and pepper

To make:

Coat the meat with a light dusting of flour, salt and pepper. Add the oil to the bottom of a LARGE  heavy-bottom pot and heat till almost smoking. (Best to use a large cast iron enameled pot or dutch oven for this dish.) Add the coated beef and sear each side. Adjust heat as needed. Make sure you get a good sear and meat un-sticks itself before you turn pieces, but don’t let them burn either. Add onions just after final turn of meat pieces and turn heat down. The onions should get a little “quick fry” on them from the high heat of the meat searing. That is good. After the heat is lowered add all the other veggies to the meat and onions. Add the can of Guinness© to de-glaze the bottom and toss everything gently. Fill the can with water and add to the pot. Repeat until water level is just at the top of the veggies and meat. Adjust heat to keep contents at a simmer, cover. Check in 1 hour: taste, add salt and pepper as needed. Add more water if too dry. Cook 1 hour more and enjoy anytime after that as long as turnips are soft enough.

Serve with buttered mashed potatoes and a little boiled cabbage if you like.

production notes:

My husband is typical Irish guy who likes plain food. But if you wanted to boost the flavor of this dish, a bay leaf would do wonders and some garlic would be delicious too. A dash of malt vinegar might just brighten the pot.

Also: amounts don’t have to be exact – it is stew after all, so a little less or little more of anything won’t be a big deal.

Pan Fryers

If you know anything about me by now, you know that my mother was ahead of the curve in the “healthy” department. So in my childhood, hamburgers were enjoyed as a rare, fast-food treat supplied by my dad when my mom wasn’t looking or at backyard barbecues, mostly hosted by neighbors or extended family. I can’t recall ever making hamburgers, grilled or pan-fried, growing up.

My husband, however, will tell you that his father would whip some hamburgers up on an almost weekly basis. His dad would pan fry to perfection the juicy patties and they would serve them up on toasted white bread if no buns were available. Cheese was an option but most of his family just enjoyed a plain hamburger. (The thought of no cheese just gives me an anxiety attack!)

The choice of beef in a “pan fryer” is important. You really can’t use any diet techniques here. You have to have enough fat to keep the burger juicy. So use a high-quality 80/20 blend or grind your own. Forming uniform-size patties helps to keep cooking times consistent. A little dimple/divot in the middle of the patty keeps it from puffing up.

Toppings are important

I don’t put the same toppings on a “pan fryer” as I would a grilled burger. Maybe it has to do with the weather…grilling + outside = summer toppings. When I pan fry, I just feel the need to go old school and replicate the diner-style burgers my father-in-law made.

A thick slice of tomato, raw onion rings, cheese, ketchup or A-1 (or both) and some pepper rings are all you need. Tip: soak the onion rings in white vinegar for a few minutes to take some of the “raw” off the onions. Drain and use right away.

Do I even need to mention that you always toast the bun – buttered too.

Are you craving a “pan fryer” yet?

Midweek “Put-Together”

In the spirit of Cabinet Stew and my continued obsession with meatballs, I threw together this dinner one night using things from the freezer and the fridge. My husband deemed it good enough to be repeated someday and so here it is…

And here is what’s in it….

About a dozen tiny meatballs that I made a bunch of one day and froze for times just like this. I reheat them in a covered dish in a 350 degree oven because we don’t own a microwave (GASP!) but you could use yours. A good quality packaged brand would probably work too but then again if you are reading this it means you enjoy cooking and wouldn’t dream of buying pre-made anything.

Boil a box of your favorite pasta – use a big chunky one like penne, rigatoni,etc. I used about 3/4 of the cooked pasta. Tip: lightly oil and store the rest of the cooked pasta for another meal or you can even freeze it for about a month. It will be fine and defrost in no time for a quick meal or add-in to soups and stews.

1/2 a bag (maybe 4oz?) of pre-washed baby spinach. I threw this into the very-hot, “just drained” cooked pasta so the spinach would cook a bit. If you like your spinach cooked a bit more you could probably steam it in the microwave, but I wouldn’t know how.

Before I started any of the above I took a minute to mix together 10-12 oz of sour cream (lowfat works, I used it.) 1/3 cup grated romano cheese, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp sweet/smoky paprika, pinch each salt and black pepper. I let the chill come off the sour cream while heating the meatballs and boiling the pasta.

So mix the spinach with the hot cooked pasta, add the sour cream mix and add a couple of tablespoons of butter if you want it a little richer. Add the hot meatballs, toss gently and serve it up with salt and pepper to taste.