Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Beef BourguignYUM

Burr...its all of a sudden cold out! A warm hearty meal of beef bourguignon did a world of good this weekend given the cold weather, the blustery Manhattan winds and my temperamental radiator circa 1880 that may or may not work on days of extreme weather (like this particular day).

I recently wrote about beef stroganoff - a cousin of sorts to beef bourguignon. As you recall, my beef stroganoff was renamed beef strogan-tough because the meat was so tough. Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I decided I would only make beef bourguignon if I could find good tender meat.

Abandoning all grocery shopping habits to guarantee a tender cut of meat, I forewent going to my usual butcher and ended up purchasing a cut of beef (cut unknown) from Anthony Bourdain. Seriously, I did. Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant, Les Halles, happens to be around the corner from my apartment. I have eaten there a few times and have noticed that Anthony (I don’t think he would mind if I used his first name...I’m a regular at his restaurant...) has a meat counter in the restaurant for meat sales. Thinking that I would be paying well above market rate at Les Halles, I still went by the restaurant to price his meat. Although the prices were marked in Euros, I still found the prices to be well below my market’s meat prices - almost by about $8 a pound. I bought a hunk of some hunk of meat and was promised by a French sous-chef that it was tender. And I must trust the French when it comes to cooking...

The preparations for my beef bourguignon could not have been more simple. Not using a recipe - only the memories of a passing conversation with my mother - I put together an amazing beef bourguignon. Traditional beef bourguignon is a slow cooked dish. Ideal beef bourguignon (hereinafter BB - I am getting tired of writing bourguignon) is cooked for a few hours before eaten. I found that with this particular cut of meat, however, an hour on the stove was all that was necessary for my BB.

I began by cooking about 3 slices of bacon, chopped, in a nonstick pot. When the bacon was cooked, I added my meat cubes and seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper. When my meat was nice and brown, I removed it from the pot and added diced carrots and onions. I seasoned this mixture with thyme, two bay leaves and a bit more salt and pepper. I let this mixture cook in the leftover bacon fat with a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil. When the carrots were soft and the onions translucent I added a little flour (to thicken the wine I was about to add) and added the meat. I covered the meat with a pinot noir and let it cook. I found that after 30 minutes or so my sauce was getting a bit thick (I probably added too much flour). To counter this culinary chemistry, I added some beef broth to thin it down. The final touch to BB is adding some chopped button mushrooms to the pot about ten minutes before you are ready to eat. The BB was served over egg noodles.

Let me just say this...Beef BourguignYUM!! Hands down, this was the best home cooked meal in a long time. The meat was so tender, the sauce - the reduced pinot noir and beef broth with a hint of bacon fat and thyme - YUM, you just can’t get happier taste buds!

Until next time...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A New Year Brings New Cooking

The new year has brought a few changes to my humble New York City kitchen. In 2006, my kitchen was ripe for a reality TV home organization show. I had junk mail mixed in with bottles of aged balsamic vinegar and my spices were stored in the same space as my bulk food items - who could find a small McCormick’s nutmeg in the midst of 10 pounds of rigatoni pasta? This year, I made a few New Year’s resolutions. The first was to get organized. The second was to conduct a full-on purge of unnecessary items. This purge was made further necessary by a few new additions to my kitchen; the most noticeable addition being my new electric indoor grill.

My boss generously gave me a gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma for Christmas in an effort (perhaps) to compensate for the bonus-less structure employed by my firm. With the gift certificate, I was tempted to buy many cute and fun kitchen gadgets, like silicon pot holders and funky pepper mills, but realizing that my resolution would be compromised by an influx of items that would not be given proper storage, I nixed the spending spree on gadgets and purchased 1 item - the indoor grill!

As you know, I often write about grilling, whether it be out in civilization on a real Webber, or on a grill pan in the City. I have posted many tributes to my grill pan and have frequently commented on different spices that compliment grilled meat.

The first meal prepared on the new electric indoor grill was pork chops. They turned out wonderfully juicy, tender and coated with those aesthetically pleasing grill marks. The second meal prepared on the new electric indoor grill was hamburgers. First, as a minor prelude, I have to say that the preparation of a hamburger is daunting. Perhaps my fear is rooted in some unfounded sexist stereotype, but I just get intimidated by the idea of making a hamburger. So I deferred to my sous-chef on this meal.

With a few chops of fresh rosemary, mincing of garlic, a few dashes of salt and pepper, George had his burgers on the grill in no time. In a quick second, the magical electric indoor grill had perfectly grilled our hamburgers. Complimented by a little fresh mozzarella, lettuce and tomatoes, you would have thought you were dining al fresco on a summer day on the East End of Long Island (that is if I closed my eyes and thought about it). But, although the scenery was different, it was still a perfectly grilled hamburger.

So my humble New York City kitchen of 2006 is slowly becoming a bit more this year if you will. Hopefully with a bit more organization, my new Henckles (another new addition) will be working up another great dish I might not have tried in 2006!

Until next time...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shepherding NYC Culinary Trends

New York City is undoubtably the quintessential culinary hotspot. Sure London and Paris are cities with excellent gastronomic reputations, but in the United States, New York City seems to set the trend for the rest of the country - in large part due to Frank Bruni, I’m sure.

I have been noticing in my eating travels around the Island that chefs are turning basic comfort food dishes, like macaroni and cheese, into sophisticated main dishes. To illustrate, last weekend I had lunch at a new restaurant in my neighborhood called Artica. The restaurant is a bit of a melange between a Corkish pub and a James Bond Icelandic party. The restaurant is English/Irish and it’s menu is very pubish, but retro-pubish, not saw-dust pubish. Items on the menu included Bangers and Mash and Shepherd’s Pie - both considered traditional “poor man’s” meals in the UK. Bangers and Mash, for example, is a dish consisting of mashed potatoes and sausages. The reason why the dish was given the name bangers and mash was because during wartime rationing the sausages were filled with water to make them appear meatier.

Shepherd’s pie, similarly, is a traditional “left-over” dish. Shepherd’s pie was traditionally made with leftover meat and vegetables and served with a layer of mashed potatoes on top for substance. Shepherd’s pie is generally prepared with ground lamb, but a little research indicates that any ground meat can be used. The ground meat is sauteed with onions, carrots, peas and herbs. A layer of mashed potatoes is then added on top of this meat mixture and the pie is baked.

I chose the shepherd’s pie at Artica and found it to be a very simple, but sophisticated and artfully spicy dish. Last night, I tried to emulate what I remembered tasting at Artica because I had some leftover vegetables that I needed to use.

I made my shepherd’s pie with ground pork and ground beef. I sauteed the beef with chopped onions, carrots, celery and some peas. I flavored this meat mixture with salt and pepper, rosemary and thyme. I chose these spices arbitrarily, but a spice like paprika is often used in shepherd’s pie. I also added about a half of a cup of beef broth and thickened it with flour and butter. Once the mixture was done, I transferred it to a 9'’ pie pan. On top of my meat mixture I put a layer of garlicky mashed potatoes. In a 450° oven, I baked my shepherd’s pie for about 15 minutes. I wanted my mashed potatoes to become a bit crispy so I added a few chunks of butter to the top of the potatoes. Unfortunately, this just made a buttery top, not a crispy one. Maybe next time I’ll put the dish under the broiler...

Although this was a “poor man’s” supper and it didn’t break the bank, it certainly was excellent. It was a simple dish to make, but very sophisticated and a bit trendy if I do say so myself. By coupling my shepherd’s pie with a nice Chianti, I sort of felt as if I was following suit on a culinary trend in New York City.

Until next time...

A Foiled Dinner Creation

Before I begin my little story on another New York City cooking adventure, I want to apologize for my inattentiveness to my postings. Yes, I have apologized before and have promised to write more, but I am not sure where the time is going? Once again, I will try to make more of an effort in keeping you updated on my culinary creations – I really do love sharing the stories behind them!

I must give credit where credit is due. I made an amazing dinner recently. The meal was a variation of grilled pork shish kabobs – without a grill of course and without skewers. Concededly, you might ask why, despite the lack of shish kabob essentials I continue to call the meal shish kabobs; but saying, “I made little pork cubes” just doesn’t sound as interesting, does it?

While doing a quick breeze-through of the cooking section at Borders, I quickly glanced at an Ina Garten cookbook and got the inspiration for this recipe. Ina’s recipe was a lamb kabob over couscous, but thinking that lamb might be a bit decadent for a dinner without guests, I chose a pork tenderloin as the meat is quite tender and flavorful, but fortunately not as expensive!

A few hours before dinner I cut the tenderloin into cubes and began working on a marinade. The marinade, which was sort of put together randomly with the ingredients I had in store, consisted of a few swirls of extra-virgin olive oil, red wine, garlic, thyme and rosemary. I let the pork marinate in this mixture for about 3 hours.

Using a grill pan, I grilled the tenderloin cubes for about 3 minutes on each side, removed them from the pan when they were still very rare and wrapped them in tin foil and placed them in the oven on a very low heat until the rest of the meal was ready. This technique was very accidental. I removed the pork from the grill plan prematurely because I needed the space and pan for my side dish – grilled red onions and cherry tomatoes that I coated in extra-virgin olive oil, coarse sea salt and pepper.

When my sides were done grilling, I removed the pork from the oven, put a few cubes over couscous and placed my tomatoes and red onions around the plate as a garnish. To my surprise, the meat that was wrapped in the foil and left to finish cooking in the oven was juicy, tender and delicious. Wrapping the meat in foil created the perfect cooking environment. All the flavors and juices were contained within the foil, and because the liquid could not evaporate, the meat did not have an opportunity to dry. This technique did not foil my meal - the pork was so delicious and all the flavors of the marinade were noticeable and complimented the meat so well.

My sides were grilled in the juices and bits of meat left over in the grill pan, rendering the tomatoes and onions with similar flavors to the meat. My couscous was also cooked in rosemary and chicken broth, keeping with the spices in the marinade. It was a great dinner – considering that I made grilled shish kabobs without a grill and without skewers. The best part was stumbling on a new cooking technique for meat!

Until next time…

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Weeknight Quickies

Meals prepared in 30 minutes or less are all the rage right now. Entire cooking shows and cookbooks are dedicated and catered to the cook on the go. But, its true, regardless of your age or occupation, quick and easy meals are valued during the week. As much as I love to cook, I would rather save my culinary gusto for a weekend evening when time seems less of an essence.
Reflecting back on my week of quick eats, I thought I would share some quick and easy, but also healthy, weeknight meals. Of course quick and easy meals are somewhat dependent upon the season (a fresh salad is always wonderful on a summer evening), but for the warm winter we are experiencing, here are a few easy dishes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less!

Earlier this week I made chili. There is nothing fancy schmancy about my chili. It is a basic recipe that calls for ground beef, chopped onions, chopped garlic, a can of diced tomatoes, about a half of a cup of water, and a packet of chili seasoning. The longest part of this meal’s preparation is dicing the onions and waiting for the meat to brown. I let my chili cook for about 15-20 minutes and serve. I find that chili, on its own is a bit boring. It needs a pairing of some sort.

To make my chili more interesting, while my chili is cooking I grade some Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (buying pre-graded cheese also works and saves time), chopping a bit more onion, slicing an avocado and warming some flour tortillas in the oven. I serve my chili with these garnishes and make chili burritos with my chili. I enjoy a little chili stuffed in a warm tortilla with a little graded cheese, avocado and sour cream. It takes chili to another level - and it is all prepared in under 30 minutes.

Another idea for a weeknight quickie is a stir fry. A stir fry is one of those dishes that can be very minimal or very complex, depending upon your energy level. My stir fries are never prepared in the same manner. This week, I began my stir fry by browning some sliced pork. Although I used pork for this meal, chicken and beef can also be used. I added some onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli and snow peas. I flavor my stir fry with a little teriyaki sauce and hoisin sauce, as well as adding some freshly graded ginger. This meal could also be prepared even more quickly by using prepackaged frozen vegetables. While my stir fry is cooking, I have some rice cooking and with a little luck, both the rice and stir fry are done at the same time. It is a very quick, easy and healthy meal.

Another weeknight quickie is a simple pasta dish with a fresh tomato sauce. A fresh tomato sauce does not have to be slow cooked or labored over. It can simply be some onions, garlic, chopped fresh tomatoes, a bit of white or red wine and some basil, salt and pepper. This entire meal can also be prepared in under 30 minutes.

Hopefully these quick and easy meal ideas will be inspirations for routine weeknight cooking. I also feel better about myself when I can prepare a meal that is quick and easy, rather than relying on my old take-out stand-byes.

Until next time...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Different Stake in Marinating Steak

I have been a bit behind in my blogging lately, primarily due to the holidays and some minor travel. I wish I could say I was touring the world, getting creative culinary inspirations from local traditions, but my blog-inattentiveness really just boils down to overindulgence in the holiday spirit.

Since I want to fill you all in on my all eating experiences and cooking adventures since my last posting, I think I’ll start off on an interesting, albeit successive, dining experience with a little chemistry lesson to add for flavor. I spent the week between Christmas and New Years with all the wonderful luxury amenities that I don’t have in New York City. For starters, I had a car for a week and loved every second of my life away from the 6 train. I also (and probably most importantly) loved my travels to an actual grocery store in a car - not my trips by foot to the bodegas in the City. Perhaps my most favorite luxury culinary accoutrement was the barbeque - the real deal, not a grill pan!

So loving every eating second of this week away, we decided to grill some strip steaks in celebration of a metropolitan-free life. George, taking the culinary reins on this grilling adventure, prepared and grilled the steaks. Pretending to be occupied with washing some Bibb lettuce, I carefully monitored his preparations of the steaks. Not that I didn’t trust his abilities to marinate the meat, but well, I am a bit of a culinary control freak...

From the corner of my eye, I saw him place the strip steaks in a pan and liberally salt and pepper them. So far so good. The next step of this marination process involved what appeared to be a deep philosophical conquest on what in the refrigerator could be added to the steaks as part of the marinade. After his reverie of sorts, some Worcestershire sauce was added to the steaks (I was fine with that) and some chopped garlic was added to the steak (I was also fine with that). Next, he pulled out a bunch of fresh rosemary and began pulling off some stems in what appeared to be the start of this marinade’s demise. Immediately realizing that my lettuce washing could wait and I was faced with what could have been a potential culinary Code Red, I abandoned my lettuce and turned my attention to the steak.

As I was staking out the steak, hunks of rosemary were being pressed down into the steak. Now, before I sound too critical, let me admit my naivety, or perhaps, my partial feelings on the use of rosemary. I love rosemary. Rosemary encrusted pork chops are fabulous and rosemary on a pork tenderloin is equally fabulous. Rosemary and lamb are a nice combination, as well as a hint of fresh rosemary on a roasted chicken. But, rosemary and beef? Debatable.

I let George finish his preparations and grill the steaks. A bit anxious for both of our responses to the rosemary chunks unsystematically placed in the steak, I cautiously bit into my first bite. Chew chew chew, savor, wait a second, savor, and swallow. Repeat until the steak is gone. The rosemary sparred steak was great - in fact, it was amazing. My culinary worries were unnecessary. My taste buds were delighted. The marinade was a great invention.

Now, for a bit of a chemistry lesson. The pairing of rosemary and beef is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the pair predates refrigeration as rosemary extract prolongs the shelf-life of cut beef. When added to packaging, rosemary extract helps meat stay pink for weeks. Also, rosemary extract reduces heterocyclic amines, which are carcinogenic compounds that form when meat is cooked with high temperatures. Adding rosemary extract to ground beef reduces the amount of cancer causing compounds created during grilling. Interesting, huh?

So rosemary really does pairs well with steak, on many levels. I certainly enjoyed this culinary experience and hope you try it and enjoy it as well.

Until next time...