Friday, November 9, 2012

Fall into Beef Stew!

Ahhh, Fall! . . . there is a crisp chill in the air . . . it seems that the last leaves finally fell off the trees . . . it's the perfect time to cozy up with someone you love . . . and enjoy a hearty beef stew!  :)


Now that I’m living the life of a “respectable woman of leisure”, as some of my friends say (I retired on 31 July and got married on 4 August!), I, supposedly, have more time in my hands to do all the things I really want, but the truth of the matter is that, sometimes, the day goes by so fast with all the stuff to do at home, that I keep postponing the things I truly want to do, like writing in my blog more often!

When it comes to testing new recipes, I have a few favorite celebrity chefs who I trust almost blindfoldly, and Alton Brown is one of them (I would say it’s a hard toss-up between him and Christopher Kimball, from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook's Country).

What I love about Alton Brown, though—and haven’t seen in any other TV celebrity chef—is his contagious enthusiasm for the science of cooking and food, as well as his humorous approach to it in each and every one of his shows!

Two Saturdays ago—while my hubby left in the wee hours of the morning to play golf with a friend in a chilly 40°F weather (around 4°C)—I was all warm and tucked up in my bed, watching back-to-back reruns of “Good Eats”.  On the first scene of the episode “Stew Romance”, Alton Brown is sitting at the fireplace heart:

Ahh, the stew pot. If there’s a more enduring or endearing symbol of hearth and home, I don’t know what it is. From the dawn of cookery when water simmered in animal hides stretched over campfires through the Ages of Clay, Bronze, Iron, and Steel, cooks have continually fed and fed from their stew pots. A tough hunk of mastodon here, a snaggled bit of taproot there. All rendered edible and nourishing through the combined efforts of time, heat, and water. The problem is, all that time, heat, and water tend to blur the individual notes of the ingredients into a murky monotone. If you ask me, a stew, or a culture for that matter, should be more like, well, a barbershop quartet.”

On the second scene, he offers a glimpse into what his unique cooking method for a stew is all about:

“Suppose I were to ask you to define the word “stew”. You might say, “a shortened version of the Scottish name “Stuart”, or “to dwell on something, negatively”. But you might also offer, “a dish composed of chunks of meat and vegetables, cooked and served together in a flavorful and potentially thickened liquid.” And you know what? You’d be right on all three counts. Of course, you might also say that it is the verb “stew”, the traditional cooking method by which “a stew” is produced. But if you ask me, the key to “a stew” isn’t stewing, it’s braising. And although braising is indeed related to stewing, there’s some significant differences.”

I can’t quite remember how many different recipes I’ve tried along these last years when it comes to stew.  Some have been decent and, some, well . . . just plain bad!  And after watching this episode of “Good Eats”, the science of beef stew became all clear to me! As Alton Brown explains:

“Stewing involves cooking small pieces of food. Braising calls for large pieces, which limits surface area and therefore limits moisture loss from the target food. Unlike stewing, which calls for submersion of the food pieces in liquid, braising calls for a relatively small amount of liquid. That means less chance of producing watered down flavors. Remember, water is a solvent. Stewing, often achieved in an open vessel. Braising calls for a tightly-lidded vessel. That prevents moisture loss via evaporation and helps to tenderize meat through the slight elevation in vessel pressure. And perhaps most importantly, while stewing always calls for cooking ingredients of different natures together, braising applications often call for separation of meats and vegetables. And that makes braising the precision choice, even when the desired dish is a stew.”

Aha!  Braising is the key then!  Why didn’t anyone think of that before?  Well, I guess it takes a genius like Alton Brown to figure it out, right?  :)

After watching the complete stew episode, I got up and came to my computer to look up for the recipe . . . “Yikes!”—I said to myself—“The recipe takes a mere 6.5 hours to prepare!  I better start now!”  :)

Fortunately, I had all (well, almost all) the ingredients I needed but, as usual, I tweaked the recipe a tad.  Since I had Chuck Eye Steak, I used that instead of the short ribs called for in the original recipe. Here is my version (I’ll post a link to the original recipe at the end, together with the link to the corresponding video):

Good Eats Beef Stew (slightly adapted tweaked)

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 3 lbs Chuck Eye Steak*, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, oregano and sage)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1.5-inch cubes
  • 2 14.5 oz cans of sliced carrots
  • 1 15 oz can of sweet peas (no salt added)
  • 4 oz Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer
  • 4 oz chicken stock (low sodium)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

* The Chuck Eye Steak is cut from the Chuck Eye Roast (Chuck Primal), lower down from the rib primal. This means that this steak is a similar cousin to a Rib-Eye Steak, but isn't as tender or flavorful. This steak is a good low cost alternative but will dry out quicker than a Rib-Eye. The Chuck Eye Steak is best braised to keep it moist, but is also good grilled or broiled, provided care is taken not to over cook it. 


In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and dried herbs. Set aside.

Season the meat chunks with 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt. Place a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil and divide your meat chunks into two batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Sear the meat until browned on all sides. Once browned, remove the meat to the bowl with the apple cider mixture and toss to coat. Set the pan aside without rinsing it, since you'll use it later . . . you know, gotta save all that fond (the crispy little bits left in the pan)! Transfer the meat and juices to a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and seal tightly. Place the package into a metal pan and put into a cold oven on the middle rack. Set the oven to 250 degrees F and cook for 2 hours.

Remove the meat from the oven and carefully (it will be hot!) poke a hole in the pack while holding it over a heatproof container. Drain the liquid into the container and set aside.

Grab the frying pan you used to brown the meat. Add one tablespoon of oil and place the pan over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion along with the remaining teaspoon of salt and allow to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, carrots and peas along with a pinch of black pepper and the teaspoon of thyme, and stir to combine. Next, add the liquid reserved from the meat together with the beer and the chicken stock and stir. Cover tightly and decrease the heat to low so that no heat is escaping the lid. Cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

Once the potatoes are tender, uncover and set the meat atop the vegetables. Cover and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Note:  Because I was using Chuck Eye Steak, I cut down to half the time the meat needed to cook in the oven and skipped refrigerating the liquid, since the meat hardly rendered any fat at all. As you will see, I also added carrots and sweet peas to my stew. The beer and chicken stock were added for extra flavor and because I like a juicy stew, since I serve it with rice!  :)

Link to original recipe:

Link to “Stew Romance” video:

“If great stew, like great music, is a commingling of ingredients to create culinary harmony, why do so many stews taste less like beautiful music and more like a murky dirge?” (Alton Brown)


Monday, June 11, 2012

Childhood Memories and . . . Dorie Greenspan???

Growing up, I couldn't quite recall seeing either my mom or my grandmas preparing a lot of desserts at home, unless there was a special occasion, like birthdays . . . and, in those cases, we would indulge in the typical sweet fare back then, usually made from scratch: “flan” (caramel custard), “gelatina” (jello), “pudín” (pudding)all from a box mixor “mazamorra morada” (purple corn porridge), “arroz con leche” (rice pudding) and “leche asada” (baked milk custard). There were also other kind of desserts that we would eat, like “Picarones” (kind of fried donutswhich we usually bought from street vendorsmade with squash and sweet potato, served with syrup) or certain pastries and birthday cakes that my parents would buy from local bakeries. Oh . . . and there were a couple more things that my mom made every now and then, for no particular reason: apple pie (which was always divine!) and this homey and comforting pudding/custard like dessert called “Budín de Sémola”. And although I have eaten apple pies galore for years, I never ate again my mom’s “Budín de Sémola” after leaving Peru.
I have to confess that, after moving to Michigan, I developed a serious addiction to Pinterest (although I had created an account more than a year ago) . . . and, sometimes, I feel like there are not enough hours in a day to “pin” or “re-pin” stuff! :)
I have different boards devoted to one of my passions in life: food. And, of course, I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet in search of striking new recipes to pin.
If you are familiar with the “food blogosphere”, there is a chance that you have heard of the “French Fridays with Dorie” website—an online cooking group dedicated to Dorie Greenspan’s newest book, “Around My French Table”. And, if you are familiar with this cooking group, then you know that one of their rules state: Please do not post the actual recipes on your blog. We encourage everyone to purchase their own book in order to belong to the group”. So, needles to say, every time you stumble upon one of the weekly challenges on the Internet, you’ll see back-to-back postings commenting about a particular Dorie Greenspan’s mouthwatering looking dish . . . but you won’t find the actual recipe! Of course, there are other Dorie Greenspan’s recipes on the Internet, but they are not usually the ones the cooking group members try.
So . . . tired of this situation (ha ha ha . . . how pathetic dramatic does that sound, huh?), I put “Around My French Table” on my wish list in Amazon, knowing well that it would be a long time before I could get my hands on it because of the stiff price (more than $40 the first time I saw it!). However, about two months ago, I saw the book selling for $16! I didn’t think twice about it and ordered my copy!
Well, this past weekend—as I was surfing the InternetI came across a recipe that caught my attention because of its name: “Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake”. I have a cake recipe that I’ve prepared many times in the past that calls for semolina as one of the ingredients, and thought it might be the same one . . . nothing could be far more different from that! It was a recipe for my beloved and almost forgotten “Budín de Sémola”!!! I immediately looked for my copy of “Around My French Table” and searched for the recipe. This is Dorie Greenspan’s story about the recipe:
“It was Summer an sunny, and my husband, Michael, and I were having lunch outdoors at a tiny bistro off the picturesque and often pictured Place Dauphine in Paris. Someone had told me that Yves Montand lived in one of the stone buildings surrounding the square, and I was secretly hoping that he’d stroll past us at any moment. What I wasn’t expecting was that we’d finish our meal with a dessert that was completely new to me: it was a simple puddingish cake, almost like fine grained polenta, dotted with raisins and coated in caramel, like a flan.
Although my French friends had childhood memories of the cake and loved it, no one could tell me what was in it, because the only way they’d ever seen it made—or made it themselves—was from a supermarket mix.
It took me a while to find out that the semolina that gives the cake its name is farina, best known in our country under the brand name Cream of Wheat, the breakfast cereal. Now that I know, I make the cake often, usually to serve after a light meal. The traditional addition is golden raisins—they’re even included in the box mix—but bits of any dried fruit are fine, as are diced apple or pear sautéed in a little butter beforehand, or even small pieces of mango.
By the way, I tried the cake from the mix—it doesn’t hold a candle to this homemade version”.
All these years looking for “sémola” or semolina at the supermarket—to no avail—without having the slightest clue that it had been “staring” at me as “cream of wheat”, duh!!!
Any way . . . I read the recipe carefully and decided I would tweak it a little bit (which is what I usually end up doing with most recipes) because, for one, I only had a little bit of whole milk (but I did have one can of evaporated milk) and, for another, not only did I not have raisins, but I don’t like raisins—and they don’t like me! :)
Also, I had a bowl of strawberries and raspberries macerated in sugar and about 1/3 cup of dried cranberries . . . so, that got me thinking of the possibilities . . .
Ok, without further ado, here is my version of “Budín de Sémola”:
Ingredients for the “budín”:
  • 1 1/2 cups (1 12-oz can) of evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cream of wheat
  • 1 cup sweet condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups of strawberries and raspberries macerated in sugar (without the macerating liquid)
Ingredients for the caramel:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup of the strawberries/raspberries macerating liquid
  •  Squeeze of fresh lime juice (1/2 lime)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with a rack set in the center. Have a 9-inch springform pan at hand (the original recipe calls for an 8-inch round pan) and, to add extra insurance, wrap aluminum foil around the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent leakage while baking). Place your round pan into a larger baking sheet/pan that it will fit into easily. Mix the strawberries, raspberries and dried cranberries in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Make the cake: Place milk and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. At the sign of the first bubbles, lower the heat and stir in the cream of wheat. Cook according to package directions, constantly stirring (I would recommend using a whisk instead of a wooden spoon here) and adjusting heat as necessary, until the mixture thickens. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the sweet condensed milk and vanilla. Let stand until cooled slightly, about 15 minutes.
  3. Make the caramel: Slide the springform pan into the oven to warm—warming it makes getting an even layer of caramel a snap. Put the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a small skillet or saucepan over high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon just enough to moisten the sugar, then allow the mixture to come to a boil. Don’t stir it! As the sugar starts to take on color, swirl the pan gently so that it heats evenly. Keep a close watch on the pan, and when the sugar begins to turn deep reddish-amber in color (about 5 minutes—you can test the color by dropping a bit of caramel onto a white plate), remove the springform pan from the oven (remember to wear oven mitts!) and pour caramel into it, tilting the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Scatter the berries mixture evenly over the caramel, pressing them slightly into the caramel with the back of a spoon. Set it aside.
  4. Stir the beaten eggs into the cooled cream of wheat mixture and pour the batter into the caramelized pan. Slide the pan back into the oven and bake until the mixture firms and puffs, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes.
  5. To unmold your budín, run a sharp knife around the inside edge. This will release the sides of the budín from the pan ring. Unlatch the clamp and remove the ring. Place a plate on top of the budín and gently flip it over (work carefully, remember the caramel will be very hot!). Take off the bottom of the pan very gently, so that you don’t remove any of the caramel. Let the budín cool to room temperature before serving. Makes 8 servings. Enjoy!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Susy's Banana Bread with Walnuts

I know this is my first posting after several months of silence . . . well, I don't want to bore you with lots of details, so let me just tell you the short version:  I got engaged in September (on Labor Day) and moved to Michigan by mid November.  I have been working from home since December and will be taking an early retirement by the end of July.  Period.  End of story.

I promise I will tell you more about my life later on. 

Bobby and I woke up early this morning and, like almost every morning, I made coffee.  It was raining lightly, but the squirrels were already out there and a couple of them came all the way to the glass door (in the kitchen) to ask for saltines.  They just love them! :)  Then I turned around to go check if the coffee was ready and, all of a sudden, I saw the lonely overripe bananas, sitting in the basket over the counter, staring at me! :(

All right—I said to myself—I better do something about this before they go to waste . . . so I turned on my computer and checked three recipes for banana bread.  Didn't really like the ingredients in one and the proportions seemed a little bit off in the other ones.  So I did the next best thing . . . just took what I liked from each one of them (also read the reviews and suggestions for one of the recipes) and added a couple of extra ingredients.  This is what I came up with . . .


·         4 overripe bananas
·         1/2 cup granulated sugar
·         1/2 cup light brown sugar
·         1 stick unsalted butter, softened
·         1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         2 large eggs
·         1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
·         1/4 cup honey vanilla Greek yogurt
·         2 cups self-rising flour (if you have all-purpose flour add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda)
·         1 cup walnuts, finely chopped


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and lightly grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and then line the bottom with parchment paper (look at the photo) . . . that way, removing the bread from the pan is a breeze and the whole process is mess free!
Mash the bananas with a fork in a small bowl so they still have a bit of texture. With an electric mixer, mix together in a big bowl the two kinds of sugar, butter, cinnamon and nutmeg until they are well combined. Then add the two eggs and beat well until the mixture turns into a lighter color (about 5 minutes). Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add bananas, vanilla extract and Greek yogurt and incorporate them into the batter with a rubber spatula. Add the flour in three or four parts, folding it each time into the batter with the spatula (don’t use the mixer) and just until incorporated, no need to overly blend but don’t leave either noticeable streaks of flour. You want sort of a light and fluffy banana cream. Finally, fold in the walnuts and incorporate them into the batter with the help of the spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Give the pan a good rap on the counter to get any air bubbles out. Bake for about 1 hour, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. 
Don't get nervous if the banana bread develops a crack down the center of the loaf; that's no mistake, it's typical. Rotate the pan periodically to ensure even browning.  If the toothpick doesn’t come out clean after one hour, keep baking your bread in increments of 10-15 minutes until it’s done. Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes or so, and then lift it out of the pan by holding both ends of the parchment paper. Carefully peel the parchment paper and let the bread cool completely (preferably onto a wire rack) before slicing.