Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rahmschnitzel (Sneak Preview)

Well, I'm on vacation with family for another week and haven't been doing any cooking myself, but my wife's stepmom is a very good cook and showed me yesterday how to make Rahmschnitzel (one of our favorite dishes).  It's made with pork tenderloin, salt, pepper, and cream (Rahm), and served over noodles.  Sometimes she uses a type of bouillion when there isn't enough sauce, and I'm going to have to try and duplicate it at home without European ingredients.  Check back sometime next week for the most delicious Rahmschnitzel that's not very difficult to make.  The name literally translates into cream schnitzel, and that's what it is.  Only a few simple ingredients, and some delicious noodles, and carrots as a side dish.

(Follow this link for the Rahmschnitzel main feature)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

The grilled cheese might seem like too simple a dish to write about, but there is an art to making one  right.  And this is the perfect grilled cheese.  What makes this the perfect grilled cheese is butter toasting the bread in the pan.  I have explored many of the ways to make a grilled cheese; I've done it with a toaster oven, panini maker, George Foreman grill, and any other reasonable way to try and make a grilled cheese.  I've tried using a slot toaster then putting the cheese on and hoping the heat will be enough to melt it.  That way doesn't work.

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

2 slices Texas toast bread (or white bread of your choice) frozen if possible
2 slices Land o'Lakes white American cheese
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Fun additions and accompaniments like:
Cream of tomato soup

This is the perfect grilled cheese and it's also the messiest way to make a grilled cheese, but worth it.  I'm using Trader Joe's Texas Toast bread, which is basically thick white bread with little nutritional value.  I've had grilled cheeses with wheat bread before, and wheat or multigrain bread can bring out the flavor in some cheeses, but the grilled cheese is junk food and should be made with white bread.  You can substitute whatever your favorite nutritionally void white bread if you like.  There are undoubtedly many different cheeses that one could use to make a good grilled cheese sandwich, but this is America and we use Land o'Lakes white American cheese.  It is important to butter the bread before toasting in the pan, and I used 1/2 a tablespoon of butter for each slice of bread.  For my wife's sandwich I added two slices of ham; other common additions include bacon or tomato.  This method also works well with hot dog buns to make a killer cheese dog.

Butter the bread before it defrosts
I've made these before and looked at the stick of butter wondering how much I used; it's easy to go overboard when buttering the bread.  Since my wife and I don't eat an entire loaf of sliced bread before it molds, we always freeze our bread after the first day or two.  So normally I would take four slices of bread out of the freezer 30 minutes or so before making grilled cheeses.  Then when the time comes to butter the bread, the hard butter rips up the top layer of the bread and ruins it.  Here's the trick: butter the bread before defrosting it.  I cut a tablespoon of butter, then cut that in half and butter each side of bread.  The only tricky thing is remembering to keep the buttered sides facing out when the bread goes in the pan.  The frozen bread doesn't get torn up and you get nice even coverage.
Building the sandwich in the pan

I build the sandwich right in the pan.  First slice of bread goes in, butter side down.  Then add two slices of American cheese, being careful to keep it in the center of the bread.  If the cheese sticks out over the edges of the bread, trim the cheese so it doesn't stick out.  You don't want the cheese to melt out the sides of the sandwich to burn in the pan.  It's also important to use two slices of cheese at the most.  If you use more you run the risk of spilling the melted cheese in the course of flipping the sandwich.  Two slices of cheese seems to be the perfect amount for the standard sliced bread size.

About to flip for the first time, see how thick the bread still is

I keep the heat right around medium and turn it up and down as needs dictate.  If the heat is too low you won't get the nice golden brown on the outside of the sandwich.  If the heat is too high you'll toast the outside without melting the cheese at the center.  It's best to start at a lower temperature (I set the burner to 4 out of 9) and turn it up if it takes too long.  It can be difficult to flip the sandwich using a spatula if the cheese hasn't melted yet; the sandwich doesn't have anything to keep it together until the cheese melts.  Hold the sandwich together as you flip it until you see that it's stuck together.  As it's toasting, press down with the spatula from time to time.  The bread compresses and it helps the heat get to the center.

This side looks done

My wife wanted grilled cheese with ham, so for her sandwich I added two slices of ham.  If I were making myself a ham sandwich I would use twice as much ham, but this is a grilled ham and cheese so the grilled cheese needs as much attention as the ham.  The ham goes at the center of the sandwich with a slice of cheese on either side before the bread on the outside.

Building a grilled ham and cheese 
Only two slices of ham

This recipe is high on the list of reasons why I could never be vegan. We warmed up Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato Soup and dunked the sandwiches in.  This is the definition of comfort food.

Ready to eat

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Steak Kabobs marinated with Maggi: part 2

This isn't a part two as much as it is an epilogue to part one.  Last night I marinated some beef with soy sauce and Maggi and some other things, find the recipe in part one.  Today we grilled it on a little charcoal grill with regular old Kingsford brand charcoal.  We don't use lighter fluid; I usually gather dry little sticks and things from the area to build a small fire to catch the coals.  You can never really get the taste of lighter fluid out of the food when you use it, so I choose not to.  Maybe someday I'll write about fire building and cooking in the wilderness.   To avoid legal entanglements it's important to use fire pits or grills in designated grilling areas when in the city.

The marinade smelled great before, during, and after grilling.  The marinade also tasted great when it was time to eat.  The cuts of meat, however, were pretty tough.  I cooked them until they were a little charred on the outside and the inside was pink to red.  Everything about them seemed perfect, but the meat was tough and chewy.  I will absolutely try this marinade again, but there's a reason this beef was the cheapest at BJ's.  Next time I'll spring for a better cut of beef.

We didn't have any skewers so we just used tongs

Just a little charred on the outside

Friday, July 13, 2012

Steak Kabobs marinated with Maggi: part 1

Tomorrow we're having a cookout, so tonight I'm marinating some beef we got at BJ's.  I've heard that "cookout" is a term that is most common in New England; I remember when I was little we always called it a cookout.  That doesn't mean using the grill to cook outside then eat the food inside at the diner table.  A cookout means the food is prepared and consumed outside, and the participants should have fun.  To "have a cookout" is a social occasion.

Originally the plan was to have it at Houghton's Pond, where there are grills the public can use without advance reservations.  This also means we're at the mercy of how busy it is tomorrow, and some of the grills are closed due to park construction.

Beef Round for Kabobs
The meat I got was 2.5 lbs of "Beef Round for Kabobs" from BJ's.  They had some all natural, grass-fed choices there as well but they can get quite expensive.  At $3.99/lb this meat is made for marinating.  The pieces aren't all exactly the same size but that should give a little variety in how they cook.  When it comes times to skewer them I'll keep like pieces together.

All that's missing is the olive oil
 This recipe doesn't come from any specific website, but I took some of the common ingredients from many of the marinade recipes I found.  My wife loves this seasoning called "Maggi," which is something like soy sauce.  It's very salty and even has monosodium glutamate.  If you've never heard of MSG you should read about it; it's the thing that makes you feel like you've been drugged after you eat Chinese take-out.  It's pretty terrible for you, so use it sparingly.  It's used in some Asian cooking, and it's a popular ingredient in homemade salad dressings in Europe.  This bottle is a product of Mexico.  I'm using reduced sodium soy sauce (460mg sodium / Tbsp), and Maggi has 377mg sodium / 5 tsp (or 1131mg / Tbsp).  Here are the ingredients and quantities:

Maggi from Mexico
1 Tbsp = 15mL and 1tsp = 5mL

2.5 lbs beef round, cut into medallions or kabob size

Kabob Marinade

3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Maggi
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
some oregano
some fresh ground rainbow peppercorns
1/2 a small head of garlic, minced

I combined everything but the garlic from above in a small bowl and wisked it all together.  The oregano and peppercorns were in many of the recipes I found, but I wasn't going to include them.  Then I changed my mind at the last minute and threw some in anyway.  It doesn't matter what order you add the ingredients in, just throw them all in and whisk.

Before adding the garlic, oregano, and pepper
I have this OXO garlic press.  It's lasted years and years, but what can really go wrong with a garlic press?  I guess the hinge could break.  But the handles are hollow, so after cleaning it you have to be sure to empty any water that may be in the handles.  Maybe they've fixed this by now.  The handles of the new one (ad below) do look sportier.

I make sure to get every last bit of garlic from the press and get it in the mixture.  I don't understand people who don't like garlic.  They aren't welcome here.  At least for most of the things I cook.  (People who don't like garlic are, in fact, welcome)

My older version of the OXO garlic pres

The meat and marinade in the ziploc bag

Jack checking out the beef and marinade

I made sure to smell the marinade as I was mixing it, and asked my wife what she thought before I called it done.  I put the meat into a big ziploc bag and poured the marinade into the bag.  Because I'm a bit like Phil Hartman's anal-retentive chef character (related video above), I use a spatula to get every last bit of marinade out of the mixing bowl and into the ziploc bag.

Squeeze out the air and distribute the marinade
When everything is in the bag, squeeze out as much of the air from the bag as possible and make sure the marinade is spread around all the meat.  I took the bag and held it upside-down to mush everything around even more.

Spread out for the overnight.
When I felt the marinade was evenly distributed, I spread the meat out in the bag so it's not all bunched up as in the above pictures.  I'll leave it in the refrigerator overnight tonight for about 16 hours before we grill it tomorrow.

We'll see how it goes, check back tomorrow for cookout pics and the results.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beef, Pork, and Veal Bolognese Sauce

One of our standby dinners is Trader Joe's frozen turkey bolognese, which is quite good, but why not make it myself?  I saw the meatloaf mix at Costco and knew it was meant to be.  The recipe for this comes from La Cucina magazine's website, and can be found at: http://lacucinaitalianamagazine.com/recipe/ragu-alla-bolognese.  As always I recommend that you download the recipe or print it for future use.  Take a moment and read over the recipe now, and don't even think about making this one unless you have at least four hours to be near the stove.

Below you'll see all the ingredients I used.  The meatloaf mix and butter came from Costco, but I know I've seen a similar ground meat product at the regular grocery store.  My wife already had the bouillon, bay leaves, and peppercorns, and I went with the rainbow peppercorns because that was what we had.  Everything else came from Trader Joe's; one of the fun things about this recipe is that you only need one cup of wine so you get to drink the rest of it when it's time to eat.  Trader Joe's only sells this large can of tomato paste, which was a waste of all but two tablespoons.  Unless you use tomato paste on a daily basis in your house.  The same was true of the tomatoes; I only used half the can.  The mirepoix is a mix of carrots, onions, and celery; it saved the trouble of hand chopping the battuto.  The recipe specifies that it should be chopped by hand, but the mirepoix was the perfect amount of all three and I didn't end up with a whole lot of extra celery and carrots (they don't sell single ribs of celery usually).

I followed the recipe as best I could, but there were a few things that I had to fudge.  The tomato paste wasn't double concentrated so I just doubled the quantity.  The canned tomatoes weren't San Marzano, but I'm not made out of imported tomatoes so these had to do.  The recipe calls for pancetta and Italian sausage, but I skipped these altogether.  The ground meat comes in a 2.5 lb package, and the original recipe calls for 2.25 lbs of meat (including pancetta and sausage) so I called it even.  I'm sure they would have added more flavor, maybe next time.

We have this Cuisinart blender/food processor that does the job pretty well.  I've burned out more than a few blender motors in my day, and this is the one I bought for my wife about 7 years ago to replace hers.  It speaks to the quality of the blender that we've had it that long and it still works.

Blending the tomatoes

The red coils of the oven appear purple in the picture

Just before adding the meat
I wasn't sure how softening the vegetables without browning them would turn out, but it wasn't as difficult as I thought.  I just kept the heat very low and stirred a lot.  In the recipe the pancetta and sausage would be in the pan as well now, and the vegetables would take on some of their flavor.  

No room to stir!

I suspected when I began that the saucepan I was using was too small, but for some reason I pushed blindly forward until it became time to add the meat.  It was hard to mix everything together without spilling raw meat and veggies all over the stove, so I transferred everything into the larger pot above.  I was again nervous about heating the meat without browning it but there was so much in the pot that it wasn't as difficult as I thought.

About to add the wine

Everything in the pot, ready to simmer
Up until this point the recipe has required all of my attention; now that the ingredients are all in I had a little time to relax.  I played with the burner for a little while at the beginning to achieve the "barest simmer," meaning the pot was only slightly bubbling.  For the next 2 1/2 hours I stirred the pot every few minutes while getting in some quality time with the TV.  

This recipe turned out quite well, but not on the day I made it.  I didn't think it was very flavorful that night and was a bit disappointed, especially since I spent all afternoon making it.  I froze half the sauce and refrigerated the other half, and the next day when we warmed it up it was greatly improved.  This is one of those dishes that needs to sit overnight (at least) before the flavors really come out.  We had it with orechiette pasta (translated as small ear because of the shape of the pasta), which I like because it holds the sauce well.  I have a problem sometimes with spaghetti-type pasta because I end up with lots of extra sauce at the end of the meal.  You might be saying to yourself, "that's what bread is for!"  I agree, but maybe you don't want that many carbs in your meal.  The orechiette is good like that.  

This recipe was time-consuming but worth it in the end.  I split it up into six servings that each make a very big meal for two people when you add pasta and bread and salad.  I think next time I'm going to try it with the pancetta and Italian sausage if they're not too expensive, because it came out pretty good this way and didn't cost very much.

To see me make this sauce with the missing Italian sausage and bacon, follow this link or look in the August, 2012 posts.