Cowboy steaks, fried potatoes and artichokes, onions and green beans.

I consider myself lucky.  I live within ten-minutes of this steak.

The Highland Company Gourmet Market in Kingwood Township, New Jersey, sits on lush green where Highland cows (and a rather menacing bull) hang out all day, chomping on the grass or watching the family soccer games across the fence.  These cowboy steaks, however, don’t come from those Highland cows (the punk-rock of cow breeds), but considering the care and love that Dee gives her own, I’m sure the local farms that she chooses to distribute from are just as good.  (I’m sure, also, because we asked.)

Steak aside, I also consider myself unlucky, or at least lazy, because since our neighbor Bob moved away, Jim and I have been without a grill.  So far this season, I’ve been able to satisfy my grilling urges through dinners at my parents’, where my dad charcoal grills spare ribs, or porterhouse steaks, or hot dogs with deliciously crisp charred edges, but when we saw the cowboy steaks at the market this weekend, we knew we’d have to find a house with a grill.  This wasn’t hard; Jim’s parents have a grill and were away for a few days and we gleefully took on the job of feeding the cats (and playing house.)

Besides a grill, there was also a pretty little herb patch at my disposal and the perfectly purple sage leaves did not go untouched, (thanks, Lydia!) destined to be a garnish on our fried potatoes and artichokes.

Because our date with a grill had become something of a grand affair, I picked up a few artichokes and some colorful potatoes—purple, red, and white; dolling up Tesa Kiros’ recipe of fried russet potato and artichoke bottoms.

If you’ve never pared down an artichoke before, make sure you have two knives: a serrated knife and a sharp chef or paring knife.  You need a serrated to cut off the top half of the artichoke and the chef knife to slice off all the leaves.  You also need a spoon for gouging out the choke.  And maybe a y-shaped peeler to peel the very bottom.  And surely this guide to help you along.

I fried the potatoes in corn oil (a lot of corn oil), putting them in the oil about 10 minutes before throwing in the artichokes.  The whole mess fried for about a half hour; long enough to make me get very worried that the potatoes would never brown, long enough so that they finally did brown, got crisp on the outside and mashed-up creamy inside, with a best freakin’ fried potato in the world taste.  The artichokes were a definite plus, elevating it from french fries to elegant, and the sage must be used, it’s non-negotiable; it added a serious pop of flavor whenever you came across it, and was paper-thin and crunchy like a chip.  I scattered fleur de sel over everything as soon as it came out of the oil.  The mineral-tasting salt was just the thing.

Jim marinated the steak in garlic, thyme, rosemary, and sage, then cooked the steak mostly on the grill, finishing in the oven.  In hindsight, he says he would have done the whole thing on the grill (something I thought from the beginning, but you can’t question a man with a plan) and that’s what you should do, too.

Oven, grill, whatever; the steak turned out fantastic (I don’t imagine it could turn out any other way.)  Rare in the middle with some char all around, garlicky and well-seasoned, we happily ate it up, saving some for a midnight snack, and lunch the next day, before handing off the bone to a very eager dog.

We also made some green beans and cippolini onions, which were fresh, buttery, and sweet.  A rather good steakhouse dinner date, if we do say so ourselves.  It’d go over fabulously for father’s day, without a doubt, if you can find a good cowboy steak (and if you live anywhere near Kingwood, New Jersey, it’s worth a drive.)  I’d be making it for my dad, but we’re away for the weekend attending another engagement party in our honor, this one out in East Hampton.  Luckily for me, the Highland Market is going to have these every weekend.

Cowboy Steak

serves 2

1 cowboy steak
salt
olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
handful or herbs (we use thyme, rosemary, and sage)
pepper

A day or two before you plan on eating the steak, salt it generously on all sides and return to the fridge.  The day of, take the steak out and transfer to a plate.  Combine some olive oil, the garlic cloves, and herbs.  Massage into steak and let sit for a few hours.  Grill according to how you like you steaks (we don’t own a grill, so don’t want to act like authorities.)

Fried Potatoes and Artichokes

serves 6

2 1/2 lbs potatoes, preferably mixed varieties (we used purple fingerling, red bliss, and new), cut in halves or quarters
6-8 medium artichokes, trimmed and cut into halves or quarters (you can peel and halve the stems, too)
small handful sage leaves
corn oil for deep frying
fleur de sel

Prepare your potatoes and artichokes.  Fill a large saucepan or pot halfway full with corn oil and turn heat on the stove top to medium high.  When the oil reaches frying temp (350F-375F), add your potatoes.  Let them settle for about five minutes then give them a good stirring with a wooden spoon.  Let fry for about 8 minutes, then add artichokes and give a good stir.  Continue to fry for another 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown and crunchy.  Add sage leaves and fry 1 minute more.  Remove everything to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve with lemon wedges.

Cippolini Onions and Green Beans

serves 4-6

1 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
5-6 cippolini onions, halved and peeled
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 teaspoon olive oil
fresh thyme
salt, pepper

Add 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil to a large saute pan over medium heat.  Carefully place the onions cut-side down.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme leaves to taste.  Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until the onions are darkly caramelized.  Turn onions on their sides with tongs.  Add green beans and stir to combine.  Add about 1/4 cup water and cover.  Cook for 5-10 more minutes, or until the green beans are tender to your liking.  Serve hot or warm.

Red-cooked pork belly

I’ve made a recipe similar to this red-cooked pork belly before, so I’ll give you a tip: make this one instead.  While I loved the soupy-version from The River Cottage Meat Book, it lacked the texture and the intensity that this version has.  This version, adapted from both the RCMB and from a post on the wonderful blog, the Red Cook, is flavored with anise, ginger, and orange.  The belly meat is caramelized and the surrounding sauce turns syrupy and thick, perfect for coating fluffy white rice.

Now, there’s about a gahzillion versions of red-cooked pork belly and I’m in no way claiming any authority.  As an Asian-style cook, I’m amateur at best, and being that I’ve never had red-cooked pork belly at a Chinese restaurant (why, oh why do we not see this on Chinese menus in America), I don’t have much to base my recipe off of.  But it’s mouth-wateringly delicious and that’s enough for me (and you, I hope.)

The most important difference between my first pork belly recipe and this one is caramelization.  Because of the layer of fat on the pork belly, it tastes best after a quick rendering on high heat, browning the the top of the fat and all the sides, and then adding the flavorings, especially the orange peel, to quickly caramelize too, before adding any liquid.  Then as soon as you put in the liquid, the rendered fat and browned up bits will incorporate and begin to thicken and create the sauce.  With the heat lowered, you allow the pork to cook and everything to meld together for a few hours, the liquid reducing a little.  I add a bit of cornstarch, mixed first with water to create a slurry, to the liquid when it’s close to done, to thicken it up more (and because I love the taste of cornstarch-thickened sauces.)

It just so happens that I returned to the Red Cook’s blog today and saw this post, where Kian revisited his first red-cooked pork belly recipe and came to the conclusion that it’s better to boil the pork belly before beginning the recipe.  While I did this on my first pork belly try, I didn’t this time and now I’m banging my head against the wall—wondering how good it could have been with this step (could it have been better? My head might explode.)  Do whatever you like, it will still be great without the par-boiling, but I’m surely going on Kian’s word next time and adding the extra step.  The rest of my recipe, however, will remain untouched; I don’t think my head could handle anything more delicious.

Red-cooked Pork Belly

adapted from River Cottage Meat Book and The Red Cook

2 lb. pork belly meat cut into two inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
3 whole star anise
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
peel from 1/2 orange
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
water to almost cover

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with tablespoon water, to make a slurry

scallions and cilantro for garnish
white rice

In a 4-6 quart dutch oven or pot, melt sugar into oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until sugar turns a deep brown color. Put the pork belly pieces in the pot and brown them on all sides, caramelizing, about 10 minutes.

Add the star anise, ginger, orange peel. Cook for another 2 minutes and then add dark soy sauce, wine and water into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 1 hour . Remove the cover and cook for another hour. Add cornstarch slurry and turn up the heat to medium. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.

Serve with white rice and scallions and cilantro for garnish. Try and save some for leftovers, mixed together in a Tupperware. The rice will be to die for.

Big news.

I have big news!  Jim and I got engaged.  Engaged!  On a walk along the Delaware River (I told you we felt love-y on the river); I was walking ahead with Champ and turned around to see Jim, looking just a little stricken, kneeling as he pulled out a gorgeous, brushed-metal gold ring, and asked if I would marry him.  I said yes, yes!, and as soon as I started marveling at how cool and composed I was, I got a bit nauseous and we stumbled over to a rock to sit down a minute, and then, appropriately, kissed like never before, and stared into each other’s eyes, and then out at the river, and then gave each other a high-five.

I had no idea how much the news would affect me.  After the short bout of nausea, I was elated—elated—to be getting engaged to Jim.  I’m head-over-heels in love with him, and said yes instantly.  We walked around some more, stopped by the shop that sold Jim the ring and gushed, made our calls, ate a lazy lunch (letting everyone at the shop know we just got engaged), and went to the butchers.  Like any old day, really, except we were grinning from ear to ear, and a little bleary-eyed over the excitement.  Excitement for the engagement, of course — and for the meal to come.

Jim and I rarely eat expensive cuts of meat.  We spend enough money buying the best meat from local sources around us, and if we bought the best cuts from them, well, our landlord wouldn’t be too happy at the end of the month.  But engagement celebrations?  Splurge!  We would’ve bought the whole beast if we didn’t keep reminding ourselves of our lunch at Le Bernardin the next day, so we settled on a big hunk of rib-eye.

Jim is really the mastermind behind this steak.  He marinates it and cooks it without a hint or comment from me, as I busy myself with the sides (roasted potatoes, sauteed kale, balsamic onion confit, and a green salad).  The marinade, he tells me, is garlic, thyme, salt, and oil, with a sprig of rosemary to rest on top.  This sits for a few hours while you dance to Love Me Tenderly by the Felice Brothers with your fiancee.  You cook by searing the meat on all sides, and then finishing in the oven at about 400F or somewhere around there, depending on your steak.

The steak was fabulous, every side worked, and the overall dinner was only heightened by the fact that we were staring googly-eyed at one another.  Afterwards, as we ate Hostess-style cupcakes from the local startup sweet shop, Annie’s Ice Box, and watched Eastbound & Down, nothing could’ve been more right about the day, the dinner, the everything. I’m a big, happy, ball of mush. With a ring on her finger.

Rib-eye à la James Salant

  • Two-pound rib-eye
  • 4-6 Cloves garlics, minced
  • 6-8 Stems Thyme, minced
  • Salt, lots
  • Pepper, lots
  • Olive oil (4-6 tablespoons)
  • 1 big Sprig Rosemary

Salt generously the night before. Coat with garlic, thyme, and olive oil some hours before cooking, laying sprig of rosemary on top. Sear aggressively on all sides, especially the fatty ones. Roast for 15-20min at 400F.

Snuggled. And beef rendang.

I apologize; I’ve been away for a bit. For the first few days of my post-Christmas vacation I had a humdinger of a cold, and then Jim got it for the next few days, and then I decided that what we needed most—more than anything—was to lie down with each other and snuggle. So we snuggled for the last few days of our vacation.  We’re still snuggling, actually, until Monday—Jim’s run out to the post office now and I figured I’d say hi.

When we’ve been able to pull away from each other long enough to get into the kitchen we’ve cooked up some of the best dishes we’ve ever made, though in the name of vacation, haven’t been photographing most of it.  They’re all make-agains, so I’m sure you’ll someday hear all about them.  For now, you can have one—a (albeit unphotogenic) braised Malaysian beef dish from Molly Stevens’ All About Braising—that we did happen to snap some photos of.

I was certain that this dish wouldn’t come out right; the spice paste was like, whoa intense, punch-you-in-the-nose lemongrass, onion, and chile. Our eyes were tearing up the minute I took the top off the food processor; though once the oil, the beef, and the coconut milk was added, I was sure it would turn out okay—edible, at least.

But then—ohh then—3 1/2 hours later, when everything had cooked down and mellowed and the flavors had married; when the coconut milk turned to curd and the beef was supremely tender and fragrant, I knew that it wouldn’t just be okay, it would be transcendent.

And it was.  The flavor is almost indescribable but it’s damn, damn good.  None of the overpowering ingredients give so much as a growl in the finished dish—it’s more a purr, a come hither murmur.  Paired with some white rice, with some of the fragrant sauce poured over it, I couldn’t have asked for a cozier, more snuggly dish.  So if you are hankering for some comfort on these last few days of your winter vacation (sick of Christmas ham and gingerbread), then here’s your dish.  And if you want to invite me over for some, I promise I make for a good spoon.

Molly Stevens’ Beef Rendang

from All About Braising

For the spice paste:

  • 4-6 dried red chiles, such as chile de arbol
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, woody tops, root ends, and outer layers removed, fragrant 4-inch cores coarsely chopped
  • 4 small shallots, coarsely chopped (scant ½ cup)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • One 2-inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and coarsely chopped, or ½ teaspoon ground
  • One 2-inch piece of fresh galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped (optional—and left out by me)
  • Pinch of coarse salt

For the braise:

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 5 cardamon pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2½ pounds boneless beef chuck or brisket, but into 1½ to 2-inch cubes
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • Coarse salt
  • 2½ to 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk, or as needed
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves (optional—and left out by me)

Combine the chiles, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and galangal (if using) in a blender, small food processor, or mortar and pestle.  Season with salt.  Grind the spices to a coarse paste, adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water as necessary if the flavorings are too dry to grind.  Be sure to grind thoroughly; too many fibers or chunk will be unpleasant in the finished dish.

Heat the oil in a wok or large deep skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the spice paste and fry, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the paste appears a bit glossy as the oil begins to separate out of it, 3 to 8 minutes.  (If you added water to grind the paste, this will take longer.)  Add the star anise, cardamon, and cinnamon and stir to combine.  Add the beef and stir to coat the meat evenly with the paste.  Season with the sugar and a healthy pinch of salt.

Pour in enough coconut milk to just cover the beef and stir to blend the paste into the milk.  Bring to a gentle simmer, and braise, uncovered*, until the meat is almost tender, about 2½ hours.  Stir the beef every 20-30 minutes, and check that the simmer remains quiet—there should be occasional bubbled but certainly not a torrent.  If necessary, lower the heat or place the pan on a heat diffuser  The color of the coconut milk will darken to a light milk chocolate color as it absorbs the beef juices.

As the liquid reduces to a thick paste, stir in the lime leaves, if using, and continue braising, monitoring the pan more closely.  Eventually a clear oil will separate out from the paste, When this happens, stir more frequently, and then fry the beef in the oil until it becomes mahogany brown, another 45-60 minutes.  During this last stage, you may want to retrieve the whole spices when you spy them since you may not want to but down on them unknowingly.

If you’ve used chuck, there will be as much as 1/3 cup clear oil in the pan when the rendang is done; brisket will give off less.  Either way, spoon off and discard** as much oil as your care to.  Don’t be afrais to leave a bit for flavor.  Stir and taste for salt.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I half-covered the pan for most of the cooking time.

**This oil is delicious drizzled on white rice.

Warm, comforting, sloppy, and ugly.

Hi guys! I’ve been missing you all but since I’m back at work even though my back is hurting as much as ever, I’ve spent most my afternoons konked out on the couch.  But I’ve managed, with the help of some peppery friends, to keep things colorful in my kitchen.

This pepper stew is exactly what home cooking should be—warm, comforting, sloppy, ugly, and something you’d never get in a restaurant.  It’s a barrage of peppers—fresh ones, roasted ones, spicy ones, and smoky ground ones.  If you can get your hands on any fresh ones still (I was surprised to find my local farm was still selling theirs) please make this stew.

Now that the weather’s gone cold, I think we may all need a little pep-me-up.  This is it.  I can’t promise it will cure a bad back, but it sure made me forget about my pains—for the length of dinnertime, at least.

Pepper Stew

adapted from Jamie Oliver

  • 3 pound pork shoulder
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 fresh small red chiles, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 generously heaped tablespoons Spanish smoked paprika, plus a little extra for serving
  • a small bunch of fresh thyme
  • 5 fresh peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded, and sliced
  • 1 30 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Score the fat of the pork shoulder in a cross-hatch pattern.  In a large dutch oven add some olive oil and, when hot, the pork fat side down.  Let the fat of the pork render for 15 minutes, until browned.  Remove pork to a plate.

Add chiles, paprika, thyme, and fresh peppers to the dutch oven.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add roasted peppers, tomatoes, vinegar.  Bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat and add pork back to the dutch oven, pushing it towards the bottom, so that it’s partially covered.  Cover and put in oven.

Cook for about 3 hours, or until the pork is very easily pulled apart with a fork.  Serve with rice or noodles and a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Fool-proof grass-fed and a La Cense Beef Giveaway.

Anyone who reads my blog (and I’m amazed to say there are a bunch of you) knows that’s I support grass-fed beef.  I won’t belabor the subject again today.  Not everyone cares about the ethical motive for choosing grass-fed beef (though if you do, you can join the La Cense Grass-fed Party’s Moo-ovement)  I will say, though, that you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tasted it.  And you should make sure to taste it the right way. Grass-fed beef is uber-lean and, when cooked like a grain-fatted steak, can easily dry out.  Don’t let that fact scare you away from cooking it—fool-proofing your grass-fed beef is very easy.  I recently ate a very plain, only-seasoned-with-salt-and-pepper grass fed rib-eye and petite fillet.  La Cense Beef sent Jim and me some steaks and burgers to sample after I voiced my grass-fed love on Twitter. And what’s even more awesome than that, they agreed to a giveaway on this site! All you have to do is comment on this post by Wednesday, October 29th and you’ll be entered. And if you win, though this is totally not required, I’d love for your to try your steak plain, seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked using the tips below.  That, in my ethical meat-eating snob’s opinion, is the best way to try your first grass-fed steak.

Ok, first, you’ve got to rub oil into your steak when you season it, about 20-30 minutes before you want to cook.  (Of course you can skip this if you are marinating your steak in a marinade before cooking) Really, you can oil all steaks, since it helps the browning, but it’s essential for grass-fed, in order to prevent the steak from drying out.  This leads to another point, which is take your steak out of the refrigerator at least 20-30 minutes before you want to cook. You don’t want your steak to go right from the fridge onto the hot pan within minutes.  That wouldn’t be nice.  You’ve gotta hold hands before you get to second base, man.

Jim and I always cook our grass-fed steaks in bacon grease, and while this isn’t a necessity, it makes the steaks extra-tasty and goes even farther to prevent dryness.  Really, what can’t you improve with bacon?

Finally, a grass fed steak is done when it looks like this.

I’m not kidding.  It’ll be pinker, err redder, than you think it should be.  It’ll look very raw, while not feeling like raw meat when you touch. Grass-fed is a darker color that grain-fed and grass-fed won’t have the rubbery raw taste that a grain-fed steak of this color would have.  This rib-eye, which we ate last night, was not overly-rare.  It was perfect.  Tender, juicy, meaty.  If you like your regular steaks medium-rare, this is what your steak should look like.  If you like medium, cook it a touch longer, but leave it a little pink in the middle.  And if you like your steak past medium, screw the grass-fed, screw any steak, you aren’t allowed to eat meat until you get some sense. (I know, that was mean… and okay, there is a time for well-done, but that’s during a braise and the well-done meat should never, ever, be a rib-eye.) It won’t take long to get to this doneness, grass-fed cooks very quickly, so keep you head in the game, your eye on the ball, your [insert sporting euphemism here] and don’t overcook!

If you take those precautions, your grass-fed beef should taste juicy, moist, and above all, beefy. I like to serve my grass-fed beef with a decadent, buttery side, like mashed potatoes or the butter-braised scallions that we had on Friday night (recipe will come soon).  Because grass-fed beef is leaner and more flavorful than grain-fed, you can get away with buttery, creamy sides without making dinner too-heavy.

I found that La Cense Beef is a super alternative to grain-fed.  It’s not as bold as some of the grass-fed beef I’ve gotten from local farms (but still had a ton of flavor) so it’s a great way to ease into grass-fed meat-eating.  The petite steak was tasty, but could’ve used to be marinated for an hour or so with something sweet and vinegary.  The rib-eye on the other hand, needed nothing save for salt and pepper and a quick sear.  I roundly recommend it–what a wonderful anniversary or birthday dinner it would make!

We tried the burgers on Saturday afternoon and they too were good—dense and meaty. Since they are 85% lean, we had them with cheese.  Sliced american-style cheese.  On a soft hamburger bun.  It was delicious, I just wish we had a summer day and the beach in the background.

If you are going to buy from La Cense Beef, I most recommend the rib-eye, the burgers, or any of their cheaper cuts of meat.  I’m looking forward to ordering up some short-ribs for a stick-to-my-own-ribs winter stew.

And remember! You just may be able to WIN a free sample of La Cense Beef on this blog!  Just leave a comment.  Tell me if you’ve tried La Cense Beef, or grass-fed, or if you think I should take my ethical meat-eating and shove it up a cow’s you-know-where (and if you tell me that and then win and fall in love with the stuff, I get to tell you I told you so!) I’ll pick the winner at the end of next week through a random generator.  In the meantime… check out the La Cense Moo-ovement and help make a difference in the way people eat!

Keepin’ it real.

Jim and I finished up the last bits of our coq au vin at 6 a.m. Friday morning.  The breakfast—coq au vin, a small scoop of mashed potatoes, and a fried egg on top—has been had all week; it’s a pick-me-up before I go off to work and fuel for Jim’s creativity (he’s working on some fabulous short stories).  I’m really going to miss it now that it’s gone—just possibly enough to make it all over again this weekend.

for the marinade

Thankfully, now that I’ve made “real” coq au vin, it’s no longer in my pile of “scary culinary dishes” that I’m afraid to try.  I don’t even understand, now that it’s done, why I ever thought coq au vin was scary.  It’s almost fibbing to say that it takes a few days to make since most of those days require no work whatsoever besides dipping into your marinade and moving things around a bit.  And the real work (on the day you cook the bird) is hardly hard work.  It’s definitely not brain surgery (or pastry making for that matter) and as long as you have a big pot and another pan handy, you’re up for the task.

chicken browned in bacon fat
chicken browned in bacon fat

It’s a bit time consuming—the chicken cooks for about 2 hours in the oven and you’ll spend a portion of that time prepping the bacon, onion, and mushroom “garnishes,” but it’s well worth it for that brown-food taste (any one out there Anne Burrell fans? Brrrooooown food!).

white buttons

If you can get your hands on a stewing hen, do so—for tradition’s sake.  But if you don’t have a local meat producer (you should search around if you aren’t sure) just use a good, organic bird (preferably one that’s a little older, with strong bones, if you are able to get it from a butcher or farmer).  The longer you marinate the bird in wine and vegetables, the more delicious it will taste—you could start marinating on Thursday for a Sunday feast—and what wine you use really matters.

pearl onions
pearl onions
pig n pearls
pig n' pearls

Wine matters in a coq au vin (you’re using a full bottle of it!)  I urge you to try a Burgundy or something with a big body from France but you could also do a Cabernet Sauvignon from California for a slightly different taste.  Try and buy in the $10-$20 range, and don’t go under $10 (ok, $8 if your budget is strapped).  It was somewhat sacrilegious to me to use a whole $20 bottle in a recipe, so I sneaked a glass.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t damage the coq au vin one lick.

coq au vin
coq au vin

I can’t really describe the coq au vin’s tastes to you, it’s too deliciously dreamy.  I’ll just say this: chicken, bacon, onions, mushrooms, slow-cooked buttery wine.

Put that together with olive oil mashed potatoes and you head just might explode.

le vrai coq au vin
le vrai coq au vin

Real Coq au Vin

serves 2 over the course of a few days (or 4-6)

from County Cooking of France by Anne Willan

Marinade

  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) red wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Chicken

  • One 5- to 6- pound stewing hen or large roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 oz piece of lean smoked bacon, cut into lardons
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, more if needed
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large bouquet garni

Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons butter, more if needed
  • 16-18 baby pearl onions, about 8 oz, peeled
  • 8 oz mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley

For the marinade, combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, peppercorns, and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Let the marinade cool completely.

Pack the chicken pieces in a deep, nonmetallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade over them.  Spoon the olive oil on top to keep the chicken moist.  Cover and leave pieces to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning them from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied wine flavor.

Take the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels.  Strain the marinade, reserving the liquid and the vegetables separately. Heat the oven to 325ºF.

To cook the chicken, heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan or flameproof casserole over medium heat.  Add the lardons and saute until browned and the fat runs, about 5 minutes.  Transfer them to a bowl using a draining spoon and set aside.  Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, to the pan and saute over medium heat until thoroughly browned, at least 10 minutes.  Turn them and brown the other side, 3 to 5 minutes longer.  Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Add the reserved marinade vegetables to the saute pan over medium heat and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring, until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes.  Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.  Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the broth, shallots, garlic, and bouquet garni.  Replace the chicken, pushing pieces down under the sauce.  Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, 1 to 1 1/4 hours for a roasting chicken and at least 30 minutes longer for a stewing hen.  If some pieces are tender before the others, remove them and set aside while the rest continue to cook.

Meanwhile, cook the garnish.  Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and brown them, shaking the pan from time to time so they color evenly, 5 to 7 minutes.  Lower the heat, cover, and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.  Lift them out with the draining spoon and add to the reserved lardons.  Put the mushrooms in the pan, with a little more butter if needed, and saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add them to the lardons and onions.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them aside.  Wipe out the saute pan, add the garnish, and strain the sauce on top, discarding vegetables and seasonings.  Reheat the garnish and sauce on the stove top over medium heat.  If the sauce seems thick, add a little more broth, taste, and adjust the seasoning.  Add the chicken pieces, pushing them will down into the sauce, and heat gently for 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend.  Coq au vin improves if you keep it, well covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 day and up to 3 days so the flavors mellow.

To serve, reheat the chicken with the garnish and sauce on the stove top if necessary.  Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates, and spoon the garnish with a little sauce over them.  Sprinkle the chicken with the parsley and serve the remaining sauce separately.

Some tongue.

Over the past couple weeks, I haven’t been cooking anything that takes longer than 10 minutes—the pizza, many salads, a few pieces of fish—but Jim and I had something serious brewing up in our kitchen. Like, 6 days brining and then 24-hour waterbath serious. Yes, a serious, 7+ day recipe. Beef tongue.

We’ve been eating more ethically lately, buying meat from the small, local, and humane meat producers in our area. We get to see how the animals live before they are slaughtered—on big open terrains, munching on grass, or hanging by the lake. They’re happy. And I’m much happier too—the meat tastes better, I don’t feel badly eating it, and it’s healthier.

tongue3

But it’s more expensive. In my new favorite cookbook, we’re told that to eat meat ethically, you should expect that half as much meat will be twice as expensive. It’s true. This shouldn’t deter you, however, but unless you’re a bahgillionaire, you’ll have to rethink your meat-eating. Firstly, you’ve got to eat less meat. Fill your dinner plate up with substantial foods, like lentils, so that you fill up without needing a big hunkin’ steak. (Though, of course, remember to splurge on the steak every once in a while.) Secondly, you’ve got to start cooking with cheaper cuts—chuck, short-ribs, etc.—and offal.

Offal is the entrails and internal organs of the animals that make your meat. Offal’s the lump category for things like heart, liver, and tongue. Offal’s cheap. I mean, real cheap. The big ol’ tongue we bought from our fancy-pants free-range organic meat supplier was about 5 bucks—put that in perspective with the about 30 dollars we spend there on pork tenderloin. Offal’s cheap.

It’s also quite fatty too, which is all the more reason to keep your portions small. The taste of tongue is delicious—meaty but awesomely tender. I don’t really know how to describe it, other than I think it has the flavor of a steak-um. A steak-um but 10 bahgillion times better. Try it. You’ll get a delicious meal, money left in your bank, a clear conscience, and leftovers for days. Can’t beat that.

tongue5

Pickled Tongue

adapted from the River Cottage Meat Book

For the Brine:

  • 5 quarts of water
  • 1 pound light brown sugar
  • 3 pounds coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of thyme

For the Brined Tongue:

  • 1 whole fresh beef tongue
  • 1 herb satchel (with thyme, oregano, celery seeds, and peppercorn)
  • 3 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1 leek, halved crosswise and lengthwise
  • 1/2 garlic bulb, outer leaves removed

Put all the ingredients for the brine into a large stockpot and stir well over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, allow to bubble for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool. Once cooled, put the tongue in a large non-metallic container (i.e. Tupperware) and cover it with the cooled brine. Put in the fridge and let brine for 6-7 days. (Or up to 10 if you tongue is over 6 pounds.)

Days later, when your tongue is (finally) ready, remove from brine and soak it in fresh water for another day, changing the water at least once. (Soak for two days if you have an over 6 pound tongue.)

When ready, remove the tongue to a dutch oven with the ingredients for the brined tongue. Cover with fresh water, bring to a simmer, then poach gently on the stovetop over low to medium-low heat for 2½ to 3 hours, or until tongue is very tender and yields easily when pierced.

Then (you’re not done yet) remove the tongue and discard the rest. Place tongue on a cutting board and peel or cut away the skin (you’ll understand what I’m talking about when you see it.) When you’re removing the skin, make sure to get rid of all of it, cutting the outer layer off pretty generously–the meat of the tongue is very tender, but the skin’s texture isn’t very pleasant.

Serve with lentils and cabbage, and a good, grainy mustard.

Serves 10 or more.

My Chinese take-out.

What do you do when you don’t have a grill but the best meat at your favorite local meat producer is the spareribs? Do you cry, lamenting your bad decision to live in an apartment where you don’t have a backyard and grill-space? Do you opt for the much-more-expensive and getting-down-right-old (but otherwise delicious) pork tenderloin that you get all the time? Do you run out of the little farm-store, spear-in-hand, straight for the cows chewing peacefully in their pastures, intent on making a kill just so you can get that sought-after and never available rib-eye steak that would be so perfectly done in the oven? No, no. Don’t be silly. It would take them at least two-weeks to dry age that steak—just take the spareribs.

I did take the spareribs and I have to admit I was pretty bummed over not having a grill until I found this recipe for Chinese Spareribs in the River Cottage Meat Book (thanks Anita for leading me to this wonderful book!) Truthfully, even after I found the recipe, I tossed and turned over making it instead of barbecued ribs. I thought about whose house with a grill I could invite myself to, I thought about making them in the oven. I was upset.

And then, as things usually go, Jim told me I was being crazy and took me out to buy the ingredients for Chinese Spareribs—he’s such a good decision-maker. And a lucky one, too, because these ribs turned out to be the most succulent, fragrant, falling-off the bone, reminiscent of but waaay better than Chinese take-out ribs. All of the ingredients, which seemed too strong when I first put them in the pot, fused together to create the flavor that everyone tries to get when making Chinese food at home. The recipe’s a keeper. The kind of recipe that you use at dinner parties for bosses when you want to get a raise or for a first date when you want to be fallen in love with or at home with your boyfriend when you want to say thank you for putting up with your crappy moods for the past six months: The best kind of recipe.

Chinese-Style Spareribs

adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book

  • 3 pounds spareribs, preferably organic grass-fed
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 3 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 8 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 5 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 10 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
  • 1 cup pineapple juice, preferably fresh

Cut spareribs into peices about 2-4 ribs wide. Heat oil in a large pot. Fry spareribs until browned on all sides. Add ginger and garlic and fry until they release their aromas. Add in soy sauces, sugar, vinegar, pineapple juice , and enough water to barely cover ribs. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and not letting the liquid get too low.

Remove spareribs from pot. Let the liquid simmer away until it makes a rich, syrupy broth. Put the spareribs back in the pot to re-warm them. Serve with slices of radish or spring onion.

Hauntingly Tender

I don’t eat (much) veal. That hauntingly tender texture has a way of reminding me that what I’m eating was a baby animal—one who wasn’t allowed to move much throughout it’s too-short life so that I could have a tender dinner. But, like all guilty pleasures, I make exceptions. I love to have veal once or twice in the spring, when the meat is at it’s best and veal is in season (yes, veal has a season.)

Veal doesn’t have much taste because low movement in an animal’s life makes for tender flesh with little flavor, while older animals produce tougher, more flavorful meat—another reason I feel bad for eating veal, like come, on, all that just so the flesh is firm but soft, smooth, and yields to the bite, creamy not chewy. Well, actually, yes all that. What’s life without guilty pleasures?

To compensate for the loss in taste, you must make bold accompaniments for the veal. For last weekend’s veal, Jim and I made a relish of grape tomatoes, shallots, balsamic vinegar, and capers—very bold indeed. The veal and the relish sat atop a bed of arugula—what I consider the perfect veal green, as it’s bitterness pairs sublimely with the creamy veal—and alongside some soft polenta.

Truth be told, I didn’t even need the polenta. The veal, relish, and arugula was a meal in itself, though the polenta made good work of soaking up the flavors. The relish, as it should be, is very bold, and I wouldn’t really enjoy it with anything other than veal, or possibly, a filet mignon. Make sure you get a great balsamic vinegar, because I imagine that could make or break everything.

I don’t think I’ll be eating veal too often now, but it was delicious.

Veal Chops with Roasted Shallot-Relish, Arugula, and Soft Polenta

from Bon Apetite, Feb 05//serves 4

1 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
4 1 3/4-inch-thick veal rib chops (each about 12 ounces), frenched

18 small shallots, peeled, halved
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 12-ounce package grape tomatoes
1/3 cup drained capers plus 1 tablespoon caper brine reserved from jar

Soft Polenta
4 cups arugula
Whisk 3/4 cup oil and lemon juice in small bowl to blend. Mix thyme, salt, and pepper in another small bowl. Rub thyme mixture all over veal chops; place in glass baking dish. Pour oil-lemon marinade over; let stand 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine shallots, vinegar, and remaining 1/4 cup oil in medium roasting pan; toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until shallots are browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes to shallots and roast until tomatoes are soft and browned, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes longer. Remove pan from oven. Add capers and 1 tablespoon reserved brine and stir to blend.

Meanwhile, heat large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Drain veal chops and transfer marinade to heavy small saucepan. Add veal to skillet and cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer skillet to oven and roast veal to desired doneness, about 10 minutes for medium.

Bring reserved oil-lemon marinade to boil; boil 2 minutes. Place 1 veal chop on each of 4 plates. Divide shallot-tomato mixture among plates. Spoon Soft Polenta alongside. Drizzle with oil-lemon marinade. Garnish with arugula and serve.

Soft Polenta

6 cups water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups quick-cooking polenta (precooked maize meal)
Bring 6 cups water, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in heavy large saucepan. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir constantly until polenta thickens, about 5 minutes.