Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to make Beef Bourguignon

This celebrated dish from Burgundy, France, makes a rich, warming dinner for a winter weekend. Beef is simmered in a rich red wine sauce to make it tender and flavorful. The beef should be marinated for several hours, or overnight. This recipe specifies flank steak, but other nicely marbled cuts, or even "stew meat" can be used. As involved as this recipe is, though, you may not want to skimp on the ingredients.

Equipment needed
Mixing bowls
Medium saucepanLarge skillet

1 medium Carrot, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium Celery Stalk
1 1⁄2 pounds Beef Flank Steak
1 medium Onion, peeled and chopped into 1/2-in. pieces
2 cloves Garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Bouquet Garni, usually thyme, basil, and sage
1 2⁄3 cups Burgundy, I use a non-alcoholic variety.
Salt, as needed
Ground Black Pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons Cooking Oil, add more if needed
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 tablespoon Flour
5 cups Veal Stock, or brown stock
Water, as needed
8 Baby Onions
2 tablespoons Cooking Oil
8 Fresh Button Mushrooms, trimmed and quartered.
3 slices Bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces.
Dried Parsley Flakes, or fresh to garnish

Place the beef, onion, celery, carrots and garlic into a non-reactive mixing bowl. Add the bouguet garni and wine and gently toss together. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for half a day, or refrigerate overnight.

After marinating, place a large sieve into another mixing bowl. Pour in the marinated beef and vegetables to strain off the marinade. Remove the bouquet garni. Reserve the marinade and the bouquet garni, for later.

Dry the beef and cut into 2 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, F.

Heat cooking oil in a large, oven-safe saucepan over high heat. Add the marinated beef and saute briefly to brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the beef to a dish.

Put the marinated vegetables in the same saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium low and saute gently until the vegetables start to brown. Take care not to burn them.

Add the tomato paste and flour. Stir and cook briefly. Return the strained marinade to the pan. Turn the heat back to high and bring it to a boil.

Return the beef to the pan and add the stock. Stir and bring to a boil. Skim off foam. Add the bouquet garni, cover, and turn off the heat. Place the saucepan into the preheated oven and cook for 55 minutes. At this point, you can prep the remaining ingredients.

While the beef mixture is cooking, prepare the other ingredients.

Fill a clean saucepan with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Add the baby onions to the water and boil until soft. Remove and discard the water.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the bacon until most of the fat melts and then add the mushrooms. Add the boiled baby onions. Cook until the mushrooms are done.

Remove the stewed beef and juices from the oven and skim off any fat. Add the cooked vegetables and stir together.

When serving, remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in individual serving bowls. Use a ladle to pour some of the sauce over each serving and garnish with parsley.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bread and Buttery Pudding, from Gary Rhodes

In this video, celebrity chef Gary Rhodes shows us how to make “Bread and Buttery Pudding,” warm winter dessert. It looks tasty. It also looks like a great way to use up stale bread, while sneaking in some dried fruit into your kid's diet.

Basically, bread and butter pudding is bread and raisins cooked in a vanilla custard. It just screams for variations, different kinds of fruit, different flavors of custard, and so on.

I think I'm going to try my own variation, soon. I'll post it when I do. Maybe you'd like to share your variations in the comments, here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to Make Red Berry Coulis

Normally you'll find berry coulis, a light, cooked berry dessert, served in the late summer or early fall. The last of the seasons berries aren't as fresh. Not wanting to throw them out, though, whoever came up with this dish did us all a favor. Even though it's out of season, the bright berry flavors shine through and is a perfect break from heavier, winter fare. This recipe uses frozen berries, anyway, so it can be made all year.

Equipment needed
Mixing bowls
Medium saucepan
Serving bowls

2 tablespoons Cornstarch
2 tablespoons Water
1 1/4 cups Water
5 tablespoons Sugar
1 1/2 cups Frozen Strawberries
1 1/2 cups Frozen Raspberries
1 1/2 cups Frozen Blueberries
Yogurt, if desired

Put the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add the water and stir until dissolved. Set aside.

Heat the water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and bring the water to a boil. Gradually stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sugar water and make a syrup.

Carefully add the frozen berries (don't thaw them) to the hot syrup. Stir and bring to a brief boil.

Transfer the berries and syrup from the saucepan to a mixing bowl. Fill a larger mixing bowl with ice water. Place the bowl with the berries in the bowl with the ice water to chill, while stirring.

Once the berries and syrup are chilled, transfer them to individual servings bowls. Top with yogurt or serve over ice cream. Yum!

Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Saving Dinner

How many times have you gotten started making dinner and then discovered you were missing a key ingredient? I'm sure there are plenty of us out there that have had that problem.

No? So, it is just me after all.

As stressful as a sudden cooking challenge can be, it can also be an opportunity to test your cooking skills.

This last weekend, I'd planned to make a vegetarian dinner of cornbread stuffed acorn squash, garlic mashed potatoes, and a green side salad. No problem. It was the weekend and there were no other plans. I had all day to work on dinner. I could prep some things early and then finishing up dinner would be a snap.

The first part of the plan was executed flawlessly. I composed a quick salad of fresh green lettuce, cucumber, and sweet bell peppers. The mashed potatoes and stuffing both came from a box.

Hey, I'm a foodie, not some over-zealous gourmand. Even I don't cook everything from scratch.

The acorn squash would take about an hour or so to prepare so, I stowed everything in the refrigerator for later. Thinking myself safe, I headed off to play Tomb Raider Anniversary on the Wii until I was needed back in the kitchen. I needed a bit of jumping and running and grabbing and flipping and shooting for a few hours.

Well, I was actually just pushing buttons and waving the controllers around like an idiot, but it still looked cool on the TV screen.

Once it got closer to dinner time, I sent one of my house elves, a.k.a. my nine year old daughter, down to the pantry to retrieve the acorn squash. We’d had the squash for a little while but, winter squash keeps pretty well so we should be fine, right?

Not on your life. After cutting into them I realized they’d deteriorated to the point where they had nearly as much skin as flesh. They had  an odd odor as well. Not bad, really, just not right. Being the paranoid food-safety conscious twit that I am, and not wanting to eat, let alone serve, bad tasting crap food, I threw them out.

Now what? I had a starch dish (potatoes) and a veggie dish (green salad), but no main dish to throw the other starchy bits (the stuffing) into. No focus for the meal. That’s just boring.

Boring dinner? Not in my house, Mister.

Whenever I’m in a lurch for ideas, I consult my true blue kitchen friends, my cook books. Even if I don’t find an immediate solution, at least they give me ideas.

Okay, what else did I have in the fridge? Maybe some protein. Ham? Eggs? Onions? More green peppers? They were possibilities, but what should I do with the stuffing?

Flipping back to my mainstay cookbook, inspiration struck. I decided to make a perverse version of a quiche using the cornbread stuffing as the crust. The eggs should hold it together, nicely. I might have made stuffed green peppers but I didn't have enough of them.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would come out. I decided to make it in a spring-form pan to help make presentation a little more interesting. I wanted a perverted quiche, not a perverted casserole.

I do wish I’d greased the bottom of the pan better, though. The stuffing stuck fast to it. Fortunately I was able to cut it away with a long slicing knife after I removed the sides of the pan.

I wish I could say I’d better planned this dish because it turned out to be quite a hit. Only my six year old, who won’t eat much except macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches anyway, didn’t have seconds.

Unexpected cooking challenges will happen from time to time, no matter how well you plan out your meals. They don’t have to be tragedies, thank goodness. Instead, they can be opportunities to improvise new dishes. Sometimes those dishes will be terrible and only fit for the garbage can. Other times, they can turn out to be new family recipes that may just become a staple in your cooking repertoire.

Now if I could just remember how much of what ingredient I put in that darned thing, then I could share it with you.

Illustration credit: Yarik Mishin

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Carbonated Water Maker Review, U-Fizz

Guess what I got for Christmas. A carbonated water maker! How cool is that? Actually you can carbonate about any drinkable liquid in this thing, not just water.

The U-Fizz carbonated water maker isn't one of those metal devices that requires expensive CO2 cartridges. Those are pretty amazing, but a bit pricey for me right now. What I most I like the U-Fizz, though, is that it let's me do SCIENCE! Basic science to be sure, but it's a lot fun. It also lets me play with my food … er … beverages.

Basically, the U-Fizz carbonated water maker is a plastic tube connecting two plastic caps, with a rubber seal involved. That comes packaged with a cylinder that acts as a baking soda delivery device. That's really just a couple of plastic cylinders, one with holes in the side that fits nicely inside the other one without holes. That way you can fill the holey (not holy) cylinder with baking soda without making too much of a mess on your kitchen counter.

In one empty 2-liter bottle, you put vinegar and baking soda. In the other, the water or other beverage you want to carbonate. The two bottles are connected with the tube. The reaction of the baking soda an vinegar creates carbon dioxide which is then force,d under pressure, into the water (or other beverage), carbonating it. You have to shake the daylights out of the chilled beverage bottle to help the larger pockets of CO2 to break into small bubbles and spread throughout the drink for a full two minutes. You can also swirl the vinegar bottle to help move the baking soda vinegar reaction along. I find it easier if I get help. I have my ten year old swirl while I shake. You just don't want to get vinegar down the tube and into your drink. There's no vinegar taste at all. It's just carbonated water.

The manufacturer says it's just like soda, but I don't think so. Carbonation is used to add a “bite” to drinks in the form of carbonic acid. It's actually not the bubbles. I don't think this device creates nearly as many bubbles as most commercial soda has, but it's still pretty good. Interestingly, some sodas, like cola, owe their distinctive “bite” more to the added phosphoric acid (phosphate) than to the carbonation.

Even though it doesn't make as many bubbles as I'd like, I still enjoy the taste it delivers. I'm actually using it to help me kick my excessive sugary soda habit. The price is right, too. You can find it on Amazon for around $7.00. Is it a replacement for the high end carbonating devices? Not really. Is it a lot of fun for a very modest price? Absolutely.

Which is why I'm giving it 3 1/2 Zucchinis
zuchinni starzuchinni starzuchinni starhalf zuchinni star

For you food science geeks out there, here's the chemical formulas for the creation of carbon dioxide gas from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar (acetic acid), as well as the process of creating carbonic acid, by combining water and carbon dioxide under pressure. In other words, carbonated water. Pressure is important, here. Without it, carbon dioxide does not stabilize well in water. That's why carbonated drinks go flat once they're opened. (Just so you know, most carbon dioxide in water is suspended in the water and not in the form of carbonic acid.)

Creating carbon dioxide from vinegar (acetic acid) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH → CH3COONa + H2O + CO2(g)

Carbonating water (creating carbonic acid from water and carbon dioxide)

H2O + CO2 → H2CO3

For more info on carbonation and carbonic acid formation, click here.