Archive for the ‘Herbs and Spices’ Category

Corned beef – seasoning spices and cooking

Monday, March 8th, 2010

St. Patrick’s day is sort of like Thanksgiving; it’s the one day a year we might be inclined to buy corned beef/turkey.  There is certainly nothing stopping us from having it more often but since it might be on our minds more, this time of year, let’s talk about corned beef.

I suppose you could actually “corn” your own beef but honestly I’ve never done that. If that is important to you, you could probably hop on line and find some great information.  But this post will cover cooking the piece that has already been corned.  Corned beef is made from the brisket, which is a tougher part of the beef and requires long, slow cooking in liquid. 


Because I was making a special Reuben sandwich for quite a large group I opted to buy an entire briket (plus I wanted leftovers).  You can buy an entire brisket, like this, but most frequently you will find a smaller piece.  Whatever the size, the cooking method is the same. 


This was the size of the seasoning packet included with the whole brisket.  What joke!  This wasn’t enough for even a small cut.  So if you need to supplement the seasonings, take a look at what they include…


 and duplicate it.  Pictured from left to right: Bay leaves, coriander seed, mustard seeds in small jar, caraway seed, white peppercorns, black pepper, cinnamon sticks, allspice, whole cloves and fennel seed.


Or if you prefer the convenience of all the spices in one then use a can of pickling spice which is frequently used for cooking corned beef.


Once again, when trying to figure out what spices to add, refer to the label for ideas  and add any that are not already in the packet.  I figured more is always better in a case like this and as you can guess, this is not an exact science so just put in liberal amounts and you won’t go wrong. 


Once all the dry seasonings are in the cooking pan or crock pot, which is a great place for a cut of meat like this…


add some large pieces of onion, carrots and celery with a bay leag or two plus a couple of cloves of crushed garlic.


To these spices and fresh ingredients you will need to add some kind of liquid.  You can add water or frequently beer is used as the cooking liquid.  You can use a combination of the two.  For the entire brisket I used a total of about one quart of liquid.  I could have used less.  If you are cooking smaller pieces use lesser amounts of liquid because the meat will exude tons of its own juice as it cooks.  So you really don’t need alot to begin with.


The meat, seasonings and liquid are all placed in a roasting pan and then covered with foil or the lid of the pan.  Since the entire piece was so large I cut it in half before roasting.  Notice that the fat cap is on top. 


The brisket can cook all day long at a low setting in the oven 200-250 or you can cook it at 300 degrees for a shorter period.  I wouldn’t cook it at much higher a temperature than 300.  

Cook for several hours until the meat pokes fairly easily with a fork.  Remove from the cooking liquid and honestly, I’m not sure there is a use for the liquid.  You might want to chill it overnight to congeal the fat, then remove the fat, discard it,  strain the liquid and taste it.  If it tastes like something you might want to use for a soup or chili or another food, then by all means save it, even freeze it for the next opportunity. 


Once the meat is out of the liquid and has cooled a bit, cut off the fat cap and serve.  Be aware that this cut of meat needs to be cut crosswise, against the grain of the muscle  and cut thinly.  That ensures that the meat will be easier to chew.   If you are using the beef for sandwiches you might want to let it rest and chill overnight and then cut the meat crosswise, super thin, paper thin. 


Next time I want to share the recipe for the “Krazy Kraut” that I used to made this awesome Reuben.  It’s one of my favorites!

Excess herb dilemma

Monday, February 22nd, 2010


Last week I catered a special event and for that I had made a fresh basil dressing.  I had nearly a full bag of basil leftover and all week kept thinking that I needed to store that in some way before it was too late.  I finally got around to it.


I was almost too late.  I sorted through the bag and broke off the leaves that were still usable.  There were some brown spots which don’t pose a threat but are more a sign of loss of flavor and pungency. 


There were leaves that were completely limp and brown.  Those I threw away.


I took the mound of usable leaves and gave them a coarse chop with a chef’s knife. 


Then I divided the chopped herbs amongst two storage containers. 


Each container was then filled with water but not all the way to the top.  You should leave about  1/2 inch headroom to account for expansion during freezing.  The containers are then covered and sent to the freezer.  This is a great tip for any herb and can be done in smaller portions but in this case I wanted to keep the quantity large for recipes that call for good amounts; like the dressing or a tomato sauce or breads and biscuits. 


When it is time to use the herb, simply remove the “herb block” from the container by running it under warm water and then set the block in a sieve and run cool water over that.  The ice will melt instantly and you will be left with fresh tasting herbs or at least as fresh as they were when they were stored.

Sofrito – the magic of Carribean cooking

Monday, February 15th, 2010


What inspired this post was that after roasting some bell peppers last week I found myself with quite a few leftover ends.   I cannot waste food and so I thought I’d convert them into sofrito.  Sofrito is a mixture of peppers, onions, garlic, sometimes cilantro and assorted ingredients.  There are many variations; some fresh, some cooked…  no hard, fast rules which makes this even more enticing. 


Sofrito is magical because no matter where it is used or how it is used it provides a foundation of flavor that makes your food and cooking stand out.  Let me just mention a few places where you might include it and then we’ll run through the procedure for the cooked method.

Once the sofrito is made it should be portioned in usable amounts and kept in the freezer.  That way it keeps indefinitely and is available any time.   Sofrito can do wonders to enhance a soup, spaghetti sauce, taco meat, enchilada filling, scrambled with eggs, layered with potatoes, added to rice, included in a pasta dish, thrown in a sandwich or topping a salad. 


I made this batch of sofrito using the leftover tops and bottoms of bell peppers. 


I took the bottoms and removed the meat…


and then trimmed around the tops…


to get every last bit of vegetable. 


In this case I had both red and green peppers, which are a nice combination because of the color they both provide. 


To this batch I also added some chopped onion and garlic and I even threw in a little celery.  Remember…no rules.


The mixture then needs to be sauteed in some vegetable oil until they are tender and then seasoned with salt and pepper.


Allow the mixture to cool slightly and then portion into containers or small baggies. 


I typically will portion them in 1/2 cup amounts.


All the bags are put in a holding container and taken to the freezer for future use.  Whenever you want to broaden the flavor of any food just add a packet or two and you’ll taste immediate results.

Creamy dressing base

Monday, January 18th, 2010

I was visiting with some friends last week and happened to mention to them that I had just posted some information about vinaigrette dressings.  One of them said, “why don’t you do that for the creamy style?”…so here it is!


I really like this “creamy” base that doesn’t have any cream at all but is in fact quite light, healthy and good tasting.   The foundation contains three ingredients and equal parts of each.  Mayonnaise, buttermilk and plain yogurt.


Those three ingredients are measured into a bowl in equal amounts.  In this case I have measured 1/2 cup of each.


They are blended together with a whisk until creamy smooth.


And then the seasonings (whatever they may be) are added and blended. 


In this case I turned this base into the familiar ranch (many recipes can be found on line).  Using the mayo, yogurt and buttermilk base gives you half the calories of the traditional ranch dressing (70 calories per serving…2 tblsp).   Other variations to follow.


This amount also fits perfectly into my squirt bottles. 


The dressing needs to be stored in an airtight container and will probably need to be stirred (or shaken) before using each time.  Amazingly this base will last about two months which is plenty of time to use the dressing.


For variations:  if you wanted to give your dressing a southwestern taste you might consider chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, minced chipotle chilies, tabasco, chipotle tabasco, rind of a lime….

If you wanted to turn this into a blue cheese dressing then you would add crumbled blue cheese, maybe some worcestershire sauce, garlic or garlic powder…

You can season it with any number of herbs and spices.  It is so versatile.  I think it’s something you would use alot.

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