Archive for the ‘Meat_Poultry_Fish’ Category

Pot pie without the pot

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I think everyone would have to admit that the best part of a pot pie is the pastry.  No matter how good the filling is.  And puff pastry is probably the most decadent and delicious pastry one could ever hope to pair with the creaminess of the comforting inside.  A few weeks ago I found myself with some 5×5 inch puff pastry squares leftover from a catering event.  I thought of using each square as a freestanding individual pot pie but I was worried that the filling might ooze out too much.  Then… I thought that if I made a think white sauce (the base for the filling) it might be alright.  So that’s what I did.  I made a batch of thick white sauce using 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter and one cup milk.  You can make the same base and then season it to your liking.  Thyme leaves are always a great place to start.

In my case I had leftover chunks of beef that I added to the base and an assortment of vegetables.  Everything got mixed together.  If you are using puff pastry or an ordinary pastry the procedure would be as follows.

Set your squares on the counter until somewhat pliable. 

Place a scoop of filling in the middle….

and then bring two opposite points together. 

If needed stretch the ends a bit to make sure that they adequately cover the filling.   

Bring the remaining ends together….pinch and twist. 

Set on a baking sheet and brush with an egg wash, if desired.  The wash provides a shiny coat to the pie. 

Bake at 400 until richly golden and bubbly.  As you can see there was a little oozing but it was minimal.

Indoor Smoker

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

I have an indoor smoker.  Everytime I use, which isn’t terribly often, I ask myself why I don’t use it more frequently.  It really is a great innovation and simplifies and streamlines the whole outdoor smoking process. Here’s how it works.

Chips can be purchsed with the smoker and come in two sizes, some very fine and some a little larger.  Fruitwoods are especially nice. 

They are placed in the bottom of the smoking pan and your heat is turned on to high. 

While they are warming set the item you intend to smoke on the rack.  You can smoke meats and vegetables, not cheese with this method.

Once the chips begin to smoke, set the rack in the pan, on top of the chips and close the lid. 

In a few minutes more chips will ignite and a little stream of smoke will emerge from a corner.  Reduce the heat to medium and turn on the kitchen fan to minimize the smell.

You are free to check the doneness of what you are cooking simply by sliding the lid open and looking and poking inside.  When the food is done, remove from the smoker and serve. 

In this case I shredded the chicken to use as part of a smoked chicken salad.  Once the pan has cooled down, throw out any leftover chips and wash the smoker.  It’s fun to experiment with.  Most cooks could find many uses for this tool and they are easily found on line.

Shabu-shabu – something everyone can enjoy

Monday, June 27th, 2011

As part of our introduction to Japanese food my husband and I have discovered shabu-shabu.  It is a wonderfully delicious and healthy soup that is typically prepared table-side with guests adding their own meats and vegetables in the broth.   Here’s how shabu-shabu works.

You start by purchasing a portable burner and setting that at your table. 

Find a pot that fits the burner and still allows you to feed about four per.  Add about one quart of a good broth or stock.  Supplement the stock with ginger slices, lemongrass, garlic, red pepper flakes, star anise…whatever flavors you enjoy. 

Allow those to simmer together for a few minutes while you prepare the vegetables and meats.  In this broth I also added some of the small pieces of dried shiitake mushrooms.

For the vegetables you can use any combination you choose. 

If you use things like sweet potatoes and carrots, be sure they are sliced thinly so they cook quickly at the table.

Add the vegetables that take longest to cook first…

and add the quick cooking vegetables, like spinach, last.  In this particular meal I used cubes of tofu but frequently we add shrimp and very thinly sliced raw pork or beef.  Pieces from the loin are most tender.  When the meat is shaved super thin it cooks in seconds.   Thicker pieces will take longer. 

Also have ready some beaten egg in a bowl, usually one egg per person.  Once the vegetables have cooked to your liking…

slowly add the egg to the simmering broth,  cook for another minute and stir.

Ladle the soup over bowls of rice and you are ready to enjoy.  You can add soy sauce, if needed, or other Asian style sauces but the truth is, if you create an awesome broth at the onset you need very little help at the end.  This is a very light and healthy soup making it the perfect meal for the summer.

Understanding Beef 101

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

beef diagram

This may be a review for some and first time information for others and it may seem like alot of information but if you can bear with the length I think it will be helpful.

This is for anyone who has stood at the meat counter wondering what exactly you are buying and how it should be cooked.  We will review grading, what exactly is meat and how should each cut be cooked.  Each principle builds on the other.

What about grading?

There are three grading labels; prime, choice and select.  Prime is the highest quality, choice is next and lastly select.  Every piece of beef is graded according to its texture, color, age and the marbling.  If you do not see one of those words on the package then you are purchasing the select grade and stores generally use their own creative name to define the meat.  For example a package may have a seal that says “blue ribbon beef”. The name“blue ribbon” means select.  If the meat is prime or choice manufacturers are very proud of that fact and will clearly state that on the label but because select is a little lower in quality they try and hide that fact behind a nice name.  Once in a while they will actually come out with it and say select.

What is meat?

We need to remember that meat is actually muscle.  If you think of meat in terms of your own body and muscle its easier to understand.  When we exercise our muscles become tough and firm.  Well a steer is no different.  The meat from a lazy steer will be alot more tender than a steer that’s had a lot of excersice and is built like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  And along those lines, the meat from a younger animal will be more tender than the older one.  That’s because their muscles aren’t fully developed – which explains the principles behind veal.  Knowing that meat is muscle helps us understand which parts are tough and which are tender.

How should each cut be cooked?

The most exercised muscle on a steer is its shoulder.  We call that the chuck.  The chuck is the toughest part of the animal.  The second most exercised part is the rump or what we call the round.  Some of the round can be fairly tender, other parts are a little tougher.  The muscles that get worked the least are in the rib and loin area.  They’re going to be the most tender and also the most expensive.   All the best steaks come from there.

Before we go one we need to talk about cooking methods.  When we’re talking about meat there are two possible ways of cooking it; we can use dry heat or moist-heat.  Dry heat would include cooking under the broiler or roasting in the oven or grilling.  Those are methods of dry cooking.  Moist cooking methods include the addition of a liquid, just like the name implies.  Braising is the culinary term for cooking with moist heat.  That’s when you simmer a tougher piece of meat in a liquid for a long time.  So how does those related to each part of the animal.

Let’s start with the chuck.  The chuck tough.  It is full of tendons.  The only way to break down all that tissue is to simmer the meat for a long time.  Or in other words the moist heat method works best on tougher cuts.  Some other names that indicate a tough piece of meat are the words shoulder, shank and arm.  If you see those words in the description all those cuts need to be cooked slowly in liquid.  You really have no other choice if you want your meat to be tender.

The round or rump is a little harder to figure out.  You can always cook the round using moist heat but quite often you’ll get good results with dry.  And here’s an good example.  Ever noticed the huge beef roasts that are served at buffets?  Those roasts come from the round and they’re cooked with dry heat.  They’re roasted at a low temperature for a long time.  When you’re trying to decide how to cook a piece from the round you should take into consideration the grading of the beef.  Is it prime, choice or select?  The higher grades of round will broil and grill better than lesser grades.

Anything that says rib or loin is meant to be cooked with dry heat.  That means you can grill it, broil it or roast it.  It is not intended to be simmered in liquid.  In fact it tends to get dry and tough if it is simmered too ong.

Now with all these rules there is an exception, which is flank steak.  Flank is a tough muscle yet it’s always cooked with dry heat.  Dry heat works with the flank because when it’s served it’s cut crosswise into very thin strips which which we cal mechanical tenderizing.  The pieces are cut so thin that it compensates for the toughness and makes it easy to chew.

And one final comment about grading.  In our society we have grown accustomed to lean meats and many of us are revolted by the presence of fat.  Don’t be shocked when you look at a prime steak compared to a choice and a select grade.  The prime is loaded with fat (marbling is term used in the food industry) which  respresents flavor and tenderness.  The select grade will appear much leaner but it also means the meat will be less tender and have less flavor.  Everything’s a trade off.


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