Monday, January 18, 2010

Braised Beef in Red Wine with Orange Zest

Wow. Let me repeat myself... Wow.

You know you've made a good dish when the minute you finish eating it, you feel like cooking it again. For those of you wondering what I was going to do with the beef that was the subject of my previous post, this is the result - the meat was falling-apart tender, as were the carrots. The onions, wine and orange zest melded into a flavorful and complex but not overpowering sauce. 

This recipe was from the September 2008 issue of the now shuttered Gourmet magazine. The issue's focus was Paris, and the recipes were primarily French. This recipe, as printed in the magazine, was called "Joues De Boeuf Aux Agrumes" which actually means beef cheeks braised in red wine with orange zest, but there was no WAY I was going to cook anything with a name like "cheek." The recipe listed beef chuck as an alternative to beef cheeks, and you can be sure that I found that option far preferable. The butcher cut the meat up for me, thereby sparing me from the psychological trauma of having to cut it myself, and the rest was a breeze.

My tasters (my parents) and I gave this recipe an A. In addition, I'll note that it has very few ingredients (only 6), and spends much of the cooking time braising in the oven, giving the cook time to clean the kitchen, make the side dishes, drink some wine, and put on makeup, and drink some more wine before the guests arrive. There was one dicey moment when I took the Le Creuset out of the oven and opened it and was greeted with what looked like blackened food -- but it turned out it was really just the wine that gave that appearance. (For those of you who have seen the movie Julie and Julia, you'll remember the scene when Julie was making Boeuf Bourguignon and fell asleep while it was braising in the oven. When she woke up, hours later, the dish was overcooked and she threw it out. My dish looked just like that -- but it was PERFECT.)

The best thing about this recipe is its simplicity. You brown the meat, you saute some carrots and onions, you pour in a bottle of wine, and throw the whole thing in the oven for three hours. Couldn't be easier. Yet it creates a dish that you could proudly serve to company (provided they don't look at the pot the minute it comes out of the oven).

My mom said it was better than anything she could get in a restaurant. My dad -- who I will hereafter refer to as "the fussy gourmet" -- said that it was good, but "you probably could make something just as good with Lipton Onion Soup Mix."  (Note: my dad believes that you shouldn't bother cooking anything WITHOUT Lipton Onion Soup Mix -- it is apparently the key ingredient for everything.)

Prep time - minimal
Did the final version look like the magazine picture? Yes!
Did it make a full meal? Yes!
Would I make it again? Absolutely!!
Gluten free? Yes
Vegetarian? No
My grade - A

What did I learn from this recipe? Wine is a great tenderizer for beef. You really have to get the oil hot and the beef dry in order to brown it. If you put enough wine in anything, it will probably taste good.

Without further ado -- here is the recipe (my version -- not the beef cheek version).

Braised Beef in Red Wine with Orange Zest

- 2 lb boneless beef chuck roast cut in four pieces against the grain
- 2 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1 lb (about 3) onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 lb baby carrots
- 1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon - an inexpensive bottle)
- 8 (3- by 1-inch) strips of orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle.

Pat beef dry and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Heat oil in a 4- to 6-qt heavy pot over meduim heat until it shimmers. (I used a 5 qt Le Creuset - it goes from stovetop to oven, making it perfect for this purpose). Brown beef on all sides, 6 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to plate with tongs. (I browned two pieces at a time).

Add onions, carrots, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add wine and zest and bring to a boil. Add beef and return to a boil. Cover pot and braise in oven until meat is very tender 2-3 hours. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with carrots and sauce.

I served this with steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes and a salad.  Recipe says it makes 4 servings, but I got 6 out of it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Fearful Gourmet Buys Meat

Sometimes you just have to ask for help. The older I get, the more I realize that's true. Lately though, I've been finding that the place where I need the most help is in the meat section of the grocery.

Take today for example... I went to Uncle Giuseppe's to pick up meat for a recipe that I'll be making this weekend. The recipe (from an old issue of the now defunct Gourmet magazine) called for either beef cheek (EWWW) or boneless beef chuck roast. Since there was no way in hell  that I was EVER going to cook something called "cheek," I decided to go for the chuck roast, which sounded harmless enough.

But when I located it in the meat department it didn't look like I had expected it to (ie: like a brisket - the only cut of meat that I apparently understand). It was a little too... "meaty" looking. Plus, it appeared to be tied with a string, and the recipe called for cutting it into 4 pieces, against the grain. Do I untie it before cutting it? And how could I even tell where the grain WAS with this sort of meat?

Befuddled and confused, my mother (yes, she was trying to help, but isn't too comfortable with meat either) and I stood discussing the options for a while. Could I get a "bottom eye" roast instead? (Whatever the heck THAT is). Could I just substitute brisket?

Finally, I just decided to bite the bullet and ask for help. I marched over to the butcher counter and asked the butcher all my silly questions (ie: about the string, about the grain, and about whether I could substitute a "bottom eye" -- (he didn't recommend it)). I explained that I live with two vegetarians and I don't cook meat much. He very kindly answered all my questions and then asked me if I would like HIM to cut the meat into four pieces for me. WOULD I??? Would I ever! He explained to me why a chuck roast was better for my purposes (a long slow braise) than a bottom eye (more fat in the chuck makes it taste better). And then he untied a roast for me, cut it in four pieces and repackaged it.

"You don't know the the trauma you've spared me from," I told him, and I asked if I could come back another time and ask him more questions. He was happy to oblige, and even introduced himself and asked my name (probably so he can avoid me in the future).

Moral of the story -- Unless you are a cow, the butcher is your friend. Don't be afraid to ask him questions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Indian Samosa Casserole

I grew up being leery of Indian food. Why? Probably because it was so alien to my parents that aside from never having it, they would periodically make anxiety-provoking comments about what might be in it. But as an adult, I have tried and enjoyed Indian food. One of my favorite Indian foods is the samosa -- basically spicy mashed potatoes and peas in a pastry shell. (Think of it as an Indian knish). So I was very excited when the January 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times ran a recipe for Indian Samosa Casserole, which is something like a mashed potato pie with a whole wheat crust on top. I decided to try it, even though it is one of the most ambitious dishes I've ever made. (It involves making and rolling the dough for the crust, making the filling, and then baking the assembled product.)

Many, many pots and pans, measuring cups and spoons, and other kitchen implements were used, and I won't lie, it took a LONG time to prepare. The end result? We gave it a B. I think it would have scored higher if I had not omitted one ingredient which didn't seem important at the time, but in hindsight would have mellowed a certain bitterness created by the seasoning. What was it that I left out? Agave syrup (yes, the stuff from a cactus). The recipe gave the option of using sugar, but I just left it out completely. A mistake I will not make again. The pie was well spiced and filling, and with just a touch of sweetness would have scored a higher grade from me.

Prep time -- extensive

Did the final version look like the magazine picture? Amazingly, yes.
Did it make a full meal? Yes, with the addition of a green salad
Would I make it again? Yes, but with the Agave syrup or sugar. And my husband requested that I add a extra hot pepper.
Gluten free? No
Vegetarian? Yes

What did I learn from this recipe? I learned that the first time you make something, it's probably a good idea to follow the directions as written. I also learned that rolling out dough is easier than I expected it to be, and kind of relaxing. For those of you who want to try it... here's the recipe.

Indian Samosa Casserole [from January 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times]

- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flours
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

- 1 Tbsp black or yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
- 5 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered (1 1/4 lb)
- 1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, diced (1 cup)
- 1 medium carrot, diced (1/2 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbsp)
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 2 tsp agave nectar or sugar
- 2 Tbsp soymilk (note - I used a beaten egg instead)

1. To make crust: Preheat oven to 375 F. Whisk together flours and salt in a bowl. Stir in oil until clumps form. Add 6 to 10 Tbsp cold water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until dough holds together. Shape into ball, cover with damp towel, and set aside.
2. To make filling: Stir together mustard seed, curry, ginger, cumin and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Cook potatoes in boiling salted water 15 minutes or until tender. Drain, return to pot, and mash, leaving small chunks.
4. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and saute 5 minutes or until carrots are tender. Move onion mixture to side of pan and add mustard seed mixture to center. Toast 30 seconds. Stir in peas and broth. Fold onion mixture into potatoes; stir in agave nectar. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Spread filling in 9-inch pie pan. Set aside.
5. Roll out crust dough to 11-inch circle on floured work surface. Cover filling with dough, pressing down to make sure no air pockets remain. Trim away excess dough, and crimp edges with fingers. Cut X in center to vent steam; brush with soymilk (or beaten egg) just before baking. Place pie on baking sheet, and bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until crust is golden. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
6. May also be frozen before baking. If frozen, bake 75 to 90 minutes.

Serves 6. Per slice - 299 cal, 7 g protein, 7 g total fat (less than 1 g sat fat), 7 g fiber, 469 mg sodium, 7 g sugar.

Who am I?

Who am I? I'm the one who once asked if ground beef had to be washed before using. I'm the one who looked befuddled in the meat section of the grocery because I didn't know if I was supposed to take the string off the roast before I cooked it. I'm the one who won't eat fish. Or most cheese. Or anything white and creamy, like sour cream or yogurt. The one who won't eat lobsters, shrimp, crab, or anything else that resembles an alien, or anything that isn't supposed to be chewed when eaten (oysters, jello).

Yet, I am also someone who loves to eat -- who is fascinated by food. And over the past few years, I've grown to love cooking as well, despite my limitations.

So, who am I?  I am the Fearful Gourmet.

Please join me as I broaden my eating and cooking horizons!