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Ropa Vieja

ropa vieja

Ropa vieja, or so it is said, is “The National Dish of Cuba,” and I suppose it’s OK to say such a thing, but I’ve encountered a number of other things that probably could qualify for such a title. Setting that aside for the moment, I really wanted to come up with something that could be made in a slow cooker rather than done fresh, and after looking around a bit, I found some good ideas that gave me a place to start and the result was very high on my list for a great slow cooker recipe.

To understand ropa vieja, you really have to understand that it’s basically a stew using flank steak, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc., then supplemented with olives and a little cilantro. And like most stews, it actually gets better a day or two after you make it. I mean that, too. It gets really better after it’s been cooked and refrigerated a day or so.

The slow cooking method gives the flank steak a chance to cook slowly and gives you that sort of “ropy” texture that makes the dish just what it’s supposed to be, but without a long time standing at the stove. It works really well for this. And I promise you, this will be a mainstay on your menu for a long time to come.

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Steak Kabobs and Peanut Noodles

Steak Kabobs and Peanut Noodles

Just a little more beef. Oh, and peanut noodles. Yep. Peanut noodles.

First, we can start with the steak kabobs — I used some filet mignon, a nice treat itself — with just a little onion. You can use whatever you have on hand that doesn’t require marinating, but I have to say, the filet was a very good choice for this. A quick turn on the grill and they were done. And seriously, that’s all there was to it. But here’s the thing: the peanut noodles makes this from good to fantastic.

I would have never thought that would be the case, but I saw on a blog somewhere the idea of steak and peanut noodles and my first reaction was something along the lines of “really”? Then I got to thinking about various items I’ve seen, mainly at Thai restaurants, and I started thinking okay, maybe this might be something to try. I decided to use Thai rice noodles in a large square pattern, but you could use almost anything for this. Took a bit of time to come up with the right set of ingredients and when we finally got it right, the whole plate seemed to come together just as it should.

Seriously guys, you really should give this a try.

And by the way, this is really easy to do.

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Lucious Beef Stroganoff and Noodles

beef stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff is one of those dishes that seldom comes up very often on restaurant menus, but when it’s done right, it’s about as luscious a beef dish as your likely to find, just about anywhere. Fortunately, if you like a really good portion of beef with onions and mushrooms, you can easily make a nice Stroganoff, even if your local restaurants aren’t likely to be serving it.

The trick, if you want to call it that, is to make the beef as rare as you can. That means a good top sirloin steak cut into nice thin slices, a really hot skillet, and paying very close attention to the beef while you’re searing it. That also means taking your time and using two or three sessions to get the meat done without overcrowding it in the skillet. The rest, is to season the meat very lightly — the sour cream, onions and mushrooms do most of the work — with maybe just a little thyme.

Lay the Stroganoff on noodles and you’re all set.

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Classic Beef Bourguignon

beef bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon is one of those dishes that everyone who aspires to be a great cook should have to master. One the surface, its beef stew. And yet, calling beef Bourguignon a beef stew is like calling Beethoven’s Fifth a song. Technically accurate, to be sure, but nowhere near to conveying the subtle beauty of the dish. The great thing is that this dish is easy to make, but still requires the kind of attention and care that defines good cooking.

There are many versions of this dish around, and there is a great deal of variation from one version of beef Bourguignon to the next. The classic preparation uses whole small white onions, carrots and mushrooms in addition to the beef, some thyme and a red burgundy wine, which is 100% pinot noir. (I have this on the authority of no less than Julia Child, and that’s enough for me.)

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Red-Eye Shoulder Stew

red-eye shoulder stew

Red-eye is one of those things that the folks in the South, particularly, can’t (or don’t) do without for very long. Me? I can usually get by ok without that good ol’ red-eye gravy, but I can tell you this: if you’ve ever had really good red-eye gravy, then eventually you’ll  be back for more. It has that magnetic pull to it that you just can’t stay away from it forever.  All that’s to say that it was that bacon/coffee mixture that prompted me to start looking for a great stew that could use those same flavors. 

So first of all, if you’re not from the South, you probably have no idea what red-eye gravy is. In a nutshell, it’s a pork fat gravy (usually from ham, bacon or sausage) that’s made with very strong coffee. I’ve seen it used a lot of ways, but mostly it’s just served with the ham itself, and it’s great that way. But this time around, I had some beef shoulder, some veggies and I wanted to see if I could make a shoulder stew with coffee that would have some of the great red-eye taste. 

That’s pretty much how it came to be, and while it may not be necessary, I made this in a slow cooker, so in the end, it really took very little effort and the taste was extremely good (though I may mess with the spices a bit more next time around). And yes, the coffee definitely comes through.

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Bulgogi Beef on Skewers

bulgogi beef

Bulgogi beef on skewers is a great way to serve ribeye steaks in nice, eatable bites. It also works well And if you’ve never tried bulgogi, well, you really have to give that a try. Seriously, bulgogi is simple, but it’s like almost nothing else you’ve ever tried.

Basically, this is one of several marinades I’ve tried over the years and this one seems to be the one I most frequently go back to when I’m making something for guests or just for myself. And on the upside, it’s also very easy to make, using soy sauce, mirin, some sesame oil and some roasted sesame seeds if you have them handy.

And while I like skewers, especially for company, you can just thin slice the ribeye and cook it that way (maybe with some vegetables) and serve it over rice. Either way it’s great.

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Persian Khoresh Gheymeh

Persian Khoresh Gheymeh

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago, I asked some of the users on Reddit’s r/recipes to suggest some dishes they’ve enjoyed and would like to duplicate at home. I offered to research the dish and come up with the best version I could — one that might come close to what they remembered, but more important, could serve as a base for their own exploration. Khoresh gheymeh is one of the dishes that came up in that discussion.

I’ve not had the chance to sample much Persian food, so I had not encountered this amazing combination of meat (beef or lamb) and split peas. A bit of research, including calls to a couple of Persian friends and some web searching, made it clear that Khoresh gheymeh is the Persian equivalent of Grandma’s mac and cheese. Comfort food. It only took a couple of tries to get it right (at least to my taste).

As often happens with recipes from a particular region, this one has some ingredients that you probably won’t find in the local Safeway. In particular, it requires Persian dried limes (limoo amani) and a bit of rosewater (which seems to be optional, though I like what it did for the flavors). Fortunately, good ol’ Amazon came through and I was able to have both delivered to my door. (Note the links above.)

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