Archive for the ‘beef’ Category

I have to give credit for this recipe where it’s due. A couple of years ago, we traveled to Washington, DC, and one of our best dining experiences was at the Blue Duck Tavern, a stunning restaurant matched by its unique and beautifully prepared plates. (Along with Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant Jaleo, it is the restaurant I recommend to any friends in the DC area, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat.)

One of the most memorable appetizers I enjoyed was the roasted beef bone marrow, which had a delicious pretzel crumble on top. The moment I had a taste, I knew that I would have to recreate this for myself at home.

 

The bone marrow plate at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. (Enough garlic for ya?)

 

Bone marrow played an important role in the evolution of early man. Perhaps that’s why some of us still have that primitive craving for it.

Early man had small teeth and ate anything he could lay his hands on, especially meat. But he was no hunter. Attracted by circling vultures, he probably scavenged the leftovers from a big kill such as an antelope left in a tree by a leopard, or a large animal such as a wildebeest that had been slaughtered by lions.

Because meat is relatively easy to digest and rich in calories and nutrients, early man lost the need for the big intestines of apes and earlier hominids. This freed up energy for use by other organs. This surplus of energy seems to have been diverted to one organ in particular – the brain. But scavenging meat from under the noses of big cats is a risky business, so good scavengers needed to be smart. At this stage in our evolution, a big brain was associated with greater intellect. Big brains require lots of energy to operate: the human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy production. The concentrated calories and nutrition found in meat was responsible for an increase in the brain size of early humans.

But around two million years ago, telltale cut marks on the surface of animal bones reveal that early humans were using crude stone tools to smash open the bones and extract the marrow. Stone tools allowed early man to get at a food source that no other creature was able to obtain – bone marrow. Bone marrow contains long chain fatty acids that are vital for brain growth and development. This helped further fuel the increase in brain size, allowing our ancestors to make more complex tools. Many historians believe that the blunt force required to break bones with tools to extract the bone marrow was a crucial ingredient in the development of the human hand, and the unique dexterity it has over that of apes.

Of course, these days, we can simply go to our butcher and ask them to slice some beef bones for us so that we can enjoy the marrow like our ancestors did. It’s much more civilized.

 

My box o’ frozen bones. I ordered about 25 lbs. of marrow bones from Slanker’s, a grass-fed beef farm in Texas.

 

They key to roasting marrow bones properly is to keep an eye on them. The bones can go from frozen solid to blazing hot in no time, and that means the marrow can go beyond its rich, gelatinous perfection into a puddle of fat at the bottom of your pan in mere moments.

 

3 lbs. beef marrow bones (I like them sliced lengthwise)
3/4 cup finely ground salted pretzel sticks
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil

 

I keep the beef bones frozen, moving them to the fridge until I’m ready to roast them.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

 

Grind them up!

Place a handful of salted pretzel sticks in a food processor, and pulse them until the pretzels are ground fine. When you’ve got 3/4 cup of ground pretzel powder, move it to a bowl and add the parsley, onion, garlic and black pepper. No salt is needed if the pretzels are salted.

 

 

Lay the bones flat on a baking pan. If they wobble, place them on a layer of coarse salt to hold them steady. Sprinkle the pretzel mix on the bones, a little drizzle of olive oil on top, and place them in the oven.

 

 

Now you watch…there’s that one point where they go from “not quite yet” to perfection to “Oops! Too much!” …so be careful!

 

Perfection!

 

Some toasted bread on the side is all you need!

 

If you’re cooking gluten-free, try Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels. They are awesome…you’ll never know the difference.

 

I find little or no difference between the gas stove in my kitchen and an outdoor gas grill…so I don’t own one. I can make a perfectly delicious steak by searing it in a cast iron pan on the stovetop, then finishing it in a hot oven. So, for me, if the real reason for outdoor grilling is flavor, nothing can replace a hardwood charcoal grill.

Besides the quality and source of my beef, wood and smoke are what make the difference between a good steak and a great steak.

 

beef brisket

I know the #1 argument for going with gas over hardwood charcoal is time. “It takes too long to start a charcoal grill.” That’s a load of crap. Over the years, I’ve showed many friends that it takes no more time to light a charcoal fire than it does to start up a gas grill.

Of course, it starts with the grill itself. The classic Weber is still an awesome choice. For larger cooking needs, I also have a Primo ceramic grill.

Then I get a bag of hardwood charcoal. I’m not talking charcoal briquets, like Kingsford, that have a ton of additives in them. And I’m definitely not talking about Match Light. I’m talking pure hardwood charcoal, easily found in supermarkets and home stores.

Next: a charcoal chimney. It’s a metal tube with a handle and a grate at the bottom. I crumble a couple of sheets of newspaper into the bottom, pour charcoal into the top, light it, and I have hot coals in 10 minutes without lighter fluid.

And I NEVER use lighter fluid! Why spend good money on a great steak only to make it taste like gasoline?

The variety of wood chips available for smoking is another flavor factor when it comes to grilling with charcoal. My personal favorite is hickory, especially when I’m cooking pork or chicken. But apple, cherry, oak, mesquite: they all impart their own unique flavors. And they’re all available in most home stores where you find all the other barbecue gear.

Although I have an electric smoker for those low-and-slow jobs, like a big ol’ brisket or pork shoulder, I don’t need it when grilling a steak. I simply soak some wood chips in water for about a 1/2 hour before grilling (I’ve found that hot water speeds the process up), drain the water, and then sprinkle the moist chips on the hot coals in my grill. I throw the meat on the grill, close the lid (opening the vents, of course) and off we go.

So now, in 10 minutes, I’ve got a grill that’s ready to cook a steak with…about the same time as gas.

If you say: “I don’t cook with charcoal because it’s so messy!” …I honestly don’t know if you and I can be friends.

Because I’m using a small amount of hardwood charcoal for the average dinner, I don’t have to clean out my grill every time I use it. After a while, yes, some ashes pile up in the bottom of my grill and I have to dump them. But because they’re pure wood ashes, I can dump mine into my strawberry or raspberry patch. They love the stuff.

You still have to clean a gas grill after a while, and it always runs out of propane halfway through cooking when you have guests over for dinner. So where’s the convenience in that?

Charcoal grills give you everything you could ask for: low maintenance, ease of use–no propane tanks, valves and igniters–real wood flavor, not lava rocks, and the thrill of cooking meat over a real fire, bonding with the caveman in you. Grab a beer–or even better: a bourbon on the rocks–and start grilling!

Thinking a lot about my Mom these past few days…and, of course, I thought about the family favorites she would cook. If there’s one dish that my Mom made all the time but I didn’t appreciate until I got older, this is it. Stuffed cabbage, cabbage rolls, or balandėliai, as we say in Lithuanian, was a staple in our home and one of my Dad’s favorites. 

I had seen my Mom make these beauties so often in my childhood, I didn’t even need to check online recipes out for guidance. That doesn’t mean I make them exactly like Mom, but my version came out pretty good. I think she would’ve been proud.

 

image

 

4 strips of bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. ground pastured pork
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 large head cabbage
1 pint homemade chicken, beef or veal stock
750 g diced tomatoes (1 Pomi container)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion

Chop the bacon into small pieces and fry them until crisp. Finely chop the onion, and add it to the bacon and rendered fat in the pan, cooking until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well, and remove from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, and cooled bacon and onion mixture. Place it in the fridge to firm up.

Let a large pot of salted water come to a boil. Core the cabbage, leaving the leaves whole, and carefully immerse the head of cabbage into the hot water. Little by little, the outermost leaves of the cabbage will come off the head, and you can remove them with tongs, so you don’t burn yourself with the hot water. Set the leaves aside to cool, and continue doing this until you can no longer remove leaves from the remaining head of cabbage.

Remove the remaining head of cabbage from the hot water, and using your hands or a knife, break it into flat pieces. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with the pieces. These will keep the stuffed cabbage from burning and sticking to the bottom.

Time to roll the stuffed cabbage. Take the meat out of the fridge. Lay a cabbage leaf flat on the counter, and add some of the meat mixture inside. Roll the cabbage around the meat, folding the sides in as you go, much like a burrito. You might need to slice away the thickest part of the leaf stem to make rolling easier. Lay the stuffed cabbage in the roasting pan on top of the leftover cabbage pieces. (Unlike Mom, I don’t use toothpicks to hold the stuffed cabbage rolls together.)

Continue stuffing and rolling the cabbage leaves until you’ve got a pan full of them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

In a blender, food processor, or whisked in a bowl, combine the stock, diced tomatoes, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Pour this mixture over the top of the cabbage rolls in the roasting pan, covering them.

 

 

If you have leftover cabbage, you can place another layer of them on top. Otherwise, cover the roasting pan with foil and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cook for an hour.

 

 

After an hour, remove the foil and cook further for another 45–60 minutes.

 

image

 

Really delicious and an instant flashback to great memories of dinner at home….thanks to Mom.

 

 

I was craving my recipe for a venison stew with puff pastry but I didn’t have any more venison in the fridge (I get it from a friend that hunts), and I didn’t want to drive 30 miles to the nearest Whole Foods, my only source for all-butter puff pastry dough.

(Here’s my original recipe: https://livethelive.com/2020/01/26/venison-stew-with-puff-pastry-5/)

So I decided to use beef, and stay local, by buying good ol’ Pepperidge Farms puff pastry (made with shortening) from my nearby supermarket. The final dish was pretty darn good after all!

My original venison stew dish was pretty intense, using dark beer and adding mushrooms to the mix. The venison was wild, not farmed, with a gamier flavor. This recipe turned down the intensity a bit, but the flavors were all there: I used a combination of a lighter beer and homemade chicken stock. I used beef London broil instead of venison. And I left out the mushrooms, adding more carrots, onions, and celery.

 

 

olive oil
3 lbs. beef, cubed into 3/4″ pieces (I like London Broil)
3 yellow onions
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or through a press
6 carrots, sliced thin
6 celery stalks, sliced thin
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
16 oz. chicken stock (preferably homemade)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 bottle beer (I had a Pilsner Urquell sitting around)
12 oz. grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 box (17.3 oz.) frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed for 40 minutes
1 raw egg, scrambled

 

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and add the onions. Sauté them until they’re translucent, and then add the garlic. Stir it around for 10 seconds.

Add the carrots and celery, a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and the fresh thyme. Stir, cover the pan with a lid to help wilt the veggies, and cook for a few minutes.

Heat the chicken stock in a separate saucepan to boiling, then turn the heat off.

Meanwhile, add the butter to another frying pan and melt it. Add the flour to the butter, and whisk it all together until you’ve got a light roux. While whisking, slowly add the chicken stock to the pan with the butter and flour, and let it thicken. Keep stirring to avoid lumps. Set it aside.

Remove the lid from the veggie pan and pour the veggies into a large baking pan (I like a lasagna pan). Using the same frying pan you cooked the veggies in, add 2 more tablespoon of olive oil and brown the beef cubes. You may need to do this in several batches if the pan isn’t big enough. (You don’t want to steam the beef. You want to brown it.)

Scoop the beef cubes out of the frying pan, placing them in the baking pan with the veggies, leaving the oil and drippings behind, then add another batch of beef to the frying pan. Only once all the beef is browned, do you pour the entire contents of that pan into the baking pan with the veggies. Mix everything well.

Add the bottle of beer to the baking pan and mix well.

Add the thickened chicken stock to the baking pan and mix well.

 

Before cooking.

 

After 90 minutes of cooking.

 

Cover the baking pan with foil or a lid and place it in the oven. Cook for 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes, remove the foil from the pan, give it all a stir, and place the foil back on the pan, returning to the oven for 60 minutes more.

 

After 60 more minutes of cooking. Still a bit watery, so I need to reduce it.

 

After 60 minutes, remove the foil from the pan and stir again. It should be thick, like a stew. At this point, if your stew is still watery, pour it into a large pan on the stovetop and heat to reduce it. If it looks good, pour it into the pan anyway so you can clean and dry the baking pan for the next steps.

Add the cheddar cheese to the stew once it looks nice and thick, and mix well. Turn the heat off the stovetop.

Wash and dry the baking pan you used, and then butter the inside of it well.

 

 

Take the thawed puff pastry sheets and gently roll them with a rolling pin until they’re about 1/8″ thick. Then use 1 sheet to line the bottom and sides of the baking pan, saving the second sheet for the top.

 

Before rolling…

 

…and after.

 

Pour the stew from the pan on the stovetop into the baking pan with the puff pastry sheet lining the bottom and sides.

Then gently lay the second puff pastry sheet over the top of the stew, tucking it in if necessary.

Take the scrambled egg and brush the puff pastry with the egg wash.

Bake in the 375-degree of oven for about 45 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.

 

 

I like to serve peas on the side with this dish, rather than putting them in the stew, to keep them turning into mush.

 

Mashed potatoes optional!

 

 

 

 

In these crazy times, our supermarkets are running out of everything from toilet paper to hand sanitizer. But probably the one thing we can stock up on is corned beef and cabbage!

St. Patty’s Day is this Tuesday, and supermarkets are full drumming with packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. Too bad corned beef isn’t an authentic Irish dish!

The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. So many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but adding cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK!  Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time to get a really delicious slab of beef.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving meat and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and then smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day! Celebrate safely!

My buddy, Lee, and I had a discussion the other day about fresh versus frozen beef served at fast food restaurants.  What’s the big deal about fresh beef? Does it really make a difference?
Doing a little research, I found that the answer to that question is: yes and no.
Wendy’s claims their beef has always been fresh, since they first opened in 1969. Never one single frozen patty. Because the meat is fresh, it comes from local farms in North America and is delivered in refrigerated trucks to your local Wendy’s restaurant. They claim the flavor of fresh is better than the flavor of frozen.
They also go on to say that because their beef is fresh, it doesn’t come from “cheaper, far away places,” like Australia.
My experience with both Australian and New Zealand beef, shipped frozen, is that it is of very high quality. Where most American beef is fed corn, grains, antibiotics, and who knows what….beef from New Zealand and Australia is grass-fed.
Wendy’s claim that their beef was never frozen is really more of a marketing ploy to try to appeal to people who want to think they’re eating healthier food. The fact of the matter is, a properly frozen greasy burger is just as bad for you as a fresh one.
Giving in to Wendy’s ad campaign (and their taunting on Twitter),  McDonald’s brought in the fresh meat Quarter Pounder. (The rest of their burgers are still frozen.) Again, this really has nothing to do with good health. It’s strictly good marketing.
Personally, if my meat is going to be sitting around for more than 24 hours, I would rather keep it in a freezer, not a fridge, to reduce the possibility of contamination.

I like the taste of the Quarter Pounder Deluxe, though it isn’t a very big burger for the $7+ I paid for it.

The only negative of frozen beef can be the texture if it is not frozen properly. If you don’t place the meat in a freezer that’s cold enough, the beef doesn’t freeze quickly, and can form larger ice crystals that will change the texture of the flesh when the meat thaws.
If you’re not sure whether the quality of frozen beef is any good, simply ask your friendly neighborhood farmer…or hunter. My in-laws hunt deer and bear, and they process the entire animal, freezing the various cuts and putting them in a deep-freeze to enjoy later. I can tell you that when I’m allowed to share in the bounty, the frozen meat is absolutely delicious.
So my research tells me that fresh or frozen doesn’t matter. Go with quality, go with price…or go with what you think tastes better.
Whether you should go with meat or not…is another topic altogether. Plant-based burgers are all the rage, now that Burger King has introduced the Impossible Whopper.
But from a health standpoint, is it any better? Not really. Check the nutrition information below and you’ll see that most fast-food burgers are pretty similar when it comes to fat and calories. Even the plant-based ones aren’t healthier.

It tastes like a real burger…an overcooked, very dry real burger.

It all boils down to what your feelings are about eating meat. If factory farming makes you cringe (and it should), go with a plant-based burger. But remember this: If you’re going vegan because you don’t want to kill animals, many creatures, from ground birds to moles and voles, to rabbits to foxes, are killed by vegetable harvesting machinery. Unless you’re growing your own, or getting your veggies from a local farm that doesn’t use machinery, you’re substituting the life of one animal for another.

Burger King’s “real” Whopper.

As for fast-food flavor…my vote goes to McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Deluxe (not the plain one.) The beef patty is juicier because it’s thicker, so it doesn’t dry out like either Whopper. And it’s cooked to order. Both Whoppers are frozen patties that have liquid smoke added to simulate a grilled flavor, and have fake grill marks painted on them before cooking. The Dave’s Single from Wendy’s, the original fresh beef burger, is good, but small, like the Quarter Pounder, and greasier.

Dave’s Single from Wendy’s.

IMPOSSIBLE WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 630
Fat (g): 34
Cholesterol (mg): 10
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 58
Fiber (g): 4
Sugar (g): 12
Protein (g): 25

Impossible Whopper: mayo, tomatoes and pickles keep it from being a dry brick.

REGULAR WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 660
Fat (g): 40
Saturated Fat (g): 12
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 90
Sodium (mg): 980
Carbohydrates (g): 49
Fiber (g): 2
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 28

The Whopper.

QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE DELUXE: (from McDonald’s website)
Calories (Kcal): 650
Fat (g): 39
Saturated Fat (g): 15
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 110
Sodium (mg): 1180
Carbohydrates (g): 44
Fiber (g): 3
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 32

Quarter Pounder with Cheese Deluxe.

 

DAVE’S SINGLE: (from Wendy’s website)
Calories: 570
Fat (g): 34
Sat Fat (g): 13
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 100
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 38
Sugar (g): 8
Fiber (g): 2
Protein (g): 29

Dave’s Single was good, but quite greasy.

 

 

After tasting all these burgers, my choice is to go back to a humanely-raised grass-fed burger, but for that, I have to go to my own kitchen. I can’t get it through the window of my car.

 

Winter is here. It’s time for some serious comfort food.

Years ago, when I received a shipment of venison from my father-in-law, an avid hunter that lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I knew that although I could certainly use beef for this dish, it would be absolutely stellar with venison. I’ve made it several times since then, with beef or venison, with delicious results!

 

image

Olive oil
3 red onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
10 oz. baby bella mushrooms, chopped
3 lbs. venison (or beef), cut into 3/4″ cubes
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
Salt and pepper
24 oz. of your favorite lager or stout
3 tablespoons flour
12 oz. freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 pounds store-bought puff pastry (all butter is best)
1 large egg, beaten

 

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

In a large oven-proof pan, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up and add the garlic, butter, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Stir well, then add the venison, rosemary, and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Sauté on high for about 4 minutes, then add the beer, making sure you take a swig for luck! Stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover. Bring it to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid or foil, and cook it in the pre-heated oven for about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove it from the oven after 1 1/2 hours and stir it a bit to combine all the flavors. Put it back in the oven (covered) and cook another hour, until the meat is cooked and the stew is rich, dark and thick. If it’s still liquidy, place the pan on the stove top and reduce it until the sauce thickens. (You don’t want a soupy stew or you’ll get soggy puff pastry later.) Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half the cheese. Taste it to see if it needs seasoning, but remember there’s more salt coming when you add the rest of the cheese. Set it aside to cool.

Depending on whether your puff pastry comes in sheets or a block, you’ll need to use a rolling-pin to get it into sheets about 1/8″ thick. Butter a good-sized pie dish or an oven-proof terrine, like the one in the photo above. Line the dish with the sheets of pastry, letting the pastry hang over the sides. Pour in the stew, even it out with a spatula, and add the rest of the grated cheese on top.

Use another 1/8″ thick sheet of pastry (or a couple if they’re not wide enough) to cover the top of the pie dish. Lightly crisscross the top with a knife, then fold over the overhanging pieces of pastry over the lid, making it look nice and rustic. Don’t cut or throw any of the extra pastry away! Find a way to use as much as you can, since everyone will want some.

Brush the top with the beaten egg and then bake the pie on the bottom of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the pastry has cooked, and it’s beautifully puffed and golden. Serve with a side of peas (and beer!)

 

 

 

 

I rarely order beef at a restaurant, because I can usually make a better steak at home. For one thing, I use humanely raised grass-fed beef, something few restaurants offer. And I can cook it for less than a third of the price of a steakhouse. Granted, most steakhouses dry-age their beef, a time-consuming process of taking slabs of beef and keeping them in a fridge for weeks until a certain amount of moisture is sucked out of the meat, intensifying the flavor. I can do that at home in my fridge, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

There is one steak that I couldn’t match for the longest time, and that was the Capital Grille’s bone-in Kona crusted dry-aged NY strip. I would have dreams about that steak! It was time to find a way to make something that would satisfy my craving for that amazing steak at home.

Looking at a variety of coffee rub recipes on-line, I started the slow and steady process of combining ingredients in just the right proportions, tasting as I went. What I came up with really accentuated the flavor of the beef I was cooking, better than I had imagined!

img_0100

 

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Combine the ingredients, mixing well, and keep them in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

When using, sprinkle the seasoning liberally on both sides of the steak before cooking. Searing a steak on all sides in a cast iron skillet and then finishing it in the oven is a great way to cook a slab of beef, but let’s face it: nothing beats the grill!

img_0104

 

This is a really delicious grilled steak full of wonderful Thai flavors. You do need to marinate it overnight, so keep that in mind. The overnight marinating is key to the intense and unbelievable flavor of the beef.

The original recipe called for skirt steak, but I didn’t have any in my freezer. I did have a fat ribeye, though, so once I thawed it, I sliced it lengthwise to get two large, thin steaks which would easily suck up the marinade I was going to make. And the ribeye was nicely marbled, so it stayed juicy and tender.

 

image

 

 

1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped dry roasted unsalted peanuts
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon chile oil
2 lbs. beef ribeye (or skirt steak or beef flap)
1/4 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)

In a bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, cilantro, peanuts, scallions, sugar, lime juice and chile oil. Transfer half of it to a shallow dish.

Add the steak to the dish and turn the meat to coat it well. Cover and refrigerate the beef overnight. Refrigerate the other half of the marinade in a separate container.

The next day, light a grill. While it’s warming up, get out a sauce pan and pour the chicken stock in along with the reserved marinade. I like to heat it to combine it well, but not letting it reach a boil. Remove it from the heat and let it come to room temperature. This will be the dipping sauce for the beef.

Take the marinated steak out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Season it with salt and pepper, and grill it over high heat until it’s medium-rare, about 5 minutes.

If it’s too cold to light a grill, or if you just want to use the oven, heat a cast iron pan on the stovetop, add a few drops of avocado oil or pork fat, and sear the beef on both sides before placing it in a pre-heated 375-degree oven to finish cooking.

Devour the beef with the dipping sauce!

 

My dog, Fellow, is so used to my crazy work schedule, that he really gets unhappy if I miss his 4AM and 4PM feeding times. That creates a problem on weekends, when I’d like to get a little extra sleep…”little” being the operative word, since he lets me “push it” to about 5:30AM before he really starts to whine.

This morning, when we set the clocks back an hour, that meant I got up at 4:30 instead of 5:30. There was no way I could fall back asleep, so I did the next best thing: I cooked.

Making koldūnai is a labor of love…one that takes time. And I had that this morning…in spades!

 

 

I think I spent half of my childhood in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-doo-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand at lightning speed. They would roll a simple dough into a log about 1″ in diameter, then cut it into 1″ pieces, twirling each piece between their fingers to make a flat pancake, filling each with a small spoonful of meat or mushrooms, then fold it over, crimping the edges to make a crescent-shaped dumpling. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these little masterpieces in no time, placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing them until it was time to cook.

 

 

Always on the lookout to make my job easier, I discovered a new tool a couple of years ago: a device that makes faster work of koldūnai production, though they do come out much smaller. It’s a ravioli maker, and the Lithuanian purists I chatted with on social media didn’t like it. I was willing to give it a try if it meant that I could save myself a lot of time.

 

 

Simply roll out a sheet of dough on top of it.

 

 

Add a spoon of filling (in this case, ground beef) in each area.

 

 

Then roll out another sheet of dough on top of that and press down with a rolling pin.

 

Voila! Out pop 37 mini-koldūnai at once!

 

I first tried it with gluten-free dough, with limited success. The dough needs to have elasticity for the device to work properly and that’s something that is sorely lacking in any gluten-free dough I’ve made over the years. Gluten-free dough tends to dry out quickly and simply break rather than bend. But, that said, I managed to make a decent amount of them so that my wife, who maintains a gluten-free diet, could enjoy them, too.

 

Always great to have a helper in the kitchen!

 

One of the main reasons why I prefer Lithuanian koldūnai over Polish pierogis is the filling. For me, standard pierogi fillings like potatoes, cheese, and sauerkraut just don’t cut it. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then spoon that mixture into her koldūnai.

The other stuffing, usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas Eve and Easter, was made from mushrooms. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. And when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of regular button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year. Mom would place a handful in some boiling water and let them steep until they swelled up and could easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d then pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

 

I found that my Mom’s log method was too much work. I roll the dough out into a sheet with a rolling pin, then cut circles with a glass. Yes, that’s mac-and-cheese in the forefront.

 

A few years ago, I decided it was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. I decided to go with the rolling pin and glass cutting method in addition to the ravioli maker, because I wanted to compare the classic crescent-shaped koldūnai with the newer mini’s.

The biggest challenges I had with making my own koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. Once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make a decent batch–not all perfect, but not bad for a first try.

 

The rolling pin method.

 

This time around, I made four kinds of koldūnai: traditional (ground beef as well as mushroom) and non-traditional (mac & cheese and pulled pork.)  Patty’s Pierogis, a restaurant in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” is where my daughter first had mac & cheese pierogis. She was instantly hooked and begs for them every year.

Here’s my beef recipe…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten-free)

I make my gluten-free breadcrumbs with Udi’s frozen GF bread that I toast, then chop in a food processor. I think it tastes better than store-bought GF breadcrumbs in a can, and it tastes as good as regular breadcrumbs.

Finely chop the onion and sauté it in the butter until translucent. Let it cool, then add it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. Add the egg and the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and keep the meat in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

 

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

 

In my childhood home, you cannot possibly serve koldūnai without sour cream on the side and without spirgučiai (spir-guh-chay), chopped and fried bacon and onions that are sprinkled on top.

1 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. Never drain the fat! Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside.  (My Mom always kept a stash of spirgučiai in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

 

duni 4

Making the dough is simple.

2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free or regular)
1 cup water

I don’t use salt in the dough because I boil the koldūnai in salted water later.

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, mixing with your hands. Keep adding flour in small amounts until the dough isn’t wet and sticky. When it forms a nice ball, remove it from the bowl and place it on a floured surface and knead it a bit more. Cut the ball into quarters, and work with these smaller pieces of dough.

If you’re using the ravioli maker method, each quarter will  make one sheet of dough for the top or bottom of the ravioli maker. If making them by hand, each sheet will give you about 8 crescent-shaped koldūnai.

For the rolling-pin method, roll each quarter out until the dough is about 1/8″ thick. Cut circles out of the dough using a cookie cutter, rocks glass, or whatever else you have handy. Add about a teaspoonful of filling in the center of the dough, then fold the edges over and pinch them with your fingers. Flip it over and pinch again, making sure none of the filling seeps out. A tight edge means the koldūnai won’t break open when you put them in boiling water.

 

Who knew a rocks glass had more uses than just to hold a great Manhattan?

 

Some stuffed with mac and cheese!

 

I recently discovered these “pierogi makers.” You lay the dough in them, add your filling, and then close them. They automatically crimp the edges for you.

 

I always double-check the crimped edges, because your koldūnai will fall apart in the boiling water if you don’t seal them well!

 

Place the koldūnai on a sheet pan dusted with flour, and when you’re done, place the sheet pan in the freezer.

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

Sometimes the chef gets punchy after making koldūnai all day long!

 

Get a large pot of salted water boiling. Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them. If the dough is thin, the koldūnai will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and taste!)

When plating, sprinkle generously with spirgučiai, and serve with sour cream on the side.

 

 

My conclusion: When all is said and done, the old ways are still the best. Although the ravioli maker did a good job, in many ways it was just as time-consuming. And the finished mini-raviolis did not have the dough-to-filling ratio that I find so satisfying with classically made koldūnai. We sampled both side-by-side, and there really was a difference. I’m sticking with the classic methods for now! Mom will be proud.

 

The hand-painted Christmas trees in the photos are from our friend, Don Cadoret, an artist here in Tiverton, RI. Check out all of his work at: http://www.doncadoret.net.