Easiest Rack of Lamb

Cut Rack of Lamb

Cut Rack of Lamb

I think I found a magic sauce. It transformed my chicken-breast eating experience and now my rack-of-lamb-eating experience. Never would I have guessed that a simple stir of mayonnaise, mustard and some fresh herbs would play such a role in my meat-cooking endeavors these days. Seriously, everything this sauce touches turns to mouth-watering goodness.

Let’s see, how else can I sell this recipe to you? It takes five minutes to prepare. It’s foolproof. And if you enjoy gnawing on bones as if they were lollipops, this recipe is for you. Make it.

Rack of Lamb — Just Out of the Oven

Rosemary & Thyme

Lamb — Prepped for Oven

Cooked Rack of Lamb

Rack of Lamb

Serves 2
This rack of lamb goes beautifully with crispy fingerling potatoes.

1 rack of lamb, about a pound
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
2 T. mayonnaise
2 tsp. mustard
chopped fresh herbs*: rosemary, thyme, chives, mint, tarragon — whatever you have

*Rosemary and lamb always go well together but I adore tarragon with this recipe as well.

1. Preheat the oven to 475ºF. Place lamb on a parchment-lined (for easy clean-up) rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper on all sides. Mix together mayo, mustard and herbs. Spread in an even layer across the rack of lamb — you might not need it all.

2. Place pan in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 400º and bake for 10 more minutes. Take pan out of the oven and place lamb on a board to rest. Let rest for at least 10 minutes. Seriously, no less than 10 minutes — I can’t emphasize resting enough. Cut and serve.

Notes: The lamb takes about 20 minutes to cook but depending on the size of the rack, the temperature of the lamb (room temperature or cold), and the reliability of your oven, the time will vary slightly. It might take a teensy bit of practice to nail it. For example, I made a rack today that weighed .92 lbs, and I removed it before the 20-minute mark because after 18 minutes it felt perfectly firm.

Rack of Lamb

The Easiest (Best?) Ribs You Will Ever Make + Delicious Buttermilk Cornbread

Easiest (Best?) Ribs You Will Ever Make

Baby Back Ribs

The best ribs you’ve ever made? Let me qualify that. These are the only ones I know how to make, which make them the best I’ve ever made. That said, this recipe takes five minutes to prepare. Literally. Five minutes. But what emerges from the oven  — a juice-filled package of falling-off-the-bone baby back ribs, perfectly crisped on the exterior  — tastes like a day’s worth of work toiling over a coal-filled bbq pit. 

Sweet. Smokey. Salty. Delicious. If these aren’t the best ribs you’ve ever prepared, they’re damn good ribs at the very least. 

Where did I discover such an easy and delicious recipe? Where else. Liza, of course. My mother made these ribs for my meat-deprived husband and me when she was visiting last month. I’ve since made them several times for friends and family. If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing recipe, this is it. Serve it with buttermilk cornbread (my favorite recipe is enclosed below) and a simple salad, and you have a successful dinner party in the making.

Now, some of you may be wondering where I found local, humanely raised pork. Well, I didn’t, because where I live, I haven’t been able to find a source fitting such criteria, a reality that has stopped me from buying pork for nearly two years. Oh Liza! With your baby back ribs! Your tasty tasty baby back ribs. I regret to admit I’ve compromised my morals.

Alas. For you locals, I have two alternatives: the Whole Foods in Laguna Beach sells organic pork from Canada donning a “responsibly farm raised” label, whatever that means. And Trader Joe’s sells pork from the Midwest from purveyors that “meet their standards,” according to a woman I spoke to on the Trader Joe’s product information line: 626.599.3817. Again, it’s hard to know how these pigs really live until you see the location yourself, but this woman assured me that Trader Joe’s has high standards, that their crew does checks regularly, and that the pigs from their purveyors do not live packed together in pens. Again, these sources are not the ideal but short of forgetting this recipe exists, the best alternative for the meantime. 

Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs

4 spices

Preparing the Ribs

The Easiest Ribs You’ll Ever Make

Serves 2-3
1 rack of baby back ribs
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
smoked paprika (if you can find it) or parika
1 cup brown sugar
Heavy duty foil, if you have it

1. Preheat the oven to 275ºF.

2. Rinse off the ribs and pat dry. Liberally coat the ribs with the kosher salt, pepper and the paprika. Pack on the cup of brown sugar.

3. Lay out two sheets of foil slightly overlapping. Place ribs on top and close foil on all sides. Repeat two more times so that the ribs are covered in three good layers of foil. Place ribs on a sheet tray and place in the oven for 2½ hours. Note: When placing the ribs on the tray, try to place them meaty side down. It’s not critical but it makes for a crisper exterior.

4. Remove tray from the oven. Let sit for one hour. Do not open the pouch during this hour.

5. When ready to serve, reheat the ribs in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350ºF (this is assuming the ribs have not been refrigerated) or open the pouch, baste the ribs with the juices and place them under the broiler for five minutes.

Serve immediately with cornbread and a simple salad for a yummy yummy meal.

Buttermilk Cornbread

Super Moist Buttermilk Cornbread

Serves 8 to 10

1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
3 T. brown sugar
2 T. Sugar
1½ T. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup grated Monterey Jack or Cheddar or Gruyère (or any cheese you like)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the cheese and toss to coat.

2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk. Whisk in the melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

3. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour into a springform pan and swirl the pan to coat. Add the batter to the pan and place in the oven. Bake for about 55 minutes, until golden on top. (Check after 50 minutes). Place on cooling rack. Let cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

cornbread ingredients

Bean & Cheese Burritos, Beef Tacos & Homemade Flour Tortillas

Bean and Cheese Burrito

Bean and Cheese Burrito

I have a confession. I eat at Taco Bell about once a month. And I love it. More than love it. Look forward to it even. I know, I know. You hypocrite, you say. Well, let me explain.

You see, the reason I eat at Taco Bell is because when I meet a dear friend for lunch every month, our dining options are limited to El Pollo Loco, IHOP, Togo’s and Taco Bell.

And at Taco Bell I can order a bean and cheese burrito, two in fact, and I can pry open the steaming nearly transparent tortilla holding those beans and cheese from oozing out, and I can smother it with hot sauce. What a treat. Seriously, it’s the little things.

All I’m saying is that if you, like me, are picky about what meat you eat, know that at Taco Bell a delectable vegetarian option awaits you. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Incidentally, I was searching cooksillustrated.com for a taco recipe when I stumbled upon the results of a refried bean taste test. Which brand do you suppose prevailed on top? That’s right, Taco Bell Home Originals Refried Beans. Despite these results, however, I like to use Trader Joe’s refried pinto beans “salsa style.” They are tasty and made with just a handful of ingredients (… you may recall Michael Pollan’s eating algorithms.)

So what could be better than a Taco Bell burrito? Why one made in your own home, of course, with homemade flour tortillas. I know, homemade tortillas, “come on” you are saying. “What’s wrong with store-bought flour tortillas?” Indeed, store-bought tortillas are a perfectly fine product, one I undoubtedly will purchase again. That said, if you have the time and the curiosity, I think you’ll find the value in making them from scratch — these homemade tortillas are light and lovely with just a hint of butter taste, and truthfully, not too tricky to make. The dough requires minimal kneading and a short 30-minute rest before being rolled. And while a tortilla press is nice to get the rolling process going, it is an unnecessary tool in this process. A rolling pin does the job.

While nothing makes me happier than a couple of refried bean-and-cheddar burritos for dinner, I am conscious of my husband’s preferences, too, which lean toward meat-based entrees. Fortunately, I always have some of J&J’s grass-fed ground beef in the freezer and thanks to Cook’s Illustrated, I now have a favorite beef taco recipe. The filling, a mixture of sautéed onions, tomato sauce, a little vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar and a homemade spice mix — cumin, coriander, chili powder and oregano — is a snap to make. We’ve been eating tacos once a week here. They are awesome.

And as you can imagine, this beef mix makes a nice burrito filling as well. 

Tortilla Dough. Note: A tortilla press is unnecessary. I mostly use my rolling pin.
tortilla dough

When making homemade tortillas, you don’t really want them to brown too much, especially if you are making burritos. You want them to be cooked, but still pliable, capable of being filled and rolled.
tortilla

 Burritos
See that pan in the lower left corner of the above montage? It’s filled with beef taco filling. We’ve been eating tacos once a week here. I found the recipe (included below) on CooksIllustrated.com. It’s fantastic.

Cut Burrito

Bean and Cheese Burritos

Yield = However many you’d like

refried beans, I like Trader Joe’s brand
cheddar cheese
large flour tortillas, homemade if you are feeling ambitious, recipe below
salsa and sour cream, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread flour tortillas with beans and cheese. Wrap burrito style. Wrap in foil. Place in oven until cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. I’m not totally sure how long these take, but if you have a whole bunch wrapped and heating in the oven, just pull out one to check and adjust time accordingly.

Note: I ended up placing the beans in a small frying pan to heat before I spread them onto a tortilla. This is mostly because it was hard to stir the beans up while they were still in the can. Also, a little beans and cheese go a long way — think “less is more” while assembling.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Yield = 8 to 9 taco-sized tortillas or 4 to 5 burrito-sized tortillas

9 oz. (about 2 scant cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt (not kosher) I used sea salt, fine
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. unsalted butter

1. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. With a knife cut little pieces of the butter into the flour. Then with two knives cut the butter into the flour until mealy, smaller little bits of butter than in a pie dough.

2. Stir in 2/3 c. warm (not from tap, preferably) water with a fork until a shaggy dough forms.

3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3-4 minutes until smooth, soft, and not sticky.

4. Cut the dough into 2-oz. pieces for taco-sized tortillas or 3-oz pieces for burrito-sized tortillas. You will have 8 to 9 small pieces or 4 to 5 larger pieces. Shape pieces into a ball.

5. Cover with a very light kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Be careful that your room isn’t too hot. Let the dough rest 30 minutes and up to two hours.

6. Roll out each ball to about 9 to 10 inches (taco) or 11 to 12 inches (burrito) in diameter, or till you can see the counter start to come through. Note: A tortilla press is nice to flatten the ball into a disk to get things going, but ultimately a rolling pin works best. The tortilla press is unnecessary if you don’t have one.

7. Heat a 12 inch non-stick or cast-iron pan (do not add any oil) on medium-high. Lay the tortilla in the pan and cook until it puffs and little brown spots on the underside appear. Turn with tongs and cook. Each tortilla takes about 45-60 seconds. You don’t really want the tortilla to brown at all. The tortilla in the above picture was actually cooked a little too long.

Notes: When making tortillas for burritos, it’s best if the tortillas are cooked just before you plan on filling them, wrapping them and placing them in the oven. This way they’ll stay pliable. 

Beef Tacos

Source: Cook’s Illustrated, Published May 1, 2002
Yield = 8 tacos, serves 4

Beef Filling:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil or corn oil
1 small onion , chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin*
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt
1 pound 90% lean ground beef, I used J&J grass-fed beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar (preferably cider vinegar)
Ground black pepper

* I like to toast whole cumin and coriander seeds and then grind them in my spice grinder with all of the other spices listed above. Just a thought, if you have the time. 

Shells and Toppings:
8 taco shells or small tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces), or Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 small tomatoes , chopped small
1/2 cup sour cream
1 avocado, diced medium
1 small onion, chopped small
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Tabasco sauce , or another brand of hot sauce

1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

2. Using wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among taco shells; place two tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately.

Bean and Cheese Burrito

Hamburger Buns, My Favorite Way to Eat a Burger, and J&J Grassfed Beef

burger

burger

About a month ago, a hankering for homemade hamburger buns led me to a wonderful discovery: Belles Hamburger Buns. You see, I wanted to find the perfect vehicle to hold the burgers I have been savoring every week since stocking up on J&J grass-fed ground beef at Delaney’s 100-Mile Market in Temecula back in August. Oh if I only lived closer to this store! I would never be without Jordan Stone’s legendary homemade pastas, or cans of American Tuna, or wonderful local produce, chickens and eggs, and as I already mentioned, this tasty grass-fed beef.

Alas, back to the buns. Belles Hamburger Buns happened to be the first recipe to turn up on my google search. I have made the recipe three times now and have had success with every batch. The dough is simple to make and forgiving, too — yesterday, for example, I mixed the dough before work, let it rise in the fridge during the day, punched it down when I returned and proceeded with the recipe as if I had never stepped out of the kitchen. I have frozen the portioned dough, too, let it thaw in the fridge overnight and proceeded with the recipe the following evening. Simps.

Now, I know it’s not really burger season, but Liza, my mother, has turned me onto a burger recipe  — a preparation, really — that has become a weekly staple. It’s simple: Roast green peppers, chop them up, and mix them into hamburger meat with a little kosher salt and pepper. Then, form patties and cook them in a cast iron pan for about four minutes a side for delectable medium-rare burgers. Not sure what it is, but the roasted green peppers — and it’s important to use green not red though I can’t give you a scientific reason why — add just the subtlest bit of flavor, enough to keep the burgers juicy and tender but not so much as to mask the flavor of the meat.

And while any skillet will likely work, the cast iron skillet has produced consistent results every time: Four minutes a side for patties about  an inch thick weighing five to six ounces each has become my magic formula for producing medium-rare burgers. I don’t care what anybody says, cooking a burger to a desired temperature is damn hard, and I attribute the success I have had thus far to the cast iron pan’s ability to retain heat so well. I might add, too, that it is a cinch to clean — mine, a gift from Liza, is seasoned such that I rarely have to do anything but wipe it out with a paper towel. If bits do stick, I clean the pan the same way I clean this pan, by heating some kosher salt in it, then wiping it out with a paper towel. Simps.

Like many of my mother’s suggestions, this one took a few months to consider.  Why haven’t I learned? Liza doesn’t mess around, especially when it comes to food. I should just  immediately make and do everything she tells me to. Anway, try this burger-cooking method! I know you’ll find success. And if you have the time to make homemade buns and locate some yummy grass-fed beef, you have quite a memorable meal in store. Thanks, mama, for another wonderful recipe, and thank you, Belles, whoever and wherever you are for a fantastic bun recipe.

I hate to bore any of you who have already heard my thoughts on grass-fed beef, so here are a few links to past posts and articles if you are interested in reading up on this matter:

Grass-fed Beef
Pasture-Perfect Patties
Anxious to Purchase a Steer
Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Beef
Grass-Farming in Lancaster
Small Farm Productivity
When Searching for Solutions, Don’t Forget the Farm

hamburger bun

Making these buns couldn’t be simpler: Combine yeast and flour in a stand mixer. Heat milk, water, sugar, salt and butter together until warm to the touch. Add the warmed milk mixture to flour and let the stand mixer do its thing for 8 minutes. Ta-da! The dough is ready to go.

hamburger buns

Cooking these burgers couldn’t be simpler either. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast-iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins swirling in the pan, add the patties and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes. Flip. Add cheese, if desired, and cook for about 4 minutes longer for medium rare. Yum.

patties in pan

The wonderful J&J grass-fed beef:
J&J Grass-fed Beef

burger

Are these not the cutest little buns you have ever seen? You can make them, too! Promise. It’s easy and fun and delicious.

hamburger bun

Update 5/4/2012: If you’re looking for a brioche burger bun, try this recipe. It’s my new favorite burger bun recipe. I love love love Belles Hamburger Buns, but there’s something about a brioche bun and a burger, you know? They’re just a perfect match.

Belles Hamburger Buns
Yield = 12

1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups (about 23.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds (optional)

1. Combine the milk, 1 cup of water, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat until warm to the touch and until the butter has melted — this only takes a minute or two. Remove from the heat. If you have heated the mixture longer than you had intended, let it stand till room temperature. Warning: if the mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

2. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together the flour and yeast. Pour in wet ingredients and stir until the dough starts to pull together. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook to mix for about 8 minutes. If not, knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Punch down the dough and divide into 12 portions. Make tight balls out of the dough by pulling the dough tightly around and pinching it at the bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Note: I would only bake 6 buns at a time on one sheet and place only one pan in the oven at a time to ensure even baking. Set rolls aside until they double in size, about 20 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Mix together the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water in a cup or small bowl. Brush onto the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned on the top and bottom. Let cool before slicing and serving.

Note: I have served these warm, which I love, and also sliced and toasted, which I think is even better for burgers — the toasted buns don’t get soggy.

Liza’s Burgers with Roasted Green Peppers
Yield = As many as you wish

Note: This is more of a method than a recipe.

hamburger meat (I usually use about a pound)
green peppers (I usually roast about 2 peppers per pound of beef, but don’t end up needing all of them for the patties.)
Parchment paper, for easy cleaning
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper

Homemade buns (optional), recipe above
Burger accoutrements: cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, Dijon, ketchup, mayo, etc.

1. Roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and stem. Place peppers cut-side down on the prepared pan and place in the oven. Roast until the skins are browned and blistery, about 20 minutes. This may take longer or shorter, depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them towards the end — you don’t want them to be totally charred. Remove the peppers from the oven. Place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside. When peppers are cool enough to handle, remove skins and discard. Chop peppers into small pieces. Set aside.

Note: This can be done days in advance. Also, you might not need all of the peppers. Save any remaining to add to an omelet. Yum.

2. Prepare the patties: Spread the meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle as many of the diced peppers over the meat as you like. Gently begin forming your patties. I portion mine into either 5- or 6-ounce patties depending on the day. Season each side of the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins to gently swirl, add the patties and turn the heat down to medium or medium-high. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip. Top with a thin slice of cheese, if desired, and cook for about four minutes longer for medium-rare. Serve on a toasted bun with all the fixins.

A Simple, Most Delicious Sandwich

Jamon Iberico Sandwich

sandwich3

My mother recently described a sandwich an old man prepared for her at a bed and breakfast in Barcelona: toasted bread, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, moistened with a squeezed tomato and topped with jamón Iberico. In the mornings, the man tops this concoction with an egg fried in olive oil. Holy cow.

These pigs, the man told my mother, feast on acorns, which impart a nutty flavor into the meat while also making the fat composition of the meat high in monounsaturated fat, the good kind that, like olive oil, helps lower bad cholesterol. I believe it. When Ben and I visited Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin told us roughly the same thing. He described his pork as “olive oil pork” because his pigs’ diet consisted of acorns and other nuts from his forest.

I wasn’t able to find jamón Iberico at any shop near me, and depending where you live, you might have difficulty, too. Jamón Iberico made its first appearance in this country in December 2007, when the U.S. finally approved a producer in Spain to export the delicacy. LaTienda.com gives a more extensive history about jamón Iberico and jamón Iberico de Bellota, which is the acorn-fed variety. According to La Tienda, the black-hoofed Iberian hog is a prized animal whose lineage stretches back to Christopher Columbus who is said to have had a few of these hogs aboard the Santa María when he set out to discover the New World.

Oh how I long to get my hands on some of this ham. Prosciutto di Parma is a fine substitute but jamón Iberico sounds so exotic and divine. To my sandwich, I added a few slices of Mahón, a cow’s milk cheese produced in Menorca, an island off the eastern coast of Spain. Manchego would be nice in this sandwich as well.

Also, I just saw in my Gourmet magazine email newsletter, that Ruth Reichl’s “secret weapon” for a no-cook summer meal is the American version of serrano ham produced by the Edwards family of Virginia. Made from humanely raised Six-Spotted Berkshire pigs smoked slowly over hickory, this ham, according to Ruth, pairs nicely with melon or simply with some really good bread. (While this is by no means local to me, this might be a nice alternative for those east coasters looking to eat more locally.)

Also, if you live in the area, check out some of the food Chef Nolan is cooking up at Cafe Mimosa.

sandwichingredients

Pigs at Polyface Farm:
such happy pigs

sandwich

ingredients

The Most Delicious Sandwich on the Face of the Earth, Presently
Serves 1

two slices of bread, bakery-style bread (French, Italian)
1 clove garlic, gently smashed and sliced in half
1 tomato
extra-virgin olive oil, use a good one (Temecula Olive Oil Company Citrus Reserve)
nice salt
a few thin slices of jamón Iberico or prosciutto di Parma or Serrano ham
a few thin slices of cheese, such as Mahon or Manchego or Zamorano

1. Toast or grill the bread. I grilled it, but that was mostly to get the pretty grill marks for the picture. Toasting would be simpler and just as effective.

2. Rub each slice of bread with the cut garlic.

3. Cut the tomato in half (or cut off one-third of it). Squeeze the tomato over each slice making them nice and juicy. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

4. Top with a few slices of the ham. Lay each piece down one at a time, allowing the meat to sort of form ripples so air pockets form between the layers. Top with the cheese. Close the sandwich and eat.

sandwich

Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Steaks, Oven-Roasted Potatoes & All-time Favorite Brownies

Balsamic Parsley Caper Sauce for Grilled Steak

steak and potatoes

My mother is worried. This isn’t a new sentiment, I can assure you. Worry, I’m afraid, pervades her daily existence. She’s worried about the plastic wrap in this recipe and would like me to offer you all an alternative. One Thanksgiving, my mother was so worried, she sent me an oven. An oven. She didn’t know how I could possibly make my turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes with only one oven, and so she sent me an oven.

Last week, my mother became worried about my husband, Ben. She’s worried he might wilt away if I keep feeding him tofu and edamame and beets and eggs. So driven by her worry, my mother sent me 10 pounds of steaks, just, you know, to tuck in my freezer in case an iron-deficient Ben starts looking pale and cold.

But my mother is so thoughtful, too. And a wonderful gift-giver she has always been. Sensitive to my feelings about animals and food-miles, she sent me grass-fed steaks from the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, CA. I took the opportunity to make this Grilled Grass-fed Ribeye with Balsamic Caper Vinaigrette recipe from the latest Bon Appetit. Damn, steak is good. I’ve forgotten. And this sauce — reduced balsamic seasoned with crushed red pepper flakes and mixed with parsley, capers, shallots and olive oil — is fabulous. It’s such a treat to have our freezer stocked with this incredibly flavorful, humanely raised and relatively local meat.

Mama, worry no longer. Rest assured that the love of my life is beaming, a hearty helping of meat and potatoes certainly to credit. Thank you for the wonderful gift!

raw steaks
Pictured above: Raw, grass-fed ribeyes, rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic, pepper and salt.Note: While this smoked paprika rub adds a nice flavor, I don’t recommend using it for these grass-fed steaks. We’ve cooked the Hearst Ranch steaks twice now, once with the rub, once without, and we preferred the steaks without the rub — a liberal sprinkling of kosher salt brings out the real flavor of the meat. Also, be sure not to overcook these steaks. For medium-rare, try two minutes a side and allow the steaks to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Balsamic-parsley-and-caper sauce:
parsley-caper sauce

Have I not yet shared with you my favorite brownie recipe? I can’t believe that. I discovered this recipe in a Fine Cooking magazine three years ago and have not tried another brownie recipe since. Like the pizza and the muffins and the orange and olive oil cake, these brownies are it.

brownies and milk

Rich Fudgy Brownies
Source: Fine Cooking
Yield = 16 (2-inch) brownies

Note: If you have a scale, I highly recommend using it. I use my Salter digital scale when I make these and they come out perfectly every time.

Also: To make this gluten-free, simply swap the all-purpose flour with almond flour. You’d never know the difference.

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
15¼ oz. (2 cups) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ oz (¾ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 oz (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour or almond flour (for gluten free); plus more for the pan
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. table salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan or line with parchment paper.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a large separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. Transfer butter mixture to bowl with flour and stir with spatula or wooden spoon until batter is smooth.

3. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 37-40 minutes. Insert a pairing knife or steak knife straight into center. If it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

Grilled Grass-fed Ribeyes with Balsamic-Caper Vinaigrette
Source: Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 4

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for steaks and grill
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

4 3/4-inch-thick grass-fed rib-eye steaks
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1. Simmer vinegar in small pan over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Add shallots, 1/4 cup oil, and crushed red pepper; return to simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in parsley, capers, and thyme. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

2. Rub both sides of steaks lightly with oil. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper.

3. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack with oil to coat. Grill steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to plates. Spoon vinaigrette over or serve on the side.

Grass-fed Flank Steak, Not Local, But Tasty

steaksandie

Last weekend I made my first visit to a Whole Foods Market since arriving on the West Coast. After a long visit at The Getty — my dad has serious endurance when it comes to art — we drove home along Pacific Coast Highway and stopped in Long Beach to pick up dinner. Exhausted from the day, my dad stayed in the car for a snooze.

Inside, I spotted a fairly large selection of grass-fed beef in the meat department. Though the man behind the counter did not know where the meat originated, I bought two slabs of flank steak. I have since learned it comes from Nebraska. I know, I’m a total hypocrite.

For dinner, we kept preparations very simple. Ben seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and threw it on the grill. As my dad worked his way through a wedge of Stilton, I prepared an arugula salad and sliced up some avocados. Dinner was ready in no time.

We all really loved the steak. Grass-fed meat is noticeably different than corn-fed. Its color, at all stages of doneness (rare, medium-rare, etc.), is a lighter shade of pink. Its smell, before cooked, is different too, earthy perhaps? And it tastes, well, grassier? It’s hard to describe. Ben said the meat tasted like an egg, and I don’t think that’s just because he has been eating a lot of eggs these days. Anyway, the steak was delicious. Too bad it’s not local.

And, for a change, Ben had some more desirable leftovers to bring to work this week. Piled in between two slices of whole wheat bread, slathered with mustard and mayo, and topped with arugula and cheddar cheese, flank steak makes a great sandwich — a vast improvement over the mixture of chard and brown rice Ben often zaps in the microwave for lunch.

Also, I’m having some technical difficulties with Google docs right now, but The Bulletin can be read here: Feeding A Marine

Grilled Flank Steak & Leftover Sandwiches
Serves 3 for dinner, with meat for leftover sandwiches

2 smallish-sized slabs grass-fed flank steak
kosher salt freshly ground black pepper

For the sandwiches:
arugula
whole wheat bread
Dijon mustard
mayonnaise
cheddar cheese
black pepper

For dinner:
1. Preheat the grill to high. Season meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill three to four minutes a side, depending on thickness. Let rest five minutes before slicing thinly against the grain.

For lunch:
2. If you are reading this blog, you likely know how to make a sandwich.

Anxious to Purchase a Steer & Trader Joe’s Grass-Fed Ground Beef

traderjoesgrassfed

As soon as Ben and I have space to fit one, we’re going to buy a freezer, one of those large, freestanding jobs that opens like a chest. And then we’re going to buy a steer or maybe half a steer, and come harvest time, we’re going to fill our box with all of its butchered parts, which we’ll subsist on until we run out.

This is the ideal, of course, and one of Michael Pollan’s suggestions in In Defense of Food. Pollan writes, “If you have the space, buy a freezer.” Pollan lives in Northern California, subscribes to a CSA, and purchases meat and dairy from local farms that raise their animals on pasture. He purchases by the ½ steer, whole hog and ½-dozen chickens. I’m sort of guessing about this last detail, but that’s the idea I get after reading the last part of this book.

Like many people, I began eating grass-fed beef after reading Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I have posted several times about animal treatment in feedlots, the health benefits of grass-fed meat, and several dinner parties with friends starring grass-fed burgers.

My reasons for seeking out grass-fed meats revolve more around animal welfare than health benefits. A passage in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life says it best. Kingsolver quotes Wendell Berry. In his book, What Are People For, Berry writes:

“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable in order to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently shut down a Chino-based supplier of beef after a video showed slaughterhouse workers using inhumane and illegal practices on weak and sick cows. After watching the footage on the news, I find it hard to justify purchasing feedlot meat processed in these types of facilities. And after visiting farms (such as Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm) where animals live just as Berry describes, I find it difficult to support any other type of farming.

Now, until Ben and I acquire the space to fit a steer in our kitchen, or until we start our own farm and have animals living on our front lawn, we’ll have to settle with purchasing grass-fed meats buy the pound. As far as I can tell, purchasing local, pastured meats is relatively easy in Northern California, as it was in Philadelphia — the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market is an unbelievable little stand. I am just realizing how spoiled I was to have, in walking distance from my apartment, a place to buy local, humanely raised beef, pork, chicken and lamb as well as raw milk and raw-milk cheeses.

So far I have found few sources in Southern California for pastured meats. Though I have not researched extensively, Trader Joe’s seems to be the closest source to me for grass-fed beef. I’ve now purchased their grass-fed ground beef twice and have been very pleased both times. I called the customer service line (for future reference: 626.599.3817) to find out where the cows were raised and where the meat was processed. While the woman wouldn’t give me the name of the farm or processing plant, she told me the cows are both raised and processed in Northern California.

Now, I suppose for the real purists — extreme locavores — Northern California might be too far. As I weigh my two options, however — grass-fed beef from Northern California or corn-fed, abused beef from nearby — food miles seem like a trivial criterion. I’ll have to double check with the authority around here, Melanie Lytle (the San Diegan devoting a year to eating locally grown food), to make sure I’m not missing a closer source, but until then, I’ll enjoy my Trader Joe’s grass-fed meat with a clear conscience. View pictures of happy animals on various farms here.

Grass-Fed Burgers
Makes 4 patties

1 to 1.25 lbs. grass-fed ground beef
1/2 white onion,
finely diced to yield a scant 1/2 cup
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
buns
lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, cheese, etc.,
if desired

Note: The package of beef I bought contained 1.22 lbs of meat and I used a scant 1/2 cup of onions for this amount. Adjust accordingly for more or less meat.


1. Spread the meat out in a large bowl as pictured above. Sprinkle evenly with kosher salt. Sprinkle the onion over top. Form into patties about 5 to 6 ounces each. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

2. Preheat the grill to high. Spinkle the burgers on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

3. Place burgers on the grill. Cover grill. And turn heat to medium. Now, every grill is different, all meat is different, and everyone has different opinions about what rare, medium rare, etc. looks like. I cooked these for about three minutes a side and was happy with their doneness — just slightly pink on the inside and still very juicy. I have overcooked these burgers before too, however, and found the meat to be less forgiving than traditional burger meat, so be careful and enjoy!

Oktoberfest

Oktober

Wanting to prepare a traditional Bavarian dish in honor of Oktoberfest, I wandered through the Italian Market in search of sausage. From Cappuccio’s Meats, I purchased a pound of apple and cinnamon pork sausages, assured by the butcher they wouldn’t be too sweet.

While these South-Philly links unlikely resemble those served in German pubs, they work perfectly in this recipe: The cinnamon in the sausage pairs nicely with the grated apples and juniper berries in the braise. After 30 minutes of gentle simmering, the sauerkraut absorbs all of these flavors as well as all the juices from the sausage, becoming a tasty condiment for these hoagies.

And while I have only tasted one of the 12 seasonal beers I picked up at the Foodery — the Hofbraü, one of the six local beers served at the Munich festival — I think they all have been inherently designed to taste good with pork or any of the other Oktoberfest fare — roast ox tail, rotisserie chicken, spaetzle.

Heartier than a Pilsner but lighter than a Bock, the Hofbraü is a great fall beer, and tasted even better with my Bavarian hoagie. This Sunday, cheer the Eagles to their first victory while savoring braised sausage with sauerkraut and imbibing in an autumn-spiced Dogtoberfest (Flying Dog Brewery), a pumpkin-spiced Punkin (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) or any of the other fun Oktoberfest brews.

Read all about the tradition of this renown Munich festival below:

Tapping a keg before a crowd of thousands at noontime tomorrow, the Lord Mayor of Munich will commence the festivities of Oktoberfest, a centuries-old tradition attracting revelers from across the globe. In the next two weeks, more than six million visitors will relish classic German fare such as sausages, sauerkraut, roasted ox tails and spaetzle, while enjoying traditional song and dance. Some will watch the legendary crossbow competitions, others the various parades, but all will celebrate the beer — a dark-colored, high-octane brew, made specially for the occasion.

The first Oktoberfest began on October 12, 1810, when the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese organized a festival to commemorate their marriage. On a meadow outside the city gates, the citizens of Munich celebrated with singing, dancing and feasting, a five-day event ending with a large horse race. The townspeople named the field “Theresienwiese” (after the bride) or “Wiesn” for short, a term that has lasted for nearly 200 years.

As each successive festival became longer and more elaborate, the royal couple eventually pushed the start date back, taking advantage of the warmer September weather. Historically, however, Oktoberfest has always ended on a weekend in October.

Over the years, this occasion has deservingly earned the title the “Largest People’s Fair in the World.” Pitched across the 100-acre Wiesn, fourteen tents — some large enough to cover 10,000 seats — form a mini village. Under these tents, 12,000 employees including 1600 barmaids annually serve over 200,000 pairs of sausages, 450,000 rotisserie chickens, 100 roasted oxen and 6 million steins of beer.

Oktoberfest has not only inspired cities all over the world to organize similar festivals, but also breweries to create special concoctions, some honoring the “Marzen-style” brew, the style enjoyed by Germans at the original Oktoberfest. Marzen means March in German, and before the invention of refrigeration, March marked the last month beer could be brewed before the hot weather moved in. Brewers stored their beer in ice caves until October when the cool air returned, welcoming these brews and inspiring harvest festivals, the immortalized Bavarian wedding being one of them.

In 1872, the Munich brewery Spaten created the first Oktoberfest beer, and today, only six local breweries (Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbraü and Löwenbräu) have permission to serve their seasonal brews at Oktoberfest. Each of these companies abides by the “Reinheitsgebot” or German Purity Law enacted in 1516, stipulating that beer may be brewed with only four ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast.

In general, however, the numerous beers created each fall in honor of the festival tend to be amber in color, medium to full-bodied in alcohol, and malty in taste. Some Oktoberfest brews such as Sam Adams, Brooklyn Brewery, Stoudt’s, Saranac, Flying Dog and Flying Fish use only imported European ingredients (hops and malt). Some brewers age the beer slowly in the tradition of those made for the Munich festival, and others add seasonal flavorings: Weyerbacher Brewing Company of Easton adds pumpkin as well as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves to its Imperial Pumpkin Ale; and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Milton, Del., adds pumpkin and brown sugar to its Punkin Ale.

Sausage And Sauerkraut

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 fresh sausages*
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
10 whole juniper berries
kosher salt and pepper
1¾ cups chicken stock
2 lbs. sauerkraut, rinsed
2 apples, such as Granny Smith or Honey Crisp, peeled and grated
* Cappuccio’s on the Italian Market makes delectable homemade sausages (215.922.5792)
* The Fair Food Farmstand sells several wonderful varieties as well from Country Time Farm and Jamison Farm

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the sausage on all sides, then transfer to a plate. Add the onion and juniper berries and sauté until the onions are tender, about five to seven minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Add the stock, sauerkraut and apples, and stir to combine, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Nestle the sausage back into the sauerkraut mixture, bring to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat until the sausages are cooked through and some of the liquid has evaporated, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve with a variety of mustards and hoagie rolls if desired.

Korean Flank Steak and Chilled Soba

STEAK

Korean Flank Steak

Most people go to Morimoto for sushi. For fatty tuna rolls and tuna belly sashimi, some aficionados will pay any price. Indeed, the sushi at this Stephen Starr, Iron Chef-run restaurant is arguably the best in the city.

I go to Morimoto, however, for something else. Morimoto’s cha-soba — chilled green tea soba noodles served with dashi-shoyu, a savory dipping sauce — cannot be found anywhere else in the city. Many sushi restaurants serve soba noodles, hot and cold, but few serve this green tea variety.

Cha-soba translates to tea-soba and describes the noodles, which are made with matcha (green tea powder) and buckwheat flour. Partly I enjoy the dish’s assembly — seaweed-green noodles nested on ice in a bamboo box arrive next to a bowl filled with the dashi-shoyu and a plate of sesame seeds, scallions and freshly grated wasabi — but mostly I love the chewy texture and distinct green tea flavor of the noodles.

Chilled soba made with traditional buckwheat noodles:

Chef Masaharu Morimoto suggests, as communicated through his attentive servers, tasting the dashi, seasoning it with wasabi, dipping the noodles into the sauce and eating directly from the bowl. A combination of kombu (dried kelp seaweed) and bonito shavings (dried, flaked mackerel) steeped in mirin, soy sauce and water make the dashi, a flavorful and aromatic stock. Dipping the noodles, as opposed to dressing them, in a chilled broth spiked with fresh wasabi — a treat for any sushi lover — ensures a perfect ratio of sauce to noodle.

Ordered on its own, this dish, costing $12 a serving — although not the best deal for noodles in the city — makes a perfect summer lunch and when paired with sushi or grilled fish or steak, a side dish worth sharing at dinner. Cha-soba for me, like a toro-stuffed maki roll for most Morimoto patrons, induces a bliss matched by no other noodle-serving restaurant in the city.

And before I went green, I used to enjoy — adore — Morimoto’s kobe beef carpaccio: thin slices of delectable, tender meat, rubbed with ginger and garlic and seared with a hot sesame-olive oil mix. Now, however, I don’t know how I feel about kobe beef. Is it grass fed? I really don’t know enough about the treatment of kobe beef cows, but I do know that the grass-fed beef from Livengood Farm in Lancaster is delicious. All who enjoyed the grass-fed hamburgers for the Fourth of July can attest. This marinade for flank steak (grass-fed, purchased from Livengood’s at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market this past Tuesday) can also be used for skirt or hanger steak.

Like Morimoto’s carpaccio, this steak recipe has tons of ginger and garlic. The sugar in the marinade helps the meat char nicely on the grill and the soy sauce balances the sweetness. The Asian flavors in this Korean-style flank steak makes it a perfect entrée to serve with the chilled soba.

Grass-fed cows at the Livengood Family Farm in Lancaster, PA:

Korean-Style Flank Steak
Serves 4

¼ C. sugar
¼ C. + 2 T. soy sauce
1 T. + 1 tsp. mirin
6 large cloves garlic, minced
6 scallions, white part only, minced
1-inch knob fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 T. + 1 tsp. sesame oil
1½ lbs. flank steak
oil for greasing
kosher salt to taste

Whisk together the sugar, soy, mirin, garlic, scallions, ginger and sesame oil until smooth. Transfer to a resealable plastic storage container or a Ziploc bag. Place the meat and let marinate for 3 to 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the grill to high. Remove steak from marinade and discard. If meat has marinated overnight, season it very lightly with salt or not at all . If meat has marinated for just a few hours, season lightly with salt. Grease the grill grates with oil.

For flank steak about 1-inch thick, grill four minutes on one side. Flip, grill three minutes on the other side for medium rare. Remove from heat and let rest 10 minutes before slicing across the grain.

Chilled Soba Noodles with Dashi-Shoyu
Adapted from Sally Schneider, A New Way To Cook, (Artisan, 2001)
Serves 6

½ oz. kombu (kelp seaweed)
2½ C. water
½ oz. dried bonito shavings
½ C. mirin
½ C. soy sauce or tamari
12 oz. soba noodles or green tea soba noodles
wasabi powder
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
sesame seeds
1 sheet nori, cut into thin strips

Place the kombu and the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer. After one minute, remove the kombu and discard. Remove the pan from the heat, add the bonito shavings and do not stir. When the bonito has sunk to the bottom, after a minute or two, strain the broth through a fine strainer, pressing on the bonito shavings with a spatula to extract all the liquid, then discard.

In a small saucepan, bring the mirin to a boil. Add the kombu broth and the soy sauce and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool, then refrigerate until chilled.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water or plunge into an ice bath. Drain and set aside.

When ready to serve, mix wasabi powder with water to make a paste and set aside. Place all of the garnishes — scallions, sessame seeds, nori and wasabi — in separate bowls. Divide the noodles among six plates. Pour the dashi-shoyu into 6 small bowls large enough to handle a serving of chosptick-filled noodles dipped inside, (much larger than what is pictured.) Give each diner a bowl of noodles and sauce and let them garnish their noodles as they please.