Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Tomato Gravy

October 21, 2017 – My dad loved tomato gravy.  His version, as best as I can remember, was simple.  Diced tomatoes cooked down with some chopped onion and, of course, a little sugar.  “Of course” because my grandmother put a little sugar in everything she cooked.  She said it made anything taste better.

Dad grew up in the era of the Great Depression.  My grandmother belonged to that heroic generation of women who found ways to feed their families using only the most basic and cheapest of ingredients.

They grew much of their food in their gardens.  They kept chickens for eggs and, on special occasions, for meat.

They kept a cow for milk.  It’s true.  I drank milk straight from the cow when I was small and I lived!  I’m not recommending that we do away with pasteurization.  That would be foolish.  I’m just pointing out that people usually do what they have to do to survive.

Their husbands roamed the woods with rifle and shotgun, hunting food.  I ate many a bowl of squirrel gumbo when I was a boy.  And I loved every bowl!

Each time those mothers placed a meal on the table, no matter how basic it might have been, they convinced the children that they were eating in high style.  Later in life Dad and his brother still loved those simple dishes.

In our house beef is considered health food.  And short ribs, along with a juicy ribeye steak, are the healthiest of all!

So that brings us to Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Tomato Gravy.  A bit of the past and a lot of what we love.

Slow-cooking is the key to great short ribs.  If you don’t treat’em with respect, they can be tough to gnaw off the bone.  Done properly, the meat falls off the bone with no help.

My tomato gravy recipe starts with the Trinity.  Traditionally in Louisiana that’s onion, green pepper, and celery.  At the risk of being charged with heresy, I’ve started using roasted red pepper.  I like the additional flavor they add and these days I’m all about short cuts as long as they don’t take away quality.

I sautéed my Trinity in butter and olive oil.  I would have used only olive oil but I didn’t have much in the pantry.  I often use half butter, half olive oil for sautéing.  The butter adds flavor; the olive oil keeps the butter from burning.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Hot pepper sauce is an essential in this type of hearty recipe.  My go-to brand is Tabasco.  But other high quality brands will work.

I also included two of my favorite spices.  Smoked paprika and freshly grated nutmeg.  The paprika adds, well, a smoky flavor.  And the nutmeg is a sort of secret ingredient.  The kind of thing that makes people say, “What am I tasting?  It’s delicious, but I can’t quite place it.”  Just be sure to get whole nutmegs and grate them yourself.  Don’t waste your money on the already grated stuff.

We decided to serve the ribs with a baked potato.  Perfect accompaniment to a hearty tomato gravy.

It’s best to use a heavy, oven-proof pan for this dish.  A braising pan is perfect.

So here we go.

Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Tomato Gravy

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

8 – 10 beef short ribs

1/2 onion, chopped

1 – 2 celery ribs, preferably the tender ones from the heart, including leaves, sliced in 1/4 inch sections

1 roasted red pepper, chopped  

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 14 1/2- ounce cans diced tomatoes

6 tablespoons tomato paste

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons Tabasco, or other hot pepper sauce

2 teaspoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 275.

In a large, heavy pan melt the butter and heat the olive oil.  When it’s hot but not smoking, add the short ribs, turning to brown each side.  When they’re browned on all sides, take them out and let them rest on a plate covered with a couple of paper towels.

Saute’ the onion, roasted red pepper, and celery until they have begun to soften.  Add the garlic and continue to saute’ for another minute.

Add all the other ingredients.  Mix well.  Let the gravy simmer for ten to 15 minutes until it thickens.

Put the short ribs back in the pot.  Clear a space for each rib as you place it and cover each with sauce.

Cover the pan and put it in the oven with the rack in the middle position.

Let it cook for three and a half hours.  Check it every hour or so to make sure it still has enough liquid.  The gravy should be thick but if necessary you can add a little water.

Bon temps!

 

Sweet & Savory Chicken

October 19, 2017 – We love chicken at our house.  We often do a whole roast chicken.  But more often we find new ways to use chicken thighs.

The thigh, bone-in and skin-on, has the most flavor of any part of the chicken.  Yes, there is fat and some believe that to be unhealthy.  But the fat will cook off and you don’t have to eat the skin.  What is left is juicy and delicious.  Never forget the words of Julia Child:  “Fat is where the flavor is.”

You don’t have to agree.  By all means, if you want to try this recipe with other parts of the chicken, go for it.

On a recent trip to my local grocer, I discovered they had a huge package of chicken thighs on sale for a ridiculously low price.  I was tempted to toss one in the cart and stuff two more under my shirt.  I settled for tossing one in the cart.

Honey mustard sauces have been popular for a long time and they’re good.  They offer that twist of sweet and savory, or even spicy, that is so appealing.  I decided to follow the theory but change it up just a little.

To add a depth of flavor, I started with a four and a half ounce can of chopped, mild green chilis.  I wanted the taste of the peppers but planned to bring the heat later.

Mustard, of course.  I prefer Creole mustard but any kind of spicy, dark mustard will work.

Instead of honey, I used maple syrup.  It added the sweet I was looking for but was lighter than honey.  It worked.

I wasn’t going to ignore the heat.  A little hot sauce makes the flavor pop.  As my dad would have said, I wanted to “hot it up a little bit.”  Just a little.  Tabasco is my go to hot sauce.  But any good quality pepper sauce will be fine.

Finally, for some additional savory, I added a tablespoon of Worcestershire.  Lea & Perrins plays a terrific supporting role in most anything.

Here’s my take on Sweet & Savory Chicken.

Sweet & Savory Chicken

2 -3 three tablespoons olive oil

12 chicken thighs

1 4.5 ounce can chopped, mild green chilis

1/3 cup Creole mustard

3 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons ketchup

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil.  Working in batches, brown the chicken, skin side down, for about five to seven minutes.  When the skin is browned and crispy, turn the thighs over for a minute or two.  Add the additional tablespoon of oil if needed.

While the chicken is cooking, preheat the oven to 350.

Mix the chilis, mustard, maple syrup, ketchup, minced garlic, Tabasco, and Worcestershire in a bowl.

As the chicken comes out of the skillet, place them in one layer, skin side up, in an oven proof dish.  Cover the chicken with the chili, mustard, and maple syrup sauce, using a pastry brush to thoroughly coat each piece.

Bake the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes.  Turn it over and cook for another ten minutes.

Bon temps!

Korma with Raita

October 7, 2017 – I am far from an expert on Indian food.  No, that’s not strong enough.  The truth is I don’t know much about Indian food at all.

I’m also not a vegetarian.  I am a confirmed carnivore.

On the other hand, I do enjoy experimenting.  I especially enjoy exploring the foods of other cultures.

That brings me to last weekend.  I had a cauliflower that needed to be used.  As is my habit, I thumbed through a few cookbooks looking for ways to create something delicious with a cauliflower.  One recipe caught my eye.  Korma, an Indian stew either with chicken or strictly vegetarian, both served with raita, a traditional Indian yogurt-cucumber sauce.

That recipe sent me to the Internet to do some research.  I learned that korma originated among the Mongols of Central Asia in the 16th century.  Over the centuries to follow, it became a staple of northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Often hot peppers are included in Korma, and you can bet that would be the case in my kitchen.  Korma then can be a fiery dish.  The raita, also prominent in northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, served with the stew tends to mitigate the heat.  I learned that when a bit of raita is stirred into the stew the heat wanes.  Enough is left to add life to the vegetables.  It’s just made less painful.

I looked at several recipes.  Most were, as expected, similar though there were some differences.  Several called for mango chutney.  I’m not wild about mango chutney.  It’s a little too sweet for me.  How about pureeing a mango to replace the chutney?  That seemed a grand idea!

I also substituted coconut aminos for soy sauce.  It’s a bit sweeter than soy sauce and, I’m told, it’s much healthier.

I included roasted red peppers in the first step of sautéing onion, garlic, and apple.  But then I add roasted red peppers into most everything.  I just like roasted red peppers.

As for the raita, most recipes include mint.  Some call for cilantro.  Mint is not among my favorite herbs and, while I do like cilantro, somehow it didn’t seem to fit with this dish.   I chose parsley.  It worked just fine.

So with apologies to the entire Indian subcontinent, here’s my take on korma with raita.

Korma with Raita

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, roughly chopped

I apple, peeled & finely chopped

1 jalapeno, sliced into thin rounds

2 cloves garlic, diced

3 tablespoons curry powder

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 13 ounce can coconut milk

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 mango, peeled, flesh cut away from the seed, and pureed in a food processor

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup coconut aminos

1 cauliflower, broken into flowerets

1 potato, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 pound green beans, sliced into 1 inch pieces

1 cup cooked lentils

Cooked rice

Salt to taste

In a large stock pot, saute’ the onion, apple, and jalapeno until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic last.

Season with curry powder, ginger, and cardamom.

Add the coconut milk, tomato paste, pureed mango, lemon juice, coconut aminos, and wine.  Stir to mix well.

Add the large vegetables separately as some take longer to cook than others.  They should be al dente rather than mushy.

The cauliflower should go in first for about ten minutes.  Then the potato for another five to seven minutes.  Finally, add the green beans, which will cook in only about three minutes.  Finally, add the lentils.  Simmer for another five minutes or so to let the flavors meld.

Serve over rice with raita (recipe follows).

Raita

2 cups plain yogurt

1 English cucumber, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

Salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients.  Season with salt to taste.

Chill until ready to serve.

Bon temps!

Stuffed Mushrooms

September 30, 2017 – Mushrooms are high on the list of favorites in our kitchen.  They are among the most salient of ingredients to be found at our house.  We love’em served most anyway.  And, of course, I’m always thinking of new ways to prepare them.

There’s nothing new about stuffed mushrooms.  What can be new is the stuffing.  What is put into it and what spices are added.

A few days ago my wife came home with some the largest Portobello mushrooms I’ve ever seen.  They cried out to be stuffed.  Off to the pantry I went.

First, would be the stems of the mushrooms themselves.  Broken off and finely chopped.

Onion, of course.  Onion is a great complement to mushrooms.  Let’s face it.  Onion makes most anything better.

How about ham?  I had some thin-sliced deli ham in the refrigerator.

Panko bread crumbs would add a little crunch.  Any bread crumb would work but we like Panko.  The flakes are larger, which allows them to take on more flavor.

I also had some cheddar cheese.  A slice or two of the cheese laid over the top would be the final touch.  Doesn’t have to be cheddar.  Your favorite will work just as well.

Now for a secret ingredient.  I went for one of my favorite exotics.  Cinnamon!  “Cinnamon in a stuffing for mushrooms?” you might question.  But yes!  Cinnamon is a great addition to many things.  It’s adds a certain taste that is hard to identify.  The kind of thing that can have your guests wondering as they ask for more.  And the aroma in the kitchen when you add the cinnamon to heat is just, well, nothing less than magnificent!

It’s not necessary to remove the gills of a Portobello.  But when stuffing them, it makes for more room within the body as well as a neater presentation.

Here’s my take on stuffed Portobello mushrooms.  As always, the amounts listed are roughly what I used.  Feel free to adjust up or down according to your own taste and best judgment.

Remember also that this recipe uses ham so I urge caution with the salt.

Stuffed Portobello  Mushrooms

2 large Portobello mushrooms, the stems broken out and finely chopped

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for coating the mushrooms

5 slices of thinly cut deli ham, finely chopped

1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs

2 – 4 slices cheddar cheese

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350.

After the stems have been broken off and finely chopped, use a spoon to gently scoop out the gills.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet.  Add the chopped mushrooms and onions.  Saute’ until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the cinnamon.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the vegetables are softened, transfer them to a mixing bowl.  Add the ham and Panko crumbs.  Mix well.  Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Using a pastry brush, or your hands, coat the mushrooms inside and out with olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill the bodies of the mushrooms with the stuffing.  Lay one or two slices of cheese over each mushroom.  Place them on an oven proof pan.

Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the mushrooms.

Bon temps!