The Royal Foodie Joust: Tomato Paste, Honey and Local Brew

25 07 2010

The second I saw these ingredients on The Leftover Queen’s Forum, I instantly knew I was doing barbecue-something.

I usually make my own barbecue sauce.  that started with a well-known company deciding not to continue a particular product we really liked.  While we still had some of their sauce, I went to work to duplicate the taste.  It took a little bit, but we got there.  After 20 odd years, that flavor lives in my head somewhere and I can always find it when I want it.  I figured since tomato paste is a standard tomato base, and honey and molasses aren’t that far apart as far as intensity of sweetness…it’s that “other” flavor, that slightly almost burned flavor, that comes with molasses that would be different, but that could come in somewhere along the way…and brew…no problem there!  Local brew no less!  That’s not just easy, that part was TOO easy!  We’re rockin’ and rollin’!!  And so I parked the Joust on a shelf in the back of my mind and let the rest of July unfurl before me with all it’s grandeur…and there was plenty of grandeur!  Two 4th of July concerts to participate in, preparations to accept the newest member of our family…and that was a BIG chore!…lots of heat…the arrival of our adopted mustang mare, Willow (YAY!!), and finally a chance to breathe…

Suddenly, there was only a week of July left and I hadn’t made a move toward getting my Jousting dish done.  What seemed so easy, just hadn’t found its way to the forefront yet.   I hadn’t even determined which protein to use…  Then…while emailing a friend in Texas it dawned on me…brisket…  Brisket marinated and slow roasted, barbecued or smoked would be absolutely heavenly!  And that was that.

I built a dry rub that was moistened into a paste on the beef with the beer, tomato and honey.  The brisket marinated in the paste, with additional beer and a splash of balsamic vinegar overnight, was seared to form a crust, and set to braise slowly in a low oven for several hours.  The meat will become fall apart tender, so allow it to set a bit before attempting to slice, and make sure you slice it against the grain, like you would corned beef.  This is a fabulous base for BBQ beef sandwiches!  I can’t wait to try this method on a Tri Tip!!

Western Pacific “Barbecue” Brisket

Beef brisket (cooking time will be 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound)

1 recipe Momma G’s Dry Rub (recipe follows)

1/2 cup beer (we used Western Pacific Brewing and Dining’s Keddie Red Ale)
4 tsp. tomato paste, divided
2 Tbsp. honey, divided

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Poke holes in the meat with a fork and cover the surface of the brisket completely with an even coating of the dry rub.   Rub the seasonings into the meat, moistening with small amounts of beer to make a paste as you go.  You’ll need to drizzle out the beer about a teaspoon at a time.  It works better to work from a moist area to a dry area, as the liquid wants to pool and run off the dry rub.  When the surface is covered with a very thick paste, turn the meat over onto a sheet of plastic wrap or foil to do the other side.  Do not try to use all the beer.  You’ll only use about half for this.

When both sides of the brisket are coated with the seasoned paste, add 2 teaspoons tomato paste and 1 tablespoon of honey to one side of the meat and mix over the entire surface of the meat.  Turn the brisket and repeat with the other side.  Place the meat in a zip-lock bag (preferable) or wrap in large sheets of foil.  Add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (not the wonderful Italian balsamic…the run of the mill variety we’re provided making us think it’s the real thing) to the remaining beer and pour over the meat.  Seal tightly and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the meat from the wrappings.  If you’ve used a bag you’re able to save the wonderful rub seasonings for your cooking procedure.  Scrape as much of the paste from the meat as you can.  Sear the meat in a hot skillet to form a nice crust on the meat, on both sides.  Place the meat, fat side down, in a baking dish just large enough to hold it along with the seasonings from the bag.  Rinse the bag with 1/2 cup additional beer if desired.  Add any additional seasonings to the braising liquid that you desire.  Seal the pan and roast at 225° for 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound, or until the meat is fork tender, turning the meat once, halfway through the estimated cooking time.

Tasting Notes~
Before we get to tasting is smelling…  The aroma from this brisket was killer…for so many hours!  This stuff started smelling heavenly right off jump-street.  That was such torture.

The result was…not what I anticipated.  The flavor was exactly what I expected…and it was great!  However, the meat was incredibly dry.   The taste of the rub isn’t at fault…the cooking process wasn’t at fault…  However this is the 2nd brisket I’ve purchased from this market that was poor.  I think it’s my last.  I’m so disappointed.  It’s ok.  It’s just not what I was anticipating.

We had some fabulous sandwiches from it regardless…a little homemade BBQ sauce mixed with Pineapple juice and sliced beef, piled high on a ciabatta roll…served with cold melon…what a great summer dinner!  Like I said, it’s not bad, it just isn’t what I was anticipating in my mouth when I went to work on it!  I think it would be fabulous on Tri tip…a little more marbling in the meat…

Momma G’s Dry Rub
1  Tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns, toasted and cracked
1/4 cup  smoked paprika
2 Tbsp.  CA sweet paprika
1 Tbsp.  powdered CA chili pepper
1 tsp.  whole Mexican oregano, crushed
1/3 c  garlic granules
1/3 c  onion granules
1 Tbsp. kosher salt

Mix ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar.

Makes about 1- 1/2 cups

Happy Jousting!!


The Royal Foodie Joust ~ We WON!

20 07 2010

I’m so tickled!!  I love the Royal Foodie Joust!  It’s been the most uniquely challenging event I’ve participated in.  I love that I have a month to work on a dish.  That allows time to let creativity flow, and build momentum.  It also permits time for a couple of trial runs if things don’t go quite as planned the first time.

To actually win the Best Overall Entry category at the RFJ is truly an honor.  I can actually count myself as a member of that inner circle of food bloggers I’ve admired!  It can really happen!  AND…I won a super cool RFJ Winner Apron to go with it!!  I’m so jazzed!!

The recipe that took us to the winners’ circle was Cream of Mushroom Soup with Spicy Pecan Brittle.  The required elements were mushrooms, yogurt and nuts.   That was an enjoyable dish!

For July…we’re cooking with local beer or wine, honey and tomato paste.  Do you have any idea how wide open that makes the playing field?  Oh my gosh!  I can’t wait to see what comes out!  So far, no one is saying a word!  Not so much as a whisper of their intentions!!  Either everyone is on vacation…or no one is even hinting at their thoughts…

I knew what I was doing as soon as I saw the ingredients.  I’m anxious to get cooking!  I think I’ll wear my new apron for luck!  Thanks Jenn & all the Jousters who voted for my dish!  I’m grateful and humbled!

Cook the Books: The School of Essential Ingredients~

19 07 2010

This session of Cook the Books had us reading The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, which is the story of a chef/cooking teacher who is as gifted at blending personalities as she is ingredients in her kitchens.  Each member of the class has some emotional demon to overcome, including our intrepid chef, and each finds an elixir of recovery within the walls of the restaurant kitchen.  While not wholly masterfully written, it was a captivating and fun read!  It broke into pieces easily read in bits and pieces…excellent beach reading, and yet, emotionally touching!

As always, we’re to cook a dish we’re inspired to from the book.  I had to pass on my main inspiration…clams don’t do fresh from the ocean in the mid-north-mid-Sacramento Valley of California in July.  Not when it’s 103° outside.  No “R” in July.  While that part might be gotten around the 103° temps are too factual.  We’ll take Curtain #2 Bob!

I loved the idea of the white cake, but again…it’s 103° – baking is pretty much out of the question.   Then, there was the Thanksgiving feast…there are two of us…a bit much.  I finally settled on the bolognese sauce, because I love bolognese.  It will cook quietly without a great deal of fuss, just asking to be stirred occasionally while it absorbs the various layers of flavor, layer upon layer, upon layer.  Slowly.  Ever so slowly.  It may be cooking all day, but not a raging hot heat…it’s a mild simmer, a bare simmer…

My choice for a bolognese recipe comes from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook.  I’ve made the versions from both The Classic Italian Cookbook and The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and we prefer the “Classic” version.  The “Essential” version has more carrot, celery and onion than the “Classic” and there’s a difference in the order of cooking the meat in the milk and the wine.  I’m not sure that there’s a problem with changing the order of those two cooking processes, as long as the tomatoes go in last.  I’d love to give the recipe, but it’s copyright protected.  I can tell you that if you “Google” “Marcella Hazan Bolognese sauce” you’ll find both recipes very easily!  Well…the original is harder to find…so here: Classic Bolognese Ragu.  The recipe in Essentials is really unusually sweet…a bit sweeter than I was prepared for.  Not that it isn’t good…it’s really not like anything I’d ever tasted before.  When someone complained about the sweetness and said they liked this recipe much better, I had to try it!  I understood why!

This is a sauce worth developing patience for.  It clings like sexy satin…It has depth that is utterly seductive.  It has the qualities of a siren’s song…calling you back for just one more bite…just one…more…

As for me…I’d love to take a cooking class here!  I can only imagine what fun we’d have and what deep dark secret would somehow be exorcised from my past through cooking!  What a fabulous way to leave troubles behind!

On my Own: Shredded Beef Saves the Days!

15 07 2010

There it is…peeking out beneath the tomatoes, lettuce and cheese…succulent morsels of shredded beef, cooked low and slow on the stove while I napped the heat of the day away.  Ahhhh….the Siesta!   This meal, however, came a full day later, arriving at the table around 9:30 p.m. after a full day of working in the sun, clearing a pasture (of the tools) finishing the fencing (with Murphy’s Law working overtime) and having to do the simplest task at least twice…  It’s amazing what you can still put on the table at the end of an exhausting day (hubby literally dragged me in at 8:45 p.m.).  I was amazed when I saw what was on the plates!  Thankfully with little effort on my part!

I knew this week was going to be harsh on our bodies, but I also knew we’d still have to eat.   We’ve been preparing to add an adopted horse to our family, and that’s required a substantial amount of work on our side yard. I’m a pretty “driven” person, and when I put my mind to a project.  I pretty much stay with it through thick & thin, and blood, sweat and tears.  That’s just how I’m wired.  I’m finding as I’ve gotten older, sometimes my “flesh” isn’t as willing and it takes me longer…oh no fun!!  That’s been this project all over!  From working with 15 yr. old fencing, to adding in new fencing, to putting T-posts in backwards, to any number of other goofy things, if it could go wrong once, it did.  If it required thinking outside the box for a fix, it did.  And so did we!  It’s been a bit of a juggling effort to keep us fed and hydrated properly, and still work to my fullest efforts outside too.

Knowing about this week when I shopped, I geared my supplies to Mexican foods for several days.  I knew tacos, quesadillas, taquitos, and the like would be my best bet for quick, complete meals.   Boneless chuck roast was on sale this week, and that made everything fit together even better.    It’s hard for something to be much easier to fix!!

My Shredded Beef

3# boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped fine (only use half of one if you’re concerned about the spiciness – you can always add more)
1 can Rotel tomatoes (1o ounce)
Salt, pepper, ground cumin (1/4 to 1 tsp.) to taste
Water to come to top of meat
Lard for browning beef cubes

Using a deep cast iron skillet with a lid (what Mama called her chicken fryer), or a cast iron dutch oven (preferably),  cook the onion until translucent, add garlic and cook briefly.  Remove from pan and set aside for later.  Add lard as needed and cook the beef cubes in batches until browned on the outsides.  Remove from pan, and continue to cook in batches until all meat is browned.  Return all beef to pan, add onion-garlic mixture, add seasonings and Rotel tomatoes and chipotles.  Add just enough water to come to the top of the meat.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and let cook quietly for 3 hours.  The meat will be fall apart tender and have a wonderful flavor.

Use for any Mexican recipe calling for shredded beef.
Yields 4-6 servings.

Tasting Notes:
I’ve got a decently seasoned palate from eating Mexican and Thai food, and this is what I’d consider medium spicy.  I don’t want it any hotter than this out of the pan.    I even found adding salsa was too much extra heat…until I added sour cream!  I love the smokiness from the chipotles.  It’s not over-stated.  It’s a background flavor.  The beef cubes hold their shape, until you start messing with them…then they melt into perfect shreds.  Don’t worry about a piece that feels gristly, by the time it finishes cooking, it will simply melt.  If by some chance you end up with more than you can put to use, it will also freeze well, but do your best to get rid of the air.  Because there are so many surfaces, the meat is prone to freezer burn.  Use as much of the broth from the pan as you can when you freeze as you can to protect the meat from exposure to air.

So…with something that easy in the fridge, it’s not a huge hassle to fix stuffed quesadillas for supper after stringing welded wire and electric wire fencing around a corral.  The worst part was being out in the sun, again, when I shouldn’t have…and still didn’t think to use the sunscreen. DUH!!!  A lot of it had to do with anticipating only being in the sun a few moments more…which turned into hours more.  And problem solving…thinking out of the box, problem solving.   It will all be worth it tomorrow morning if my horse is delivered, and everything goes along as planned.  At any rate, the big physical push is finally over for the moment!

On My Own: Seared Ahi Salad~

8 07 2010

Seared Ahi Salad

One of the tough things about Summer is that it can be difficult to keep an appetite in the blazing heat.  This salad is wonderful on a hot summer night because it’s cool and refreshing with bright flavors and contrasting textures.  The bean threads are cooked just enough to soften them, but then chilled in ice water and sauced with the salad dressing.  The bean threads are silky, the cucumbers crunchy, the ahi smooth as satin and the romaine crisp and clean.

There’s no major secret to this dish.  Soften 2 oz. of bean threads in hot water for 15 minutes while you gather your ingredients.  Chop your favorite greens and goodies for your salad.  I chose romaine lettuce, English cucumbers, spring onions, canned baby corn (rinsed and tossed with the salad dressing) and tomatoes in addition to the tuna steak and the bean threads.  It was plenty for two of us.

Once the bean threads were pliable, I put them in a small, non-stick skillet with a little water and salad dressing.  I cooked them over low heat until they bubbled and became translucent and slippery.   Drain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking.  When cooled, drain thoroughly and mix with salad dressing and baby corn.  Chill (I popped it into the freezer for the 8-10 minutes).

I used a grill pan to cook the ahi.  I put the pan over a medium high flame while I prepared the tuna steak.  I rinsed and dried the steak.  I prepared a sheet of waxed paper with fresh cracked pepper and “Laab-Namtok” sprinkled on it.   Laab-Namtok contains roasted rice powder, dried chilies, citric acid, MSG, salt and spice…and the package claims it contains no preservatives.  I think something got lost in translation.  Regardless…Laab has a really unique flavor and made a really nice crust with the pepper!  I pressed the tuna steak onto the seasoned waxed paper and pressed the seasoning into the fish a bit more.  Then I rubbed a bit of peanut oil onto the uppermost surface of the fish before I placed it down onto the grill pan.  Once the fish was in the pan, I rubbed oil into the side of the fish that was now facing up.  Use a fish spatula when turning, and turn after only a few minutes as you only want to sear the surface nicely, not cook the fish.  While the fish is cooking, dress your salad and plate it. When the ahi is done, carve it, paying attention to the grain and cut it as though for sushi for the nicest bites.

To garnish the salad, I drizzled the tuna with a bit of the salad dressing – a Sesame based dressing I bought somewhere along the line – and sprinkled the salad with spring onion tops and black sesame seeds.

Tasting Notes~
I’ll tell you…I served this on a night when neither of us had the energy to spit, but we both needed to eat, and although I’d planned that tuna to be sushi, it just wasn’t going to happen.  I didn’t have the energy to wait for the rice to cook, cool properly, and do all the odds and ends that went with a sushi night.  When I got into the kitchen, the possibility of a salad really popped!  We both inhaled the entire thing.  It was light, and easy on the system on a hot night.  While a glass of white wine may have been a really nice accompaniment, iced tea certainly way!