Brownies

As a diabetic, fitness and workout junkie, health nut, etc, I don’t eat brownies or particularly like them. I am clearly in the minority. At an office party, get – together, dessert buffet, or whatever the friendly gathering, brownies never stand a chance. If you run out of anything, it’s brownies.  And they’re usually the first to go.  People love them. Moist, chocolaty, rich, gooey… delicious. And finger food. Anything bite sized is successful. It’s fun to eat and maybe gives us the illusion that smaller portions have less calories. 

Brownies are also highly customizable.   Different combinations of chocolates, fillings (mint, health, caramel, fudge, white chocolate, marzipan, just to name a few), nuts, toppings, whole chocolate chunks… whatever you want to add to make it yours.  This is all great, but you need a fantastic ‘base’ or platform from which to launch your own brownie.  I think this recipe is it.  Once you get it down and are happy with it, put your personal touch on it and call it your own.

 
Regarding this recipe, it is NOT mine. Chef Thomas Keller gave this recipe his full endorsement, and therefore, any self-respecting chef should do the same. Chef Thomas Keller, of the French Landry, Bouchon, and Per Se, is arguably the best chef in America, if not the world.  I feel more than confident in posting this recipe, and I’m sure that if you are looking for an incredible brownie, look no further.

Brownies
¾ cup AP flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
1 tsp kosher salt
¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tbsp pieces
3 large eggs
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract
6 ounces of 60-64% chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces
Powdered sugar for dusting

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
2. Butter and flour a 9 in baking dish.
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.
4. Melt half of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of un-melted butter, and be at room temperature.
5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, nix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On a low speed, add about 1/3rd of the dry ingredients, then add 1/3rd of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine.
6. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tested or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Cool in the pan until the brownies are about room temperature.
7. Invert the brownie onto a cutting board. Cut into 12 rectangles. Dust the tops with powdered sugar.

Enjoy

Crock Pot Beef

Crock pot cooking is beloved by so many, for so many good reasons.  For me, two reasons stand out above the rest:

  • It produces wonderful meals (without a lot of work)
  • It’s safe to use while out of the house

For those two reasons alone, it gets my full endorsement.  Crock pots, however, are not versatile.  Your cooking method options are limited.  You can make soups, stews, braised items and stocks.  Of course, the possibilities therein are unlimited, as those are fairly large categories, but they are not appropriate all the time.  You probably won’t want to make rich lamb stew or Yankee pot roast on a hot July day.  There are also many ‘modern’ applications, such as crock pot lasagna, pizza, roast chicken, and so on.  These,while good, are not necessarily tradition, and can be very tricky to make.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable placing a lasagna in the pot and leaving it to slow cook all day while I am at work.

So let’s embrace it for what it is, and for what we know it does best.  And when the time is right to make stews, soups and pot roasts, use the crock pot and produce them the best that you can.

In this particular recipe, I am going for a variation on traditional pot roast.  Pot roast is of course braised beef, and usually employees a cheaper and tougher cut of beef.  The long slow ‘wet’ cooking method breaks down the meat, tenderizing it.  Some cuts, like spoon roast or top round, will never fully tenderize, no matter how long you cook it.  Those cuts are better for thin sliced highly seasoned stir fries or fast grilling, like galbi.  I find it more appropriate to use sirloin tri-tip, brisket, flank steak or short rib meat for braising.  

Regarding the ingredients, I want to point out two things:  First, use lots of carrots!  Carrots add so much to your beef braises.  Second, any grain you may want to add (I am using pearl barley) should be cooked separately and added at the end.  It keeps their integrity and whole grains, like barley or lentils, will absorb liquid continuously.  Normally braised items (by definition) are seared or roasted before going in the pot, but to stay true to the crock pot, and to make this much easier and less complicated, I will omit those steps.  The end result will be incredible.

This is also another winter New England – geared recipe.  Think of this on the lingering cold night, when the temperature is well below freezing and nothing beats a hot homemade meal.

Crock Pot Beef

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time:  8 hours
Yield:  4-5 large portions

Ingredients:

5lb tri-tip or fresh brisket beef roast
2 yellow onions, sliced
8 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only, fine chop
4 sprigs thyme, fine chop
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups dry red wine
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp tomato paste
beef or chicken broth, warmed (you will need enough to cover the beef, start with 4 cups)
2 ribs celery, medium dice
1/2 lb small red potatoes, wahsed and quartered
1 bay leaf
3 cups pearl barley, fully cooked (start with 1 cup uncooked)
kosher salt
black pepper
3 tbsp paprika

Method:

Take about 1 cup of the warm broth and place it in a mixing bowl.  Thoroughly whisk in the tomato paste.  Reserve.  In the crock pot, add the vegetables, beef, potatoes, herbs, garlic, wine, orange juice, paprika, and a decent amount of salt and pepper.  Add the broth mixed with tomato paste.  Finish covering the meat with the warm broth.

Follow the instructions for your crock pot.  Let simmer over low heat, covered for 8 hours.  Once the beef is incredibly tender, add the barley.  Serve right away.

This is best served with good fresh crusty bread.

Enjoy.

Tortilla Soup

A wonderful, aromatic, savory, delicious, fulfilling soup, full of southwest flavors.  Perfect for any evening, any meal, any time.  This soup is meal in itself.  A tortilla soup is essentially a ‘Latin’ inspired chicken based broth, thickened with corn tortillas.  I like to fill mine with a wide assortment of garnishes, including black beans, pulled chicken, roasted peppers, cilantro, Mexican cheese, corn, avocado, or anything else Tex-mex that might work in a soup.

Tortilla soup is a refreshing change from our normal routines, and is surprisingly easy to make.  Chicken stock, a few spices, tortillas and you’re in business.  Everything else is garnish, and as previously mentioned, you can add as much as you like.  Personally, I like the soup a little on the thicker side, with the consistency of a bisque.  Toasting the tortillas will enhance the flavor and bacon will add the smoky/salty touch.  It’s delicious.  I hope you like this as much as I do!
Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield:  1/2 gallon of soup

Ingredients:
1/2 gallon homemade chicken stock
4 tbsp tapatio hot sauce
2 tbsp chili powder
2 dry New Mexico Chili peppers, stems removed and seeds shaken out
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 ear of corn, lightly charred on a grill
1/2 cup cooked black beans
1/2 bunch cilantro, rough chop
1 yellow onion, medium dice
10 corn tortillas, toasted until slightly crisp
1 avocado, diced
shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese
3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, grilled, cooled, and diced
sour cream
4 strips of smoked bacon, small diced and cooked until crispy
juice of 3 limes
kosher salt
black pepper
Method:
In a medium sized heavy bottom stock pot, begin warming the chicken stock.  Add the hot sauce, chili powder, dried chilis, cayenne pepper, onion, 1/2 the cilantro and toasted tortillas.  Simmer until tortillas are beginning to fall apart.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Transfer to a blender and blender until very smooth.  
Place the soup back in a pot and bring back to a very low simmer.  Add the beans, corn, remaining cilantro and diced chicken.  Season with salt, pepper, lime juice and additional chili powder or cayenne if you like it spicy.  
Ladle the soup into warm soup bowls, sprinkle the bacon, cheese and avocado on top, finishing with a dollop of sour cream.  Serve right away.
Poached eggs, fried tortilla strips, and extra hot sauce go well.
Enjoy.

Berkshire Pork Chops

Berkshire pork chops.  Homemade apple sauce.  Horseradish mashed potatoes.  It sounds like we may on to something great.  Without question we find ourselves back in cold New England this morning, instead of warm southern California.

Pork chops are delicious, but can be tricky to cook.  The meat is naturally lean and you always want to cook pork all the way through, therefore the meat can very easily become tough.  Tough and dry pork chops… we’ve all had it, and no one likes it.

There are a few ways around this.  First and foremost, buy good quality.  Well marbled meat will always be more tender and flavorful (Berkshire is the best).  Second, bread the pork.  The breading protects the meat and absorbs oil, adding the missing ‘fat’.  Third, consider brining the meat.  I have posted about this many times, and it’s the easiest way to push flavor into the meat and prevent it from drying while cooking.  But maybe you don’t have the time or energy to brine, don’t want to ad additional salt to your diet, or just want to try something different.  That brings us to our last method:  simmering.

Simmering pork chops sounds horrible.  It sounds like grey meat with no flavor, and by itself, you would be right.  So think of it as a two part method.

  • Part I:  gentle simmer the meat in a flavorful broth until just cooked through
  • Part II:  Finish the meat on a hot charcoal grill with a sweet glaze, giving it the flavor and caramelization desired

The simmering gently cooks the meat, leaving it juice, highly tender and perfectly cooked.  For the glaze, we will use a cider/honey/rosemary glaze.  You can easily sub with any other type of grilling sauce or glaze, like bbq sauce, miso/soy, etc.

Homemade apple sauce is, especially for this application, easy.  Use green apples, a touch of sugar, lemon juice and a small amount of water and just cook down, occasionally mashing until it becomes a sauce.  Horseradish mashed potatoes:  Instead of giving you a full recipe, I recommend using your favorite mashed potato recipe and adding a couple tablespoons of prepared horseradish.  The star is the meat, the hardest part is the meat, and therefore I will focus on the cooking technique alone.

Berkshire Pork Chops

Prep time:  3 minutes
Cook time:  45 minutes
Yield:  4 pork chops

Ingredients:

4 Berkshire pork chops, bone in, frenched and cleaned of extraneous fat
1/4 cup honey
1 cup apple cider
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 sprig rosemary, leaves only, fine chop
kosher salt
black pepper
4 cups chicken broth or bouillon, cold
1 tsp vegetable oil

Method:

Place the pork chops in the cold broth.  Add 1 tbsp kosher salt.  Bring to a very gently simmer and simmer for about 1/2 hour.  A very gently simmer means a bubble or two every couple of seconds.

While the pork is simmering, make the glaze.  Whisk together the apple cider, vinegar and honey and place in a small heavy bottom sauce pot.  Gently reduce until slightly thick.  Remove from heat and add the chopped rosemary.

Remove the pork from the broth (it should be cooked to about medium in the middle) and pat dry.  Discard the broth.  Prepare a charcoal grill (if using gas, make sure it’s medium high heat).  Toss the pork chops in the vegetable oil, lightly salt and pepper and begin grilling.  Brush the glaze on as you grill.  All you are doing is charring and caramelizing – remember, they are already cooked through.  Once you have grill marks on one side, flip, and reglaze.  Do not overcook!

Remove from grill and serve right away.

Enjoy.

Enchilada Sauce

Enchiladas are delicious.  It’s like Mexican manicotti.  They’re easy to make, but require a few steps which might be more than you’re willing to commit to during a normal week night.  Making the filling, make the sauce, toast the tortillas, stuff and roll the tortillas, bake them, garnish them….  Each step is easy.  Altogether though, it might take a few extra minutes.

So without going through the entire process, I want to focus on the sauce.  Enchilada sauce is one of the easier sauces to make, and hard to ruin.  It’s easy enough to buy canned sauce, but if you show personal concern for dietary salt intake, I recommend going fresh.  And, of course, it tastes better.

The sauce can also be used for other purposes than enchiladas.  Think Mexican night…  Add some of the sauce to your taco meat, chicken fajita mix, as carne asada sauce, burrito sauce, etc.  It’s highly versatile  and takes other flavors very well.  For example, if you want a spicy sauce for your carne asada, add a little more pepper in the sauce.  Smokey?  Use a touch of adobo or chipotle sauce.  Highly seasoned for tacos?  Add some cumin, mexican oregano, chili powder, cinnamon and hot sauce.  You get the point, the sauce is easily modified.  But, as is; as I am writing it, it’s perfect for enchiladas.

Enchilada Sauce

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time:  20 minutes
Yield:  2 cups

Ingredients:

4 roma tomatoes, stem removed, rough chopped
1 small yellow onion, sliced
4 new mexican chilis, stems and most of the seeds removed
3 other assorted dried mexican chilis (choose depending on heat, if you like spice, use hotter peppers)
1 tsp chicken base, or 1 bouillion cube
1 oz grated mexican chocolate (if you dont have this, use 1 tsp hot chocolate mix)
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp vegetable oil
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Method:

Bring a few cups of water to a boil.  Remove from the heat and place the peppers in the hot water.  Let steep until soft.  Remove the peppers and remove any skin that will easily pull away (no need to remove everything).  Reserve the peppers and the water.

In a medium heavy bottom sauce pot, begin cooking down the onions and tomatoes in the vegetable oil.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.    Add the softened peppers, chocolate, chicken base and sugar.  Cook for another minute or two to let everything blend well.  Add enough of the reserved pepper water to just cover everything.  Bring to a simmer and let simmer over low heat until slightly reduced.  Remove from heat. Transfer to a blender and blend until very smooth (be careful blending hot product – make sure to cover the top of the blender with a dry kitchen towel, or wait a few minutes to let it cool).  Return the puree to the pot and continue to simmer until it becomes a thick sauce.  If it’s too thick, add a few tbsp of the pepper water.  Check seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.

Occasionally, I will place about 1/2 a bunch of cilantro leaves in the blender to infuse the flavor into the sauce.

Use right away, or cool quickly and store.  The sauce will keep for about a week if stored properly.

Enjoy.

Beef!! Restaurant Quality Prime Rib

We, in general, love meat.  Every kind, prepared in every way.  If you’re vegetarian, this post clearly is not for you.

Beef is king.  Ground sirloin or chuck, flank steak, skirt steak, NY strip, sirloin, tenderloin, ribeye, top round… whatever cut you choose, prepared correctly, is delicious.

But let’s talk about what we’re getting when we buy meat.  The USDA grades meat based on a few things.  The two key items are:

  • Quality/sanitation of production
  • Marbling – or the water-soluble fat running through the meat.  This is the grade

Everything else is fair game.  Prime beef is highly select and really quite rare, and the only time it’s really worth the money is when you want to cook a naturally lean piece of meat, or a piece of meat that derives its flavor from fat content.  Like tenderloin or ribeye.  The other grades are choice, followed by select.  Kobe beef from the wagyu species of cow is highly prized due to its incredible marbling and natural tenderness.  Something like a shortrib (chuck) or skirt steak would really showcase the meat.  Then you have grass fed vs corn fed, Nebraska CAB (certified angus beef) vs California, brandt beef vs Bolivian or Argentinian… the subtle differences between varieties is massive.

Does it all make a difference?  Does any of this matter considering the supermarket is going to supply only a couple varieties anyway?  What about wet vs dry aged beef?

Yes and no.

You should always be aware of what you’re putting in your body.  Hormone – free beef does, in my opinion, taste better.  Cheap, unmarbled slabs of top roast will always be tough and flavorless no matter how long you braise it, whereas cheap, unmarbled cuts of tenderloin will still be delicious.  Beef, with the exception of ground beef, should always be aged.  It’s natural enzymes tenderize and flavor the beef, lending a flavor that cannot be replicated.

Restaurants choose beef on a wide variety of criteria, with money/quality/profit being their base.  A massive banquet hall will market their beef as ‘prime’ rib, and sure as the sun will rise, it isn’t prime quality.  Believe me, I’ve been in this industry for a while now.  If the price per plate is low, there’s a good chance you’ll be getting over-salted select beef.  A good steak house, especially in West Los Angeles or NYC,  however, will use prime quality, and you’ll pay for it.  

Outside the restaurant world, you can buy prime grass fed beef at high end butcher shops, or local gourmet markets (and sometimes places like whole foods).  But, for the most part, you won’t.  You walk into your normal grocery store and do what most restaurants do:  look for quality vs price.

Let’s say you find a good deal on a bone-in rib roast, choice or even select quality, and want to create that high-end prime beef experience at home.  Can it be done?  Prime beef can never be replicated 100%, but this trick will come as close as you can.

The key:  time and temperature.  This technique will slowly tenderize the meat, giving you very little water loss, and resulting in a perfect mid-rare from the outside right to the center.  It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Restaurant style prime rib

Prep time: 5 minutes
Inactive cook time:  24hrs
Cook time:  8 hrs
Yield:  1 whole rib roast

Ingredients:

1 whole rib roast
3 heads of garlic, or about 20 cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Method:

24 hrs before roasting, lightly coat the beef with the oil and aggressively rub the garlic into the meat.  Cover the meat with plastic wrap, refrigerate and let rest for 24 hours.  Not only will the olive oil/garlic flavor permeate the beef, but the natural acidity from the garlic will also begin the tenderizing process.  It’s easy and is the best marinade I have ever had for beef.

2 hours before roasting, remove meat from the fridge and let come to room temp.  Heat over to 180.  Scrap all the garlic from the meat and discard.  Thoroughly and liberally salt and pepper the meat.  Place the meat on an elevated roasted rack or perforated pan (this allows the dry heat to impact all sides).  If you have one, insert a wire-thermometer into the center of the meat.  Place the meat in the oven and cook for about 7 hours, or until internal temp reads 115.  Remove from oven.  Turn oven to 500.  Place meat back in oven and let crisp.  When the meat is beautifully browned and crisp, remove, turn oven off, and let meat stand for 15 minutes.  Carve and serve right away.

Best served with mashed yukon potatoes, all varieties of roasted vegetables, au jus, casseroles, and anything else wonderful with beef.

Enjoy.

Garlic: sauteed shrimp with brandy and orange

Cooking with garlic is always an interesting experience.  Garlic, of course, can be extremely powerful, can be sweet and subtle, can be heavily aromatic, can be just the right touch to ‘complete’ a dish, and can completely destroy a meal when burned or used excessively.  In my personal opinion, if you’re going to use garlic in your food, then make sure to use enough.  A ‘dash’ of garlic or a pinch of minced garlic won’t really do too much.  The key is to treat it properly.

Garlic’s potency, or power, seems to be directly related to how it’s treated.  If you brutally smash the garlic before cooking, it will be more assertive.  If you flash fry it in high heat, you will result in a harsh ‘in your face’ garlic flavor.  Gently sauteing and slowly caramelizing garlic will result in a sweet and mellow product.  Slow roasting it in olive oil, protected from the direct oven heat will again result in a sweet, fragrant and much less abrasive product.

When I cook with garlic, I prefer the latter; a sweet, non-abrasive addition, lending a fragrant and gentle component to my cuisine.  I like the slow roasted whole garlic, garlic confit, slow simmer garlic, or gently sauteed with olive oil and pepper.  And therefore, to pronounce it in whatever dish I’m making, I need to use a lot.

Garlic seems to be a foundation in so many cuisines.  Many Italian dishes start with garlic and onions.  Chinese cuisine utilizes garlic in more dishes than not.  Beef braises, brines, marinades, soups, stirfries… you name it, it probably has garlic.  Many times, the garlic is either over pronounced, or lost within other complex flavors.  Hopefully this one easy recipe will show you one way to truly embrace the ingredient, giving you a great new technique.

This recipe may appear Chinese in the beginning (garlic and shrimp sautee), but lies somewhere between Chinese and French.  It’s easy, fast and is a great recipe.

Garlic sauteed shrimp with brandy and orange

Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  20 minutes
Yield: 4 portions

Ingredients:

6 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1 1/2 lb tiger shrimp, peeled, deveined
2 tbsp olive oil (does not need to be extra virgin)
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup brandy
1 navel orange, sliced in half
1 tbsp unsalted butter
kosher salt
black pepper
2 scallions, thin sliced

Method:

In a heavy bottom sauce pan, begin heating the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add all the garlic and turn heat to very low.  Stir frequently. Let garlic cook slowly, becoming tender and fragrant.  This will take about 10 minutes.  You do not want to put any color on the garlic.  If the garlic begins to brown slightly, turn heat even lower.

Once the garlic is highly tender and sweet, add the crushed red pepper and shrimp.  Toss everything together and turn heat to medium.  Season with salt and pepper.  When the shrimp just begins to turn pink, add the brandy and turn heat to high.  Reduce until au sec, or almost completely dry.  Squeeze the orange into the pan, and reduce to almost a glaze.  Turn heat to low and swirl in the butter.  This is richen and thicken the sauce.  Remove from heat, add the scallions, and serve right away.

Best served with roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables or jasmine rice.

Enjoy.

BBQ avocado dip

It’s a little late to be posting Superbowl – oriented foods, but what the hell, this is good any time you have a party, bbq, gathering, want to blow people away on game day, or just need a good dip recipe.  Easy?  Yes. Delicious?  No doubt about it.

I think any dip with avocado is delicious… try mixing it into your next blue cheese dip, ranch dip… or whatever good dip you love.

Difficulty level:  easy as it gets!

BBq Avocado Dip

Prep time:  5 minutes
Yield:  enough for 4

Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado
1 tbsp prepared bbq sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
pinch kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
juice of 1 lime
few leaves of cilantro for garnish

Method:

In a medium mixing bowl, mashed the avocado with the salt and lime juice.  Work in the bbq sauce and mayonnaise.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Garnish with cilantro and serve right away.

Enjoy.