Saturday, March 19, 2011

St. Patrick and Cabbage

St. Patrick's Day is special - even if you're not Irish.  Growing up, corned beef was essential.  Yes, it was usually boiled to death, but it was still delicious.  Why the dish was limited to once a year, I will never figure out.  It feeds a crowd with the greatest of ease and always pleases.

This year following Michael Ruhlman's recipe and with the encouragement of the Charcutepalooza movement, I just finished corning my second brisket and am happy to report the recipe is not only incredibly easy but superlative to any supermarket pre-corned beef.  All you need is a week's forethought for the brining and you are home free.

But St. Pat's is not only about the corned beef.  Of course there is lovely skillet bread and clam pie but when you get right down to it, it's all about the cabbage for me.  I love cabbage.  Not my great aunt's cook it til the sulfur smell inhabits every corner of her Woodside apartment building.  Lovely pale green, crisp but not snappingly so, cabbage.  And a St. Patrick's Day meal to me means combining cabbage with the vegetable no Irish family could survive without - the potato.  Together they make the heaven known as Colcannon.

So follow Michael Ruhlman's recipe for corning the brisket.  When cooking the actual corned beef though, I recommend the following - and serve it with Colcannon and spinach.  No idea why spinach, just always had spinach on St. Patrick's day.  Maybe because it's green? And a green and white cookie for dessert couldn't hurt....

Corned Beef and Colcannon

For the Corned Beef

1 5lb. corned brisket (hopefully home-corned)
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 parsnips cut into chunks
3 sprigs rosemany
1 dried chile, I use chile d'arbol
stalks of a fennel bulb
2 tbsp. pickling spice - make Ruhlman's recipe and keep extra on hand
1 tbsp. fennel seed

For the Colcannon

4 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 cabbage head, cut again in half
3 leeks, cleaned and slice lengthwise into quarters and then across in 1/4 inch slices
4 scallions, sliced cross-wise, white and clean green parts included
2 cups milk, half and half, cream in whatever proportions you can justify
1 stick butter, plus 1 tsp.
1 glug olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Place brisket in a pot large enough to allow it to lay flat. cover with water by 2 inches.  Add remaining ingredients, cover and place in the oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  When a corner easily slices off - you're done.

2.   Remove pan from the oven, uncover and let cool in the brine for about 30 minutes.  Remove from the brine to a platter and let cool until colcannon is done.  Retain about a quart of cooking solution for moistening the sliced meat and for re-heating leftovers. 

3.  In a small skillet, saute the leeks in 1 tsp. butter and a parsimonious glug of olive oil until the leeks are translucent.  Add the scallions, stir for one minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.

4.  When you remove the meat from the oven, peel the potatoes and cover with salted cold water in a stock pot.  Add the two cabbage chunks.  Place over high heat for 20 minutes but keep an eye on it, you don't want to cook the cabbage to death.  Remove the two pieces of cabbage, they should still be firm and pale green and place on a cutting board.

5.  Continue cooking the potatoes until a knife easily slides through. Drain the potatoes and return to the stock pot.  Reduce heat to its lowest possible setting.  Sprinkle the potatoes with salt to taste.  Keep an eye on it so the potatoes don't scorch.  You want the liquid in the boiled potatoes to evaporate.

6.  Combine the milk mixture and butter in a heat-proof vessel and microwave for two minutes.  Stir and, if necessary, microwave for another two minutes.

7.  When cabbage is cool enough, cut each chunk lengthwise in half.  Then slice each piece cross-wise into 1/2 to 3/4 inch strips. Add the cabbage to the potatoes in the stockpot. Add the leeks to the cabbage/potato mixture and begin to mash drizzling in the milk and butter combination until the desired consistency is reached.  Add freshly ground pepper to taste.

8.  Thinly slice the corned beef against the grain and serve with just enough cooking liquid to moisten the sliced meat.  Horseradish sauce is excellent on the side.  If you are too lazy to make your own horseradish sauce, Boar's Head is acceptable but not optimal. Serve with the colcannon and spinach.  Sprinkle with parsley, yes, because it's green.

And for dessert....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Little Now - a Lot Later

Mentioning that I have a crazy job is becoming a little bit of a theme here - but I do. Even with the crazy hours, I do still cook most nights – there is something satisfying and soothing about cooking dinner at the end of a long work day where nothing is ever finished. Cook a meal, finish a canning project – and there is the result. Even better, the "result" can often be the base for - or a great addition to - a future meal.

So I often look for meals that can be made at leisure on the weekend and recycled during the work week. Leftovers are great but it is a rare instance when the remaining food should be a duplicate of the prior meal - not when the opportunity exists to morph the remains into a whole new meal. 

This week, the wonderful people at Bobolink Dairy had a veal breast and veal leg roast available. The leg roast was a little too big for the two of us, even assuming leftovers. But the veal breast was perfect – for the two of us and at least two more meals to be named later with the help of the freezer. 

I don’t know why I never cooked veal breast until about ten years ago. It is delicious, comforting and amazingly cheap. Time is required but the only labor involved is peeling the icky connective tissue and bones off the cooked piece of meat. However, it takes way less than ten minutes to do and the labor is well worth it.

This meal is easiest cooked over two days, although you can do it in one if you get started early. So get started!

Veal Breast "Confit"

1 5lb. Veal Breast
2 cups Veal Stock (or a mix of chicken and beef stock)
1 2 cups white wine
4 shallots, peeled
1 head garlic, peeled and cloves separated
2 carrots, cut into chunks
1 parsnip, cut into chunks
1 small bunch fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 2 tsp. black peppercorns

1.  Preheat oven to 500E.

2.  Generously season veal breast with salt and pepper and place in a deep roasting pan.  You see I kind of squished into my Le Creuset braisier - it is better to let it lay flat.  Roast in oven for 20 minutes.

3.  Remove veal from oven and reduce temperature to 300E.  Add the broth, wine, shallots, garlic, carrots, parsnip, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns.  Cover the pan with a lid or a double thickness of foil and return to the oven. Roast for 3 2 hours. 

4.  Remove meat from the oven and let cool slightly. Using two spatulas, place the meat on a baking sheet, moving it carefully since it may easily fall apart. 

5.  Strain the braising liquid and, when it is room temperature refrigerate it.

6.   While the veal is still warm, removes the bones, cartilage and connective tissue from the meat.  If shards of meat come off, don't worry.  Keep them to the side (or pop them in your mouth).

7.   Cut the veal breast in half (not lengthwise) so that you have two roughly rectangular pieces about the same size.  Place the shards of meat on top of the thicker piece and then place the other half on top.  Remove the stacked meat to a glass pie plate or other baking dish in which it fits.  Cover the meat and pie plate/baking dish with plastic wrap or foil and place a plate on top.  Place a heavy weight on top of the plate. Refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours.

8.   Remove the veal from the refrigerator and unwrap it.  Cut the meat into equal size square or rectangular shapes - usually six good sized pieces, about 2" square.  A serrated knife helps but is not necessary.  The veal is very rich so err on the size of small.  Keep two pieces out and rewrap the remaining pieces individually in plastic wrap and then put two pieces each in two quart size baggies.  Freeze for the future.  Pour about 1/2 of the braising liquid into a leak proof baggie and freeze.

9.   Back to tonight's dinner.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  In a cast iron skillet, add a knob of butter to the pan over medium high heat.  Quarter some cremini mushrooms and add to the skillet with 2 minced shallots.  Saute until the shallots are translucent.  Make a well in the center of the skillet and sear the two chunks of veal.  Flip the veal and place it in the oven for 15-20 minutes. 

10. Remove the skillet from the oven and plate the veal and mushrooms.  Add about 3/4 cup of the braising liquid to the skillet and bring to a simmer.  If the liquid is not thick, add a little butter. Ladle over the veal and mushrooms.

Serve the veal with mashed potatoes, maybe with a little marscapone thrown in, or polenta, or risotto and some green peas.  Also would be delicious serves over baby spinach or other greens.  It's almost spring - if asparagus are around, so much the better!  If you find you love this meal, it is not much more work to double the recipe which will give you an additional 6 meals for two in the freezer....

Leftovers:  With the two remaining meals in the freezer, you can treat them the same way.  Before leaving for work, remove 2 chunks of veal from the freezer and place them in the refrigerator.  Or maybe even better, turn the veal into a sauce for pasta.  Simply saute the mushrooms,  add the veal and braising liquid, break up the veal chunks, add 2 tsps. of minced fresh rosemary and serve over pasta (you can toss frozen peas into the cooking pasta about 2 minutes before it is done).  Pass grated Parmesan cheese.  The sauce is delicious so if you have the ability to spring for one of the delicate Cipriani pastas, this is the time to do it.  If there is not enough braising liquid, add 1/3 cup of vermouth (or white wine) and 2/3 cup of stock to the existing braising liquid and enrich the pasta sauce with a little knob of butter.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Remains of the Brining Charcutepalooza Day

I love the Charcutepalooza Challenge.  I was definitely late to the game but have caught up with my Duck Breast Prosciutto, awesome thinly sliced with Sweet and Sour Pickled Cherries (more on that when the sour cherries come in!), and the delicious corned beef that I brined and cooked way too soon for St. Patrick's Day.  We've had two homey dinners from it and a sandwich or two, but there was still a lovely slab that needed to be consumed.
I may have mentioned I was a little too enthusiastic grating beets from the garden for beet risotto the other night.  So this morning, when I opened the refrigerator and stared blankly at its contents, a plan started to form that would finish the corned beef, use up the beets and make a lovely colorful start to an otherwise gray day.  And I can actually look forward to brining another brisket for St. Pat's.....
Corned Beef Red Flannel Hash with Eggs
2 tbsps. butter
Glug of olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
4 Yukon Gold or similar potatoes, peeled and cubed, about 2 - 3 cups
2-3 cups corned beef cut in small cubes
2 cups grated beets, it's ok to include some stems while grating, use the grating disk of a food processor to make it easy
1 tsp. fennel seed
1/2 dried chile with seeds, I use Chile de arbols
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.  Saute onion in olive oil and butter in a 12 inch (preferably) cast iron skillet over medium heat until translucent.  Add cubed potatoes and coat with the butter/oil.  Add fennel seeds and break up the 1/2 chile into tiny pieces over the mixture.
3.  Add the grated beets and cubed corned beef and stir well to incorporate.  Everything should just plain look pink, alright magenta.  Salt and pepper to taste.
4.  Place the skillet in the oven for 25 minutes.  Stir the contents to make sure things crisp up a little and roast for another 20 minutes.
5.  Make a well in the hash for each egg you want to cook.  Crack an egg into each well and return the skillet to the oven until the eggs are to the required doneness - about 5-6 minutes for runny eggs but keep an eye on it.
6.  Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March and Beets

It's March.  It is still freezing cold, but at least it's March.  And the ground has thawed a little giving up some carrots, parsnips and beets that I missed last year when the frost caught me by surprise as it does every year.  You can smell the dirt again though and that is a very good sign.  Time to make sure you have sugar snap pea seeds ready for direct sowing the weekend after St. Patrick's Day.  And kale and new beets. And to turn over the compost to amend the beds before planting.  But not today, it's too cold.

It is so exciting to have something fresh from the garden - well, partially naturally frozen but still fresh.  The thyme and rosemary was the last to go in early February.  And February has been a dreary month.
The carrots and parsnips went into some incredible Halibut in Cilantro Carrot Broth loosely based on Jerry Traunfeld's recipe in The Herbfarm Cookbook (a must for anyone who loves good food and grows lots of herbs).  I posted the recipe on food52.  Doesn't appear anyone likes it but me.  Try it though - it is a delicious fast meal.
Last night I was tired from a long week of work - but still starving.  Beets beckoned.  Beet risotto.  Beet Risotto with Humboldt Fog.  Yes, there is a tiny bit left from a cheese plate long ago.  Served with a duck confit leg from D'Artagnan that is the ultimate fast food. Just defrost and broil on both sides until crisp.
Preparing the beets with the grating disk of a food processor makes life easy.  I was a little over exuberant on the beet grating so I have a significant amount of leftover beet shavings but - I've got an idea, tune in tomorrow.
Beet Risotto with Humboldt Fog
3 tbsps. butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green part only, cleaned, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin
1/2 fennel bulb, diced
1 tsp. fennel seeds
4 beets, peeled and grated
1 parsnip, peeled and grated
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
4 cups of hot vegetable or turkey stock (if I'm out of home-made, I use R.L. Schreiber liquid bases and find them acceptable)
Some crumbled cheese - preferably Humboldt Fog
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1.  Melt the butter with the olive oil in a medium size Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the leeks and fennel and sauté until translucent but don't brown them.  Add the fennel seeds and stir for 2 minutes.
2.  Stir the grated beets and parsnip into the leek fennel mixture and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the Arborio rice and coat with the mixture.  Continue to stir the rice until the edges become translucent.  Add the wine and orange zest and bring to a light boil.
3.  Continue stirring the risotto.  When the wine evaporates, add a cup of the broth and stir.  Mix the orange juice with the remaining broth.  Continue adding a ladleful of liquid as the broth evaporates, stirring to prevent sticking.  If the risotto is still hard when the broth is done, add an additional half cup of water. When the risotto is al dente, ladle into shallow bowls and top with the crumble cheese and parsley.
Leftover tip:  If there is leftover risotto, mix a beaten egg into the risotto and shape into patties.  Brown in a little butter and olive oil and serve as a side dish.