Monday, September 30, 2013

Stuffed Rigatoni...a labor of love and a half

Its all about the gravy...or red sauce as the Italians back east call it.   What ever you call it Rigatoni gets its name from the ridges on the big noodle.  They come in the all sizes, the smallest are nearly impossible to stuff, so get the big ones, the ones just about the size of a mans thumb before they are cooked is perfect.

I blogged a few years back a recipe for Italian style braised short ribs where the braising liquid is the perfect sauce or "gravy" to use on stuffed rigatoni.  Then I never gave you the recipe for the stuffed rigatoni that you could use.  Talk about a tease!

The original recipe was handwritten with no quantities.  We were living in the UP of Michigan when my Mom got the recipe from a fobby Italian lady who had served it at a pot luck.  They are really marvy, but in order to duplicate one does need to work from a recipe.  The original was combine ground beef and ground pork, brown.  Add Milk and Parmesan and stuff cooked rigatoni noodles.  Layer with short rib gravy and bake until hot.  Could it be anymore vague?  Fortunately I had watched my Mom make enough growing up I was able to guesstimate and wrote down actual quantities until I got it right.  

The one thing that isn't talked about is seasoning and salt in that original recipe from my childhood.  You do use salt and pepper.  On the former you do need to be a little light at the start as the Parmesan will add a lot salt on its own.  Better to start light and taste at the end and add more if needed as  once in you can't take it away.

Stuffing those things is a real bugger, I've tried everything, and it comes down to take your time and allot a good 30 minutes to stuffing the rigatoni.  This makes a full casserole and there just isn't an easy fast way to stuff the little buggers.  The secret to stuffing is twofold.  Large noodles to start is a must, sauce cool enough and sticky enough is the second part that you gotta have right.  Too cool and its crumbly and hard to get to stay in the noodle, too hot and you are burning your fingers.  The easiest way is to take the noodle and open it up with the bottom plugged with an in-turned finger.  Spoon in the filling and tap lightly to pack, but not so firm as to bust out the side.

The filling itself is creamy and mild tasting. The flavor it gets is from how intense your gravy or red sauce is.  I have used the braise from the Italian short ribs or tossed together a quick red sauce with some chili flake added to liven it up.  Regardless, this little step is where the flavor comes from so use a good sauce.

Stuffed Rigatoni

  • 2-3 c "gravy" or your favorite red sauce
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t ground black pepper
  • 1 c  whole milk
  • 1 c shredded Parmesan
  • 2 lb rigatoni noodles

Cook rigatoni noodles according to package directions in well salted water.  I use about 1 T salt per gallon of water.  Drain noodles and dunk in ice water to cool them to handle. Drain well in colander.

Brown ground beef and ground pork in a heavy skillet, season with salt and pepper.  Break up and stir often over medium-high heat so you have small pieces that are well browned.  Reduce heat when browned and add milk, simmer and reduce liquid to half.  Add Parmesan cheese and stir until melted and creamy.  Test for salt and add more if needed.  Cover and cool until just warm to the touch.

Take a noodle and with a spoon insert enough filling to just fill the noodle.  Add a scant 1/4 cup of sauce to bottom of a greased casserole dish.  Stuff enough noodles to make one layer in the dish.  Spoon some sauce of the noodles.  Make additional layers of noodles with sauce spooned over until casserole dish is full. Bake in 350F oven until hot.
 (Any remaining stuffing mixture can be frozen or refrigerated and used for spaghetti another night).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Beef Short Ribs braised in BBQ Sauce

We are fans of the short rib around here, its the perfect slow simmer on the stove on a cold day. Or in a crock pot.  Or in the oven, you chose the results are the same.  Yummy.

The theme of this post is really caramelization.  That process of bringing out the natural sugars through searing beef or sauteing onions.  I've heard it a few times on TV, not sure who the chef is, "Color equals Flavor" and they aren't kidding.  With this recipe, actually most recipes, the more color you bring with searing and sauteing the better the depth of flavor as the natural sugars are used to their best advantage.

Take the time to get a good sear on the beef.  Take your time to bring out the sugars in the onion.  You won't be disappointed with the results.  That brown stuff at the bottom of the pan...its called "fond" and it is a ton of flavor that will work its way into the braising liquid when you deglaze the pan.  Your clear amber liquid suddenly becomes dark brown from the fond and very rich in flavor.  Trust me, all that time you put into the sear and saute will not be wasted when you deglaze it all comes to life.

Braising is my favorite way to cook tough cuts like a beef short rib. You use just enough liquid to come to the top of the meat and let it simmer away for a few hours.  You end up with a succulent, melt in your mouth, fork tender piece of meat.

The pan you use for braising needs to be a heavy pan that will spread the heat evenly for a long period of time.  I use a Le Creuset Doufeu but any heavy no reactive pan with a tight fitting lid will work.  The point is that you want even heating with all the steam retained so it doesn't evaporate away all your braising liquid.

Beef Short Ribs braised in BBQ Sauce

  • 2-3 lbs boneless beef short ribs
  • 2T Montreal steak seasoning
  • Olive oil.
  • 2 large onions rough chopped
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans beer - I used Millers MGD
  • 1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T Sriracha
  • 2T red wine vinegar
  • 1 T liquid smoke

Coat all side of beef short ribs with Montreal In large braising pan heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil until it starts to shimmer. You will need to sear short ribs in a few batches to get good color on them.  Add a few short ribs to the hot pan.  Cook about 5-7 minutes on each side until you get a good dark sear on them.  Remove to a platter and sear off the remainder of the short ribs.

Add a bit more oil to the pan if needed to saute the onions. Add onions and salt.  Cook them stirring often until translucent and the edges are starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes.

Pour in beer.  Using spoon scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, worcestershire sauce, Sriracha, vinegar and liquid smoke.  Taste for seasoning, add ,more salt if needed.  Return the seared short ribs to the broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover tightly with lid and simmer 2 1/2 - 3 hours.  

If using an oven set temp to 300f and place your covered pot in the oven for the same amount of time.

If you decide to use a crock pot, pour in the braising liquid, add the beef, cover and use low for 6-8 hours.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Victory Garden Casserole

Maybe I should call it a hot dish, as that's what they do in Northern MN and that's where this recipe originated.  Its one of my favorites that my grandmother made for us when we visited summers when I was growing up.  Both of them had quite a few veggies in their garden and they wound up cooked in all sorts of "hot dishes".

This also happens to be one of the first things I ever cooked on my own.  The basic recipe that my grandmother used is simpler than this.  Veggies, fresh in the summer, veg-all in the winter, browned ground beef and a can of cream of celery soup.  How simple is that.  Very and its tasty too.

As I've kicked it up a bit.  Don't ever use canned veggies as they have way too much salt in them, lack flavor and color.  Canned is gross and here in SoCa we are pretty much the land of never ending fresh produce so its hard not to go that route. If you can't go that route then by all means use frozen thats been thawed in the microwave so you can keep your oven time reasonable.

Mincing garlic has gotten easier.  Consider this your tip of the day. Take  your garlic clove and run it over a fine toothed microplane right over the pot you are going to cook in. Voila instant minced garlic without the hassle and stinky hands.

casserole before final layer of onion rings
Victory Garden Casserole

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 bunch green onions sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 carrot, small dice
  • 1 1/2 c trimmed green beans
  • 1 c peas
  • 1 1/2 c corn kernels
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1/2 can half and half
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t fresh ground black pepper
  • 6 oz can french fried onion rings

Preheat oven to 350F

Crumble beef into a skillet, add salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat stirring often until well browned.  Stir in onion garlic and cook 1-2 minutes until onion turning translucent and wilted.  Reduce heat.  Add soup and half & half.  Stir until dissolved.  Fold in veggies.  Grease a large casserole dish with cooking spray.  

Add half of the veggie mixture to the casserole dish and spread it out evenly. Top with 1/2 can of french fried onion rings.  Top with remaining veggie mixture and even out in dish.  Bake covered for 25 minutes.  At end of this baking time remove lid and spread out remaining half can of french fried onion rings over the casserole.  Return to oven for 5 minutes more and bake until golden and crispy.  Serve hot.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fajita Style BBQ Skirt Steak

Somewhere along the line in the early 80's I had my first taste of fajitas.  Marinated skirt steak seared on a cast iron griddle with veggies and served with warm Tortillas.  I think I did it after a wedding in Tuscon AZ in their old town in some sort of famed and fabled locals place.  The name escapes me but the taste of the real deal has never left me.  I bought then a cook book dedicated to all things fajita and there were a zillion twists on the basic marinade.  I drifted to the ones with more fresh stuff than dried stuff...though the latter isn't entirely off the table.

This marinade is one I came up with after a little experimenting.  Its stupid simple to prepare...simple whiz in the blender and you are done.  It does stray from the classic fajita in that it was intended to be done on a grill and there aren't a ton of onion and pepper chunks to toss in with your tortilla.  Its about the meat.  You dress it in the tortilla with guacamole, sour cream, salsa or whatever your favorite taco type garnish is.

As there is acid from the lime and some from the beer the meat will cook and tenderize while marinating.  Thats a good thing as the skirt steak being a cheap tough cut it benefits from the process.  Just don't over do it as the meat will go from tender to mealy and gross if you overdo it.

Fajita Style BBQ Skirt steak

  • 2 large tomatoes - quartered
  • 1 green jalapeno
  • 4 small red chilies
  • 1 large onion - peeled and quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c cilantro 
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 C beer - light amber not dark, such as a corona
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 3 lbs skirt steak

In a blender toss in tomatoes, jalapeno, chilies, onion, garlic, salt, lime, beer and olive oil.  Cover and pulse until chopped fine.  

In large glass or other non-reactive baking dish pour in a little marinade just to cover the bottom.  Add a layer of skirt steak and top with a little marinade.  Repeat until all the skirt steak and marinade is used.  Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours.  

Shake off the excess marinade and grill on hot grill a few minutes per side until just charred.  It is best med-rare.  Cover with foil and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.  Cut steak across the grain for the tenderest chew. Serve with garnish and tortillas.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


So whatta you do with 6 egg whites after making Bearnaise that needs only the yolks.  Save them.  Bring to room temp and make Pavlova.  What that heck is that?  Its a totally retro desert made from layers of meringue, whipped cream, berries and a fresh berry sauce.  The meringue is crunchy on the outside and marshmallowy creamy chewy inside, the whipped cream is cool and the berry's have the right bite of acid to cut through the cream making it oh so yummy with contrasting tastes and textures.  Quite delightful.

You can use pretty much any berry you want, just make sure they are what is good at the market that day.  In my case the berry's that looked the best were strawberry and raspberry.  They had no wild blueberry which I would have loved for the color and flavor pop, only those nasty cultivated ones that are gritty and yucky.  If they had decent wild blueberry I would have used them too. sunny SoCal good fresh wild blueberry are hard to find.

Tips...I got a few for you:

  • For the meringue as I've said it before, find a copper bowl, egg whites reach maximum volume in a copper bowl.  Do not attempt on a humid day as the eggs won't whip.  Do use clean bowl and beater as the slightest bit of oil will prevent them from whipping.
  • Whipped cream...chill the bowl and beaters and use the whipping cream straight from the fridge for best results.  Use care not to over beat as you wind up with sweetened butter which is kinda gross.
  • Strawberry sauce...stir often to keep it from scorching which can happen very quickly as it reduces.

makes 6-8 servings

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1/4 t cream of tartar
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.  Take quarter sheet pan and cut off a piece of parchment paper, not wax paper that will fit the pan.  Using a dinner plate trace around the plate with a dark pen.  Turn paper over and place the ink side down on the baking sheet. 

Using a clean copper bowl and beaters add room temperature egg whites and cream of tartar.  Beat on low speed a minute or two until frothy and the egg whites are starting to foam with the cream of tartar dissolved.  Add a pinch of salt.  Increase speed to high and beat until doubled in volume. Slowly add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Fold in vanilla.  

Take the prepared baking sheet and parchment paper and plop the meringue mixtures onto the center of the circle.  Spread to edges with a spatula.  Make the meringue as even as possible so it bakes evenly.  Place in preheated oven and bake 20 minutes.  At end of baking turn off the oven and crack open the door for 20 minutes.  Close the oven and let it sit over night until cool.

Sweetened whipped cream

  • 1 c cold cream
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 t vanilla extract

Take chilled bowl and beaters out of the fridge.  Add whipping cream and beat on high until frothy.  Slowly add sugar in a steady stream and beat until thickened.  Fold in Vanilla.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Strawberry sauce

  • 1 pints strawberry - sliced
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c water

Place berries in a sauce pot.  Add sugar and water.  Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Once at a boil reduce heat to simmer and cook berries about 30 minutes until they are nearly disintegrated and reduced about 1/3 in volume.  Stir often so they don't scorch.  Cool to room temperature.  Whiz in blender or with hand blender to make a smooth sauce.

Fruit for assembly

  • 1/2 pint raspberry - whole
  • 1 pints strawberry - sliced
  • 1/2 pint wild blueberry (if you can find them)

Place meringue on a platter.  Layer the whipped cream evenly over the top of the cooled meringue.  Add berries in even layer over the whipped cream.  Cut Pavlova into wedges and put each wedge on a plate.  Pour 2-3 tablespoons of the strawberry sauce over the Pavlova.  

Crepes de Mer avec Bearnaise

Translation: Seafood Crepes in Bearnaise sauce, or crepe making is a pain in the arse.
It should be no news that I don't have a "dough hand" around here.  Crepes fall into that category.  Tried years ago making them and kept tearing them.  To shreds.  Want someone with arm power to whisk and whip a sauce I'm your guy.

Enough already I say, flash forward some 20 years and they sell ready made crepes at both my local Pavilions and Cost Plus World Market. Yeah...they still are very fragile.  I tried folding like they do at my favorite little local french restaurant and failed.  My daughter says they made crepes in her French class and rolled them.  Meh.  I needed to enlist my daughter to do the rolling for me as I massacred one in the beginning, and her rolled ones were really well done.

Why seafood crepes?  Well I adore them.  We have a pretty awesome French Provencal restaurant here in my corner of LA. Its Cafe Massilia.  Its tiny, maybe 15 tables and the reservations book up fast...wanna walk in, fuhgettaboutit.  Their food is among the best I've ever had, just getting in is a challenge.  So its up to me to make my own.

This recipe is based on a few I found online and talking with the chef at Cafe Massilia.  Crepes come ready made and it lets me concentrate on the filling and Bearnaise sauce.  Both are a little intense in their prep but oh so very worth the effort.  Wonderfully rich buttery sauce over an equally rich seafood filling.  Perfect for a fall or winter day, not the 108f we had yesterday...but my wife had her heart set on them before the heat wave started so I went with the plan, heat be damned.

I used a pinot grigio as I like the acid and balance of fruitiness. The acid is really needed to cut through the richness of the sauce and filling. You can substitute in any white wine you like, just use a good quality wine that you would like to drink with the meal.  I always use the same wine in the preparation that I will serve with the meal as the synergy of cooked and potable is pretty amazing on the palate.

Finally, when you plate, put a small herb salad on the side. Use some of the same herbs you have in the sauce and filling along with parsley to tie the two together and bring some freshness to the plate to balance out the meal.

As there is a lot of wine and vinegar used in both the filling and sauce its really important you use a non-reactive pot.  That would be either stainless steel, non-stick, ceramic or glass, the latter is next to impossible to fine as corning ditched its "visions" line decades ago.  I have a nice set of stainless steel lined copper for just this sort of cookery. Watch the sales or outlets for close outs and save yourself a bundle.  I have 3 sizes of copper sauce pots and a fry pan all stainless steel lined that I paid under $100 for the whole works by hitting Marshall's and Tuesday Morning regularly.

I simply cook the seafood in acidulated water with salt and 2 T Old Bay Seasoning.  Cook until just done, 3-4 minutes, then put it into ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain well in a colander in advance of your filling preparation.

Lastly timing is everything.  The Bearnaise sauce will  set up if you allow it to cool.  Make the Bearnaise sauce after the crepes are assembled and serve it warm over them.  The Bearnaise sauce I use is a simple blender made version that is really fool proof in the words of the Barefoot Contessa.

Crepes de Mer avec Bearnaise

Crepes de Mer
  • 10 ready made crepes
  • 1 lb cooked shrimp, cooled
  • 1 lb cooked crab, cooled
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 4 T corn starch
  • 2 shallots minced (about 1/4 c)
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1/4 t fresh ground pepper
  • 1 c white wine (plus more for thinning if needed)
  • 1/2 c half and half
  • 2 oz fontina cheese- shredded
  • 6 oz cream cheese - cubed'
  • 2 T parsley
  • 2 T tarragon
Over low heat in large non-reactive sauce pot add butter and shallot. Add salt and pepper.  Cook until the shallot is just translucent.  Add corn starch and whisk in until smooth and it starts to bubble.  Add half and half and whisk well until smooth.  While whisking constantly slowly pour in the white wine and stir until smooth and it starts to bubble.  Add additional wine if needed to thin to the consistency of mayonnaise. Add cheeses and fold in until melted.  Add herbs and fold in.  Fold in the drained seafood and stir until warm. Test seasoning and add more salt if needed. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to warm (150-170f).  Lightly butter a baking dish.  Dampen a dish towel.

Take a crepe and lay a generous 1 c of the filling across the top quarter of the crepes.  Slowly, gingerly roll the crepe over onto the unfilled side.  Roll up jelly roll style and place in the baking dish.  Repeat with remaining crepes and filling.  When done rolling place the damp towel over the crepes and place in oven to stay warm while you prepare the sauce.  (The damp towel will keep them from drying out while making the Bearnaise sauce).

Bearnaise Sauce
  • 1/2 c white wine
  • 1/4 c white wine vinegar
  • 2 T shallot- minced
  • 4 T tarragon leaves chopped
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 c unsalted butter - melted

Combine wine, vinegar, shallot and tarragon in small non-reactive sauce pot.  Over medium heat bring to simmer and cook until reduced by half.  Remove from heat, cover and cool to room temp.

Heat butter over medium heat and melt.  Heat until it just starts to bubble at the sides.  do not bring to boil as you will burn the butter and need to start over.

Assemble blender.  Add egg yolks and salt. Whiz on low until blended and starting to fluff up.  With blender running on medium add a few drops of the melted butter until incorporated.  Slowly add in a steady stream add the hot butter until it is all incorporated.  Reduce speed to low and add the wine shallot and herb mixture.  Blend until just incorporated. 

Pour a small puddle of Bearnaise sauce on the bottom of the plate.  Add a couple of filled crepes.  Drizzle a little more Bearnaise over the top of the crepes.  Serve with a salad on the side.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chow Mein Salad, perfect for a summer heat wave

When its a bajillion degrees here in the SGV the last thing I want is hot food.  Cold Salads are so much more agreeable and it doesn't involve standing over a hot stove. A total win.

This salad is labor intensive.  I'm not sure where I got the recipe from but its tasty and a good stand by.  Most of the ingredients can be found in your local groc these days in the Asian section.  The veggies were chosen because they looked good and were all peak of season fresh. You can sub in whatever you find that looks good, just remember that the final measurement of fresh cut veg will be about 6 cups.

I like the salad as is.  If you aren't a cilantro fan cut back on the amount.  Ditto the Sriracha sauce.  My better half thinks the salad needs more crunch and often adds the fried chow mein noodles or fried wonton skins to the salad.  I think the veggies have enough crunch so I don't add any noodles/wontons.  Its a personal preference and go for it if you want.

Sesame oil comes in two varieties, regular and toasted.  The toasted is darker in color and nuttier and is my preference.  When using Sesame Oil in dressing remember a little goes a long, long way.  Too much and its floral qualities overtake the dressing and that's all you taste.  Moderation with this one, and that's a good thing to as it is a relatively expensive oil.

Chow Mein Salad

  • 2 pks chow mein noodles (8 oz)
  • 1 hothouse cucumber
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 bunch radish
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1/3 c vegetable oil
  • 1/3 c rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 T Sriracha hot sauce (or to taste)
  • 1/2 t salt

Cook noodles according to package direction in salted water.  Rinse under cold water to cool after they are cooked through.
Cut cucumber, carrots and bell pepper into match sticks sized pieces.  Slice radish thin (I use a mandolin). Thin slice green onion including tops.   Coarse chop the cilantro leaves.  Add veggies and cilantro to the cooled noodles and toss to combine.

Mix vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha and salt.  Pour over noodle mixture and toss to combine.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours so it is well chilled and the flavors meld.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Cuke and Tomato Salad

This refreshing salad using the bounty of the garden is a twist on the salad my mother has made since I was a kid.  Twisted up in that I added fresh herbs and tomatoes to the mix.  Its got the wonderful sweetness of fresh tomatoes to offset the tang of the vinegar and sour cream.

For the love of god, if you don't have a mandolin or a handy dandy hand mandolin get one.  They are dirt cheap at cooking supply stores.  I bought mine a few years ago at Surfas in Culver City for $19.99 and it includes a guard so you don't slice the digits in your zeal.  Really makes fast work of all the thin slicing stuff one needs to do.

Cuke and Tomato Salad

  • 2 large cucumbers, peeled and cubed
  • 10 oz, about 2 cups cherry tomato halved
  • 1/2 large onion thinly sliced
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 t fresh dill finely chopped.

Combine veggies in a bowl.  Sprinkle over dill and black pepper.  Mix together sour cream, white wine vinegar and salt.  Whisk until smooth.  Pour over the veggie mixture and toss lightly.  Cover and chill at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld.  Great with spicy or grilled foods.