Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hanger Steak Ragu with Farro

Farro is an ancient grain that is expensive because it has a low yield per acre compared to the wheat more widely grown. After tasting it, though, it will be on our table on special occasions. Farro is also called emmer wheat. Beware the spelt as a substitution as it will not be as firm when cooked.

Once I found the farro at Lunardi's in Burlingame and reading the "Traditional recipe" on the back of the $6.50, 1.1 lb bag, I decided to go Italian by treating it as a traditional pasta. I also had some hanger steak that I bought from Golden Gate Meats that had been rubbed with a garlic and herb dry rub, which delivered the total inspiration to make my Hanger Steak Ragu mixed with farro as our dinner last night.

The recipe was not very detailed, so I had to wing it a bit. I also doubled the recipe to have leftovers for lunch with my friend Bill today.
Here's what was on the bag with some annotations by me to clarify it and to double it:

8.8 oz of semi-pearled farro (2 cups dry measure)
3.5 oz of ground beef (1 hanger steak, approximately 3/4 lb with garlic and herb dry-rub, sliced into medallions)
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2 celery sticks (I did not double the celery; the celery was chopped into dice brunoise)
1 small carrot (I used 2 carrots chopped into dice brunoise)
1 medium onion finely chopped (I did not double this either; the onion was diced)
Salt and pepper to taste
A splash of white wine (I used a Sonoma County sangiovese blend, which is red, from Unti about 1/4 cup. We drank the rest of the bottle with dinner. It was a perfect pairing)
Tomato Sauce (no measure given. I used a 24.5 oz jar of Amy's Organic Tomato Basil pasta sauce)
Beef or vegetable stock (no measure given again. I used about 1-1/2 cups of home made beef stock)
Grated Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino (I used Parmesan Regganio. 2 cups plus one cup grated fine)
I also added a diced leek which I found in my fridge after I photographed the ingredients
I also added some finely chopped Italian parsley about 1/2 cup loose

The ingredients mis en place

Method (this is my interpretation)
Brown the meat in a saucepan with the olive oil. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
Add the vegetables to the oil and saute until translucent about 10 minutes. Pour in wine and cook until it evaporates scraping up brown bits. Add all of the browned beef plus any drippings, 1/2 of the beef stock, and tomato sauce and bring to a simmer, cooking for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the farro in salted boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain.
Add the farro and parsley to the sauce and cook for 15 more minutes at a low simmer adding stock when necessary.
Add 2 cups of cheese to the sauce and mix to combine.

This may now be served family style in the Italian tradition on a platter with the remaining 1 cup of cheese sprinkled on top or into bowls for individual servings again with some cheese sprinkled on top.

It was delicious!

Emmer Wheat on FoodistaEmmer Wheat

Monday, January 25, 2010

The delicious leek

Onions and garlic are ubiquitous ingredients in savory dishes from many cultures around the world. The leek, however, seems to be almost ignored except by the French, of course, who use leeks in stock making and the famous soup, Vichyssoise, that is traditionally served cold. Leeks provide lots of vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K, vitamin A, iron, magnesium and fiber. The only downside for leeks is that they contain, for vegetables anyway, a larger than normal amount of sodium. Since leeks are widely available throughout the winter months from local growers in Northern California, it is a vegetable that will provide a new level of flavor and texture to your cooking if you embrace it. I especially like the dry-farmed leeks sold by Dirty Girl Produce at the San Francisco Farmer’s market. Their leeks are small, tender and succulent.

Include leeks in pretty much any dish calling for onions that are sweated in butter or oil in the foundation of the dish. The leeks add another dimension of flavor and silkiness to the finished dish, which is why I add leeks to stocks whenever I can get my hands on them. In her ponderous tome The New Making of a Cook, Madeline Kamman instructs to “add as many leeks as you can afford” to stocks (especially veal stock) along with the traditional carrots, celery, and onions. Your soups and sauces will burst with flavor when leeks are included.

Leeks grow partially underground and partially above ground so they tend to get mud into the stalk. The structure of the leek invites the dirt downward, so cleaning is a key to using leeks. To prepare a leek, cut the dark green tops off and discard as they are bitter. Then slice the light part of the vegetable in half from root to top and wash thoroughly while gently separating layers to remove all grit. For stock, simply remove a bit of the root part and toss the halves into the pot with the rest of the vegetables. For sauté, chop the leek into ¼ pieces.

Our favorite leek dish is the warm version of Vichyssoise called potato leek soup. This hearty soup makes a complete nutritious meal. Be sure to use your own gelatin-rich chicken stock to get the flavor, mouth-feel, and health benefits from the home made version of this important foundational ingredient. The following recipe is easily adjusted to become Vichyssoise by omitting the parsley, using heavy cream and serving the finished soup cold with snips of chives.

Leek and Potato Soup (Vichyssoise)
Yield: Serves 2 generously

1 medium boiling potato (about 1/2 pound)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium leeks (white parts only), halved lengthwise, washed well, and sliced thin crosswise
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
3 tablespoons half and half (or cream for Vichyssoise)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves (wash and dry before chopping)
Note: For Vichyssoise, omit parsley and add snips of fresh chives.

Peel potato and dice fine. In a 3 1/2- to 4-quart saucepan cook garlic and onion and leek in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until onion is softened. Add potato and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Stir in stock or broth and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes, or until potato is very tender.

If desired, in a blender purée soup in batches until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), transferring to another saucepan. Stir in cream, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste and heat over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. Serve immediately.

For Vichyssoise, puree the soup until smooth and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Chill. Add snips of chive to bowls filled with the soup and serve.

Leek on FoodistaLeek

Leek and Potato Soup (Vichyssoise)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie

On Sunday seven of us cooks gathered at my home to make stocks including some delicious, low fat chicken stock that will add nutrients, protein and texture to many varied dishes in the coming months. One of our favorites is chicken pot pie. Meat pies made from scratch with proper stock that has lots of gelatin are divine comfort food. We even serve this simple dish at dinner parties elegantly presented in gold soup terrines that came from Sur La Table. My chicken pot pie is a dish that leverages the cycle for chicken usage at our house to the hilt. The thighs and legs are in the filling while the carcass from a previous chicken is in the stock that makes the sauce velvety and complex in taste and mouth feel.

The filling of a chicken pot pie has chunks of meat that contrast the silky supreme sauce. A supreme sauce is a veloute sauce (one of the five mother sauces we call "gravy" which is meat stock thickened with roux) with milk added and then thickened into a white sauce. Once a cook masters the five mother sauces and the common variations, recipes become easier to prepare when the cook recognizes the sauce portion of a recipe and lets the muscle memory of making the sauce take over.

Overall the recipe is easy to prepare. When key ingredients are made ahead like the filling and pie crust dough, the pies can be assembled and in the oven in just a few minutes followed by 25 minutes baking time which makes the dish ideal for quick weeknight meals with minimal clean-up.
Chicken Pot Pie
Serves 4 as a complete meal (may be scaled by half for 2 servings)

Special equipment: 4 1 1/2 cup soup terrines or ramekins


Pie crust ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (best to chill cubes in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before using)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
3 to 4 Tbsp ice water

Filling ingredients
1 2 1/2 lb chicken de-boned, roasted, and cut into chunks (if scaling for 2 servings, use legs, thighs and wings)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
3 carrots, brunoise
3 celery stalks brunoise
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups milk
Dash ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup dry sherry
3/4 cup green peas, frozen or fresh
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Egg wash

1 egg whisked with 1 Tbsp water


Prepare the pie crust dough. Sift together flour and salt and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the sharp blade. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse 5 times to combine. And the shortening and pulse a few more times, until the dough resembles a coarse cornmeal. Slowly stream in ice water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition, until the dough sticks together when you press some between your fingers. Empty the dough from the processor onto a clean surface. Use your hands to mold into a ball, then flatten the ball into a disk. Sprinkle with a little flour, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling.

Prepare the filling. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large skillet, melt butter on medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, and cook until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Add the nutmeg. Whisk in chicken stock. Whisk in milk. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often until thickened. Add chicken meat, thyme, sherry, peas, parsley, salt and pepper and stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Divide the warm filling among terrines or ramekins. (Cook’s note: Filling may be cooled and refrigerated for up to two days. Re-warm cold filling before proceeding)

Prepare the crust. Roll out dough on a lightly flour surface to a little less than a quarter-inch thick about the same size as for a 9" pie crust. Cut into 4 rounds, slightly larger than the circumference of the terrines. Lay a dough round on each pot pie. Fold the excess dough under itself and use the tines of a fork to press the dough against the edge of the terrines. Cut a 1-inch vent into each individual pie. Use a pastry brush to apply an egg wash to each pie. Place the pies on a baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Get to know your butcher

Always at the end of the year Stacy and I reflect on our journey for the past twelve months and make plans for what we want to accomplish in the year to come. The exercise seems to bring us closer as a couple and helps us keep on track together as a family. In my reflections this winter I am appreciating the many relationships that spice up our lives. The people we rely on and those that rely on us in the fabric of our community whether it be our neighbors that lend a hand occasionally and their friendship all of the time, or the folks that we have shared our home with during our meetups, to friends that have opened their homes to us for parties and get-togethers, and the folks like Chris at Golden Gate Meats or George at Hog Island and many other local farmers and shop owners whose businesses we frequent to procure the food that sustains our bodies and to build the relationships that enrich our lives.

Last night Stacy's birthday dinner featured a standing rib roast from Golden Gate Meats where we buy most of the meat I cook. Golden Gate Meats is a family owned and operated business with Chris, the proprietor, at the helm and many members of his extended family working in various roles at the shop at the Ferry Plaza. This holiday season Chris and his family cut two turkeys that we served for Thanksgiving, a drop-dead-gorgeous crown roast of pork I cooked for our family Christmas party, hanger steaks for Stacy’s holiday luncheon I prepared for her and her colleagues at our home, a standing rib roast we devoured with our friends Jacque and Dale for our annual Christmas Eve dinner, beef short ribs that I braised and offered in our New Years Eve progressive dinner with our neighbors and friends, and the standing rib roast that Buda and I served with sautéed red cabbage as the entrée for Stacy’s birthday dinner.

Everything we buy from Golden Gate Meats seems to taste fresher and better than meats we buy anywhere else. It pays to get to know the butcher behind the counter because there is so much more available from the shop than what is visible in the case. For example, they keep an array of rubs that they will apply to your purchase if you just ask. For very special occasions we absolutely love aged New York steaks. While there are excellent steaks in the case, they sometimes have exceptional cuts in the back if you ask for them. The standing rib roasts we had were the most beautiful prime rib I have ever had. Chris told me he had asked his providers for high quality roasts for the holidays which they specially selected for the store. Chris took the cuts over the top by adding rub and then coating the entire roast in suet to keep the meat from drying out during the cooking process. After we tried the first one Christmas Eve, Stacy declared that was what she had to have for her birthday which I was happy to provide. When I went in to pick up the roast yesterday, I chatted with Chris about chicken which is the primary protein in our day-to-day diet.

I only like chicken if the bird is less than three pounds with two-and-one-half pounds as the ideal size. A chicken of that size is still relatively juvenile, so the meat is tender and succulent without being stringy. Chris agreed with me and mentioned that the shop keeps an ample supply of birds that weight in a barrel of brine. They rotisserie cook the birds on-site then offer the them for sale at their deli counter that faces the main Ferry Building hallway. They also sell brined and uncooked chicken from the barrel. Brining chicken tastes best but can be a hassle for a home cook to do regularly depending on space in the refrigerator, so having them available all ready brined is a real advantage. And they sell them for the same price as what is shown in the case. All you have to do is ask! As we wrapped up our conversation, Chris showed one of the birds to me and then gave it to me for free to try it. I broke the bird down as I normally do into boneless breasts and thighs, legs and wings, then roasted the pieces alongside the carcass for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. It was delicious. From now on I plan to buy all of my chickens from them out of the barrel of brine in the back, please.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Meyer Lemon Crab Souffle

Stacy and I hope all of you enjoyed your 2009 holiday.  We shared the holiday with our family and many of our friends at events that always included good food and good wine.  We capped the season with a New Year’s Eve progressive dinner for twelve that started at our friends Rich and Ann’s for some delightful appetizers, followed by the entrée at our house, then we finished at Mark and Alan’s place for divine crème brulees.  We ate and drank well for over five hours without having to leave our neighborhood which made the evening fun and stress free.

Our part of the meal included three courses starting with individual Meyer lemon crab soufflés which were light, fluffy and delicate in texture and flavor. Home cooks may be intimidated by the complexity of making soufflés and so miss out on offering the item as a scrumptious course or side dish that would add mystique and elegance to their menu.  I invite you to make the following savory soufflé recipe which is fun to do and can be used with any filling whether a protein or vegetable or combination.  Once mastered, this soufflé can be used with most any filling that is in season.

All savory soufflés start with a béchamel sauce which is one of the mother sauces.  A béchamel is a basic white sauce that has many uses besides being the base for soufflés.   A properly made béchamel will keep in the refrigerator for several days so you can make it ahead and then build the soufflé or lasagna or white sauce for fish or pasta during the final prep for a meal.  This greatly simplifies the cooking especially when you are both cook and part of the party as we were for New Year’s dinner. 

Recipe for béchamel Sauce (use to make 12 one-half cup individual soufflés)

1/2 stick unsalted butter
4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Dash ground nutmeg

Set milk in a saucepan and warm to scald but not boiling.
While the milk heats, melt butter in a large skillet over med high heat.
When foam subsides, lower the heat and whisk in flour, then cook, whisking, until pale golden, about 2 minutes.
Add milk a little at a time, whisking constantly until very smooth.
Add nutmeg and bring sauce to a boil, whisking, then simmer, whisking, until quite thick, about 1 minute.

Now you have a beautiful, silky white béchamel sauce.  Congratulations!  A common substitute for béchamel is the ubiquitous can of cream of mushroom soup that tastes like metallic wall paper paste compared to a fresh béchamel so if you see it called for in a recipe, try making the real deal instead as your food will turn out much tastier!

Recipe for Crab Soufflé

Special equipment:
12 ½ cup ramekins
Pizza Stone

Béchamel sauce (per recipe above)
6 eggs separated
1 cup shredded crab meat
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon minced preserved Meyer lemon rind (you may substitute a tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt mixed together)

Make Soufflés:

Pre-heat oven to 400°F with pizza stone in middle.
Generously butter ramekins, then sprinkle with flour knocking out excess.
Stir together crab, lemon and cheese in a bowl.
Make béchamel from scratch or re-heat if made earlier. 
Remove from heat and whisk in yolks a little at a time (this is called tempering the yolks so that they heat without cooking into scrambled eggs). 
Stir in crab mixture filling.
Beat whites in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until they just hold stiff peaks (they should not look dry). Stir a heaping spoonful of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whites until just combined.
Gently spoon into ramekins (leave space at top) and bake directly on the pizza stone until golden brown and top appears set, about 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and set aside to cool for 8-10 minutes if you want to remove from ramekins.  Otherwise, serve immediately

Buda and I made a demi glace that we thickened a bit with another roux and flavored with a bit more of the preserved Meyer lemon rind.  We also chopped some parsley that was sprinkled on each plate for color.

Stacy and I wish you all delicious 2010 filled with good food, good wine and good friends!

Béchamel on Foodista