Category Archives: Food

FARRO-STUFFED FLANK STEAK

Stuffed flank steak has been one of my favorite foods for over 50 years. It is one of my family’s favorites, too. But honestly, our version has gotten a little boring. The tradition is to stuff the flank steak with a conventional bread dressing and – don’t get me wrong – it is delicious. But my thought is that surely you can do something different after 50 years. Once again, it was my turn for the main dish at our Sunday family dinner. A wonderful new market had opened in the little shopping center across the street, and they had some beautiful flank steaks in their butcher shop. Like a conjunction of the planets, flank steak stuffed with something different seemed like an inspiration. Evan and Brandin Rice at Rich Table have been experimenting with farro lately, and I was interested in how I might make it work in my more plebian dishes. Inspiration! – farro-stuffed flank steak. Of course, there needed to be something to perk up meat and grain, so the addition of a green sauce – chimichurri is a natural – came to mind. Mushrooms and pine nuts added to the flavors. It all came together.

I made a serious miscalculation by buying two flank steaks for 6 people.  That is way more than you need, The recipe that follows is for one flank steak. On the other hand, leftovers of this dish are a bonus, so you may want to make two stuffed steaks. Regardless of your decision, I am sure you will enjoy the result.

RECIPE

Farro-Stuffed Flank Steak

Ingredients

  • 1 flank steaks, about 1½ pounds
  • ½ cup cooked farro
  • 1 recipe chimichurri, divided (see previous post for recipe)
  • 4 cremini mushrooms, chopped finely
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ cup panko
  • 1 egg
  • all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. With a sharp knife, butterfly the steak so that it opens like a book. Flatten the meat with a heavy pounder. Chill until ready to fill.
  2. In a. Medium bowl, combine the cooked farro, half of the chimichurri, mushrooms, pine nuts, panko, and egg.
  3. To fill the flank steak, open it on a flat surface, cut side up. Spread with the farro/chimichurri mixture leaving a half-inch border around the edge. Begin to roll the steak beginning from the narrow end until the roll is sealed. Tie the rolled steak with kitchen twine at two-inch intervals, making sure the ends are tied closed.
  4. Heat the oil in a heavy lidded oven-proof casserole over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, brown the stuffed flank steak, turning frequently until browned on all sides. When the steak is browned, add the beef stock and tomato paste. Bring to the boil and then transfer the covered casserole to the middle of an oven preheated to 275°F. Cook, covered, for 2 hours.
  5. Remove the steak from the oven and transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove the twine, slice into ¾ inch slices and serve with the remaining chimichurri to be spooned over the top if desired.

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FRIED CHICKEN AND CREAM GRAVY

Fried chicken has always been popular in our family. Probably it is in most families. And there have been lots of family cooks who have staked their reputation on their version of the delicacy.

My mother was celebrated among her family contemporaries as the champion, and her special family dinner was always fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. A picnic in the mountains was an anticipated treat of childhood. My mother would fry up two chickens, pack them into a big glass jar that she reserved for the occasion, and arrange the jar in the back window of our Willys Overland Americar to keep the chicken warm until we reached our destination. (Why none of us ever came down with a fatal food-borne illness I will never know.) At the picnic table we would reach into the jar and pull out a favorite piece – or the back if we were too late. There was never any chicken left.

My mother-in-law often served fried chicken when family had gathered around her table at the farm. The crispy skin and juicy meat  stimulated sibling rivalry at the table, sometimes triggereing mild rebuke from PopPop, the patriarch, who had high expectations for table manners.

Sarah, also known as Sally Hurricane, has for years made fried chicken for family meals at the restaurants where she has worked. Now she serves an off-menu treat at RT Rotisserie that is known as Sally Hurricane’s Southern Fried Chicken. I have written about it in this journal, and there is a story about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Susan and Carol also make some mean versions of fried chicken, but Susan has largely turned from cooking to gardening, and Carol doesn’t like to fry things. So, for a recent Sunday family dinner I decided to make fried chicken (one of Carol’s all-time favorite foods) with salt-crusted fingerling potatoes instead of the usual mashers but keeping the traditional cream gravy.

Inspired by a recent visit to RT Rotisserie, I have been thinking about fried chicken a lot lately. RT ages its chickens before roasting them on the rotisserie. The cooks arrange trussed chickens on big racks in a large cold room in order to dry them a bit and make the skin crispier. That’s similar to what is done to make the skin on Peking duck so crispy.

Also, I have become interested in slower cooking: a potato baked longer at a lower temperature seems fluffier, and a braise at a lower temperature seems more flavorful. (Think crock pot?) Usually I start frying chicken at a high temperature until it is brown and then reduce the temperature to complete the cooking. I thought that I would give “slow from the start” a chance. All in all, my experiments turned out ok. I thought the chicken was crispy and tasty. What more can one ask? One important thing I did learn was that when you fry chicken at a lower temperature be sure to get the skin as dark as you want it before you turn it. Turn each chicken piece only once; otherwise it will stick to the pan and you’ll lose the crispy skin that you have been trying so hard to achieve.

RECIPE

Fried Chicken and Cream Gravy

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil for frying
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Method

  1. Using a very sharp large chef’s knife, cut the chicken into serving pieces. You should wind up with 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 or 3 pieces of breast meat depending on how you cut it up, and the back, which you can fry after cutting into 2 pieces or for some other purpose such as making chicken stock. If you prefer, you can buy ready-prepared chicken parts.
  2. Place the cut-up chicken in a large pie plate and set in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Turn occasionally while it rests.
  3. When you are ready to fry the chicken, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and poultry seasoning in a sealable quart plastic bag. Mix well, then reserve 2 tablespoons in a separate bowl to be used later for making cream gravy.
  4. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat. Make sure it is up to heat before you add the chicken. (I used a ceramic cooktop set at 2.4 with a full range of 10)
  5. When the frying pan is heated, add one piece of chicken to the plastic bag, seal and shake. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake loose any excess flour mixture and place in the hot oil, skin side down.
  6. Repeat the process until all of the pieces of chicken have been floured and added to the frying pan. If you have one, cover with a spatter shield. Do not cover with a lid.
  7. Fry the chicken without turning for 15 minutes or until the skin has browned to your liking. Turn the chicken pieces and continue to fry, again not turning, for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is well browned and cooked through. An instant-read thermometer may be useful at this point. The internal temperature of the chicken should read 170°F.
  8. Transfer the fried chicken to a large plate and place in a warm oven until the gravy is made.
  9. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and return the pan to the heat. In a Mason jar, combine the reserved flour mixture, milk and chicken stock, seal with a screw lid and shake until completely mixed. Add  the mixture to the heated frying oil.
  10. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a low boil and cook until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve while still warm along with the fried chicken.

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FOUR-CHEESE-STUFFED PHYLLO TORTE

Our six-months probationary period is up, and I think we now qualify as Angelinos. We drive, relatively terror-free, on the 405 and think nothing of an hour+ cross-town odyssey for a 15 minute appointment. The very best part of our transplant has been getting more involved with our children and their families. As part of that, the Sunday dinner has become a firmly entrenched tradition that we all anticipate each week.

I have written a number of times about our family dinner. The guidelines are fairly straightforward: the venue alternates between our home and Carol’s family home; whoever hosts is responsible for the main dish and sides; the other is responsible for appetizer and dessert; both bring a bottle of wine that is interesting; cleanup is sort of a joint effort except that the home team winds up finishing the dishes. These guidelines have remained intact except that the appetizer has been dropped from the menu. That is because even without it, there is a lot of food. Everyone is on a diet, and I have gained 10 pounds since moving to Los Angeles. Of course, this dish is not responsible for all of my weight gain, but it certainly helped push us to dropping the appetizer rule.

The recipe is an adaptation of one from Melissa Clark of New York Times fame by way of Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift in their cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends. If you choose to make it, I guarantee that there will be gasps of amazement when you bring the finished torte to the table. Then there will be complete quiet as folks sit around wolfing down the whole thing. At the same time, it is easier to make than you might think. I know that Carol saves it for special occasions. You might want to do that, too.

 

RECIPE

Four-Cheese-Stuffed Phyllo Torte

Ingredients

  • 2 cups feta cheese, drained, dried, and crumbled
  • 1½ cups cottage cheese, drained
  • 1½ cups Asiago cheese
  • 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh dill fronds
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed according to instructions on the carton
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • honey

Method

  1. In a large bowl, prepare the filling by combining the four cheeses, onion, dill, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. Stir in the eggs, and set aside.
  2. Unfold the stack of phyllo leaves on a work surface covered with plastic wrap. Cover the stack with another layer of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Keep unused sheets of dough from drying out while you work with individual sheets.
  3. Brush the inside of a 12-inch Bundt pan with some of the melted butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo across the pan, pushing it down against the sides of the pan and breaking a hole around the center tube of the pan. Repeat in a crisscross fashion with additional sheets of phyllo until the inside of the pan is completely covered with many layers of the dough.
  4. Fill the lined Bundt pan with the cheese filling, folding the free ends of the phyllo sheets over the filling and pressing it together gently. With a sharp knife, pierce the assembled torte all the way through to the bottom of the pan in many places – 2 or 3 dozen. Pour the remaining melted butter over the torte.
  5. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 75 minutes or until the torte is browned and puffy.
  6. Cool in the pan for 1 to 2 hours.
  7. When ready to serve, unmold the tart by flipping it onto an inverted plate. Remove the baking pan, garnish the torte as you please, and serve. Pass honey to be drizzled over individual slices as desired.

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POACHED PEACHES AND RASPBERRY SAUCE: PÊCHES CARDINAL

It was Carol’s turn to create the main menu for our weekly family dinner. (Soon I hope to share some of her recipes.) She always comes up with an array of interesting dishes that go well together. Did I mention she is a good cook IMHO? This past Sunday she made some delicious toasted walnuts with rosemary, sea salt, and brown sugar for the happy hour. The walnuts were impossible to resist. Then she served a salad of tomatoes, shaved fennel and green beans, all from the farmers market. The main dish was grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto. Corn on the cob and muffins made with zucchini from the farmers market rounded out the menu. As usual, my assignment was dessert.

This time of year it is so easy to build a meal with offerings from the farmers market, and  I followed the theme. Peaches and other stone fruit are at the height of their season along with berries of all sorts. This past Saturday we went to the Torrance Market, one of the largest in the Los Angeles area, instead of our smaller local event. The choices available were astounding. One of the biggest stalls specializes in stone fruit, so I could choose yellow peaches, white peaches, yellow nectarines, white nectarines, pluots, plums, all with several varieties of each. Remembering a classic recipe from the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I went with white peaches that, from the samples available, were much sweeter than the yellow varieties. I had to go to the berry booth to find plump and fresh raspberries.

The recipe for pêches cardinal is deceptively simple: poach the peaches in a heavy syrup; make a sauce with the raspberries; cover the peaches with the sauce; serve. Of course, you can embellish the dish with ice cream, whipped cream, toasted nuts and/or whatever appeals to you. However, the devil is in the details, as they say. The peaches should be poached in a single layer with their skins intact. The raspberries should be forced through a sieve to form a puree without the seeds. If you don’t take that somewhat tedious step, the seeds will haunt you in the finished dish, even if you use a Vitamix to make the final sauce. And all of that is worth the effort, because the sauce becomes velvety. Warn your guests that the peaches still have their pits. Even though the preparation is easy, the result is both elegant and delicious.

RECIPE

Poached Peaches and Raspberry Sauce: Pêches Cardinal

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 6 fresh, ripe, unblemished peaches
  • 2 pints raspberries, 18 raspberries set aside for garnish
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • 6 mint sprigs for garnish
  • sweetened whipped cream for garnish
  • chopped toasted walnuts for garnish
  • vanilla ice cream (optional)

Method

  1. In a large saucepan that will hold the peaches in a single layer, combine the water, sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a simmer, stirring to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the peaches, and return to the simmer. Turning the peaches occasionally, simmer them for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool for 20 minutes. Drain the peaches on a rack, and peel while still warm. Arrange the peaches in a deep serving dish, and chill in the refrigerator.
  2. Force the raspberries through a sieve to remove the seeds. You should wind up with about 1 cup of raspberry puree. Combine the puree with sugar. Blend in a Vitamix or conventional blender on a high setting for 3 minutes. The mixture should thicken and turn a beautiful pink color. Chill.
  3. When both the peaches and raspberry sauce are well chilled, spoon the sauce over the peaches, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  4. When you are ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and garnish with the reserved raspberries, mint sprigs, whipped cream, and walnuts. Serve in bowls along with a scoop of ice cream, if desired.

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ROASTED CORN-BLACK BEAN-MANGO SALSA

There is an abundance of mangos around here lately. One of the local grocery stores has even used them as a come-on deal. They give you a “free” box of mangos (actually 9) if you spend a certain amount for other groceries. I like mangos as well as the next person, but figuring out what to do with nine becomes a challenge. I think the best way to enjoy them is fresh and with nothing added. That makes a perfect breakfast. Then there are mango ice cream and mango smoothies along with refreshing mango lassi. There are fruit salad and mango pie. Mango salsa is also popular and would fit in with our family Sunday dinner, but I thought it needed some additional ingredients.

Because it’s also the beginning of the season for fresh corn at the local farmers market, roasted corn would make a good second ingredient. Then, corn just seems to call out for beans and chiles. Since there are folks in our family averse to chiles, I used sweet peppers instead, but the kick of jalapeño would be an excellent addition. This salsa wound up being a side dish for this week’s family dinner of Southern fried chicken, fingerling potatoes, biscuits, and gravy. An odd combination, I know, but there were no complaints, and the plates were clean.

RECIPE

Roasted Corn-Black Bean-Mango Salsa

Ingredients

  • 2 ears fresh corn, shucked and silk removed
  • 14.5 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 each red, orange and yellow sweet snacking peppers, seeded and sliced crosswise into rings
  • 2 ripe mangos, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (substitute parsley if you’re one of the many who don’t like cilantro)
  • ½ medium red onion, diced (optional if you don’t like onion)
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder (optional and to taste)
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 ounces cotija cheese (Substitute feta if you can’t find cotija)

Method

  1. Place the ears of corn in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Turn frequently and lightly brown kernels on all sides of the ears of corn. When they are roasted to your liking, remove the ears of corn, cool, and in a large bowl, cut the kernels off the cobs with a sharp knife. Break the kernels apart with your fingers if necessary.
  2. Gently fold in the beans, peppers, mangos, cilantro, and onion.
  3. Stir in the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning with chili powder, salt, and pepper.
  4. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
  5. Remove from the refrigerator, gently stir in crumbled cotija cheese, and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

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LAMB AND CHICK PEA TAGINE

Our Sunday family dinner triggered by Sarah’s barley tabbouleh turned into a festive Mediterranean-influenced evening. Carol brought an elegant tray of vegetables and a delicious spread of butternut squash and tahini. She had used a recipe from the beautiful cookbook, Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2012).

I had thought about making pita bread, but instead I found some at the market. Home made will have to wait.  The main attraction was a lamb and chick pea tagine. The purists will insist that it is not a real tagine: I browned the lamb; I used chicken stock; I used big chunks of onion so they could be picked out by the onion deniers; I braised it in the oven for hours; and I used a heavy pot instead of a classic tagine. In spite of all of that, the lamb was fork tender with Moroccan smells and tastes; served with couscous it was a big hit with everyone.

Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. Many of them are herbs and spices that you probably already have in your pantry. You can easily find the others at the grocery store. Or you can just leave out one or two. Probably nobody but one of the purists will notice.

RECIPE

Lamb and Chick Pea Tagine

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry chick peas
  • 3 pounds lamb shoulder steaks, bone and heavy fat removed and cut in 1 inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
  • zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and root trimmed but intact, cut into 8 wedges
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into obliques
  •  ½ cup dried apricots cut into 1 inch squares
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch stirred into 1 tablespoon water to make a slurry

Method

  1. In a saucepan, cover the chick peas with at least 2 inches of extra water and let stand overnight. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the lamb, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, garlic powder, coriander, and salt. Mix until the lamb is completely coated. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate over night, stirring occasionally.
  3. In the morning, place the chick peas and marinated lamb in a heavy oven-proof pot. Add the chicken broth and bring to the boil over a medium-high flame. Stir in the garlic, ginger root, lemon juice and zest, tomato paste, and honey. Cover and transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 200°F. Braise for at least 6 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. About 3 hours before you plan to serve the tagine, add the onion, carrots, and dried apricots.
  5. When you are ready to serve, correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer the meat and vegetables to a large serving platter. Place the cooking pot with the cooking liquid over a high flame and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch slurry and stir until thickened. Serve in a gravy boat alongside the tagine.

 

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BARLEY TABBOULEH

The first time I ever ate tabbouleh was nearly 50 years ago at a backyard potluck for our laboratory work group. The offerings included several varieties of potato salad, lots of baked beans, and delicious barbecued chicken. But the standout – and by far the most exotic – was some refreshing tabbouleh brought by our secretary who came from a large Lebanese family. I could have eaten the whole bowl, and I am sure that I made a pig of myself. Since then, our family has made tabbouleh many times, and often for potluck dinners. We keep a bag of bulgur in the refrigerator so that we can make tabbouleh whenever the craving hits. I have never thought of using anything but bulgur – until I tasted some tabbouleh from Sarah’s refrigerator during our recent visit. She had substituted barley, and it was delicious. I gave it a try for our latest Sunday family dinner. It wound up becoming the inspiration for a Mediterranean-themed evening. The downside of tabbouleh is that it involves a lot of chopping and dicing. The upside is that once the chopping and dicing are done, it only takes a few minutes to assemble. I like tabbouleh with a distinctly lemon taste, so I used the juice of 2 lemons. If that’s too much for you, cut back to one lemon.

RECIPE

Barley Tabbouleh

Ingredients

  • ½ cup pearled barley
  • 2 cups salted water
  • olive oil
  • 2 large bunches parsley
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 3 large Roma tomatoes
  • 2 small Persian cucumbers
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Stir the barley into boiling salted water and cook at a low boil for 45 minutes or until soft with a little crunch. Drain, rinse, and toss with olive oil to prevent the grains from sticking together. Set aside.
  2. Wash and shake dry the parsley. Trim the leaves of stems. You should have about 6 cups of unpacked parsley leaves. Chop finely or pulse several times with a Vita-Mix set on “3”. Set aside.
  3. Wash the mint and remove the leaves. You should have about 1 cup of unpacked mint leaves. Chop finely or pulse several times with a Vita-Mix set on “3”. Set aside.
  4. Blanch, peel, and seed the tomatoes. Cut into ¼ inch dice. Set aside.
  5. Dice the cucumbers into ¼ inch pieces. Set aside.
  6. In a large bowl, combine the cooked barley, chopped parsley, chopped mint, tomatoes, cucumbers and minced garlic. Stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour. Serve.

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