Saturday, January 19, 2019

Swiss Steak or Old Fashioned Country Round Steak

This country favorite goes by several names in the United States, and is often called 'Swiss Steak'. Some others refer to it as old-fashioned country round steak, which is perhaps a more accurate title for my dish as the meat has not been 'swissed'. But whatever you call it, this flavorful braised beef main course is certainly hearty and delicious in the dead of winter. So that's what I'm preparing today.

Julian's Old-Fashioned Country Round Steak
Contrary to the name, swiss steak does not come from Switzerland. Swiss steak is named as such because the meat has undergone a process called “swissing” in order to make it tender. Swissing, which is also used a term used in textile production, refers to a process of hammering, pounding, or rolling a material to soften it up. When talking about meats, butchers take tough cuts of beef and pound them or roll them or run them through a meat tenderizer. To Americans that is what we call cube steak, and this is what most Americans think of when we say swiss steak, a cube steak cooked in a gravy or sauce.

Brown the meat without crowding the pan.
This is a boneless round steak. Either bone in or out works.
My mother frequently made this hearty country dinner in the winter time, as it requires a long slow cook in the oven to tenderize the beef. She always used a cut of round steak, which I'm also using today. The round steak provides for a better flavor and the long slow cook will insure it comes out fork tender. After you brown it and make the sauce on the cooktop, it does go into the oven for three full hours, so give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Always served with a side of mashed potatoes also covered in the delicious gravy from the roasting pan, this meal is sure to satisfy the hungry man in your life.

Ready for the oven.
1 thick slice of round steak about 1-inch thick.
       (bone in or boneless)
1 large yellow onion, peeled
1 pound whole white button mushrooms, washed
oil or Crisco for frying
1/4 cup flour
seasoned salt or other seasonings of choice
1 cup red wine
4 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Cut the beef steak into individual serving sizes and set aside. Roughly chop the onion and cut the larger mushrooms into quarters or halves, leaving the smaller ones whole. Mix the flour with 2 teaspoons of seasoned salt or other favorite seasonings.

Heat the oil or Crisco in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Dredge a piece of meat in the seasoned flour and place in the skillet. Repeat with additional pieces but insuring the skillet is not over-crowded. (I usually get 8 pieces of meat from the round steak and fry them half at a time.) Turn when well browned on one side and brown the other side. Place the browned pieces in the bottom of a roasting pan or large Dutch oven.

When all the meat is browned, add the chopped onion to the skillet and stir in the drippings until just tender about 3-4 minutes. Transfer onions to the roasting pan with the meat. Add the red wine to the skillet and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the beef broth and tomato paste and stir to combine. Let cook until starting to boil lightly. Add the mushrooms to the roasting pan and pour the sauce over the meat onions and mushrooms.

Cover and place in the hot oven. Cook for three hours. After each hour of cooking, stir the ingredients. If the sauce is not thickened after the second hour, remove the lid and let it cook for 30-40 minutes uncovered to reduce the liquid and thicken the sauce. Stir as needed to insure the meat or sauce does not become too browned. Return lid to the pot when sauce is appropriately thickened to the consistence of classic beef gravy.

Remove from oven after three hours when meat is fork tender. Let cool for 15-30 minutes. Plate and spoon the sauce over the meat and a side of mashed potatoes.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Cornbread Muffins

There's nothing quite so simple or tasty as a corn bread muffin for breakfast. Not overly sweet, you can enjoy then as is, with some butter, or jam. My favorite topping is some Amish apple butter.

Julian's Cornbread Muffins
Some complain that their cornbread muffins come out dry, but I can assure you these will not. Don't over bake your muffins, which can be a cause of drying out. I also add a bit of butter to help with that issue.

Ingredients (makes 12)
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Grease muffin tins or line with paper muffin liners (shown here).

In a large bowl, mix together corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the egg, oil and buttermilk. Then, whisk in the melted butter.

Stir the wet ingredients gently into the dry ingredients until just combined. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them equally about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake at 400F degrees for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool in tins for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely before storage. Of course you can enjoy one while it is still warm. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives

After the holidays with so many classic and familiar meals, I thought it would be good to prepare something that had a different and more exotic flavor. So today I'm making a Cook's Illustrated recipe for Moroccan chicken with green olives.

Julian's Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives
This is from their 'Cooking for Two' cookbook and is similar to other recipes you may find from them, but uses only boneless skinless chicken thighs. Despite the name of the cookbook, I think this recipe actually serves four quite nicely.

Close Up of Plated Dish
All of these types of recipes are based on the traditional North African tagines (aromatic braises of meat, vegetables and fruits). Using the boneless thighs speeds up cooking so this is simple enough for a weeknight dinner. The recipe includes chopped dried figs which adds a little sweetness, and pitted green olives (from your local olive bar at the supermarket) which adds a bit of salty/sour. If you can't find the pitted green olives, you can substitute the classic pimento-stuffed green olives. This is great over rice or my favorite and so simple couscous. I'm serving i with a side of peas.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
1 (3-inch) strip lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala seasoning
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup pitted large green olives, chopped course
1/4 cup dried figs, stemmed and chopped course
4 (3-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Heat oil in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon zest, garlic, garama masala, and paprika and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, olives and figs, scraping up any brown bits.

Making the Sauce
Season chicken with salt and pepper, lay in skillet, and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until chicken is very tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil.

The Cooked Chicken Thighs
Discard lemon zest. Continue to simmer sauce until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes more. Stir in any accumulated chicken juices and simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over chicken and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve.

Ready to Serve

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Chicken and Steak Skillet Fajitas

After a busy holiday season and many heavy, fancy meals, today I'm preparing a simple fajita bar. While I have recipes for a grill version and even a quick version, this is my favorite recipe as it has the best overall taste. 

Julian's Sizzling Chick and Steak Skillet Fajitas
This recipe uses two ingredients that have nothing to do with developing flavor. The first is cornstarch, and in a stir-fried recipe like this one the cornstarch is used to make the seasonings adhere better to the meat during cooking. It has the negative effect of making your skillet harder to clean. And as I prefer to get a nice char on the meat, I use my cast iron grill pan which has nice grooves that perfectly char the meat as if it had been cooked on the grill. But the cornstarch does make the normally non-stick years-of-seasoning skillet, messy and require a good scrubbing to get it clean.

Julian's Fajita Station on the Lazy Susan
The second ingredient, which is optional, is baking soda. This is only needed if you don't have very tender meat. Today I'm using one left-over beef filet that I had in the freezer and a half-pound of hanging chuck tender steak that I got at Whole Foods. But if your beef is not tender (like the typical flank steak, tri-tip roast or skirt steak), you'll want to use the Cook's Illustrated proven technique of tenderizing it as noted in the recipe below. Chicken is naturally tender and doesn't require this special process.

Ingredients (serves 6-10)

Seasoning Mix
Beef and Chicken Marinating
2 tablespoon cornstarch
2-4 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon white sugar
2 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Meats and Vegetables
canola oil or cooking spray
1 pound boneless beef steak
1 pound boneless chicken (white, dark or mixed)
1 large sweet onion
1 green bell pepper
1 red/yellow bell pepper

Items for Assembly
fajita wrappers
       (about 20 if they are the smaller 6 inch size)
sour cream
cheddar cheese
tomato salsa

Tenderize if Needed
Sprinkle the cut meat lightly until all of the pieces are coated in baking soda. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 hours. Rinse the meat thoroughly to remove all the baking soda and pat dry with paper towels. Proceed with the recipe as noted below.

Julian's Cast Iron Grill Pan
One to two hours prior to cooking, cut the meat into strips about 1/2 inch thick if you have not used the tenderizing method above. Mix together all of the seasoning ingredients. Set aside two tablespoons divide the remaining seasoning into two bowls, one for the chicken and the other for the beef. Place the meat into the two bowls and toss to coat. Let the meat rest in the marinade for 1 hour turning it a couple times as the meat marinates to insure even coating.

Slice the onion and peppers into thick strips about 1/2 inch wide. Keep the sliced peppers and onions separated into different bowls.

Prepare the items needed for assembly if you are making any of them from scratch. Place on your table of buffet. In the oven, heat a covered heavy ceramic dish to hold the warmed fajitas.

When your a ready to cook, heat a large heavy skillet on high heat (I use my cast iron grill ribbed pan) with just enough oil to coat the bottom. When the skillet just begins to smoke, add the beef disbursing it so each piece is touching the bottom of the pan. Let it fry undisturbed for 2-3 minutes or until it has some nicely browned char marks from the hot pan. Turn the pieces using tongs and lightly brown the other side, removing the meat to a large baking pan or casserole dish when it is still a bit pink, but not bloody inside.Cook the chicken using the same method in the same skillet, but insuring it is cooked fully through and is no longer pink inside. Remove the chicken to the baking pan with the cooked beef.

In the same skillet which now has ample seasoning add the onions and a little more oil if necessary. Stir regularly until they are softened and have picked up color from the pan. Remove the onions to the pan with the meat, and do the same with the sliced peppers. Combine all of the ingredients and place on a warmed or even hot cast iron serving pan. I have the Lodge brand Chef's Platter Set for this purpose.

Microwave the fajita wrappers in their plastic bag or wrapped in a clean towel for 1 minute on high. Transfer to the warmed ceramic dish. Place the hot dish on the table or buffet taking care to put a hot pad underneath. Bring the fajita meat/vegetables to the table sizzling hot. Let everyone assemble their own fajita with favorite ingredients one at a time, returning to assemble another as your dinner guests or family see fit.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Classic Duck Breast with Dark Cherry Port Reduction

Duck breast is always a treat and what better time to serve it to your guests than during the holidays. It's made more special with this dark cherry port reduction. I'm serving it here with wild rice and green beans, for a festive holiday plate.

Julian's Duck Breast with Dark Cherry Port Reduction
A Holiday Treat
I give you my classic recipe below, although you can do variations on the theme. Here I've cut it more thickly than usual and not done the typical fan presentation on the plate. I also did not score the skin/fat in advance. I ordered duck breasts online and the one was much larger than anticipated. I normally anticipate one duck breast per person of about 5-8 ounces, which several of them were. But there was this one very large breast half in the batch so I'm serving larger pieces than normal. These three breasts fed five for dinner with the ends kept for a left over snack tomorrow.

Cooked to about 135F and finished at about 140F degrees.
Slightly more well-done than I recommend below, because of guest request.
Today I'm using the Moulard Magret duck breast breed, which is the most popular duck in France. But the breasts can be rather large as noted above. Muscovy duck breast (AKA Barbary duck) is a favorite among chefs for its deep red flesh, leaner, thin skin and mildly gamey flavor. It also is more consistent in the ideal size, about 8 ounces per breast half. Pekin duck (AKA Long Island duck) is the most popular in the US with a dark pink flesh, soft, fatty skin and mild, sweet flavor. It too comes in more manageable 8-10 ounce sizes. Sometimes you see Rohan duck, which is a hybrid heritage duck breed. If you have your choice, go with the Muscovy duck as it the most flavorful, has less fat and is more ideally sized than the Moulard Magret.

A few simple ingredients and tools required.
My middle breast-half is considerably larger than the other two.
Duck breasts can be hard to find at your local grocer or butcher, but they are readily available from multiple sources online. I used to purchase them from Whole Foods, but they since stopped carrying them.  When I asked the butcher he said the whole duck cost as much as the breasts and suggested I simply by several ducks (frozen) and cut off the breasts and use the remainder of the duck (legs and thighs) for confit. Not wanting to go to the trouble, I purchased online.

A crispy skin is most desirable.
Much of the fat is melted off during cooking.

Julian's Duck Breast with Dark Cherry Port Reduction

4 duck breast halves (about 6-8 ounces each)
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/3 cup tawny Port
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup black cherry juice
8 sweet red cherries, pitted and halved (optional)
1 tablespoons chilled butter, divided

Place duck breast halves between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Pound lightly to even the thickness. Remove from plastic and using sharp knife, score skin in 3/4-inch diamond pattern (do not cut into flesh). Sprinkle the flesh (not fat) side with salt and pepper.

Coat the bottom of heavy large skillet with the oil and place over high heat until it just begins to smoke.  Add duck, skin side down, to skillet and cook until skin is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. If you have a splatter shield to catch some of the fat from spraying, use it.

Turn duck breasts over, reduce heat to medium, and cook until browned and cooked to desired doneness, about 4 minutes for 130F degrees, which will be medium-rare. For larger breasts it will take a few minutes more. Use an instant read thermometer to test for doneness. Transfer to work surface, tent with foil to keep warm and let rest. Duck temperature will continue to rise to about 135F degrees.

Meanwhile, pour the rendered fat into a heat resistant glass or ceramic container. With a paper towel and tongs, wipe out the skillet to remove any burned debris but do not wash. Return 2 tablespoons of the fat to the skillet and place it over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add the shallot and stir for 30 seconds more to soften. Add the port and stir for 1-2 minutes until it is slightly reduced. Add the broth, cherry juice and cherries and cook stirring regularly until the sauce is reduced to a a glaze, about 5-7 minutes. Whisk in the butter and season as necessary with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice duck. Fan slices out on plates. Spoon sauce over and serve.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Swedish Tea Ring

A Swedish Tea Ring is a sweet cinnamon bread which is made generally as cake served with afternoon tea/coffee, as part of breakfast or sometimes for dessert.

Julian's Swedish Tea Ring
No one knows the exact origin, but it is likely from the Swedish "kanelkrans" which means "cinnamon circle". My sister and I are making it today because our mother made this treat every winter, and sometime more frequently.

In Sweden this tea ring is most often enjoyed at Christmas time. Think cinnamon roll in the shape of a ring or wreath. Take care not to over bake the ring or it will be dry. It is best served after it has rested for 15-30 minutes out of the oven, so try to make then serve warm.

Ready for Glaze and Nuts
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 large egg
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon instant yeast

6 tablespoons sugar*
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon*
2 tablespoon Instant ClearJel or cornstarch*
5-6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted*
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
       plus another 1/4 cup for topping
1/2 cup cinnamon chips or bits

*Note: Substitute 1/2 cup King Arthur's Baker's Cinnamon Filling adding water as noted on package.

1 egg for brushing on before baking
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons milk or water

To make the dough, stir together all of the dough ingredients in your mixer bowl. In your mixer fitted with the dough hook, mount the bowl of ingredients and turn the mixer to low and let it combine and knead the ingredients for 5 minutes. Turn off, scrape down sides and hook, and let rest 10 minutes. Turn the mixer on to low and let knead for another 3-4 minutes. You should now have a soft, smooth dough. Remove bowl from mixer and remove hook. Form to a ball with your hands. Place back in bowl and cover with a clean towel and let rise for 1 hour.

To make the filling paste stir together the sugar, cinnamon, and ClearJel/cornstarch, then stir in the melted butter until you have paste that can be spread but is not runny. Alternatively prepare the Baker's Cinnamon Filling per package directions.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape it with your hands into a rectangle. Place on work surface and roll it into a 12 x 18 inch rectangle. Measure it to insure accuracy.  Spread the cinnamon filling paste over the dough. Top with the 1/2 cup walnuts and cinnamon chips or bits.

Starting with one long side, roll the dough into a log. Carefully turn it and form it into a ring, pinching the edges together to seal. Place the ring on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a knife, cut two-thirds of the way into the edge of the ring at 2 inch intervals. Gently lift each cut section outward and turn onto its side. As you pull out sections, begin to spread the ring outward. It will fill a sheet pan from edge to edge on the long side.

Cover and let rise for 45 minutes, until puffy in a warmer non-drafty location. I use the empty room-temperature oven with the oven light turned on. Remove the cover and set the baking sheet/ring on your counter. Mix the egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush on the dough.

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Bake the tea ring for 25 minutes; tent it with foil after 15 minutes to prevent over-browning. Remove tea ring from the oven, and carefully transfer it to a rack to cool.

When cool, mix the confectioners' sugar with 3 tablespoons milk or water. and stir to combine. The mixture should be fairly stiff and just able to drizzle from a fork. If it is too thick, stir in a bit more liquid. Drizzle the glaze onto the tea ring. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 of chopped walnuts.

Serve slightly warm from the oven. Alternatively serve pieces later warmed 20 seconds in the microwave. Can also serve at room temperature. Store covered. Do not refrigerate.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Pan-seared Duck Breast Sous Vide Option

Duck breast is the meatiest part of the duck and with the correct type of duck breast selected, you can cook it like a steak as did Chef Andre Daguin for the first time in 1959.

Julian's Pan-seared Duck Breast
The first time diner usually says 'that must have been a very big duck'. The breast half served as a single portion is much larger than you might find on a whole duck in your grocer's meat case. That's because duck breast used for this purpose is the breast of a Moulard duck that has been reared for foie gras, which is called the magret. A Moulard duck is a cross between a Muscovy drake and a Pekin hen, and is a sizable bird with a well-developed breast. This makes it the preferred duck to produce foie gras.

Raw Magret Duck Breasts
In 1959, at the Hotel de France in Auch, decorated Chef André Daguin prepared a magret like a steak for the first time. The story goes that the chef was out of ingredients when a late diner showed up and he had nothing left except for a tray of raw magrets waiting to be prepared in the classic methods. He grabbed one and seared it like a steak, and a new culinary tradition was born.

Resting before slicing. 
Today I'm giving you both of my methods for preparation; classic pan-seared and sous vide. Why sous vide, you ask? I always like to use the sous vide technique whenever a precise cooking temperature is required, as it will never over cook the item. I can also hold the duck at the perfect temperature until all my guests are situated and ready for dinner to be served. Regardless of which technique you choose, they both start the same.

Preparation for both Both Methods:
Start with moulard duck magret, breast halves, one for each diner. Trim away excess fat that extends beyond the edge of the meat if necessary. Then score the fat side in a cross-hatch pattern, without cutting all the way through to the meat, and season heavily with salt and pepper.

Stove Top Technique:
Heat a cast iron or heavy steel/stainless pan on high, and place the duck breast skin side down in the pan. No fat or oil is needed. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Then lower the heat to medium and flip the breast over, cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Make sure the duck is not cooked beyond medium rare. Considerable amounts of duck fat will collect in the pan, so remove some of the excess as it cooks and set aside or discard.

Sous Vide Technique:
Fill your cooking vessel with water and set your sous vide device to 136F degrees. Let the water heat to temperature.  Place the prepared duck breast halves into a vacuum bag and remove the air. When the water is at temperature, submerge, insuring they are not laying on top of one another. Cook in the water bath for 1.5 hours. (They can hold in the bath for an additional hour if necessary.)  When about ready to serve, heat a cast iron or heavy steel/stainless pan on high, and place the duck breast skin side down in the pan. No fat or oil is needed. Cook for about 6-8 minutes to brown and render the fat from under the skin.

Finishing the Duck Breast:
Pan-seared duck breast goes well with all kinds of sauces and chutneys. I typically prepare a pan sauce consisting of berries or cherries and port wine (coming up on my blog in a few weeks). Alternatively a prepared chutney like Roland's Major Grey's also works well.

Serving the Duck Breast:
Let the duck breast rest for 10-15 minutes after removing from the skillet, then slice on the diagonal into 1/4 inch or so slices and fan out on the plate. Top with finishing sauce or chutney.

Note: The duck fat you saved can be used to roast the potatoes which will be excellent, or used for any other frying purpose where you want a very crispy result.