Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ralph's Frozen Chopped Spinach

I like that this is a bag instead of a brick and that it's 12 ounces instead of 10. And I now realize that means I bought plastic over cardboard and paper. Oh crap.

Ralph's frozen spinach, available in a 12-oz plastic bag for $1.25.

Private Selection Spicy Italian Sausage

I didn't think Ralph's had a "store brand" of fresh Italian sausage, but lo and behold, I found some while I was there. It was labeled "Private Selection", which is Ralph-ology for Ralph's brand.

A little disappointed with the number of ingredients in the statement, I was glad there was no HFCS or MSG or "chicken".

In case you can't read that tiny print:
INGREDIENTS: pork, seasoning (salt, spices [includes fennel and black pepper], dextrose, sugar, hydrolyzed soy protein, garlic powder, sherrywine powder [natural flavorin, maltodextrin], oleoresin of paprika, natural flavors, tricalcium phosphate), water.

But you know what, if you look at it, it's pork, seasonings, and water. Of course, the number of seasonings outnumber by far those listed in the Stater Bros. New York Style Hot Italian Sausage. Just sayin'.

Available at Ralph's, "fresh never frozen" Private Selection Spicy Italian Sausage for $3.99/lb. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

California Beef Stew with Zinfandel, Take 2

I've been craving this dish since I finished the remains of my first execution back in February. Now that my apartment is back in order I made it a point that this dish would be one of the first in my return to cooking.

California Beef Stew with Zinfandel
adapted from Costco Connection Feb 2011

Herb and Paprika Rub for Beef
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp freshly ground course black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

3.5 lbs boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2" pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 lb dry coppa, cut into 1/2" dice
1/4 lb pancetta, cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 c flour
2 c chopped onions
1 tbsp garlic, minced
3 c (about 700 mL) California Zinfandel, such as Barefoot
1 14-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes, coursely chopped
1 c beef stock or broth
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all rub ingredients. Toss the mixture with the beef cubes, cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Remove beef in advance of the following steps to allow it to come to or at least toward room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.

Cook the coppa and pancetta until the fat is rendered and pork is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Remove the coppa and pancetta with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towel place in a small bowl.
I tasted a piece and it was deliciously crisp but not overly-so bacon!

Meanwhile, toss the seasoned beef with the flour in a large dish, shaking off excess flour. In batches, brown the meat on all sides over medium-high heat, then transfer it to a platter.

I'd forgotten to increase the heat under the pot for browning the meat and it took quite a while.

Add the onions and garlic, reduce heat to medium and cover pot. Cook and stir until onions are soft and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Scrape up any browned bits from the pot.

Add the wine to the pot and bring to a boil; scrape up any more browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

Return the beef, coppa and pancetta to the pot along with the tomatoes, beef stock and bay leaf.

Bring to a simmer, stirring well.

Cover the pot, put the stew in the oven and bake until the beef is fork-tender, about 2-2.5 hours.

Remove from the pot from oven and degrease fat from the surface. Taste the stew; if it is watery, remove the solids and boil the liquid to concentrate the flavors and thicken the sauce. Remove the bay leaves and return the solids. Season with salt and pepper; serve.

I skipped all that after removing the pot from the oven business and simply let it stand covered on the stove-top while I prepped my side dish.

And this time, there was some fat that could be removed.

Tomorrow, after chilling overnight in the fridge, I will scrape the solidified fat from the top of the stew. Dinner tonight, even though the stew wasn't degreased, was sheer bliss. I had been craving this meal since mid-March. There is no doubt in my mind that I will have this beef stew regularly and I wonder if it would ever be possible to find something better than Chef Bruce Aidells's take on Beouf Bourguiognon.
Oops, did I just set myself up to try Julia's recipe?
The first difference instantly observable is how this time the fat rendered from the pork and the pork browned within the 5 minutes suggested by Chef Aidells. That didn't happen last time. Because I was short on fat for beef-browning last time, I didn't bother removing any fat from the pot and it turned out to be just enough to brown all of the beef pieces.
This revision was noticeably saltier than the first try, to the point of being almost too salty. As I'd added in coppa this time instead of using only pancetta and also utilized a can of San Marzano's instead of the Ralph's brand of Italian-style diced tomatoes I'm not sure where the added saltiness came from. Unfortunately, while I know the Strianese San Marzanos had salt added, I don't know if the Ralph's Italian-style diced did. Guessing though, it was probably the addition of coppa that gave this result.
Another thing noticeably different about this revision is how the pork really made itself known during consumption. Coppa being so dry was quite distinct in the dish. Coppa held it's dice-shape through braising while pancetta, like last time, did not. The pancetta essentially melted into the stew liquid both times.
Lastly, the majority, but not all of the beef pieces were completely tender though I followed through on the entire 2.5 hours of braising time. Admittedly, I was a lot more conscious the first time prepping this dish that the beef pieces were approximately 2" cubes. This time, I simply cut the beef chuck roast into X number of pieces so some of those toward the edges were cut small and those toward the center were quite large. Note to self: aim for uniformly-sized pieces.
The next time I do this, I will go back to the Ralph's brand of tomatoes as I didn't observe a better "tomato flavor" with the San Marzano's while utilizing both coppa and pancetta to determine exactly where the saltiness came from. And I'll be more conscious of the beef piece sizes to achieve equally tender texture from each of the beef cubes.
  • rub: $1
  • chuck roast: $10.14
  • coppa: $3.36
  • pancetta: $2.62
  • onion: $0.40
  • garlic: $0.30
  • CA Zinfandel: $5.99
  • Strianese San Marzano tomatoes: $2.69
  • beef stock: $0.16

Total: $26.66 or $3.33 per each of eight servings.

Click for the printable

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Roasted Winter Vegetables

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 celery root, trimmed well, cut into 1" pieces
1 lb boiling onions, peeled
2 small parsnips, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
3 small turnips, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 c olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Place vegetables in a large bowl.

Combine oil, vinegar and salt in measuring glass.

Toss the vegetables in oil mixture.

Spread the vegetables out in one layer on a baking sheet.

Roast about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and somewhat caramelized.

This recipe is straightforward regarding prep and extremely simple in execution. The caramelized vegetables were tender and delicious. I really liked the boiling onions. I'm definitely going to make this again, though I'm not sure I'll utilize the celery root again.

While the celery root was quite fibrous because I hadn't trimmed it close enough, I'm not sure it really offered much to the dish. I would much prefer additional parsnips or turnips, or my favorite, the delicious adaptable potato. Of course, I'm biased by the fibrous rooty bits I'd apparently neglected to trim from that gnarly celery root.

Again, Aidells knocked it out of the park and I'm even more smitten with that man. There is definitely going to be more of his recipes seen here.

As I think of it, I realize that my last attempt at oven-roasting vegetables would've been better executed had I simply utilized a baking sheet instead of a 9x13" dish. Those vegetables were much too crowded to really roast, thus the oily texture. Thanks Chef Aidells! And yes, I'll follow up on this to be sure.

  • carrots: $0.57
  • celery root: $1.59
  • boiling onions: $1
  • parsnips: $0.40
  • turnips: $0.45
  • rosemary: $1

Total: $5.01 or $1.25 for each of four small side servings.

Click for the printable

Home Grown Boiling Onions

Not home-grown like I grew them, but Home Grown as in the brand.

I am not sure if I was doing it "properly" but I peeled not quite half of these and I did it like I'd peel regular onions. It was a bit of a pain since they are only about 1" in diameter, but it worked.

I liked that there's a variety of them, some brown, some white, some purple.

Home Grown boiling onions available from Grower's Direct in a 2 lb bag for $1.99.

Celery Root

This ugly thing, also known as celeriac, was selected as part of an Aidells recipe. Not only is it ugly, but it's tough.

Cutting through the "celery" end was tough just as cutting through the root end was. Trimming the outer skin, more husk-like than skin, from this root was also tough.

Be sure to trim this joker toward excessively trimmed than not enough. I can tell you that if you don't you will notice the straw-like fiber.

If you hate celery, you should be relieved that only a trace of celery flavor will be present in eating this unless maybe you eat it raw. And the root itself if properly trimmed doesn't have that crazy fibrous quality. IF it's trimmed well. If trimmed well, you wouldn't even know it's a celery root as it easily takes on other flavors.
Please make it a point to trim to excess.
Available at Grower's Direct for $1.59/root.

Strianese San Marzanos Tomatoes

I've heard from Italians that San Marzano tomatoes are the best. When I saw this can at Claro's I couldn't help from buying it.

Ingredients: San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, San Marzano tomato puree, salt, basil and citric acid.

Strianese brand San Marzano tomatoes available from Claro's for $2.69 a 14-oz can.


I got it, I got me some coppa! If you'll remember, I'd hunted all over the city for coppa once and didn't find it until the store that had it was closing.

This time I made a bee-line straight for Claro's over in Tustin.

Not only did I get me some mild coppa (you can get it hot), I also picked up pancetta while there.
That's coppa on the left, pancetta on the right.

Coppa is certainly dry and dense. You need a sharp knife to easily cut it into a dice. I need to get my knives sharpened.

Here's the coppa buried under a pile of diced pancetta.

Get your Italian meats from Claro's where coppa is available for $3.36/0.24 lb and pancetta for $2.62/0.25 lb.

Tuscan-Style Sparerib Topped Salad

Rather than eat leftover meat with sides of oven-baked corn days on end, I prepped a salad to top with the remaining sparerib slab. The actual ribs from the slab though I'll eat bone-in. No forks allowed.

I made a huge salad to eat over the week comprised of a romaine head, a bag of baby spinach, two ears of previously baked corn-on-the-cob (corn cut from the cob of course), two carrots thinly sliced, two Persian cucumbers halved and sliced, and one diced green bell pepper.

A portion of the huge salad was placed in a bowl while a piece of the sparerib slab was gently warming in the microwave. The flavored meat was pulled from bone and cartilage, chopped as necessary, and placed on the the salad serving.

  • romaine: $0.89
  • baby spinach: $1.99
  • corn: $0.78
  • carrots: $0.16
  • Persian cucumbers: $0.28
  • green bell pepper: $0.76

Total: $4.86 for 1 giant salad or about 5 servings at $0.97 each. Not counting cost of the pork.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tuscan-Style Spareribs and Eggs

I'd intended on making a salad, but over-medium eggs are much quicker.

And the ribs, warmed in the microwave for 3 minutes on 30% power were perfection. This confirmed my initial thoughts that the spareribs were kick-ass but the seasoning on the skirt and riblets were a little much. These were simply superb and so juicy!

The Complete Meat Cookbook and Larousse Gastronomique

Because I'm now completely enamored of Chef Bruce Aidells I was forced to find The Complete Meat Cookbook immediately. Many places declared a copy would ship in 1-5 days, but I wanted it NOW. I scored a 1998 copy in never-been-read-before condition for $15 from a place called The Bookman over in Orange. The Complete Meat Cookbook reads like a novel and has annectodal stories in it from both authors, Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly, on top of the recipes. How stoked am I? Impossible to determine, off the charts.

While browsing around I also spied a 1984 copy of Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopedia of French food. Noting that the 1984 edition had been updated to include foods of other cultures, I snapped it up for $15. I don't know how useful this tome will be, but it will be fantastic to peek into a history of food in alphabetical order and maybe even try out some of the included recipes for standard French fare and compare them with updated versions. Coq au vin immediately comes to mind.

Bruce Aidells Tuscan-Style Spareribs with Balsamic Glaze

I've been eating out a lot lately, I mean, a LOT. Doing so can be pretty freaking expensive. Trying to keep the food expedition costs down, I wound up eating a lot of crap. Don't get me wrong, the food was edible, but when regularly frequenting fast food-ish sort of places, it simply gets old. And thus, eating out for me has over time "turned" to crap.

Since the imposed apartment experiment seems to be over, I wanted something that would warm my kitchen (and subsequently my entire apartment), something comforting, something GOOD. Something meaty. Over the past couple months, I've eaten tons of pizza and sandwiches while browsing different food recipe sources, including my own blog and, when appropriate, the magazines my trials were sourced from.

While browsing I've learned that Chef Bruce Aidells, the man behind the sausages I like, the man who authored the California Beef Stew with Zinfandel I found in Costco Connections and wanted to bathe in, is also the chef behind my all-time favorite chicken recipe, which I was forced to adapt for broiling: Lemon-Saffron Broiled Chicken Thighs. Now worshiping Chef Bruce Aidells, I thought there could be no better way to kick-off cooking again than to start with another recipe of Aidells's.

I tried staying true to the ingredients and execution, but there are a couple of adaptations. First, I rearranged the ingredients list. I prefer to do dry ingredients followed by wet so I don't have to wash between or dig out another set of measuring spoons. Second, while I like fennel seed, I was concerned they'd be overpowering and thus reduced the quantity from 1.5 to 1 tablespoon. And because I didn't have ground allspice and didn't care to apply the effort to grind allspice from berries (as my pestle died a Humpty-Dumptyish death), I skipped it altogether. $5 says the ribs will still be kick-ass in flavor.

Instead of 6 pounds of spareribs, I used 5. I might be wrong, but I'm sort of guessing Chef Aidells intended for 6 lbs of St. Louis style spareribs. I simply used one whole spare rib slab and didn't do much for trimming except to make it fit on the baking sheet. Another $5 says the ribs will still be fall-off-the-bone tender or damn close, and still freaking delicious.

Finally, I didn't run the slab under the broiler post balsamic brushing. I simply returned the meat to the oven.

During the last 30 minutes of ribs-having-been-rubbed-and-stood-at-room-temperature I cranked up my oven to 325°F. Wow, I can't believe how much I've missed that gas+residual-stuff-in-the-oven smell.

Tuscan-Style Spareribs with Balsamic Glaze
adapted from Food and Wine

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp chopped rosemary leaves
2 tsp chopped sage
2 tsp chopped thyme
6 pounds pork spareribs
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, preferably one aged for at least 5 years

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, rosemary, kosher salt, fennel, black pepper, sage, thyme, paprika, crushed red pepper and coriander.

Rub the spice paste all over the spareribs.

I blotted the entire slab with paper towel, leaving it bone-side up. The membrane was removed and the skirt trimmed off before the slab and skirt were rubbed with spice paste.

The slab was flipped meaty-side up, and the narrow boneless tip trimmed to allow the majority of the slab room on the baking sheet. Excess fat was trimmed and the remaining spice paste smeared over the meat.

Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Roast the ribs for 2 hours, or until tender.

Drain fat from baking sheet.

Brush the meaty side of the ribs with the balsamic vinegar and return to oven until browned (I couldn't wait for browning and waited four minutes.

Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut between the ribs and serve.

Once in the oven, the fresh herbs were most prevalent in odoriferous deliciousness. After 15 minutes, the pepper was apparent. Within 30 minutes of roasting, the dry seasoning smells combined with the fresh herbs and pepper, causing me to thump my tail in anticipation. After 40 minutes, the fennel was introduced. I couldn't stand waiting to eat!

Execution is pretty straightforward and prep work is minimal. The majority of time is spent waiting, during room temperature, during roasting, and finally during resting.

The flavors were kick-ass on the actual ribs but overwhelming on the skirt and boneless end I'd trimmed from the slab to make it fit on the baking sheet. Seems that using those smaller pieces as mops resulted in them having the highest concentration of seasoning. I am glad I cut the quantity of fennel seeds as they are fairly pronounced. I loved the balsamic, even with my Kirkland stuff which has no indication of being aged at all. I think doing the 6 minute finish under the broiler would have been a good thing to follow through on, but as is my tendency, I waited until too late to start dinner and wound up running out of patience (and consciousness).

  • ribs: $7.42 for 5.05 lbs
  • fresh herbs: $1.29 (as I only used a portion of each package)
  • everything else, SWAG: $1

Total: $9.71, or about $3.24 for each of three big servings.

Click for the printable