Chinese Braised Beef

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Hi. How are all of you doing?

So….climate change is not a hoax. It is not something you can ignore or put away to the back burner and pretend as though it’s inconsequential. It is real.

The man who lives in the White House (at least PART of the time, when he’s not golfing at one of his tacky resorts) is a corrupt, shameless, puny buffoon. A disgrace. He’s unfit for office and a menace to this country.

I didn’t vote for him. I despise him, completely.

There. Just wanted to make it clear to all of you where I stand on that. We can get back to the food now.

I like Chinese takeout. There’s just something about the food that, in spite of the msg-laden/syrupy sauces/mystery ‘meat’, I just can’t quit. It’s not fancy, God knows it’s not healthy and sometimes it’s not even that cheap, but if the president of your country is determined to give the middle finger to valid, proven scientific research that could be the difference in preserving this planet for future generations, what’s the point in turning your nose up at a little msg, eh?

However, there are times when I’m a ‘good girl’ and instead of picking up the phone to order takeout, I go into the kitchen instead to cook what I want instead.

My number one entree go-to at a Chinese takeout joint is Sesame Chicken. I haven’t gotten around to trying to make that on my own yet, but it’s definitely still on the radar. A meal of Sesame Chicken, Lo mein and egg rolls for me is pure comfort food. I’m pleased to say that this recipe is getting added to that list.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t quiiiiiite what I would classify as a ‘takeout style’ dish. Most wok-style takeout dishes use lean beef like flank or hangar steak that cook quickly at a very high heat. This recipe doesn’t come together quickly, because it’s a braise of a fattier cut of meat like bottom round, chuck or short ribs that require a low-and-slow cooking to make them fall-apart, fork tender.

There’s still lots of good news to go round: first, once you get the meat seared off and the sauce blended together, the oven does most of the rest of the work. Second, all of the ingredients you use for this dish are popular staples that should be easily found in most grocery stores (which isn’t always the case).

The only ‘downside’ is that you have to wait for the beef to braise for a couple of hours and once the smells start to waft up from your oven, into the kitchen and the rest of the house, waiting to dig in may get increasingly difficult as the hunger pangs start to settle in.

This dish is alternatively known as Chinese Red-Beef, and if I had to compare it to another cuisine I would say it’s in the same vein as Hungarian Red Goulash,  American Beef Stew, or a French Carbonnade. All are essentially braised hearty beef stews with incredible sauces with flavors that develop over the long cook-time in the oven.  The sauce in this dish is very reminiscent of Chinese takeout flavors to me; it’s sweet, acidic, salty and slightly spicy.   The fresh ginger really comes through and that bit of gelatin and cornstarch also helps to give it that sticky ‘takeout’ consistency. Like all beef stews/braises, this would also go wonderful with a starch on the side. My personal preference for a side dish to Asian food is brown rice and steamed brocoli, but I think white rice, or even noodles would be great mixed in with this sauce.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #174 this week.

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Chinese Braised Beef

Recipe Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

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Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of chuck roast, bottom round, or boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 4-inch lengths
  • Salt, pepper and onion powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin on bias
  • About 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 dashes of fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Sesame seeds, optional for garnish

 

Directions

In a  large pot or Dutch oven, pour about 1 tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil and bring to high heat.

Season the beef with the salt, pepper and onion powder evenly. Sear in the Dutch oven over high heat until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate or bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Leave the drippings in the pan.

Add the onion to the pot and saute until softened and limp. Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in the Dutch oven and allow to sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.  Allow for gelatin to melt, then stir in the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, molasses, ginger, onion and garlic mixture, red pepper flakes and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer and stir together with a wooden spoon. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Stir in the beef chunks.

Remove pot from the heat, then cover tightly with aluminum foil, then Dutch oven lid. Transfer to oven and cook until the beef is tender when pierced with a fork, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring halfway.

When finished remove the beef to a bowl. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer and discard the bits. Separate/skim off as much fat as you can from the top, then place back into pot. Cook over medium high heat, until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20-25 minutes.

In a separate bowl combine the cornstarch with about 2 tablespoons of water, mixing together with a fork. Add this to the reduced sauce and allow to cook for about 5 more minutes, until thickened and syrupy. Return the beef to the pot and stir to combine with the sauce. Sprinkle with the scallions and sesame seeds and serve with rice and/or broccoli.

Curried Pumpkin and Ginger Scones

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I remember the first time I tried coffee. I hated it.

I’d been wanting to for a long time. My dad would drink a French Vanilla flavored brew and if I close my eyes I can STILL remember the exact smell that would waft out of his coffee cup and into the air of the car as we drove. It was a delicious aroma. I just knew that the coffee HAD to taste as good. I mean, why else would so many adults want to drink it all the time?

I had my first sip of coffee the same way I had my first sip of Coca Cola: in secret when no adult was looking and I really wasn’t supposed to. I walked away from one with no regrets. It may very well be battery acid but all I knew back then was that Coke tasted amazing and it wasn’t fair that my mom wouldn’t let me drink it.

Coffee? Heh. I thought it bitter. Too bitter. Kinda gross, actually. I was so disappointed. I felt let down. How could something that smelled so good taste bad? And why did grown ups guzzle up so much of the stuff?

It took me a while longer before my mind changed andI began what’s been a long on-again, off-again relationship with coffee. I’ve been drinking it for about thirteen years (Yeah, I know. You do the math and it’s a long time. I started too early. It is what it is.) Those first two or three years it really wasn’t that serious: I mostly just stuck with the cold slushy-like frappucinos from Starbucks with only a few shots of espresso and are mostly just sugar and milk anyway. But as time went on, I upped my game and went with the real stuff, learning that it’s an acquired taste that may be slow to develop, but once had, is almost impossible to get rid of.

And believe me, I’ve tried to get rid of it. Multiple times.

Right now I’m in the midst of another one of my relapses and I’m actually okay with that. Life is short, there worse things in the world to be hooked on and I’m not about to feel guilty over having myself a daily cup of coffee….not to mention a little extra something on the side.

Because honestly, doesn’t the coffee taste that much better when you’re munching on something tasty to go with it? You guys know I’m right.

When I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to bake, I like to eat either the spicy Lotus biscuits alongside my coffee, gingersnaps, or some honey-flavored graham crackers. When I’m not in a hurry and do have the time, I’ll make scones. If you guys have been following me for a while you know I’ve got a special love for scones. They’re my favorite accompaniment to coffee and I made up my mind a long time ago to get good at making them for myself so I wouldn’t have to pay $4-5 for one from a coffee shop.

And I have to say, I think I’ve succeeded.

I had a leftover can of pureed pumpkin in my cupboard from Thanksgiving that I never used. I’d also just finished candying some ginger from a batch of ginger syrup I’d made. I didn’t want the pumpkin or the ginger to go to waste, and as they do go together so well, I thought they’d work very nicely in a scone dough. Besides the combination of those two ingredients, there are a few other things I love about this recipe:

It’s given a extra kick of spice by the addition of curry powder and turmeric. I know that those are spices normally used in savory dishes, but trust me: they REALLY do work with the ginger. The bite tempers the sweetness of the scone while the turmeric and the pumpkin also gives them a lovely golden brown color. Second, the crystallized ginger and turbinado adds a layer of chewy/slightly crunchy texture to the top of the scones. I know we’re just now getting into summer, but the smell of these will almost make you wish it were autumn already. I really loved how these turned out and if you try them (even if it’s just to bookmark for later) I think you will too.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #173, co-hosted this week by Lindy @ Love In The Kitchen and Paula @ Her Life Is Love.

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Curried Pumpkin and Ginger Scones

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for color)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter or margarine, cut into eight pieces
  • 1/2 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin or squash (canned is fine)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 beaten egg, for brushing on top, optional
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling, optional

 

Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & lightly spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, the 1/2 cup ginger, curry powder, turmeric and sugar. Mix well with a fork and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the buttermilk with the pumpkin and mix together until the pumpkin has mostly dissolved in the buttermilk.

Using the large holes on a box grater, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. (You can also use a pastry blender or a pair of knives for this, just cut the butter into chunks first.) Mix with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and pour the pumpkin-buttermilk mixture inside. Using a floured rubber spatula mix together until just combined. (It’s going to be sticky)

On a well floured surface (like a cutting board, pastry mat or a secured piece of wax paper) turn out the dough and pat/roll it into a long rectangle, about  1/2 inch thick. Try to handle as lightly as possible with your hands.

Using a bench scraper, pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into squares and transfer them to the baking sheet, placing them close together. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place a shallow dish filled with about 1 inch of water on the lower rack of the oven about 10 minutes before baking and leave it in there (this will aid with the scone rise)

Brush the scones with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the extra crystallized ginger and turbinado sugar.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm or at room temp. Scones can be wrapped in plastic wrap to preserve freshness, then reheated by wrapping in damp napkin and reheating in microwave for 15-20 seconds.

Honey Whole Wheat Dinner (Sc)rolls

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I remember when I was first starting to learn how to cook and was struggling with a few dishes that came out less than successful. It made me mad and frustrated. My mom, because she’s very patient and quite a great cook herself, told me that I was getting worked up over nothing and that it would be fine. I just needed to get a grasp on a few fundamentals. By fundamentals, she meant some basic cooking techniques and methods, and most importantly, the flavor of  specific spices. Once I understood and grasped the ‘basics’ of cooking techniques and what specific spices/ingredients ‘do’, I would be comfortable enough to improvise and be able to make just about any dish and make it my own.

She’s a mom and a very good one, so of course she was right.

If I had to give advice to inexperienced cooks to where they should start if they do want to cook, it’d be my mom’s: learn the basics. Very little is worse than bland food; get comfortable with spices. VERY comfortable. Learn which ones ‘do’ what. (Your nose is a great resource for this: how they smell is very similar to how they will taste) Start with a basic, easy to follow recipe for what you want to make. Make it. Make it again. And again. Then, when you’ve started to feel comfortable with both the technique and the ingredients you’re using, start adding on & altering it to fit your own style and tastes.

Making adaptations and adding personalization to one’s cooking is one thing but I will say that doing it when it comes to one’s baking is another. It isn’t impossible, but it is different.

Why?

The simplest answer is that baking is a scientific reaction. Baking scientific reactions happen based upon individual elements that combine together and react to one another. If you alter the combination, it’s very likely that you’ll alter (or in this case ruin) the reaction. However, I have found with some practice that my Mom’s advice for cooking can work for baking as well.

I’ve found that when it comes to baking, you can get away with personalizing it so long as you don’t mess with the basic chemistry and ratio of wet ingredients to dry ones. That ratio is what mainly determines the chemical reaction that results in the dish itself, so unless you’re a food scientist I wouldn’t go messing around with that too much. Most of what I do when personalizing in baking has to do with two things: flavors, and shaping. The flavors are something you can adjust in just about anything: cake, pie, cookie dough, biscuits, scones, whatever. The shaping is something I’ve learned to play around with in my bread making.

Once I understood enough of the basics and got comfortable with making bread, I started branching out to want to make more than just a standard loaf or round balls of dough I baked in cake pans. Most yeast based bread dough is flexible enough to where once you get it past it’s first rise, you can shape it into just about anything you want and it will turn out fine. If you guys have been following my blog for a while then you’ve seen some of the ways I’ve been practicing my bread shaping skills with other flexible dough (Cinnamon Star Bread, Cornflower Yeast Rolls, Golden Santa Bread).

I’ve been using today’s recipe for a while now. It was one of the first bread recipes I tried. I was impressed with not only how easy it is to make, but how delicious the bread is. I’ve already said how much I like the combination of honey and whole wheat and these have a good amount of both honey & whole wheat flour in them, so that flavor isn’t lacking at all. Instead of shaping them into basic rolls though, I decided to do something a bit different: rolling them into scroll shapes. It was for no particular reason; I just wanted to see if it would work.

It did. It’s always nice when that happens.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #172, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Su @ Su’s Healthy Living.

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Honey Whole Wheat Dinner (Sc)rolls

Recipe Adapted from Chowhound.com

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Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil, for coating the bowl
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), plus 1/4 cup reserved)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For Tops:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • About 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon yellow cornmeal

 

Directions

Combine the flour, yeast and salt together in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk or a fork.

Melt 8 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the milk and honey, stir together until combined and allow to warm to a temp between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, about 2 to 5 minutes.

Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixture and add the beaten eggs. Use the dough hook attachment to stir together on low until just combined. Then, increase the speed to medium high and continue kneading until formed a smooth, elastic dough—about 10 minutes.  It’s okay if it’s sticky.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and set aside. Grease the bottom of the bowl with vegetable oil, then place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size.

Melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a small bowl. Deflate the dough and roll out to a rectangle, about 11 x 15 inches.  Brush the melted butter evenly over the dough. Using a bench scraper or knife cut the dough into individual rectangular strips. Roll the strips up into scrolls.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the scrolls onto the sheets, then cover with plastic wrap and a damp paper towel again. Allow to rise until double in size, about another hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl combine the beaten egg and water. Brush over the scolls, then sprinkle with the oats and cornmeal. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the bottoms and tops are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for about 1o minutes before serving.

Berry Crisp Ham and Black Pepper Biscuits

I think that this may be the first time ever that I’ve been away from my mom on Mother’s Day. It’s certainly the first time I’ve been over two thousand miles away. Feels weird. I miss her. I wish I was back in the Mitten sometimes, but especially times like now so that I could cook my mom a good meal as a way of showing her that I do love and appreciate her.

For any of my followers that are also far away from their moms on Sunday,  if your mother has passed away, or if you just don’t have the kind of relationship with your mom that you’d like to and the holiday is difficult for you–I’m sorry for that. I hope you can find a silver lining to the day.

Food has never failed to be one for me, so let’s focus on that for the moment.

Today’s recipe was actually the meal that I made for us on Easter. However, I thought it would work this week just as well. It also piggy-backs on last week’s where I shared the second best biscuit recipe I’ve ever had or made. I do hope some of you were able to give it a try like we both know you wanted to. But if you’re STILL dragging your feet and putting it off, maybe this week’s recipe & pictures will finally put the boot in your rear and make you just do it already.

Bargain shoppers know that the closer you get to major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, the better price you can get for the huge ‘roast’ style cuts of meat like whole turkeys and hams in grocery stores. We haven’t had ham since Christmas and since we do enjoy it,  I knew for sure that I was going to wait until the last minute to buy an inexpensive one to make for Easter dinner. I just wasn’t sure of how and with what else to serve it with.

It didn’t take very long before I made up my mind. I’d been craving breakfast for dinner for a while. Since it’s just the three of us all the way out here I thought that that would be a simple, yet delicious celebratory meal: Easter Brinner.

I for one, just couldn’t imagine having a real ham brinner without the biscuits. So, I didn’t try. I cooked a ham and a batch of the newfound biscuit recipe that I was still swooning over and still wanting more of after they were gone–with some modifications that in my opinion, made it even better.

First off, I loveloveLOVE this ham. The rub I put together is sweet, zesty and with just the right amount of aromatic ‘kick’ from the cloves and nutmeg. It pairs just right with the berry glaze that gets brushed over the ham while it warms up and causes it to form that dark, bark-like, sugary crust on the outside. Using a standard/spiral ham is also pretty impossible to mess up as the thing is already cooked in the first place. So long as you don’t dry it out, which if you follow the baking time, is extremely difficult to do, it should turn out great.

The first time I made these biscuits, I left them plain, without any major seasonings added to the dough outside of some sugar and a tiny bit of salt. They were definitely delicious enough on their own. However, for Easter I did want to try and mix things up and see if they could be improved upon. I was right. They could. Best part was, the only changes I made from the original was the addition of 2 ingredients: black pepper and bacon drippings.

Just two simple ingredients and WHOA. They really did elevate the biscuits in not only flavor but the appearance. Although it’s definitely visibly flecked throughout the dough, the pepper isn’t overwhelming. Promise, it really isn’t: so do use the whole tablespoon. The biscuits also browned more evenly across the top and bottom and the layers were more pronounced than they were the first time I made them. The edges became perfectly crisp while the inside stayed light and fluffy. This  is just how biscuits ought to be.

See this?

Black pepper biscuit, sliced in half. Ham. A fried egg cooked just to where the egg white has set and the yolk is still runny. Smear both sides with the ham glaze. Smash it all together into one. This kids, is the best breakfast sandwich that I’ve ever had, bar none. And it was my Easter Brinner. (Actually, I loved it so much that I ended up having two, but mind your business).

I only wish I was back home so I could make this meal for my mom. I kinda think she’d be pleased with it.

Happy Mother’s Day and Fiesta Friday #171, where I’ll be linking this post up to.

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Berry Crisp Ham and Black Pepper Biscuits

Recipe Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens & King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For Ham

  • 8 lb. cooked ham, liquid reserved
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • About 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey

For Biscuits

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen, plus more for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat/drippings (solid or liquid, doesn’t matter)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, plus more if necessary

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine the light brown sugar, cinnamon, coriander, ground cloves, and nutmeg.

Place the ham in a large roasting pan. Using a sharp knife, score the outer skin in crisscross pattern, being careful not to pierce the actual meat. Rub the spice mixture evenly over the skin with your hands. (It may get messy, and it may not all stick to the ham. That’s fine. The excess will form a syrupy sauce in the bottom of the pan as it cooks;  yum.) Pour the chicken broth in the bottom of the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake on the bottom rack for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until heated through (inner temp should be near 140 degrees F.)

Meanwhile, pour reserved ham liquid, OJ, jam, berries and honey in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for about 15-20 more minutes until syrupy, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat, and brush some of the glaze over the ham as it cooks.

Remove the cover from the roasting pan and crank oven up to 425 F. Allow ham to cook for about 20-35 more minutes until the skin gets crispy, brushing/basting with a bit more of the glaze. Remove from the oven, cover with foil again and allow to stand for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the extra glaze.

For Biscuits: Keep oven at 425 Degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper and sugar with a fork.

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the dry ingredients and stir a few times to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Add the bacon fat and pour the buttermilk into the well and use a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or wax paper with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Pat and roll the dough into a rectangle. Take the two opposite ends and fold them together like a business letter into thirds. Flip it upside down and pat & roll it into another rectangle, sprinkling the surface with flour if it gets too sticky. Repeat the folding process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle.

Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to divide the rectangle in half, then divide the halves into thirds or fourths squares (depending on what size biscuits you want).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the cut biscuits on it. Freeze them for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, fill a shallow pan with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.

Brush the biscuits with melted butter, then bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 15-20 minutes, until they’re golden brown on top. Remove from oven to a wire rack.

Baking Powder Biscuits

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What are some things you do to perk yourself up when you’re down?

For some of us, it may be a little thing called retail therapy. To some certain extent, I’m guilty too; buying new kitchen gadgets and appliances makes me happy. So do perfume & candles from Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. And cookbooks. I have an unhealthy obsession with collecting cookbooks. I also like oversize pajama shirts, wacky colored/printed socks, and hoodies.

Y’know. Just in case you guys felt like spoiling a chick.

Music, I think, is a go-to for most of us. I’ve got a playlist specially designated for mood-pick me ups.There are a handful of movies that I’ll watch when I’m feeling blue just because thus far, they’ve never failed to always lift my spirits up when they’ve sunk.

But because this is me, and because the subject of my blog is about cooking & baking I’m sure’ it’s pretty self-explanatory that the primary go-to way that I lift myself up is to get inside the kitchen and put something together.

There’s just something about baking that almost never fails to calm me down. I put on my headphones, preheat the oven, pull out my standing mixer, and just shut myself off to whatever else is going on in tedious real life. I think I’m drawn to it for several reasons: first, I’m focused on following a scientific process (which is what baking is, essentially) so my attention and thoughts are set on following the directions and not necessarily on something stressful that I can’t control.

My hands are usually kept busy measuring out ingredients, kneading dough, cutting, scraping, pouring, stirring or whatever the dish requires. Usually while the product is baking in the oven, I’m washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. Then by the time it’s cooled off, I’m basking in how good it smells in the house, how delicious is looks and tastes. I give myself a pat on the back for a job well done and feel at least tad bit better that I created something that gave me and someone else, some (and at times immense) satisfaction.

Today’s recipe was one of those times.

I woke up feeling sad. Well, actually I didn’t really sleep that well. I got maybe 3 hours of sleep tops that night and woke up very early in the morning. I felt restless. Frustrated. Tense. Bored. I tossed and turned several times and tried to fall back asleep. Didn’t happen. Finally, I just got tired of trying. I got out of bed, and went into the kitchen. I put on my headphones, preheat the oven and started getting out ingredients.

I was gonna bake myself out of this bad mood….with biscuits. Big, buttery, soft,  flaky biscuits.

I’m really proud of how far I’ve come on my biscuit-making journey. I used to be really awful at making them. But in the past two years I’ve made myself practice more and more and the practice combined with some handy tips I’ve picked up from reading some cookbooks and articles has really upped my Biscuit-game so to speak.

I make kick-ass biscuits. I just do.

And these? They’re good. REALLY good. What’s more, they take less than thirty minutes to put together.

I got up and out of bed just before the crack of dawn and started throwing together the dough for these. As the beautiful sun was rising outside over the trees, my beautiful biscuits were rising in the oven. It was glorious. And you know what? I started to feel better.

I cannot believe I’m about to say this but this recipe is RIGHT up there with the recipe I shared a while back for my Grandma’s Angel Biscuits. It’s not better. I can’t go that far (it’s my grandma’s recipe, after all) but…they can share a spotlight together. That’s how good these are. SOSOSOSO flaky and soft on the inside. Yet they’re sturdy enough to stand up to just about anything you want to do with them; sausage gravy, stew, breakfast sandwich bun, anything. They’re also just delicious to eat all by themselves; we switched between smearing them with butter and jam or butter drizzled with honey. Pure bliss, I’m telling you.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #170, co-hosted this week by Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Sue @ Birgerbird.

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Baking Powder Biscuits

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen, plus more for brushing
  • 1 cup buttermilk, plus more if necessary

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar with a fork.

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the dry ingredients and stir a few times to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl.

Pour the buttermilk into the well and use a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or wax paper with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Pat and roll the dough into a rectangle. Take the two opposite ends and fold them together like a business letter into thirds. Flip it upside down and pat & roll it into another rectangle, sprinkling the surface with flour if it gets too sticky. Repeat the folding process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle.

Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to divide the rectangle in half, then divide the halves into thirds or fourths squares (depending on what size biscuits you want).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the cut biscuits on it. Freeze them for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, fill a shallow pan with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.

Brush the biscuits with melted butter, then bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 15-20 minutes, until they’re golden brown on top. Remove from oven to a wire rack. Serve warm, spread with butter, jam (or drizzled/dipped in syrup, how I like them).

Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

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There’s a large grocery store chain back in the Mitten that when I was growing up, sold their own generic brand of products that they would sell alongside the name-brand stuff. It wasn’t so very different from the name brand, and you could get just about anything. And believe me, we certainly did (it being the cheaper option and all).

One of the things I remember that my mom would get for us from this grocery store’s line of products were these cookie/crackers that the chain sold in the snack aisle. They came in an orange bag and were marketed as butter-flavored animal shaped cookies. But since, they were on the thin side, I always thought of them as crackers. They were SO delicious.

For whatever reason that still irritates me to this day, the product was discontinued. I haven’t seen it in years and there’s not even a trace of them left on the internet (which is how you KNOW they’re not coming back anytime soon). Nothing I’ve seen sold in stores since has ever replicated them in appearance or taste.

Isn’t that just the worst? Sometimes I wonder where the recipe for those crackers is now; shoved away somewhere at the bottom of a drawer in some corporate office, never to see the light of day again. And who was the genius who made the call to stop selling them in the first place? I want the name of their supervisor so I can write in a strongly worded complaint. Such a waste.

I mentioned before in my last few posts that I’d started in on a kind of cracker-making spree. When my first attempt turned out great, I started experimenting with a bunch of other recipes that I knew I would eventually get around to sharing on the blog. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I’ll make something that I end up liking SO much, that I almost immediately want to make it again–just to have plenty of it. Sometimes, I don’t even want to share it. I just want it all to myself.

That’s what happened here.

I tried this recipe on a whim. I had all the ingredients on hand, plus I made some additions/modifications of my own that I thought would make it taste a bit better, but I wasn’t expecting anything *huge* to come from it.

So, imagine my surprise when I tasted one and was immediately transported back to my childhood, reminded of the delicious butter cookies/crackers in the orange bag from the supermarket’s generic knock-off line.

Are they 100% the same? No. They’re (if I may say so myself), actually an improvement. Te vanilla in the dough gives them a wonderful aroma as they’re baking. The cinnamon and nutmeg is noticeable, but not overpowering. Besides the flavor, the texture of these is what I love best about it; it’s a tender crumb that still has that perfect amount of snap that gives it the ‘cracker’ feel. Then, the coarse sugar topping gives it a pleasant crunch to compliment the cracker itself.

I was SO impressed/thrilled/greedy with how these turned out that as soon as the first batch of these were done cooling, I was already washing out my dishes and getting all the ingredients back together again to make another. This is a very easy and forgiving dough; I just stuck with regular squares, but I think they will hold just about ANY shape, so if you have cookie cutters and want to make these with kids, I’d say anything will go & work.

I’m sure that that recipe for the discontinued butter cookie/crackers is out there somewhere; but I think that this one is a very easy and delicious substitute. So take that, processed food corporate execs.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #169, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Elaine @ Foodbod.

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Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, plus 1/8 teaspoon
  • 1 egg white
  • Extra flour for dusting
  • 1 heaping tablespoon coarse sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar with the dry powdered milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda. It doesn’t have to be light and fluffy, just combined.

With the mixer still running, drizzle in the vanilla. Add the egg white little by little alternately with the flour until dough just comes together. Don’t overmix.

Gather together into a ball, shape into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dust a clean work surface with flour. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Run a metal spatula underneath the dough as you roll and turn it out to make sure it doesn’t stick, sprinkling with additional flour if necessary.  Use a cookie cutter or bench scraper to cut out the dough into crackers. Place the crackers on the baking sheets and freeze for about 20 minutes.

Using the tines of a fork, evenly prick holes through the dough. In a small bowl, combine the coarse sugar, brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon and the 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Lightly sprinkle this on top of the crackers.

Bake for 12-13 minutes until just beginning to brown at the edges. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Oven Roasted Tri-Tip Steak

Back when I was still in the Mitten, I didn’t eat too much red meat.

In that area, ground beef was pretty cheap before and when I first started cooking but almost directly after that, it suddenly became…not so cheap. And other cuts like chuck, eye of round, steak and whatnot were hardly ever within the price range of what was do-able for a girl who regularly peruses the sale ads and basically gets what most inexpensive. So, I didn’t eat it too much because I didn’t get to buy & cook it myself too much.

Figures.

It didn’t bother me ‘too’ much. If you guys have been following me for a while, you’ll know that my favorite protein, by far, is chicken. It’s not only delicious and better for you, it’s also usually more inexpensive than red meat. The last of which, really matters to yours truly.

However, I do like red meat. And in spite of not having quite as much of a chance to cook with it than with white meat, I do think I walk away with pretty tasty results. When I get the odd craving for it, I REALLY get a craving. It’s a stronger one than the one I get for chicken, to be honest. It can be satiated by one of three things:

An epic humongous, juicy burger, an epic humongous steak salad, or an epic humongous steak sandwich. Either will do: just so long as I get it.

While I was living in the Mitten, (since red meat wasn’t the most inexpensive choice in the grocery store when cooking for a family) I would usually just treat myself to one of the dishes at a take-out place or sit-down restaurant every once in a while and my craving would be satisfied and that was the end of it.

As it turns out, things are somewhat different on the west side. There are of course going to be certain things that are going to be pricey anywhere, at any time of year, guaranteed. However, since coming here I’ve discovered that for some reason, certain cuts of red meat are just cheaper than they are in the Midwest. I mean, REALLY good deals when and if you know how to find them. As a result, I’ve been able to flex my beef-recipe muscles out and giving them more experience than they’ve ever had before in the Mitten.

One of the meats that we’ve been able to get at a really good deal is Tri-Tip beef. The tri-tip is a cut of muscle; in diagram terms of the cow, it’s in front of the Round portion, beneath the tenderloin and above the flank. It’s kinda shaped like a boomerang, and is a really beautiful piece of meat. It’s got the lean cut of tenderloin, with just enough marbling of fat to give it the moisture and tenderness that’s on the fattier cuts, like round. I’d never heard of it at all since coming out here, but let me tell you: since we’ve been here I’ve prepared it three times.

Two out of three of those times was using this recipe.

Whenever I’m not largely familiar with a dish or an ingredient, I do prefer to keep things simple so as to not mess it up. That’s what I did here and even though it’s a simple enough recipe, the flavors more than make up for it. I looked up the standard way to cook a tri-tip in the oven (since me and the grill don’t get along), then I assembled together some of my favorite spices, blended the two together and came out on the other end with what you guys are seeing here.

There is one tool that I HIGHLY recommend you use when cooking this (and frankly, I think it’s something every home cook should have in their kitchen anyway): an instant read thermometer. Why?

Regardless of how you like your steak/burger cooked, the tri-tip is a cut that IS supposed to be cooked on the red/pinkish side. I don’t want to say it should still be bleeding by the time it’s done (after all I do take my steak/burgers  medium to medium well). But, this should still be somewhat…leaky. You cook it past medium and you’re in the danger zone of nuking it into leather. Now, if you’re a professional chef you MIGHT be able to guess-timate the exact moment when to take this out of the oven, let it rest (during which the temperature of the meat rises and continues to cook while the juices redistribute and settle), and slice it. But, most of us aren’t pros, and therefore, should rely on the trusty instant read thermometer that will tell us EXACTLY when the beef is at the right temp to take out of the oven. (Plus they’re very inexpensive and can be found at Target/Walmart/Marshall’s/Amazon so there’s really no excuse for you not to have one.)

I don’t know which I love more about this recipe: that it was an inexpensive way to hit the spot of my rare but strong craving for red meat, that it was so easy to put together with minimal ‘labor’ involved, or that it tasted so good. Why don’t we just call it all three?

Coffee and beef are a great combination and the coffee in this rub really does stand out nicely. The paprika and cumin give it an earthy, smoky flavor, while the other ingredients balance it out with sweetness and spice.  What this yields is a slab of meat that will more than deliver either an epic steak salad, steak sandwich or just a killer hunk of beef.

Believe me, I’ve had them all.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #168, co-hosted by Petra @ Food Eat Love and Lina @ Lin’s Recipes this week.

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Oven Roasted Tri-Tip Steak

Recipe Adapted from NYT Cooking

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Ingredients

  • 1 whole Tri-tip steak, about 2-3 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons ground coffee; a dark blend preferably (I used French roast)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • About 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • About 2 tablespoons beer (I used Guinness)
  • About 1 tablespoon Canola or vegetable oil

Directions

Combine all of the dry spices in a small bowl and set aside

Remove the silver skin and trim the excess fat from the steak; it’s fine if there is still some marbling on the surface.

 Rub the soy sauce and beer into the meat so that it seeps inside. Rub the spice mixture evenly into both sides of the meat. Refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch Oven or pot over high heat. Sear the Tri-Tip on both sides until a dark crust has formed, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Spray a  broiler rack or oven rack with cooking spray and place it over a sheet pan that you line with aluminum foil.

Place the meat on the rack and roast in the oven until the thickest, most center part reads about 140-145 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t allow it to cook for too long: this cut of meat is supposed to be reddish/pink.

Allow the meat to rest for about 10-20 minutes before slicing against the grain.

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