Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beet-Braised Short Ribs and Hasselback Potatoes

Alas.  Tough lesson learned this past weekend regarding the dangers of testing a recipe in mid-summer...that you clipped the winter past.

I was very excited to try this recipe: Beet-Braised Short Ribs.  But, beets are a winter vegetable, and derned near impossible to find in the fresh, natural state in the summer.  I was left with two options: go without or go canned.  Neither was an exciting choice.

In the end, I opted for canned, and I'll be frank with how that turned out.  But, first - meat.

These are short ribs, English-cut.  Rib bones surrounded by fatty, meaty goodness.  Very, very tough eats, though.  They are located on the part of the cow that gets a bit of exercise, what with walking to pasture, standing in pasture, walking to another pasture, etc.  The muscle is quite lean, which makes for a tough chew if its subjected to direct heat cooking methods (grill, roast, etc.)

That's why short ribs are perfect for braising.  A low, slow warm bath in a flavorful liquid just brings out the awesomeness...but first, a brown, crusty, caramelized sear on the pieces sets up the liquid with the right amount of umami, meaty flavor.

While the ribs rested off to the side, I prepared my braise.  Diced onions, garlic, some seasoning, bay leaves, thyme, followed by red wine (a Beringer Pinot).  When the liquid had reduced a little, in went my canned beets and diced tomatoes.

For future reference, I would leave out the tomatoes.  I like the flavor, but if we're talking about a BEET-BRAISED short rib...it seems beets should be the lone wolf working here.  Just my two cents' worth.

You'll see what I'm talking about in the picture below.  The tomatoes, while yummy and amazing, take over the whole dish.  And when I dished this up?  The beets had lost their color...they'd become grayish pieces of vegetable.  I mean, bummer!!!  This is probably an example of where fresh is definitely best.  Next time.  Fresh beets, no canned tomatoes.

I let this dish go for about 3 hours and 20-some minutes.  The meat barely just hung onto the rib bone, which is exactly what you want in a dish like this.  No knives needed.  The fat had even broken down enough that it practically melted in my mouth...although my husband and kids were a little leery of that gastronomic delight.

The F&W recipe also includes directions for parsnip potatoes (which I didn't do, and you'll see why in a mo') and a horseradish cream...also not done by me because beets and tomatoes?  Horseradish doesn't quite fit into the flavor profile for me.  I love the stuff, though, and if it were straight-up red wine-braised short ribs, yes - horseradish all day long.

In lieu of the pureéd parsnip "potatoes", I went with the Hasselback.

You watched the video in the previous post, right?  Instead of chopsticks, I used an old plastic serving spoon that had the "dip" in it.  Then, I drizzled a little bacon fat (because I've been saving it for beautiful opportunities like this) over the taters, sprinkled a little s & p, and popped them into a 350 degree oven.  Fifteen minutes later, they were still hard, so I upped the temp to 400.  Much better.  Another ten minutes later, I did an olive oil drizzle.  About ten minutes after that, I pulled them.  Frankly, I could have let them go another several minutes because I like crispy potatoes, but it was time to eat.

Potatoes the Hasselback way was the kids' favorite.  Hands down.  Ribs down.  I learn something every day.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sundays and Such

Nearly two weeks ago, the Man and I decided it was serious high time to refocus, get in shape, and get our consumption under control.

What did that mean?  My husband's plan was, vaguely, this: eat better and exercise.

As a former teacher, the problem was immediately visible.  NO measurable means of progress...how would we know we were "eating better"?  What is "exercise", exactly?  The easiest way to measure eating better is keeping track of calories and weighing ourselves regularly.  And for me, exercise would be to be start running again, with maybe eventually the goal being to enter some kind of 5K race in the future.

And here's the irony of all this: my husband, who's an IT guy and works with technology all day long, is more likely to just wing it when it comes to portion control, calorie counting, and exercising.  Whereas I dive headfirst into the World Of Phone Apps to find programs that will help me keep track of all this.

For eating, I found this: Lifesum.  It's a British app, so they use kCals instead of cals, but the same thing really.  I entered my height, weight, gender and it kicked out a daily calorie goal for me, which depended on whether I wanted to a.) maintain my weight (no!) b.) lose weight or c.) build muscle mass.  I also can keep track of how much water I drink and the exercise I do.  It's an all-purpose app for tracking info (and FREE, too)...but be wary, some foods are hard-to-find or exercise calories might be off a little.  Still, it's easy to tweak and use

For exercising, I downloaded the MapMyRun app.  I'd seen this often on Facebook, when FB friends of mine could "share" their route, run time, etc., for everyone to see.  Frankly, I opt NOT to do this, because a.) I don't think people really give a flip about my morning run and b.) I'm only running a mile, pretty weenie right now, and I don't want to people to see that.  Anyway, this app is great because it's got my location, so it maps my route as I run, gives me total running time as well as pace and split times.  Also, it tells me what I burn for calories, which I then use when I'm entering my exercise into Lifesum.  I've also downloaded the MapMyWalk and the MapMyRide apps (all free!) for when I take a break from running and decide to walk or bike.

So far, progress is good.  I'm simply trying to eat less garbage, less processed foods.  I have no desire to cut back to barebones portions, because I do enjoy my butter, my cream, and my alcohol.  When I plateau, weight-wise, then I guess that's the weight I'll stay at.  It is what it is.

I've only been running a mile at a time, because frankly, it's enough for me right now (I'm not a runner), and I like to see immediate results in the improvement of my pace times.  For example, I ran my first mile back on Tuesday, June 16 (almost two weeks ago), and I ran it at almost a 13-minute pace.  That is sad.  In the last thirteen days, I have run eight of them, and my pace times have been: 12:51, 12:29, 12:25, 12:44, 11:51, 11:54, 11:32, and 11:36.  In two weeks, I've nearly cut 90 seconds off my pace time.  I'd like to get myself down to a 10 minute mile...then I'll think about beginning to increase my distance.

It's all a very slow gradual process, to be sure, but it's a whole lot easier to incorporate the changes into my lifestyle.  I'm not one for fadsy diets that ask me to go without things. Give me my butter, my cream, my craft beer!

Speaking of gluttony, my oldest son returns home today after ten days at Boy Scout camp near Mount Rushmore.  His welcome-home dinner?

Beet-braised Short Ribs
Hasselback Potatoes (have wanted to try these for quite awhile now)
Swiss Chard Gratin
Raspberry Hand Pies

Friday, June 26, 2015

Socrates Would NOT Approve

A trend that I've seen cropping up in my meanderings (and one I think will definitely stay) is that of online grocery shopping and delivery.  Particularly popular and more feasible in big cities, people can fill electronic grocery carts, pay online, and have those foodstuffs etc delivered the next day or the next hour.


There are rare days when, yes, I would LURVE groceries delivered to my door.  Yes, even I tire of looking at and selecting food sometimes.  Endless aisles of food or food-looking products.  Waiting in line to pay, bag, before lugging them home and Tetrising them into the various spaces in my refrigerator and pantry (Lord help me when all my kids finally leave the house and can no longer do this task) is a low-grade fatiguing activity. But exhausting nonetheless.


Most of the time, though, I revel in going to the supermarket.  To me, grocery stores are rife with endless possibilities.  Not only in what I might conjure up for that night's dinner, but what I might be able to learn about our consumer culture in general. After all, knowledge is power.  Most of the time, though, what I learn about American food consumer habits just leaves me shaking my head.  But still...

Here's the latest.

Yogurt.  A popular breakfast and snack food introduced by those damned healthy hippies in the 60s and 70s and mega-endorsed these days by celebrities such as Jamie Lee Curtis.  The wild Greek-style trend has only been with us nearly ten years.  Greek yogurt in its natural state, is thicker, tarter, creamier, and much better for our bodies.  Probably the reason Achilles was nearly invincible and why the city of Troy fell to the Greeks in the Trojan War.

And it turns out, today, we want too much of this good Greek yogurt thing...but only if it tastes like stuff we're used to.  If it's weird and tart and thick, then forget you, Hector!

Personally, I love Greek yogurt.  PLAIN, that is.  I like adding my own fresh fruit and sweetener (usually agave or honey, in small amounts) for my breakfast.  So, it irritates me a little that what started as a good, healthy product (like the container on the right, above) has morphed into the marketing monster on the left.  What's more attractive to sort-of-picky yogurt eaters?  The straight-up Plain-Jane blue container on the right, or the one on the left...with its picture of a stylized vanilla bean and the prominent words SIMPLY 100?

Here's what I really want to know.  What does each product contain?  What are the ingredients of each?  Is the Vanilla Beany-Simply 100 all it's cracked up to be?  Certainly, a look at the Chobani website would render these simple nutritional facts.

However, when I clicked on the link above, I discovered I had a very hard time finding (read: never) nutritional facts for the straight-up plain yogurt.  Instead, I was bombarded by dozens of types and flavors of yogurt Chobani is pushing out these days.  Don't even get me started on the Flip, Oats, and Indulgent Lines.

Good thing I have my own container of plain Greek yogurt to reference in this case.  It's quite interesting, really.

Both yogurts' serving sizes are one cup.  Ready?

                  Plain             Simply 100 - Vanilla
Calories     130               150
Total Fat    0g                 same
Cholest      10g               same
Sodium      105mg          95mg
Fiber          0g                 7g
Sugars       6g                 11g
Protein      22g                19g

At first glance, these two products are about even, really.  And perhaps, the Simply 100 seems even better for you:  less sodium, more fiber, and slightly less protein. A little more sugar, but not enough to call the police.

But then...upon closer inspection: both yogurts have milk and the same good live cultures as the primary ingredients.  After that, the plain yogurt is done.  That's it.  Two ingredients.  Le fin.  The Simply 100 goes on a bit further with: Water, Chicory Root Fiber, Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Vanilla Extract, Natural Flavors, Locust Bean Gum, Pectin, Monk Fruit Extract, Stevia Leaf Extract.

True, the Chobani claim of "non-GMO ingredients" and "no artificial sweeteners" is true...but what are "Natural Flavors" exactly?  And pectin?  Really? A gelling, filling, and stabilizing agent in the yogurt?  Chobani's Simply 100 is beginning to look like a lot of the other not-so-great-for you yogurts on the shelves.

And here's the most important thing: the product is called Simply 100...leading you to believe each serving is 100 calories.  So, why is an 8oz cup of the above product 150 calories?  You got to read the fine print, I guess.  It's only the individual 5.3 oz packages that are 100 calories!  Details, details, details.

It's where the devil is.

Here's where I stand: give me my larger portioned, plainly-flavored Greek yogurt.  I'll add a sliced banana, which makes up for the lack of fiber, and a drizzle of agave, which gives me the natural, non-Evaporated Cane Juice sweetness I'm looking for.

And the Greeks and I feel much better about ourselves. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pavlova's Dog

Note: There are no references to dogs in today's post.  Sorry.

I've been graduated from culinary school for over a year now, and I've wanted to try making a pavlova for, oh, I'd say probably the last two years.

Well, I can finally cross it off the bucket list.

Our garden's kale crop is phenomenal, and when I put the all-call out on Facebook, one really good super-duper friend responded with, hey, I'll trade ya - kale for raspberries!?


A pavlova is a meringue dessert with Down Under origins (New Zealand, I believe, gets the formal credit, although Australia claims ownership as well).

Meringues are a confection that consist of mainly egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar.  There's a lot of whipping and adding and monitoring that goes into meringue, and perhaps that's why it's something people don't usually attempt.  It bakes in the oven at a low temperature (200 F) for nearly two hours.  That, in and of itself, might deter others.

The springboard recipe for my pavlova is from Splendid Table: Strawberry-Raspberry Pavlova

I didn't have strawberries on hand, but I had some pretty amazing raspberries.  I didn't do the sugar-the-berries-release-the-juice step because these were already pretty juicy.  And the meringue and the whipped cream already had sugar in it as well.  (Although, in the future, I think I would do a light powdered sugar dusting over the berries)  I also skipped the mascarpone and went with a simple whipped cream spread.

And really, this dessert was one of the easiest I've ever done.  It's beautiful, airy, light, and crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside.  A word, though, this is definitely a presentation piece...once you cut it, it's not as pretty anymore.  I think that's probably why when I Googled 'pavlova' Images...90% of the photos that pop up are of whole, uncut pavlovas.

Try it.  It's the perfect summer dessert, really.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Of Butts and Bikes

Last night was a first.  I rode Stella, my Island-purchased Biria bicycle, around the 13-mile trail here in town.  I'd never done the trail before, and I was not only anxious to see how Stella held, but myself as well.

Two words: sore glutes.  Overall, not a terrible ride, but certainly lower on my list of things I enjoy...underneath browning hamburger and scrubbing toilets.

I kept reminding myself that the 13 mile ride was not even twice around Mackinac Island, a jaunt I did often at this time a year ago.  However, I quickly realized that a 13-mile wooded trail running through affluent neighborhoods was a whole lot different than this:

A 8-mile piece of paradise, really.  No problem at all to do this loop twice.  Views like these above make the ride go fast.  And frankly, my town's bike trail is nice and all, but I don't get vistas like this.

Most of the time I don't miss the Island...except last night.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Vacation Is Over...Or Is It?

No. Yeah, it's pretty much over.  But I did have to think about it for a second. 

I've been in Texas the last few days, celebrating my brother's retirement from the military.  Since I am considered non-military personnel, I don't normally get to witness such formal events like this, and I admit that the US military, if nothing else, is very much about tradition and formality.  It was a lovely ceremony, and my brother was honored in a very touching way.  I was proud to be a part of it.
But, we arrived home today and I am exhausted from the hours on the road.  And typically, I would have work at the restaurant to look forward (picture me saying that sarcastically)...until I remember that my last day at that job was the day before I left for vacation.  Huzzah!

So...what do I have to look forward to now?  Besides a significant decrease in cash flow?

1. Eating dinner with my family.  Every night. 
2. Cooking more and trying new techniques in the kitchen.
3. Establishing a regular exercise routine.  Probably one that involves more running and biking and less burning myself on various kitchen equipment.
4. Hanging out with my children more.  My oldest has only two years left in my house.
5. Completing house projects.  It's possible we may move in the next year.
6. Completing a business plan for the dream.
7. More hours at the Pub.

Hm.  That's not a bad list for someone's who practically unemployed.

At any rate, Texas was a good time, although I did not get authentic Texas barbeque or "real" Mexican food.  We spent the first couple of nights eating my brother's leftovers before...

Wood-fired pizza.  This is the Genovese.  Pesto, olives, tomatoes, feta.  Yeeeeeah.  Good stuff.  I really had to restrain myself here from shoving the whole pie in my face at one sitting.

Saturday afternoon was this kick-ass Food Truck Park in downtown Fort Worth.  I had Vietnamese Chicken Tacos at Top Nosh that were excellent...but alas, no picture.

Then, another meal in downtown Fort Worth at the Cheesecake Factory for appetizers after we'd seen the Four Day Weekend improv/comedy show.

And the beer.  Of course the beer.  Stuck to mostly Texas beer (because when in Rome, right?), but had a couple of Dark & Stormys to mix it up a little as well.  Because I'm on vacation!

And I've got the increase on the scale to prove it.  Meh. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Summertime...Time To Make Your Kids Do Stuff

- Alphabetize all your spices.

- Clear out all expired items from the refrigerator

- Organize your pantry

- Write an inventory list of all dry goods

- Clean out and organize the lazy Susan space

- Remove everything from the countertops and wipe all surfaces down

Is this not why we have children?

With the exception of a couple of years in there when I was in CA school, and then last summer, when I was on the Island, I've been home during the summer.  And summer, for parents like me, is all about productivity and doing stuff and not wanting to yell at your children for wanting to sleep late, lay around, eat, play video games, and go to friends' houses all day long.  Parents like me desperately want their children to understand that "just because it's summer, (Insert Appropriate Child Name), doesn't mean it's a moochfest, free-for-all around here.  We still have a house and yard to maintain, bills to pay, obligations to fulfill."


And that's why my children spent the morning doing onerous chores in the kitchen.  Talk about a hard-knock life.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Until The Spinach Weeps

One of my favorite books, right now, is Ripe (and a bunch of other descriptive title words).  Not only are the pictures simply gorgeous, the "schtick" is a clever one: organize a bunch of fruits and vegetables by the color of the rainbow and present a couple of recipes/ideas for each.  Oh yeah, and let's be clever and cute in the writing of each as well.

I've had success with several of the recipes in the book (others require tweaking, natch).  This morning, it was time for the Spinach and Smoked Gouda Frittata with Tomatoes for breakfast.  The instruction read simple: sauté onions, wilt spinach, add eggs, cream, seasoning, cheese, tomatoes, cook in skillet, finish under broiler until set.  Blah blah blah.  Yes yes yes.

But, there was a funny little sentence in there...turn spinach with tongs to wilt...crank the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, until the spinach weeps...moisture evaporates.  Until the spinach weeps?  I suppose it makes sense, after all, the spinach is under a lot of duress in the hot skillet, so weeping would be the natural response.  That, or shrieking.

As poor planning would have it, I did not have spinach available to me this morning.  But like that stops me!  Instead, I made substitutions, along with some kale from the home garden:

A delicious new hybrid of kale and Brussels Sprouts!  A superhero food!
Procured at the Des Moines Farmers' Market.
In case you were wondering, Kale, Kalettes, and Wild Nettles are the far less-wussier cousins of Spinach.  Kale does not go quietly into the good night, as it were, and stoop to weeping.  It wilts gradually with a certain modicum of integrity.  The Kalettes, being, like, the Captain America of the group, stand proudly in the hot, buttery skillet, and dares you to crank up the heat some more.  The nettles just hang out awhile before going the way of kale.

And in the end, after all that, I ended up with this:

The original recipe called with four eggs and four cups of spinach leaves.  Anyone who's cooked spinach knows it reduces quite a bit in volume...and since I used greens that did not reduce as much, I doubled the amount of eggs to get that filled feeling.

Another side note, let this dish set out for about five minutes before cutting.  Then, it sets up nicely and cuts quite an attractive figure on your plate in its elegant wedge form.  This is a whole lot more desirable to being so excited to cut it right away and eat it and ending up with a colorful, blobby mess (albeit a delicious one) on your plate.

Incidentally, though, in related news, this fritatta heats up VERY WELL for lunch and is excellent with some about-to-expire Taco Bell taco sauce (another story for another time).

So, hahahaha, who's weeping now?!