Short Rib Ragu Over Pappardelle

If you haven’t heard, humble cuts of meat are in. Once unpopular, these tough, fairly inexpensive cuts are now on the rise, making frequent appearances on restaurant menus and dinner tables everywhere.

Short ribs, cut from the rib and plate primals of the steer, are a favorite in my house. Braising breaks down the tissues and tenderizes the beef, resulting in rich, meaty flavor. In my book, braising and wine go hand-in-hand, so I decided to pair some short ribs with a robust bottle of Zinfandel. The outcome was insanely delicious. Shred the beef and serve over pasta for a meal guaranteed to impress.

Short Rib Ragu Over Pappardelle

Serves Four

What You’ll Need:

5 lbs bone-in short ribs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-Virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bottle (750 ml) red Zinfindel wine
3 cups low-sodium beef stock (approximate)
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
1 lb pappardelle (or other flat pasta)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pat the ribs dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the ribs on all sides, in batches, if necessary. If the olive oil gets soaked up between batches, add some more before searing the next batch of ribs. Once browned, remove the ribs to a plate.

Add the onions to the pot and cook till tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Pour in some of the wine and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Pour in the remainder of the bottle of wine, then add the porcini mushrooms. Return the short ribs to the pot. Add enough beef stock to completely cover the ribs. Add the rosemary and thyme, then bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the ribs are tender and falling off the bone, about 2.5 to 3 hours.

Remove the ribs from the pot and set aside to cool. Using an immersion blender, blend the juices and vegetable until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce until thick, about 20 to 30 minutes.

When the short ribs are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred. Return the beef to the pot with the reduced sauce. At this point, the ragu can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for the following day. This will allow the flavors to fully develop. This is a great make-ahead dish!

When you’re ready to put the meal together, re-heat the ragu. Fill a large pot with water and season generously with salt. Bring to a boil. Stir in pasta and cook until al dente. Drain pasta and combine with short rib ragu. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Enjoy!

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Savory Beef Empanadas

Empanadas are a savory treat that have been a favorite of mine since I was a young girl. My mother would make them often, as a midday snack or sometimes for dinner, filling them with chicken, beef, seafood or cheese. I usually preferred a combination of beef and cheese, biting into the flaky crust while it was still hot, then watching the cheese ooze out.

For those of you not familiar with empanadas, they’re basically turnovers filled with meat. In some Latin American countries, they’re often referred to as pastelitos. I grew up calling them empanadas, so that’s what I continue to call them! They make a great appetizer, snack or side dish. Many people make their own dough, but there are so many great, pre-made doughs out there that I save myself the time and purchase Goya Discos. Empanadas are also a great way to use up any leftover meat — shredded chicken, ground beef, pork — the possibilities are endless! Give this recipe a try. I guarantee your mouth will water at the sight of these flaky turnovers packed with flavor.

Savory Beef Empanadas Over Moros y Cristianos

Beef Empanadas

Beef Turnovers

What You’ll Need:

1 cup picadillo
1 14-oz package Goya Discos, thawed
vegetable oil, for frying

On a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll out each disco until about 1/2″ larger in diameter. Place 1 tablespoon picadillo in the center of each disco. Moisten the edge with water, then fold the disc in half, using a fork to crimp the edges and seal it.

Fill a deep frying pan with 2 inches of oil, then heat over medium-high heat. Fry the empanadas until golden brown, turning only once. Make sure not to crowd the pan or the temperature of the oil will drop, resulting in greasy empanadas. Fry in batches, if necessary. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain. Serve hot. Pairs well with moros y cristianos.

Note: These empanadas can also be baked, if preferred. After assembling each empanada, brush the tops with an egg and water mixture. Bake in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Cheap Eats: Picadillo

Every culture has their own cheap eats. You know, foods that are inexpensive, yet delicious. Picadillo is definitely a cheap eat. For those of you who have never heard of it, picadillo is a beef hash traditional to many Latin American countries. The name comes from the Spanish word “picar,” which means to chop.

Picadillo is an extremely versatile dish. Growing up, I remember my Abuela serving it with white rice, black beans, a fresh salad and lots of Cuban bread. Picadillo can also be used to fill tacos or savory empanadas. Topped with sweet plaintains, it becomes the base for a Tambor de Picadillo y Platano.

I prefer to use ground chuck for my picadillo, which gives a good beef to fat ratio. Fat not only adds flavor, but also ensures your meat isn’t dry. If you’re a little more health conscious, feel free to use a leaner cut. Ground round is 85 to 90 percent lean; ground sirloin only contains 8 to 10 percent fat.

When you try picadillo for the first time, you’ll marvel at how such a simple dish can taste so good. This is comfort food at its best.

Picadillo

A recipe from my childhood

What You’ll Need:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium-size onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef, preferably chuck
2 packets Sazon Goya
1/2 cup tomato sauce (Recommended: Goya Tomato Sauce with Onion, Cilantro & Garlic)
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, roughly chopped

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over low heat, then add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions and pepper have softened. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the ground beef to the pan, using a wooden spoon to break apart any large chunks. Season with Goya Sazon. Cook the beef until brown, about 10 minutes. Drain off the excess fat.

Add the tomato sauce and red wine to the pan, gently stirring to combine all the ingredients and make sure the beef is well coated. Let simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, allowing the sauce to reduce . Add the chopped olives. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot. Goes great with rice and beans. Enjoy!

How to Grill the Perfect Steak

Welcome to Steak 101. I know it seems pretty basic. Most people would say that there’s nothing to cooking steak.  Just throw it on your grill, or in a pan, and cook till done, right? No, no, no! There’s a science behind a perfectly cooked steak. Want to get that perfect char and a juicy, medium-rare interior? Just follow a few simple steps down the path to great steak.

Before we even get into the kitchen, let’s talk about purchasing your beef. There are many magnificent cuts out there – porterhouse, New York strip, rib eye, shell steak, just to name a few! Whichever cut you prefer, your steak should be one-and-a-half to two inches thick. This will allow you to sear the exterior to a perfect crisp while leaving the interior pink. What was that? You prefer your steak well done? Blasphemy! Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more succulent than a medium rare rib eye. Don’t dare tell me otherwise! But, if for some reason you encounter someone who wants their steak well done (like your mother-in-law who insists she likes her steak to resemble a little nugget of charcoal), use a thinner steak so the outside doesn’t burn while the interior has a chance to fully cook.

Once you’ve purchased your steak and brought it home, cradled in your arms like a newborn, it’s time to prep it. If you’re planning to cook the steak the following day, make sure to refrigerate it. Take the steak out of the fridge about an hour before cook time. Lightly sprinkle both sides of the steak with kosher salt. That’s right, I said kosher salt. Put away the iodized table salt. In fact, just throw it away. That has no place in your kitchen! Table salt is extremely salty. Nowadays, most recipes call for kosher salt, so substituting table salt can have disastrous results.

Allow the steak to sit out for about half an hour to a full hour, bringing it to room temperature. It may look like your steak is merely resting, but the salt is actually amplifying the flavor. It helps the cells of the meat retain water, which will make it tender and juicy. Allowing the steak to come to room temperature will activate enzymes that also tenderize the meat. Just before cooking, pat the steak dry with a paper towel. Season the meat again with kosher salt and some freshly cracked black pepper, then drizzle it lightly with some vegetable oil. Press the salt and pepper into the steak, making sure it adheres.

Once your grill is flaming hot, place the steak on the hottest part of the grill. Do not walk away! Close the lid on your grill. This will reduce flare-ups. After about 3 to 4 minutes, use tongs to flip your steak. Please, don’t use a fork. Poking holes in your meat will only result in the loss of juices. We definitely don’t want dry steak, do we?? After flipping the steak, continue grilling for an additional 3 to 4 minutes with the lid closed.

If you don’t have a grill, or just prefer cooking indoors, you can definitely cook your steak in a cast iron pan or large skillet. Just be sure to get the pan nice and hot to ensure that perfect sear!

Transfer the steak to a cutting board. Do not cut into it! If you do, all those precious juices will come flowing out. Allow about 5 to 10 minutes for your steak to rest. This will give time for the juices to distribute throughout the meat. Find something else to do to pass the time. Pour yourself a drink. Rearrange your DVD’s. Whatever. Just don’t cut into that steak!

Most of the time, I like to keep things simple and eat my steak as-is, with just the salt and pepper. In some steakhouses, steaks are served with a dab of butter on top. Sometimes, I like to create a flavored butter, like the blue cheese butter shown above, just to change things up a bit. Want to do the same? Just combine a few ounces of crumpled blue cheese with some softened butter and a sprinkle of salt. Seriously, though, 99 out of 100 times, I prefer my steak with just salt and pepper. No fancy marinades. No secret spice rubs. Just a nice char on the outside and a gorgeous, juicy, pink interior. Yum.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

What a gorgeous day. After a winter of record-breaking snowfall, and a recent torrent of rain, we were finally blessed with a weekend filled with sun and 50 degree weather. The huge block of ice on our back porch thawed to reveal a neglected Kenmore grill. When I realized the propane tank was nearly full, I could almost taste grilled steak in the near future.

I can still remember the first time I ate skirt steak. I was in my mid-teens, and Papi the Butcher had brought home the strange-looking cut of beef for dinner. If you’ve never seen skirt steak before, it’s a long, flat cut of beef. When I asked what it was, he replied, “Skirt steak.” At first, I thought he was joking. I mean, why would someone name a cut of beef after an item of clothing? He explained that skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle of the cow, which is attached to the ribs. It tends to be tough, but is extremely flavorful when cooked properly. Skirt steak is the cut of beef traditionally used for fajitas and is commonly called arrachera or churrasco. Many people commonly confuse skirt steak with flank steak, but they are actually two different cuts.

Years ago, skirt steak was one of the cheaper cuts of beef. Nowadays, it averages about $4 a pound, which is on the pricey side. Many people discovered that despite it’s toughness, when grilled or pan-seared, skirt steak can be tender and delicious. It’s also a great steak to braise or marinade.

For weeks, I’ve been anxious for the opportunity to make my own chimichurri. Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce used as a marinade or condiment for meat. It’s most commonly made with parsley, garlic, oil, and other seasonings. From what I’ve heard, Argentinian’s use chimichurri like Americans use ketchup.

When I heard the weather forecast for a gorgeous weekend ahead, I brought home some skirt steak and went to work on making my sauce. When you make this chimichurri, you’ll want to lick the spoon.

When you buy skirt steak, be sure to have your butcher remove the membrane and trim a good portion of the fat, unless you’re feeling adventurous and want to attempt that at home. Before grilling, I seasoned my skirt steak simply with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. No fancy pants here. The star of the show is the chimichurri.

Chimichurri

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
8 cloves garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bay leaf

Toss the parsley in a small food processor with the vinegar, water, garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and olive oil, then give it a whirl. Add the bay leaf, then let the sauce stand, at room temperature, for at least an hour. This will allow the flavors to come together.

If you don’t have a food processor, be sure to finely chop your parsley and garlic by hand. Stir together the vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaf, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until combined, then whisk in the finely chopped parsley. Be sure to discard the bay leaf before serving. Serve this sauce alongside grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, or whatever your heart desires. Enjoy!

Game Day Chili

Chili can be a very debatable subject among aficionados. Beef or pork? Beans or bean-less? Green or red? I know several people who claim theirs is the best. I certainly don’t claim to make the best, but I sure do make some darn good chili!

Chili originated in the late 1800’s in San Antonio, Texas. Hispanic women would gather in public places and sell bowls of chili to passersby. Cattle were cheap and plentiful in San Antonio, so chili was often made with beef. As the years went by, chili parlors opened up throughout Texas. Soon, the craze expanded to nearby states. Since beef wasn’t as abundant or inexpensive in other regions of the United States, people started adding beans to their chili, to act as a “filler.” So, as it turns out, the original chili did NOT include beans. Well, I have nothing against beans, so they make an appearance in my chili. More fiber, right?

For this recipe, I use a blend of ground beef and pork. I asked my brother, a butcher, to grind some chuck. I prefer chuck because it has a great balance of meat and fat. Fat is essential for lots of flavor. For ground pork, I use boneless pork loin. The combination of beef and pork, along with some smoky bacon, makes for a hearty, satisfying chili.

Game Day Chili

The Butcher’s Daughter original recipe

 

What You’ll Need:

olive oil
½ pound bacon, diced
1 pound ground pork (recommended: pork loin)
1 pound ground beef (recommended: chuck)
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups water
¼ cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
grated cheddar cheese, for serving

Cook bacon in a 6 to 8 quart heavy pot over medium to high heat, until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon from pot and set aside. Leave the bacon fat in the pot! This is valuable stuff!

Add the diced onion and green pepper to the pot, using the bacon fat to cook the vegetables until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the vegetables and set aside. If the vegetables have absorbed all the bacon fat, add some olive oil to the bottom of the pot. Add the ground pork and beef and sauté until brown. Return the onion and bell pepper to the pot. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika. Cook for about a minute. Return the bacon to the pot. Add the tomato paste to the mixture, making sure to blend it well throughout the meat. Add the crushed tomatoes, coffee, and water, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the kidney beans. Cook the chili for about 2 to 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Ladle chili into bowls and top with shredded cheddar cheese before serving. Enjoy!

An Italian Feast: Spaghetti Bolognese, Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg, and Garlic Bread

I didn’t know what “bolognese” was until fairly recently. Sure, I had heard the term plenty of times, but I never knew “bolognese” was just a fancy name for a meat-based sauce for pasta. Turns out, I had spaghetti bolognese quite often as a kid. Well, kind of. It was more like, “let me open this jar of Ragu over some pasta so I can say I cooked you kids some dinner.” Not a big difference, right?

Usually, I don’t go for recipes that involve me slaving in the kitchen for hours at a time. Sure, I like a bit of a challenge, but I don’t want a backache to overshadow the victory of my latest kitchen adventure. When I came across Anne Burrell’s Pasta Bolognese recipe, the first thing I noticed was the four and a half hours of cooking time. Despite that craziness, I still went forward with making it. Hey, at least I could say I’ve made bolognese sauce from scratch. And, because the idea of cooking a meat sauce for almost five hours wasn’t daunting enough, I decided on a side of roasted asparagus with poached egg, and garlic bread. From scratch. Oh, and did I mention I had never made Italian bread before?

Spaghetti Bolognese

Tweaked from Anne Burrell

 

1 large onion, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds ground chuck
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
3 cups red wine
water
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (you can certainly use Parmigiano Reggiano, if preferred)

In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed vegetables and season with salt. Cook the vegetables until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Have some patience! Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt and pepper. Brown the beef and let cook about 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. If your sauce reduces too much, add some water. Don’t be afraid to add water, you can always cook it out. As your sauce simmers, be sure to taste it and season it accordingly.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Remember to salt the water! When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the meat sauce from the pot and set aside.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining meat sauce. Stir the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat grate some Pecorino Romano over the entire pot of pasta. Toss vigorously. Serve the pasta and top each dish with some more Pecorino Romano. Serve immediately.

Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg

Adapted from Anne Burrell

 

What You’ll Need:

3 tablespoons white vinegar
12 spears asparagus
Extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill a large saucepan two-thirds of the way with water. Add the white vinegar and bring to a boil.

Holding the tip and stem of each asparagus spear, snap the asparagus where it will naturally break. Discard the ends. Toss the asparagus with some olive oil and sprinkle some salt over them. Place the asparagus in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Reduce the heat on the water until the bubbles in the water have subsided. Gently crack and drop the eggs into the water. Cook the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes. When done, the whites will be cooked through and the yolks will be warm but still liquid. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the eggs from the saucepan and blot the bottom of the spoon on a paper towel before plating the egg. Remove the asparagus from the oven. Divide the roasted asparagus spears on plates and top each set of asparagus with a poached egg. Sprinkle with the grated Parmigiano and a bit of pepper. Serve with some soft Italian bread, to sop up the yolk.

Italian Bread (to later transform into Garlic Bread)

What You’ll Need:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/3 cups warm water (90 to 110 degrees F)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 package (2 ½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons cornmeal

Place the water and yeast into the bowl of an electric mixer and allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes. Add the flour and sugar to the water and mix until a dough begins to form. Drizzle the oil and salt into the dough and continue to mix for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until a smooth, firm dough is formed. Wrap the bowl in plastic wrap and let the dough sit until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Form dough into two loaves. Place the loaves on a cutting board generously sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the loaves with a damp cloth and let rise, until doubled in volume about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, beat together egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush the risen loaves with the egg mixture. Make a single long, quick cut down the center of the loaves with a sharp knife. Gently shake the cutting board to make sure that the loaves are not sticking. If they stick, use a spatula or pastry knife to loosen. Slide the loaves onto a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Once the bread cool enough for you to handle, feel free to turn this into some garlic bread…

Garlic Bread

What You’ll Need:

Italian Bread (see above)
6 tablespoons room temperature butter
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mozzarella cheese (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the garlic and seasonings to the softened butter and blend well. Slice the bread in half, horizontally. Spread the butter mixture on each half. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired. Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Enjoy!

After serving up this meal, I feel like I’ve conquered a culinary mountain. Ok, maybe a large hill. Still, this felt greatly rewarding and satisfying. John proclaimed it an “amazing” meal and served himself a second helping. Even Logan, my super-picky three year old, proclaimed that he LOVES mommy’s bread. Not bad, eh?