St. Patricks Day – Corned Beef

This post was one I originally did for Foodwhirl back in 2010, but it’s still a yearly tradition for us, so I thought I’d share it here.

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Corned Beef and Cabbage (or how I got lucky)

Get your minds out of the gutter.

The very first meal I ever cooked for my husband when we first started dating was corned beef and cabbage. I figure it must have been lucky, because he eventually married me – right?

I wanted to impress him, so I didn’t just go out and buy one of those pink, sodium and nitrate/nitrite infused bits of brisket with the seasoning packet inside (although I have been known to use this method on occasion). No, I actually corned the sucker myself, over a period of about a week.

Now it’s become a bit of a tradition for us – every year I cook corned beef and cabbage with potatoes for St. Patty’s day. This year, I’m sharing that tradition with all of you. This is quite a process, so bear with me. I promise the end result is totally worth it.

Oh!  And be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 – wherein I drain the brine from the meat and add the cabbage!  It’s exciting stuff, and you won’t want to miss it.  I might even cook some potatoes…. And you certainly won’t want to miss Part 3 – corned beef hash.  This is the meal that just keeps on giving!

First, for the beef – it is admittedly difficult this time of year to find a brisket that is not already trimmed, brined and packaged. With a little effort, though, you can do it. You need about 3-4 pounds of meat for this recipe. I was able to find an 8-lb brisket for about $2/lb, so I bought the whole thing. I cut it in half and froze the second portion to be used at a later date for barbecue or something (there’s really no such thing as too much meat in my house).

About a week out, prepare the brine. This version was derived from a Sara Moulton recipe, back in her Cooking Live days.

Ingredients

* 4 quarts water
* 1 1/2 pounds kosher salt
* 1 pound dark brown sugar
* 2 bay leaves
* 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 10 juniper berries
* 10 crushed peppercorns
* 1 tablespoon baking soda
* 4 gallons boiling water
* 1 egg, in shell
* Salt, if needed
* Cold water to cover meat
* 1 (5 pound) beef brisket
* 5 cloves garlic

Bring first 8 ingredients to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes. Leave the brine to cool. Clean a plastic bucket and its lid with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 gallon boiling water. Rinse well and leave to drain dry.

To test the saltiness of the brine put egg, in shell in the cooled brine. If it doesn’t float, add enough salt until it does.

To draw off any excess blood and to help the brine penetrate, pierce the beef all over with a skewer and place meat in cold water for about 45 minutes. Remove the meat from water and place in crock or bucket. Pour the cooled brine over the brisket. Add garlic to the brine. Place a plate on top of the brisket to submerge. Place a lid or plastic wrap over container. Store in a refrigerator or dry place, at a temperature below 60 degrees. Salting time depends on the thickness of the meat. Allow 3 to 10 days for salting time for brisket.

This will sit in my fridge all week.  I’ll check it periodically, turning the meat to make sure that all sides get equal time in the brine.

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Dinner Improv: Basil Beef Stir Fry

Sometimes I get bored with leftovers.  After I’ve eaten something once or twice, I’m ready to move on.  But I also hate to let things go to waste, which is where the ability to re-purpose and re-envision ingredients comes in handy.The other day, I was faced with an abundance of green beans from the garden and some leftover grilled flank steak in the fridge.  We do a lot of southwest and Latin influenced meals, but I wasn’t really in the mood for fajitas or tacos or burritos on this particular day.  Besides, the green beans didn’t really fit into that flavor profile.

I decided instead to go the Asian route and do a stir fry, incorporating some rainbow carrots from the garden, and some red bell pepper and sweet yellow onion.  I didn’t really use a recipe, just went on instinct and tasted as I cooked.  I served it all over some brown rice.  This is a great example of improvisation in the kitchen, using the ingredients you have on hand to dictate the outcome rather than the other way around.

Basil Beef Stir Fry
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
serves: 4-6

Ingredients (all measurements are approximations – taste and season as you go)

  • 2 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 1/2 lb. leftover beef or chicken (or tofu, if you want it to be vegetarian), sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 lb. green beans
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, julienned
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut in chiffonade
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups brown rice, cooked according to package instructions

  1. Heat oil in a saute pan over high heat.
  2. Sautee the onions, peppers and carrots until they begin to brown and soften
  3. Add the meat and stir to heat through
  4. Add the green beans and saute briefly
  5. Combine the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar and add to the pan. Stir to coat the ingredients.
  6. Remove pan from the heat and cover.  Allow to sit for a few minutes so the green beans will steam to finish cooking.
  7. Add the basil just before serving.
  8. Serve over cooked rice with a little of the pan sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of basil.
  9. Enjoy!

I spiced mine up a bit by adding some of my favorite fermented chili paste – it played very well against the sweetness of the basil.

So, what are your favorite ways to improvise in the kitchen?  Do you choose your ingredients based on a recipe, or do you like to let your ingredients dictate your dinner?

A Post about Everything, Nothing and Cheese

I apologize in advance for the randomness of this post.  I’ve had a few things that I’ve wanted to talk about lately, and just haven’t had the time to sit down and do so.

So, now that I have your attention, here goes.

A couple of weeks ago (or maybe it was just last week, I’m not sure), I posted these Pear Crespelle, and I mentioned that I’d made the ricotta cheese from ingredients I had at home.  An anonymous commenter requested that I post the ratios of the recipe, so I’m going to do that at the bottom of this post.

In other, somewhat related news, I’m starting a 28-day diet challenge tomorrow.  The funny part about it is I’m not supposed to eat cheese while I’m participating.  So, I made cheese for this post, but I’m also giving up cheese in this post.  Sometimes life is just funny that way.  Don’t worry, I don’t plan on giving up cheese for good, but I do want to try this Eat Right America diet to see what it’s all about.  Throughout the challenge our local Harry’s Farmers Market is offering recipes, store tours, guest speakers, lectures and cooking classes to compliment the stages of the challenge. The whole point is to increase the number of nutrient-dense foods in your diet.  I’ll be blogging bits of the challenge here, so if you’re interested I’ll let you know how it goes.

Another thing we’ll be cutting back on is animal proteins.  As such, I wanted to go ahead and share some information with you about this steak you see pictured here.  It was delicious.  Really, really delicious.  That is all.

For real, though.  If you live in Georgia, I suggest you look into White Oak Pastures Beef.  If our family is going to eat beef in the future (and we will, I can guarantee it), then it will come from this farm or from one like it. Pasture raised, grassfed cattle that are humanely handled.  It may be more expensive (let’s face it, it IS more expensive), but it’s worth it to know where it comes from and how it is raised, handled and processed.

Did you watch the Golden Globes last night?  Did you see Claire Danes win for her role as Temple Grandin in the film of the same name?  Did you know that Temple Grandin helped design the animal handling and processing facility at White Oak Pastures?  Well, now you do.  Cool, huh?

Okay, onto the cheese recipe.

Ingredients
1 gallon of whole milk
2 tsp. citric acid, dissolved in 1 cup cool water
1 tsp. salt

Begin with a gallon of whole milk and some citric acid.  I’m showing the rennet here (the small bottle on the right) because I have used it in making ricotta before, but I didn’t use it here.  In the past I’ve had a hard time getting the curds to form, and have added the rennet (about 1/8 tsp diluted in 1/4 cup water) to help with that process.  Today it wasn’t necessary.

Dissolve 2 teaspoons citric acid in 1 cup water and add it to 1 gallon of milk in a saucepan, stir to combine.   Add 1 tsp. salt.  Turn the heat to medium-low and stir to prevent scorching.  Heat milk to 165-170F (I don’t use a thermometer, I just look to see if the curds are forming).
It will begin to look like this.  You can see the curds separating from the whey here. Continue heating to 190-195F and turn the heat off.  Let sit for 10 minutes or so.
Line a bowl with cheesecloth.
Remove the curds from the whey using a slotted spoon and place them in the cheesecloth-lined bowl.
Allow the whey to drain from the curds.
Refrigerate and enjoy!