Sunday, February 28, 2010

Super Beefy Pasta Sauce

This pasta sauce is super beefy in case you were wondering why I named it that. It is not at all any kind of traditional Italian recipe or any of that. In fact, it is practically chili. Look at this stuff:

Now that's super beefy! And super fun to make.

Here's what you need:

1.5 lbs ground beef
2 x 28 oz cans diced tomatoes
2 x28 oz cans whole tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1-2 tbsp basil
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
4 bay leaves
1 cup red wine (I used Cabernet this time)

First thing you need to do is brown the ground beef. Try to make sure to get it fairly finely chopped--though part of the appeal of this sauce is it's so chunky so do what you will. If you want to make it a giant hamburger that sits at the bottom of the pot, that will probably taste pretty good anyway. Once it's done, you are going to want to drain the fat. I try to do a good job of this but I am not super cautious to get every last bit of fat. Normally, winds up looking about like this:


Don't worry if it's a little pink. You are gonna simmer this stuff for hours. It'll be fine. While you're browning the meat chop the green peppers and the onions up. Add them along w/ everything but the wine, turn up to high heat, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer at least one hour and up to about three. The longer you simmer, the more the tomatoes will break down and the smoother the sauce will be. Here it is after a couple hours:
I like to add the wine about fifteen minutes before I'm done cooking. Generally, I allow it get a little thicker than I'd like because, as you would expect, adding liquid thins this a bit. I feel the wine is pretty much essential in this recipe.It brings out the sweetness and fruitiness of the tomatoes and just adds that little bit extra to keep this from tasting like you got it out of a can. When I used to make pasta sauce, I used all kinds of herbs in it--basil, oregeno, thyme, you name it. Now a days, I stick w/ one per batch but change it up. I feel like the flavor, rather than becoming more complex from using multiple herbs, just become muddled. I'd rather just use some good basil and really let it shine than have fifteen hundred things in there that you can barely taste. If your sauce is a little runny, go ahead and add a can of tomato paste to thicken it a bit. That happens sometimes when you make pasta sauce from canned tomatoes rather than from crushed tomatoes or sauce.
I served this up over linguine as seen above. My favorite for a sauce like this is rotini and I even like those green and red vegetable flavored ones like people make pasta salad out of. I used the most of this for a big tray of super beefy lasagna which I will post in a few days. If you make this, let us know how you served in comments! We at TFK are constantly looking for new things to pour sauce over.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thin Semolina Pizza Crust (and a Fun Times Bonus Pizza Recipe)

I am a freewheeling pizza maker. People just take this crap too seriously. They go about making sponges and god knows what else. Sometimes, I don't want to dicker w/ the intricacies of bread making. I want a gorram pizza! The semolina flour is a real nice touch which to me makes it much more like pizzeria pizza in texture.

Here is what you need for two of the above pizzas. They are maybe twelve to fourteen inches in diameter. Big enough for two people unless you are trying to put on weight before football tryouts.

1.5 cups all purpose flour
1.5 cups semolina flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt
~1 cup warm water
2 tbsp olive oil
parchment paper

As I said, I am a freewheeling pizza maker. I barely measure this stuff. People act like bread baking is this intense science. It's not. It's a craft like all other kinds of cooking. You need to do it a lot to get the art and feel of it down. As I mentioned, this is all a pretty quick rise and I don't think it's necessary to go about making sponges and any of that. Just throw the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir together.

If it looks like a bunch of flour mixed up w/ some other things, you are on the right track. Next step is to add the water. I use the hottest tap water I can get. It helps things get rising faster. Use about a cup but you really wanna get a feel for the texture. It should be stretchy and fairly light but not sticky.

Now it is time to knead the dough. Most recipes call for you to do this on a flat surface. I do it right in the bowl. One less thing to clean up and it helps to incorporate that last bit of flour on the side of the bowl. There are a bunch of guides on how to properly knead. I just go at it. The longer you knead, the more chewy the dough. Use a consistent technique, whatever it is, and you will eventually get a feel for how it affects your crust. I knead mine for only about two or three minutes these days. I used to knead for up to eight. I am just starting to like a lighter crust is all.

Once you've finished kneading, drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil over it and in the bowl. Make sure the bowl gets a good coat. Mine looks about like this when I'm done.

Let the bread rise right in the bowl you made it in. This is another dish saved and really has no ill effect as far as I can tell. Cover it w/ a damp towel and put it on your stove while you preheat it to the very hottest setting possible (500 degrees Fahrenheit on mine). High temperature gets you the best and crispiest crust. I let it rise for about an hour. It takes almost this long for my oven to get to that temperature anyway. When the crust has risen, to about twice it's normal size, it's ready.

I forgot to take picture until after I pushed it down a bit when I was seperating it out into to balls but here is my crust after I let it rise:

For these pizzas, obviously, I divide this portion into two. That is a good size for me. It works w/ my pizza peel and my pizza stone. If you want you can make this all one big pizza on either once of those bigger pizza pans or any old cookie sheet. If you do use a peel and a pizza stone, I have a trick that makes life much easier: place a piece of parchment paper on the peel first and the pizza will slide right on and off.


Just plop the dough in the center and roll it out w/ a rolling pin. This rolls out to about 12-14" which is about as big as my peel. Most pizzerias use cornmeal to allow the pizza to slide off. That works too but every now and again it sticks. W/ the parchment paper, though, I never have a problem.However, I do like the texture the cornmeal adds so once it's rolled out, I sprinkle a little under there. I do it one half at a time like so:

So that is pretty much it for the crust. If you just want a flat bread, bake it at 500 degrees for about ten minutes. But who wants flat bread when you can have pizza?

Spread some sauce on it. I use maybe four tablespoons worth. You don't need a thick coat. That will just burn your mouth and make the cheese slide out.


This is actually a little more than I normally use. I had a very chunky homemade pasta sauce on hand that I used which made it a little hard to get a good coating w/o using a bunch.

Depending on what toppings I use, a lot of times I like to get them kind of mixed in w/ the cheese. I used some sliced up Italian sausage on this one. My favorite cheese for pizza is Asiago or maybe Parmesan but I use all kinds of stuff. On this one, I just had a bag of shredded mozzarella and that is a perfectly acceptable alternative. One mistake I think a lot of home pizza makers make is to use too much cheese. I know you like cheese and that's all in good fun but you don't need to have a quarter inch coating of it all over on a thin crust pizza. You should at least see the sauce over most parts of it. Because I used so much sauce, I used a little extra cheese on this one too. The key is balance. 

Here it is in the oven:

I think the pizza stone does wonders for the crispness of the crust. If you don't have one, don't sweat it. I still make larger pizzas on cookie sheets all the time and they turn out just great. The super hot oven and the crust will get the crust nice and crispy and the cheese wonderfully browned in about ten to fifteen minutes. Watch it like a hawk through the glass after about eight minutes though. Pizza can go from beautifully brown to charred pretty quickly.

This one didn't turn out half bad. The cheese is browned:

And the bottom of the crust is just a little crispy:


Probably would have had better results on the crust had I know used so much cheese and sauce (which seems to act as sort of a heat sink) but this was a very fine pizza indeed. Make up a couple yourself and let us know what you put on them in the comments. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chocolate Coconut Milk Pudding w/ Cardamom

Everyone likes pudding, especially chocolate pudding. This one contains no dairy and has a bit of cardamom to make sure everyone's having fun.It's super easy, super rich and super thick. You can't go wrong w/ this as a dessert in a pinch.

Here is what you need:

1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup sugar
2 squares bakers chocolate
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom seeds ground

As I said, this is a real  easy one. Throw this junk in a pot like so:


Turn that sucker up to medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Keep simmering for about five or ten minutes. I hate stirring constantly during this portion but you really should to make sure all the corn starch gets broken up. An immersion blender is nice to have here. It can really smooth things out if things get lumpy.

This pudding is really thick. To me, the texture is almost like ice cream, only not as cold obviously. Use half the cornstarch for a more traditional soupy pudding. This stuff is hardly liquid at all.

If you don't like fun, substitute in a teaspoon or so of vanilla instead of the cardamom. If you got a favorite recipe for coconut milk pudding (or any pudding) post it in the comments. I bet it won't be as good as this is though.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beef Stew à la Mommel

Here at the Chicago chapter of TFK, it is universally accepted that my mom makes the best beef stew. However, when I asked her how to make it she mentioned things like onion soup and brown gravy mixes and other things I don't keep around the house. Over time, I developed a recipe that substitutes some vegetable broth in for these things though I have used beer and red wine instead to equal success.

Here's what you need to make this lovely beef stew:

2-3 lbs beef
4 russet potatoes
4 carrots
2 large onions
2 bay leaves
14 oz vegetable broth
1 tbsp oil or butter
~2 tsp salt
~1 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You start out w/ a hunk of meet like this. I bought this sucker labeled as a london broil but the grain of the meat was all wrong making it a perfect candidate for stew.

Trim excess fat and cube into pieces about one inch to one and half inches per side. I like nice big chunks that you have to cut w/ a knife and fork before eating.


You'll want to brown these chunks in about a tablespoon of oil or butter until they look about like this:


Use a cast iron pot or other oven safe one. This is the same dish you'll make the stew in. You want to get all the little brown bits in there. Brown bits are a fun ride to flavor country. I use an enamalized cast iron dutch oven. It wasn't free but it's great.

In the meantime peel and chop the carrots, onions and potatoes to about this size. Again, I like to keep them pretty big.

Chuck all this into the pot w/ the browned chunks of meat, pour in 14 oz of vegetable broth and add bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste. The ingredients don't need to be covered in liquid. As it cooks the beef will release juices and make more broth. Cook for about an hour to ninety minutes. Fun chefs go by their nose on this one. Once the house starts smelling great, give it about ten minutes and check to see if the potatoes and meat are cooked. Check every ten minutes after that if it's not. This is one dish that can be a little overcooked so don't worry. The meat will just get falling apart tender. The end result is quite soupy but I still serve it up on a plate. When mom's not looking, I slurp the juices out.

It's not pretty but it's delicious. I do a lot of variations on this. Frequently I use other root veggies like parsnips and turnips and generally I add some celery too. Red wine mixed w/ water is great substitute for the stock as is beer as I mentioned. If you use beer, you can be creative as long as you don't use anything too bitter (no IPA, no American Pale Ales or big stouts). Belgian beers work great and my favorite might be big, malty German bocks. I normally stick w/ just salt and pepper and let the veggies and cooking liquid shine but herbs and spices are also an excellent addition. Have fun and post a comment to let us know how it turned out if you cook it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Japanese Braised Pork (Chashu)

Now I can officially become TFK Tokyo, with a Japanese recipe cooked in my micro kitchen. Chashu is fatty pork braised in sweetened soy sauce. If you've ever had the chance to eat non-instant ramen, the sliced pork they put in it is chashu. But it's delicious on its own. You can also chop it up and put in fried rice, and it also makes a great filling for steamed buns.

The key to this dish is getting a fatty cut of pork. The Japanese fruqently use pork belly, but unlike most Americans, they don't mind eat huge pieces of fat. I've actually come to appreciate a good piece of fat melting in my mouth, but I prefer this recipe with a cut of pork where fat is more well marbled. In these pictures, I actually use both types. And even the official Japanese taste tester liked the marbled pieces better.

1 pound pork
2 TBSP sugar
1.5 cup water
3 TBSP Soy Sauce
2 TBSP Mirin
3 TBSP Sake
1 TBSP Miso
3 cloves garlic
1 inch piece ginger
1 leek or a couple of green onions

Note: You might not regularly have mirin (sweet cooking wine, get "hon mirin" instead of "aji mirin" if you can), sake, or miso in your kitchen. But there's some flexibility in this recipe.
-If you leave out mirin, you might want to add extra sugar and sake.
-If you leave out sake, put in more mirin. Or in a real pinch, you could probably put in some vodka or just leave it out.
-If you leave out miso, just put in more soy sauce or MSG.

What to Do:

Turn your stove on high and heat up your pan. Meanwhile, cut your pork into pieces that will fit into your pan. Then sear your pork on all sides and remove it from your pan.

Turn the heat down. There should be a decent amount of fat in your pot, stir the sugar into it. It should kind of dissolve into it and start turning a little brown. Be careful not to burn it!

Next throw your meat back into the pan along with the water, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and miso. Give it a good stir to make sure the miso doesn't just sit there in a clump. Depending on your pan size compared to amount of meat, you might need to tinker with the liquid amounts. The liquid doesn't need to cover the meat since you'll be putting a lid on the pot, though.

Then put in the garlic, ginger, and green onion. Cover and let it simmer,flipping the meat over occasionally. If you a more aggressive simmerer, you might finish in about an hour. I let it go for more like 2 hours, but I was a pretty passive simmerer today.

Once it seems very tender apon being poked, it's done. Take it out and slice it along the grain. It tastes great as is, or you can serve it with some simmering liquid on top.

Tired of instant ramen? Heat up some homemade stock with a ladle full of the brazing liquid, and you have a quick version of shoyu ramen (soy sauce based ramen). It's even better if you can serve is with some fresh ramen noodles. You can garnish with some thinly sliced green onions and a few slices of the chashu.

You can also save the brazing liquid and use it in future stir fries.

Chicken Tacos with Green Salsa

TFC Toledo has become TFC Tokyo. It's almost the same except "led" has become "ky." Anyways, I made these tacos right before leaving Toledo. They are very limey because I love limes, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get them as easily in Tokyo. Plus Japanese tacos are hard to find, and even then they taste like they are made with extra sugary ketchup. This recipe fed 3 people.

Chicken Taco Filling

2 Large chicken breasts
1 TBSP Lime Juice
1/4 Cup chicken stock
1 Lime
Couple Cloves of Garlic
1 Small Onion
1 tsp Coriander
1 TBSP Cumin
A little black pepper
Olive Oil

What to Do:

Get out your crock pot, or prepare to use a pan on low on your stove.

Put the chicken stock and lime juice into your pot. Sometimes with slow cooking all the flavor gets cooked out of things like lime or lemon juice, but for some reason it made me feel better to put a little juice into the crock pot anyways. For long lasting lime flavor, take a whole lime, poke a few holes in it with a fork, and then put the whole thing in the pot.

Next put in the cumin, coriander, pepper, garlic, onion, and jalepeno. You can actually just leave the garlic and onion whole or in large pieces, and you can put in the spices in the seed or corn format. Once again, slow cooking can make spices lose flavors so it can be better to leave everything whole. I just strain everything out later on.

Put in the chicken and turn your crock pot on. On high it takes about an hour and a half to cook, low would probably take closer to 3 hours.

The meat should be pretty tender when it's done cooking, and you should be able to shred it a bit with forks. If you used whole spices, take the chicken out of the cooking liquid before shredding it. Then strain the cooking liquid.

Next take your shredded chicken and the strained cooking juice and put it back in your crock pot on high. Throw on some oregano and olive oil. You can taste everything, and adjust the seasonings as you wish. If you like spicy things, you might want to add some cayenne pepper or chili powder. If you do this part in a crock pot, you don't need to put the lid back on. I actually did this part on low on the stove, but that was because I still had seeds and stuff stuck in my crock pot. The main purpose of this is just kind of heating things back up again after shredding everything, and to get the tasty cooking liquid back on the chicken.

When everything is nice and hot, sprinkle in some fresh cilantro. Then serve in anyways you enjoy eating tacos. Personally, I like these on a flour tortilla with some green salsa.

Green Salsa

About 10 tomatillos (or more if they are exceptionally small)
1 or 2 jalapenos
Big Handful of fresh cilantro
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
Squeeze or lime juice
salt and pepper

What to Do:

Husk the tomatillos and cut them in half. Heat up a frying pan on high, then throw in the tomatillos and let them get a little black on the outside. I'm not actually sure if this is necessary, but I feel like at some point in my life someone of the Food Network told me this was a good idea, like maybe it brought out the sweetness a little.

Put tomatillos, jalepenos, cilantro, and garlic into a food processor and process away. I make it pretty smooth, but it's up to you how chunky you like it. Then add lime juice, salt, and pepper to your liking. I'm a fan of sour things, but if you're not you could add a little bit of sugar.

Put this on your limey chicken taco and you will be very satisfied! Or stick it in a festive bowl and get out the tortilla chips.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chicken and Parsnip Fun Pie

What good is a pot pie crust w/o pot pie filling? Well, it is actually a lot of good. It is a potential pot pie. That is better than most people achieve in a lifetime and it's just a bunch of butter and flour mixed up. After all, do you think you could ever be as awesome as this?

There is almost no chance. What we have here is pie full of chicken, parsnips, turnips and other assorted delicacies. While you might never be so delicious yourself, you can always make it. Here's what you need.

6 Chicken thighs w/ bones and skin
1 qt stock
4 parsnips
2 turnips
1 large onion
2 stalks celery
salt pepper
2 bay leaves
4 tbsp corn starch

1 pot pie crust

First things first, season the chicken thighs well w/ salt and pepper and roast at 400F for about forty five minutes. You can use boneless if you want or an equivalent amount of chicken breasts or legs but bone-in thighs are cheap and delicious and you can save the bones to make stock later.

Let those cool for a minute and then they should be cooked enough that you can pretty much just pull the meat off w/ your fingers. I like to leave it in fairly big chunks.

While the breasts are cooking cut up the turnips, celery, parsnips and onion. Throw them in a pot w/ the shredded chicken once done and top up w/ your best stock, probably need about a quart. If you don't have enough, just top up w/  water and don't tell anyone. Throw in a couple bay leaves and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook about twenty or thirty minutes, just until the veggies begin to get soft. At this point, you'll want to add cornstarch to thicken. This is one thing it's best to judge case by case. It will change depending on your stock. Sprinkle in a tablespoon at a time, stirring vigorously until the soup takes on the consistency of a light gravy. Be careful not to use too much, it thickens as you cook. Add salt and pepper to taste. You'll end up w/ something like this:

Now for the fun! Dump that sucker into the bottom half of the pot pie crust. Be careful not to splash. I did not pour from as high as it looks in this picture.

Put the top crust on and then bake at four hundred about twenty minutes. Won't take a terribly long time, just cook until the crust is nice and brown like this:

 Serve as carefully as possible but don't worry about it too much, pot pie is supposed to be sloppy.

Got any favorite pot pie fillings? Let TFK know in the comments.