Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Tip: Mise en Place

March 11, 2010

When the Food Network first started I was addicted to it. Way back then it was a serious cooking channel with real chefs demonstrating real techniques. I even learned a few things — one of them being the importance of mise en place.

Mise en place (pronounced “meez on ploss” often simply called “meez” in American restaurants) is a French term meaning, “putting in place,” and it refers to having all your ingredients lined up and waiting to be used.

Read more…


Wordless Wednesday

March 10, 2010

Recipe here…

Corning Your Own Beef

March 9, 2010

Be Gorrah!

Corning Beef

Corning beef has a long, if not particularly savory, history as a means of preserving meat. You can certainly just salt and dry beef much as hams are cured, but soaking the meat (brining it) in a salt solution became popular during the hay-day of the British Navy when it became a staple on ships. According to Salt: A World History (by Mark Kurlansky) the Irish became particularly known for their beef’s longevity and quality. British, German, and French corned beef was regarded as being generally inferior and in fact the British product was called “salt junk” by sailors.. By the way, the “corn” referred to in corning is a reference to the kernels — corns — of salt used in making it.

The standard cut of meat for corning is the brisket, which is a tough muscle with a layer of fat down the center and over the top. Salt breaks down muscle fibers so corning it in a brine that will seep into the meat it a good start on tenderizing it. And salt, through the process of osmosis, also carries the brine’s spices into the meat. The brisket is also particularly suitable to the long, slow stewing or braising that is the usual cooking technique.

The Irish became particularly known for their beef’s longevity and quality. British, German, and French corned beef was regarded as being generally inferior.

I typically corn at least one brisket a year. I get a small (3 – 3.5 pound) cut and even though that’s a lot of meat for one person, I don’t mind the leftovers in the least — try corning your own beef for the best reuben you’ve ever eaten. However, I have this site on Cooking for Two that I manage and although there are lots of foods that are better leftover (corned beef among them) I at least attempt to pay lip service to not cooking enough food to feed four for a week. So I thought about how I might corn a smaller beef.

Buying a brisket and just corning half of it while freezing the rest for another day occurred to me, but right now my freezer is packed so I considered similar cuts of meat and immediately thought of flank steak. Although it comes from the opposite end of the cow, it’s also from the belly and shares brisket’s long, stringy loosely-spaced muscle fibers. I gave it a try.

It worked beautifully.

Flank steak is long and flat, without the bulk of brisket, so I rolled and tied the steak to produce a piece of meat more similar in shape to a bulky brisket. You can use a commercial pickling spice for flavoring, I always prefer making my own based on a recipe published in Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Note that if you use the flank steak you still need to slice it across the grain which means slicing with the roll, not across it.

If you have the urge to try corning a beef but don’t want to take on a big brisket, this is a great option.

You can find the recipe here and my recipe for corned beef and cabbage here.

By the way, I used to cook corned beef in a big pot on the stove top until a Jewish friend suggested using a Dutch oven in the oven instead. The difference was striking. This was many years ago and I don’t recall the specifics but I do remember that not only was the dish more evenly cooked but the flavors were more mellow. These days I use my 6.5 quart Le Crueset Dutch (or French) oven in the oven. Once hot, the cast iron delivers very uniform and gentle heat throughout the cooking process. I now cook all braises and stews in cast iron in the oven.

SG Archives:Polenta with Two Ragus

March 8, 2010

What’s in a Name?

Polenta Ragu

Seriously Good is kind of an odd name for a blog. It occurs to me it may sound boastful, as though I’m claiming everything posted here is worthy of culinary note in some way. But the truth is that the name refers more to a search for food that is seriously good than an assertion that every recipe included here is due that accolade.

I started using the phrase “seriously good” to refer to those recipes I occasionally ran across or created that I thought were, well, seriously good. A meal that is seriously good demands second helpings, perhaps even thirds. It’s something so good you don’t want to stop eating it. I sometimes call this “food that hurts” — a reference to the way something sweet can make your teeth ache or something tart make your jaws ache or eating too much can make your belly ache.

I started using the phrase “seriously good” to refer to those recipes I occasionally ran across or created that I thought were, well, seriously good.

I had a friend who described such food as, “so good you want to rub it in your hair.” It’s food that elicits unconscious moans and sighs. It’s extreme food. Not by being outr&ecute;, but by suffusing your sense of taste and smell, feel and sight.

Last night I had such a meal. It looked juicy and appetizing, it smelled marvelous, and the flavors and tastes combined in such a way that it seemed more than the mere sum of it’s ingredients. It’s a recipe that’s been gestating in the back of my head for some time and yesterday it finally hatched.

Polenta with Two Ragus
Serves 6.

1 1/2 c Ragu Bolognese
6 oz provolone — sliced 1/8″ thick
6 oz mozzarella — sliced 1/8″ thick
2 1/4 c stone ground corn meal
4 c water
1 tsp salt
1/2 c shredded Parmigiano
1/2 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp butter
Mushroom Ragu:
1/2 lb button mushrooms — sliced
1/2 lb sm. Portobello mushrooms — sliced
1/2 lb shitakes —sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp thyme
1tsp white pepper (chosen for it’s mild taste)
1/2 c red wine

Make Ragu Bolognese.

While Bolognese is cooking, dissolve salt in water in a pot. Whisk in corn meal and place over medium heat. Cooking, whisking nearly constantly, until polenta begins to thicken. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue stirring until mixture is thick. Remove from heat and stir in Parmigiano, pepper, and 2 tablespoons butter until melted. Allow to cool slightly.

Grease an 8 x 10 casserole dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Spread half of polenta in bottom of casserole. Place a layer of foil over polenta, spray with baking spray, and spread remaining polenta on parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Mushroom Ragu:
Place a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat and add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Cook stirring frequently, until mushrooms begin to give up their liquid. Drizzle with olive oil and add thyme, and pepper. Continue cooking until mushrooms begin browning. Add wine and cook until most of the wine has evaporated.

Heat oven to 400F.

Carefully remove top layer of polenta and set aside. Spread mushroom ragu over botton layer. Layer sliced provolone over mushrooms. Carefully remove parchment paper from polenta and place polenta on top of current layers. Spread Bolognese over polenta and then layer with mozzarella. Bake until mozzarella browns — about 30 minutes.

Problems to Come

March 6, 2010

I‘ve been using Blogger to manage Seriously Good for almost seven years now. Blogger has enabled me to host the blog on my own domain providing the control I want over SG‘s format with minimal day-to-day effort from me. On the down-side, it hasn’t always been easy to persuade Blogger to do what I wanted. Blogger is stopping support for the route I’ve taken (my own domain and FTP access if you happen to be interested) and so I’m investigating alternatives. I may remain with Blogger, but migrating to WordPress looks most likely.

All of this is to say that if Seriously Good goes wonkers for a few days or even disappears, don’t worry, it will be back – same place, same time.

Hello world!

March 6, 2010

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

Tikka Masala

March 5, 2010


Tikka Masala

Sometimes a dish unfolds. It unfolds on your tongue, it unfolds on your plate, it unfolds in your nose. And sometimes the unfolding surprises.

When my sister was between 12 and 14 she became fascinated with origami after receiving an origami craft kit for a present. I’ve no idea all these years later if she was any good, but she was a talented pianist with dexterous fingers well-suited to a task like folding paper. I would sometimes sneak into her room to look at and gently handle her efforts in paper. I recall the bright colors and complex patterns and if I was certain I had a bit of time when I wouldn’t get caught I would occasionally unfold one to see how it worked and then carefully refold it. That a square sheet of paper could become a swan or an angel was marvelous.

There is a similarity — a conjunction — between folding paper and cooking. As cooks we begin with an idea for a dish and then carefully fold in the tastes and flavors. A bit of cinnamon forms a crease, lamb contributes stability, cardamom makes an overlay, and garlic forms a shadow-line. Cooking is multidimensional — like origami.

In folding paper the artists take something with two dimensions, and working within those two dimensions, create three dimensions — even four when the angled paper really evokes in the viewer’s mind the rounded form it represents.

Over the course of dinner the masala unfolded, the apparent complexity deconstructed as I tasted the structure.

I made Tikka Masala last night. I used chicken but that’s not unlike choosing a yellow matt paper as opposed to lamb, which might be a lavender iridescent paper. I might, in fact would, alter minor details in the masala depending on the core ingredient, but an origami artist would also modify certain folds to achieve the desired effect when making a black swan or a white one.

I ate a bite of masala and thought, “Yeh, ok, nothing to write home about.” I ate another couple of bites: “Not bad, actually.” A few more bites and, “Oh, yeah, the jalapeno is kicking in and the cardamom is perfect.” In other words, over the course of dinner the masala unfolded, the apparent complexity deconstructed as I tasted the structure. By the time I finished the entire dish had been laid out like a simple square sheet of paper, and then carefully refolded into the original image. But now completely understood.

Tikka Masala
Serves 6.

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or
2 lb lamb stew meat
2 tbsp cardamom pods
1 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon — smashed
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp ground tumeric
2 lg garlic cloves; crushed
1 inch fresh ginger — peeled and grated
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 c yogurt
3 tbsp cooking oil (or, ideally, ghee)
2 tbsp cardamom pods
1 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 stick cinnamon — smashed
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp ground tumeric
1 onion — peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic; peeled and thinly sliced
1 inch fresh ginger — peeled and thinly sliced
1 jalapeno pepper; seeded and finely chopped
1 15-oz can petit diced tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream

Cook cardamom pods, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves over medium high heat, shaking regularly, until seeds begin to pop. Coarsely grind in a spice grinder (I use a dedicated coffee grinder) or mortar and pestle.

Mix spices with remaining marinade ingredients. Thoroughly combine marinade with meat in a zippered bag and refrigerate overnight.

Set oven to broil and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Pat meat between paper towels to remove most, but not all, marinade.

Place meat on baking sheet and cook on the second rack from top for 5 – 7 minutes — until lightly browned. Set aside when done.

Note: I really like leaving the spices whole. This is what prompted my thoughts about a dish unfolding. The flavors of all the spices pervade the dish, but biting into a cardamom pod or whole clove is when that flavor unfolds and the craft becomes apparent.

Heat oil or ghee over medium high heat. Add cardamom, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. Cook 5 minutes. (Be sure the fan is running full blast and don’t lean over the pan.)

Reduce heat to medium and add onion and tumeric. Cook, stirring, until onions are translucent – about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and jalapeno and cook one minute longer then add tomatoes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Stir cream into sauce and add meat (if using chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces first). Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes and serve over rice.

Note: I stole a trick from Ree Drummond and colored my rice with tumeric and then added peas. Great idea for presentation.

Try tikka masala with…
Asparagus Parmigiano
Slow-roasted Tomatoes
Buttermilk Pie

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Breakfast Casserole

March 4, 2010

All the Major Breakfast Groups

Breakfast Casserole

This breakfast casserole features the major breakfast food groups – eggs, sausage, and potatoes. With some coffee and juice to wash it down, you’re ready to take on King Kong. Nevertheless my standard breakfast is a few cups of coffee, some yogurt or a banana, and a couple of cigarettes (although if I have to go somewhere in the morning I like getting a sausage biscuit at Burger King) so I make this for supper more often than breakfast. But whenever you make it, it’s a great, easy, and inexpensive meal.

Recipe here…

Wordless Wednesday

March 3, 2010

A Southern, Italian Menu

March 2, 2010

Red-neck Italian

Arrosto di Maiale al Latte

One of my favorite bloggers is Amy Glaze whose blog is named Ms. Glaze’s Pommes d’Amour. She’s a classically trained chef who’s worked in some of the best restaurants in Paris and New York. And I love reading her eyes-inside posts about the cheffing game. They’re as much fun as Kitchen Confidential to read and much more immediate as befits a blog. Over the last three or four years I’ve developed a great affection for her. And that she’s cute as button doesn’t hurt. That she calls me “chef” doesn’t either.

Anyway, she’s moving to San Francisco to take charge as supreme chef of a restaurant named Le Club. She’s driving there in a rental truck with another chef named Eric and all her possessions from NYC. Having wisely (given the time of year) chosen the Southern route, she asked if any of her readers who were on the way wanted to put her up. I immediately raised one hand while quickly scribbling menu ideas with the other.

The closest I’ve ever gotten to working a line is my first job as a pizza cook at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor.

Let’s back up a tad. I’m not in any sense a chef — nor do I claim to be except when it makes my clients happy. I simply cook for a living. I’ve been cooking since I was six years old (50 years, now) and for the past six years I’ve made my living from cooking. But although I’ve studied cooking in books and magazines, the closest I’ve ever gotten to working a line is my first job as a pizza cook at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. I have less formal training than Michael Ruhlman, a writer, and less actual experience on a line than your average cook at Waffle House.

There is a large degree of brashness in someone like me cooking for Ms Glaze. Much more so than a home cook offering what they serve their families every night. After all, I make pretensions about my abilities and when called “chef” I seldom demure the honorific. I offer advice on things like best meat cuts or mise en place. But a genuine chef? No. Nevertheless I’ve been reading her blog for a few years and I think I know her tastes so as soon as she said she was coming I knew the main dish I wanted to make her, and then everything else fell into place.

I didn’t want to spend time in the kitchen while they were here and I didn’t know when they’d arrive so it had to cooked in advance or be ready in minutes. I wanted to reflect both my primary culinary roots (the South) and primary culinary influences (the Mediterranean). I ended up with Red-neck Italian.

I planned to begin with a bowl of Cece Fritos — fried beans — as something to munch on during a brief unwinding with a glass of wine. After all, beans? Fried? Italian recipe? Oh yeah.

Then for a main course Arrosto di Maiale al Latte. This is a purely Italian recipe for pork roast braised in milk. A truly marvelous dish that can hold in an oven for a couple of hours and just get better. But we’re talking slow-cooked pork in what becomes a cream gravy. If more Southerners knew about it would be more popular than biscuits and gravy. Except they’d keep the biscuits.

But instead of biscuits I decided to serve it on fried medallions of grits. Grits are the Southern progenitor of polenta and I could make them the day before and fry them up at the last minute. Some provolone and a pinch of nutmeg gives the grits Italian savor and the medallions add a lovely crispy/creamy texture and a bit of height to the presentation.

So what else? Greens. Turnip, specifically. They’re in-season, highly Southern, nicely but not overly bitter (so a good foil to the pork), and I have a wonderful Italian recipe for sautéed broccoli raab (olive oil, garlic, anchovies, pine nuts) that would suit the turnips just fine.

But what for dessert? This one I had to think about. Dessert isn’t one of my strengths. But I settled on an apple crisp touched with chipotle and topped with sherried mascarpone.

A good menu. Red-neck. Italian. It could be made in advance and served at a moment’s notice. Perfect. But Amy didn’t make it.

She and her driving companion made a wrong turn in southern Virginia. I know exactly where it happened and how because I’ve made that same wrong turn. I saw my mistake within 30 minutes, but I knew where I was going. Amy ended up in Charlotte before realizing the error. So she and Eric didn’t make it.

I had my neighbor over for dinner the next night to help me eat it. I was happy with the results. The particular menu was designed, as I said, to give Amy a taste of my cooking, but the truth is there was nothing special in it. No big deal. Nevertheless I wish it had been Amy and Eric I fed instead of Richard, my neighbor. It was food for friends and family and Richard told me several times to thank Amy for getting lost.

(For Amy’s tale, go here.)