Monday, March 21, 2011

Pub Fare Made Easy

Saint Patrick's Day was last week and while I am over the whole "drink green beer all day" thing, I do think it's kinda fun to celebrate culinarily. I had intended on making traditional corned beef and cabbage for dinner, but got ixnayed at the cabbage, so I switched gears and made a traditional Irish Pub meal of Shepherd's Pie, Guinness Battered Onion Rings and Black and Tans to wash it all down. 

The Black and Tans were not so successful. Traditionally made with Bass Pale Ale and Guinness, I had Smithwick's in my fridge already so I substituted that for the Bass. Ordinarily, a pint glass is filled halfway with the Bass, then the Guinness is poured over an upside-down spoon gently on top of the Bass and since it has a lighter density than the Bass, it stays layered that way. My Black and Tans did not stay layered but they did taste great!

The Shepherd's Pie is a stand-by for my household. It's a really easy and tasty recipe that is hearty and filling without being too heavy since it's mostly veggies. Shepherd's Pie, or Cottage Pie as it's been known as, became popular when potatoes were introduced as a cheap food for the poor. The recipe was most likely made up by frugal peasant housewives looking for a creative way to serve up leftover meat. Whatever the history, I am glad to have it, because it's one of my favorites!

Shepherd's Pie
1 lb hamburger
1 cup low sodium beef broth 
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper 
2 medium bay leaves 
2 whole cloves 
dash of dried thyme 
2 medium carrots, sliced 
4 oz button mushrooms, sliced 
2 ribs celery, diced 
1 cup corn 
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon flour 
1/2 cup beef broth 
1 lb potatoes; peeled, diced and cooked 
1/2 cup fat free milk 
1 T light margarine 
1 T snipped chives or green onions 
4 oz shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 375. Brown the beef and drain. Stir in 1 cup broth, pepper, bay leaves, cloves and thyme. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes. Stir in vegetables; simmer, covered, 4-5 minutes until veggies are tender. Remove bay leaves and cloves. Put flour in small bowl. Gradually add the 1/2 cup broth. Whisk until smooth. Stir into beef mixture. Simmer 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Pour into medium casserole dish. Mash the potatoes with milk, chives and margarine. Spread over meat mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 10 minutes at 375.

Probably the highlight of the meal were the Guinness-Battered Onion Rings. I had never deep-fried anything before so I decided to go all out and give it a try.  Now, I suggest using a Dutch oven and a deep-fry thermometer otherwise you really have no idea how hot your oil is and you basically want it to be pretty exact or else your food ends up either overly greasy or completely burnt.  This recipe is pretty labor-intensive but totally worth your time because they came out perfectly golden brown and delicious! A few tips to keep in mind before trying: get everything in an assembly-line set up before you start, and keep deep-fried onion rings warm in a 200-degree oven while frying the remaining batches.  

Guinness-Battered Onion Rings (this recipe makes a ton, I halved it and we still only ate half!)
2 large Vidalia onions, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
salt and pepper
1 12-oz bottle Guinness
4 cups canola oil

Seperate sliced onions into rings, transfer to bowl and cover with buttermilk.  Combine 1 cup flour, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir to blend.  Combine 1 cup flour and the beer in a bowl and whisk to blend.  Heat oil in a deep heavy pan or deep fryer to 350 degrees. Working in small batches; remove onions from buttermilk and drain.  Dredge through flour and shake off excess.  Dip in beer batter; drain off excess.  Carefully lower onion rings, one at a time, into hot oil (do not overcrowd) and deep fry until golden brown, turning several times during frying with tongs.  Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.  Repeat process with remaining onions.  Season with salt if desired, serve hot.  

Trust me, these recipes won't disappoint!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Easy as... Brisket?

I never tire of beef.  Growing up on a cattle farm, we had what seemed like an endless supply of beef in our freezer.  Steaks, hamburger, roasts...  I am a beef lover.  One cut of beef that I particularly enjoy is a brisket.  Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of beef, or the pectorals.  Interesting fact: cows do not have collar bones, so these areas on the cow are supported by the brisket muscles.  The cut of meat from this area therefore has a lot of connective tissue which means the meat must be cooked correctly in order to be tender and juicy.

When buying brisket in the grocery store, there are a couple of things to know.  First of all, the weight of the uncooked meat will NOT be the weight of the cooked meat.  This is true for most meats, but it especially holds true with brisket.  This is because as the brisket cooks a lot of the fat and connective tissue breaks down and dissolves resulting in sometimes a 35% loss in weight.  Second of all, don't look for the leanest looking cut.  Usually you can't even see the layer of fat, because the meat will be packaged with the fat on the bottom, but a significant layer of fat is necessary to help keep the meat moist while it cooks.

When cooking brisket, think "Low and Slow."  Brisket is a really very simple meat to cook.  Some recipes call for a dusting of flour, searing, or dry rubs, but with the amount of fat on the meat, and some simple ingredients, all I do with my brisket is season and cook.  Mine always turn out moist and delicious with very little work.

My recipe for beef brisket is really versatile.  Use what you have on hand!  It makes a lot, so I always freeze half, tightly wrapped.

1 beef brisket (usually between 5-7 lbs)
1/2 cup whisky, or dark beer, or cola
1/2 cup soy sauce
garlic salt
onion salt
worcestershire sauce

Marinate the meat in the whisky and soy sauce for 2 hours up to overnight.  (I do this in the bowl of my crock pot the night before so I don't dirty an extra dish).  Sprinkle meat with onion salt, garlic salt and worcestershire sauce.  Turn the meat fat side up (so the fat can melt down through the meat as it cooks), cover with lid, and cook at 300 degrees for 4-6 hours. (Or in a crock pot, on high for 1 hour, then low for... eh... 5 hours or so...)  You can't really overcook brisket, as long as it's covered.  Once it's cooked, the meat should be fork-tender and practically fall apart.  I let it cool to room temperature, take the fat off, and refrigerate in it's juices overnight.  When I am ready to serve it, I let it come to room temperature, then heat, covered, in a 300 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until hot.  Brisket is yummy, but reheated brisket is delicious!!!

Try it, you'll love it!