Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Cooking the Best Corned Beef? Do it Twice!

D'ya ever start a project with more than a little apprehension?  An electrical outlet in the garage, the leaking kitchen sink or a vegetable garden have your pulse quickening and blood pressure on the rise?  Some folks have that anxiety with cooking, but, even good cooks get the willies when a Corned Beef dinner looms on the March horizon.

"I've got 16 days to figure this out...I don't want polite thanks from adults and wrinkled noses from the kids this year."

Lousy corned beef is like dry turkey at Thanksgiving: an annual rite of passage that for odd reasons becomes an American tradition.  At the end of the meal people will entertain thoughts similar to those in recovery rooms after root canals, colonoscopies and child birth.

"Phew, glad that's done!"
"I vow to live better, so, I won't have to do THAT again!"
"Maybe if we don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day, we won't have to eat this."
"I'd like a drink right now..."


Well, I have a simple and easy fix to the Corned Beef Blues: Cook it Twice.  Hear me out, been doing this for years and each year get a raft of compliments from diners young and old.
"Quinn!  I hated corned beef till I had yours..."
"How'dja get it so tender?"
"Everything was perfectly done; what's the secret?"

Two phrases I use:

1)  Low and Slow is the Way to Go
2)  Divide and Conquer

Ready to Conquer?  Let's DO this!

Corned beef is from the brisket usually.  It is a tough cut that requires extended cooking time to become tender.  Boiling water only gets 212 degrees and will never get hotter.
Boiling is OUT!!!

Braising, placing protein in a covered cooking vessel in an oven, causes a steam environment which is much hotter than 212 degrees and will actually break down those tough muscle tissues.  So, take your corned beef brisket, place it in a pan that is taller than the meat; a deep pan.  Bring the water level up to 1/3 the height of the meat; don't submerse the meat.  Then we'd be back to the 'boiling' method. Not good.
I use heavy duty aluminum foil to cover the pan and seal it tightly without letting the foil touch the meat.  The salt from the meat will burn a hole in the foil, break the 'steam seal' and lower your cooking temp in the pot.  Water will evaporate through the hole and well, now, you're roasting meat.

Put it in at 10:00 at night right before bed at 250 degrees and give the oven door a kiss goodnight.

Wake at 6:00 a.m.

What the heck?!  House smells great, I'm ready for dinner and in my bathrobe still.

Remove corned beef from oven and poke with a knife to check doneness (it's done).  Transfer with a spatula to a cookie sheet and let cool on a counter for an hour.  Place in the fridge to chill till dinner.

Steam quartered red potatoes and sliced cabbage separately to fork tender at dinner; both should take no more than 30 minutes.  Again, place each in it's own covered pot on the stove, filled 1/2 way with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let 'er go.

While these guys are steaming, remove the chilled corned beef to a cutting board.  Cut against the grain of the meat into slabs for serving.  'Shingle' them on a cookie sheet and return to a 350 oven for 20 minutes to heat up, render a little fat, and get crispy on the edges.

Assemble on a large platter or dish up from the kitchen and garnish with finely chopped, fresh parsley.  Salted butter for the potatoes, malt vinegar splash for the cabbage and stone ground mustard for the corned beef.

You'll be a rock star!
U-2 can succeed at Corned Beef and Cabbage this year.

Take care, God bless and Remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Raising Kids, Making Cooks and Developing Men

"So, whaddya think I should make 'er?"
"I dunno, whadduz she like?"

It was a Sunday morning and my youngest boy, Brendan, a high school senior, was wondering what to cook for his girlfriend of 2 1/2 years for her 18th birthday.
Actually, it was 'Birthday Week,' ya know with trumpet fanfare beginning a full seven days before commemoration of the blessed nativity.  It's what happens when you're the oldest of two children, the only girl and drive a Mercedes that you were given on your 16th birthday...

"Well, what does she like?  I mean, don't go into experimental mode on a very important evening.  Go with a tried and true success,"  I suggested, as Brendan ate a tortilla wrapped something, in sweat pants, pillow head, bare-chested and sucking water out of the kitchen sink faucet like he had just completed a trek across the Sahara.
I keep thinking that there's money to be made in reality entertainment using high school boys and their living habits.  It's 'Pre-Frat House' and primordial in nature.  They seem to be, no, they ARE unfazed by any semblance of modesty, civility and decorum.

"UUHH-gggroowww-UHHH!" he belches.
"That's really disgusting," I add, "what did that taste like?  Flamin' Doritos or 7-11 Grillerz?!"
He giggled over his dark-framed glasses, then, hawked a huge lugey into the sink...
"You are foul..." I concluded, as Brendan laughed, raised his right leg and let one rip on cue.

The more you recognize the invalid nature of said progeny, the more entertaining it is to them; they're getting your goat and relishing every second.
Brendan gets the biggest kick out of listening to me chastise his every waking moment from the time he walks up the stairs to the time he wipes his mouth on his arm after the morning feeding.

Both of us are messing with each other and we have a good laugh.  Comedy in our home is like currency; it makes things happen and keeps everything fluid.

"Seriously, what does she like, think of something special that you would like to do?" I ask.
"Well, she likes Pepperoni Pizza..."
"OK, how about a Calzone with Kalamata  Olives, Garden Tomatoes and Fresh Basil?"  I offer, "a pizza that is folded over and is an individual package for the diner; kinda like a Wellington or a 'Salmon en Croute.'
"Huh...?" he queries
"Forget it, let's do this.  It's a Personal Pan Pizza that YOU made!  She'll luv ya fer-ever!"
"She doesn't like Basil..." he sheepishly offered.
"What?!" said Liam passing through the kitchen, "She doesn't like fresh basil?  You gotta DUMP this chick...that's total BULL-shit, man..."
"Liam, shut the f..." Brendan responded, stepping into his brother.
"Hey! Watch the LANG-guage!" I boomed, "Your mother and sister are right around the corner."
Once separated, the boys chuckled and Brendan and I went back on task.

We made a menu, scratched out a shopping list, funded the project and off he went to the store.  Upon return, Brendan actually started looking 'big picture.'  He asked for table linens, silverware and stemware.
He consulted with Mom and found an off-white table cloth with a smaller, scarlet cloth to diamond on top.
Napkins were sourced and I showed him how to fold a stand-up triangle like in restaurants.  Sparkling water was the beverage of choice and a few stems from my wine tasting classes were used for the table.
"I need an appetizer on the table when she gets here," he concluded, then proceeded to create a cheese, bread and sliced apple/pear platter on a piece of his great-grandmother's Desert Rose china.

Nice touch and again, forward thinking to have an attractive dish at the ready when Her Highness arrives.
Votive candles were centered, Pandora was set on 'Sinatra' and the lights dimmed.

Brendan went back to the kitchen, assembled the Calzone, folded it gently into a half-moon, pinched the edges and brushed with an egg wash allowing it to rise for a half-hour.

"GF" arrived in leggings, Birkenstocks and a jersey; pin-straight hair pulled back at the sides in a '70s throwback style.  Funny how what was once old is new again.
She can be a bit of a 'sticky wicket' when it comes to food; her tastes run to mostly colorless choices like Pasta Alfredo, skinless chicken breast, bread, bread sticks, quesadillas.  She seemed genuinely impressed with the fruit and cheese tray Brendan had created and went to it immediately as JoJo fired the Calzone.  Mom and I sat in the living room watching TV, fielding quick service questions and listening to the evening progress.  The kids sat down and began their meal...

"So, this one is Humbolt Fog, it's a goat cheese with an ash center and rind.  The part getting somewhat translucent is getting ripe.  This guy is one of my favorites, Delice de Bourgonne.  It's a triple cream that spreads like's SO dang good!"  Our host was explaining the selection and the first course went along swimmingly with much giggling and candid chatting.
"Omygawd, did you hear what he said to Jessa-kaislyn?!  Then I told Mykailie..."

(What the hell's up with kids names these days, anyway?!  Did all these moms conceive at the Mall?
I don't get it...)

Timer went off for the Calzone and like a new Papa, Brendan beamed with pride as he pulled it out of the oven and placed it on the counter to cool.  Ooohs and Ahhhs followed.  The Caesar salad was tossed and sprinkled with freshly grated Romano Pecorino cheese.  A few turns of the pepper mill completed the dish.  The Calzone rose to double size and was enough for four people, so, Brendan cut it into fourths and plated it up.  The kids sat down.

The dining room got quiet as GF focused on her meal and BF waited for comment.
"What's this MU-sic playing?" she asked.
"Oh, it's the Sinatra selection on Pandora," he offered. "Daaaaad!  Who's this singinggggg?!" he yelled from 10 feet away.
"Perrr-yyy Co-Moooo," I echoed back from across the canyon.
"It's Perry Como," he said to his girlfriend,"he was popular in the 50s and 60s.  Kind of Crosby-crooner like.  Do you like it?"
"I guessss...," she laughed, "why do you like it?"

"It's romantic," he whispered, "and that's what I like." He leaned over, gave her a peck on the lips and they giggled again.

Mission Accomplished!


1--12" round pizza dough skin
blend---freshly diced onions, sweet peppers, ham, pepperoni, olives, feta cheese, fresh herbs and whatever else you like on a pizza
1 cup---thick tomato sauce
2 egg yolks with 2 Tbls of water mixed in a coffee cup
pastry brush


Place the uncooked dough skin on a lightly floured pizza pan and with your finger, trace a line down the center.  That is your fold line.  Place your filling on one side of the line, keeping one inch from the perimeter edge.  Brush the one inch edge with egg wash, fold the unfilled side over and pinch the edges to seal, like a pie crust.  Brush the top with the remaining egg wash for a golden color.  Place in a 350 degree oven and bake till done.  Use a spatula to raise the calzone edge to check the underside for a nice dark brown color.  We don't want a soggy bottom!  That can be irritating.
These things grow substantially, so, don't be alarmed.  Bigger is better in this case.

When you cut into it, the steam releases, everyone is drooling and it looks pretty impressive.
Nice work!

That's it, so...
Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"