January 23, 2015

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Dear friends,

A mutual love of British TV dramas has turned into a standing Saturday night dinner-and-TV date with my good friend, Dorena. Via Netflix we whipped through five seasons of “Doc Martin” last year before moving on to a smart and sumptuous jazz-era Australian series, “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”

We dine Japanese-style at my low, oversized coffee table covered with a cloth. We use cloth napkins and silver. We have prepared and scarfed down cheese soufflés, Cornish pasties, savory clafoutis, gourmet tamales, steamed mussels with garlic mayonnaise and much more. If some of these dishes sound familiar, it’s because I use the get-togethers as a testing session for recipes for this newsletter.

A couple of weeks ago, when the snow was deep and the temperature bone-chilling, Dorena toted a kettle of hearty beef stew to my house. I made a salad and she warmed up a boule of sourdough bread. The stew was outstanding, with chunks of fork-tender beef, carrots, redskins, mushrooms and sweet potatoes in a soulful, winey broth. It would have been at home in any county kitchen in France. The key, Dorena said, was the malbec wine that provided the backbone.

Because the recipe existed only in Dorena’s head, we made it together the following week, measuring and jotting down ingredient amounts and cooking times. The only thing I’d change is adding the vegetables at the beginning of the oven time because Dorena’s method of first simmering the meat until tender added an hour to the cooking time. But it’s her recipe, so I offer it as she created it.

Sadly, we watched the last installment of the Miss Fisher series Saturday and have no clue what to watch next. Any ideas? On the other hand, I doubt we’ll ever run out of ideas for dinner.
DORENA’S BEEF STEW

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•    2 1/4 lbs. beef chuck roast, trimmed, in 1-inch cubes
•    Salt, pepper
•    1/2 cup flour
•    1/2 tsp. Bell’s Seasoning
•    1/2 tsp. garlic powder
•    1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
•    3 tbsp. or more vegetable oil
•    1 1/2 cup malbec or other hearty red wine
•    2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
•    4 cloves garlic
•    1 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend (or substitute herbs de Provence)
•    1/8 tsp. powdered rosemary
•    1/2 tsp. dried savory
•    3 bay leaves
•    1/2 tsp. thyme
•    2 cups baby carrots in bite-size pieces
•    1/2 to 3/4 lbs. redskin potatoes, cubed
•    2 ribs celery, sliced
•    2 cups chopped onion
•    1/2 lb. mushrooms, chunked
•    2 cans (10 1/2 oz. each) condensed beef consommé
•    2 soup cans water
•    1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
•    3 tbsp. flour stirred into 1/2 cup water (optional)
Season beef cubes with salt and pepper. Combine flour, Bell’s, garlic powder and paprika in a zipper-lock plastic bag. Add meat and shake. Heat oil in a large, wide kettle over medium-high heat.  Adding more oil as necessary, brown beef  cubes on all sides in batches and remove from pan.

Pour half the wine into the pan and stir, scraping up browned bits from bottom. Return beef to pan. Add remaining wine, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, Mural of flavor, rosemary, savory, bay leaves and thyme. Season generously with salt. Cover and place in a preheated, 375-degree oven for 1 hour, until meat is almost tender.

Remove from oven and add remaining ingredients except sweet potato. Return to oven for 45 minutes. Add sweet potato and continue cooking until vegetables are tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Taste and add more salt if needed. Thicken if desired by stirring flour into water until smooth, then pouring into stew and simmering on the stove top. Makes 8 servings.

HELP U COOK

Anyone who cooks with the same wine they drink either drinks rotgut or has money to burn.  A third possibility is that these folks have read somewhere that the best wine to drink with a dish is the one used IN the dish. Well, yes, in a world where Macons and Chambertins flow like tap water. But that isn’t the world we live in, so let’s be realistic. I’ll always pour better wine at the table than I use in the kitchen. How foolish to pour a $50 wine – or even a $20 wine – into a pan and simmer it with meat and herbs.

So here’s the rule: Don’t cook with any wine you wouldn’t drink. That doesn’t mean you WILL drink it, just that it tastes OK enough to slip down your gullet. Are there wines so cloying, so acidic, so pallid or so weird-tasting that you shudder when you taste them? Don’t cook with them. It’s that simple.

It also helps the wine pairing if you cook with the same style of wine you will be drinking. Pour an inexpensive but drinkable domestic pinot noir into the stew and trade up to a suave pinot noir or imported Burgundy for drinking.

THE MAILBOX

From Cindy Weiss:
Memories of Bangkok Gourmet flooded back when I read your blog today. It was my introduction to Thai cuisine, too. You mentioned having a number of Sue’s recipes…by any chance is Drunken Chicken one of them? It was my favorite dish there, and I would love to replicate it. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Dear Cindy: I loved drunken chicken, too, with its wide noodles and almost-too-fiery flavor. It burned my mouth but was so good I couldn’t stop eating. I don’t have Bangkok owner Sue Fogle’s recipe, but I did find one in the lauded Thai cookbook, “Cracking the Coconut” by Su-Mei Yu. A lengthy recipe for homemade Thai chili paste is given with the recipe, but you may use purchased Thai chili paste for ease.  When you make the recipe, substitute soy sauce for half the fish sauce to make the dish more appealing to American palates, as Sue did.

According to the cookbook, the popular Thai dish was named “Drunken” because “The chili paste is so hot and spicy that it will either cure a hangover or make you drink so much alcohol that you will end up getting drunk and need more to cure your hangover.”
DRUNKEN STIR-FRIED BEEF (or chicken)
•    3 tbsp. vegetable oil
•    1/3 cup (about 5 tbsp.) Thai chili paste
•    2 tbsp. dry sherry or white wine, plus more if needed
•    1 lb. boneless lean beef (or chicken breasts), thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
•    2 cups green beans, parboiled in salted water for 1 minute and thinly julienned on the diagonal
•    2 tbsp. fish sauce
•    10 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and when it shimmers, stir in chili paste and cook, stirring, for 20 to 30 seconds or until aromatic.

When the oil turns red from the chili paste, add sherry. Add the beef or chicken and stir fry until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add more sherry if the skillet seems too dry. Add green beans, mixing well, then the fish sauce. Add noodles if desired (see note) and stir-fry until beans are softened but still crispy and noodles are tender. Remove from heat, stir in the mint leaves and transfer to a serving platter. Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: To make drunken noodles as served at Bangkok Gourmet, soak 1/2 lb. wide rice noodles in very hot water for 10 minutes. Add to dish after fish sauce and fold and stir until noodles are tender.
From Jan S.:
Happy New Year! Just wanted to let you know that I made your Pennsylvania Pot Roast last weekend and it was a BIG hit! I tweaked it a bit with some garlic and didn’t use the sour cream, but a small amount of tomato paste (like 1/3 of a can) to thicken it. I also added a bit of thyme to it. I served it with Texmati brown rice and pan-fried brussels sprouts. DELICIOUS!!! And we did eat the pickles! Thanks for the recipe.

Also, I have a few questions. If I were to add a tablespoon of margarine to melted chocolate, would it ruin it because of the water in it?  Also, do you always use butter when making or baking desserts? Even if the margarine box says:  Good/best for baking?  I have had a few recipes that just didn’t turn out quite like they usually do, and have determined that maybe I need to use butter instead of margarine.  Let me know your thoughts, please.

Dear Jan: Some margarines contain water and some don’t. The amount of water can vary from brand to brand. I wouldn’t melt chocolate with margarine that contains water because of the possibility the chocolate would seize and become grainy. After reading your email I melted some chocolate in a cup in the microwave, added a lump of water-containing margarine and zapped it again. The chocolate did become slightly grainy. When I stirred in a bit of peanut butter, it smoothed right out. So if you do screw up, a bit of water-free fat may rescue your grainy chocolate.

My recommendation is to use either butter (my preference) or margarine made without water in baked goods.

I’m glad you liked the pot roast recipe. With all the changes you made, though, I’d say you created a brand-new recipe you can call your own. Go ahead and brag.

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