An Introduction to Braising

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

For me, braising begins with ox-tail.*  Specifically, my Easy Ox-Tail Stew.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

To braise food, you need a heavy pot (with a lid), liquids, aromatics, and some cheap meat.  Why cheap?  Cheap means low quality.  I don’t want people to know that I’m cheap!  Lies.  By “cheap” I mean affordable.  Have y’all seen the prices of various cuts of beef?  It’s getting ridiculous.

Some affordable cuts include skirt steak, short ribs, brisket, and ox-tail.  These cuts are cheaper because they contain a lot of connective tissue.  As the meat is braised, the connective tissue breaks down and tenderizes the meat, making it quite flavorful. Yes, there is a bit more work needed to make the meat fork tender.  It’s worth it.  And yes, the total cooking time can seem a bit daunting.  It’s worth it.  Trust me.

The braising process is simple: sear off the meat, remove from the pan, add in the aromatics, deglaze the pan, put the meat back in the pan, add more liquids, simmer, cover, leave for 3 hours, eat.

Simple.  Easy.  Delicious.  True story.


Don't knock it til you rock it.

Easy Ox-Tail Stew

4 large ox-tail sections

1 Tbsp butter

1 large onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 15 oz can diced tomatoes

red wine

water or beef stock

salt & pepper

Get out your Dutch oven.  Heat to medium.  Toss in the butter.  Add the ox-tail.  Sear each side, making sure to achieve a crusty brownulation.  Remove the meat to a plate.  Toss the onion into the Dutch oven.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Cook til translucent.  Add in the garlic.  Cook for a minute.  Add in the red wine (I usually use a normal size glass, but you could add more or less.)  It’ll be steamy.  And smell like alcohol.  Scrape up all the crustiness on the bottom of the pan.  It’s flavor.  Add in the diced tomatoes.  Nestle the ox-tail into this mixture.  Add in the stock (or water) until the meat is nearly covered.  Bring to a low simmer.  Keep the stove heat on medium-low or low.  Do not turn it to high heat.  Put the lid on.  Let it hang out for 3 or 4 hours, until you can pull the meat from the bone with only a little pressure from a fork.  Serve one ox-tail section per person, with an equal amount of the tomato gravy.  This goes well with steamed rice or egg noodles.

*Don’t be frightened of ox-tail.  I know it looks a little strange.  Some people can get a little squeamish when they see bones in the meat.  Bones are flavor goldmines.  Also, I know it’s called ox-tail, but it’s really cow tail.  And the best part about eating ox-tail is getting to suck out the bone marrow.  I swear on my French Press.  It’s meatalicious.  If this fact grosses you out, man up.  Or just use boneless short ribs.  Those work fine here too.


Table for One?

January 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

Ah, the joys of eating alone.  I’m serious.  I enjoy eating alone.  On occasion.  And since I live alone (do cats count as people?) that occasion happens rather frequently.  Other occasions include my various international adventures, but I’ll get to those at a later date.

Lunch and dinner can be intimidating meals to eat by yourself, especially if you choose to dine at a sit down restaurant.  There’ll probably be a strange look from the hostess.  Your waiter may gaze at you with pity.  This person must not have any friends.  He/she is possibly psychotic.

Not so!

I enjoy eating alone because it gives me an opportunity to choose a meal without the influence of others, and then savor it, with only my thoughts to accompany the meal.  It allows me to really think about the texture of food, its nuances of flavor, and try to guess which herbs/spices were used.

Now, I do realize that not everyone is comfortable with eating alone.  An easy way to dip a toe into this experience is by making some breakfast.

But that’s just me in my house!  It doesn’t count.

I disagree.  By making a meal just for one, you immerse yourself in the process of creating the meal, and then it’ll make eating the meal that much more enjoyable.  If you start this process in a comfortable place, over time you’ll be more likely to take that leap of dining out alone.

Here’s the perfect breakfast to make for yourself.  It’s self-contained and simply delicious.

The breakfast of champions

Egg-in-a-Basket, plus the Best Coffee ever

1 slice of your favorite bread

1 egg


salt & pepper

Butter the bread on both sides.  Use a shot glass to cut out the center of the buttered bread.  If you don’t have a shot glass, then you must not be a college student.  Save the little cut out piece.  Put a small skillet on the stove; heat to medium.  Put the bread (and the little cutout) in the pan.  Crack the egg into the hole of the bread.  Wait for for the base of the egg white to set, and then flip.  Toast for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how runny you like the egg yolk.  I like mine saucy.  Once the egg is cooked, serve to yourself.  Add a little salt and pepper.

To go along with this eggselent breakfast, make some awesome coffee.  Get out your French Press.  Add 2 Tbsp of coarsely ground coffee.  Add 2 C nearly boiling water.  Stir.  Put on the lid.  Wait 5 minutes.  Press.  Pour into your favorite mug.  Add half & half.  I guess you could add sugar.  But coffee is meant to taste like coffee.  Not like candy.

Feel free to eat and drink as quickly or slowly as you please.  But do focus on enjoying the food, not just shoveling it down your face.

Potluck Dinner Party, part 2

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last night, y’all.  Last night.  Learned a few life lessons.  Like, stay away from moonshine, unless you enjoy losing control of your mental faculties.  For serious.  But I think alcohol deserves its own post.  I’ll get to it later.

The potluck dinner was such a good time.  Twelve people, tons of sides, and some delicious roasted meat made for a nice get-together.  I brought my “secret” slaw.  It was a hit.  Minds were blown.  True story.

But I’ve already talked about that.  This is about the other item I brought to the dinner.


Not box brownies, either.  These are the best freaking brownies ever.  They are fudgy, chocolatey, and rich, without being over poweringly sweet.  These are sultry, sexy brownies.  Make these for your lady (or for your man.)  They will thank you, and then become putty in your hands.  I’m not saying that these could be used to get a person out of trouble, but they certainly would earn you some brownie points. (That pun is totally, and gleefully, intended.)

I’ve added a few of my own touches to the recipe to sex it up a bit, but if you just want the straight up traditional version, omit the spices.  But I assure you, you want the spices.

And I know that this is a lot of steps and carefulness, but it’s so worth it.  This recipe does take time to do properly.  You can’t just throw it together in 15 minutes.  If you want to do that, go get boxed insta-brownies.  Lazy.

From SmittenKitchen and Baked

1 1/4 C AP flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp Ancho chile powder

1/2 tsp smoked hot paprika

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly ground black cardamom pods*

1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

2 Tbsp quality, dark, unsweetened cocoa powder

11 oz quality dark chocolate, chopped up a bit (I like using 70%)

2 sticks (1 C) unsalted butter, cubed**

1 tsp instant espresso powder

2 C raw sugar (the kind that’s brown, but not “brown sugar”)

5 large eggs, at room temperature

2 tsp quality vanilla extract

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Get out a 9 x 13 pan.  Grease the heck out of it.  Set it aside.

Get out a medium sized bowl, and put the flour, salt, spices, and cocoa powder in it.  Mix together well, and set aside.

Put the chocolate, butter, and espresso powder in a large heatproof (metal, glass, or Pyrex) bowl over a small saucepan that has a little simmering water in it.  Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.  You could scorch the chocolate.  And then you would ruin the brownies.  Stir the chocolateyness until it melts and becomes silky smooth.  Turn off the heat.  Add in the sugar, and mix until combined.  Take the bowl off the saucepan.  Check the temperature of the chocolate; it should be cool enough to touch, around room temperature.  Whisk in the eggs, on at a time.  It is important for the chocolate to be cooler.  If it is too hot, you will scramble the eggs in the chocolate.  It’s gross.  And it will ruin the brownies.  Add in the vanilla.  Mix in, but not too much.  If you over mix right now, the brownies will end up more cakey and less fudgy.  You can do it, if you want cakey brownies.  You weirdo.

Now you get to fold in the flour mixture.  Be gentle.  It’s ok if there’s a little streakiness to the finished product.

Pour the batter into the greased pan.  Even out the top.  Stick it in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning it around halfway through so it cooks evenly.  You don’t need to do this if you are using a convection oven, you lucky person.

Test for doneness with a toothpick.  You want a few fudgy crumbs clinging to it.  Remove from the oven.

If you can wait for the brownies to cool, wait, and then slice.  If you can’t wait, that’s fine too.  Maybe eat a warm one with some ice cream.  Do try to share.  It won’t be easy.

*I found the whole pods at Penzeys Spices.  I used Whole Black Large Indian Cardamom Pods.  I like the smokiness.  It’s lovely.  But I did have to grind them myself, using a mini food processor and mortar-&-pestle.  Pick out the fibery bits once you have a fine powder.

**Butter is easier to cut when it’s cold.  However, it’ll take forever to melt with the chocolate if it’s freezing.  So leave it out for a bit, to get closer to room temperature.  Also, it’ll melt faster if you cut it into cubes.

Potluck Dinner Party, part 1

January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tonight, friends, I am attending a potluck dinner.  Going to one of these reminds me of my childhood, specifically of my elementary education days attending a Catholic school.  There would be school fundraisers requiring various dishes be brought in, the ingredients of which would be determined by last name.  My family usually got stuck with bringing fruits or vegetables.  In the great state of Texas, that often means a casserole with tons of cheese, cream of something soup, and a crunchy topping.  Nothing remotely healthy about it.  Delicious, yes; possibility of containing actual vegetables, slim to none.  To contrast what others brought in, Mom always made a big fruit salad, filled with apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, grapes, and sometimes, canned pineapple.  She would bring fruit salad to every potluck dinner/lunch, so after a while, she brought something else, just to change it up.  Oh, the uproar.  The most notable occasion of this occurring was a family Easter potluck-buffet luncheon.

“But Jane, you always bring the fruit salad!  It’s the only healthy thing here!  I eat some just to balance out all this other heavy food!”  It’s ridiculous, I know.  Also, some people won’t eat fruit salad without Cool Whip.  Which negates most of the healthiness of the fruit salad.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So now, Mom is kind of stuck in a food rut that she can’t get out of.  She is bound to make fruit salad for all time.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but variety is the spice of life.  Is there something out there that is a decent alternative to fruit salad and the plethora of cheesy casseroles?

Yes, friends, there is.

I call it “Secret” Slaw.  I found the recipe while perusing a Real Simple magazine, and thought to myself, “Now that is a good way to be sneaky.  I’ll make it.  They’ll eat it.  Then I will blow their minds.”  This dish looks remarkably like a light coleslaw: it’s got thin strips of green stuff, a tangy dressing, and just a little crunch.  And it is delicious.  Friends, I shall tell you the secret, but you must promise not to tell your picky party goers what it is, exactly.  They would not go near it, or even try to be friends with it.

The main ingredient is Brussels’ sprouts.

Shock! Awe! Bewilderment! Disbelief!

But author, you say, those are nasty.  I have tried them and been grossed out time and time again.  Nothing can change my mind.  They are slimy.  They are weird. 

I promise that this recipe will convince you otherwise.  Just try to think of the sprouts as baby cabbages.  Little, baby-like things are cute, right?  Of course they are.  Also, quite tasty.

I changed the recipe just a tad from the Real Simple original

“Secret” Slaw

1 1/2 lb Brussels’ Sprouts

3 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp white Balsamic vinegar

1 decently sized shallot, diced

1 Tbsp poppy seeds

Salt and pepper

Thinly slice the Brussels’ sprouts, preferably in a super secret area where no one can see you.  I sliced each one in half vertically, then kind of julienned each half.  If you have a fancy food processor with a slicing blade, that’ll work too.  Also, make sure that little, hard, rooty bit at the base gets trimmed off and discarded.  Nobody likes that part.

Get out a fairly big skillet.  Add the oil to the pan, and heat to medium-high.  Toss in the diced shallot, and saute until translucent.  Add in the sliced sprouts.  Don’t be afraid of the volume.  They will shrink down.  Add in a bit of salt and pepper.  Toss with tongs (or with the pan if you’ve got the skills) for 3 to 6 minutes.  The sprouts are gonna tenderize just a little.  Once they’ve reached the desired level of tenderness, dump the whole thing into a serving dish.  Add in the vinegar and poppy seeds.  Toss some more, and serve to 8 of your unsuspecting friends.

Wait until they’ve eaten everything (and asked for seconds) to explain the secret.  Watch their minds explode.  It could get a bit messy.

I’ve only had this when it’s still warm from the pan, but I bet it could hold up as a cold dish.

My latest idea…

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

So, my friend Anne thought that I should start a food blog.  God knows I read enough of them.  Hopefully I’ll be posting recipes and some food pictures up here, but don’t expect works of genius.  Maybe post some random thoughts as well.  I’ll see how it goes.

Kick-Your-Cold Savory Pumpkin Risotto

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

I first learned how to make risotto from my college Italian professor.  She was from northern Italy, near Milan, I think.  One night, she had the whole class over to her house to learn to make risotto (and converse in Italian, duh).  When it was my turn to stir the pot, she said to me, “Only stir in one direction.  Keep stirring.”  By the time came for us to eat, my arm was about to fall off from stirring so much.  Since the events of that night, I have forgotten much of my Italian vocabulary, however, the proper way to make risotto has stuck with me through the years.

Though we made a simple butternut squash risotto that night, I have since been adding anything and everything into risotto.  Tuna, cheese, asparagus, tomatoes, peas, more cheese, wine, cream, you name it, it can probably hang out in a risotto.  That’s the best part about risotto: once you know the basics, it’s infinitely adaptable.

The inspiration for this particular risotto came from my friend Anne, who had a cold and requested a quiet lunch at home.  I brought some pumpkiny-ness over and we had a good midday meal.  After lunch Anne was feeling a good bit better, so I dubbed this risotto the cure for the common cold.  Someone can go ahead and call those Nobel folks.  I’ll be waiting.

Adapted from

Make this bit first:

1 1/4 C pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

3/4 C water

1 Tbsp Ancho chile powder

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp Chinese Five-Spice

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp Kosher salt

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp black pepper

Put the stove on medium.  Put a sauce pan on the stove.  Put all of these things in the sauce pan.  Stir to combine.  Let it bubble gloopily for a couple minutes, but keep stirring.  Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.

Now for the risotto base:

1 medium onion, diced

1 large clove garlic, diced

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 C Arborio rice

5-6 C chicken stock (or 2 C white wine + 3 C chicken stock, depending on how much you love booze)

Put the chicken stock in a small saucepan, with the heat on low.  Get out a bigger pan for the risotto.  I like to use a large skillet with tall, straight sides.  A dutch oven could work here, too.

Add the butter and olive oil to the empty pan, with the heat on medium.  Melt them together.  Add the onion and cook it until it is slightly translucent.  Add the garlic.  Stir.  Add in the Arborio rice.  Stir, making sure all the rice gets coated in the oil/butter, and until there is a white patch in the center of each grain, with the ends being translucent.  Ladle in some chicken stock.  Stir.  Stir.  Stir.  Stir.  The rice should be absorbing all of the chicken stock goodness.  Do not add all of the stock at once!  It is important to the texture of the dish that the liquid be absorbed slowly, so that the starches on the rice grains can come out and play.  Keep adding, stirring, and absorbing for about 25 minutes, til the rice is al dente.

Remember that pumpkiny-ness from earlier?  Dump it into the risotto.  Keep stirring.  Let it gloopily simmer while you stir for another few minutes, until it has reached your preferred consistency.

Turn off the heat.  Serve it to your friends.  You can even get a little crazy and put a bit of parmesean cheese on top.

This makes enough for four really hungry people or six kind of hungry people.

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