Thursday, January 30, 2014

BBQ Beef and Beans in the Slow Cooker

Here's a recipe for your Super Bowl celebration. You can get it going long before the game starts so you don't need to fuss over it at all. Involves a little chopping, then you layer everything in the slow cooker and let 'er rip. Though slow cooker don't really rip. The idea is to go long and slow, transforming even tough cuts to tender goodness.

BBQ Beef and Beans in the Slow Cooker
(serves 8)

1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz. can navy beans, rinsed and drained
2 green peppers, cored, seeded and chopped into ½" pieces
2 large onions, chopped into ½" pieces
2 ½ pounds chuck roast cut into bite-size pieces
1 ½ cups BBQ sauce (here's one or bottled)
salt to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper

Pour all the beans in a slow cooker. Cover with green peppers and onions. Then put on the pieces of beef. Do not stir. Pour on ¾ cup of the BBQ sauce. Cover and cook on high for 1 ½ hours. Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 6 hours, covered. Pour on the remaining BBQ sauce, remove the cover, and cook for another hour. Season with additional salt, if needed, and black pepper. Serve over mashed potatoes or rice. You could also serve it over crunchy bread, but it's too soupy to put in a sandwich you can hold.

Adapted from 365 One-Dish Meals by Natalie Haughton, Harper & Row, 1990.

Homemade BBQ Sauce with Applejack

BBQ sauce is very easy to make. I'm not going to tell you that homemade sauce is oh, so much more healthful than the supermarket variety. However, I think it's way more tasty. Many of the bottled sauces are cloyingly sweet and they add too much smoke flavor for my taste. You can make your own and the most exotic ingredient for this one is smoke flavor. I think this recipe is really delicious, particularly on ribs (beef or pork) or dark meat chicken. Because there is a lot of sugar, brush it on near the end of cooking and then pass more warmed sauce at the table. You can also use it in an upcoming recipe for Crockpot BBQ'ed Beef and Beans.

Applejack is used to flavor this sauce as it complements the cider vinegar that gives the sauce its tang. Applejack is a brandy distilled from apple cider (French Calvados is the most esteemed of the apple brandies). Laird's, the original American applejack, has been made in Scobeyville, New Jersey since 1698. It's the oldest brandy distillery in the US, though they no longer distill in NJ. The apple brandy is now distilled in Virginia and blended in NJ. I used to live in Monmouth County, NJ and drove by the original distillery often. It's still surrounded by apple orchards that supplied the apples for a brandy that George Washington enjoyed.

Applejack BBQ Sauce
(makes about 3 cups)

1 cup applejack
1 cup ketchup
1 cup apple cider vinegar
½ medium onion, minced
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons Tabasco sauce (optional)
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon liquid smoke

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a low boil and cook until thickened, about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching at the bottom. Sauce can be used immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Adapted from Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs and Marinades by Steven Raichlen, Workman Publishing Company, 2000.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Party Food for the Big Game: Roasted Eggplant Dip

What big game? The Superbowl, of course. Which is Super Duper this year because my Denver Broncos are in it! I just had to throw that out there. :-)

This dip is made with roasted eggplants, which I consider the best way to cook an eggplant. You can roast them in the oven or on the grill. The grill results in better flavor - really brings out the smokiness, but the oven does an admirable job. Unless you want a full-on oven mess, you must remember to poke the eggplants before they go in the oven. When the steam builds up in there, it's like a ticking eggplant bomb.

This is based on a recipe for baba ghanoush, which is a rich, creamy delicious roasted eggplant dip from the Middle East. You can see a recipe for traditional baba ghanoush on my other blog, World on a Platter. This recipe doesn't use tahini, which is ground sesame seed paste. It has a very distinctive flavor, with a hint of bitterness. Some folks don't enjoy it, so, here's a more approachable roasted eggplant dip made with yogurt. It's very mild. You can jazz it up with any number of garnishes: lots of olive oil, chopped walnuts, crumbled feta cheese, or roasted pine nuts. All of these would be yummy. If you don't finish all the dip, it also makes an excellent sandwich spread paired with mild cheeses like cream cheese or American muenster.

For readers in Boulder, eggplants are really cheap right now at King Soopers (through Tuesday) and at Sprouts (through Wednesday). Good week to make eggplant dip!

Roasted Eggplant Dip
(serves 12 as a dip, 6 as a sandwich spread, costs $6.25 when eggplants are $1 each)

2 eggplants, poked a few times with a fork
2 cloves garlic
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ cup plain low fat Greek yogurt
juice of ½ a lemon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
4 - 6 sprigs fresh mint, minced (about 2 Tablespoons)
2 Tablespoons fragrant extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the oven to 400°F. Place the eggplants on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for 40-60 minutes, turning every 20 minutes. The eggplant needs to get very soft, so don't worry about overcooking it. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.

Smash the garlic on a cutting board and then sprinkle it with ¼ teaspoon coarse salt. Using the flat side of your knife, mush the salt into the garlic. You want to place the blade parallel to the board and drag the sharp side of the blade through the garlic. In the beginning, you won't seem to get anywhere with this, but keep mushing until the garlic and salt have formed a smooth paste. This takes a little practice, but it's a great technique for getting a smooth garlic paste.

Cut the stem ends off each eggplant and peel off the skin. Drop the flesh into a food processor with a steel blade. Process until smooth. Add the garlic paste, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, yogurt, lemon juice, black pepper, and cumin. Process again to mix well. Mix in the mint. Taste for seasoning - you may want to add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice. Turn out into a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil and any others garnishes (see article for some suggestions). Serve with crackers or pita bread pieces.

Adapted from 100 Great Lite Bites by Silvana Franco, Sterling Publishing,

Friday, January 24, 2014

Beef and Onion Stir Fry

Here's a stir fry that proves that you don't have to use Asian flavors to make a stir fry. Stir fry is a technique. Though usually associated with Chinese cuisine, who says it always has to include garlic-ginger-soy sauce in the ingredient list?

I didn't feel like Asian but I had thinly sliced beef and leeks. Huh, that sounds kind of French. OK, let's see how this turns out. Not bad!

I used eye of round that was sliced in the supermarket. Eye of round is It's not really expensive nor really cheap. The recipe only uses half a pound, so the total price stays moderate. But, you get some good beefy flavor. I added shelled soybeans (now available in the frozen food case in many supermarkets) to make up for the small portion of beef. You can use frozen green peas, which are definitely more French than soybeans. Also not French is the thickener. I use a cornstarch slurry.

Leeks can hide a lot of sand in their layers. The best way to clean them is to cut off the root end, cut off the long dark green leaves, then slice them lengthwise, and put them in a bowl of cold water. After a few minutes of soaking, swish them around a bit and rub out any dirt hiding between the layers. Then you are ready to slice them.

Beef and Onion Stir Fry
(serves 4, costs $5.50)

2 medium leeks, white and light green parts, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ cups shelled soybeans, thawed if frozen
½ pound eye of round, sliced thinly and cut into 1" wide strips
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch for sprinkling on beef
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tablespoon cold water
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
1 cup low sodium beef broth
minced chives or minced parsley, for garnish

Heat up 1 Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add leeks and onions. Stir-fry until onions are soft and brown on the edges. Stir often to keep them from burning. Add soybeans and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper and remove to a bowl. Sprinkle beef with salt, pepper, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Wipe out the wok, and add remaining oil. Heat until smoking hot. Add beef and stir fry until browned, only takes a couple of minutes. Remove beef, leaving behind the oil, to bowl with onions. Pour off most of the oil from the wok. Return the wok to medium-high heat. Add beef broth and crushed thyme. Stir to loosen any bits sticking to the bottom of the wok. Add back onions, soybeans, and beef. Stir in cornstarch/water slurry and cook until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper - if using regular beef broth, taste it first. You may not need any salt. Serve with rice or noodles and garnish with fresh chives or parsley, if desired.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back from a visit to summer: Travels in Chile

The amazing produce at Valdivia's River Market. It's berry season!
Been gone a while. I traveled to Chile for 3 weeks to visit family and see some of the spectacular scenery there. A beautiful country, with fantastic seafood, produce, and wine.

Chilean Tortillas. Nothing like Mexican tortillas. They are flat biscuits.
And a nutrition crisis just like the US. Obesity, and many of the chronic diseases that go along with it, is a huge problem in Chile. After eating there for 3 weeks, I can see why. Every family member we met had an enormous sweet tooth. We were served cake (amazing home-made tortes but dessert just the same), even at breakfast. Soda is everywhere. You can not find much in the way of whole grains. The national bread is a biscuit (called a tortilla) and Chile ranks #2 in the world in bread consumption, nearly all of it pure white.
One of the few whole grain breads we saw, baked by my husband's cousin who supplies them to gourmet shops in Valdivia. It's a delicious sourdough loaf and definitely the exception, not the rule.
Is Chile doing something about this? Yes! Unlike the US, where we have weak nutrition labeling laws (most of them are voluntary and subject to the whims of corporate PR), Chile has instituted red-green-blue labels so that a consumer can quickly see if a product exceeds standards for sugar, salt, and fat. You can read about it on Marion Nestle's Food Politics blog.

That's one big slice of cake. Made with manjar (Chile's version of dulce de leche*), real whipped cream, and berries. We shared it and still didn't finish it.
I don't expect to see anything like this in the US any time soon. So, it's up to each of us to understand what's good for our bodies and what isn't. I'm not some purist. Believe me, I ate cake in Chile (see above) but I accept that this is a treat, not something I should eat everyday. Or for breakfast!

*Dulce de leche or manjar is sweetened condensed milk that has been boiled down until it is the consistency of caramel. It is extremely sweet and extremely delicious.