Beef Jerky - Three-Way(s)

Teriyaki Beef Jerky

I must admit, I do not like beef jerky.  It's too....well....beefy.  I'm not a big meat-eater anyway but to eat something that is pure 100% meat turns me off.  However, my husband and son absolutely love beef jerky.  Not to mention their friends, our neighbors, our family...

I decided to learn how to make the men in my life their special (gag) treat.  And I must admit, it was the most tolerable beef jerky I'd ever had.  I realize this isn't a very good way to promote my recipes for Beef Jerky, but I need to be honest about my own tastes.

These three recipes are for spicy, teriyaki, and peppered beef jerky.  If you make lovey-dovey eyes at your butcher, s/he might just slice the beef for you so you don't have to bother.

If you haven't run for the hills yet, I present to you the three best recipes for beef jerky you will ever eat.

Peppered Beef Jerky

Peppered Beef Jerky

3-1/2 T. worcestershire sauce
3-1/2 T. soy sauce
1 t. brown sugar
1/2 t. (rounded) onion powder
1/2 t. (rounded) garlic powder
1/2 t. cayenne
1/2 T. freshly ground pepper
One 1-lb. beef top sirloin steak, trimmed, very thinly sliced with the grain
1/2 to 1 T. freshly ground pepper

Mix first 7 ingredients in a gallon zip-top bag.  Add beef to marinade.  Add enough water to cover the beef and mix around to coat steak pieces.  Marinate in refrigerator 18-24 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 225*.  Set rack inside large rimmed baking sheet.  Spray rack with cooking spray.  Place steak in single layer on rack.  Sprinkle remaining 1/2 - 1 tablespoon of ground pepper on both sides of beef.  Bake until dried but still pliable, 2-1/2 - 3-1/2 hours.  Cool. 

Spicy Beef Jerky

Spicy Beef Jerky

One 1-lb. beef top sirloin steak, trimmed, thinly sliced with the grain
2-1/2 T. minced canned chipotle chilies in adobo
2 t. sea salt
1 t. onion powder
1 t. garlic powder

Mix together all ingredients except beef.  Add beef and stir to coat.  Cover and chill at least 18 hours, or up to 24, stirring occasionally.

Pre-heat oven to 225*.  Set rack inside large rimmed baking sheet.  Spray rack with cooking spray.  Place steak in single layer on rack.  Bake until dried but still pliable, 2-1/2 - 3-1/2 hours.  Cool.

Spicy Beef Jerky adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

Teriyaki Beef Jerky
(photo at top of page)

1 T. brown sugar
1-1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
2/3 c. bottled teriyaki 
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. water
1 T. honey
1 t. soy sauce
1 t. liquid smoke
One 1-lb. beef top sirloin steak, trimmed, thinly sliced with the grain

Mix together all ingredients except beef in gallon zip-top bag.  Add beef and mix to coat.  Chill at least 18 hours, or up to 24, stirring occasionally.

Pre-heat oven to 225*.  Set rack inside large rimmed baking sheet.  Spray rack with cooking spray.  Place steak in single layer on rack.  Bake until dried but still pliable, 2-1/2 - 3-1/2 hours.  Cool.


Banana Bread

What to do with all those brown-speckled bananas sitting on the counter top?  Why, make Banana Bread of course.  Now, before you start groaning, hear me out.  How many of us have made banana bread that comes out heavy, dense, with very little banana flavor?  I know I'm guilty of it.  I usually slather the dry bread with butter to mask the blandness of it.

This banana bread is so moist and tender, there's no need for butter.  The banana flavor is throughout the bread and it has a sugary, crisp crust that is incredibly delicious.  And it makes a gorgeous loaf as well.  The secret to great banana flavor all over this bread?  Two things - using the banana juice as a flavor syrup instead of watering the loaf down, and placing banana slices on top of the loaf, which caramelize and intensify in taste after a stint in the oven.

So throw out your old recipe for Banana Brick and try this one.  You won't be disappointed.

Banana Bread

1-3/4 c. (8-3/4 oz.) flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. table salt
6 large ripe bananas (even black ones)
1 stick butter, melted
2 eggs
3/4 c. (5-1/4 oz.) packed light brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 t. sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position.  Pre-heat oven to 350*.  Spray 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch loaf pan.  You may also use a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Place 5 peeled whole bananas in a large microwave-safe bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and poke several steam vents with a knife.  Microwave until bananas are soft and have released some juice, about 5 minutes.  Place bananas in a strainer set over a bowl and let drain, about 15 minutes, stirring every so often.

Meanwhile, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together.

Pour banana juice into a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes.  In a large bowl, mash together the bananas and reduced liquid with a potato masher.  Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Add flour mixture to banana mixture and stir until just combined.  Fold in walnuts, if using.  Scrape batter into loaf pan.

Slice remaining banana diagonally into 1/4-inch slices.  Shingle slices on either side of the loaf, making sure to leave the center open.  Sprinkle granulated sugar over loaf evenly.

Bake 55-75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  If using a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness after 45-50 minutes.

Cool in loaf pan on wire rack 15 minutes.

Remove loaf from pan and cool on wire rack.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated recipe for Ultimate Banana Bread.


Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

It should be easy to successfully hard cook eggs, but so many of us find it difficult. Sometimes the yolks are overcooked and chalky, noted by the sulfurous green tinge on the outside.  Other times the yolk is undercooked and oozes.  On a good day, we can peel the shell without gouging and maiming the cooked white.  Here is a fail-safe method to perfect hard boiled eggs, just in time for Easter.

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Place eggs in the bottom of a saucepan.  Cover eggs with one inch of cold water. Place saucepan on burner set to high, uncovered.  Bring to a boil, being careful to watch so the eggs don't jostle and crack.  Immediately remove from heat, cover pan with lid and allow to sit for 10-12 minutes.  I cook mine for 12 minutes because I prefer my yolks fully cooked through.  If you cook them for 10 minutes, the yolks will be more orange-y and softer.

After the time is up, immediately plunge the drained eggs into an ice water bath and allow to chill for 5-10 minutes.

After chilling in the ice water, either crack and peel or refrigerate.


Soupe à l'Oignon - French Onion Soup

We have a teenager from Paris visiting us for twelve days.  We met their family many years ago and have remained friends since.  Their daughter, Justine, is 13-years old and amazingly beautiful and intelligent.  She and our son, who is also 13, get along famously.

Justine's equally gorgeous and brilliant mom sent along some incredible gifts for me, including a French cookbook and these adorable cocottes made by le Creuset. Justine and I wanted to make a recipe from the cookbook and use these cute ramekins.  We decided upon Soupe à l'Onion, or French Onion Soup.

Photo by Justine

Justine loves to cook but usually doesn't have time to do it at home.  She also has an interest in photography so several of these photographs are hers (as noted).

Photo by Justine

The best part (besides eating it) was the fact that we were so starved that I'm pretty sure our stomachs had begun to eat themselves.  And to make a proper French Onion Soup, one must cook the onions a long time.  A very long time.  As in 2 + hours. Meanwhile, we smelled the intoxicating aroma eminating from the kitchen as we sat on the deck in the sunshine, reading our books and tapping our feet impatiently.

I know, I know.  Every American bistro's menu has French Onion soup on it.  And chances are it's loaded with rubbery, gag-inducing cheese, soggy sandwich bread, and a handful of still-crunchy onions swimming in a sea of beef water.  Ewwww.

Photo by Justine

I can assure you, this will be the best French Onion Soup you've ever had.  The soup is flavorful and deeply onion-y.  The nutty, cheesy melted Gruyère lends a salty tone.  The crusty bread will soak up all that rich broth.  And the onion topper on the crostini adds a nice crunch and another onion flavor source.

Photo by Justine

This version goes lighter on the cheese, cooks the onions forever until well caramelized, and under no circumstances can the chef use anything but the best bread you can buy.

I adapted this recipe slightly from the one in the cookbook.  Instead of using water and the overly salty and oftentimes bitter bullion cubes we have available to us in the states, I used low-sodium beef broth.  We also cooked the onions much longer than stated in the original recipe.

Photo by Justine

Soupe à l'Onion - French Onion Soup
4 servings

5 very large yellow onions
2 small yellow onions
6 T. butter, divided
4 c. low-sodium beef broth
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
2-3 bay leaves
2 t. salt
1 baguette (best you can find)
3-1/2 oz. Gruyère cheese, shredded fine
Salt (preferably fleur de sel) for garnish

Peel and thinly slice the large onions.  Melt 4 T. butter in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add the sliced onions and stir to coat.  Don't be worried if the onions fill the entire Dutch oven.  Place lid on top and cook, tossing occasionally, until softened.  This process may take an hour or more.

Once you see that the onions are well softened, remove the lid and continue to cook, tossing occasionally.  If you see there is too much liquid in the bottom of the pot, carefully spoon it out and reserve.  Continue to cook until onions are deep golden brown in color, a total of 2 hours or more.

Pre-heat oven to 400*.

Add any reserved onion juices, the beef stock, thyme (entire sprigs), bay leaves, and 2 t. salt and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the smaller onions.  Slice the ends off.  Slice 1/2" thick slices, keeping rings all together.  Melt remaining 2 T. butter in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion slabs and cook until starting to caramelize, flipping carefully with a spatula.

Ladle soup into ramekins or individual bowls, avoiding the bay leaves and thyme stalks.

Slice baguette on bias (diagonally crosswise).  Float baguette slices on top of soup. Sprinkle with grated cheese.  Bake until the cheese is melted and bread is toasted. Serve with onion tops perched on toasts.

Bon appétit!

Photo by Justine

Photo by Justine

Justine - isn't she très belle!


Shredded Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos

So you've made Puerco Pibil and have lots of leftover shredded pork goodness. What to do with all that meat?  I make tacos and they're damn good, if I do say so. They're so good, in fact, that I can't decide if I prefer the traditional way of eating it with white rice, diced tomatoes, and fresh cilantro or piled in toasted corn tortillas topped with other bold flavors.  I've got an idea!  Why don't you, friends, try both methods of consumption and let me know which you prefer?

There's not much of a need for a "recipe" I suppose.  You can use anything you want to stuff your tortilla.  We usually crumble Queso Fresco on top.  Notice there's no lettuce in these tacos - but some crunchy shredded cabbage would be delicious.

Shredded Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos
Serves 4

12 corn tortillas
2-3 c. shredded pork (from Puerco Pibil)
2 avacados, peeled & diced
2 roma tomatoes, diced
8 oz. aged sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (or Queso Fresco)
handful fresh cilantro leaves
lime wedges for serving
hot sauce, for serving

Pre-heat broiler.  Heat the pork in a saucepan over medium-low heat, covered. Meanwhile, place the tortillas in a single layer on a sheet pan.  Broil tortillas, flipping each one as the top side toasts to a speckled light brown.  Alternatively, you can toast your corn tortillas over a gas burner, flipping with tongs.  When the tortillas are done toasting, immediately bend them into a taco shape.  Depending on how "toasty" you like your tortillas, they set up and harden fairly quickly.

Fill your shells with the pork and remaining ingredients as desired.  Eat tacos and you lick your fingers and sip your beer.


Seedlings - Lights, Camera, Problem!

I inherited a light fixture for my seedlings and I am thrilled about it.  My husband is equally thrilled because we now have our dining room table back.  However, my seedlings were not so thrilled about their new environment.

We moved the seed trays to the basement last Saturday so the light fixture could hang from a joist easily, as the basement is unfinished.

By Monday morning, I noticed a change in the happiness level of some of my babies. They were feeling little blue (well, purple) from losing their old home.  They were pouting (not growing), too.  Most of the tomato plants and all of the marigolds now had purple coloring on their leaves. The underside leaves and stems of the 'maters were now a not-so lovely shade of violet.

As for the marigolds, the tops of the marigold leaves were now tinged purple.

I've never experienced this deep, dark, purple issue and I was worried.  All this hard work down the drain??  No!  After researching quite a bit online and at my local organic gardening and hydroponics store, I've come to the conclusion that my poor baby plants suffered from a phosphorus deficiency due to cold soil.  As you know, I've been feeding them at every watering with Smart Tea so I doubted it was a lack of nutrients.  I learned that if the soil temps fall (as my chilly 55* basement provides), the phosphorus is unavailable to the delicate root system.

I purchased two seedling heat mats (one that fits 4 trays and one that fits 2 trays) for about $130.

On Saturday, one week after moving them to the basement, we padded the floor with some foam puzzle pieces and hooked the seed mats up.  The heating mats raise the soil temperature to 10-20* above the ambient temp.  And they're waterproof so you can go ahead and quench your babies' thirst without fearing electrocution.

It's currently about 28 hours later and I think (or is it just my hopeful wishing?!) that the purple tint has lessened.  I will continue to monitor this situation closely and report back.

Could it be something else?  Sun-scorch?  If you have experienced this problem, I'd love to hear from you.


Puerco Pibil - Johnny Depp Killed For This!

Puerco Pibil, also known as Cochinita Pibil, is a slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatan Peninsula.  Typically the marinade is heavy on acid, flavored with achiote (ground annatto seeds), and the pork is slow-roasted in banana leaves.  The Hubs and I have been making this for years, ever since we saw Once Upon a Time in Mexico.  In the movie, Johnny Depp's character orders Puerco Pibil everywhere he goes and murders any cook who makes it too well "in order to maintain balance." The movie's director, Robert Rodriguez, gives a little how-to as a bonus feature.

I had a bit of an adventure in the making of this recipe for the blog.  First of all, the market where I usually buy my achiote doesn't carry it anymore, as I found after two long trips to two of their locations.  The second location, however, had annatto seeds.  I figured I could just grind them up and have a better, fresher achiote, right?

I don't have a spice grinder so I plopped two bags of annatto seeds in my food processor with a smug grin on my face.  I'm so smart - I can grind my own and have killer fresh achiote.  Take that!

The food processor sounded like a dying moped and after several minutes of grinding, there was about 3 pinches of powder.  Apparently, annatto seeds are harder than diamonds and you need an industrial sized mac-daddy grinder to do any damage.  Oh, and did I mention how the small amount of powder I did get stained everything in sight?  I had to soak, scrape, soak, scrape my food processor bowl all damn day long.

That takes us to the following day.  I google mapped "international market", which turned out to be a teeny tiny store with grocery items from Uzbekistan and such places.  (I purchased preserved walnuts...)

No achiote there...

I headed to my last resort market and lo and behold! They had achiote and lots of other yummy Hispanic foods and ingredients.  I picked up a bag of Masa Harina and a chuck of sweet potato candy while I was at it.

The below recipe is one The Hubs and I adapted from Rodriguez's recipe.  We don't use banana leaves anymore because I'm too lazy.  The slow-cooker is the way to go.

Let me re-cap:  If you make your Puerco Pibil well enough Johnny Depp might shoot you, don't eat preserved walnuts straight from the jar, and whatever you do, buy achiote, the ground version of annatto seeds.

Do NOT buy whole annatto seeds (as pictured).  Buy achiote (scroll up for pic).

Puerco Pibil

6 jalapeños, or 2-3 habaneros, chopped (with or without seeds)
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
3 T. Achiote (ground annatto seeds)
2 T. cumin
1 T. black pepper
1/2 t. allspice
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 c. orange juice
1/2 c. white vinegar
4 T. kosher salt, or 2 T. table salt
Juice of 5 limes
generous splash tequila
5 lb. pork butt, shoulder, or picnic roast (boneless or bone-in), trimmed of big fat cap/pockets

To serve:
Hot cooked white rice
Diced fresh tomatoes
Chopped fresh cilantro

In bowl of food processor, blend the jalapeño peppers with the garlic until minced. Add the remaining ingredients (except pork) and process until well combined.

Place meat in slow-cooker insert.  Pour marinade over pork.  You have two options now.  You can refrigerate the meat in the insert overnight or start cooking right away.

Cook on low 9-11 hours until pork falls apart.

Serve over white rice, topped with diced tomatoes and fresh cilantro.  Tapatio (hot sauce) recommended.

Recipe for a delicious way to eat the leftover Puerco Pibil coming soon...


Seedlings - Update and Supplement

I realize it's been a while since I've posted about gardening.  Honestly, there's not been much gardening going on lately, thanks to my good friend Mother Nature.  I have also acquired a set of lights on loan for my babies (thank you kindly, C.!!).  My darling husband doesn't know this yet, but he will be helping me assemble a device to hang said lights over the trays of seedlings.  I will post photos of new lights and hanger once established.

Seeds sown 2.13.11
Photo taken 3.30.11

These are slow-growing little buggers, but man-oh-man do they look gorgeous once out in the hot sunshine and allowed to grow to their full potential.

Purple Rain
Seeds sown 2.18.11
Photo taken 3.30.11

Seeds sown 2.18.11
Photo taken 3.30.11

Cherokee Purple Heirloom
Seeds sown 3.4.11
Photo taken 3.30.11

Seeds sown 3.4.11
Photo taken 3.30.11

Smart Tea
This is the organic plant "fertilizer" I'm using. For the seedlings, I mix 4 teaspoons in 2 gallons of warm water.  It is 100% organic, derived from natural bacteria and fungi, plants from earth and sea, and other wholesome things.  I purchased this 1 quart bottle at my local hydroponics and organic garden center for $16.99.

What are you growing?


Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I suppose I really am on a childhood favorites kick.  My grandma used to bake me a carrot cake whenever I asked.  I was not into the typical yellow sheet cake with chemical frosting for my birthday, either.  I wanted carrot cake.  I found my grandmother's recipe and it is actually quite similar to this recipe for Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.  However, I wanted something a bit more simple and easy so this recipe is it.

I found this recipe in an old issue of Cook's Illustrated.  While the cake bakes, it fills the house with all the warm smells - cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  And the cream cheese frosting is to die for.  It's creamy and not too heavy atop the moist cake.  If you have a food processor, it will make your life easier, especially while making this cake.  I'll include both food processor and stand mixer methods below.  Because I'm a warm spice freak-show, I always add more of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  I also made 1-1/2 times the frosting, but found it to be too much, even for me.  The original frosting recipe is below.  I prefer my carrot cake sans nuts or raisins but the instructions are below if you're so inclined.  Instead of baking the cake in two cake pans, you bake it in a 9 x 13 pan.

Oh, and did I mention how delicious the batter is?  Yes, indeed.  Spicy and buttery and sweet.  I could have eaten the whole cake raw, but then what would I do with the frosting?

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

2-1/2 c. flour (12-1/2 oz.)
1-1/4 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1-1/4 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg (freshly ground, please!)
1/8 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. table salt
1 lb. carrots (6-7), peeled
1-1/2 c. sugar (10-1/2 oz.)
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar (3-1/2 oz.)
4 eggs
1-1/2 c. vegetable oil
1-1/2 c. toasted chopped nuts (optional)
1 c. raisins (optional)

8 oz. cream cheese, softened 
5 T. butter, softened
1 T. sour cream
1/2 t. vanilla
1-1/4 c. powdered sugar (4-1/2 oz.)

Pre-heat oven to 350* and adjust oven rack to middle position.  Spray 9 x 13 baking dish and line bottom with parchment paper, also sprayed.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in large bowl.

Food Processor Method:  In a food processor fitted with shredding disk, shred carrots and add to flour mixture in bowl.  Wipe out food processor and fit with blade. Process both sugars and eggs until frothy and combined, 20 seconds.  With machine running, add oil through feed feed tube in stream.  Mix until light in color and well combined, 20 seconds longer.  Scrape into bowl with carrots and flour.  Now would be the time to add the nuts and/or raisins if you're using them.  Fold all that goodness together until no streaks of flour remain. 

Mixer Method:  Shred carrots using large holes on a box grater.  Add to flour mixture in bowl.  Using the paddle attachment on a standing mixer, beat both sugars and eggs on medium-high until well mixed, 45 seconds.  Reduce speed to medium.  Add oil in stream, then increase speed to high and mix until light in color and well mixed, 45-60 seconds more.  Scrape into bowl with carrots and flour mixture.  If you're all about nuts and raisins, all those now.  Fold all together until no flour streaks remain.  
Pour into dish and bake until toothpick comes out clean, 35-40 minutes, or 45-55 minutes if you added both nuts and raisins.  Cool in pan on wire rack until room temp, about 2 hours.

Food Processor Method:  When cake is cool, process cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla until combined.  Add powdered sugar and process until smooth, 10 seconds.

Mixer Method:  When cake is cool, using whisk attachment, mix cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla at medium-high speed about 30 seconds.  Add powdered sugar and process until smooth, 1 minute.

Now you have two choices.  You can either run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn out onto serving platter, removing the bottom parchment in the process, then frost.  OR, you can frost the cake right there in the dish.  Either way, this carrot cake is simple and delicious.

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated recipe