Monday, November 23, 2015

Iowa Loose Meat Sandwiches

Recently, I decided to make Iowa Loose Meat Sandwiches for my family.  I found the recipe in one of my most recent cookbook purchases, Cook's Country Eats Local.  The recipe seemed unbelievably simple. Ground meat, onion, mustard, water, salt and pepper.  Yet, the cookbook authors guaranteed a lot of taste.  

In Iowa, the loose meat sandwiches are known as "Maid-Rite" sandwiches, named after the chain of restaurants, that has been proudly serving the sandwiches since 1926.  I've never set foot in a Maid Rite restaurant, so I have nothing to compare the Cook's Country recipe to an authentic loose meat sandwich.  Nevertheless, the Cooks Country recipe boasted about being a simplified version of what seemed like a fairly simple sandwich.  Given my hectic schedule at work and home, simple seemed like a very good selling point.

To be sure, the recipe took very little time to make.  All of the ingredients go into the pan and you cook until the meat is done.  It took about 5 minutes, plus another couple of minutes to "prepare" the buns.  I prepared the sandwiches as directed and then served them.

The end result was as advertised: the sandwiches were very tasty.  The cooking of onions and mustard with the meat provide additional flavors just beyond beef.  Everyone enjoyed these sandwiches and, given the simplicity of the recipe, this is a good dish for people who have very little time to cook ... or make their way to Iowa to buy one.

Recipe from Cook's Country Eats Local, pg. 175
Serves 4

1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon yellow mustard, plus extra for serving
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
4 hamburger buns
Sliced pickles

1.  Cook the meat.   Combine beef, water, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper in a 10 inch skillet.  Bring to simmer over medium heat, breaking up meat with a spoon.  Reduce heat to medium low to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently until meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Stir in onion, cover, and remove from heat, keep warm while preparing buns.

2.  Finish the dish.  Spread extra mustard on buns, then using slotted spoon, mound beef mixture on top.  Cap with pickles and bun tops.  Serve.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Ginger, Cardamom and Honey

If one were collecting cardinal rules of cooking, my suggestion would be that "cardamom makes just about everything better."  Not butter.  Not bacon.  But cardamom.  Any type of cardamom: black, green or Madagascar.  If anyone were to question this cardinal rule, then my response would be to direct him or her to this recipe: Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Ginger, Cardamom and Honey.

Before this recipe, I did not like sweet potatoes.  If given the option between regular fries and sweet potato fries, I would choose the former over the latter.  If my only option was sweet potato fries, I would grimace and look for the nearest bottle of hot sauce to mask the taste of the sweet potatoes.  If presented with the choice of mashed sweet potatoes, that would a choice I would avoid.  The bottom line: I would rather have an empty space on my plate.  

All of that changed with this one recipe.  We had a couple of large sweet potatoes, which were given to us as part of our CSA share.  The sweet potatoes sat on our counter, and in our refrigerator, for a while as I pondered what I would do with them.  Eventually, I had to confront them and prepare them in some manner.  I once again went to the Internet to find some recipe that would intrigue me.  It did not take long before a recipe caught my eye.  The eye-catching feature of this recipe was the word "cardamom."  

I am no stranger to cardamom.  There are over a dozen recipes on this blog that feature the spice, but I used the spice to cook dishes with ingredients that I loved to eat.  The problem with using cardamom is its price.  It is very expensive, second only to saffron.  The price is worth it, because the warm, pungent aromas of the cardamom pod and the unique flavors that it contributes to the dish are without measure.

This recipe marks the first time that I used cardamom to prepare a dish with an ingredient that, as I mentioned above, I did not like to eat.   Now, I love sweet potatoes ... at least with cardamom.

Recipe from Chowhound
Serves 4

2 pounds of sweet potatoes
8 ounces of russet potatoes
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons of honey
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  Prepare the steamer.  Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Set a steamer basket inside and set to low so the water is simmering.

2.  Prepare the potatoes.  Peel and cut the sweet potatoes and russet potatoes into large dice.  Place them into a steamer and cover with a tight lid.   Steam until fork tender, about 20 minutes.    Meanwhile, place the remaining measured ingredients into a small saucepan over low heat, season with pepper and stir until the butter and honey have melted. Remove from heat and set aside.

3.  Finish the dish.  When the potatoes are ready, transfer them to a large bowl and drizzle with the butter mixture.  Mash with a potato masher until you get the desired consistency.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  


Monday, November 9, 2015

South Carolina Shrimp Burgers

Almost any protein can be made into a burger.  Beef may reign supreme, but lamb and turkey have made their inroads. However, some of the best burgers are those made with fish.  In the past, I have prepare dishes such as Salmon Burgers and Rockfish Burgers, both of which were paired with variations of guacamole.  I actually prefer those types of burgers over a beef burger (but not a lamb burger).  

Given the myriad of possibilities when it comes to proteins and burgers, I am always on the lookout for something new and different.  A few months back, my beautiful wife, Clare, and I -- along with our kids -- went to the Library of Congress' book festival  At that festival, I picked up the Cook's Country Eats Local.  It was a great purchase, because the book has all sorts of interesting recipes from around the country, including one for South Carolina Shrimp Burgers.

The connection between South Carolina and shrimp is an obvious one, especially for a food lover such as myself.  There is a long history of shrimping in the low country, with generation after generation plying the waters catching one of the three types of shrimp that thrive in the area.  Each type corresponds to a color.  There is the brown shrimp or Farfantepenaeus Aztecus.  There is the white shrimp or Litopenaues Setiferus.  And there is the pink shrimp or Litopenaue Duorarum.  Three types of shrimp, that all basically taste the same. 

The true difference in shrimp comes from using fresh shrimp and frozen shrimp.  Unless you live in the low country, or by a body of water where shrimpers ply their trade, you are most likely eating frozen shrimp.  This is even true if you buy them at the seafood counter of your local grocery store. (The shrimp arrive at the store frozen, but the store's seafood staff takes care of that whole defrosting thing.)  While fresh shrimp are definitely the best, you can use frozen shrimp provided that those shrimp did not have to travel half of the globe to make it to your local supermarket.  In other words, look for shrimp that is as "local" as you can get.  If you are in a city such as Charleston, South Carolina, or Chicago, Illinois, you are better off if your shrimp is from the United States, as opposed to Thailand or Ecuador.  While it may cost more to buy shrimp harvested in the United States, you are at least supporting local fishermen and shrimpers, which is a good thing.  

The authors of the Cook's Country book also recommend that you should use "untreated shrimp," that is, shrimp that does not have added sodium or preservatives, such as sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP).  This would pretty much rule out most, if not all, of the shrimp that you find in the freezer section of your grocery store.  Once the freezer section declared off limits, you are left with the seafood counter, where you can buy some seemingly-fresh-but-previously-frozen shrimp for this burger recipe. You will not regret it.

In the end, this is a great recipe. I have already made these shrimp burgers for family and friends.  The recipe is quickly becoming a family favorite, which ensures it will be made again and again.  Too bad we don't live closer to the shore where we could get our shrimp right off of the boat.  

Recipe from Cook's Country Eats Local, pages 114-115
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the burgers):
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
1 1/4 pounds of large shrimp (26/30 count),
     peeled, deveined, and tails removed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 scallions, chopped fine
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
4 hamburger buns
4 leaves Bibb lettuce

Ingredients (for the tartar sauce):
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickles
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1.  Make the tartar sauce.   Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

2.  Begin making the burgers. Pulse the panko crumbs until finely ground, about 15 pulses, transfer to a shallow dish.  Place one-third of shrimp (1 cup), mayonnaise, pepper, salt, and cayenne in the now-empty and pulse until shrimp are finely chopped, about 8 pulses.  Add remaining two-third of shrimp (2 cups) to shrimp mixture in processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, about 4 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Transfer shrimp mixture to a bowl and stir in the scallions. 

3.  Make the patties.  Divide shrimp mixture into four 3/4 inch thick patties (about 1/2 cup each).  Working with 1 patty at a time, dredge both sides of batties in panko, pressing lightly to adhere, and transfer to plate. 

4.  Cook the burgers.  Heat oil in 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Place patties in skillet and cook until golden brown on first side, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Carefully flip  and continue to cook until the shrimo registers 140 to 145 degrees and second side is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes longer.  Transfer burgers to paper towel-lined plate and let drain, about 30 seconds each side.  Spread tartar sauce on bun bottoms, then place burgers on top.  Cover with lettuce and bun tops.  Serve.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Mushroom, Garlic & Sage

Ever since we joined a local community supported agriculture program, or CSA, I have been challenged by a variety of vegetables that I never cooked with before.  I previously posted my challenge with acorn squash, which resulted in a very delicious soup.  Ever since that time, I have decided to challenge myself with the other vegetables that come with each shipment.

We had other squash in our shipment, including a spaghetti squash.  The concept of spaghetti + squash seemed a little ridiculous.  Pasta comes from flour, water and eggs, like my most favorite dishes, Maccheroni alla Chitarra and Paglia e Fieno.  Pasta does not come from something associated with gourds and pumpkins.  Needless to say, I have always been skeptical of spaghetti squash.  The skepticism kept me from cooking with the ingredient.  Why cook with a spaghetti squash when I could make or have real spaghetti. 

I have to admit that kind of thinking creates limitations, which, in turn, inhibit creativity.  So I set aside my skepticism and sought out a recipe that I could use to make spaghetti squash.  I found a recipe on a blog called Feasting at Home that incorporated some traditional Italian flavors, such as garlic, sage and mushrooms.  With that recipe, I set out to make my first dish using spaghetti squash.

The recipe was definitely a good entry into cooking with this squash.  If there was any issue with the recipe, it was the cooking times.  The recipe calls for cooking the squash 40 to 50 minutes.  I would definitely go with the 50 minutes, to ensure the whole squash is cooked.  

This recipe is categorized as a side dish, but add a few meatballs and you can have a main course.  I just made some simple turkey meatballs because my beautiful wife, Clare, loves turkey.  

Recipe by Feasting at Home
Serves 2

1 small spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
12-16 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
4-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Generous pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup grated cheese (pecorino or parmesan)
Drizzle truffle oil, optional

1.  Prepare the spaghetti squash.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut the spaghetti squash in half (either way) and place open side down on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake 40 to 50 minutes.

2.  Saute the onion, mushroom, garlic and sage.  While the squash is baking, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Saute the onions until just tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add mushrooms, turn heat to medium and saute until they begin to release their liquid, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Add garlic and sage and continue cooking until mushrooms brown, about 4 minutes.  Season generously with salt, pepper and nutmeg. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Check squash by piercing with the tip of a sharp knife to see if it is done.  When tender, take out of the oven, turn over and let it cool slightly until cook enough to handle.  Then scoop out seeds and scoop out the spaghetti squash into the saute pan with the mushrooms and stir to incorporate.  Taste for salt and add more if necessary.  Stir in most of the grated cheese, saving some for garnish.  Place in serving bowl, top with the remaining cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil. 


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Acorn Squash Soup

Recently, we joined a community supported agriculture program, also known as a CSA.  We get a box of fruit and vegetables every week.   This box presents a lot of challenges for me, given that my cooking tends to be more meat-centric than vegetable centric.  Therefore, I am using this CSA as a cooking challenge for me -- a CSA challenge -- to make dishes based on the fruits and vegetables that we get each week in our box.

Given the time of year, the box contains a lot of winter vegetables, such as potatoes, squash, and yams.  Over the past couple of weeks, the box has contained acorn squash.  That is one ingredient that, until recently, I had never prepared before. 

As I always do, I looked for a recipe.  I am quite familiar with butternut squash soup, because Clare has made that before and it was very tasty.  So, a soup seemed like a good start.  I reviewed a handful of acorn squash recipes before I came across one from Mario Batali.  The most appealing thing about this recipe is its simplicity.  A handful of ingredients, boiled together, blended together.  The result is a creamy, earthy soup with a lot of flavor from the nutmeg and a little kick from some crushed red pepper.

Not only have I not cooked with acorn squash, I don't believe that I had ever tasted it before.  However, I think I can say that I am very impressed with the taste of this soup.  Given how easy it is to make, and the availability of acorn squash during this time of year, I have a feeling that we will be eating a lot more of this soup over the coming weeks and months.

Recipe by Mario Batali
Serves 6

2 acorn squash (peeled, seeded and cut into large cubes)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced
Chile flakes, to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups of water
Chives, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Creme Fraiche 

1.  Saute the squash, onions and carrots.  In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat, add about 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the squash, onions, carrots, chile flakes, nutmeg and season with a generous pinch of salt.  Cook for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and have broken down a bit and are soft. 

2.  Continue cooking.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer.  Add the water and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 15 to 20 minutes more.  

3.  Blend the soup.  Use a hand blender to blend the soup until smooth and creamy.  Adjust the seasoning.  

4.  Finish the dish.  Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil, a dollop of Creme Fraiche, and a sprinkle of chives.