Category Archives: Meat

Noche Buena!

Feliz Noche Buena!

You can take the girl out of Miami, but you can’t take the Miami out of the girl.

Even though I now reside ‘across the pond’, in the lands of my ancestry, my cultural heritage is more than a little Cuban. One of the traditions I picked up that I still love is Noche Buena – the Cuban Christmas Eve, which is filled with friends, great music, dancing, and some of the best food you’ll ever taste.

The typical British Christmas dinner involves a turkey, which for me of course is Thanksgiving food. So I like to do the Noche Buena, then join friends for their Christmas Day meal and avoid a second round of turkey leftovers (though I have been known to make a lovely Drambuie soaked roast beef – I’ll do that one for New Years this year). Instead, my leftovers will be lechon (roast pork marinaded in mojo), moros y cristianos (black beans & rice), yuca con mojo (boiled cassava root topped with a garlicky sauce) tostones (fried green plantains), maduros (fried sweet plantains). Que rica!

So, as my little Christmas treat, I decided to put all these recipes here, which I’ve gathered from various sources, mostly of the friend (or friend’s old Cuban Abuela) variety. And this Cuban feast isn’t just for the holidays, but can be made at ANY time of the year. Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: I don’t measure. I’ll give rough ideas for things though!

Essentials: lots of garlic, lots of onions, cumin, orange juice, lime, olive oil salt & pepper. Everything uses some variation on this.

Mojo: What the heck is this? Well it is the essential Cuban marinade. You can buy it bottled if you are in the right part of the country, but homemade is best. There are various recipes on the net, but it is basically made from naranja agria, or sour orange (if you don’t have this available in your neck of the woods, you can made it by combining orange juice with a bit of lime juice). Mix this with lots of garlic (chopped or pressed), olive oil, chopped onion, oregano, and cumin. Why not make a whole bottle of it and store it in the fridge? For these recipes, though, I tend to mix it up for each thing I make, as needed.

Now, on to the recipes…

LECHON

Ok, the first important thing to know is that a REAL Christmas lechon is made by digging a pit in the back yard and slow roasting a whole suckling pig. And yes, it is amazing. However, not entirely necessary for a huge gathering. And the alternative is REALLY easy.

You want:

  • A fatty cut or pork for roasting – butt is recommended (and then you can snicker), but I usually find shoulder is more often available.
  • Stuff for mojo.
  • More onions.

Cook it:

Marinade that pork at least overnight in mojo. I tend to stab the pork all over (it falls apart when it cooks, so you don’t have to worry about it being pretty – plus it’s good for letting out Christmas frustration!), then rub it down with pressed garlic and olive oil, cumin, oregano (you can make a paste of this if you want, but I just go for it), salt & pepper. If you have a Adobo spice available at your local store, you can use this too, but I like fresh! Then, put it in a large ziplock bag, and add your juice. Now, this is where I personally mix up my recipe a bit – instead of the naranja agria, I use some kind of tropical juice, like orange & mango, or a blend that includes pineapple. Always Tropicana! Be generous with your marinade, you want to have plenty left for roasting too. Marinate for at least 12 hours, but the longer the better!

Lechon marinaded and ready for the oven.

When you are ready to roast (more on how long in a sec), coat your pan in a little olive oil, and layer sliced onions all over the bottom. Lay your lechon on top of that, all spread out. Pour the remaining marinade all over, sprinkle the fat cap with some more salt (important for making chicharrones later!), then cover with aluminium foil, with a tight seal.

I’m going to quote a friend for roasting instructions here: ‘Low and slow until you can’t stand to smell it and not be eating it.’ The idea is that this becomes so tender it just falls apart (which is why you want to make sure there is some extra marinade in the pan). You can broil it for about 10 minutes at the end so the top get crispy – chicharrones baby! No one ever said this was a heart healthy dish… but then again, you’ve got the wonderfully healthy black beans to go with it!

Lechon! Fat cap removed and pulled apart into the marinade. It was awesome.

Moros y Cristianos

Yes, that does in fact mean Moors & Christians. Black beans, white rice, get it? It’s all about the multi-cultural love, baby.

So, if that lechon was easy, the Moros (as we can say for short) is even easier. Especially with a crock pot! You want:

  • Bag of black beans
  • onions
  • green peppers
  • honey(!)
  • bacon (optional)
  • cumin, salt, pepper, garlic.. you get the drill

The night before, soak your beans in twice the water it takes to cover them. I throw in half an onion and half a pepper too. Now, some say to discard the water and add fresh to start cooking, but as I’ve already rinsed my beans and picked out the stones (oops, I forgot to say, do that first), I see no need. In fact, I’ve been known to turn on the pot low from the start and just go to sleep. But because we’ll be eating late, I soaked, then turned the pot on early this morning. Then left them alone. For hours.

Peppers and onions smells so good in olive oil and garlic!

So, here’s how you finish them. First, once they’ve softened up, I add salt, pepper, cumin and… the secret ingredient… about a tablespoon of honey to the pot. Then just keep em cooking over low. Can you overcook them? Sorta… but soupy beans are yummy. About an hour or so before you want to eat, sautee the following in a couple tablespoons of olive oil: a chopped onion, a chopped green pepper, about 4-6 cloves of chopped garlic, and some cumin. You can also include bacon or pancetta here, but I’ve found it is just as good without, and makes this a bit healthier AND vegetarian for your more high maintenance friends. Add that sautee to the pot, let it simmer for a while. Later, season to taste.

Black beans simmering.

Cook some long grain white rice. I’m going to tell you how, because I’ve seen more people boil and strain rice like pasta, and it makes me mental. No matter what anyone (or any box) tells you, ever, here is how to make rice. 2 cups water, boil, add 1 cup rice. Or 3 cups water, 1.5 cups rice. ALWAYS 2:1. Boil the water, add the rice, cover, turn heat to lowest setting, and WALK AWAY and do not lift the lid for 20 minutes. That’s the basics. Now, you can do things like add some butter or olive oil, or spice, or substitute half the water for stock or white wine. You also want to be aware of your stove (for instance my burners stay so hot I need to turn mine OFF rather than low). But that’s the basics on how to cook rice. You’re welcome.

Serve up a scoop of rice, and drown it in some beans. YUM! Leftovers? Put your beans and rice in skillet and cook ’em together! Yes, you can even add lechon! DOUBLE YUM! Also, you can add your raw rice to your beans at the cooking stage, but that’s a bit crazy for beginners, so try it the separate way first.

Yuca con mojo

Cassava root is ugly. It is a long, brown, waxy thing that look inedible. But when you peel it, it reveals a lovely white flesh, which you chop into large chunks and boil like a potato (just boil until soft when tested with a fork). In fact, that’s kind of what it tastes like – a starchier, stringy potato. Some don’t like it because of the stringy bits (which is found at the centre, but you can remove the larger ones, it isn’t as bad as it sounds). But here is what makes Yucca REALLY yum: the mojo, of course!

Cassava. Not pretty.

Now I make mine a little differently for this: I slice an onion (half then slice so you get half rings), and simmer it in about a cup or so of olive oil (yes, that’s right, a cup or so! maybe even 2 cups!) with garlic, a LITTLE cumin, and some lime juice. You are basically making a hot, tangy infused olive oil. Simmer til the onions are soft, and try not to burn the garlic.

Mojo for yucca

When this is done, put your strained yucca in a bowl, use tongs to top with the onions, then spoon a lot of that olive oil over the top, but don’t DROWN the yucca in oil. Reserve the oil that is left, you’ll use it!

Tostones y Maduros

Plantains are like big, hard bananas, but do NOT eat them raw. They are starchy and yuck. Also unlike bananas, they are best cooked unripe (green) and overripe (black). The yellow is just an inbetween stage.

Tostones

Green plantains are for tostones, crispy savory fried plantains. Peel the plantain by trimming each end then gutting a long slice down the skin. These are tougher to peel than bananas. Once you’ve peeled, then cut them into about 1.5 inch chunks. Heat some canola oil in a pot or pan, you want about 3 inches or so. Fry each piece til it is just turning golden on each side, turned if the oil doesn’t cover it. Remove with a slotted spoon to a dish with paper towel to soak up the oil.

Let them cool (remove the oil from heat and set aside). Once they have cooled enough for you to handle them, you want to smash them into disks. There are special devices you can buy for this, and if you live in Miami you might have one. But it is just as easy to do with a mallet (place them on a cutting board and cover with cling film), or I simply place it on the board and press with a bottom of a cereal bowl. They will be soft inside now from the cooking. This part can be done in advance.

First fry of plantains. I didn't get a picture of the finished ones as we ate them too fast.

You want to serve these hot, so finish them right before you want to eat (they can accompany the meal, but I like them as a starter). You are now going to fry the smashed discs again til they are golden. Drain on a plate (fresh towel!) and salt them. When they are all fried, transfer them to a dish and top with some of that leftover garlic oil from the yucca, and squeeze some lime over them. DIVINE.

Maduros

These are sweet, and make a great side dish for your lechon y moros. Instead of slicing these plantains in straight chunks (you’ll notice they are more ripe, too), slice them at an angle so you get nice, long, thin pieces. Shallow fry these in some FRESH vegetable oil, 2 or 3 minutes per side til the get tinged in dark but not burnt. Some recipes will tell you to coat them in sugar first, but they are sweet enough on their own I think!

There you have it, your Cuban feast! Flan makes an excellent desert, btw. But I think we’ll be too full for that!

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Filed under Cuban, Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Long but worth it!, Meat, Mediterranean, Spanish, Winter

Pork braised with soy sauce and spices

A few years ago I started venturing on beyond stir-fries in my explorations into Chinese cooking. Along the way I discovered the wonderful world of red-cooking, a Chinese braising technique in which soy sauce is a significant component of the braising liquid. Used most often on pork, it turns the outside of the meat a lovely reddish color, and imparts that wonderful soy-sauce savoriness to the whole dish.

This recipe is a simplified version of the red-cooking technique that I adapted from a number of sources. It’s totally dead-easy, but it does take a long time to let the meat do the full low-and-slow braise to get properly tender. This of course makes this dish a great candidate for crock pot cookery (only dropping the bit about taking off the lid and turning the meat every now and then, since crock pots don’t like that). But even if you do it in a conventional cooking pot it requires minimal intervention.

You can do this recipe with any number of pork braising cuts–it’s especially glorious with fresh pork belly. Here I used a bone-in pork shoulder blade roast, with some of the skin layer intact. If you really dislike the skin, get a skinless cut or remove the skin. But I invite you to give the skin-on version a chance–the Chinese consider the jelly-soft braised skin a particular delicacy, and I don’t blame ’em.

Ingredients:

  • Approx. 4 lb. pork braising cut (shoulder, Boston butt, fresh ham, belly pork, etc.), preferably with a modest layer of fat plus skin
  • 1/4 cup Chinese soy sauce (Pearl River Bridge is a good brand)
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 3 or 4 chunks Chinese yellow rock sugar candy, or 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 quarter-sized slice fresh ginger root, or 1 tsp. dried ground ginger
  • 1 or 2 star anise pods (optional)
  • 1 small dried red chile (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place the meat in a heavy thick-bottomed braising pot with a well-fitting lid, that holds the meat comfortably but without a lot of excess room. Pour or sprinkle remaining ingredients over meat; add about 2 cups water, or enough to come just barely halfway up around the meat. Turn the meat over a few times to get it bathed in the liquid on all sides.
  2. Bring the pot just up to a boil on the range-top, then back it off to the lowest simmer you can manage–the liquid should just be burbling gently, not actually bubbling. Put the lid on and let it simmer for a good couple of hours, until the meat is very tender but not falling apart. Occasionally check the pot to make sure the simmer is staying at the right level, and to turn the roast so all sides get their turn in the cooking liquid. Be gentle when turning the meat, especially as it gets tender and more breakable–tongs and a wide-blade spatula help a lot. (Alternatively, you can do the braise in an ovenproof lidded casserole in a pre-heated 350F oven.)
  3. When the meat is done, remove it to a platter to rest before carving. Strain the cooking liquid; either spoon off the fat on top, or put it in the fridge overnight so you can remove the congealed fat more easily.
  4. Slice the meat across the grain, and in such a way that each slice has a bit of the skin on top. Serve with white rice, with a bit of the cooking liquid spooned over the meat and the rice.

Variation: You can add chunked braising vegetables to the pot for the last 30 to 60 minutes of cooking. I especially like carrots, turnips, and/or daikon braised this way.

Servings: 6 to 8 if the main dish; a lot more if part of a multi-course Asian dinner.

–posted by Denny Kozlov

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Filed under Asian, Chinese, Difficulty - Dishwasher Easy, Dinner, Long but worth it!, Meat

Chicken Almondine

I came from a foodie family (as I imagine many others here did as well). They were (and are) all great cooks, but it was my grandfather who taught me to be a gourmet. I remember sitting in his lap and practicing my reading with a Betty Crocker Cookbook. No, not the height of gourmet, but there was this chart in the front that helped you with what herbs and spices went with what foods.  We made it a game. He would ask ‘Rosemary?’, and I would respond, ‘Lamb, chicken, potatoes…’, you get the idea. I guess it is like learning a language fun… it really sticks in that sponge-like youthful brain!

He first taught me to make scrambled eggs, which although simple, is all about technique. I’ll likely post that one some day.  But today I’m sharing my favourite meal, and a family recipe, which I began helping with when I was around 5 years old, when Poppop let me ‘bam the chicken’. Like the eggs, it is a simple recipe, but all about technique.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breast (boneless & skinless, at least one per person, but you’ll want leftovers!)
  • Flour seasoned with salt, pepper, herbs de provence
  • An onion, chopped
  • A couple cloves of  garlic, chopped
  • Sliced almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • White wine
  • Wedge of lemon

Take the chicken breast and ‘bam’ it – use a mallet to pound it fairly thin, about a quarter of an inch, then cut each piece into 2 or 3 smaller pieces. Dredge your pieces in the flour mixture (a few at a time is easiest, when you are ready to cook it). Heat enough butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat, so that it will make a thin layer over the bottom (tip: using both is not only healthier than using just butter, but also olive oil stops butter from browning/burning too quickly). When your butter is melted and bubbling, add the chicken to the skillet and cook a few minutes on each side, until starting to brown.

When browned, remove your chicken to a plate, add a little more olive oil and the onions & garlic. Cook for a few minutes, then add the almonds. Cook both until the onions are cooked and clear, and your almonds start to toast. Return the chicken to the skillet, then pour some white wine (not too much, but enough so it sizzles and steams) and squeeze the lemon over the top. Cover and turn your heat to low or off, and let simmer/steam for a few minutes.

I like to serve this with a grain dish. In my hometown of Miami, we would sometimes serve it with Vigo yellow rice to make life easy. But with no access to Vigo – and wanting a bit of a nicer alternative, I’ll sometimes make some saffron rice to go with it  (add one cup basmati rice to 2 cups boiling water, add saffron, cover, remove from heat until infused, about 20 minutes). Tonight I decided to make more of that couscous I had with my lamb, cause it was so good. It is a perfect accompaniment, especially when mixed up with the toasty almonds!

This is wonderfully paired with a fruity white wine, or a rosé, which is happily back in fashion and what my family loved to drink.

Bon appétit!

Rowan

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Filed under Chicken, French, Grains, Meat, Wine

Yes, even YOU can make haggis


As we prepare to celebrate Robert Burns in the Steamlands of Second Life™ on January 22, 2011 (as noted in my personal blog), I wanted to share with you both a traditional Scottish haggis recipe as well as a modern haggis recipe in the event that you would enjoy celebrating the Bard of Scotland in your own real life home.  Perhaps you have always wanted to try haggis, but were put-off by the sheep organs that must be used as part of the traditional recipe.

It is a shame that the “Great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race” should be regarded (by some) with such a mixture of horror and humor. The vision of sheep’s stomachs and other intestines seems to send people running the other direction, but it has long been a traditional way of using up parts of the animal which otherwise might go to waste. Made properly, it is a tasty, wholesome dish, with every chef creating his or her own recipe to get the flavor and texture that suits them. Personally, I like a haggis which is spicy from pepper and herbs, with a lingering flavor on the palate after it has been consumed.

Finding a butcher who can supply sheep’s heart, lungs and liver may not be easy although nowadays beef bung (intestine) is often used instead of sheep’s stomach.

Enjoy!

Traditional Scottish Haggis

Ingredients:

  • Set of sheep’s heart, lungs and liver (cleaned by a butcher)
  • One beef bung
  • 3 cups finely chopped suet
  • One cup medium ground oatmeal
  • Two medium onions, finely chopped
  • One cup beef stock
  • One teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • One teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon mace

Method:

Trim off any excess fat and sinew from the sheep’s intestine and, if present, discard the windpipe. Place in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or possibly longer to ensure that they are all tender. Drain and cool.

Some chefs toast the oatmeal in an oven until it is thoroughly dried out (but not browned or burnt!)

Finely chop the meat and combine in a large bowl with the suet, oatmeal, finely chopped onions, beef stock, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mace. Make sure the ingredients are mixed well. Stuff the meat and spices mixture into the beef bung which should be over half full. Then press out the air and tie the open ends tightly with string. Make sure that you leave room for the mixture to expand or else it may burst while cooking. If it looks as though it may do that, prick with a sharp needle to reduce the pressure.

Place in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and immediately reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for three hours. Avoid boiling vigorously to avoid bursting the skin.

Serve hot (and removed from casing) with “champit tatties and bashit neeps” (mashed/creamed potato and turnip). Some people like to pour a little whisky over their haggis – Drambuie is even better! Don’t go overboard on this or you’ll make the haggis cold.

Modern Haggis

*I located this recipe online at Suite101.  It seems quite a nice version of the traditional entree.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. liver (almost any kind)
  • 3 onions
  • 1/4 lb beef suet
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • Grains of Cayenne Pepper or Drops of Tabasco Sauce
  • 2 cups stock or broth

Instructions:

  1. Cook 2 pounds of liver with peeled onions for about 20 minutes
  2. Put the liver and onion through a chopper
  3. Chop suet
  4. Put oatmeal into a heavy frying pan and stir over fire until lightly toasted
  5. Add chopped liver, onions and suet
  6. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper
  7. Add few grains of cayenne pepper or couple of drops of Tabasco as desired
  8. Moisten with liquid in which liver and onions were cooked
  9. Put into a large heat-proof buttered bowl, filling a little more than half full
  10. Cover with greased paper, waxed paper or buttered aluminum foil
  11. Tie or press down foil securely
  12. Steam for about two hours or cook in pressure cooker under 15 pounds pressure for about 30 minutes

Serves eight. Takes between 90 minutes to three hours to prepare and cook depending upon method of cooking.

Source (Modern Haggis)

A Cook’s Tour of the Bayou Country, Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana (Southwest Deanery) including Trinity Episcopal Church in Morgan City, Louisiana. The cookbook includes Creole, Cajun, Southern, Wild Game and other regional food in addition to occasional international selections such as Haggis and Hungarian Goulash reflecting the diversity of the Gulf Coast.

Enjoy,

Eva

Editor’s Note: I’ve been living in Scotland going on 5 years, and I’m here to tell you that haggis is DELICIOUS. If you enjoy any kind of sausage, you’ve no business thumbing your nose at it – the meat (offal) in it is the same as your favourite salami! It is seasoned with pepper and barley, and cooked traditionally in the lining of a sheep’s stomach (again, a step above the intestine that most sausage is cooked in), but more often today you find them plastic casing. Either way, they are steamed, and the meat is scooped out and served on your plate – the casing is not consumed. So GET OVER IT and tuck in to some haggis!! – Rowan

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Filed under Beef, Dinner, Grains, Lamb, Meat, Scottish