June 3rd, 2011

If It Quacks Like a Duck…It’s Not a Steak

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Okay, that’s a Mallard, but Super Sister-in-Law Chef Sandy will be talking to us about the MAILLARD reaction today. Very different things.

Close. But not really.

Here’s what she has to share with us about creating exquisite flavor for your steaks with what is known as the Maillard reaction. Man, it’s nice to have smart people in the family . . .

What is the Maillard reaction?  Does it have anything to do with ducks?

What makes a steak mouthwateringly delicious?

Read on . . .

From Wikipedia: “The Maillard reaction (French pronunciation: meh-YAR) is a form of nonenzymatic browning similar to carmelization. It results from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducting sugar, usually requiring heat. Vitally important in the preparation or presentation of many types of food, it is named after chemist Louis-Camille Maillard.”

What this means in layman’s’ terms is that the combination of high heat with amino acids creates a new flavor profile.  This reaction is accelerated by an alkaline environment.

The Maillard reaction is what produces the brown-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside pretzels available in Biergartens in Germany, or from street side vendors in the Northeast US.  This reaction is what we are looking for when we brush egg wash or milk onto pastry – the browning that will occur when the product is baked adds a tremendous dimension to the finished product, in addition to adding visual appeal.  If you ever try to make pretzels or bagels at home without adding something alkaline on the outside (the recommended method is to dip the dough in a boiling baking soda bath) you will be sadly disappointed in your resulting pastry.  You will have a crunchy, pale, bloated looking pretzel or bagel instead of the shiny brown crust covering a tender soft interior product.

Alkalinity in order of weakest-strongest:

Milk – almost acid, just slightly more alkaline than water

Eggs

Salt

Baking Soda

Lye

Pretzels, in fact, used to be made in commercial settings by dipping them in a lye bath, which I would never recommend you try at home.  I have had great pretzel-making success using the baking soda bath method – dunk the shaped pretzel dough in boiling water to which 2/3 cup of baking soda has been added.  Surprisingly, the baking soda doesn’t really impart a taste to the pretzels (thank goodness!), just allows them to brown beautifully.  The recipe I use doubles up on the Maillard effect by then brushing the pretzels with egg yolk before sprinkling with pretzel salt and baking.

So what does all of this have to do with cooking a great steak?

The Maillard reaction is that amazingly brown seared crust on a fantastically prepared steak or burger.  The nuance of flavors is something that cannot be duplicated or created with any combination of seasonings; it must be cooked into the meat.  Meat is actually acidic, so it really benefits from a little help to get a Maillard reaction when cooking meat:

  • ALWAYS dry meat before cooking –use a paper towel to blot the meat dry before you even season the beef, or blot dry anything that has been marinated
  • get your pan hot
  • season the meat with kosher salt to increase your Maillard reaction
  • use a well seasoned pan to avoid the need to add a lot of oil
  • don’t crowd the pan – this will reduce the heat in the pan and prevent that elusive crust from forming
  • let the meat cook long enough to form a crust before you disturb or turn it
  • cook in a pan rather than on a grill to get the purest meat flavor and best Maillard reaction

So there you have it! Nothing to do with ducks whatsoever. Try these tips for the Maillard reaction the next time you are sizzling a beautiful steak and it will not only be gorgeous – it’ll be incredibly flavorful too!

Photo courtesy of Animal.Discovery.com.


May 19th, 2011

Great Steakhouse Quality Bread

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Super Sister-in-Law Chef Sandy is back today with a recipe and tips for making your own amazing bread (like they serve in the best steakhouses) at home.

This way, you can get the ENTIRE steakhouse experience at home!

Here’s what she has to say:

One of my criteria for any great restaurant is the quality of its bread.  Now, thanks to some genius bakers, it’s totally possible for you to make great bread at home, to go with your fantastic steaks and side dishes.  Who needs to eat out, anyways?

I use a recipe created by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoe Francois from their book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Because I live above 6000 ft, I have made a few adaptations, like reducing the yeast, and because I am a recipe-tinkerer from way back, I add a few things in for my family.  My only other secret is to use King Arthur Flours, because I am a believer in the quality of their products.  I use at least ½ King Arthur Whole Wheat flour, and add a little extra water.  Sometimes, I will add whey from the yogurt that is in my fridge as part of the liquid, if I have it.

The reason this recipe is so wonderful, besides the fact that it is tasty, is that it truly is easier than any other bread recipe I have ever tried.  I get more consistent results from this recipe than I ever got from my bread maker, plus I have a gorgeous, crusty, delicious loaf of bread instead of a square loaf with a hole in the bottom.

If you’re not familiar, the concept behind the “5 Minute” breads is that they are mixed and kept in the fridge, in large batches, for up to 2 weeks.  This time in the fridge develops a slight tang, makes the dough easier to work with and the moist dough makes the artisanal bread crust and moist “crumb.” The recipe makes enough dough for 4 small loaves of bread.

I used to be better about following instructions, like “use a baking stone,” but since I lost mine during the move, I just use an upside-down cookie sheet, preheated in my oven to bake this bread.  I baked this bread just recently and shared with a good friend who has a little boy who is just learning to talk – he loved this bread and called for “more dat.”  I second that motion!

Although the Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is great, here is my version of the bread, made with ½ whole wheat flour:

3½ cups lukewarm water

1½ Tbsp granulated yeast

1½ Tbsp kosher salt

3 cups King Arthur Bread Flour

3 cups King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour

½ cup wheat germ

(Note – for high altitude, I reduce the amount of yeast to 1 Tbsp.)

In a 5 or 6 quart bowl or lidded food storage container, dump in most of the water (3 cups) and add the yeast and salt. Dump in the flour all at once and stir with a long handled sturdy wooden spoon, a silicone spatula or a Danish Dough Hook.  The rest of the water should be added, as needed, depending on your climate/altitude/flour choice.  When you mix the dough, let it rest for about 5 minutes to see if it relaxed into the shape of the container – if you can’t easily mix in the flour, you will definitely need to add additional water.  This is not dough that requires a mixer to come together.

Stir it until all of the flour is incorporated into the dough.  The dough will be looser than most bread doughs you have seen – it will flatten out and take the shape of the bowl or container quickly – not cake batter thin, but looser than cookie or most bread doughs you may have worked with.  Because I work with King Arthur Flour, live in a dry climate, and use about ½ whole wheat flour, I usually end up adding about ½ to ¾ cup more liquid than the original recipe calls for.

Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for about 2 hours to rise. When you first mix the dough it will not occupy much of the container, but after the initial rise it will almost fill it.  Don’t punch it down, just cover it loosely, with plastic wrap or set the lid of the container on top of it. I use a plate on top of my large bowl to give a cover without sealing the dough in.  Set it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours for the easiest handling.

The next day when you pull the dough out of the refrigerator you will notice that it has collapsed – this is normal for this dough.  Dust the surface of the dough with a little flour, just enough to prevent it from sticking to your hands when you reach in to pull a piece out.

Cut off a 1-pound piece of dough using kitchen shears and form it into a ball.

To shape the dough, grab your mass of dough – about the size of a large grapefruit for a one-pound loaf of bread, and sort of tuck all of the ends around to the bottom of the mass of dough and stretch a “cloak” of dough around the ball.  If you are shaping the dough into rolls, now is the time to do this – for nice dinner rolls, cut the ball of dough into 6 pieces and form each of these into a neat little ball.  You may need to dust your hands with a little flour, or counter-intuitively, wet them, to get a nice shape – the quicker you move here, the easier, I promise.

If you want to add something like olives to the bread, you can either mix it into the dough (at the first mix,) or sort of roll it in, jelly roll style.  For bread to enjoy with a nice steak dinner, I’d go simple.  Leave some good quality salted butter on the counter to soften to room temp while you cook.

Place the ball of dough on a sheet of parchment paper… (or rest it on a generous layer of corn meal on top of a pizza peel.)

Let the dough rest for at least 40 minutes, or 60 or even 90 minutes.  It won’t rise much, but that is how the recipe was designed.  Longer rests will allow the center of the loaf to be less dense, with larger holes.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the center rack, with a metal broiler tray on the bottom (never use a glass vessel for this or it will shatter), which will be used to produce steam. (The tray needs to be at least 4 or 5 inches away from your stone to prevent it from cracking.)  If you don’t have a pizza stone, use a cookie sheet, upside down, on the center rack.

Slash the loaf deeply (1/2 inch or so, with scissors or a serrated knife) to prevent splitting.

Slide the loaf into the oven onto the preheated stone and add a cup of hot water to the broiler tray. Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes or until a deep brown color. As the bread bakes you should notice a nice oven spring in the dough. This is where the dough rises.

If you used parchment paper you will want to remove it after about 20-25 minutes to crisp up the bottom crust. Continue baking the loaf directly on the stone for the last 5-10 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool on a rack until it is room temperature.

If you have any leftover bread just let it sit, uncovered on the cutting board or counter with the cut side down.

Enjoy!

 

 


September 30th, 2010

Beefy Stone Soup

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It’s fall and my Super Sister-in-Law Chef Sandy is back today with a hearty, beefy, autumny favorite that any beef lover will eat up. She always knows just the right thing to make to welcome the season. Enjoy!

I made a fabulous pot roast on Friday, because the weather was frightful and was just begging for it.  It was tender and flavorful and everything you could hope for from a pot roast.  And it was large enough for leftovers, because I always like to have enough for second helpings – we all know it is just as easy to cook a 4 pound piece of meat as a 2 pound one, it just takes a little longer.  But, the question is, do we really want to eat the same thing twice?  If you ask my daughter, the answer is an emphatic “No!”  So this is where I have to get a little creative.

In this economic time of doomsday forecasts on all of the news media, it just feels right to be a little frugal in the way I run my kitchen.  One of the best ways to do this is to do a great job managing our food budget by not being wasteful.  But I still want to make mealtime delicious and enjoyable for everyone.  So I use my leftovers, a little creativity and a little bribery to make everyone happy at the dinner table.  I still shop for the best quality meats and vegetables, and we always get great bread.

Tonight we are going to have Stone Soup and salad for dinner.  Did you ever read the Grimm Brothers fable Stone Soup to your kids?  It is one that was read to me when I was probably in first or second grade, and it is a story that has stuck with me all of these years.  The idea is simple – just a little bit of this and a little bit of that and you can have a nourishing meal.

The bribery comes in with the garlic bread to eat with it, and the cookies and milk for dessert.  The soup will be vegetable soup, made with pot roast and gravy leftovers, plus some other goodies from the pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

Stone Soup, AKA

Quick and Easy Vegetable-Beef Soup

2 cups assorted vegetables, either frozen or leftover or fresh chopped

(I used 1 chopped carrot, 1 cup frozen green beans and peas, ½ cup of garbanzo beans, 1 leftover roasted potato)

½ cup spaghetti sauce, Bloody Mary mix or tomato juice

3 cups stock or water

1 cup diced leftover roast beef, plus gravy

Sauté any fresh vegetables in olive oil until they are tender, seasoning as necessary.  Add frozen vegetables, stock/water, tomato product and gravy.  The meat may be added at the very last minute, or right away, depending on your preference.  Bring the mixture to a boil, lower to simmer and cook gently for about 5 minutes until all the vegetables are just tender.

Just before serving, check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper (maybe hot sauce) as desired.  Maybe a little parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.

Great Garlic Bread

6 slices day-old Italian bread

1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and cut in half

2 TB butter

Salt (if desired)

Toast the bread until golden in the toaster.  When it comes out of the toaster, immediately rub it with the cut garlic clove.  The more you rub the clove, the stronger the flavor.  Then butter the toast and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, which will bring out the garlic flavor.  Serve immediately.

For my chocolaty-chocolate chip cookies:

One recipe traditional chocolate chip cookies (from the back of any package of chocolate chips), with the following substitutions:

In place of 2 ¼ cups flour, just use 2 cups of flour, plus ¾ cup of best quality cocoa powder.

In place of 2 cups of semi sweet chocolate chips, use only 1 cup, plus one cup each white chocolate chips and bittersweet or milk chocolate chips.

When you have formed the teaspoonfuls of cookie dough, drop them into milk chocolate sprinkles and roll them around to coat.  Then place on a cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, or until you just can slide a spatula under a done cookie.

When you remove the cookie sheet from the oven, quickly place an assortment of 5 or so of the various chips in the center of the cookie.  Allow them to melt slightly and then swirl the top of each if desired.

Or use a refrigerated roll of cookie dough, adding 1/3 to ½ cup of cocoa to the dough before shaping.  Proceed as directed above.


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About Me

Hi! My name is Dena P., and I love steak. In fact, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect steak for a few years now.

I love experimenting with food and I like to get my family, friends and neighbors involved. They add a lot to my cooking experience by helping me perfect techniques and sharing recipes.

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