bolognese sauce comparison

(Anne Burrell’s recipe)

Have you ever had a traditional Bolognese sauce? Not just tomato sauce with ground meat mixed in, but one that involves milk and wine and hours of simmering. Just a few ingredients, but when they’re combined just right, the result is a complex, rich blend with incredible depth. Served over a bowl of creamy polenta with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a glass of good red wine on the side, there can be no more comforting, warming food.

The first Bolognese I made was Marcella Hazen’s recipe. She is to Italian food what Julia Child is to French food; certainly a trusted source. In her method, a class mirepoix (or, technically, “soffritto” in Italian) of carrots, celery and onions is lightly cooked in butter, then ground meat is added and cooked just until it loses its pink. Stir in milk and let it bubble until only its delicious fat is left in the pot, then pour over some wine and let it simmer away, and only then, finally, after an hour of slow simmering, are the tomatoes (whole, canned) added – and simmered for 3 more hours.

After all that, however, I found Hazan’s recipe to be a little too vegetably. But Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for classic Bolognese is identical except for a smaller amount of vegetables. With only a couple tablespoons each of onions, carrots, and celery, it almost seems like they’re not worth adding, but there isn’t a thing I would change about the recipe.

Bolognese sauce takes a lot of time, yes, but it isn’t a lot of work. It’s my favorite type of recipe, in that it’s undemanding, but if you do happen to be in the kitchen (and I always am) you can stir to your heart’s content. But I suppose the long simmering time intimidates people, because there are a crop of supposedly weeknight friendly Bolognese sauce recipes popping up. In general, I’m not a fan of these types of recipes, because what they save in cooking time they make up for in ingredient prep.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Bolognese)

Then I kept seeing another type of Bolognese with great reviews. This one uses only tomato paste as its source of tomato flavor. And if anything can be identified as authentic in a recipe like Bolognese, it’s the tomato paste version, with a heavier meat influence and just a hint of tomatoes.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Bolognese)

Authenticity aside, I wanted to know which was best. So I baked up three batches – my favorite version from Cooks Illustrated, their weeknight version, and Anne Burrell’s annoying (please don’t yell at me in the recipe, thank you) but well-reviewed tomato paste-based recipe.


(Anne Burrell’s recipe)

The quicker “weeknight-friendly” recipe was, as I expected, the most work, with more ingredients and dishes necessary to mimic the slow-cooked flavor of the other two recipes. However, after all that and a shorter cooking time, its flavor did nicely mimic that of the other, more tomato-rich Cooks Illustrated recipe. I don’t believe Dave could tell the difference. My only complaint was that the meat was slightly tough.

Dave had a few interesting comments about Burrell’s Bolognese. The sauce is simply a classic mirepoix, beef, wine, tomato paste, and herbs, yet Dave detected flavors of mushrooms and possibly Worchestershire sauce in it – two ingredients high in umami, the fifth basic flavor that is best described by “meaty”. In fact, mushrooms are added to CI’s quick Bolognese to increase the meaty flavor that doesn’t have time to develop through a long simmer. One thing that was obvious to both me and Dave was the unusual texture of Burrell’s sauce; to me, it seemed slightly mealy, but Dave was kinder with “fine-grained”.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Weeknight Bolognese)

Dave couldn’t choose a favorite, with his usual “different but good” response, but I’m still stuck on my classic, tomato-heavy slow-simmered method. It’s intensely rich and meaty, but it has a bright balance from the tomatoes. Burrell’s meatier sauce was delicious too, and maybe all those tomatoes aren’t quite as traditional, but, frankly, I like tomatoes. And since Bolognese – any version – is one of those dishes that improves by being made in advance and will suffer no ill effects from being frozen, I see no reason to spend extra time cooking a supposedly quicker “weeknight-friendly” version. Besides, I like watching ingredients bubble away, increasing in intensity as they decrease in volume until they settle into something delicious.

left to right: CI Classic, CI Weeknight, Anne Burrell

One year ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Two years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Classic Bolognese (from Cooks Illustrated)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

If you double this recipe – and considering how well it freezes and reheats, you should – the simmering times will need to be extended.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
¾ pound ground beef chuck
table salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, packed in juice, chopped fine, with juice reserved

1. Heat butter in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, carrot, and celery and sautè until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add ground meat and ½ teaspoon salt; crumble meat with edge of wooden spoon to break apart into tiny pieces. Cook, continuing to crumble meat, just until it loses its raw color but has not yet browned, about 3 minutes.

2. Add milk and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Add wine and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until wine evaporates, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Add tomatoes and their juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low so that sauce continues to simmer just barely, with an occasional bubble or two at the surface, until liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours. Adjust seasonings with extra salt to taste and serve. (Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several days or frozen for several months. Warm over low heat before serving.)

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Bolognese Sauce (slightly rewritten to remove all of Anne Burrell’s vulgarity)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
Kosher salt
3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
Water
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle

1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. Heat a large pan over medium heat; add a slick of oil. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, 15-20 minutes, until browned.

3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Add water to the pan until water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3½ to 4 hours. Adjust the seasoning with salt and serve immediately.

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Weeknight Bolognese (from Cooks Illustrated)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1¼ cup white wine (Riesling, gewürztraminer, white zinfandel, xx)
½ small carrot, peeled and chopped into rough 1/2-inch pieces
½ small onion, chopped into rough 1/2-inch pieces
3 ounces pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
28 ounces whole tomatoes with juice
1½ tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small garlic clove, pressed through garlic press or minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1¼ pound meatloaf mix or equal amounts 80 percent lean ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork
1½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Cover porcini mushrooms with ½ cup water in small microwave-safe bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap, cut a few steam vents with paring knife, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until mushrooms have softened, about 5 minutes. Using fork, lift porcini from liquid and transfer to second small bowl; pour soaking liquid through mesh strainer lined with paper towel. Set porcini and strained liquid aside.

2. Bring wine to simmer in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; reduce heat to low and simmer until wine is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 20 minutes. Set reduced wine aside.

3. Meanwhile, pulse carrot in food processor until broken down into rough ¼-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Add onion; pulse until vegetables are broken down to ⅛-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer vegetables to small bowl. Process softened porcini until well ground, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary. Transfer porcini to bowl with onions and carrots. Process pancetta until pieces are no larger than ¼ inch, 30 to 35 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary; transfer to small bowl. Pulse tomatoes with juice until chopped fine, 6 to 8 one-second pulses.

4. Heat butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat; when foaming subsides, add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 2 minutes. Add carrot, onion, and porcini; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and sugar; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add ground meats, breaking meat into 1- inch pieces with wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Add milk and stir to break meat into ½-inch bits; bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium, and continue to simmer, stirring to break up meat into small pieces, until most liquid has evaporated and meat begins to sizzle, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until combined, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, reserved porcini soaking liquid, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper; bring to simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced and sauce is thickened but still moist, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in reduced wine and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Weeknight Bolognese)

shredded beef tacos

The first few months when I moved out of my parents’ house and across the country were exciting and lonely and intense. I was lucky that I made some great friends right away. I remember the first time someone invited me over for dinner. I’d asked what he and his wife were serving, and I thought he said pea stew. I went, but I was so relieved when it was actually beef stew.

That meal turned into a weekly dinner tradition that lasted for as long as we all lived near each other. We took turns cooking and rarely made the same thing twice, but there was one favorite meal that was requested more than any other – tacos. My friend’s taco filling and accompaniments were good, but the real treat was the shells – freshly fried, still hot, and, frankly, a little greasy. I had never had home-fried taco shells before, and it was a revelation.

These days, tacos are still one of my favorite meals, but I can’t enjoy them as much without those fried shells. Even better is when they’re stuffed with this shredded beef. It’s marinated in vinegar, lime juice, and spices, then baked for hours until it falls into shreds. I’m thankful for those friends not just for helping me feel comfortable on my own, but for teaching me about the perfection of fried corn tortillas. Nothing else would be good enough accompany this intensely flavorful filling.

One year ago: Sandwich Rolls
Two years ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

Shredded Beef Tacos (slightly adapted from Use Real Butter who slightly adapted it from The Border Cookbook)

Jen discusses the cut of beef that is preferred for this recipe. Her recommended eye of chuck was not available, so I chose chuck steak. I have no complaints. Plus I didn’t need to slice it before marinating, which was a nice bonus.

You could always go with the classic cheddar-sour cream-lettuce combination for toppings, but I really love the queso fresco-avocado-salsa direction that Jen recommends.

6 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ tsps chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1½ pounds chuck steak
1 cup vegetable oil
24 corn tortillas
toppings: lettuce, queso fresco, salsa, guacamole, etc.

1. In a gallon-size zip-top bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt, spices and garlic. Add the meat and squish the bag around to make sure the meat is fully coated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Dump the contents of the bag into a baking dish just large enough to fit the meat in a single layer. Cover the pan with foil; bake until the meat is tender enough to shred easily, about 2 hours. Use two forks to pull the meat into shreds. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

3. Heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Slide a tortilla into the oil; use tongs to fold the tortilla in half and hold it partially open. Flip after about 1 minute. Fry for an additional minute, until the tortilla is slightly crisp. Continue with the remaining tortillas, storing the fried tortillas in the warm oven. Serve with shredded meat and desired toppings.

steak sandwiches

This is a perfect example of how I eat very differently on weekends than during the week. First, we rarely eat meat on weekdays, especially beef. I love it, but I save it for days that I splurge. Second, mayonnaise. I love it; I save it for days when I splurge. Third: alcohol. I love it. I save it.

This was originally a Sunday dinner plan, until we opted to spend several hours peeling, seeding, dicing, and storing a year’s worth of Hatch green chile on Sunday night instead. I ended up making it the next night, which made for a Monday night treat, although baking bread, caramelizing onions, mixing sauce, cooking steaks, and building sandwiches after working all day and before preparing an exam to give the next day was not such a treat.

Best saved for a weekend, perhaps, but the combination of richly browned steak, spicy horseradish, sweet onions, and tangy mayonnaise was a welcome indulgence for a Monday night. If only every weeknight could be as decadent.

One year ago: Goat Cheese, Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato Terrine
Two years ago: Lavash Crackers

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Steak Sandwiches (adapted from Ina Garten)

I forgot to buy them this time, but sautéed sliced mushrooms are so good on this sandwich too. We also added some of those freshly prepared Hatch green chiles to our sandwiches, which was a great compliment.

I can’t get good arugula at the stores here so I used shredded leaf lettuce (not recommended; spinach would have been better, or leaving the greens off entirely), and I can’t find strip steaks so decided that boneless ribeye would be a good substitute.

The alcohol mentioned above came into play because after removing the cooked steaks from the pan, I poured in some whiskey and scraped up all the browned bits left behind from the steaks. I transferred the reduced liquor to the onion mixture. (And actually, while I don’t drink alcohol on weekdays – because I need those calories for dessert – I have no rules against cooking with it.)

olive oil
2 yellow onions, halved from pole and pole and sliced ¼-inch thick
kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh (or a pinch of dry) thyme leaves
1 (12-ounce) 1-inch thick New York strip boneless beef top loin steak
freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Mustard Mayo, recipe follows
2 sandwich rolls
½ cup baby arugula

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring very frequently, until the onions just start to brown, 4-5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Stir in the thyme in the last few minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a medium not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Season the steak generously with salt and pepper; place it in the skillet. Cook without moving for 6 minutes. Flip and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes (depends on whether you want a rare or medium steak). Remove from the pan, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain.

3. Assemble the sandwiches by layering Mustard Mayo, steak, onions, and arugula onto the sliced rolls.

Mustard Mayo

I used a lot less mayonnaise and Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. I also stirred in quite a bit of horseradish.

¾ cup good mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons sour cream
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl.

whiskey compound butter

I love grilled steaks – who doesn’t? – but I do miss the fond left behind on the pan when you pan-fry steaks. Nothing beats the sauce you can make by adding some alcohol, herbs, and cream to the scraped up bits of meat left on the pan. The grilling equivalent is compound butters, and I won’t say no to those either.

I also don’t say no to whiskey – at least when it’s mixed with butter to top my steak. Between the shallots, alcohol, and herbs, this compound butter has nearly everything my favorite pan sauces do. And unlike a pan sauce, which requires some last minute frenzy, a compound butter can be made hours (days! weeks! months!) in advance. Most importantly, it’s accompanying a beautiful charcoal-grilled steak.

One year ago: Twice-Baked Potato Cups
Two years ago: Banana and Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

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Whiskey Compound Butter
(adapted from epicurious.com)

Makes enough to top 6-8 steaks

1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon whiskey or bourbon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon minced parsley
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon sea salt
black pepper to taste

Combine the shallot and whiskey; let rest for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, add the remaining ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix well. On a 12-by-8 inch square of wax paper, drop butter in spoonfuls to form a log. Roll butter in wax paper and smooth out to form a round log. Refrigerate until hard and easy to slice into round, coin-shaped pieces, at least three hours. Serve with grilled steak.

beer-marinated flank steak

Generally, I’m not a fan of making marinades. I enjoy the flavor, but something about chopping and measuring ingredients just to put them in a bag with some meat for a few hours isn’t satisfying for me. I like the part of cooking that involves heat, when things get soft or crisp, turn golden brown, intensify in flavor. I like the part of cooking that involves eating. The first step of marinating doesn’t include any of the fun stuff.

At least, in this recipe, it involves beer. And very little chopping and not much measuring. This is my kind of marinade.

It tastes like my kind of marinade too. While the beer in the recipe caught my eye first, it was the Worcestershire sauce that reeled me in, because I love the stuff. The combination of the two made for a flank steak that was not just great-tasting, but was a beautiful burnished brown on the outside with the perfect amount of pink inside. My first time cooking flank steak was a definite success, which in retrospect, should have been obvious from the beginning, because beer makes everything better, even making marinades.

One year ago: Quick Baking Powder Pizza Crust
Two years ago: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

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Beer-Marinated Flank Steak (from Bon Appetit via Apple a Day)

Serves 6

2 1⅓-pound flank steaks
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Coarse kosher salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1¼ cups thinly sliced green onions (about 6)
1 12-ounce bottle dark beer
½ cup Worcestershire sauce

1. Using sharp knife, lightly score flank steaks about ⅛ inch deep on both sides in a crisscross pattern at ½-inch intervals. Place steaks in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle steaks on both sides with oregano and cumin and generous amount of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of steaks, rubbing oil and spices into meat. Add green onions, beer, and Worcestershire sauce, turning steaks several times to coat both sides. Cover and chill at least 3 hours, turning occasionally. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

2. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack lightly with oil. Grill steaks to desired doneness, 3 to 4 minutes total per side for medium-rare, turning steaks ¼ turn after 1½ minutes to form crisscross grill marks, if desired. Transfer steaks to cutting board; let rest 5 minutes. Thinly slice steaks across grain. Transfer to platter and serve.

corned beef hash

One time at the zoo, I walked by the reindeer exhibit, but they weren’t out. Huh, I thought. Bummer. I would have liked to see the reindeer. But on the other side of the path, there was another animal to ooh and ahh over, and I moved on. When the reindeer came back out just a few minutes later, I overheard someone tell her friend that they could go see them now, and the lady said “Reindeer? I was excited about that 10 minutes ago!”

Reindeer lose their interestingness after 10 minutes apparently.

The moral of the story is this: No one cares about corned beef in May. You were excited about that 2 months ago. But, I am not the type of person to sit on an entry (or two, in this case) for 11 months until its season of popularity comes back, so if you’re not one to cook corned beef outside of March, you are missing out you can bookmark this post for next year.

And don’t forget about it! That would be sad, because this is not just the best way to use corned beef leftovers, it is one of the best breakfasts, ever. It’s bacon, browned onions, crispy potatoes, salty seasoned beef, drippy yolks. What more could you ask for for breakfast? I’m excited about corned beef hash all year.

One year ago: Orange-Oatmeal-Currant Cookies (This is the recipe that’s had me complaining about not being able to find currants. But I recently discovered that the flavors are perfect with dried cranberries too.)
Two years ago: Double (or Triple) Chocolate Cookies

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Corned Beef Hash (from Cooks Illustrated)

You absolutely do not need corned beef leftovers to make this. I often make it with thick-sliced deli corned beef, and it’s still delicious. That being said, last time I made it, I par-boiled the potatoes in the liquid leftover from cooking the corned beef, and was that ever good!

I like to give Cooks Illustrated recipes exact, because they’re so nicely detailed. However, this is one of those recipes that I’ve made so often that I often cut corners now – skipping the hot sauce, which I never have around; leaving the corned beef in large chunks; using Yukon Gold potatoes so I don’t have to peel them; pouring in a bit of whatever milk I have around instead of using cream. As long as you have the same basic ingredients and everything is crisped and browned, you can’t go wrong here.

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
salt
2 bay leaves
4 ounces (4 slices) bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 pound corned beef, minced (pieces should be ¼-inch or smaller)
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
4 large eggs
ground black pepper

1. Bring the potatoes, 5 cups water, ½ teaspoon salt, and the bay leaves to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the water boils, cook the potatoes for 4 minutes, drain, and set aside.

2. Place the bacon in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook until the fat is partially rendered, about 2 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened and browned around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the corned beef and stir until thoroughly combined with the onion mixture. Mix in the potatoes and lightly pack the mixture into the pan with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium and pour the heavy cream and hot pepper sauce evenly over the hash. Cook, undisturbed, for 4 minutes, then, with the spatula, invert the hash, a portion at a time, and fold the browned bits back into the hash. Lightly pack the hash into the pan. Repeat the process every minute or two until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked, about 8 minutes longer.

3. Make 4 indentations (each measuring about 2 inches across) equally spaced on the surface of the hash. Crack 1 egg into each indentation and season the egg with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook until the eggs are just set, about 6 minutes. Cut the hash into 4 wedges, making sure each has an egg, and serve immediately.

home corned beef

Can someone explain to me why the only way I can buy brisket in my tiny town is to get the whole brisket? (And why are there no dried currants? Or mini-cupcake liners?) I didn’t even know what a whole brisket looked like before last month. First off, it’s huge. Who needs to buy 15 pounds of meat at a time? Second, half of that 15 pounds is fat. I actually weighed the fat after I spent an entire hour aaaargh! trimming it off the brisket. An inch-thick layer of fat, yum.


monkey peeler for scale

And why is brisket so much more expensive to buy than prepared corned beef anyway? Corned beef is just seasoned brisket. I didn’t corn my own beef because I have a problem with the store-bought versions of corned beef; it’s just that…I can’t help myself. Homemade corned beef sounded fun.

I tried it a few years ago (back in the glorious days when I could buy pre-trimmed brisket in reasonable sized roasts), using Cooks Illustrated’s dry rub recipe. In that one, a mixture of salt and other seasonings is rubbed onto the brisket and left to set for several days. It was good, because it’s salty brisket, but I didn’t think it was significantly better than what I could buy.

I started out this time using Alton Brown’s recipe, which is a wet brine similar to what is often used for chicken. However, I balked when I was supposed to add 2 pounds of ice to 2 quarts of water to make the brine for four pounds of brisket. That seemed like an excessive amount of liquid per meat; I’m not sure I have the fridge space for all that. So I halved the liquid, but that means that my brine was far more concentrated, and the resulting corned beef was not-quite-inedibly salty.

I tried again (after all, I still had plenty of brisket in the freezer), dialing back the amount of salt by half. And what do you know? Perfection. Dave is already requesting more reubens, so it looks like I’ll use up 15 pounds of brisket after all.  Maybe next time I can get the butcher to trim it for me.

One year ago: Roasted Baby Artichokes
Two years ago: Red Beans and Rice

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Corned Beef (adapted from Alton Brown)

6 to 8 servings

The use of saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is up to you. Its purpose is to make the meat pink; without it, it turns the purpley gray that you see in my pictures. Cooks Illustrated’s corned beef write-up reported chemical flavors whenever they used saltpeter, and I couldn’t find it anyway, so I left it out, and truthfully, I quite like the color of the meat at the end of cooking.

4 cups water
½ cup kosher salt
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon saltpeter (optional)
½ cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
4 whole allspice berries
6 whole juniper berries
2 bay leaves, crumbled
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
4 quarts ice
1 (4 to 5 pound) beef brisket, trimmed

Place the water in a 5-quart pot along with the salt, sugar, saltpeter (if using), and spices. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the ice and let set the mixture until the ice is mostly melted. Once the liquid is cold, place the brisket in a 1-gallon zip-top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a 9×13-inch pan. Refrigerate for 5 days, turning occasionally. After 5 days, remove the meat from the brine and rinse it under cool water. Cook using your favorite recipe. (I like to keep it very simple, just simmering the brisket in water for a few hours until it’s tender, adding potatoes, carrots and cabbage near the end.)

steak au poivre

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The importance of the Go-To Thing was hammered into me recently. I was sitting at home doing basically nothing, unshowered and unchanged from my recent workout, when Dave called me from a bar half an hour away. “Everyone wants you to come hang out!” Uh…will they still want to hang out in an hour or so, when I might actually show up?

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I didn’t have time to mull over my clothes, so I just chose the same outfit I’ve worn every time I’ve gone out recently. It’s easy, comfortable, cute, warm, and spans a wide range of situations. (Although my silky teal scarf was a little out of place at the Rob Zombie concert we ended up at.)

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Having a go-to meal for guests has also come in handy.  On December 23rd last year, Dave and I decided to skip the party we’d planned to go to on Christmas Eve so we could hang out with his parents instead. We offered to make them dinner, which meant I needed to come up with something I could make in my mother-in-law’s kitchen that would be quick enough to put together after a 7-hour drive, special enough for a holiday, and accessible enough that my picky father-in-law would enjoy it.

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The answer is steak, of course. Steak that has one side coated in black pepper and is dowsed in brandy cream sauce. Served along with twice-baked potatoes and Brussels sprouts braised in cream. Yes, cream sauce, sour cream, braised in cream – it’s a holiday, okay?

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It’s also delicious. And easy, and most of it can be prepared in advance. The evidence: 1) I finished it at my mother-in-law’s, and her sharpest knife is essentially a butter knife, and 2) my father-in-law not only ate his entire meal, including the Brussels sprouts, but offered something vaguely complimentary. This meal is a success even under the toughest circumstances.

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One year ago: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Steak au Poivre with Brandied Cream Sauce
(from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

Sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup brandy + 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
table salt

Steaks:
4 strip steaks (8 to 10 ounces each), ¾ to 1 inch thick, trimmed of exterior gristle
table salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed

1. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add beef and chicken broths, increase heat to high, and boil until reduced to about ½ cup, about 8 minutes. Set reduced broth mixture aside. Rinse and wipe out skillet.

2. Meanwhile, sprinkle both sides of steaks with salt; rub one side of each steak with 1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns, and, using fingers, press peppercorns into steaks to make them adhere.

3. Place now-empty skillet over medium heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Lay steaks unpeppered-side down in hot skillet, increase heat to medium-high, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan (see illustration below), and cook steaks without moving them until well-browned, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan, and cook on peppered side, about 3 minutes longer for rare, about 4 minutes longer for medium-rare, or about 5 minutes longer for medium. Transfer steaks to large plate and tent loosely with foil to keep warm.

4. Pour reduced broth, cream, and ¼ cup brandy into now-empty skillet; increase heat to high and bring to boil, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Simmer until deep golden brown and thick enough to heavily coat back of metal tablespoon or soup spoon, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons butter, remaining 1 tablespoon brandy, lemon juice or vinegar, and any accumulated meat juices. Adjust seasonings with salt.

5. Set steaks on individual dinner plates, spoon portion of sauce over steaks, and serve immediately.

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Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

herbed lamb chops with pinot noir sauce

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I don’t even know how to describe to you how awesome this lamb was. I think Dave and I spent the whole meal exclaiming over it. We’d sat down to eat, thinking, sure, dinner, yum, should be good. We each poured ourselves a glass of the wine that was leftover from making the sauce, we were actually going to eat at the table, we had some music playing. It was nice.

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And then we started eating and realized that this meal wasn’t “nice.” This meal was amazing. We decided that the wine wasn’t rich enough to compliment the food and opened a different bottle. We ate seconds. We drank more wine. We started dancing in the living room. It wasn’t just the meal that went from nice to amazing when we started eating; it was the entire night.

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In retrospect, duh. If you’re making lamb broth from scratch for the base of the wine sauce that you’re serving over rack of lamb, it better knock some socks off. It did.

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One year ago: Caramel Cake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce (from Bon Appétit through epicurious.com)

Serves 8

I couldn’t find any of the lamb parts suggested for the sauce and used shank instead, which isn’t the same thing at all, but worked nonetheless.

Sauce:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 pounds lamb neck stew meat or lamb riblets
1 pound onions, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
4⅓ cups Pinot Noir or other dry red wine
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Lamb:
1 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup finely chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 1½-pound well-trimmed 8-rib racks of lamb, preferably frenched

1. For the sauce: Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and sauté until deep brown, turning occasionally, about 18 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the lamb to a bowl. Add the onions, carrot, garlic, and herbes de Provence to the pot. Sauté until the vegetables are deep brown, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and broth to the pot; return the lamb and any accumulated juices to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered 1½ hours. Strain into a large bowl, pressing on the solids in the strainer to release all of the stock. Spoon off any fat from the surface of the stock; return the stock to the same large pot. Simmer until reduced to 1⅓ cups, about 15 minutes.

3. Mix the butter and flour in a small bowl to a smooth paste. Whisk the paste into the stock. Simmer the sauce until it’s slightly thickened and smooth, whisking constantly, about 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Transfer to a small saucepan, cover, and chill. Rewarm before using.)

4. For the lamb: Stir the fresh herbs and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Add 2 tablespoons oil and mix until the herbs stick together. Sprinkle the lamb racks with salt. Firmly press ⅓ of herb mixture over the rounded side of each rack to cover. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Place on large rimmed baking sheet. Cover; chill.)

5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 lamb rack to the skillet, herbed side down. Sauté until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the rack over and sauté until browned, about 3 minutes more. Place the rack, herbed side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat, fitting the remaining racks on the same sheet.

6. Roast the lamb until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 135°F for medium-rare, about 25 minutes. Let the lamb rest on the sheet for 15 to 20 minutes. Cut the lamb between the bones into individual chops. Arrange 3 chops on each plate. Drizzle with sauce and serve.

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This would make a great main dish for a nice dinner party, not only because it’s so good, but because so much of the recipe can be completed in advance. I suggest serving the lamb over Soft and Sexy Grits with roasted root vegetables on the side. A rich red wine like cabernet sauvignon is a great accompaniment to the lamb; we found that the pinot noir used in the sauce simply couldn’t stand up to the powerful flavors.

deli-style rye bread

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Last week I was at the grocery store with my parents, trying to choose a dessert to bring home to share. My dad wanted strawberry cake, and my mom wanted German chocolate cake. I wasn’t going to get in the middle of this, and honestly, I don’t know why my dad even offers his opinion. Dessert is a decision that my mom will always get to make.

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Apparently that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because Dave and I were recently choosing a menu item to split to go with our pot of mussels – he wanted a reuben, and I wanted smoked duck salad. Of course we got salad, but only after I promised to make Dave a reuben at home.

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First I had to make rye bread. I was inundated with recipes – Peter Reinhart has several, and King Arthur’s Flour has far too many to choose between. I thought that Cooks Illustrated’s recipe would be a safe bet for my first time making rye bread.

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One of the reasons I like CI for my first time attempting something is the specific instructions they offer. Not just rye flour, but medium or light rye flour. If only I had had so many options. After searching my grocery store, the only rye flour I could find was organic and whole grain, and forget the rye flakes that the recipe also recommends.

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I was concerned that my bread would be a flop due to the whole grain flour, and it didn’t help that the dough’s texture was different from what I’m used to. It seemed heavier and less elastic. The rising times were longer than what the recipe indicates, which I’m attributing to the whole grain flour.

Fortunately, it all worked out, and this made some very good bread – a little bitter from the rye and scented from the caraway seeds, and firm enough to hold up to a sandwich without being unpleasantly dense.  It made for some exceptionally good reubens.

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One year ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins – I have a batch of these in my freezer right now.  I had one yesterday.

Deli-Style Rye Bread (from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes 1 large loaf

This is half of Cooks Illustrated’s original recipe. I have no idea why their original recipe makes such a huge amount of bread. This seems more practical.

Sponge:
⅓ cup rye flakes (optional)
1⅞ cups water, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1½ cups (7½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough:
¾ cups (3¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1¾ cups (6.125 ounces) medium or light rye flour
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1½ teaspoon salt

Glaze:
1 egg white
1 tablespoon milk

1. For the sponge: Heat the oven to 350 degrees; toast the rye flakes, if using, on a small baking sheet until fragrant and golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Mix the water, yeast, honey, rye flakes, and flour in the mixing bowl of a standing mixer to form a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit until bubbles form over the entire surface, at least 2½ hours. (The sponge can stand at cool room temperature overnight.)

2. For the dough: Stir the all-purpose flour, 1 ½ cups of the rye flour, the caraway seeds, oil, and salt into the sponge. Attach the dough hook and knead the dough at low speed, adding the remaining rye flour once the dough becomes cohesive; knead until smooth yet sticky, about 5 minutes. With moistened hands, transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface, knead into a smooth ball, then place it in a very lightly oiled large bowl or straight-sided container. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.

3. Generously sprinkle the cornmeal on a large baking sheet. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and press it into a 6 by 9-inch rectangle. With the long side facing you, roll the dough into a 9-inch log, seam-side up. Pinch the seam with your fingertips to seal. Turn the dough seam-side down, and, with your fingertips, seal the ends by tucking them into the loaf. Carefully transfer the shaped loaf to the prepared baking sheet, cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise until the dough looks bloated and dimply and starts to spread out, 60-75 minutes. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

4. For the glaze: Whisk the egg white and milk together and brush over the sides and top of the loaf. Right before baking, make 6 or 7 slashes, ½-inch deep, in the top of the dough with a single-edge razor blade or a very sharp knife. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf reads 200 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

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