Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Hamburger Elegance

Anything with hamburger might be questionable in the "elegant" department, but I truly think this dish makes that leap. My husband has trouble chewing fibrous meats, of late, so most great meats are now off the list and I have been making as many hamburger dishes as I can think of, to make his eating process work for him.

Teeth totally aside, I can't believe I never thought to try this out before. Anyone who reads my blogs would know that I prefer never to use shortcuts. As it happened, when I thought of making a Stroganoff out of hamburger meat, all the recipes I saw online started off with a can of cream of mushroom (or other creamy) soup. Yikes! I prefer to deal with salt on my own terms, so canned soups are definitely out. I like creating my own flavors. I came then to this list of ingredients that made a dish so elegant in its flavors that we both nearly cried. 
Hamburger Stroganoff
Hamburger Stroganoff

Usually, a Beef Stroganoff is made with a kind of steak that will cook quickly. It is sliced thinly to this effect. The creamy sauce can be given all sorts of great flavors. Some years ago I created a Beef Stroganoff with Sirloin steak, and it was totally delightful. I will post that recipe here first, so you can see that flavor comes from great ingredients in either case, and none of them are so "out there" that the ingredients are difficult to find or buy. Maybe Sherry wine is not in everyone's household, and I do admit, it gives amazing flavor. But it is not essential, and the rest of the ingredients are simple.

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff
Beef Stroganoff

Serves 4

½ - 1 pound of sliced fresh mushrooms, OR 2 ounces of dried, OR 1 - 2 small cans sliced mushrooms, drained
1 pound sirloin steak, partially frozen
1 large onion, sliced thinly, rings quartered
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons olive oil or other cooking oil
½ cup dry Sherry (not "cooking Sherry"), or white wine
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
3 cups water, stock or mushroom water (from soaking)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste
1½ teaspoons salt
few grinds of the pepper mill
¾ cup sour cream

If using dried mushrooms, place them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water and allow to reconstitute while continuing on with the recipe. Once softened, slice and set aside. Strain the liquid through a coffee filter and reserve as part of the cooking liquid.) If using fresh mushrooms, slice and set aside. If using canned mushrooms, drain and set aside.

Partial freezing makes for easy work slicing the meat thinly. Slice the steak thinly and across the grain. Cut each slice into 2 to 3-inch lengths and set on paper toweling to dry.

In a large skillet over medium high heat saute the onion in the 2 tablespoons each of butter and oil. Do not brown the onions. When the onions are limp, add the garlic and continue to saute until very fragrant. Remove onions and garlic to a large plate, reserving as much of the butter and oil as possible in the pan. Return to heat and fry the meat in 2 or 3 batches, browning well on both sides. As meat is browned, remove it to the plate with the onions.

Once meat is done, add the mushrooms to the pan with more butter and oil if needed and saute until browned. Add the Sherry and cook until it evaporates. Return the meat and onions to the pan. Sprinkle the flour and paprika over the mixture and toss to combine. Add in 3 cups of water, stock or mushroom water (if you are using soaked dried mushrooms) and stir, bringing to a boil, until the mixture has thickened. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper and add the Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sour cream. Serve over egg noodles. 


The Beef Stroganoff recipe and the new Hamburger Stroganoff recipe are quite similar. I rearranged the ingredient order a bit, but the outcome was amazing.

Hamburger Stroganoff

Hamburger Stroganoff
Hamburger Stroganoff

Serves 4 to 6

6 dried shiitake mushrooms or 1 - 2 cans sliced mushrooms, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups unsalted beef broth
2 tablespoons dry Sherry wine (not "cooking Sherry")
2 teaspoons sweet  Hungarian paprika
¾ cup sour cream

If using dried mushrooms, set them in a bowl or measuring cup and cover them with boiling water. Set another bowl on top of the mushrooms to keep them submerged. Meanwhile, begin with the recipe:

Heat a large skillet and add in the olive oil. Brown the hamburger meat thoroughly on medium to medium high heat, ensuring it does actually get browned and not just lose its pinkness. Once browned, remove the meat to a plate. Lower heat to medium low and add in the butter to the skillet and begin cooking the onions, tossing often until they are soft and translucent.

While onions are cooking, mash the garlic and salt together until it becomes a paste, then add to the cooked onions and stir for a few minutes. If using canned mushrooms, drain and add them to the skillet. If using soaked dry mushrooms, remove the mushrooms from their soaking water and remove tough stems to discard. Slice the mushroom caps into thin strips, adding them to the skillet. Return the meat and any juices to the skillet and in the flour, stirring until all the white flour is absorbed. Stir in the mustard powder, Worcestershire, tomato paste and pepper, then stir in the 2 cups of beef broth, substituting some of the broth with strained mushroom soaking liquid if desired. Stir well, scraping the bottom of the skillet where it will have left lots of browned bits. Bring to boiling, stirring, then lower heat to low and cook the mixture for about 15 minutes to meld flavors and cook out any raw flour taste. Add in the Sherry and paprika and stir well. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the sour cream and serve, preferably over egg noodles. Enjoy!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Fajitas on the Grill

When it comes down to summer grilling fun, fajitas are an excellent choice. The word fajita is the diminutive form of the Spanish word "Faja," meaning belt, or cinch; in this case a "little belt," as in using skirt steak, which comes in narrow bands, like a belt or cinch. Skirt steak is often confused with flank steak, partly (I think) due to the amount of visible one-directional grain of the meat. Here below are photos grabbed online to demonstrate the differences. 

Flank Steak

In the top picture of a Flank Steak (from Pinterest), the fibers run along the length of the meat. Flank steaks are often found rolled up in a package, as the meat is usually no more than an inch thick and its total area takes up too much precious real estate in the meat aisle to be left open to display. Flank steak is a tough cut, made worse by the absence of fatty tissues to lend tenderness. It benefits from marinating to give it flavor and tenderness. The most important rule of all is the meat must be grilled or broiled to medium rare at best, then sliced thinly, across the grain, for serving. This cutting across makes the fibers of the muscle thinner and easier to chew. Trying to chew a slice that runs lengthwise with the fibers would be like trying to chew a rope. Not good.

Skirt Steak

In the bottom picture of a Skirt Steak (from this website), you will note the presence of the same kind of ropy grain to the meat, but this time, the fiber runs perpendicular to the length of the meat, or across its length. The fibers are far more loosely arranged in the meat than in the Flank Steak, where generally the grain is tight. This cut also needs marinating to bring out its flavor and likewise needs to be sliced across the grain. Once grilled, it is good to cut the long length into smaller pieces for ease in cutting across the grain. The skirt steak has lots of fatty tissues in between, helping out with keeping the meat more moist overall, but it should still be just grilled to medium rare at most. It is too easy to get the meat over done, making it far too chewy to eat. 


After that little demonstration of the differences between these two cuts of meat, let it be understood that either of these may be used to make fajitas. Just ensure that the meat is sliced as thinly across the grain as possible with either one. That said, my preference for fajitas style meat is the skirt steak.

My favorite marinade for my fajitas is a Guatemalan style of Chimichurri. It is not the kind of green chimichurri used as a sauce over the finished meat like from Argentina or other countries. This is definitely a marinade only, or a cooking base for other types of stewed meat. It has terrific flavor and while it has quite a few ingredients, it can also be packaged into 5 or 6 portions and frozen. Bring out and thaw a portion when you want to use it for a marinade and it is all ready to use. 

Guatemalan Chimichurri

Guatemalan Chimichurri
Guatemalan Chimichurri

Makes about 5 to 6 cups

5 ripe Roma tomatoes
5 tomatillos
1 onion
6 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped, stems discarded
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1½ teaspoons paprika
1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
2 - 3 bay leaves, crumbled, stems discarded
¼ cup yellow mustard
½ cup olive oil
1 beer (Guatemalan style, or German)
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 cup cilantro leaves
Salt, to taste

Cut up vegetables as needed and place all in a blender to puree. Use a cup or cup and a half size portion for a marinade or cooking liquid for a roast. Divide the rest into containers to freeze until needed.

NOTES: Use to marinate skirt steak for grilling, or equally at home as a savory stewing liquid for a roast beef.

FOR GLUTEN FREE: Substitute the beer with a gluten free variety. 


Chimichurri Marinated Fajita Meat

Once you've gotten the marinade made and portioned in the freezer, make sure to keep a portion out for your meat marinade.  As mentioned above, skirt steak is the best for flavor in making these grilled fajitas. 
Chimichurri Marinated Fajitas
Chimichurri Marinated Fajitas

Serves about 6 to 8

2 pounds skirt steak
1 - 2 cups chimichurri marinade, above
Extra salt, for sprinkling

Skirt steak may have lots of fat over the meat, but it is thin and grills out easily so do not be too concerned with getting it all trimmed off. This cut of meat can be a little tough, so it needs all the help it can get to tenderize, including slicing it thinly across the grain to serve.

Marinate the skirt steak for at least 24 hours before grilling. Grill (or broil) over high heat for short periods on each side for best results. Overcooking this cut will toughen it even more. Four to 6 minutes per side is long enough. Remove from grill to a plate and tent with foil for 10 to 15 minutes. Since this cut of meat is exceedingly long and thin and the grain of the meat (the direction in which the fibers of the meat run) goes across the meat and not lengthwise, you will need to cut the long piece into sections you can easily slice with a nice long, sharp chef's knife. To serve, sprinkle with a little more salt, then slice the meat at a slant across the grain, as thinly as possible.

If serving the meat for fajitas, set out large tortillas, saute some onion and bell peppers and add in any other side dish desired, such as grated cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, shredded lettuce and refried beans.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Settling in After a Move

It has been quite some time since I last wrote; over 2 months, as a matter of fact. After packing up a household of stuff, traveling cross country and now doing the whole thing in reverse, I've had little time to think of anything but getting things in enough in order to function, if not yet at optimal levels.

I have cooked, but only simple, well-used recipes. No time for experimentation just yet, though today I finally decided to take a step in the right direction. Having been used to making all my bread for years and years and years, it has been hard to have to go back to store bought. I've been buying Oroweat brand breads, which taste okay, but I have been itching to get back to making our bread. 

When we prepared to move, I had to make a decision whether to try and take my old Sourdough Starter dough with me, or just toss it and start afresh. Since we were going to be traveling to a very hot part of the country, I felt it would be better not to put such stress on the poor starter, so I tossed it. Today, I got out one of Peter Reinhart's books, "Whole Grain Breads," to try out his Seed Culture, in preparation for a new batch of Starter. In this book, he talks of people having trouble getting a seed starter to get going, and many people complaining that their seed starter went bad. Apparently there is a bacteria called leuconostoc that does this, and using an acidic liquid seems to prevent this from happening. His recipe uses unsweetened pineapple juice, but he suggests that lemon juice or orange juice can work as well, or even ascorbic acid powder.

Making my first Seed Starter in 2014
Making my first Seed Starter in 2014

When I made my first Seed Starter, back in May of 2014, from the first Peter Reinhart book I received, called "The Bread Baker's Apprentice," I followed his instructions and my starter proceeded perfectly as described, with no off odors or mold or anything at all untoward happening. Possibly, as I make bread all the time, the right kinds of yeasts and bacteria were present and I had no problems. Whatever it was, I maintained that starter batter these 5 ensuing years, with no problems. I am in a totally different part of the country now, with high heat as the norm, and I have no idea how all this will affect the whole process of starters and bread making, so I am starting all new. I will keep tabs on how it all goes. 

Foods I have made since moving in, mostly in the last 2 weeks, are spaghetti (using a jar of sauce), Sloppy Joes (using a can), simple cooked chicken, Uniquely Fine Chicken Salad, Rhubarb Pineapple Pie, Roasted Corn and Poblano Chowder, Rhubarb Cake (using coconut oil - at liquid state in these temperatures) with Whipped Buttercream Frosting, Chopped Radish Salad (Picado de Rabano, a Guatemalan salad that I love, though I generally do not care for radishes at all), and Creamy Corn Casserole. Here are some of the recipes, below.

Rhubarb Cake

Rhubarb Cake
Rhubarb Cake

Makes one 9 x 13-inch cake

1½ cups rhubarb, chopped into small pieces
½ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup oil OR 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk

6 tablespoons butter
1 cup coconut
⅔ cup brown sugar
¼ cup milk
½ cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or lightly spray with cooking spray an oven-safe 9 x 13-inch pan. Set aside.

Combine the rhubarb and the ½ cup sugar and set aside. In a mixing bowl combine the flour, the 1½ cups sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Separately whisk together the buttermilk, egg and oil or melted butter. Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until combined. Add in the reserved rhubarb mixture and fold to combine. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the topping. Combine all the topping ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a boil, stirring, and boil for 3 minutes. Pour over the warm cake.

NOTES: This type of topping is often broiled once on the cake. If you choose this method, watch closely so as not to burn the topping. Another alternative is to prepare a streusel and sprinkle this over the unbaked cake. This yields a cake with topping already in place.


Picado de Rabano or Chopped Radish Salad

Picado de Rabano or Chopped Radish Salad
Picado de Rabano or Chopped Radish Salad
Serves 2 to 4

12 radishes, trimmed
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion
½ cup fresh mint, chopped fine
2 limes, juiced
Salt, to taste

Place onion and radishes in food processor and pulse just enough to chop relatively fine - do not over process. Place in a bowl and add all the other ingredients and mix well.

NOTES: If this dish is made with a similar amount (to the whole of the radish recipe) of chopped pork rinds chopped and added, it is called Chojin (pronounced cho-HEEN). If one adds an equal amount (to the whole amount of the radish recipe) finely chopped roast beef (I use cooked brisket), it is called Salpicon.

Chopped Radish Salad with Meat or Salpicon
Chopped Radish Salad with Meat or Salpicon


Creamy Corn Casserole
Creamy Corn Casserole

Creamy Corn Casserole

Serves 6 to 8

1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can cream-style corn
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 box "Jiffy" corn muffin mix

Combine all ingredients in a 13 x 9-inch casserole. No need to even grease the pan! Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes or till golden.

NOTES: This recipe can be made gluten free by using a similar amount of gluten free corn muffin mix, such as Bob's Red Mill. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.