Sunday, January 15, 2006

Cubed Steaks with Mushroom Gravy

Growing up, I was fortunate to have not just one, but four women who patiently put up with my endless curiosity, turning what would have been annoyance for many into an opportunity to teach. They weren't gourmet cooks, and they certainly had far more important things to do than put up with a little boy's constant "whys," but they always took the time to let me lend a hand, to explain what they were doing, and why, and to involve me in the process of cooking -- in the process of life.

My mom had a few mainstays and like many busy moms, ground beef was often called upon to perform. When we'd just about had our fill of "goulasch", tacos, and American chop suey, she'd pull out the big guns -- cubed steaks, swimming in cream of mushroom goodness, served over white rice, usually with a side of french-style Del Monte green beans.

I found two packets of forgotten cubed steaks in the freezer today, along with an intense craving for comfort food. Never one to leave tradition alone, however, I decided to give a childhood favorite my own slant. I think I did okay, but in honor of the woman who always let me stir the pot and slice the tomatoes, I'll give you her version first.

Mom's Cubed Steaks


4 cubed beef steaks
1 can Campbell's cream of mushroom soup
1/2 can water
Adolph's meat tenderizer
Nature's Seasons seasoned salt
Garlic powder
Black pepper
3 tbs butter


1. Season cubed steaks with meat tenderizer, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and black pepper and let sit 10 mins.

2. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Sear cubed steaks 2 mins. on each side, or until browned.

3. Meanwhile, mix together cream of mushroom soup and water in a bowl. Add a bit of garlic powder and black pepper for good measure.

4. Once the cubed steaks are nicely browned, add the mushroom soup mixture, cover and reduce heat to simmer 30 mins.

5. Meanwhile, prepare 4 servings white rice according to instructions on box.

6. Warm a can of french-style Del Monte green beans with a knob of butter, some garlic powder, Nature's Seasons and black pepper.

7. Serve cubed steaks with gravy over rice with green beans on the side.

Geek Can Cook Cubed Steaks in Beef Mushroom Gravy


4 cubed beef steaks
Sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
12 oz. white button (or crimini) mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium yellow onions, frenched (or thinly sliced)
1/2 tbs Bovril, Marmite, or similar beef extract (or half a boullion cube)
1/4 cup cooking wine or sherry
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp herbs de provence
2 tbs unsalted butter
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil


1. Melt 1 tbs butter in a large saucepan, adding 1 tbs EVO to prevent burning.

2. Sautee onions over medium-high heat for 5 mins. seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper, paprika, and herbs.

3. Add sliced mushrooms, soy sauce, and wine and sautee until mushrooms are soft, about 5 mins. Meanwhile, mix the Bovril with the water and corn starch, stirring to remove any lumps.

4. In another saucepan, heat the remaining butter and olive oil, and sear the cubed steaks over high heat, about 2 mins. on each side. Add the mushroom mixture, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 30 mins.

5. Serve over rice with your favorite side. I like a succotash of corn, carrots, onions, and lima beans with just a little fresh garlic and butter.

Okay... so my recipe is a lot more involved, and not the best for the busy mom on the go. It was delicious though, and called back all those memories of being apron-high to the woman of my dreams.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Serendipity Rulez: Or How I Learned to Love the Cookie

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm not a big dessert fan, so my skillz as a pastry chef are perhaps the weakest in my cooking arsenal. As an imperfection, it's one I can live with, and yet -- well, it's an imperfection, and I hate not being perfect like a fat kid hates gym class.

So I try. I strive. I yearn. I read, and attempt, and experiment. Usually, I succeed with at least mediocrity, and everyone knows that dessert is like sex: even when it's uninspired, it's still the best thing going.

Today, however, I succeeded in creating what I believe just might be the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever tasted. You might disagree, for no two people make chocolate chip cookies the same way, so I have to conclude that no two people agree on what constitutes the perfect chocolate chip cookie. For me, however, this was the apex... the epitome of chocolate chip cookiedom. This was the Ur-Cookie.

It began with an entry in the Carnival of the Recipes (#74), which purported to be Mrs. Field's chocolate chip cookie recipe. Not the urban legend recipe, mind you, but the honest-to-gods, original recipe from none other than Debbie Fields herself. Since I had a bag of chocolate chips left over from the cookies I neglected to make for Christmas, I thought I'd give it a try.

So, hunted down the necessary implements, and began to gather my ingredients, only to find that I'd used most of the flour in my pursuit of Tourtiere. Undaunted, I decided to press on, partially for the fun of experimenting, but mostly because I already had two (now rather gooey) sticks of softened butter sitting in my mixing bowl. I had some oatmeal, and I had some almonds, and with a bit of manipulation, they filled in for the flour admirably.

The resulting cookies, while a bit sticky, firmed up nicely in the refrigerator, and baked up exactly the way I like -- crisp on the bottom and around the edges, and almost fluffy in the center. If I had to change anything at all, I'd use bittersweet chocolate chips next time instead of semisweet, but that's a very small bone to pick, and I'm probably the minority opinion.

So, without further ado, I give you:

Serendipity Cookies


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
12 oz. semisweet (or bittersweet, or milk) chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 300F.

2. Cream butter, sugar, and salt. Add eggs and vanilla and beat on high until fluffy.

3. Beat in oat flour and almonds.

4. Sift in the flour and baking soda a bit at a time. When the mixture becomes too thick to easily work with the beaters, incorporate the remaining flour with a spatula to avoid overmixing.

5. Fold in chocolate chips.

6. Depending on how soft the butter was when you started, this dough may be a little sticky. No worries, just stick it in the freezer for 5 mins. By the time your oven has come fully up to temp, it'll be firm enough.

7. Roll hefty tablespoonfulls into balls and place on a cookie tray lined with wax paper. These cookies will spread, so I recommend 6 per tray, rather than 12. Alternatively, you could make crispier mini cookies by using a teaspoon instead, and make a whole dozen at a time.

8. Bake on the center rack of the oven for approx. 20 mins.

9. Remove, let cool slightly, and enjoy with a tall glass of milk!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Carr Family Clam Dip

This is my father's clam dip recipe, copied from rote, as even I am loathe to part with tradition that extends back to my great-grandfather's time. It is fantastic enough to stand on its own with no additions from me, and has a special place in my heart as being something that has been handed down through generations unaltered. In these days of instant dips, it is one which never fails to impress, and I have yet to find a way to improve on its simplicity.

Carr Family Clam Dip


1 pkg cream ceese (use Neufatchel cheese if you must lower the fat, but Philedelphia original is best)
1 can minced clams w/juice
1 tsp salt
1 tbs coarsely cracked black pepper
3 tbs milk (whole, skim, 2%, half and half... your choice)


1. Remove the cream cheese from the package and let stand at room temperature for 15 mins. or until softened.

2. Drain the clams, reserving the liquid.

3. Give the clams a few pulses in a food processor, or a few good whacks with a chef's knife, until finely minced.

4. In a largish bowl, combine cream cheese, minced clams, salt, pepper, milk, and a few tablespoons of clam liqueur.

5. Beat with an electric mixer on medium for 2 minutes, or until fully incorporated and fluffy. The texture should me only semi-liquid at room temperature and will firm up in the refrigerator. If the mixture is too wet, add a bit more cream cheese, if it is too dry, add more clam liqueur or milk (according to taste). This is a thick dip and shouldn't be at all runny.

6. Add additional salt and black pepper to taste.

7. Transfer to a bowl or Tupperware container and refrigerate overnight if possible, or at least 2 hours.

8. Serve with hearty, thick ripple potato chips.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Carnival of the Recipes #70

The holidays are almost upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with a bevy of holiday-themed goodness. The Carnival of the Recipes #70 rings in the Solstice with a plethora of delicious goodies, hosted by Caltechgirl at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The hollydays wouldn't be complete without cookies...

I'm usually not a big one for sweets, but around the holidays, there are certain treats that call back such nostalgic memories, it is incumbent upon me to recreate them -- waistline be damned.

These are my favorite Christmas cookies, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they are devoid of color, bits of sugary frosting, or cutesy designs... my mother made them for us every year, and her mother before that, and her mother before that, so there's a history in there that makes them taste even better. Not that any of us is even remotely Swedish, but there ya go.

Swedish Butter Crescents

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder (optional)
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 tbs vanilla extract

1/2 cup powdered sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
  2. Cream room temperature butter, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy.
  3. Add ground almonds and blend until mixed.
  4. Slowly blend flour, baking powder and salt into the mixture.
  5. Finish by kneading any unmixed dry ingredients until the whole is a firm, slightly crumbly ball.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 10-15 mins.
  7. Roll out appoximately 1 tbs of dough into balls, then shape into crescents, leave as is, or garnish with a candied cherry.
  8. Bake for 18-20 mins. or until light golden brown.
  9. Upon removing from the oven, carefully roll warm crescents in powdered sugar/cinnamon mixture, or use a sifter to dust.
  10. Enjoy!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Carnival of the Recipes #54

Just in time for all your back to school cooking needs, Caltechgirl at Not Exactly Rocket Science hosts this week's Carnival of the Recipes #54.

Monday, August 22, 2005

After a hiatus, a sweet comeback...

Wow. It's been some time since I've been able to post anything. Well, I guess technically I've been able to post all along, but with the house remodel and death-by-work, things tend to get lost in the shuffle.

I've been working at a perfect creme brulee for some time, and have never really achieved perfect results, until yesterday. Well... nearly perfect. My brulee torch decided to give up the ghost last night, forcing me to use the oven broiler, which tidily spoiled the contrast between warm crunchy top and chilled, creamy custard. No matter -- these brulees were still delicious, with exactly the velvety texture I've been going for all along.

Creme Brulee

3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar + 8 tsp for bruleeing(?)
6 egg yolks

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a boil over medium-high heat.
  3. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until slightly thickened and pale yellow.
  4. Slowly add the warm cream to the egg yolk/sugar mixture, beating constantly.
  5. Ladle the mixture into ramekins.
  6. Bake in a water bath for 45 mins. The water should come at least halfway up the side of the ramekins.
  7. Remove from the oven and let come to room temperature, then refrigerate at least 2 hours covered in plastic wrap.
  8. Sprinkle the top of each brulee with granulated sugar and use a torch to burn.
  9. Enjoy!