Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sharing a favorite brisket recipe

I have to go back quite a few years to remember the first time I had this recipe.

It was the early 1990s, and my sister was visiting from Maryland. We were at our parents’ house, and Susan was cooking dinner for us.

She made brisket — something I had never had.

The recipe was one shared by her new mother-in-law, Elaine Hoffman, and my husband and I thought the tender beef with the rich orange gravy was delicious both the first night we had it and next day in sandwiches.

Beef brisket, not to be confused with the very different corned beef brisket, is often cooked outdoors in a smoker. There are also many brisket recipes that simmer all day in a slow cooker, and I plan on trying one of those very soon. But Elaine’s traditional Jewish recipe is braised — first browned then simmered for at least two hours to tenderize this rather tough piece of beef.

For some reason, I was intimidated by this recipe, and it stayed inside a cookbook my sister assembled for me for two decades before I tried it.

First, I had to get over the cost of the brisket. Briskets are not small at my grocery store, so the cost can be hefty. The first two times I made this recipe, I spent more than $30 for my roughly 6-pound piece of boneless beef; brisket is available in smaller pieces in some stores. Last week, brisket was on sale at my grocery store, and the one I got cost just under $25. That’s certainly more than I usually pay for a main course piece of meat, but, keep in mind, I made nine servings from this brisket for very hungry adults. And I don’t make it often.

I was also intimidated by the process, especially the step that involves a blender to make the delicious gravy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s the short answer on how to make Elaine’s brisket.

After cooking the onions and garlic in oil, rub the brisket with salt, pepper and paprika before browning on both sides in a hot skillet. I also pick up the beef with a fork and hold the sides against the bottom of the pan to sear those as well.

Then the beef, broth and plenty of carrots go into a Dutch oven or large pot with the onions and garlic to simmer until the beef is tender. This is when my house starts smelling like Sunday after-church lunch from my childhood. Although Mama didn’t cook brisket, she cooked plenty of beef roasts, and the wonderful aroma is similar.

Once the beef has cooked for two hours at least (don’t make a shortcut here) remove the beef from the pot and allow it to cool. While the meat cools, you can make the gravy. After removing some of the carrots to serve with the beef, add two cups of tomato sauce to the pan liquid and blend. The first few times I made this, I used my blender. But last week, I used my immersion blender, and it was so easy! Remember, the gravy is hot, so if you use the blender be very careful not to get burned when transferring the gravy, and hold a towel over the lid to contain any liquid that might come out. (I learned this the hard way.)

Slice the cooled meat against the grain (this is essential if you want a tender piece of beef) and arrange in a deep baking dish for serving. If you’re like me and get confused sometimes with the "against the grain” instructions, have the butcher show you how to cut or look for photos for instructions online. I’m proud to say I’ve done this right every time I’ve made this dish, cutting the roast on a diagonal.

Once the meat is all cut, pour the gravy over it, making sure all of the slices are covered. You might not use all the gravy. Then wrap in aluminum foil and refrigerate.

Elaine’s recipe recommends making the brisket a day in advance before cooking in the oven. I only refrigerated four or five hours the first time I made the brisket, but last week, I did refrigerate roughly 24 hours and was so happy to have dinner ready to go into the oven when my son came home for the weekend on Friday. I made mashed potatoes while the beef cooked.

This recipe has quickly become a favorite at my house. I am thankful that Elaine, who died last year, shared it with my sister, who passed it on to me. There’s nothing like a special family recipe.

Elaine's Brisket
  • Beef brisket (3 to 5 pounds)
  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt or about half that amount of table salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3 carrots, sliced into large pieces
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
In a large pot, cook the onions in oil until soft, adding garlic towards the end.

Trim fat from brisket. Cut into two pieces if too large to braise. Rub the meat with the combined salt, pepper and paprika and brown on all sides in a frying pan. Put meat into pot with onions and garlic. Add broth and carrots. Simmer, covered, over low flame for 2 hours or until meat is tender, turning meat once during cooking.

Remove the meat and allow to get cool enough to handle. Slice on the bias, or across the grain, trimming remaining fat.

Arrange meat in a baking dish (the deeper the better).

Before making the gravy, take out some of the carrots to serve with the beef. Blend together the gravy, onions and remaining carrots with the tomato sauce. (Immersion blender works well for this.)

Cover meat and carrots with the gravy, making sure all of the meat is covered.

Preferably, refrigerate overnight before baking. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

If desired, parboil cut potatoes for 15 minutes and add to the meat and carrots for the final baking.

Elaine Hoffman

Notes: My brisket was a little larger than 5 pounds, and I did not alter the other ingredients. I cut some of the fat off before browning, but not very much because it’s very thick. I trimmed what was left as I sliced the beef. I used 2 to 3 cups of baby carrots and low-sodium beef broth. I have made the recipe several times. The first times I refrigerated several hours before baking; the last time I refrigerated overnight. I had excellent results both ways.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taco flavors in a soup

Although this week has been plenty hot, it's going to be soup weather before we know it. And I'm ready for it!

We eat a lot of soup at my house, but until last week I hadn’t made taco soup.

My family enjoys soup, and they like tacos, so I figured it was time to incorporate the two.

There are many versions of taco soup in my cookbooks and on food websites I frequent, but they all share similar ingredients. They are made with ground beef or ground turkey browned with onions. Then stir in tomatoes, taco seasoning and beans. Cooks chose kidney beans, chili beans, black beans or pinto beans or a combination. Usually there’s a can of tomatoes and green chilies, and many recipes also contain corn. Some include an envelope of dry ranch dressing mix, but I left it out of mine.

There are so many variations, so you can customize your soup and make it to suit your family. For instance, my children have always loved kidney beans in soup, so I used two cans of rinsed and drained kidney beans and opted not to add a second bean. In addition to regular petite diced tomatoes, I used only one can of diced tomatoes with green chilies and didn’t add extra green chilies as some do. And I went with ground turkey instead of beef. If you want to thicken up your soup, you could add in some tomato sauce.

The method of cooking also varies between the slow cooker and the stove top. I was home and wanted to cook the soup quickly Saturday morning, so I made it in an hour on the stove.

You can top your soup with grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream, if you wish, or even crunch up some tortilla chips or eat them on the side.

Any leftovers should freeze well and be ready for a quick lunch later on.

Don’t be afraid to try different variations of this recipe. Just keep sampling until it tastes just right!

Taco Soup
  • 1.3 pounds ground turkey (this is the weight on the brand I purchase; could vary either way)
  • 1 small to medium onion, chopped
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning (I use reduced sodium)
  • 2 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I used Rotel mild)
  • 1 14- to 15-ounce can corn (undrained)
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Tortilla chips
In large soup pot or Dutch oven, brown turkey with onion. About halfway through cook time, add in taco seasoning. Cook until turkey is cooked through.

Add in other ingredients and simmer for about an hour. If you want your soup thicker, cook longer or add in tomato sauce.

To serve, provide sour cream, grated cheese and tortilla chips for garnish.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

'Good Food' to feed your whole family

The season of fall cookbooks has arrived, and I have enjoyed thumbing through the ones that have appeared in my mail at work and dreaming of new dinner ideas and delicious desserts.

One of my favorites so far is Jamie Deen’s "Good Food.”

Deen, one of Food Network’s stars and son of Paula Deen, is married with two young boys and themed his book around meals he cooks at home for them.

I enjoyed the conversational writing style of his book and chapter introductions and thoroughly enjoyed reading the intros to each recipe. It’s the kind of cookbook I enjoy most: one that comes with dialogue about the recipes.

Deen and his wife, Brooke, are very conscious of serving their children healthy meals and share many of their family favorites in his first solo cookbook.

Deen offered his sons a variety of foods from an early age and offers this advice to parents: "Introduce your kids to as many different textures and flavors as you can dream up, because there are few things worse than living stuck in a chicken nugget rut.”

The Deens eat as much locally grown produce as possible, including vegetables from their own garden, and those choices are reflected in the book’s 125 recipes.

Some of my favorite recipes in this book include fresh produce. I look forward to an occasion to make crisp broccoli salad with bacon vinaigrette — a variation of a salad I make often. His dressing does not include mayonnaise but is made with bacon, shallots, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and brown sugar.

And Jack’s favorite pasta salad with loads of veggies is also on my list. That dressing sounds delicious. Deen said they have this salad once a week at his house, and it gets altered to reflect family tastes.

The handsome photographs in this book make me want to try even more dishes, including Brooke’s easy egg-drop soup and three-cheese stuffed shells with spinach and zesty turkey tomato sauce.

The back cover of this book features a new book title, "Rooster’s Cafe,” by Deen’s son Jack. Inside the back pages are more recipes — some of the 6-year-old’s favorites including applesauce muffins, almond crunch mix and watermelon kiwi pops.

The recipe I chose to make in "Good Food” was certainly not a glamorous one, but it was really good! I made night before steel-cut oatmeal. I love the baked apple and nut oatmeal I make quite often, but I have not had good results with slow cooker oatmeal. But Deen’s stovetop recipe is delicious as a simple oatmeal you can serve in a bowl and top with fruit and nuts.

The overnight oatmeal takes about 10 minutes of preparation at bedtime. Once the oats are toasted, water is added to the pot and the mixture simmers, just turn off the stove and go to bed. The next morning, after a few simple steps, the oatmeal is ready to eat. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and heated with milk or cream as needed.

The first morning, I ate the oatmeal topped with a chopped peach, toasted almonds and pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon. I couldn’t believe how good it was! I added the fresh peaches while the oatmeal was hot, and they cooked a little bit. On Monday morning, I substituted apple for the peach with the other toppings the same. It was delicious as well. Blueberries are another good addition! I will be making this recipe often as the weather gets colder.

"Good Food” was published by Kyle Books and is available for purchase online.

Book tour
Jamie Deen will be at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh at noon Oct. 1 and Southern Season at 6 p.m.

Night Before Steel-Cut Oatmeal
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups steel-cut oats
  • 7 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt*
  • 1 cup whole milk*
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the oats and toast them, while stirring, until they smell nice and nutty, about 3 minutes. Stir in 6 cups water and your salt and bring the oats to a boil. Once they’ve reached a boil, turn off the heat, give a final stir, cover with a lid and call it a night.

The next morning at breakfast time, remove the lid, stir in the milk and remaining cup of water and slowly bring the oats back up to a simmer, stirring well. Serve the oatmeal hot with whatever toppings you like. Cool down and wrap up any remaining oats in a covered container and place in your refrigerator. Reheat the oats in a saucepan or microwave (adding in a little milk if you’d like) for breakfast through the week.

"Good Food"

*Notes: I used 1/4 teaspoon table salt and skim milk.