Braised Cider Short Ribs with Herbed Spaetzle

What is spaetzle? It sounds like some horrific German monstrosity somehow related to spaying Cocker Spaniels, but instead it is a pasta like dumpling hailing from Alsace.

The pancaked like batter of the spaetzle with fresh tarragon and chives

I had never had spaetzle before let alone made it. At first I thought it was going to turn out horribly and I had no hope that it would taste good. I thought people would chew and pretend to like it saying oh well you know I’ll eat anything. This was not the case. It was universally liked; there were no ah’s and ooh’s of amazement, but no one pushed it around their plate pretending to eat it. I would definitely like to try making it again to see if I could do a better job and next time I would leave out of the tarragon because I have learned that I do not like tarragon (the smell reminds of something akin to toothpaste).

The spaetzle was not the main centerpiece of this meal though it was the perfect complement to these braised cider short ribs. I love braised meats. Well, frankly I like braising anything. Slow cooked to tenderness with deep, fully developed flavors and charred bits of yummy things stuck to your teeth, what could be better? Plus braising lends itself well to cheap meats and cooking with alcohol.

The alcohol of choice this time was Old Rosie’s Scrumpy Cider. Scrumpy refers to small batch or home-made ciders as opposed to mass produced ciders. This was a particularly tangy cider that I was unsure about during the cooking process. The broth took on a very sour flavor at one point that I thought was going to turn out fairly rancid tasting, but after messing around a bit with some vegetable stock and brown sugar I came out with a flavorful, intense sauce with only a bit of tang after nearly three hours of cooking.

The first step with any meat braise is to brown your meat. I started with four fairly large short ribs from Whole Foods and browned them in about three tablespoons of olive oil in my cast iron dutch oven.

The browning process takes about twenty minutes and you don’t want to rush it. You want every side of your meat to be evenly browned. This is not a quick cooking process and you will need to take some considerable time and attention out of your day to do it.

Next you want to remove the meat from the pan and then four chopped shallots (or onions if you’re one of those people). Cook until soft (about five to ten minutes) then add the meat back to the pan.

After putting the meat back in, add one cup of cider and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about an hour then add three tablespoons of brown sugar and two cups of vegetable stock and cook for another hour and a half.

Beer Beef and Barley Stew

In October I made a number of meals based on alcohol. I generally don’t drink a lot of alcohol or cook with it usually. Usually when cooking with alcohol it is wine or in desserts. I don’t like to drink wine so why would I cook with it?

This recipe is based on Sam Adams’ Pumpkin Ale, a beer that I would never drink but turned out wonderful as a base for hearty beef and barley stew. The broth of the stew ended up tasting like the gravy in Shepherd’s Pie. It was incredibly flavorful and filling.

I started with pre-cut stew meat from Safeway and chopped it into smaller pieces. I browned this with shallots and carrots in some olive oil. Then I added a bottle of Sam Adams’ Pumpkin Ale and a cup of vegetable stock. I brought this to a boil then added a half cup of pearled barley. I brought it down to a simmer and let it cook for about forty-five minutes or until the barley was completely tender.

Laili Restaurant Review

On Friday night Andrew and I ventured into downtown Santa Cruz to catch a movie at the Riverfront Twin. We were planning on seeing 50/50 since we’re Joseph Gordon Levitt fans and Seth Rogen is generally amusing. We eschewed the typical pizza, taqueria, or falafel choices that we usually make and decided to check out a restaurant that’s been around for about a year: Laili. It is located on Cooper Street where I believe there used to be an apothecary, but I’m not certain. They have indoor and outdoor space; we chose to sit outdoors since the weather was nice and indoors was fairly noisy and dark. The patio area is beautiful: ivy growing everywhere, tea lights, etc. The only way you were reminded that you were next to Pacific Ave were the drummers outside of O’Neil’s which quieted down about fifteen minutes after being seated.

 

Afghan Chai

The waitress got our drinks ordered quickly: Andrew ordered a beer (typical) and I ordered a chai (also typical). Our drinks came quickly and then we ordered our appetizers and entrees. The chai was an Afghan chai, sweeter and not as spicy as Indian chai. It was also pinkish in color. I really enjoyed it and it had these beautiful bubbles on top that I really wanted to photograph.

While we were enjoying our beverages, a waitress came by and tried to give us someone else’s entrees. Then another waitress came by and dropped off an appetizer that we didn’t order, but we couldn’t exactly remember the names of what we ordered so we started eating it anyway. The Pumpkin Boranee is stewed pumpkin, qurut yogurt, mint, and garlic. It was a very pretty dish that sounded good, but the texture of the stewed pumpkin was slimy and stringy.

Pumpkin Boranee

Next came the appetizers that we did order: the Silk Road Plate and the Pumpkin Bolani. The Silk Road Plate was a selection of hummus, tabbouleh, babaghanoush, and cucumber yogurt dip with “naan”. Their idea of naan was not typical of the naan that I’ve had: it was simply a flour tortilla grilled, completely tasteless and not naan. The hummus was good and the pumpkin bolani was absolutely delicious, crispy on the outside and sweet, spicy pumpkin on the inside. Along with our appetizers, we ordered a prawn salad with arugula, fennel, seasonal fruits, and pomegranate vinaigrette. This was a completely overpriced salad with (18 dollars) with about six prawns, the pomegranate vinaigrette that did not taste of pomegranate at all, and maybe about three strawberries.  Total disappointment.

 

For our entrees, I ordered Chicken Kabob and Andrew ordered Anar Chicken. The chicken kabob was moist and tender unlike a lot of chicken kabobs that I’ve had. It was served with saffron rice, steamed vegetables that were overcooked and undercooked (a definite low point in the meal), and several different chutneys that really helped add flavor to the meat which was slightly bland. The Anar Chicken was a half roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce, roasted potatoes, and mixed vegetables. Andrew said it was very good.
 Anar Chicken with Roasted Potatoes

Chicken Kabob with Saffron Rice

The service was definitely off. They tried to serve us food that wasn’t ours, served us food that wasn’t ours which we ate anyway, and there was nearly forty-five minutes between being served our apps and being served our entrees. The staff were friendly when they did stop by, but they were simultaneously overattentive and not attentive enough. Overall, the food was good, the service mediocre, and definitely overpriced for the amount of food and quality of that food.

Breakfast at the Eagle Cafe, Pier 39

Despite a rather close proximity to the city, I hardly ever venture up to San Francisco. This weekend however afforded me with the time, opportunity, and motivation to to go the city. My sister was at a geographer’s conference near the Fishermen’s Wharf and I decided I would go up to have breakfast with her.

We walked around the area, which is the most tourist driven part of the city in a city that is a tourist magnet, trying to find a place that did not look like it belonged in Disneyland. Unfortunately, this was a mission impossible and we ended up at the Eagle Cafe on Pier 39, which is like main street at Disneyland, but instead of the nauseating smells of cotton candy and fried food, it smells of fish guts and horse manure.

The restaurant is on the second floor of one of the first buildings. It claims to be historic. I’m not sure how historic it is, but many of the buildings in San Francisco are. Perhaps some of the seats have great views of the bay, ours did not.

I ordered the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, something I would not normally order, but this was a special event: my sister was “in town” and it was part of my birthday weekend. Denise ordered the Griddled Banana Pancakes topped with pecans and brown sugar.

The crab cakes were piping hot, crunchy on the outside, and smooth on the inside with excellent seasoning and a uniform texture. I hate crab cakes that are dry or have crunchy raw onion bits in them. These were neither of those things. The eggs had the largest yolks I have ever seen and our waitress even asked how hard I wanted them. They were perfectly cooked. I could not have asked for a better poached egg. The consistency of the hollandaise was spot on, not too thin and not too thick. The English muffins were huge, but were the correct size to support the crab cake and poached egg. In addition, there were home fries, which were good, and watermelon with a couple slices of orange. There was some strange fried spaghetti garnish that really had no place on the plate, but otherwise it was a wonderful meal.

Denise enjoyed her pancakes and said that they had a hint of orange that helped cut through the fattiness of the bananas.

In all it was a very good trip to San Francisco. I got to see my sister for the first time in months, the weather was great, and the ride to the city was beautiful and short. I took highway 1 up from Santa Cruz through Half Moon Bay, barely hitting any traffic on the way up. On the way back, I encountered a traffic jam in HMB, doubling the amount of time it took me to get to San Francisco.

Weddings, Gardens, and Aquaman?

I found these on my computer and realized that I had not shared them yet on my blog. They are on Facebook, but not in my blog. They are not things that I have cooked, so that is probably why they have not made it over here, but they are things that I have eaten so they deserve a place here.

One set of pictures is from the Concord Farmer’s Market. Concord is a city near Walnut Creek in the East Bay (east of Oakland, up the 680). My friends Cindy and Eric live in Clayton which is outside of Concord. We were visiting up there and in between painting a garden shed and attending a fantastic wedding reception in Emeryville, we went to the farmer’s market to enjoy tamales, berries, and gelato.

Strawberries and blackberries. I’m lamenting the end of blackberry season.

Chicken tamale with salsa verde and crema.

Pork tamale with salsa verde and crema

I did not get any gelato pictures. It was tasty, especially on an incredibly hot day.

Later we walked around Cindy’s garden and admired the artwork, such as the sculpture that I have dubbed aquaman.

He’s some sort of mermaid fish dude. My friend Eric made him while he was in art school.

The rest of their backyard is made up of trees, a vegetable garden, a green house, and a number of fruit trees. It’s really impressive for a suburban backyard. I miss having my garden. We have yet to start on our new one here in Santa Cruz. It was the one nice thing about our apartment back in Santa Clara.

The rest of the day was spent at a friend’s wedding. I had never met the person whose wedding it was. Isn’t that always awkward? Congratulations on one of the biggest moments in your life, it’s so nice to meet you. So I did what any self-respecting, awkward individual does, I drank a lot of wine and ate chicken heads.

Why yes the bride on top of the cake is about beat the groom. And yes this was a beautiful cake, but unfortunately it did not taste as good as it looked. It was like one of those Safeway bakery cakes if you had left it out on the counter for a couple days and then some sort of cake Bunnicula came by and stole its cakey essence.

That didn’t make any sense. I’ve been up since two in the morning, ever since my neighbor woke me up to chanting to the full moon.

The rest of the meal was fairly traditional Chinese wedding food (I think) with the exception of my favorite dish of the night: the lobster thermidor. For once, I actually enjoyed lobster. Plus, the view from this restaurant (located on the Emeryville wharf) was fantastic.

The view of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline from Hong Kong East Ocean restaurant.

An assortment of bbq meats including char siu pork (one of my favorite things on this planet, especially when put into a steamed bun).

Some sort of seafood salad in a crispy noodle bowl.

Some sort of crab croquette claw thing. It’s like a tribble ate a crab and then was deep fried. The batter around the outside (tribble flesh) was disgusting, but crab claw was alright.

The “not” shark fin soup. Fake shark fin soup. I took about one bite of it and couldn’t eat the rest.

Abalone and mushrooms. I’m skeptical that this was real abalone, but whatever it was it was one of the better dishes of the night.

I believe this was lobster thermidor. Whatever it was it was absolutely incredible, especially after three or four glasses of wine. Best dish of the night and the only time I have ever enjoyed lobster. Of course it would be a French dish at a Chinese restaurant.

The chicken head that I hate. Not bad.

 

 

Carrot-Ginger Cake with Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

This weekend was my friend Peter’s birthday and I promised him a carrot cake (his particular favorite). I made a magical carrot cake transporter. Carrot cake is one of my favorite cakes to make and I prefer cream cheese frosting over buttercream or whipped frosting. This particular recipe is courtesy Martha Stewart.

I started this recipe on Friday night after a particularly long, hard week at work and school. The new job is exciting and draining, not leaving much time for cooking or even eating. I’ve lost about four pounds since starting this job, which I am happy about, but I wish I did have more time in my day to fuel my body. I’ve broken down a couple times because my blood sugar has been so low.

I was excited to bake this cake. I’ve been looking forward to baking something for a while now. This recipe caught my eye because it takes you beyond the typical carrot cake with walnuts and raisins. It contains ginger and toasted pecans instead of raisins and walnuts. I love ginger and prefer pecans over walnuts. The orange-ginger cream cheese frosting was just perfect, particularly since this cake is not the typical moist carrot cake.

 

This was four layers of deliciousness. I was happy the cake wasn’t overly sweet because this frosting is quite sweet.

I thought the cake turned out hideous, but everyone else seemed to think it was beautiful.

 

French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

Amy and I had our second round with French macarons last week before my mountain climbing trip (more on that later). These turned out even better than the first batch. We used the same Martha Stewart recipe as last time. This recipe has worked well for us so far and I highly recommend it.

This time around we decided to use chocolate ganache as the filling instead of jam. Neither of us liked the flavor of the game with the macarons. Also, we used red food coloring to make bright reddish-pink macarons as opposed to the yellow ones we made before. The deep pink color was nicely set off by the dark chocolate ganache. For the chocolate ganache we used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. This is one of the most successful recipes I’ve had from one of his cookbooks, especially in the dessert section.

Recipe from Martha Stewart’s website:

Ingredients

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Directions:
1. Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times. Note: We did not use a food processor for this. We simply mixed the two together with a rubber spatula in a bowl and then sifted. I prefer to dirty as few dishes/utensils as possible when tackling a large project late at night.

2.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

3. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees. Note: We did not use a pastry bag. Amy forgot it at her house and we didn’t want to waste time going over to her house to get it. Instead we used a Ziploc bag with the a corner cut. This actually worked much better than the pastry bag that we had purchased at Beverly’s Fabrics and Crafts.

4.Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)

5.Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months

Chocolate Ganache Recipe
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, roughly chopped

Directions:
1. Put the cream in a pot and heat it until it’s steaming. Put the chocolate in a bowl, pour on the hot cream, and stir until the chocolate is melted and fully incorporated.
2. Refrigerate for about twenty minutes until thickened. This will make it easier to spread on the macarons.

 

Silver Spur Restaurant Review

The Silver Spur is essentially across the street from our house in Santa Cruz. It is a quaint looking place with a Western decor reminiscent of my grandparent’s living room, minus the shag carpeting. Andrew and I heard good things about it from a couple of locals who have lived in the area for over twenty years, plus the line out the door every Saturday is another good sign.

Breakfast seems to be a battle ground in Santa Cruz, restaurants fighting for a place as the best restaurant. There are few restaurants that serve dinner in town that can hold a candle to the cuisine served at breakfast, according to most of the locals anyway. I have found that most of the breakfast restaurants in town are incredibly overrated: Walnut Cafe, Zachary’s Restaurant, Hoffman’s Bakery, and Cafe Brazil being the most notable examples. They each have something that I enjoy, but overall I have never been wowed. There is only one place in town that I believe serves a perfect breakfast: Kelly’s Bakery. Kelly’s Bakery is the only restaurant, and I mean the only restaurant, I have ever been to that serves satisfactory poached eggs. Every other restaurant serves them with at least a quarter cup of water still in the cup with them. The perfect breakfast at Kelly’s Bakery is two perfectly poached eggs nestled atop toasted slices of Francese bread baked in house with smoked salmon and sliced avocado. Amazing.

Silver Spur is on the same level with Zachary’s Restaurant for me. It is better than Walnut Cafe and Hoffman’s Bakery, while not as good as Kelly’s Bakery. I ordered a Two Egg Combo with poached eggs, two biscuits, home fries, and three chicken apple sausages with limitless coffee. Andrew ordered three slices of French toast, two scrambled eggs (well done, sigh), and bacon with Early Grey tea. The coffee was good and there were limitless free refills. The eggs were still in too much water. Really is it too much to ask for that they drain their eggs before serving them to you? The home fries could have been crispier, but they were tender and there were no bell peppers, which makes me incredibly happy. The sausage was generic, but tasty. The biscuits were the standout for me. They were light, fluffy, and tangy served with apricot preserves. Andrew enjoyed his French toast, eggs, and bacon.

Overall, I would go back to the Silver Spur and I would also try them for lunch some time. Their service was good (a rarity among breakfast restaurants in Santa Cruz) and their facilities were clean.

Random Food Update

I’ve been fairly busy with interviews, rock climbing, and out of town trips so here is a collection of what I’ve cooked/eaten in the past couple weeks.

This is a Greek breakfast burrito from Cafetal on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz, California. This cafe is right around the corner from my house. They have good coffee, delicious food, and affordable prices. The Greek breakfast burrito contains potatoes, feta cheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. The salsa they serve with it is awesome.

Grilled sweet potatoes and sausages from Shopper’s Corner. I’m really enjoying the backyard grilling going on in the summer time.

Monkey bread. Someone at our house said it tasted like Popeye’s biscuits with sugar. They were quite buttery and sugary. They were a tad dry and I would have preferred something hmm…oozier?

Ground buffalo with corn and red bell peppers. I did not eat this but Andrew said it tasted good.

Whole grilled chicken at Peter’s house. These turned out delicious, but there were mango sausages that took over my attention.

 

Mini Buffalo Burgers on Whole Wheat Pita

One of the foods that Andrew regularly subsists on is ground buffalo. While I enjoy buffalo, its beefy flavor with less saturated fat, I don’t like it necessarily for burgers. I’m more down on turkey burgers than buffalo burgers. I prefer ground chuck for my burgers: moist, flavorful, and a nice greasy touch. However, we had ground buffalo in the fridge and I decided that if there were going to be buffalo burgers made this week I was going to make them.

There are three differences between the way Andrew and I cook burgers: 1. I use worcestsire sauce and paprika while Andrew mostly uses a mixture of dried garlic, salt and pepper; 2. I  use a well oiled cast iron skillet and Andrew uses a non-stick skillet. The non-stick skillet means less grease, but you don’t get the nice crust around the meat that you get with the cast iron skillet. Plus cast iron is badass. 3. I cook mine to medium-well with a touch of pink in the middle and Andrew does his well. We will talk more about this issue later.

By the way, I am not saying my burgers are better than Andrew’s; they are two different beasts that cannot be compared. We just tackle our meat differently.

I served this cute little burgers on mini whole wheat pitas with spinach and feta cheese.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

I used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I can’t express enough how much I enjoy Mr. Minimalist’s books. You can find this recipe on pg. 719 of that book if you would like more conventional directions.

1. Mix together 1 1/2 cups each of all-purpose white flour and whole wheat flour with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

If you don’t like the taste of wheat baked goods you can make these entirely with all-purpose flour. You do not want to make these entirely from whole wheat flour. Baked goods made entirely with whole wheat flour are heavy and dense something that you do not want for pita.

2. Proof your yeastie beasts. You want to two teaspoons of yeast or one packet of active dry yeast. To proof yeast drop them into about half a cup of 110 degree water with a pinch of sugar (they need to feed) until they are foamy and yeasty smelling (about five minutes). Then add to the flour mixture along with another half cup of water.

3. Mix with a rubber spatular until combined into a slightly sticky ball. If it is dry add water one tablespoon at a time until it is a nice ball. Knead for a few seconds on a well floured surface then put back into the bowl and cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap.

4. From here I put my dough outside in the sun to rise because it is actually “room temperature” outside my house not inside. You can also put it in the fridge if you can wait approximately seven hours. At room temperature wait 1-2 hours. I waited about two and a half hours and it had more than doubled in size.

5. When your dough has doubled in size, pull small balls off of it. You can make these balls as big or as small as you like. I wanted to make mini burgers so I made mini pita. This recipe ended up making about twelve mini pita. Once you tear off your little dough balls put them on a floured baking sheet, cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap, and let rise for another twenty minutes.

6. Roll each ball out to about a 1/4 of an inch on a well floured surface. After rolling out each ball into a disc cover again and sit for another twenty minutes while you prepare your cooking device.

There are multiple ways that you can do this. I opted for the cast iron skillet on the stove top method because the other two methods are as such: do it in the oven on a pizza stone (don’t own a pizza stone) or do it in the oven on a baking sheet (umm..boring!). I chose the most badass, time consuming way of cooking these bad boys: on the stove top with a dry cast iron skillet. You can also do these with a griddle (like the kind you would use for pancakes) on your stove top.

If you are going the route of cast iron badassery (how many times can I use that term in one blog post?), heat the skillet to medium-high with no lubricant. No butter, no oil, nada. You want dry heat here. Don’t worry if your skillet is seasoned correctly nothing will stick. Once the twenty minute resting period has elapsed and the skillet is thoroughly heated toss one pita on the skillet. Let it sit. Don’t touch it. It will start to bubble and it will be beautiful. After about four to five minutes (this depends on the size of your pita) flip over and cook another two to three minutes then put aside and start over again with the next one. Continue until all pita are cooked.

Now you have pita!

Mini Buffalo Burgers

This is purely my own recipe, no measurements here. I’ve learned what I enjoy in a burger and what works for me. What works for you will be different. I get tired of people saying they make the best of something or you have to do it one way for it to be a real whatever. Food is about personal taste.

I mixed a pound of ground buffalo with worcestshire sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, dried minced shallot, and a dash of Frank’s Red Hot sauce. The worcestshire is incredibly important. It is incredibly flavorful and adds a much needed dose of moisture to the buffalo which tends to get dry and crumbly when introduced to high heat.

I heated up the same cast iron skillet I used earlier for the pita bread with a nice coating of olive oil (here one of those places where Andrew and I differ) on medium high heat. Once heated through, I patted a little fistful of my meat mixture into a small burger patty and tossed two to three of them into my skillet. Heat for about five minutes on one side until browned then flip over. Do not squish with your spatula, do not fuck around with your burger. Let it get that nice caramelized meat crust. After about three minutes your burger should be done depending on how well done you like it.

Here is where I will note Andrew’s misinformed opinion about how long to cook ground meat. Ground meat does not need to be cooked so long that it turns into a gray lifeless mass. It is okay to eat it medium or medium well. Hell if you got your meat from a reputable source you can eat it raw if you like. Andrew cut open his burger and sniffed pooh-pooh at it because there was the tiniest tinge of pink in the middle and said “Ground meat needs to be cooked completely.”. All he needed was a stern, “No, medium well is perfectly fine”, from me and he realized that he was incorrect or was just placating me. He inhaled four of these burgers.

I served them on top of the whole wheat pita with spinach and feta cheese.  You could make little mini burger buns and serve them as sliders.