Category Archives: Beef

pumpkin chili with venison (the venison diaries, part IV)

Two winters ago, I wrote a series of blog posts all featuring ground venison, since I’d been given 6 pounds of it from my dad. According to my first post in the series, my plan was to write a different recipe for each of the 6 packages, but somehow I fell off after three. I can’t recall what I did with the other 3 pounds,  but I’m guessing it’s pretty likely there was at least one batch of chili in there.

Chili is probably the most common dish made with ground venison- I suspect some people turn to it because the powerful seasonings can mask the venison’s taste, but that hasn’t been a problem for us since my dad’s deer always taste great with no “off” or gamey flavors. We just make it because it’s easy and we tend to have most of the ingredients on hand. However, I never really considered my usual chili (which consists primarily of chopping onions and garlic and opening a bunch of cans) to be worthy of writing down a recipe.

Folks, this batch is a different story. I did rely on a couple canned ingredients, and this is still squarely in the camp of weeknight fare (even with the experimentation factor and my own slow-pokiness, it only took me an hour and a half from start to finish) but the flavors are richer, deeper and, dare I say, more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill chili. Marvin may have to make good on his mention of taking up hunting himself in order to keep us stocked with sufficient quantities of venison, because rather than quell my cravings, this just made me hungry for more.

When my venison supply was replenished a couple weeks ago, I knew that this was the first dish I wanted to try. My dad’s wife Amy had told me about a pumpkin chili she had recently made for a cook-off (it took second place out of 20- not too shabby!) and I was intrigued. Amy hadn’t used a recipe, but she told me what ingredients she used and I tweaked it to my tastes. For example, her version used chili powder, pumpkin pie spice and a little brown sugar, and included lots of beans, corn and tomatoes. I omitted the sugar, added toasted and soaked guajillo chiles instead of chili powder, and used cumin, allspice and cinnamon for a vaguely Middle Eastern feel. In fact, I can easily see substituting lamb for the venison in this recipe (or grass-fed beef if you’re not a fan of lamb). I also left out the corn and cut back on the beans and tomatoes, wanting the pumpkin, chiles and meat to be the primary flavors.

For garnish, I stole Amy’s idea of reserving a little pumpkin to mix with sour cream, and added cilantro and scallions to brighten things up. Chopped jalapenos would be nice too if you wanted a little more kick. One authoritarian note, though- although I am generally very flexible with my recipes, I have to strongly advise against any temptations to use shredded cheese as a garnish- the flavors wouldn’t work with the cinnamon and allspice. I guarantee you won’t miss it, though.

Pumpkin Chili with Venison
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Prep time: 30 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive

Serves: 8

5-7 dried guajillo chiles (see note)
2 cups boiling water
2 Tbs olive oil or neutral vegetable oil
1 large or 2 small white onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground venison, lamb, grass-fed beef, or a combination
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 large (29-oz) can 100% pumpkin puree (check to make sure it has no sugar or other spices added)
1 small (14-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small (15-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained

optional but recommended garnishes:
sour cream
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro

Note: 5 guajillo chiles will yield a chili that is “warm” but not spicy-hot; feel free to add more, but I wouldn’t go too hot because you’ll overpower the other spices. You could also substitute dried ancho chiles if guajillos are not to be found.


1. Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Toast the chiles in the dry skillet, turning frequently and taking care not to burn them. Remove the seeds and roughly tear the chiles into pieces; place in a blender. Pour over the 2 cups boiling water and replace the lid; allow to soak while you prep the vegetables.

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute more.

3. Increase the heat slightly and add the meat, salt, and all of the spices except the cocoa. Cook until the meat is browned- this will vary depending on your choice of meat; venison is very wet so it takes longer, but keep going until the liquid has evaporated. Meanwhile, process the chiles and water for 30 seconds in the blender.

4. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot, and all but 1/3 cup of the pumpkin puree; add the cocoa powder and stir to incorporate. Strain the chile water into the pot with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, pressing to extract all the liquid (guajillo skins are very tough; if you use ancho chiles you don’t need to strain them). Add more water to reach your desired consistency, allowing for some evaporation (I added about a cup).

5. Cover and reduce heat to a very low simmer; cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water if it looks too thick. About halfway through, add the black beans (canned beans often verge on overcooked, so I prefer to add them toward the end).

6. Taste the chili for salt and adjust as needed. Whisk the reserved pumpkin puree with a cup or so of sour cream. Serve the chili garnished with pumpkin sour cream, a generous sprinkling of cilantro and a few scallion slices.

corned beef & cabbage, and soup! {charcutepalooza}

Have you noticed it’s been a bit heavy on the meat posts over here lately? I have some non-meat-centric recipes up my sleeve, but am trying to be timely for St. Patrick’s Day and the Charcutepalooza deadline (which I’ve already blown by 2 days). This month’s challenge was brining; specifically, corning (is that really a verb?) our own beef. (I told my friend Fred on the phone the other night what I was up to, to which he replied, “I like to hear a lady say she’s corning her own beef”. Yes, Fred can make innuendo out of just about anything. What would that even mean? Never mind…)

This was probably one of the easiest challenges- not that I know what the others will be yet, but as far as curing and charcuterie goes, this was a snap- make up a simple brine (salt, pink salt, spices and water), brine the meat for 5 days, and then simmer with more spices until cooked. No humidity or temperatures to monitor; in fact the biggest challenge was probably finding room in the fridge for the container of meat and brine.

I bought a brisket from Gratiot Central Market that was almost 8 pounds, the smallest they had. The recipe called for a 5-lb brisket, so I cut off the round (the thicker end) and stuck it in the freezer; I’ll probably do some kind of braise with it later. I made my own pickling spice according to the recipe in Charcuterie, which now has me wanting to pickle anything and everything just because I have a whole jar of it and it’s awfully pretty and intoxicating (photo shows coriander, peppercorns & mustard seed I toasted). But if you really want easy-breezy, it’s fine to use a pre-mixed pickling spice.

For our first corned beef meal, I made this braised cabbage instead of boiled. I just feel like it’s a little dressier, or maybe it’s just my comfort zone since I don’t make many boiled dinners. I used the corned beef cooking liquid instead of chicken broth for the braising liquid and it was fabuloso. The meal got big thumbs up from Marvin, who called the corned beef “sprightly” from the coriander and praised the cabbage’s sweetness. He was still carrying on about it the next day, saying it was the best corned beef he’s ever had. So there you have it- homemade really does make a difference!

Once we got down to about a pound of corned beef left, I decided to make a batch of corned beef and cabbage soup, loosely based on one at a restaurant where I used to work. Now, I know there are probably a thousand recipes out there for this soup, and I make no claims to any sort of originality or authenticity with this, but for you other Charcutepaloozers out there, this is a solid recipe and a good way to use up leftover stock and meat. It incorporates the highly flavorful cooking liquid from simmering the beef (waste not, want not!) and is ridiculously easy to throw together.

In other (sort of related) news: My latest SimmerD column is out; it’s a profile of P.J.’s Lager House in Corktown and you can read it here.

Corned Beef & Cabbage Soup
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1 lb corned beef, cut into whatever you determine to be appropriate bite-sized pieces
1 lb green cabbage, shredded on a mandoline or thinly sliced
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
2 medium yellow onions, cut to your preference (I like vertical slices but you can also dice them)
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup sauerkraut with its juice
1 large russet potato, peeled and shredded (optional, see notes)
6 cups broth from cooking your corned beef (if very salty, use 4 cups broth + 2 cups water or whatever ratio tastes balanced)
olive oil

Notes: If you didn’t cook your own corned beef, you could try making this with deli corned beef- for the cooking liquid, use beef broth, and put a tablespoon of pickling spice in a tea strainer or cloth spice bag to cook with the soup. I didn’t use a potato since I’m off the white starch for the moment, but I probably would have otherwise. I didn’t miss it though. Your call.

Directions: Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot.  Sauté the onions and carrots until the onions are softened and translucent, about 10 minutes. Raise the heat slightly and add the cabbage. Continue to sauté until the cabbage is wilted and softened, about 15 minutes, adding more oil if needed so nothing sticks.

Add the tomatoes, broth, meat and potato, if using. Simmer until cabbage and carrots are cooked to your liking. Stir in the sauerkraut and taste to check the balance of flavors, adding more salt, water (if too salty), sauerkraut juice etc. as needed. Serve with hunks of pumpernickel or rye bread and butter.

a locavore meal: steak & mushroom pudding (daring bakers)

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I’ve never been one f0r deadlines.  I was always the kid who was up all night with a pot of coffee the night before a big exam, or mysteriously sick the day a term paper was due.  While I love the idea of Daring Bakers and have participated in several (most even on time!), the posting date always sneaks up on me and I usually find myself scrambling. I’ve missed the last couple DB challenges (shh, don’t tell the blogroll moderator) and thought I would miss this one as well, but I got a last-minute burst of inspiration.

Our hostess gave us a choice between a sweet or savory pudding (note: in Britspeak, “pudding” has a much more general meaning than in the U.S.), and gave total free reign with the fillings/ flavorings.  The dessert puddings looked much more foolproof, but the savory ones appealed to me more.  Besides, I was fascinated by the idea that you could steam a pastry crust and it would come out browned and/ or flaky.  I decided to go with a fairly simple steak & mushroom filling;  I used the hostess’s dough recipe and then made up my own filling based on looking at a few other recipes.  I went to Western Market in Ferndale for the ingredients because they recently started carrying local beef (from C. Roy Meats in Yale, MI).  I was also able to pick up organic lettuce and MI asparagus and mushrooms there.  (The mushrooms were Aunt Mid’s, which I know is a local brand- not sure if they’re grown here or just packaged here.)  Last but not least, I used Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout both in the recipe and to quaff along with dinner.  Cheers!

The main part of the challenge was to make a pastry dough using suet.  When I asked for suet at the butcher counter, they gave me (for free) several hunks of beef fat; however, I’m not really sure if it qualified as suet based on the description given in the challenge.  The challenge hostess made it sound as if you could just crumble it up as-is; however, what I had needed to be rendered to be usable, as it still contained a lot of connective tissue and even a bit of meat.  But I just set it over low heat and filtered the liquid fat through cheesecloth, then stuck it in the freezer to chill.  The pastry “recipe” was really loose, with specific amounts given for the fat and flour but not for the water.  I think I added too much water because I ended up with a pretty sticky dough which I had to flour quite a bit in order to roll out.

For the filling, I just used cubed chuck steak, mushrooms, a yellow onion, salt, pepper, some fresh thyme, a few dashes Worcestershire sauce, and a bit of stout to moisten it all.  I tossed the meat in a couple Tbs of flour so that a gravy would be produced when the meat & veg released their juices, and it worked perfectly.  Fortunately the quantities I used were also just the right amount to fit perfectly into my 2-quart bowl!

For my steaming apparatus I just used a stockpot with a pasta insert- this worked great because I could easily monitor the water level and lift the insert (with the pudding in it) in and out of the water.  The directions said to steam the pudding for anywhere from 2 ½ hours to 5 hours… I steamed it for about 3 ½ but by then it was getting late and we needed to eat before it got ridiculously late.  Unfortunately my crust didn’t get fully cooked, I’m not sure if a longer cooking time would have helped, or if it was simply because I had used too much water in the dough.  It had the consistency of a dumpling more than a flaky crust.  Still, the filling was so good that we just picked around the dough and mostly ate the meat and sauce. I have a little leftover dough that I may use to make some other small pie, but I may try baking it instead and see how that turns out.  Cheers to Esther for a great challenge!

Steak & Mushroom Pudding with Stout
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a 2-quart bowl, at least as tall as it is wide
a stockpot with a pasta insert (barring this, you may have to improvise some sort of rack to keep the bowl off the bottom of the pan- an overturned plate, a trivet, etc.)
1 quantity suet pastry (you can get Esther’s recipe here, just scroll down)
1 lb cubed chuck (approx. 1-inch pieces are good)
8 oz button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (if larger, cut them in sixths or eighths)
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
about 2 Tbs flour
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
about ⅓ cup stout beer
salt & pepper

I did have some difficulty getting the suet crust to turn out via the steaming method, but as I said, I’m not sure whether it needed to cook longer or whether I just used too much water in the dough.  You may want to read around some of the other Daring Bakers posts to get some clarification!  I can, however, fully vouch for the filling, which was delicious.

Fill the stockpot with water enough to come about a third of the way up the sides of your bowl (put the insert with the bowl in while you’re filling it so you can check the level).  Remove the bowl and insert and set the pot of water to boil.

Put the mushrooms, onion, and thyme in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, sprinkle the flour over the steak until well-coated (I like to use a tea strainer so there are no lumps).  Add the steak to the mushroom mixture.  Sprinkle in the Worcestershire (I’d say a scant tablespoon).  Season generously with salt and pepper, tossing to mix.

Grease your bowl.  Set aside ¼ of the dough.  Roll out the remaining dough and line your pudding bowl with it (you will likely have extra if you use the recipe I did).  Place the filling in the bowl and pour the stout over the top. Roll out the remaining dough and place it over the top, sealing it around the edges.  Take a large square of foil or wax paper and place it over the top of the bowl; secure with string or a rubber band. Arrange it so that it “poufs” up and does not touch the dough (mine did touch, and tore the crust when I removed it. Boo!) .

Place the bowl in the pasta insert and lower it into the boiling water.  Put the lid on and steam until the crust is cooked, 3 to 5 hours (it will turn from a pasty white to a golden brown).  Check the water level a couple times and top off if necessary; it shouldn’t fall below the bottom of the bowl.  When done, invert the bowl onto a plate and serve.

yuca & venison shepherd’s pie (the venison diaries, part II)

This dish has been a long time in the making… some of you may remember that I mentioned Marvin’s mom making a version of it for Christmas Eve in ’08, and I’ve been wanting to try it ever since.  She uses ground beef in her version, but I rarely ever cook with ground beef.  However, I do have a freezerful of ground venison courtesy of my dad, and have been looking for different ways to use it.  So far I made a really good venison & porcini mushroom ragu, and I’m sure there will be a batch or two of chili, but I wanted to be a bit experimental and I’ve been wanting to cook with yuca for quite a while now, so this casserole was born. (See this post for more about yuca.)

I call the dish “shepherd’s pie” because that’s the closest thing I’m reminded of, with the seasoned ground meat being cooked under a layer of starchy veg.  The yuca is quite a bit different than potato in that it is very dense and has a lot of “chew” to it.  When you mash it, it holds together almost like dough, and when it’s baked, the top gets a nice crunchy texture.  Even if you don’t follow this recipe, I would encourage you to play around with yuca because it’s a fun and unique starch.   My photos were not taken in the greatest lighting, so this may not look like the most attractive dish, but it’s easy and homey and familiar yet exotic all at once.  By all means, if you’re not a fan of venison, use ground beef like Marvin’s mom does; my use of venison was just because that’s what I had.

This was also the fist time I had used achiote (aka annatto).  I used the whole seeds to flavor some canola oil, which I then used to saute the vegetables and meat.  To make achiote oil, just warm some neutral oil in a skillet (I prefer a silver skillet so you can see the color).  Add some achiote seeds and gently swirl the oil until it reaches a deep orange color and becomes fragrant.  Don’t let the oil get too hot or the seeds will burst and become bitter.  Strain the oil before using. 

Yuca Shepherd’s Pie
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For the yuca layers:

24-oz bag frozen yuca, or 1 1/2 lbs yuca, peeled
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
small onion, quartered
salt & pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

For the meat layer:

1 lb ground beef or venison
2-4 Tbs achiote oil or vegetable oil
1 large white onion, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled & diced small
2 jalapenos, minced (remove pith & seeds for less heat, or sub 1/2 a green pepper for a non-spicy version)
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

salt & pepper


Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil.  Cut the yuca lengthwise and then into chunks of roughly equal size.  Add the yuca, garlic, onion, and a few grinds of pepper to the water.  Let simmer, covered, for an hour.  Check the yuca by cutting or smashing a piece- it should be a pale yellow and have no opaque white spots.  You may need to cook the yuca for up to 90 minutes to get it fully cooked through.  When the yuca is done, remove with a slotted spoon and discard the garlic, onion and cooking water.  There will be a tough stringy core in the center of the yuca that you should easily be able to remove with your fingers.  Place the yuca in the bowl of a stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to mix the yuca into a smooth paste, adding the olive oil in a thin stream.  Start with 1/4 cup and add more if needed, based on the taste and consistency of the yuca.  Taste for salt, adding if needed.

While the yuca is cooking, prepare the meat: Heat 2-3 Tbs oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the onion, garlic and carrot.  Cook for a few minutes until the onion & carrot begin to soften; then add the peppers.  Cook for a minute longer and add the meat, cumin, 1 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper.  If you’re using venison you may need to add a bit more oil to prevent sticking.  Cook the meat, stirring frequently, until it is fully browned and cooked through.  Stir in the tomato paste and cilantro. Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a 9×13″ lasagna pan or other casserole dish with cooking spray, or brush with olive oil.  Spread about 1/3 of the yuca over the bottom of the pan using a spatula
(if that’s not enough to cover the bottom you can use a little more; just make sure to reserve more than half for the top layer because it’ll be harder to spread).  The yuca will be very sticky so it may help to lightly oil the spatula.  Dump the meat in a layer over the yuca (if using beef, you may want to use a slotted spoon to drain off some of the grease).  Spread the meat in an even layer, pressing it into the yuca.  Take the remaining yuca and spread it over the meat.  You may need to use your hands to spread and press it down; if so, you’ll want to oil your hands first.  (Looking at my photos, you can see it was a challenge to get the yuca all the way out to the sides!)  Lightly brush the final layer of yuca with olive oil.

Bake the casserole for about 30 minutes or until the yuca starts to become crisp and brown.  If after 30 minutes the yuca is not browning, you can run it under the broiler for a minute or two to get a nice crunchy top.  If you have any cilantro left over, you can use it as garnish.

beef & freekeh soup (shorabat freka)

Sometimes you try a new recipe and it goes off without at hitch, seamlessly incorporating itself into your repertoire.  Other times, you beat it into submission, until it bends to your will…

A recipe for beef soup- what could be so hard about that, right?  Well, if you’ve never cooked with beef shanks before and you don’t realize just how long it takes for them to break down and be edible, you might think that the recipe’s 90-minute suggested cooking time was reasonable, and might try to attempt making it after work one night.  If you did, you would find that it actually required at least a few hours of simmering to reach the right consistency (this was discovered over the course of three days, in which I would cook it for a while each night and stick it back in the fridge before going to bed because it STILL wasn’t done).  It wasn’t a huge tragedy, and eventually I got my soup done and it was delicious, but if I ever cook with beef shanks again I think I would consider going the slow cooker route and putting them in before work.

But enough about the beef, some of you are probably saying “What is this ‘freekeh’ of which you speak?”  Long story short, it’s a form of wheat that has been roasted and has a wonderful smoky flavor.  (You can read more about it in this post.)  I had never cooked with it before and my blogger friend Warda had mentioned using it in soup, so when I saw this recipe, with its warming flavors of cardamom, cinnamon and allspice, I was attracted to it instantly.  However, if these flavors don’t appeal to you, I think freekeh would be excellent substituted for barley in any mushroom, beef, or lamb-barley soup.

In spite of my issues with the recipe (which I have modified slightly in hopes of sparing you the aggravation I experienced!) the soup turned out to be a winner.  Marvin, who isn’t the hugest soup fan, gave it two thumbs up.  If anyone has slow cooker experience and can suggest how to adapt it, let me know- I think it would work well.

Beef & Freekeh Soup (Shorabat Freka) adapted from The Arab Table
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2 cups freekeh (see notes)
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
2 1/2 lbs beef shanks (2 large shanks should be approximately this weight)
1 tsp ground cardamom
5 cardamom pods (see notes)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp ground allspice
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 cups boiling water

optional: 1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes, chopped

to serve: lemon wedges and fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley


  • There are two types of freekeh, crushed and whole.  You can use either one; the whole freekeh will just take a little longer to cook.  The freekeh I bought came packaged and I did not see any stones, but if you buy it in bulk you should sort through it like you would with lentils.
  • The original recipe called for simmering the beef shanks for a total of about 1 1/2 hours.  I needed to simmer mine much longer before I was able to separate the meat into pieces, and even then, it was tough (har har).   I had never worked with beef shanks before and did not realize how cartilaginous they are! Just be patient, though, and you will be rewarded.
  • I’m not exactly sure why the recipe calls for ground cardamom AND cardamom pods.  If you only have it ground and don’t want to buy the pods, I would think you could just add an additional 1/4 tsp or so.
  • According to the author of The Arab Table, Jordanian cooks sometimes add tomato to this soup.  Although I love tomatoes, I preferred to try it first without, just to get the full impact of the aromatic spices.  I did end up adding some tomatoes in with the leftovers and liked it.  It’s easy to add the tomatoes at the end, so try it both ways and see which you prefer. (Use the tomatoes and the juice released when chopping them, but don’t add the thick purée they come in.)


Put the 10 cups water on to boil while you gather the rest of your ingredients and chop your onions (if you have an electric tea kettle, this is a great use for it).  Wash and pat dry the beef shanks; give them a generous coat of salt and black pepper on both sides.  Set aside.

If you are using whole freekeh, fill two medium bowls with water.  Place the freekeh in one bowl, swirl it with your hands and transfer it by hand or with a slotted spoon to the second bowl.  Repeat, refilling the bowls with fresh water until there is no more debris.  Drain the freekeh and set aside.  (If you have crushed prepackaged freekeh there is no need to wash it.)

In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften.  Add the beef shanks and spices  and stir well to coat the beef, about 3 minutes.  Add the boiling water, cover the pot, and return to the boil.  Skim the foam from the surface of the soup.  Reduce heat and simmer gently, covered.

After 2 hours or so, you can check the meat every 30 minutes by poking it with a fork.  When it’s nearly falling apart, remove it from the soup.  Cover the soup and turn the burner off or on the lowest setting.  When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull it from the bone, tearing it into bite-sized chunks and discarding any gristly pieces.  (If the meat does not pull apart easily, return it to the soup and cook it longer.) Return the pieces of meat to the soup pot.

At this point, you can add the freekeh, or you can do what I did, which was to refrigerate the soup overnight so as to skim the fat from the surface.  Either way, return the soup to a simmer and add the freekeh along with 1 Tbs salt.  If using crushed freekeh it will cook almost instantly, like bulghur.  If using whole freekeh, simmer for 30-45 minutes.  The freekeh should retain a slight crunch when you bite into it, like biting into a kernel of corn.  If you are using tomatoes you can add them at this point.  Taste the soup for salt and pepper, adding more if needed.

Serve with wedges of lemon and fresh chopped parsley.

espresso-balsamic grilled flank steak

I had a nice flank steak marinating in all kinds of goodness last Saturday, with the intention of grilling it Sunday, but the weather and life in general had other plans.  It drizzled all day, and then the person I was supposed to cook for decided they wanted Thai food, and no one else was around at short notice to eat with me.  I was feeling pretty glum about all of this.  It’s one thing to eat alone if you’re just eating a salad or leftovers, but sitting down to a 2-lb. steak by yourself just makes you feel slightly ridiculous.  It sits on a platter in its burnished glory, juices pooling, mocking you with its heft and surplus.  No, flank steak is meant to be made for multiple people, not one pint-sized female who can only eat a few measly slices before becoming too full.

steak on cutting board

Nevertheless, I had already been marinating the meat for 24 hours, and didn’t want to gamble with letting it sit any longer, so I valiantly tried to get the grill going.  I should mention that, while I have “grilled” many times, I have never actually lit a grill as there has always been someone (ok, a guy) around to do it (hey, I have to make them feel they are contributing in some small way, right?).  So I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but the coals would not light despite the copious amount of lighter fluid I dispensed all over them (and it wasn’t even raining aymore at that point).

steak plated 2

On to plan B- the broiler.  I have never broiled steak before either, but I figured I would just wing it.  I didn’t do too badly- the steak was more medium-well than the medium-rare I was going for, but it wasn’t ruined by any means, and the marinade (which I simmered on the stove and used as a sauce) was outstanding.  If coffee in a marinade sounds too weird, please just trust me and try this.  The coffee blends really well with the other flavors and adds an unexpected depth.  Plus, assuming you don’t eat this alone like I did, you can play a fun game with your dinner guests having them guess the secret ingredient. If you want to do wine with this (and why not?) you could try a peppery Shiraz to complement the black pepper in the sauce.  I’ll be posting soon on the potato salad in the photo as well, so stay tuned for that too!

Espresso-Balsamic Grilled Flank Steak (adapted from Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamersley) printer-friendly version

They say that if you get one really great recipe out of a cookbook to add to your repertoire, it’s worth the purchase.  At today’s $35-and-up cookbook prices and free recipes on blogs everywhere, I’m not sure if that’s absolutely true, but I will say that this recipe makes this particular book worthwhile for me.  (I have to confess, it’s the only one I’ve made so far from the book, but if enthusiastic Amazon reviewers are to be believed, it’s certainly not the only one that’s worth trying!)  The recipe takes less than 30 minutes active prep time, yet has so much more of a “wow” factor than many dishes which take hours to prepare.  Needless to say, your sauce will only be as good as the coffee you use, so please take care to use a quality coffee that’s not too harsh or acidic.

1 flank steak, 1 1/2- 2 lbs
1 cup espresso or strong brewed coffee
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tbs dijon mustard
1 tbs neutral vegetable oil
1 tsp coarsely gound black pepper
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Whisk together all the marinade ingredients (i.e. everything but the steak) and place in a sealable plastic bag or flat, shallow container large enough to hold the meat.  Rinse the meat, pat dry, and place in the marinade, covered,  for 2 hours minimum (up to 24 hours).  Turn occasionally.

Heat the grill of your choice to medium-high heat.  Remove the steak from the marinade, scraping any clinging sauce and shallots back into the dish with a spatula.  Pat the steak dry, and oil and salt the surface lightly.  Grill 3-6 minutes per side, taking care not to overcook (because it is so lean, flank steak is best served on the rare side).  Baste with the marinade while cooking, reserving at least 1/2 cup.  When done, set on a platter to rest, tented with foil, while you finish the sauce (let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing).

Put the remaining marinade in a small saucepan and bring to the boil along with any juices that collect on the platter.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for a minute or two; the sauce should thicken slightly.  Slice the steak thinly against the grain and spoon the sauce over to serve.


oxtails-platedFor those of you who read my post last week about our Valentine’s day near-disaster, you know that we had originally planned on having oxtails. I’m happy to report that I was able to make them the next day without any problems, although we did still eat late, around 9PM. This really is a dish to make the day before, or to start first thing in the morning!

I wanted to make oxtails for many reasons- because I’d never had them before; because I’d read recipes in 2 of my favorite cookbooks saying how great they were; and, OK, just because it’s a cut of meat with a cool-sounding name!

(I have to pause here and chuckle a bit at a couple friends who asked me, quite innocently, “What are oxtails?” It was as if they couldn’t quite believe it would actually be what it sounded like. I hope the photos give you a vivid understanding!) raw-oxtails

I’m going to be lazy and not post the whole recipe for the oxtails, since it runs a few pages long, and because I think you can probably get a good oxtail recipe several places on the internets. I read two different recipes before settling on one- one was from the Zuni Café Cookbook, and the other from All About Braising. I chose the latter, not for any reason in particular except that it seemed slightly simpler (that, and the fact that I don’t often have an excuse to use a whole bottle of wine in a recipe).

spice-bundleTo start, after trimming as much fat as I possibly could, I marinated the meat in a bottle of wine with a sachet of aromatics in cheesecloth: bay leaves, peppercorns & allspice. The allspice made it smell like mulled wine after it had sat for a day, and I was afraid its flavor was going to be too dominant, but it turned out fine. The instruction to marinate the meat for a day or so caused me to ponder: wouldn’t this cause the wine to oxidize and lose flavor? We used a pretty decent bottle of wine on this recipe since we were “splurging” for Valentine’s day, but I have to wonder if after being open to the air all that time, plus the 4-hour cooking time, would anyone be able to tell the slightest difference between that and something for $4 from Trader Joe’s?


The recipe instructed me to broil the meat before braising, to get it browned. I liked this method; you just have to keep a careful eye because it can quickly go from browned to blackened. Meanwhile, I cooked onions, carrot, celery and garlic with diced pancetta. I have to say, I thought the pancetta was gilding the lily a bit given how much fat was in the oxtails, and I don’t know that I would have missed it had I used olive oil instead. (The Zuni Café recipe actually called for a pig’s foot to add “body” to the braising liquid!! Call me a philistine, and I do love my pork, but I think there’s plenty enough bones and fat in oxtails without having to pork it up.) After the veg was cooked and the bottom of the pan started to get brown, I added some tomato paste and dried porcini mushrooms that had been soaked in warm water, and then a couple tbs brandy to deglaze the pan. The next step was to add the wine, mushroom liquid and some stock in stages and reduce it on the stove. Then the meat went in the pot, nestled tightly so it was nearly covered by the braising liquid, and into a 300-degree oven it went.

The recipe I used suggested a 4-hour braise, but after 3 1/2 hours we were getting pretty hungry so I pulled the meat out to check it. It looked plenty tender, so I removed the meat from the braise with tongs and let it cool a bit. I’m glad I decided to take it off the bone before serving, because it was so incredibly fatty that we would have ended up eating big chunks of fat had I not separated the meat and thrown a lot of the fat away. Despite my best efforts, a good deal of fat still made it back into the dish because it was so marbled in with the meat. I probably skimmed about 1 1/2 cups of liquid fat from the braising liquid as well. I knew this wasn’t going to be diet food, but I had no idea it would be THAT fatty. I am pretty inexperienced with beef though!


The meat and braising liquid (more of a compote at this stage) formed a thick, chunky ragu that we served over polenta. Chopped fresh parsley was an absolute must- I don’t know about you, but I need to taste a little something fresh and green on my palate when eating a rich meat dish. I didn’t completely shred the meat; I tried to leave it in bigger chunks, but once it was separated from the bone it pretty much fell apart. I hadn’t intended it to be a “sauce” necessarily, but then I had never made it before so didn’t know quite what to expect. I added a small amount of tomato juice and diced tomatoes (from a can) to loosen the sauce a bit and add a bright acidic note to counterbalance the richness. I think if I made it again, I would add a can of tomatoes to the braise instead of just tomato paste. That was what the Zuni recipe called for. But I think in the recipe I used, the wine was supposed to be the star ingredient; perhaps more tomato would have thrown off the balance.


We definitely enjoyed this dish immensely, and I’m glad I got to try my hand at something new, but I’m not sure if it will become part of my repertoire. For one thing, the cost of the dish was just about as much as a fancy dinner for two in a restaurant! In addition to the $13 bottle of wine we dumped in there, the cheapest oxtails we found were at the Honeybee Market for $3.50/lb, and it called for 5 lbs. I would guesstimate that we ended up with less than a pound of actual meat at the end of the cooking process. I do kind of want to try Judy Rodgers’ recipe at some point for comparison’s sake though- she salts the meat a day ahead rather than marinating it, and her recipe calls for less wine (1 3/4 cup) and more tomatoes. I also wouldn’t mind trying an oxtail recipe from a different part of the world- my cousin mentioned she’d had a Chinese-style oxtail dish with star anise and it intrigued me!