Friday, February 28, 2014

Beef Soup with Mushrooms, Cabbage and Noodles

Comfortingly, somewhere between a soup and a stew.

Even though the cherry trees here in North Carolina are actually blossoming, it remains a bit nippy and soup weather is still on the radar.

Beef soups, it seems, are redolent with barley. I just wanted a strong, beefy broth with earthy overtones of mixed mushrooms and pinches of herbs here and there. And lots of wide egg noodles to slurp.

I love making soups. But I'm not good relating how I actually make them .... because, well, I'm always adding to them--such is the nature of soup making. Taste. Season. Taste. Re-season. Taste. Re-think. I had never really intended to add cream to this soup, for example, but the flavors begged for it and just mellowed all the wonderful ingredients.

And I love my stocks to simmer long. I mean really long .... like overnight. It's the only way to get hearty broths.

Finding beef bones is no easy task. It's much simpler to find chicken and turkey parts rather than beef. So I settled on strips of rib meat thinly-cut and readily available at my supermarket.

Cut off some of the meat to add to the stock later. Or buy extra meat.

If you don't want to mess with the consuming part of making your own broth, you could just skip to soup recipe portion of this blog and use a really good store-bought broth. The only one I would use would be Pacific. Most of the canned varieties are "tinny tasting" to me. If you have to use canned broth, sub in some water or, even better, some chicken stock.

To make the beef stock:

  • 1.5 - 2 pounds beef bones with meat
  • 1-2 slices raw bacon, cut up
  • 1 large onion
  • 1.5 stalks of celery, roughly cut
  • 1-2 carrots, roughly cut
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 cups, about, water
  • 2-4 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • several sprigs fresh thyme

Place beef in a large pot. Cover with water. Drain. Repeat several times until the water begins to run clear. (Alternatively, you may quickly brown the bones/meat in an oven and then add to the soup pot.) Once the bones and meat are clean, add rest of ingredients. Water should just cover everything by about an inch or so.

Bring to a simmer. DO NOT boil. Soup should never be boiled. It will turn cloudy. Remove any scum that rises to the top. Loosely cover and simmer for a minimum of four hours. After that time, cool, de-fat and strain and measure your stock. You want about 8 cups. If short, add beef stock and/or water. I try to avoid bullion cubes.

Overnight Method

If allowing your stock to simmer overnight, it will have reduced by as much as half but it will be wonderfully strong and have absorbed the taste of the slow-braised vegetables. I add about four cups of Pacific-brand beef broth and then bring the ingredients back to a good simmer. Allow to cool a bit, cook, de-fat and then strain your stock.*

Homemade beef stock. Wonderfully rich and amazingly nourishing.

To make the soup:

  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2-3 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup Half and Half
  • 8 ounces (a good one cup) snipped beef
  • 6-8 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 4 - 6 ounces mushrooms, preferably a blend, broken/sliced
  • 6-8 ounces (about 1.5 - 2 cups) sliced green cabbage
  • Thyme flakes, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill and more for garnish
  • Caraway seed
  • Sour cream for garnish (don't omit)

In a large frying pan, melt a bit of butter with some olive oil. Add the meat, mushrooms, garlic and onion. Season with salt, pepper and a few pinches of dried thyme flakes. Once the veggies have sweated, add to stock along with 1/2 cup red wine and sliced carrots. Bring to a simmer.

Add noodles. Partially cover and bring back to a simmer. When noodles have softened, add the cabbage, a few pinches of caraway seed and the dried dill. Partially cover and return to a simmer. Taste and re-adjust seasonings as necessary.

Remove from heat and blend in the Half and Half. Taste and re-adjust seasonings as necessary.

To serve, ladle into large bowls with a dollop of sour cream and an extra sprinkle of dill weed. The garnish makes the soup, so please do not omit.

*To strain your stock: Dump into a large colander over a large bowl or use the same pot you cooked it in having made sure you rinsed it clean. Squeeze out some of the veggies. Next, strain that stock through a sieve. Finally, strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Yea, it's a lot of work ...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fondant Potatoes, Squared

Potatoes with a crisp, seasoned exterior baked and simmered in a sauce of broth, butter, and fresh herbs.

Traditionally round, I squared my potatoes which created more surface areas to brown.
And I just like the "techy" look of it.

The lemon zest complements the chili and thyme.

"Fondant" simply means to cook in a sauce. Fondant potatoes are popular in Europe, but not so much here in the States. Not sure why. Traditionally, they are round or barrel shaped and cooked with some chicken stock and some thyme sprigs, as in the photo below. They were good but I felt they were missing something.

By squaring the potato, I created more surface areas to brown. I ramped up the sprigs of thyme, used beef stock instead of chicken, added a sprinkle of chili powder, smoked paprika and, at the end, added two zests of lemon to the hot "fondant" for just a hint of flavor. As the Brits would say, "Scrummy!" This was a meal in itself. But paired with steak or lamb, they would be both delicious. And they make such a great presentation.

You could also use some fresh rosemary and a clove or two of smashed garlic (if using fresh garlic, omit the garlic powder below). Potatoes take a lot of seasoning and are quite forgiving that way.

This is more of a procedure than a recipe. You will need a heavy pan, such as a cast-iron skillet. Use Russet potatoes.

  • 2 Russet potatoes, uniform in shape,
  • Dry Seasonings: Kosher salt, pepper, seasoned salt, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, smoked paprika
  • Fresh thyme--at least one dozen sprigs plus more for brushing
  • 2 fresh lemon peels
  • Peanut oil or any oil that stands up to high heat
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • Beef stock/broth

Heat oven to 375 F. degrees.

Cut off ends of potato and discard. Cut each potato into an oblong. Cut each potato in half for a total of four squares. Soak potatoes in a bowl of cold water to get rid of any excess starch or run under cold water.

Cubes are about two inches long but not quite as thick.
It will depend on your potatoes. 

On a plate, mix your dry spices except for chili powder and smoked paprika. How much?  Use this as a guide. If you have one teaspoon salt, use half as much pepper, seasoned salt and onion powder. Than half as much of that for the garlic powder--so you have a ratio of 1 to 1/2 to 1/4.  Go easy on the garlic powder. You may skip the garlic powder and add a garlic clove to to fondant before baking. I prefer the garlic powder.

Dry potatoes well. Roll in seasoned mixture.

Heat a heavy pan over medium heat. When hot, add peanut oil, about a good 1/4 inch. When it shimmers, carefully (there will be splattering) add the potatoes and begin to brown on all sides, adjusting heat as necessary.

Remove oil. Sprinkle with chili powder and just a hint of the smoked paprika. Add a good 2-3 tablespoons fresh butter. When foaming stops, add fresh thyme sprigs. They will sizzle. (During baking, the leaves will fall away from the stems.) Add beef broth to about 1/3 the height of the potatoes, not more than that.

Place in hot oven and bake 20-30 minutes, without turning, until a sharp knife inserted in center goes in easily. During baking, add more butter/broth if necessary. You don't want it to dry out and you want to be sure to have a lovely "fondant" or seasoned sauce for serving. As the potatoes bake, the lower portion will absorb the sauce while the top and sides will crisp.

When done, remove from oven. Remove the bare stems from the thyme. Using several fresh thyme sprigs as a "brush," baste the potatoes with the sauce in the pan. 

Add the two strips of lemon zest. Allow these to cool for at least 20 minutes. Serve with sour cream, if desired, and ample drizzles from the sauce.

Oh, yea!

Notes: I baked mine in my Breville countertop convection oven at 375 F. degrees. They were done in about 20 minutes. 

If you want round potatoes, cut off ends and peel the potato until a neat cylinder shape is achieved. Cut each cylinder in half. Traditionally, the edge of the top is removed to prevent burning. When browning, you only sear the top and the bottom, not the sides.

Thanks to "Steve's Cooking" over at YouTube for posting a great video about these potatoes.