• Beef Tri-Tip Roast: A Good Meal For A Small Thanksgiving

    Kobe Beef Tri-Tip Roast. A special treat.

    It may seem like sacrilege, but we don’t serve turkey at Thanksgiving. No ham either. Nope, we serve a version of our slow-roasted pork with apples and fall herbs and some kind of roast beef. If we have a big crowd, we roast a whole Tenderloin, but if we have a small crowd, we roast a Tri-Tip. And if we want to splurge, a Kobe Tri-Tip is one of our favorite roasts.

    The Tri-Tip is a triangular 2 to 2 and 1/2 pound cut of beef from the bottom sirloin primal of the cow. It has strong beefy flavor and, if cooked and sliced properly, is quite tender. Out here in California, “Santa Maria Style” Tri-tip, lightly seasoned and slowly cooked over red oak to medium-rare, is a very tasty regional specialty. And if you go into most butcher shops here in Norcal, you will find many custom Tri-Tip preparations and marinades (the black, ugly, but incredibly tasty “Fred Steak” is a local specialty). And as a special treat, most butchers feature a Kobe Tri-Tip. And this is a very special treat.

    While it’s expensive, the Kobe Tri-Tip is a great intro to Kobe beef. Kobe beef is a special type of beef with extra marbling of fat (fat is flavor) and very tender meat. Kobe is expensive, but the Tri-Tip is one of the more affordable cuts and is easy to prepare. The beefy flavor of the Tri-Tip doesn’t need much help, so we simply prepare a quick rub of olive oil, salt and pepper and let the steak marinate for at least four hours or overnight. Then you simply sear the outside of the meat for flavor and then slowly roast until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees for medium-rare.

    We use our sous-vide machine for the Kobe Tri-Tip, as we can exactly control the internal temperature (we target 131). We then sear in a cast iron pan, slice and serve. But you can grill Tri-Tip using a two-level fire, or roast in a hot oven. We include cooking instructions for each method. The key to any Tri-Tip recipe is to avoid overcooking, so regardless of method, be sure to pull the roast from the heat before it reaches the target temperature (it will still gain five to ten degrees) and allow the roast to rest at least ten minutes before you slice and serve. And be sure to slice across the grain for a more tender bite. And now you have a very tasty roast that is the perfect size for four to six guests.

    So if you have a small group of guests for Thanksgiving, we have a suggestion. Make all the traditional sides like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, creamed spinach, stuffing, cranberries and pie. Pop open a good bottle of wine or cider, maybe make some punch. But save yourself a lot of time and cook up a Tri-Tip. And if you are feeling flush, try out a Kobe Tri-Tip. You won’t have to struggle with a turkey and you will have very happy guests. And if you just can’t bear the thought of beef at Thanksgiving, Tri-Tips are just as good for a casual weekend roast. Tri-Tip makes a good meal any time.

    Beef Tri-Tip Roast:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Tri-Tip is sometimes called “triangle steak”. If you can’t find Kobe Tri-Tip, ask your butcher, it is a popular cut and usually can be ordered.
    • Tri-Tip does not have a lot of intra-muscular fat and is not a good roast to cook past medium rare. If you need to cook a roast past medium, other cuts will do better.

    What You Get: A quick, easy, tasty and tender beef roast.

    What You Need: No special equipment required. But a digital thermometer, or meat thermometer reduces the risk of overcooking. We cook this roast sous-vide, but the grill or oven also work well.

    How Long? If grilling or oven-roasting this dish takes about 20-30 minutes. Sous-vide cooking will take 4-8 hours and then 2-3 minutes of searing the meat. The beef benefits from an overnight marinade.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 4 – 6)

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1, 2 and 1/2 pound Tri-Tip roast, trimmed (Kobe, if you like)
    • Vegetable oil or bacon fat, for searing (if cooking sous-vide)

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Dry off the Tri-Tip and coat with the oil mixture. Put the roast in a container or plastic bag and then place in the fridge for 4 -12 hours.
    2. If charcoal grilling: Build a two-level fire. Sear the roast for 2-3 minutes on each side, on the hot side of the grill. Then move the roast to the cooler side of the grill. Cover the grill and cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    3. If gas grilling: Set up the grill for high heat. Sear the roast for 2-3 minutes on each side. Then move the heat to low, cover the grill and cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    4. If oven roasting: Preheat the oven to 425. Place the roast in a roasting pan (with a rack, if possible) and put the pan in the oven. Cook for 5 minutes and then lower the heat to 350. Cook cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 – 30 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    5. If using sous-vide: Set the sous-vide temperature to 131 degrees (or your desired temperature). Remove excess oil from the roast and seal in a vacuum bag. Cook sous-vide for at least 4 hours, 6 – 8 is preferred. When the roast is done, heat vegetable oil or bacon fat in a skillet over very high heat. Sear the roast 1 – 2 minutes on each side, or until well browned. Slice and serve.
  • Fall Foraging

    Fresh chanterelle mushroom.

    Seasons change. The rain comes. The last of our summer crops wither. But we are still thankful. In Northern California the fall and winter rains bring the “green season”, and the green season brings its own treats. And our favorite treat is the chanterelle mushrooms. Chanterelles are beautiful, meaty and tasty. The chanterelle emerge after early season rains, and our friend Bill has a steady crop. Bill invited us over to take photos and grab some mushrooms (and he didn’t have to ask us twice). It was a good haul and the chanterelles will be on our Thanksgiving table. Bill will be there too, so he gets to enjoy his mushrooms. Thanks Bill!

    Big chanterelle.

    A good haul…don’t worry, they clean up nice…

    Now that we have the mushrooms and the holiday is coming, we look around the farm to see what else will reach the table. We have olives, but they will stay on the tree (probably). The pomegranates cracked with the rains, but we managed a few tastes. The Oranges need more time, but the Meyer Lemons are in full swing. We will make some kind of punch with the Meyer Lemons for Thanksgiving. The Kaffir limes are still inedible, but the leaves remain a delight, bringing southeast Asian flavors to our dishes. Our friend Anne shared some of her Hachiya Persimmons, if they ripen soon enough they will make for an excellent dessert (thanks Anne!). And the herbs are very happy with the rains…plenty of flavor left. Plenty of things to be thankful for.

    Hachiya Persimmons.

    Pomegranate that’s seen better days…

    Young Eureka lemon, a few months away from being ripe.

    Cara-cara orange. Pretty but rarely sweet enough…too cold.

    Meyer Lemons. The tree is sagging under the weight of the lemons.

    A Kaffir Lime. The rind smells great but the fruit is very acidic. Continue reading

  • Easy, “Perfect” Mashed Potatoes

    Easy, Perfect Mashed Potatoes.

    Ah, the “Mashed Potato Martini”, the symbol of swanky 1990’s catering. A cocktail glass brimming with buttery mashed potatoes and topped with your choice of butter, sour cream, bacon, cheddar cheese, chives and parsley. A pleasant, if somewhat excessive, relic of the dot-com era. But just as the excesses of dot-com left some valuable companies and technologies in their wake, the mashed potato martini left us with a valuable legacy, we got serious about making “perfect” mashed potatoes.

    And by “perfect” we mean, tasty, easy and predictable. And a recipe that easily scales for large events. After a few years of intermittent experiments we developed this recipe / process and never looked back. The basics are simple, we use Yukon Gold potatoes and plenty of cream, butter and salt. And we have just a few techniques that make a big difference in texture. And, of course, we add a plenty of extra butter, bacon, cheese, etc. We just don’t believe in “light” or “healthy” mashers. We save that for kale dishes.

    As for the ingredients, the main difference is using Yukon Gold instead of starchy Russet potatoes. The Yukons are a mix between waxy and starchy potatoes, and they have an overt “buttery” flavor. The big advantage of the Yukons is that they don’t dry out like Russets. So while you do need cream and butter, the Yukons add their own moisture without being watery. You get a creamy texture and pronounced potato flavor to match the dairy and salt. Good stuff.

    As for the key techniques, they are also very easy, but important. Firstly, after you drain the potatoes, put them back in the hot pot and mash with the warm dairy. The hot pot dries out any extra water (you don’t want watery mashers). Secondly, only mash just enough with the masher and then move to folding with a spoon. Too much mashing makes for a gluey texture, better to have a few lumps. And finally, have extra butter and milk ready to mix into the mashers if they seem stiff or dry. And feel free to keep adding butter…hard to go wrong. Then adjust seasoning, serve with more butter on the side and you’re done. All in less than 30 minutes. Perfect.

    And if you want to be “fancy” there are a few other steps you can take. If you just hate lumps, you can run the mashers through a fine mesh strainer to get a very smooth consistency (if you do this, you may as well add as much butter as you can- like a mousseline). And lastly, if you want to pull out the martini glasses and add a bunch of garnishes you may get a few extra smiles at the table. A slightly ridiculous, but also delicious, dish for the “holidaze”.

    Easy, Perfect Mashed Potatoes

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Yukon Gold potatoes are widely available. Use the largest Yukons you can to save time on peeling.
    • This recipe is for 4 – 6 as a side, but scales easily for larger groups.

    What You Get: Like we said, perfect mashed potatoes.

    What You Need: A potato masher, or a ricer. But the masher is the best tool for this recipe.

    How Long? About 30 minutes, with 10 minutes of active time. This is an anytime dish. Continue reading

  • Mixology Monday Cocktail: The McCovey Cove

    The McCovey Cove Cocktail.

    Time for another Mixology Monday! (We know it’s Friday, we like to be early.) This month’s online cocktail party theme is “Garnish Grandiloquence”  and our host is Joseph at Measure + Stir, one of the most innovative cocktail blogs out there (and one of our favorites). Here are the details:

    I’m always shocked by the way that an orange peel or a lemon peel can transform the experience of drinking a mixed drink from something mundane to something magical. In a similar vein, eating the olive in a martini will totally transform the imbiber’s perception of the drink. So this Mixology Monday, let’s really make a study of art of the garnish, by mixing up drinks where the garnish plays a central role in the experience of the drink. Of course, you don’t have to make a latticework out of orange peels, a pirate ship out of citrus, or a ferris wheel out of pineapple and squash, but it sure would warm my heart. This type of garnish is traditionally in the realm of tiki, but you could mix anything, so long as the garnish is the star of the show.

    Very cool, but a bit of a challenge, as we tend to keep our garnishes simple. But part of the reason we blog is to constantly improve our skills, so we got to work. Happily, we had an easy subject to work with, the San Francisco Giants’ second world series win in the last three years. As die-hard fans there was no question we would create a cocktail to celebrate. And our friend Sonja even gave us Giants cocktail umbrellas. Well, now we had one garnish, but motivated by Joseph’s Gourd Vibrations we decided to make the “glass” a garnish as well. And since the Giants are all about orange and black, we decided to use a hollowed orange with the SF logo and include a black (or very dark brown) cocktail. And after going through a bunch of oranges, we got our cocktail and named it after McCovey Cove, the body of water outside the Giant’s ballpark (knick-named after Giants’ Hall of Fame player Willie McCovey). Buster Posey was just named MVP, so we almost named the cocktail after him, but he doesn’t seem like the drinking type….

    As for the actual cocktail, the McCovey Cove is our adaptation of a Port Antonio, a tiki drink with gold and dark rum, lime juice, coffee liqueur and falernum. The Port Antonio is a good tiki drink that uses the coffee to add some aroma and slight bitter notes to cut through the sweetness of the rum and falernum, a “grown-up” tiki drink.  We wanted to go even more “coffee-forward” and developed the McCovey Cove. The McCovey Cove has aged Jamaican rum, high-proof coffee liqueur, Cherry Heering, lemon juice, allspice liqueur and a big orange twist (or hollowed orange) as a garnish. The McCovey Cove features a full orange oil and spice aroma followed by strong coffee and vanilla flavors backed up by the fruit of the Heering and the spice notes of the allspice liqueur. The lemon juice provides a backbone of citrus and acidity to keep the overall flavors bright and refreshing.

    A few notes on ingredients. We use Kahlua Especial, a 70-proof version of Kahlua in this recipe, we prefer the flavor and extra spirits. Most high-proof coffee liqueurs should work, but they vary in coffee flavor, so be ready to tune the recipe. As for the allspice liqueur (also known as pimento dram), it is a useful tiki ingredient featuring a full blast of holiday spices that are a great foil for sweet rum and citrus. St. Elizabeth makes a commercial version, but Alicia at Boozed and Infused has an excellent DIY recipe here. In a pinch, you can sub tiki bitters or Angostura for the allspice liqueur. Finally, Cherry Heering is one of the best cherry liqueurs and a worthy addition to any bar. Heering works equally well with gin, whiskeys and rum- go get some!

    Our thanks to Joseph for hosting this month’s MXMO and Fred Yarm at Cocktail Virgin Slut for managing the whole enterprise. It was great fun, as always. And we managed to slaughter only a “few” oranges making the McCovey Cove…but we think their “sacrifice” was worth it!

    The McCovey Cove:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 oz. Aged Jamaican rum (Appleton 12 year-old)
    • 3/4 oz. Coffee liqueur (Kahlua Especial)
    • 3/4 oz. Cherry Heering
    • 1/3 oz. Fresh lemon juice
    • 2 Dashes allspice liqueur (St. Elizabeth’s allspice dram)
    • 1 Large navel orange (or a big orange twist)
    • Cocktail umbrellas
    • Straw

    Assemble:

    1. Carve a design into the orange using a channel or paring knife, if you like. Position the carving on the bottom two-thirds of the orange.
    2. To hollow the orange, cut off just enough of the bottom rind of the orange to create a stable base, but don’t pierce the inner flesh. Then cut off the top third of the orange and carefully cut or scoop out the orange flesh (reserve for juice). A grapefruit knife is a helpful tool.  Set aside.
    3. Combine the rum, coffee liqueur, Heering, lemon juice and allspice liqueur in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold and strain into the hollowed orange filled with fresh ice. Garnish with cocktail umbrellas and add a straw. Serve.
  • The Best Brownies Ever

    The best brownies ever.

    Baking, in its purest form, is chemistry. Baking has rules, exact measurements, chemical reactions and controlled variables. Baking is science. But like many sciences, once you master the basics (after many, many reps), you begin to move into the realm of art. Each recipe is a canvas to be tuned and tweaked for new textures and flavors. New dishes emerge, but without undoing the fundamental chemistry of the dish. The hard science yields to something evolutionary. The magic seeps through. Those moments of evolution are rewarding for the cook, and the eater, alike.

    And while it is a big leap to say we have the “best” anything, these brownies do represent Carolyn’s never-ending quest to pack as much chocolate into every brownie as is humanly (and scientifically) possible. When we say “best” chocolate brownies, we mean it. We are talking about a couple of pounds of chocolate, and chocolate in every, single, possible step. Chips, chunks, cocoa powder, melted and whole chocolate every way you can. And while we don’t have scientific data to back it up, we bet most people will be ok with that. Most people need want more chocolate in their brownies. Most people need want more chocolate in their lives…..

    The recipe we use is classic “brownie 101”, but Carolyn has additions that make the difference between just good and the best. Carolyn greases the baking sheet and then dusts with cocoa powder, rather than flour. The recipe has two flavors of melted chocolate and then bittersweet and white chocolate chunks (instead of nuts). Carolyn uses instant coffee to amp the chocolate flavor (coffee enhances chocolate). And finally a sprinkle of salt adds a delightful contrast to the dark chocolate, the salt enhances the chocolate and sugar, yet keeps the flavors from becoming cloying. The salt makes each bite as good as the first. In the end you get a dense, moist and very chocolatey brownie with just a little extra everything. These brownies are gooey, but they do hold together (best to chill in the fridge before slicing). Carolyn essentially added chocolate to the recipe until the eggs and flour couldn’t hold any more. And yes, we thoroughly enjoyed the experiments getting to this point.

    So now the question is, “what do we do with all these brownies?” We save a few for ourselves, but this batch will be sold as a snack at the intermission of our eldest son’s school play. Carolyn is already well-known at school for her cupcakes, so we bet the brownies will be a hit. We think the play will be a hit as well, and we will save a brownie for our son. Break a leg kid! Continue reading

  • Medjool Dates Stuffed With Celery and Parmesan

    Medjool Dates Stuffed with Celery and Parmesan.

    As we move towards the holidays we break out quick recipes for entertaining. When we host a party we tend to serve a few quick snacks, usually a mix of hot of cold dishes. One of our favorites is just radishes, butter and salt, but this combination of sweet dates with crunchy celery and savory parmesan cheese is a new favorite. The dish combines many flavors and textures, is quick to make and easy to eat with a drink in your hand. A perfect cocktail party treat.

    We are familiar with many parmesan-stuffed date recipes, but this recipe from Hugh Acheson is one of the first we know of that adds the crisp, vegetal crunch of celery and the bite of Italian parsley. Add some acidity from a quick vinaigrette and you have a very well-rounded bite.  We added some of the tender celery leaves and a splash of sherry vinegar to fit our tastes, but whether you tune the recipe or stick with the original version, you get a very tasty dish.

    Making these stuffed dates is as easy as it gets. Peel and chop some celery, and reserve some of the leaves, then chop some Italian parsley. Make a quick dressing with olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Add the celery and parsley and mix with the vinaigrette. Grate a few ounces of parmesan cheese and add it to the mixture. Then slit 6-8 Medjool dates lengthwise and carefully remove the pits and stuff with a tablespoon of the cheese and celery mixture.

    And then you are pretty much ready to serve. Put the stuffed dates on a serving dish, maybe drizzle on some oil, vinegar,a pinch of salt and a few sprigs of parsley. The only question is how you present the dates. The dates are malleable and sticky, so you can stuff them and close them completely to hide the stuffing. Or you can leave the dates open to show off the goodies. We like to leave the dates open, but it is your call. Regardless of how they look, you will enjoy the depth of flavors and textures. And it’s good these are easy to make, your guests will probably ask you for another batch.

    Medjool Dates Stuffed With Celery and Parmesan:

    (Adapted from Hugh Acheson)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Look for large, quality Medjool dates for this dish and use the best parmesan you can find.

    What You Get: A perfect cocktail party snack.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? 5 minutes. Anytime dish. And this is worth making any time.

    Ingredients:

    • 6 large (or 8 medium) Medjool Dates
    • 1 stalk of celery, preferably with a few leaves still attached
    • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
    • Pinch of salt
    • 2 – 3 oz. grated parmesan cheese (the best you can get)
    • Sherry and/or balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

    Assemble:

    1. Peel the outer side of the celery and remove the strings. Chop the celery, on the diagonal, into pieces about 1/4 wide. Reserve a few of the celery leaves. Chop the parsley.
    2. Combine the celery, celery leaves and parsley with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the lemon juice and salt. Mix well and then fold in the grated parmesan cheese.
    3. Slit one side of each date lengthwise and then remove the pits. Stuff the dates with about a tablespoon of the celery and parmesan mixture. Squeeze the dates a little to secure the stuffing. Arrange the dates on a serving plate and drizzle with the remaining olive oil, a touch of balsamic and/or sherry vinegar, a sprinkle of salt and a few sprigs of parsley. Serve.