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Greek-Style Beef Sandwiches

About a year ago, I lived down the street from a Greek Orthodox church in a neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Every hour, the church bells would play a hymn, and even though most were hymns I had never heard before, the music filled me with hope and slowed down time. As I toted my groceries back from the store on blustery midwest afternoons, I felt like grace was filtering down over my neighborhood.

Living down the street from this church brought another blessing. Every August, the church sponsored “Greek Fest,” filling the street with a Tilt-a-whirl, a Carousel, many giggling children and the smell of beef and lamb roasted on a rotisserie.

The last August I spent in Chicago, my husband, some neighborhood friends and I decided we finally needed to experience Greek Fest for ourselves. I sat on a ledge with my friends and savored the last of summer and the soft saltiness of an authentic Gyro.

When I miss my Chicago friends, this is one moment I remember.

I can’t bring us all back together again in my new home just yet, but I can attempt to make Greek-style sandwiches reminiscent of the ones we enjoyed at Greek Fest.

The ones I made recently are not true gyros, since those use slow-roasted lamb, but if you are craving a similar soft saltiness and looking for an easy way to replicate gyros at home, this recipe does the trick–and uses up some of that Lone Star Farm beef you either bought on sale or have in your freezer from buying a portion of a Lone Star cow!

Greek-Style Beef Sandwiches
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
Meat:
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Juice of one lime
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
Sauce:
  • 1 cup peeled, finely chopped cucumber
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 (8-ounce) carton plain fat-free Greek yogurt
For assembly:
  • 4 pocketless pitas/flatbreads
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Instructions
  1. Brown beef and accompanying spices and lime juice. Drain.
  2. Mix together sauce ingredients.
  3. Sprinkle cayenne onto pitas. If desired, warm them in a toaster oven. Then, layer beef and sauce on pitas and serve.

Cornish Pasties with Skirt Steak

When I first saw the word “pasties,” I automatically added an “r.” Cornish pastries. That sounds delicious! After recent travels through the British county of Cornwall, I can vouch for the fact that Cornish pasties, and Cornish pastries are heavenly (if as “pastries” you count scones with marmalade and clotted cream, a delicacy that’s somewhere between butter and whipped cream).

Cornish pasties were so good that my sister recreated them at home. Below, you can find her recipe, which will make an amazing treat for Memorial Day picnics.

This kind of pasty is pronounced pass-tee, not paste-y (which describes my skin before I managed to get a sunburnt nose in a country famous for its rain). The first form of pasty comes from the same root word as pâté, which can be not only an hors d’oeuvre but also a savory pie of meat or fish.

And a savory pie is what you’ll get when you order one at bakeries in Cornwall. My brother-in-law described the one he ordered as a thick beef stew wrapped in pie dough. The dough is soft with a delicious firm crust at the edge, while the filling is tender without making the dough soggy.

Pasties are a historic grab-n-go meal. “Pasties are thought to have been around in Cornwall since the 14th century,” says the Cornish Pasty Association’s website, “so it’s only natural then that the Cornish have become rather attached to them.”

Stewed beef was a later addition, according to the Great Cornish Food Book, cited on the Cornish Pasty Association website. Before that, the workers who carried this convenient lunch used ingredients that were easier to come by—potatoes, onions and rutabagas.

Knowing that this was a worker’s lunch, it is easy to make the connection between pasties and mining. Traveling through Cornish coastal towns, we saw as many mines as pasty shops. Copper, tin, and other metals drew miners deep into the ground in Cornwall.

 

“It was the advent of Cornish mining in the 19th century that really brought the pasty into its own and made it an important part of the life of so many Cornish families,” says the Great Cornish Food Book. They were easy to carry. Some even say the miners held the rope-shaped “handle” on the edge of the pasty and discarded it at the end so they wouldn’t eat anything they’d touched with “grubby, possibly arsenic-ridden hands.” Others say the miners wrapped pasties in paper bags or cloth so they wouldn’t have to handle them with bare hands. I’m inclined to believe the second idea. That crust is one of the best parts!

Try them yourself! Here’s the recipe my sister made soon after we returned from vacation.

Cornish Pasties with Skirt Steak
Author: 
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: English
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 pasties
 
A delicious "hand pie" - perfect for eating on the run or as a stunning meal for company. For those who prefer a simpler method, store-bought crusts can be used. Just cut them in half first and form into a triangle, or make one very large pasty that serves 2. If you're pressed for time, you can even turn the temperature up and pre-cook the ingredients. Sometimes I microwave the vegetables and pan-sear the beef if I need a quick meal. Be creative. Use olive oil, add other vegetables, meats or cheeses, or even drizzle some wine or beer into your mixture too!
Ingredients
Pasty:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ cup cold water
Filling:
  • 2½ cups potato, finely diced into about 1 cm pieces (about 3 medium potatoes)
  • 1 cup white cooking onion, finely chopped (about 3 small onions)
  • 1 cup carrots, finely diced (about 3 small/medium carrots
  • 12 oz beef skirt steak, finely chopped (some recipes said you could use chuck roast instead)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
Instructions
  1. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, butter and egg yolks into a food processor and blend until the mixture forms crumbs. Slowly add the water until it forms a ball (you may not need all of the water). Wrap the dough in clingwrap and refrigerate 1 hour
  2. Preheat oven to 350.
  3. On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough. Cut out 6 circles of dough using a large bowl or dinner plate as a template.
  4. Mix together the meat, vegetables, flour and a generous amount of salt and pepper in a large bowl. (Yes everything is raw still!) Ladle into the center of each circle of dough. Add a generous dollop of butter on top of the meat and vegetable mixture. Fold over and crimp the edges with a fork. Cut a few steam holes in the pasty. Brush with beaten egg. Scatter a little bit of cornmeal on the bottom of the pasty before placing on a baking pan to allow some heat to circulate underneath. Put another sprinkle of salt and pepper on top too before baking.
  5. Bake 50 minutes at 350, until golden brown on top and the beef is no longer pink. Allow them to rest 5-10 minutes.
  6. These reheated splendidly in the oven, and I imagine they would do fine being assembled ahead of time and baked later - which would make them the perfect meal to make ahead of time for company.

Dice your vegetables very small – about 1 cm or less than 1/2 inch pieces.

And, if you happen to find yourself golfing in Phoenixville, PA, look for the Wheatley mine on the grounds of the Pickering Valley Golf Course, where you can find this familiar-looking “Cornish stack.” It reminds me of an old saying: “a mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it.” As Cornwall was running out of minerals, other countries were discovering them, so many miners left Cornwall to offer their expertise and improve their lot elsewhere.  Between 1841 and 1901, more than a quarter of a million people left Cornwall. The Wheatley mine in Phoenixville was founded during that time period: 1850, to be exact.

Cornish pasties made with #SkirtSteak! #PicnicFood #SavoryPie

Bibimbap: Korean Beef with All the Fixin’s

You can’t beat having friends who will make you an amazing meal and then send you the recipe. I don’t know if I ever would have tried bibimbap unless one of my friends made it for my husband and me one weekend while we stayed with her family. I’d never even heard of it before!

I am sure glad she had heard of it and knew how to make it. This Korean beef dish is full of fresh ingredients and bursting with all kinds of tangy, savory, spicy flavors.

It was such an impressive dish that I thought it would be very difficult to make. So, you know how it goes. She sent me the recipe… and I waited. In fact, when I emailed her to tell her I finally made some bibimbap of my own, I noticed in shock that two years had passed since she sent me the recipe!

I won’t let two years slip by before I make this again. It wasn’t tricky to make. It’s really just four easy salads and some beef, and the salads and rice could easily be made ahead of time so it doesn’t feel like a lot of active kitchen time all at once. I’m already thinking about the next time I’ll make this, and looking forward to the first crispy, savory, mildly spicy bite.

Bibimbap: Korean Beef with All the Fixin's
Author: 
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Korean
Serves: 4
 
This recipe is 4 easy salads plus seasoned beef over rice—topped with a fried egg.
Ingredients
SALAD 1: BEAN SPROUTS
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz can soybean sprouts, drained
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
SALAD 2: CARROTS
  • 5 ounces matchstick carrots (approx. 1 ½ cups)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
SALAD 3: CUCUMBERS
  • 1 small cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons Chili Pepper Dressing (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
CHILI PEPPER DRESSING
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
SALAD 4: SPINACH
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
SEASONED BEEF:
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar or maple syrup
For topping: one fried egg for the whole dish, or one fried egg per person.
Instructions
Before starting the salads:
  1. Cook rice according to package directions (you can even do this the day before. Giving it this time to dry out a little will make it crispier).
  2. Toast 4 tablespoons sesame seeds.
SALAD 1: BEAN SPROUTS
  1. Sauté shallots in oil in a medium sauté pan. Mix shallots together with the remaining ingredients.
SALAD 2: CARROTS
  1. Heat oil. Add carrots and salt and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
SALAD 3: CUCUMBERS
  1. Mix all ingredients together.
CHILI PEPPER DRESSING
  1. Whisk all ingredients together.
SALAD 4: SPINACH
  1. Heat thawed spinach and add remaining ingredients. Mix well.
SEASONED BEEF:
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the ground beef, soy sauce, sesame oil and brown sugar. Let marinate for 15 minutes.
TO ASSEMBLE:
  1. Have seasoned salads and beef ready in individual bowls.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet or pot and add 2 tablespoons sesame oil. Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the rice and spread in an even layer across the bottom of the pot. Cook the rice until it starts to brown on the bottom. (You'll hear it sizzle.)
  4. Arrange each of the seasoned salads on top of the rice, like a pie chart. Place the beef in the center. After 2 minutes, turn off heat.
  5. Set one fried egg in the center on top of the beef. Add extra Tangy Red Pepper sauce on top. Mix everything together before serving.

 

Mmm! Bibimbap is Korean Beef with all the fixin's!

Guinness Beef Stew for St. Patrick’s Day

Every day around 4 p.m., throughout my entire childhood, I would ask my mother, “What’s for dinner?” Four p.m. was, after all, the cut-off point for snacks, so the best way to get through the hour or two between crossing the snack Rubicon and arriving at dinnertime was to imagine what we would be eating. Even if I was at a friend’s house, I would call my mom and ask, “Hey. Mom. What’s for dinner?” (And then of course try to strike a deal with my friend to eat at whoever’s house offered the tastier meal.)

If I did end up at my own table, I could count on a lively dinner. My parents, siblings and I would tell stories from our day. If someone’s story inspired questions, we would fetch the appropriate volume of our 1954 World Book Encyclopedias to answer them. “What was Johnny Appleseed’s real name?” “Can elephants have twins?” “Why is Pennsylvania called the Keystone State?” We weren’t living in the 1950s, but we were living in a pre-smart-phone world and gathered information wherever we could.

Some nights, we would eat beef stew. Not only was it a frugal meal, allowing Mom to use up veggies, it was also a crockpot meal that freed her up for a busy day.

Since beef stew was a staple of my childhood, I love trying new recipes for stew. There’s a sense of familiarity and relief. It’s a familiar process, leading to variations on a basically familiar taste.

 

This St. Patrick’s Day recipe blends new flavors, stretching the familiar. I can’t imagine my teetotaling mother pouring Guinness into either a glass or a stew back then, but this stew, like hers, is rich, hearty, and full of complex flavors. And it’s a crockpot meal that allows you to go out and enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and come home to a warm meal. If you’re crunched for time, you can skip sautéing the parsnips and onion. You sacrifice a little flavor, but the onion and parsnip will still cook through.

Guinness Beef Stew for St. Patrick's Day
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
Adapted from Simply Recipes. Skip sautéing the veggies if you are short on time.
Ingredients
  • 1.5 pounds beef stew meat cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups beef or chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup Guinness extra stout
  • 1 cup red wine, such as Cabernet
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 pounds red potatoes, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 parsnips, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Salt and pepper the beef and then brown in olive oil, working in batches if necessary so that all the meat gets well browned. Add garlic. Transfer to crockpot and add all ingredients except parsnips, onions and potatoes.
  2. Saute parsnips and onions and add to crockpot. Add potatoes.
  3. Cook for 8-10 hours on low or 4-6 hours on high.

 

 

Pan-Fried Flat Iron Steak with Caper Sauce

“Yes, I know exactly how to cook that.” Is that your reaction when you come across flat iron steak?

If you’re currently cooking flat iron steak with appetite and aplomb, feel free to skip to the recipe below.

But if you’ve never cooked this cut before, well, then this blog is for you. I hadn’t cooked it until this month, so did some research before I fired up the stovetop. (It was January in Pennsylvania, after all, so I couldn’t fire up the grill!)

Don’t be chagrined if you’ve never heard of the flat iron steak before. It’s a fairly new cut, developed in 2002. A meat science professor (yes, that profession exists!) looked at famously flavorful beef shoulder to see if he and his colleagues could find a choice, tender cut there.

The resulting steaks got their name because they were shaped triangularly, like an old-fashioned iron.

Old fashioned flat iron [Smabs Sputzer via Flickr]

Flat iron steaks are shaped like an old-fashioned iron. [Smabs Sputzer via Flickr]

Before Cooking

Like flank steaks, flat iron steaks are best when marinated.

After marinating the steak for 2 hours, I pulled it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature, which took about 20 minutes.

Why get it to room temp? “Frying will be both faster and gentler if the meat starts at room temperature or above and is turned frequently,” advises Harold McGee in his classic guide, On Food and Cooking. He notes that you don’t want to overload the pan with cold, wet meat. So, being careful not to leave the meat out for an unsafe amount of time, let it come to room temperature.

Meanwhile, make the caper sauce (see below).

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Immediately before cooking, on the stovetop, pre-heat a large pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil over medium heat.

Cooking

Cook steaks uncovered, pressing the meat down with another pan so that more surface area gets hot faster. You want the surface to brown well.

You know the beef is cooking well if you hear a constant sizzle. You want a “continuous strong hiss,” says McGee, rather than “irregular sputtering.” That continuous hiss was a little unnerving to me, as I’m used to boiling or sautéing on the stove top, not pan-frying, but I was confident in McGee’s advice and simply let the beef sizzle for a while.

I cooked the beef for 2-3 minutes per side so it would develop a brown crust, then transferred it to a 400 F oven to reach desired doneness.

The results proved that flat irons have a deep, rich flavor and are incredibly tender when you marinate them, bring them to room temperature, and cook them evenly.

DSC05009

 

Pan-Fried Flat Iron Steak with Caper Sauce
Author: 
Recipe type: marinade
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
Adapted from Sheknows.com Marinate for 2 hours
Ingredients
4 flat iron steaks
Marinade:
  • ½ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped.
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
Caper Sauce:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup capers, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl and pour into a large re-sealable bag. Add steak and transfer to the fridge to marinate for 2 hours.
  2. Let steak come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 400F.
Make caper sauce:
  1. Whisk together all caper sauce ingredients.
Cook steak:
  1. Immediately before cooking, on the stovetop, pre-heat a large pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil (it has a higher smoke point than olive oil).
  2. Cook uncovered, pressing the meat down with another pan, for 2 minutes per side. Transfer to 400F oven to reach desired internal temperature.

 

 

Pan-Fried Flat Iron Steakwith Capers Sauce

Crockpot Short Rib Bolognese for an Elegant New Year’s Meal

My latest idea for cooking with beef is a sneaky one. I’ve decided to order beef dishes whenever I go out to eat at a restaurant I admire. That way, I get a chance to see what accomplished chefs–many of them from cultures other than my own–are making with beef. There’s more to beef than steak, pot roast and spaghetti sauce after all! On this plan, I’ve tasted arepas, vaca frita, cuban beef sandwiches, and delicious smoked beef (atop an oven-fired pizza).

DSC06306

Last month, I ordered something I never would have thought to make: a bolognese sauce made with braised short ribs.

Only a few years ago, I would not have thought to look for main dishes with short ribs at all. Ribs were for barbecuing, not for making a fancy main course. Then my sister introduced me to her recipe for Provençal Short Ribs. They take elegant to a new level. Making them is certainly an all-day or all-afternoon activity, but that only adds to the sense of accomplishment.

dsc00857

I liked making fancy short rib dishes so much I soon attempted Short Ribs with Chocolate and Pancetta. This one’s elegant, too, with a chocolate flavor much like chocolate stout (not like chocolate Christmas candy). The chocolate adds layers of flavor–rich and slightly bitter.

Those recipes prepared me to expect great things when my dish arrived. And I savored every mouthful. It was full of old world flavor–wine, mushrooms, tomatoes, and melt-in-your-mouth beef.

dsc04732

I had to replicate it a few weeks later. This version uses a crockpot so that chopping vegetables and searing ribs are your main task at the start of the day, and enjoying and preparing the gnocchi are all you need to do at the end. It’s so good it would make a wonderfully fancy new year’s meal.

Short Rib Bolognese for an Elegant New Year's Meal
Author: 
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • 4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 2 pounds short ribs, cut into 1-2 inch cubes (cut off bone if necessary; can add bones to crock pot for extra flavor)
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 cups diced carrot
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes,
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp, basil
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • ½ cup heavy cream or milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 ounces gnocchi
  • grated parmesan for topping
Instructions
  1. Brown the pancetta in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add to crockpot but keep the grease in the pan.
  2. Cook the ribs in the same pan over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Transfer to crock pot.
  3. Cook the onions and carrots in same pan until tender.
  4. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, mushrooms and tomato paste, cook about a minute. Transfer all to crockpot.
  5. Deglaze the pan with wine, and transfer wine to crockpot along with broth, crushed tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, basil and oregano. Cook 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.
  6. Stir in parmesan and cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve over cooked gnocchi and top with parmesan.

 

crockpotshort-rib-bolognese

Easy, One-Pot Mexican Skillet Chili

When I was about five years old, my mom gave me my first advent calendar. Each day, I awoke with anticipation. When would Mom say it was okay to pry open the perforated cardboard door to find the candy inside? I lived whole hours within those minutes between waking up and tasting that chocolate. No chocolate since has tasted so good.

advent-calendar-by-onnola

I often wish I could revive that childhood sense of anticipation each advent, even though I would not be eagerly awaiting candy but the much sweeter chance to celebrate what the season is all about.

But isn’t it hard to keep a sense of anticipation when we are so busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas? When you’re busy, you never have to wait for anything—in fact, you wish you could delay whatever events are on the horizon so you’ll have more time.

It can help to have a repertoire of easy meals lined up between the big meal at Thanksgiving and the big meal at Christmas. That way, even if everything else is crazy, you don’t have to go crazy in the kitchen too.

Here’s one that came to the rescue for me recently: Mexican Skillet Chili. You brown the meat with some onions in a big skillet, dump all the other ingredients into the skillet, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Really, it’s not much more time-consuming than ordering pizza. It makes a delicious filling for burritos, which has the added perk of making it stretch to feed more people.

mexican-skillet-chili

 

Mexican Skillet Chili
Author: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • Half an onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb. Lone Star Farm ground beef
  • Taco seasoning: 1 tablespoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, 1½ teaspoons ground cumin, a pinch of salt.
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 14.5 ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
  • ¾ cups brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 2 cups beef or chicken broth
Toppings:
  • 1½ cups shredded cheddar
  • Diced avocado
  • Salsa
Instructions
  1. Cook the onion in oil in a large skillet over medium heat 1-2 minutes. Add ground beef, stirring, until cooked through. Drain fat.
  2. Add to skillet: taco spices, tomatoes, corn, black beans, rice, and broth. Return heat to medium, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 40 minutes or until rice is fluffy.
  3. Remove from heat and serve in bowls or in tortillas with the taco toppings of your choice.

Advent calendar photo credit: Onnolo via Flickr.

Cuban Vaca Frita with Lone Star Farm Skirt Steak

A table can be a comfort. A restaurant can be an island set apart from the cares of life. When my husband and I moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida at the end of May, I needed just such an oasis.

“What is Port St. Lucie like?” Friends asked me before we moved. “I mean, is it a city, or the country, or what?”

“It’s just houses and strip malls and palm trees as far as the eye can see,” I said.

So after I moved, I needed an oasis because much of the Port St. Lucie landscape is monotonous. I looked for egrets and sandhill cranes by the roadside canals, just to break the relentless ugliness of supermarkets, office supply stores, pawn shops and fast food restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the convenience of being within a ten-minute drive of the nearest Target as much as the next person, but that convenience has its price, and in so many suburbs the price is an endless vista of bland uniformity.

So imagine my delight when my husband and I stepped into a local Cuban restaurant on our anniversary this past June. We had parked in a strip mall parking lot and entered through a strip mall door, but once we were inside the restaurant, I felt like I was in someone’s home. Bamboo shades blocked my view, and my memory, of the parking lot. White tablecloths adorned the tables, and antique chairs beckoned. The bar looked like it came from the set of Key Largo. I could smell savory seared beef.

dsc04147

A server joked with us like we were old friends. Life slowed down. I saw only vistas of beauty and comfort.

I looked at the menu and ordered vaca frita—“fried cow.” The Spanish language tells it like it is.

I don’t think it was just the fact that I felt so at ease in this restaurant that made the beef taste so good. Vaca frita is an amazing meal that starts with slow-simmed beef that is then fried in oil. The beef isn’t breaded the way most fried food is, but it gets crispy nonetheless.

Later that night, I texted a Cuban friend of mine: “I ate something called fried cow. It was so good I almost wept.”

A few weeks later, I had to try making vaca frita myself with Lone Star Farm’s skirt steak, sold in their freezer packs. I hope that whenever I serve this meal, my table will also be a comfort, creating an oasis for whoever eats there.

Vaca Frita
Author: 
 
Adapted from Food & Wine.
Ingredients
  • 1½ lbs skirt steak
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. In a large pan, combine skirt steak, onion, bell pepper, bay leaves, oregano and onion powder, add enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine lime, oil and garlic to use as a marinade.
  3. Once steak has simmered, remove it to a plate. Discard bay leaves and drain liquid. Fry the onions and peppers and set aside.
  4. Shred the steak once it is cool enough to work with. Toss it in the marinade to coat and let it sit 30 minutes.
  5. Working in small batches in a very hot pan, add shredded beef in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let it get nice and crispy on both sides.
  6. Serve with fried onions and peppers.

 

Shredded Beef Arepas

You know what arepas are, right? No? Oh, good! Neither did I until this summer (and neither, apparently, does spell check).

This summer, a friend of mine mentioned a new local Venezuelan restaurant that served $6 arepas on Wednesdays, and even though I had no idea what an arepa was, spending $6 on a nice sit-down dinner with friends sounded just fine.

When Arepa Time arrived, I discovered that the arepa meal was much like a standard American “barbecue” sandwich with pulled, seasoned meat. Only, instead of being served on a Kaiser roll or other hearty bread, the meat was wedged between two arepas, which are kind of like English muffins made with a special kind of cornmeal. And the delicious seasoned beef inside my arepa was topped with smoked gouda and avocado.

shredded beef arepas

I knew right then that this was a meal I needed in my future.

Unfortunately, the whole reason we were getting together with friends that Wednesday was to say goodbye because we were moving far away. Far away from good friends and from this newly discovered treat.

I would just have to learn how to make beef arepas on my own. This has proved much easier than making new friends. I was astonished at how simple it is to make arepas at home, and how deliciously soft and buttery they were. The beef roasts for 3-4 hours in a Dutch oven, but once you’ve browned it, you hardly have to think about it again. And the arepas themselves are easier to make than most bread! I am hoping to make this delicious Venezuelan cornbread for some new friends in our new locale soon, but this savory, buttery meal will continue to remind me of the last evening we shared with these friends in our old neighborhood.

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Shredded Beef Arepas
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Beef recipe adapted from The Candid Appetite; Arepa recipe adapted from Gluten Free Girl. If you don't have a Dutch oven, you can brown the meat in a saucepan and then transfer it to a baking dish and roast 3-4 hours, or transfer to a crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours.
Ingredients
Shredded beef
  • 2 pounds boneless rump roast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons each salt and black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons each: garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • Quarter of a yellow onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ¼ cup salsa
  • 1 beef bullion cube
  • 2 cups water
Arepas
  • 2 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups pre-cooked white cornmeal (such as P.A.N. - only use pre-cooked!)
Toppings
  • Sliced avocado
  • Shredded gouda cheese
Instructions
Shredded Beef:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Heat a heavy-duty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil.
  2. In a bowl, mix spices and divide put half of the mixture into another bowl and reserve. Rub the remaining mixture into the roast.
  3. Brown the roast on all sides. Remove from heat.
  4. Add bell peppers, onion, garlic, bay leaves, lime juice, salsa, bullion, water and remaining half of spices.
  5. Transfer to oven. Roast 3 to 4 hours until the meat is tender and easy to pull apart with a fork.
Arepas
  1. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.
  2. In a bowl, mix water, salt and oil. Add cornmeal slowly until the mixture feels like clay (but a little wetter and mealier).
  3. Round the dough into balls (tennis ball size). Flatten to the size of an English muffin. If the edges crack, the dough is too dry.
  4. Fry on a cast iron pan or other oven-safe pan over medium heat.
  5. When the bottoms are crisp and golden brown, flip them. Repeat.
  6. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, and then slice and butter them and fill them with seasoned beef and desired toppings.

 

Pulled-Beef Arepas

Make Juicy Lucy Burgers for Father’s Day

I’m a food tourist. I’ve decided to embrace this. While I love to unwind by a lake front or see the view from a mountain top, one of the most memorable parts of any trip is the food that the region has to offer.

Globalization has made a lot of America look (and taste) the same, and yet when I lived in Chicago, I couldn’t get a decent hoagie and would have gotten strange looks if I ever tried to order one. And when I lived in Pennsylvania, nobody had pizza that tasted quite the same as a Giordano’s deep dish.

So when I travel, I look for food that’s unique to the region. I’m in Florida right now, so that means BBQ, gator meat (it tastes like very juicy chicken, I promise) and authentic Cuban food (I’ve just got to figure out how to make amazing authentic vaca frita- “fried cow”- for an upcoming Lone Star Farm blog article!).

And a few weeks ago I was in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and that meant Juicy Lucys. Before this trip, I had never heard of a Juicy Lucy. Have you? It’s basically an inside-out cheeseburger, with all the cheesy gooey goodness in the middle of the burger instead of slapped onto the outside. It makes the whole burger a lot cheesier.

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Our friends took us to Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis, home of the original Juicy Lucy… depending on who you ask. Others will say this famous burger got its start at the nearby 5-8 Club. After trying one, though, you’ll just be glad somebody thought to stick some cheese between two thin burger patties because it sure is good. Make it this Father’s Day!

Juicy Lucy
Author: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1.5 lbs ground beef
  • ½ teaspoon dried minced onion
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ pound sliced American cheese
  • 4 hamburger buns
Instructions
  1. In a medium bowl, mix ground beef and seasonings. (Keep seasonings simple so that you don't leave pockets where cheese can seep through the beef.)
  2. Make 8 meatballs of uniform size and shape. Use a small heavy skillet to flatten each one into a thin beef patty--as thin as possible so the cheese and beef layers will all cook thoroughly.
  3. Place cheese slices, folded in half, on the beef patty, place another beef patty on top, and close the edges firmly so no cheese pokes through.
  4. Grill until well done. (If your grill is hard to clean, place aluminum foil on top because you may get some cheese dripping out.)