Ropa Vieja

Posted on January 9, 2012. Filed under: beef, leftover, meat, recipe | Tags: , , , , , |

Winter break is a wonderful concept. After weeks of research, writing, research, writing, heavy drinking/regretful hangovers, more research, more–much more–writing, I suddenly had limited responsibilities and and a good excuse to travel. It’s one of the wonders of academia, perhaps designed to force us outdoors so that a wee ray of sunshine will touch our library-pale skin. (Maybe that’s a tad dramatic–one of the other wonders of academia is occasionally having the freedom to take the dog for a walk on an unexpectedly bright late-autumn day.)

  This break was lovely: I packed (most) of my smarty-pants books away for two weeks, spent time ten days in California, and was Best Man at my brother’s wedding. One of my favorite parts of the break was the time I spent cooking dishes I’ve been interested in preparing, but because the previous two months were so hectic, I hadn’t made.  Finally, at long last…ropa vieja.

Ropa vieja (unfortunate translation: old clothes) is made from leftovers. Since I was deliberately making it rather than using what was left in the refrigerator, I cooked a beef soup two days prior as an excuse to have the necessary leftovers. Double bonus…the soup was excellent. I also had leftover salsa from the amazing salsa dude who sells on Saturdays at the Pittsburgh Public Market, a fantastic addition to the dish.

Assembling ropa vieja is simple. Here’s how I made it:

Add, to a medium-hot pan:
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Tomato Paste

1 Clove Garlic, minced

1 Small Onion, diced*
2 Tsp. Dried Oregano  

Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
2 Cups Shredded Beef
2 Cups Salsa*
1 Cup Pureed Leftover Vegetables*

Cook for 3-5 minutes, add:
1/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro

*You’ll need to use your judgment with this recipe. TASTE the beef first, TASTE the salsa first. Do you need more salt/onion/tomato? Do you want to add any heat to the dish? What do the pureed vegetables add?

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A Couple of Passover Recipes: Brisket and Matzo Balls

Posted on March 28, 2010. Filed under: beef, holiday, meat, recipe, simmer, slow, soul, soup | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Passover is not my favorite holiday. I’m positively incapable of going 8 days without any kind of leavened bread. In a strange gesture of dedication, I try to live through the entire holiday without eating any sweet sweet forbidden pork. Generally, I fail. (But, in my defence, it’s usually by mistake. Like the one year I went to a friend’s house for Easter and realized the extent of my failure only after I had eaten a ham sandwich. I ham sandwich that was made AFTER the Easter dinner.)

What I do like about Passover, though, is the feast tradition. So in the spirit of feasting, you should try to make one of these wicked good recipes.


Season with salt & pepper, and then brown:
1 Beef Brisket

Deglaze pan with:
1 Cup Beef Stock
1 Cup Water

Return Brisket to pan, and then add:
2 Onions, sliced
2 Tsp. Sherry Vinegar
1/8 Cup Crushed Tomatoes
Fresh Thyme & Sage

Allow liquids to come to a boil, and then place in a 300 degree oven.
Cook for 3 hours.

Remove brisket from pan, and let it cool for 20 minutes.
Slice against the grain.
Stain and serve cooking liquids as a tasty tasty tasty gravy.


Whisk together:
2 Eggs
2 Tablespoons Chicken Fat
1.5 Tablespoons Chicken Soup
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
Small Pinch Salt

1/2 Cup plus 2 Teaspoons Matzo Meal
Stir matzo in until just combined- do not over mix, or your balls will be less fluffy.
Refrigerate for one hour.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Roll matzo mix into one inch balls.
Boil, with pot covered, for 40 minutes.

*Chicken fat. Listen. You’re not going to have a heart attack if you use it. It adds immeasurably to the flavor and texture of the matzo balls. So just use it. The best thing to do is to skim it from the top of the soup. You are making your own soup, right?

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Pepper Steak

Posted on March 22, 2010. Filed under: beef, freeze, in advance, one pot, recipe | Tags: , , , , , |

Baked ziti was the first thing I learned how to cook. This was the second. The dish has evolved a bit since the dorm room days (where it was cooked in a microwave…), but the simple basics remain the same–great flavor from just a few ingredients, and not a lot of dishes to do after.

Slice into thin strips:
Two Pounds Bottom Round
Brown the beef.

Drain excess fat.
Two Jars Tomato Sauce
One Onion, sliced
Two Green Bell Peppers, sliced
4-5 Cloves Garlic, smashed
One Tablespoon Italian Seasoning

Simmer 45 minutes.
Serve over noodles.
*If you freeze the beef for 45 minutes before slicing, you’ll have an easier time making thin slices.
*This is one of those dishes that’s even better the day after, makes a great alternative to a meatball sandwich.  Additionally, you can make a whole lot and freeze it.  Oh yeah!
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Hearst Ranch Flank Steak

Posted on February 3, 2010. Filed under: beef, hodgepodge, recipe | Tags: , , , , |

I met Brian Kenny, manager of Hearst Ranch Beef, at the Foodbuzz weekend last November. He took part in a conversation on grass fed beef, and the workings of Hearst Ranch, that had me all kinds of excited about the future of beef in America.

A few weeks later, we followed up with a phone conversation. Kenny spoke more of Hearst’s commitment to careful stewardship of the land. His philosophy (one that I share) is that cows reared on a natural diet, living a stress free life, produce better meat. We also spoke about Kenny’s innovative approach to marketing better beef by supplying convention centers and other large venues.

I love free things, and I love steak, so imagine my happiness when I was offered a gift card for Hearst Ranch beef. This was very nice indeed.

It’s one of those strange SoCal days when it seems perfectly sensible to grill in February. So I made a little spice mix, and put a flank steak over the hot hot hot coals. This beef is fantastic.

Pat one Flank Steak with:
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce, per side

Rub both sides with spice mix.
I used:
2 Tsp. Salt
2 Tsp. Sugar
1 Tsp. Celery Salt
1 Tsp. Black Pepper
1 Tsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tsp. Onion Powder
1/2 Tsp. Cumin
1/2 Tsp. Chili Powder
1/2 Tsp. Ground Mustard

Don’t overseason. Or underseason.

Let rest for at least one hour, up to twelve hours.

Grill over very hot coals for five minutes per side.
Let rest five minutes before slicing.

*Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling. You’ll notice an improvement in the texture.
*You could cook this on a gas grill, or even broil it, but coals are best for this one. I even added a few wood chunks, too!

*Ask for grass fed beef at your grocery store. If they don’t carry it, tell them they should. Then walk away, without buying any industrial beef. You can order directly from Hearst if you’re having trouble finding well raised cows near you.

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Whiskey Soaked Flank Steak

Posted on August 6, 2009. Filed under: beef, grill, recipe |

Whisk together:
1/2 Cup Whiskey
1/2 Cup Apple Juice
1/2 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Serrano Chili, chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, smashed
1 Tbs. Agave Nectar
2 Tsp. Onion Powder
2 Tsp. Salt
2 Tsp. Fresh Black Pepper
1 Tsp. Liquid Smoke (optional)
15 Stalks Fresh Time

Pour over:
2 Pound Flank Steak

Marinate for about 24 hours.
Grill over direct heat for about 7 minutes per side.

*If you don’t have agave nectar, use the same amount brown sugar.
*If you have a smoker, feel free to smoke beef instead of adding liquid smoke. That’s what I did.

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Beef Neil Diamond

Posted on July 22, 2009. Filed under: beef, recipe |

What does one do with leftover red wine? Create a recipe named after one of their favorite performers, of course.

In a small saucepan:
1 Medium Carrot, diced
1 Small Parsnip, diced

1 Large Shallot, diced

2 Cloves Garlic, smashed

3/4 Cup Beef or Chicken Broth
3/4 Cup Red Red Wine

Simmer everything for 30 minutes.

Then, in a very hot pan:
Two 1/2 lb. Filet Mignon steaks, seasoned with salt & pepper
Cook to desired doneness- about 4 minutes for medium-rare.

Remove steak from plan, and allow steak to rest 5 minutes.

While it does, add to sauce:
1 Tablespoon Butter

Pour sauce over steak, and serve.

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Posted on February 17, 2009. Filed under: beef, one pot, recipe |

With all the talk of fresh and seasonal these days, you might forget that it’s winter.  Fresh and winter don’t exactly go hand in hand.  Is it possible to be preserved and seasonal?

Chili is the perfect vessel for our experiment.  It’s a cowboy dish.  Close your eyes.  Picture a group of cowboys searching the fields for perfect leaves of sage and delicate edible flowers.  If you’ve ever seen a cowboy movie, I bet you a have pretty silly picture in your mind’s eye right now.  The great cowboy cooks of yesterday traveled with bags of dried herbs & spices, so that’s what we’re going to do too.

If you feel like being purely preserved, you could use beef jerky as your protein, though I wouldn’t recommend it.  (If you do, use less salt!)  I would encourage using grass fed beef.  Not only does it taste better, but you’ll also be keeping the cowboy spirit.  Cowboys might not have spent hours searching for the most beautiful sprig of rosemary, but they didn’t feed their cows corn, either!

They say a great chili cook never reveals his secrets.  Well, not exactly, at least.  So all you get is a list.  Since I’m a nice guy, I’ll give you a little help; ingredients are listed by the amount I used, & I didn’t use more than two tablespoons of anything.

2 Lbs. Grass Fed Ground Beef

1 32oz. Can Ground Tomato


Chili Powder

Crushed Ancho Chili

Cocoa Chili Blend

Garlic Powder


Onion Powder

Black Pepper

Italian Seasoning

Ground Sage

Bay Leaves

Worcestershire Sauce


The Kitchen Sink

Brown beef & remove excess fat.  Add half your spice mix, and cook one minute.  Add tomato and remaining spice mix. Cook at least 45 minutes, up to 3 hours.  Stir occasionally. 

*It’s best to slowly build the flavor of the chili. Start with less spice than you think you need, then add as necessary. 

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(Breakfast) Beef Stew

Posted on December 17, 2008. Filed under: beef, one pot, recipe |

This is my take on a recipe first published in Marion Harland’s Common Sense for the Household (1884), updated in The American Heritage Cookbook (1964, edited by Helen McCully).  I’ve updated it to suit my taste, and you should feel free to play with it, too.  This was, without a doubt, the best beef stew I’ve made.

2 Lbs. Beef, cubed
Grass fed beef preferred!
2 Tbs. Flour
1 Tbs. Fat, your choice, butter preferred
1 Small Onion, sliced
2 Carrots, quartered
3 Ribs Celery, quartered
1 Parsnip, quartered
1 Small Green Bell Pepper, quartered
3 Cloves Garlic, crushed
1 1/2 Cup Beef Broth
3/4 Cup Water
1 Tbs. Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
4 Sprigs Savory
6 Sprigs Marjoram
6 Sprigs Thyme
1 Tsp. Salt
1 Tbs. Mustard
1 Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
2 Sprigs Savory
4 Sprigs Each Thyme & Marjoram
Begin by coating beef with flour.  Melt fat in pan, then add beef to brown.  After beef browns, add vegetables.  Cook 5 minutes.  
This step is optional, but recommended.  Not only does it deepen the flavor of the dish, the melting fat & flour form a roux that will thicken the stew.  If you decide not to brown, omit the flour.

Add remaining ingredients in the top part of the list.  You’ll save yourself some time (thyme!) later by either tying the herbs together with twine, or putting them in a tea bag.  See, the herbs are woody, and not especially tasty to eat, so- better to keep them in one place and remove them when the dish is done.
Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to simmer.  Walk away for 1.5 – 3 hours.  You can stir from time to time, but that’s all the work you need to do.
In the last five minutes, add the remaining ingredients.  Again, it’s a good idea to keep the herbs together.  Taste, and add salt as necessary.  Serve over some kind of simple starch- rice, potato, noodles.
As with all dishes of this kind, it’s only going to get better with a day or two in the fridge.  Also, don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients.  There isn’t a lot of work to do, I promise.  The assembly took 20 minutes, including the browning.
Why is it called a breakfast stew?  I have no idea!  Maybe this was breakfast in 1884.

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Bacon Filled Meatloaf

Posted on November 13, 2008. Filed under: bacon, bake, beef, in advance, meat, recipe |

1 lb ground beef, grass-fed 15% fat

1/2 lb ground turkey, mix of dark and white
1 cup ground tomato
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tabelspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
6 thick slices of bacon
6 thick slices of bacon!
Fried Onions, optional
I was having a conversation the other day about the need for another post about bacon. Somehow the subject veered to meatloaf, and I thought, ‘great, meatloaf often has bacon on top of it!’ That was when the light bulb went off. Yes, meatloaf often has bacon on top, but I’ve never seen a recipe with bacon INSIDE! Thus, a new and exciting dish was born. Bacon Filled Meatloaf.
Begin by dicing the first 6 slices of bacon. Remove some of the extra fat. Add to a frying pan over medium-high heat. Render bacon until it just begins to crisp, about 3-4 minutes. This will help the texture of the meatloaf greatly. Drain rendered fat, saving it for another day.
Place the almost crisp bacon in a large bowl, and add all other ingredients save the other bacon slices, ketchup, and fried onions. Mix well (best done with your hands!), and let rest for an hour at room temperature. Don’t skip the resting. Trust me, you’ll be sad if you do. The mix needs time to let the breadcrumbs and meat absorb all the seasonings. If you don’t let it rest, you’ll end up with a strange textured loaf and a pool of sauce at the bottom. See? Sadness.
Put rested mixture in a loaf pan. Put loaf pan in a 375 degree oven. After a half hour, remove from oven and carefully drain most of the melted fat. Cover top of loaf with a layer of ketchup, then cover pan with foil. Return to oven and cook additional 30 minutes, removing foil for the final five.
At some point, cook the additional slices of bacon.
Rest, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Again, you’ll be sad if you don’t do this. After resting, cut into slices to serve. Top with a little more ketchup or crushed tomatoes, just a dab. Top that with extra bacon (crumbled), and, if you’d like, some canned fried onions.
Note: This one is still a work in progress. I’m going to play a bit with fresh onions and garlic, though I do like the convenience of using powdered. This was made using thick sliced bacon, so if you only have thin, use more.
Meatloaf is a million times better the next day. I’m not saying you have to wait a whole day to dig in, just that you should dig in again the next day.
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Beef Lasagna

Posted on October 29, 2008. Filed under: bake, beef, pasta, patience, recipe |

Lasagna is awesome.  There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  It takes a wee bit of work, sure.  So worth it, though.  I encourage you to use grass fed beef.  It really makes a huge difference, both in flavor and in the way we treat the enviornment.  More about that soon.

2 lbs. Ground Beef, 15-20 % fat content
6 Cloves Garlic, smashed
32 oz Ricotta Cheese
2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
1 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded
1 Egg
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg (optional)
64 oz Tomato Sauce, homemade or your favorite
Lasagna Noodles

Begin by mixing all the ricotta cheese and half of the other cheeses in a bowl.  Add egg, 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, nutmeg, salt, and half the garlic.  Set aside.
Season ground beef with salt, pepper, and the remaining Italian seasoning & garlic. In a large pan, lightly brown the beef.  While browning, break the beef up into small bits.  This will get easier as the meat cooks.  The whole process should take about 4 minutes.  Don’t worry if all the beef isn’t brown- it’s best not to overcook it.  Drain fat, and stir in about 1/4 of the tomato sauce.

Cover bottom of lasagna pan with sauce.  Add lasagna noodles (check package to see if you need to pre-cook).  Add a layer of beef, then a layer of cheese, cover with sauce and a new layer of pasta.  Repeat the process twice more, so you have three layers of goodness.  Cover top layer of pasta with more sauce, then top that with the remaining mozzarella & parmesan cheese.

Cover lasagna pan with foil.  Poke a few tiny holes in the foil with a knife.  This will allow some steam to escape, and help prevent the foil from sticking to the top layer of cheese (a sad sad sad thing).  Move to a 375 degree oven, and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove foil, and broil an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown. 

Let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Seriously.  After all this work and time, you’re going to be tempted to dig right in.  Don’t do it buddy.  Everything will fall apart if you do.  Give it time to cool a bit and settle.  Life will be better that way.  It always is.
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