Ropa Vieja

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As we’ve mentioned a million times, we use this blog as a vehicle to get us to branch out and try different dishes we wouldn’t have otherwise thought to make. I was browsing our recent creations recently and was struck by the thought that we’ve had a little bit of a geographic bias. Our branching out has ventured into the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa quite a bit… not surprising, given that we both really love the food and flavors of that region. But maybe we’re inadvertently limiting the scope of our branching…? I don’t know why, but after coming to this realization, I immediately settled on Cuban food for our next adventure.

After drooling over pictures of Cuban sandwiches for a little while, I landed on a recipe for Ropa Vieja, which many claim as the national dish of Cuba. If you speak Spanish, you may note that “ropa vieja” translates to “old clothes,” which is not the most appetizing name I can think of personally, but is evocative of the legend behind the dish. The story goes that an impoverished old man had family coming over for dinner. He had nothing to serve them, so he shredded and stewed some old clothes. After praying over his creation and cooking with so much love for his family, he found that he had a delicious stew to serve, though the shreds of meat still resembled his old clothes. As best my internet sleuthing can determine, the recipe came to Cuba and the greater Caribbean via Spanish settlers, with its roots hundreds of years ago in Spanish Sephardic Jewish cuisine and their home in the Canary Islands. Tweaks occurred in the ensuing years, and this dish is considered to be quintessentially Caribbean and Cuban.

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Ropa vieja is traditional served in Cuba with rice and black beans, so of course we had to make some Cuban black beans as well! This quick version uses canned beans, so they’re super easy to throw together. And its easy to see why the Cuban serve them in combination… delicious! After serving the ropa vieja on top of the rice, with the beans on the side, we realized that it was even better all stirred together! So go ahead and make a big messy plate – this dish isn’t on your table for its looks, that’s for sure!

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Ropa Vieja

(Adapted from Bon Appetit)
Ingredients: 
  • ~ 1 1/2 lb flank steak, brisket, or chuck roast (the chuck roast will cook the fastest)
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • Salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 medium tomatoes, pureed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup sliced green Spanish olives
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Cilantro, for garnish
Instructions: 
  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Season the beef on both sides with salt & pepper. Once warmed, sear the beef on all sides briefly (~3-4 minutes). Remove to the side.
  2. Add the onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Stir to coat with remaining oil and again season with salt & some fresh ground black pepper. Cook until soft and fragrant, approximately 10 minutes.
  3. Deglaze the dish with the wine. Stir in the spices and brown sugar.
  4. Return the beef to the dish, along with the pureed tomatoes. Nestle the bay leaves into the liquid. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Braise the beef for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. You want to see a slight simmer if you peek under the lid.
  5. Uncover, skim off any fat on the top, and raise the heat so the liquid is simmering fairly vigorously. Shred the beef between two forks.
  6. Stir in the olives and vinegar. Cook at the simmer for just an additional 15 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed – we added a fair bit.
  7. Serve with rice and black beans, with a little cilantro on top.
Serves 4-6
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Basic Braised Beef Brisket

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Sometimes writing a blog post is hard. Sometimes we just can’t think of a lot to say. This is how the conversation about this recipe went…

“Ally, not everything we make is so enlightened that I have a lot to say about it.”

If we’re posting it, it tasted good – trust us.

 

Basic Braised Beef Brisket

Ingredients: 
  • 2 tbsp oil (we used truffle oil for extra deliciousness!)
  • 3oz minced shallots (~3-4 bulbs)
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6oz carrots, chopped
  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 lb beef brisket
  • 1/2 bottle (~1 2/3 cup) dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. In a large dutch oven, heat the oil. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Season the brisket with salt & pepper. Sear brisket until browned on all sides. Remove brisket to the side.
  3. Add garlic and shallots to the dish. Cook, stirring occasionally, for ~5 minutes until softened and fragrant.
  4. Now add in the carrots and tomato paste. Stir together. Cook another ~5 minutes.
  5. Now deglaze the dish with the wine. Make sure to scrape up all of the delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom.
  6. Add the stock and rosemary sprigs. Return the brisket to the dish. Just the top should be exposed.
  7. Bring the liquid to a simmer and then cover. Transfer to the oven.
  8. Braise for ~ 1 1/2 hours, then flip the meat over. Braise for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Serves 3-4.

Wine & Honey Brisket

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When I decided to make surprise Hanukkah dinner tonight, I knew I wanted to make latkes and dessert, but what to make for a main dish…? I’ve never made brisket before, but I don’t live under a rock. I know that this cut of meat is beloved by Jewish bubbes and Texas pit-masters alike. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever made a brisket before, but tonight seemed like the perfect night to give it a whirl!

Brisket is a cut that comes from the chest of the cow. It is a tough cut of meat, with a lot of connective tissue to support the cow’s weight. Hence, it requires a long, low, slow method of cooking to tenderize it sufficiently. Those Texas pit-masters like to smoke over low heat for long periods of time, but Jewish cooks traditionally braise it. We love any kind of braised meats, as we’ve mentioned a few times (check out our Braised Balsamic Pork with GrapesKimchi Braised Chicken with NoodlesRed Wine Braised Beef, or Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices).

This recipe is an interesting mix of sweet and savory. The honey and balsamic add sweetness that balances out the meat and onions. The meat comes out so tender, but the sauce and vegetables really make it. I’m not going to lie – I think I actually liked the onions and the carrots even better than the meat.

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Wine & Honey Brisket

(Minimally adapted from Leite’s Culinara, recipe originating from Modern Jewish Cooking)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil
  • 3 1/2 – 4lb brisket
  • Salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • cup + 1 cup red wine
  • tbsp + 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 6 large whole carrots or a few handfuls of baby carrots
Instructions: 
  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Generously season both sides of the brisket with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides, several minutes per side.
  3. Remove the brisket from the dutch oven and set to the side.
  4. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of red wine. Add the onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar.
  5. Cook, stirring occasionally, for ~ 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the other cup of red wine with honey, remaining 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, and stock.
  7. Nestle the carrots under the onions. Then place the brisket on top of the vegetables. Pour the wine and honey mixture over top.
  8. Cover and place in the oven. Braise for 2 hours. After those 2 hours, stir the vegetables and flip the meat. Re-cover and braise for another 2 hours.
  9. Remove the brisket from the dutch oven. Place on a cutting board and tent foil overtop. Allow to rest for ~15 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile, return the dutch oven to the stovetop. Simmer the pan sauce and reduce it while the meat is resting.
  11. After resting, slice the brisket on the perpendicular. Serve with the onions, carrot, and topped with pan sauce.
Serves 6-8 (the brisket shrinks considerably as it braises)

Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

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We’re not really a picky couple when it comes to meat. We pretty much like it all. Our weekly routine usually consists of two nights of fish or other seafood, a night of beef, and pretty much the rest of the nights with chicken of some variety. We also love lamb, goat, duck, and all kinds of game meat, but get our grad-school-budgeted hands on those a little less often. But somehow, I feel like we always forget about pork. Every time we make pork, we always wonder why we don’t eat it more often. Fall and the cooler weather we’ve (finally!) been having made me think about doing a braised dish and this time, my mind went straight to the other white meat! I initially wanted to braise the pork in cider, with apples and potatoes on the side, a dish I make pretty much every fall. But then I realized that would end up being pretty darn similar to the Cider Chicken with Savory Fall Fruits that we made just two weekends ago. So I browsed our two favorite culinary magazines (Bon Appetit and Food & Wine) for some inspiration. Turns out, everyone braises pork in cider in the fall… But working back a few years, I came across the recipe we adapted this dish from – a different flavor profile that was exactly what I was looking for!

Speaking of different flavor profile… I was a little skeptical about the grapes. I thought the grapes might make the whole dish too sweet. I was happily wrong! While they do add a little bit of sweetness to the final product, it isn’t overwhelming. Even more interestingly, the grapes take on some of the savoriness of the pork. When you see them after they’ve braised for half the afternoon, you’ll notice that they’ve lost a lot of their color. I thought that might mean that they would’ve leeched out all of their flavor too. Not the case! As it turns out, the grapes ended up being my favorite part of the dish, so I’m glad I didn’t trust my first instinct to get rid of them!

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Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

(Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)
Ingredients: 
  • 3lb boneless pork loin
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • ~1lb black or red grapes (~3 cups)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups vegetable or poultry stock
  • 4 large fresh sage leaves
  • 2 springs of fresh rosemary
Instructions: 
  1. Season the pork loin with salt & pepper on both sides.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp neutral oil at just above medium heat (#6). Once hot, sear the pork on all sides, 3-5 minutes per side.
  3. Remove the pork to a plate on the side and lower heat to medium-low.
  4. After allowing a few minutes for the oil the cool slightly, add the garlic and onions to the dish. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Then add the grapes and top with the brown sugar. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Pour in the vinegar and simmer for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the stock and fresh herbs to the dish. Now also return the pork. Nestle the meat down into the dish (the top should still be exposed).
  7. Bring the liquid to a boil and then immediately reduce to low heat. Cover and cook at a very low simmer for 45 minutes.
  8. Flip the pork loin, re-cover, and cook at the same low simmer for another 30-45 minutes. [We suggest checking for doneness at the 30 minute mark, especially if you prefer your pork less than well-done!]
  9. Remove the pork loin from the dish and ensure it is cooked sufficiently with a meat thermometer (the FDA recommends a minimum safe temperature of 145 degrees for pork).
  10. Meanwhile, increase the burner heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil vigorously until the liquid has reduced and thickened. While the sauce is reducing, intermittently skim fat/oil/debris off the top. Also, remove the sprigs of herbs.
  11. Serve the pork sliced, topped with sauce.
Serves 8-12

Dijon Beef Stew

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If you’re glancing at this recipe (and skipping over this section of commentary like I usually do until I’m sure the recipe and its ingredients interest me!), you might be a little concerned about ALL THAT MUSTARD. It certainly does seem like a lot, but don’t worry! While dijon mustard is definitely the most prominent flavor in this dish, it does not taste like you’re squirting a bottle of mustard into your mouth. If you think about the ratio of mustard to beef, you’ll realize it’s about a tablespoon per 1/4 pound serving, that’s not too much.

Finding the right mustard to use might be the hardest.  Our Kroger didn’t have whole grain Dijon, so we bought regular (smooth) Dijon. Since we always go to Trader Joe’s when we go shopping, we of course then discovered that TJ’s had whole grain mustard. Now, I think we have 4 types of mustard in our house.  Feel free to substitute smooth Dijon mustard for the whole grain stuff if you think you’ll have picky eaters or just can’t find any.

Now, Cognac vs Armagnac

What exactly are Cognac and Armagnac? What’s the difference? Why cook with either one?  Both Cognac & Armagnac are French brandies distilled from white wine grapes.  Cognac is from the Cognac region of France (70miles or 115km north of Bordeaux) and Armagnac is from the Armagnac region of France (10miles or 15km east of Bordeaux). Both are great wine regions in their own right, but both are more known for their liquor (brandy). I think the main difference between the two, besides location, is that Cognac is twice distilled, while Armagnac is only distilled once, giving it a more unique taste and nose since it has a higher concentration of those great congeners (impurities – flavorful, yet hangover inducing molecules) due to the single distillation process.  Both are then oak barrel aged for anywhere from 2-6+ years.  Cooking with either of these is different from cooking with wine. They have a higher alcohol content (but that’s almost always cooked off) and less wine flavor since they’re distillates of wine. Plus there are the smoky, oaky, whiskey-like notes that the barrel aging process imparts on them.  Cognac & Armagnac can be inserted where wine or whiskey would normally be used, to change, ever so slightly, the flavor profile of your dish.  Give it a try and experiment with these often overlooked French liquors.

We served this over delicious homemade pasta, but would be wonderful over rice, potatoes, lentils, or whatever starch you would like to use. Selim even thinks he’d like this on a hoagie bun with some hard cheese grated on top!

 

Dijon Beef Stew

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen blog)
Ingredients: 
  • 1/4 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds beef chuck (any cut of stewing/braising beef you’d like)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup Cognac, divided
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp smooth mustard of choice (we used spicy brown)
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
Instructions: 
  1. Place a dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Once warmed, add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered.
  2. At this point, add the onions and garlic. Stir to coat in the bacon fat. Cook for several minutes until softened and fragrant, but not browned. Remove to the side.
  3. Increase heat slightly, to a medium-high. Add 2 tbsp of butter and allow to melt.
  4. Cut beef into ~ 1/2 inch, uniform cubes. Dust with flour. Saute the beef in the butter, until all sides are browned and beginning to crisp.
    • (May need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the dish. Remove the first batch to the side with the onions and garlic if so. We did, and used the second 2 tbsp of butter for the second batch.)
  5. Deglaze the empty dish with 1/2 cup cognac. Scrape up any delicious stuck on bits!
  6. Now add the remaining 1/4 cup of cognac, mustards, and beef stock. Whisk together.
  7. Once liquid is well-combined, return the beef, onions, and garlic to the dish, along with the bay leaves.
  8. Bring to a light simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
  9. After that hour, add the carrots. Return cover to dish. Cook for additional hour to hour & half.
Serves 6-8.

 

Coq au Vin

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At our house, we do a lot of adapted recipes, even the most traditional ones. We substitute a little of this, add a little of that, combine these two ideas, or even entirely make stuff up. (See the entire tag on our blog – Twisted Traditions). But sometimes you just can’t do that. Coq au vin literally just means “cock {rooster ⇒ chicken} of wine,” which, if you were speaking French, you’d understand to mean chicken cooked in wine. So you’d think this would be wide open for interpretation. But hearing the phrase ‘coq au vin,’ doesn’t just make most people think vague thoughts of wine + chicken; it makes most minds immediately jump to this specific dish, Julia Child, and her famous cookbook. So for this, we went to the penultimate source: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe we’re sharing is 99% true to hers – with two differences. One, we skipped the cognac and lighting it on fire, solely because I didn’t feel like going out and buying some. We’ll definitely do it next time, because I really want to light cognac on fire. And two, instead of portioning the mushrooms like Julia instructs, I chopped them fairly finely, because I don’t really like the texture of mushrooms, although I do love their flavor.

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Coq au Vin

(Recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
Ingredients: 
  • Chicken
    • 3-4oz bacon, sliced into lardons
    • 2 + 2 tbsp butter
    • 2 1/2 – 3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken
    • Salt & pepper
    • 3 cups dry, full-bodied red wine
    • 1-2 cups beef stock
    • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 3 tbsp flour
  • Mushrooms
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 1/2 lb mushrooms
  • Onions
    • 20-25 pearl onions, peeled
    • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
    • 1 1/2 tbsp oil
    • 1/2 cup beef stock
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1/2 bay leaf
Instructions: 
  1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a simmer and submerge the lardons of bacon. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp butter until melted.
  3. Once bacon has simmered, transfer it to the dutch oven. Saute for a few minutes over medium heat until lightly browned, then remove to the side.
  4. Pat chicken pieces dry. Top with 1/2 tsp salt and a few turns of pepper. Brown each piece on all sides in the hot butter/bacon fat.
  5. Return the bacon to the dutch oven and cook over low-medium for 10 minutes, flipping the chicken once.
  6. Pour wine into the dutch oven. Scrape the bottom of the dish to remove any stuck brown bits.
  7. Add additional stock until the chicken is just covered. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs.
  8. Cover and simmer for ~30 minutes.
  9. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
  10. For the onions: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once warm, add the onions. Saute for 10 minutes, rolling the onions around frequently. Pour in the stock and add herbs. Braise, covered, simmering lightly for ~40 minutes.
  11. For the mushrooms: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once the butter has foamed and subsided, add the mushrooms. Saute for 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Once lightly browned, remove to the side.
  12. After 30 minutes, remove the chicken from the dish.
  13. Increase heat and boil the braising liquid until it has reduced to ~ 2 1/4 cups. [Julia’s very specific suggestion, not mine.] Discard the bay leaf and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat.
  14. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tbsp butter and flour. Once combined, whisk into the braising liquid.
  15. Return liquid to a slow simmer. Return the chicken to the dish, along with the mushrooms and onions.
  16. Simmer for just a few additional minutes, basting the chicken.
  17. Julia would serve with potatoes, but you can do whatever you want 🙂

Kimchi Braised Chicken with Noodles

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As you can tell, we enjoy braised chicken.  We make it more often than the handful of posts on our blog.  It’s simple, tasty, and always makes leftovers for lunches or a quick dinner later in the week.  I think kimchi scares a lot of people… fermented cabbage, anyone?  It’s alive and continues to ferment while sealed up, further breaking down the vegetables and adding flavor to the various spices contained within that swollen jar.  Ally had dog-eared this recipe a while ago, and we didn’t know what to expect.  We were both expecting a bit of sourness from the fermentation products of the kimchi, some smokiness from the bacon, acidity from the tomatoes, and of course a touch of sweetness from the white wine.  The ingredients, each lending their own simple tastes to the finished product, which has a unique complexity that will make you wish you made a double batch.  For more spice, try adding some of your favorite hot sauce (sriracha would go well), some cayenne, or a a few pinches of chipotle spices for a smoky heat.

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Kimchi Braised Chicken with Noodles

(Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, February 2016 issue)
Ingredients: 
  • 5 slices of bacon, sliced
  • 3 lb boneless chicken thighs
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz (by weight) grape tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups kimchi, with juices
  • 8oz egg noodles
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Place a large Dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until slightly crispy.
  2. Remove the bacon to the side to a paper towel lined plate, retaining the bacon fat.
  3. Add the garlic and tomatoes into the dish. Lower heat slightly and cover. Stir occasionally.
  4. After ~5 minutes of cooking, the garlic should be browning and the tomatoes getting wrinkly. Using the back of your slotted spoon (or whatever utensil you’re cooking with…), press down on the tomatoes until they burst.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the dish.
  6. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce by half.
  7. Now return the bacon to the dish, along with the kimchi and chicken. Bring to a simmer. Then lower heat & cover.
  8. Braise over low-medium heat for an hour, uncovering once roughly halfway through to stir.
  9. After this time, remove the lid from the Dutch oven. Increase heat slightly, ensuring that the tomato-kimchi liquid comes to a fast simmer. Cook for ~20 more minutes. The liquid will reduce. Break apart the chicken as it begin to fall apart.
  10. Towards the end of the braising time, cook egg noodles. Boil in a pot of salted water until al dente.
  11. Once pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
  12. Return the pasta to the cooking pot and top with butter, 1/4 cup of cooking liquid, and salt & pepper to taste. Toss until pasta is covered with buttery liquid. Add a little bit more cooking liquid if you think it needs.
  13. To serve, top a serving of noodles with generous spoonfuls of chicken and tomato-kimchi sauce.
Makes 6-8 servings

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