Every St. Patrick’s day we wonder: How did we let another year go by without making corned beef with all the trimmings? It’s simple, affordable, and delicious — too good to save for the holiday celebrations.
Sure, you can buy your corned beef at the market, but if you’d rather make your own using local meat and ingredients you can trust, it’s not difficult to brine it yourself. All it takes is a few minutes of measuring, a week of waiting, and a bit of refrigerator space.
We’ve made a number of recipes over the years, but the one we keep coming back to is the simplest. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s corned beef recipe serves 10 in its original ratios, so we’ve scaled it down to a more manageable size. If you do end up with extra meat, you’re in luck: In my book, corned-beef hash and Reubens are right up in leftovers heaven alongside the meatloaf sandwich.
Many recipes call for curing salt, but its only purpose is to maintain the pink-red color of the meat; it doesn’t serve any preservative purpose in corned beef, so we usually leave it out. (In charcuterie, it’s a necessary ingredient, but here it’s just for looks.) If you prefer the traditional blush, add 2 tsp of pink curing salt — also known as sodium nitrite or Insta Cure #1 — to the brine.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
- adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book
3 to 3-1/2 pounds well-marbled brisket
* for the brine:
2-1/2 quarts water
8oz demarara or light brown sugar
1-1/2 pounds coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp juniper berries
2 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme
* for cooking:
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic
* at the end:
3-5 large carrots, cut into large chunks
1 medium head cabbage, quartered, leaving core intact (or 4 small heads, halved)
5-10 potatoes, halved
2-3 turnips (optional), halved or quartered
Put all the brine ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir well over low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Place your brisket in a large, non-metallic container (we use a large zip-top bag, but a deep casserole works well, too). Cover the meat with the cooled brine; weigh it down with a saucer or other non-reactive object if it floats (not necessary with the bag). Leave in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days, turning every couple of days.
The day before you want to cook the corned beef, remove the brisket from the brine and soak it in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water at least once.
After the soak, place the brisket in soup pot with the bouquet garni, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Cover with fresh water and bring to a gentle simmer. Poach gently on top of the stove (or in a 275°F oven) until tender, about 3 to 3-1/2 hours. (A good test is to run a metal skewer through the meat; if it slides in easily, your brisket is done.) About 30 minutes before the brisket is done, add the remaining vegetables and simmer along with the meat.
Serve the hot corned beef cut into thick slices, along with the simmered vegetable chunks. (You can discard the smaller chopped vegetable bits in the broth.) Serve with fresh horseradish cream at the table.
Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:
Prather Ranch, MacDoel: brisket
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onion, celery
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: carrots, cabbage
Little Organic Farm, Marin: potatoes
Iacopi, Half Moon Bay: garlic
Happy Girl Kitchen Co., Big Sur: prepared horseradish
Clover Organic, Petaluma: sour cream
…and our own homegrown bay and thyme
Exemptions: sugar, peppercorns, juniper berries, cloves
It’s the last day of 2009, and your last chance to bid in the Menu for Hope raffle. Pim’s added a handy form that tallies up your bid items and fills out the Firstgiving form for you — it’s so easy, you can even do it with a glass of Champagne in one hand!
She’s also flagged “hot” and “cold” items, so you have an inkling of how good your odds are of winning a given bid item. (You still have pretty good chances on our Locavore Starter Kit, by the way.) Oh, and there are a few newly added goodies, like a coffee date with Ruth Reichl, gardening classes at Love Apple Farm, and a 1/2-pound box of top-quality black truffles. Check it out over at Pim’s site.
Happy new year’s eve to everyone, and don’t forget to look up in the sky: Tonight’s going to be a blue moon. May your new year be filled with many rare and beautiful sights!
With all the hullabaloo about 100-mile Thanksgiving, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is possibly the easiest Dark Days Challenge week of the year. Maybe it’s because we’ve done this for three years now, and our holiday menu rarely changes much. Maybe it’s because nobody thinks it’s odd to plan this particular meal far in advance, including ordering the main course well before the first leaves turn colors. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is one of the few times each year when Americans eat with the seasons, whether they’re aware of it or not. But to me, planning a locavore Thanksgiving celebration isn’t just fun, it’s also pretty simple.
My mom, sister, and brother-in-law joined us this year, and our family feast included a big pasture-raised bird from Bill Niman’s BN Ranch, with all the traditional sides: Shredded brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon, mashed potatoes and gravy, Grandma Anne’s stuffing, and a new-to-us recipe for sweet potatoes that kicks the usual sickly-sweet toppings to the curb with thyme and a dash of red pepper. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a big slice of pumpkin pie to round out the food coma. (I don’t like pumpkin, but I’ll boldly claim once again this pie will win over even the most vehement squash haters.) Our only non-local dishes were two bowls of cranberry sauce — one plain, one fancy — but since our friend Jeanne bought the berries direct from the Cape Cod farmer who grew them and toted them home in her carry-on bag, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over this little lapse.
Some in our family would say that the best part of Thanksgiving is actually the leftovers, including turkey/pork-sausage hash with poached eggs, a riff on Chuck’s holiday turkey gumbo (made with local Dungeness crabs in place of shrimp), and of course good-old turkey sandwiches on delicious homemade bread.
Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:
BN Ranch, Bolinas: Heritage turkey
Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: russet potatoes, sweet potatoes
Balakian Farms, Reedley: pumpkin
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: shallot
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onions
Fatted Calf, Napa: bacon
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: flour (pie crust, stuffing bread)
Clover Organic, Petaluma: cream
Vella Cheese, Sonoma: dry Jack cheese
Iacopi, Half Moon Bay: brussels sprouts, garlic
G&S Farms, Brentwood: corn (stripped and frozen in August)
Bariani, Sacramento: Olive oil
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: pastured eggs
Hamada Farms, Kingsburg: clementines
Fleur, Napa and Mackenzie, Sebastopol: wine
…and our own homegrown sage, parsley, celery, and thyme
Exemptions: Salt, pepper, sugar, yeast, nutmeg, cinnamon, cranberries (hand-carried from Massachusetts by Jeanne)
We’ve always called it “Grandma Anne’s stuffing”, but one year I discovered the recipe for our favorite Thanksgiving side-dish is much older than we knew.
When my grandfather passed away, I inherited his mammoth recipe box. Buried amid a slew of tortured 1970s-era gourmet recipes were a small, weathered stack of old recipe cards, written in a puzzling mixture of English and Italian (sometimes combined in one dazzling portmanteau, like “saurcraoti”). Most of the recipes were neatly lettered in a spidery convent hand on old ledger cards, but a few were obviously cut from the bottom of longer letters from my great-grandmother, Annunciata, to my grandmother, Anne; the back sides of the recipes offer snippets of a longer, advice-laden conversations at the very beginning of her marriage to my grandfather.
One such card, titled Impieno per Gallina (hen stuffing) is dated “1939 NY”, and bears an incredibly strong resemblance to our family’s traditional Thanksgiving stuffing. The quantities are smaller — even a big chicken wouldn’t need the giant bowl of filling that a turkey requires — but the ingredients are unmistakable: onion, celery, Parmesan, sage, and a pinch of nutmeg.
Now, I realize that it’s impossibly foolish to offer you my family’s stuffing recipe, heirloom or not, because everyone I’ve ever met is fiercely loyal to their own traditional ideas of Thanksgiving fare. And while you may be able to get away with adjustments to the turkey, or to any number of other side dishes, most people would rather fight than switch when it comes to the dressing. But just in case you’re game for starting a new tradition, feel free to borrow ours.
Great-Grandma Ciata’s Turkey Stuffing
1/4 to 1/2 pound bacon, diced fine
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups finely chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped parsley
bread from 1-1/2 loaves, cubed and dried (4 to 5 quarts)
2 cups chicken stock or turkey broth
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan or other dry cheese
2T fresh sage, minced
dash of nutmeg
In a cold frying pan, place the bacon, onion, garlic, celery, and parsley. Saute over low heat, being careful not to brown. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile in a large bowl, moisten the bread cubes with the stock/broth. Add the cheese, sage, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine with the bacon mixture, then bake in the bird, in a foil-covered casserole, or in a slow cooker.
Now, I don’t know where you go for good Cajun and Creole recipes, but my first (and last) source is Chuck Taggart’s fabulous Gumbo Pages. Chuck’s site covers a whole lot more than just food. It’s a true mélange of everything that’s wonderful about the culture of New Orleans and the surrounding area — recipes, dining recommendations, cocktails, music, and so much more.
A native New Orleanian, Chuck saved our collective asses at Tales of the Cocktail last year: You pretty much couldn’t leave the Monteleone without running into a cocktail blogger clutching a printout of Chuck’s French Quarter restaurant recommendations; it was the most-viewed page on the Tales Blog, gathering more hits than all the other pages put together. Uh-huh.
But back to the food. Over the years — even before we’d had the pleasure to make his acquaintance — we’ve used Chuck’s recipes for everything from turkey gumbo to creole hot sausage to dirty rice, all with uniformly excellent results.
For our Mardi Gras celebration, we made Dee Gautreau’s World Championship Jambalaya. Because we just don’t feel complete without pork, we took the liberty of adding andouille sausage. (A quick chat with Chuck revealed that sausage was likely in the original, but somehow disappeared from the printed recipe.)
No offense meant to the original recipe, but we’ve made a few minor tweaks to make things a little clearer. I’m sure any Louisiana native would know exactly what Dee meant, but there’s a fair bit of ambiguity there for anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to grow up watching jambalaya being made on a regular basis. You’ll see in the photos that I’ve halved the recipe; it still made four exceptionally generous servings.
- adapted from Gumbo Pages
3-to-4 pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (with neck, back, and wingtips reserved)
6-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup cooking oil
3/4 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 medium white onions, chopped
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste*
2-1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Red pepper to taste*
2 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce (such as Crystal)
3 cups uncooked long-grain rice
Place the chicken neck, back, and wingtips in a saucepan with 6-1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, while prepping the rest of the jambalaya.
Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chicken parts, skin side down. Fry, without disturbing the chicken, until the skin is a nice golden brown, then turn to brown the other sides equally well. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside in a warm place near the stove.
Pour off the oil, leaving just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped onions and cook until golden brown, adding a little water if necessary to keep sticking to a minimum. Add the andouille and saute until the fat begins to render. Return the chicken to the pan with the sausage and onions.
Remove the neck, back, and wingtips from the quick broth. Measure the remaining liquid in a heatproof measuring cup, add enough water to make 6 cups, and add this liquid to the sausage/chicken pan. Note the liquid level in the pan; this will be important later.
Add the remaining ingredients except the rice to the pot, and simmer, well covered, until the chicken is cooked through (10 to 15 minutes). Check the liquid level, and add water to return it to the same point it was before simmering, if necessary. Bring back to a rolling boil, and add the rice. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook, uncovered and without stirring, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the water level is below the rice. Turn the rice (see notes below), reduce heat to low, and cover with a tight-fitting lid; cook for 15 minutes until the rice is tender. Turn the rice again, turn off the heat, and let the rice steam on the warm burner for 10 minutes more.
* The amount of salt and red pepper needed will depend on the age and strength of your spice, as well as the seasoning in your andouille. I used 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper for a medium-hot result.
Chuck’s jambalaya notes:
- This recipe produces a brown-style jambalaya rather than the red tomato-based jambalayas you see in New Orleans.
- Jambalaya should never be stirred. Turn, rather than stir, to prevent the grains of rice from breaking up, scooping from the bottom of the pot.
We usually consume our oxtails in an Italian-style ragu. But with Chinese New Year upon us — and the Year of the Ox, at that — it seemed like an Asian preparation would be more appropriate.
In the world of Chinese oxtail recipes, the options generally boil down to either a hearty braise with root vegetables, or a simple long-simmered soup. In the latter, the meat is simmered for hours until it’s meltingly tender, then served in two parts, much like a French pot-au-feu: a platter of meat with a piquant dipping sauce, and a bowl of clear broth to fill the belly and provide a respite from the spicy, meaty main.
Usually, rice would accompany the meat, but in the spirit of the New Year celebration, we opted to add noodles — which signify long life — to the broth. If you’re not so keen on eating out of two separate bowls, you can pull the meat off the oxtails and stir it in with the noodles and broth, then serve with the sauce on the side for each diner to stir in as she chooses.
Sichuan Oxtail Soup
- adapted from Land of Plenty and Classic Food of China
2-1/2 to 3 pounds of meaty oxtail
2 chicken drumsticks (or any two pieces of dark meat)
3- to 4-inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
2 tsp whole Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine (or medium-dry sherry), divided use
6-8 oz dry rice noodles (your choice of width)
salt to taste
1T peanut oil
1/4 cup Sichuan-style chili bean paste
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
Soak the oxtail pieces in cold water for 30 minutes, then discard the soaking water.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add the oxtail and chicken, and return to a boil. Skim off any foam that floats to the top, then reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed to keep the oxtails mostly submerged.
Smash the ginger with the back of a knife or other heavy object. Add it to the pan along with the peppercorns and 1/4 cup of the Shaoxing wine. Partially cover the pan, and simmer for at least 3 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Heat the peanut oil in a wok or skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the chili bean paste, and stir fry until the oil is deep red and the sauce is fragrant. Pour the sauce into a heatproof bowl; when cooled, add the soy sauce and sesame oil.
At the end of the simmering time, the oxtail should be very tender and the meat will pull away from the bone but not completely separate from it. Remove the oxtails to a plate, discarding the simmered-out chicken parts. Pick off any peppercorns that stick to the oxtails and discard. Drain the broth through a fine seive, discarding the peppercorns and ginger, and return the clear dark broth to the pot. You should have about 6-8 cups of soup at this point; add additional cold water if needed, or simmer down the broth. Once you have the proper quantity, add the remaining 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine, then salt the broth to taste. Return the oxtails to the pan and gently reheat until very hot. (If you want to serve the soup in one bowl, pick the meat from the bones before returning it to the broth.)
Meanwhile, prepare the rice noodles according to package directions. (Usually this involves soaking the noodles in boiling water, as opposed to simmering them.) When cooked, divide the noodles among 4 soup bowls, then ladle the hot broth over them. Serve the oxtails in a separate large bowl or tureen, moistened with a bit of the broth, and allow each diner to choose their piece, eating it out of a rice bowl by pulling the meat off the bone and dipping it in the sauce to taste.
Happy Christmas, that is, from jolly old England! We’re having a blast on our vacation so far, eating lots of tasty food (fish & chips twice so far, both excellent), drinking pints of bitter in some gorgeous pubs, shopping at Borough Market, visiting with friends, and generally feeling very lucky to be in London at Christmas.
Speaking of luck: Don’t forget that
today is the last day to bid on Menu For Hope raffle prizes. (Edited to add: The deadline’s been extended to 12/31!) If you have your heart set on winning our Ferry Plaza gourmet gift basket, the odds are still very promising. Be sure to check out Pim’s page for updates and new prizes that have been added along the way. There’s some good stuff in there that I’m sure someone on your last-minute present list would love to have a chance to win.
May your days be merry and bright!
Apparently, I am not equipped to exist on 5 hours of sleep every night for an entire month, which is what happens when you try to hold down a job, tackle a little freelance work, keep a house in order, cook most meals at home, and blog every single night. But even though I failed at NaBloPoMo, I really did have a blast trying to keep my head above water. Despite the blog-silence, our week has been filled with all kinds of wonderful things to eat and drink… fodder for future posts, I promise, as we return to a slightly saner schedule in December.
The highlight of our week — like many of yours, I suspect — was our big Thursday feast for Thanksgiving. This year, we managed to wiggle out of all of our family obligations, so it was just the two of us: No marshmallow-topped baked yams or gelatinous cranberry sauce (nor any of the other stuff neither of us likes) and no giant spreadsheet to track food miles. We still ate 100% local, but with a much smaller, simpler menu, we didn’t need to document with such precision.
I picked up our turkey — a burlap-wrapped 18-pounder from Napa’s Hudson Ranch, sold to us by Tayor at the Fatted Calf — at the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers Market. This squat little guy was so muscular we didn’t even need to truss the legs to keep them tight against the carcass. Although all we did was salt it the night before and slather it in butter, describing its taste sounds like a cliché: Moist and tender, yet full of deep poultry flavor. And the rich drippings made some of the most delicious gravy we’ve ever had.
To go with the amazing turkey and gravy, we peeled and mashed many pounds of creamy La Ratte spuds from Mr. Little, mixed with butter from Spring Hill and Straus Family cream. Stuffing was the usual family recipe, with Fatted Calf bacon, Eatwell celery and parsley, Catalán onions, Acme bread, and our own home-grown sage and home-made chicken stock. There was corn from The Peach Farm — which I zipped and froze a few weeks back — and a bottle of Five Russians Pinot Noir from Sonoma. For dessert: Pumpkin pie made from local organic pumpkin, eggs, and dairy, in a crust of local flour (a blend of Eatwell and Giusto’s), Clover Organic butter, and Prather leaf-lard.
With only two of us to tackle a family-sized turkey, we cut off a whole breast, leg, and thigh, and vacuum-sealed them for the freezer; somewhere down the line there’s another round of turkey dinner (and leftovers!) in our future… what a way to stock up for winter!
The rest of our luxurious long weekend, we’ve spent tackling other Dark Days-related projects. Cameron’s been hard at work on building and filling our new raised beds, and we may even get a few starter crops in the ground before the new year. I’ve been pickling and preserving — a few quarts of chicken stock and turkey broth, some pickled jalapeños, and a batch of pub onions. After the canners were put away, I reorganized our freezers in preparation for laying down a few last supplies for the winter.
This week’s trip to the farmers market was pretty light, since we’ll mostly be eating an assortment of yummy bits and pieces from deep storage. Although a week of freezer fare may sound rather dreary, after four days of nonstop cooking and turkey leftovers, I’m really looking forward to a few meals where the hardest part is defrosting the main dish and making a big salad.
This year, I am especially thankful for:
- My wonderful husband, who takes care of me and our home with such obvious affection.
- Our family, who understand our need to take a break from the festivities now and then.
- Our social circle, whose hospitality and friendship keep us sane and happy.
- Our readers and blog pals, who encourage us and inspire us.
- Our amazing City, where we count ourselves lucky to live every day.
- Our region’s hard-working farmers and food artisans, who provide us with the world’s most amazing array of edibles.
We’ve already written about a new cocktail this week, so I thought I’d answer a question that arrived this morning. I’m guessing there are others in the same boat:
I’m having a turkey day get-together and wanted an appropriate drink. I’d like something I can serve in a martini glass, fancy shmancy cocktail thing. A guest suggested, um, I can barely type this — pumpkin pie martini — and I immediately had to shoot that down.
- Pumpkin-Averse Party Instigator
What is it with the onslaught of pumpkin drinks this year? I mean, I love me some pumpkin pie, but …gah! Leave the whipped-cream garnish for the dessert table, please.
Thankfully, there are plenty of festive drinks that fit the bill for Thanksgiving that do not involve canned squash. Two of our favorite options from the Drink of the Week archives would be perfect for your holiday bash. They’re both certified crowd-pleasers, full of holiday flavors, and relatively low on the booze — a good idea at parties so casual drinkers don’t end up face down in the cranberry sauce. Best of all, you should be able to find all of the ingredients at your local Beverages & More, or any other well-stocked liquor store.
Have a happy Thanksgiving, and do let us know how it goes!
- Anita & Cameron
- Originally blogged 11/23/07 — click for photos and details
1-1/2 oz bourbon
1-1/2 oz spicy ginger ale (we like Blenheim)
3/4 oz Benedictine
Stir all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of star anise or an orange twist.
Now, I know a lot of casual drinkers might be wary of the bourbon. But be strong: A cocktail is like a dog — you can show no fear! I had three bourbon-haters begging me for the recipe at the last party we served these at. But do try to find Blenheim or another spicy ginger ale; Canada Dry and its ilk is too chemical-y and even the lovely Fever-Tree is too tame.
Make sure you grab Benedictine and not B&B (which is pre-mixed benedictine & brandy). The bottles look nearly identical and they’re often shelved together.
- Originally blogged 10/6/06 — click for photo and details
1 oz Clear Creek pear eau de vie
– or substitute pear vodka; Clear Creek is tricky to find outside of the West Coast
2 oz Trimbach Riesling wine
1/4 oz honey syrup
– equal parts of honey and water, heated together and then cooled
1/2 oz Orange curacao (such as Cointreau)
a dash of bitters, preferrably Peychaud for the rusty color and spice
Measure all ingredients into cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a whole piece of star anise or a sage leaf.
Just in case you need help picking something to drink tonight — other than Champagne to toast with or beer to cry in — while you’re watching the election returns, we’ve got a slew of options over at Liqurious to help you out.
Some of the posts even feature actual, real-live cocktails, as opposed to the annoying onslaught of sickly sweet ‘Obama-ritas’ and ‘Maverick-tinis’ that seems have clogged every drink-blogger’s inbox for the last three months.
Goodness knows, we could all use a strong one after the this endless campaign.
PS: You voted, right? RIGHT!?