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The Olympics are in full swing here in Vancouver. Every morning when I go downtown to my place of work, I am amazed at all the people in the streets, at the lines for the various pavilions. It’s an exciting time for the city. You can feel it in the air. But my life is so hectic that I haven’t yet had a chance to partake in the festivities. A part of me doesn’t really care, but another part wonders if I’ll be sorry later. To be perfectly honest, sports don’t interest me all that much and the Olympic Games, whether summer or winter, hardly at all.
If I’m drawn to anything about the Games in Vancouver, it’s the food. There are some pavilions that I definitely want to check out. I want to see what the world is cooking. And I plan on going to the French Quarter on Granville Island very soon.
In the meantime, I’ve made turkey.
Today is one of those days when I actually have a little time to myself and I chose to spend some of it in the kitchen, whipping up some dishes to tide me through the week. A lot of it will go into the freezer, as do a lot of the things I cook. Cooking in batches makes my life a lot easier.
I love having slices of this turkey meatloaf on hand for dinner, or tucking it between a couple of slices of bread for a delicious sandwich at lunch. For all its leanness, it’s surprisingly juicy. Plus it’s so easy to put together.
This recipe is adapted from Chef Michael Smith from the Food Network in Canada. His recipes are accessible and down-to-earth yet full of robust flavors.
Michael Smith’s Turkey Meatloaf
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 pounds of ground turkey
1/2 cup milk
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 can (156 ml) tomato paste
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dried thyme or oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Saute oil and onion in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are golden brown. Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue sauteing until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly browned.
3) Mix the turkey, milk, breadcrumbs, egg, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce, thyme and mushroom mixture in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper
4) Press the mixture into a loaf pan or an 8×8 baking dish. Bake until firm and lightly browned on top. An instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meatloaf should read 165 degrees.
I am convinced that to be a true foodie, you have to be the obsessive sort. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of this–at least in the dim recesses of my mind. It’s all because of Walter.
Walter was my Dad’s best friend while I was growing up. He was a cabinet maker who ran his own business by day. After work, he would come home and make dinner for his wife and kids. He was a great cook, and he enjoyed cooking very much. Doubtlessly, he enjoyed eating even more. Walter knew everything there was to know about food and he knew all the best places to get it. Every Saturday he drove thirty kilometers into the city from his home in the suburbs and spent hours going from shop to shop, acquiring his favorite sausages and cuts of meats and raw milk cheeses from Quebec. He was a man after my own heart, that Walter.
I, too, am similarly obsessed. I have sat in gridlocked bridge traffic for a croissant from Thomas Haas, spent hours walking around Paris looking for Poliâne, the world famous boulangerie. Ask me specifics about the art and architecture of the great European cities I have visited, I may draw a blank. But I can recount in excruciating detail what I ate there.
So it’s no surprise that since I have started cooking from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I have been cooking from it compulsively. Now, I had this cookbook before all this hullabaloo about the Julie and Julia movie. It was the first book I bought when I decided I wanted to become a food writer and get serious about cooking. The idea of cooking from it, however, was intimidating enough that it sat on my bookshelf, gathering dust, until I joined some food bloggers in a MtAoFC challenge. Everything I have made turned out better than I expected, and though I haven’t made anything terribly complicated, what I have made has been absolutely delicious.
This Sauté de Boeuf à la Parisienne from MtAoFC Volume I is a fine choice if you need an impressive dish in a hurry. It calls for beef filet; the tenderloin butt and the tail of the beef are often used. It can be cooked in advance but requires care when reheating so as not to overcook the meat.
Sauté de Boeuf à la Parisienne
for 6 people
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon good cooking oil
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of pepper
2 1/2 pounds filet of beef
2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon cooking oil, more if needed
1/4 cup Madeira or dry white vermouth
3/4 cup beef stock
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch blended with 1 tablespoon of the cream
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons softened butter
1) Sauté the mushrooms in the first amount given of butter and oil for about five minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir in the shallots and cook for a minute longer. Season the mushrooms and scrape them into a side dish.
2) Trim off the surrounding fat and filament from the beef and cut into 2-ounce pieces, about 2 inches across and 1/2-inch thick. Dry thoroughly on paper towels.
3) Place butter and oil in the skillet and set over moderately high heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, sauté the beef, a few pieces at a time, for 2-3 minutes on each side to brown the exterior but keep the interior rosy red. Set the beef on a side dish and discard the fat.
4) Pour the wine and stock into the skillet and boil it down rapidly, scraping up the coagulated cooking juices, until liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup. Beat in the cream, then the cornstarch mixture. Simmer a minute. Add the mushrooms and simmer a minute more. The sauce should be lightly thickened. Correct seasonings.
5) Season the beef lightly with salt and pepper and return it to the skillet along with any juices which may have escaped. Baste the beef with the sauce and mushrooms, or transfer everything to a serving casserole.
6) When you are ready to serve, cover the skillet or casserole and heat to below the simmer for 3-4 minutes, being very careful not to overdo it or the pieces of filet will be well done rather than rare. Off heat and just before serving, tilt casserole, add butter to sauce a bit at a time while basting the meat until the butter has absorbed. Decorate with parsley and serve at once.
Those of you who have been reading my blog for the last week know that I am cooking with Julia these days and that all of my posts will be focused on recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking–at least until the release of the long-anticipated movie Julie & Julia.
Now I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that I own more cookbooks than I would want to count, have stacks and stacks of back issues of cooking magazines like Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and binders overflowing with recipes that I have printed off the Internet, MTAOFC was not a part of my library until a couple of months ago. I have other cookbooks by Julia, other books on French cooking. So why was I missing a classic that started a revolution in home cooking when it first came out in 1961?
I have no real answer except that it was always a book that seemed intimidating to me. Until my first trip to Paris, I had focused on Italian cooking, not French. I am also most attracted to cookbooks with glossy, mouth-watering pictures; Julia’s book with its illustrations and strange recipe layout would just make things more complicated than they needed to be, I reasoned. And wasn’t French cooking already too complicated? Who has the time to spent the whole day making puff pastry and wrapping it around a duck?
Which brings me back to Julie & Julia. Before it became a movie, it was a book; a memoir written by Julie Powell, who cooked her way through all 524 recipes in MTAOFC within the space of a year. There has been widespread criticism of Julie Powell in foodie circles for some of her opinions, her writing style and penchant for cursing, which is really too bad. Because when you come right down to it, what she did was an astonishing feat.
Many of the recipes in MTAOFC are complicated. They do take time. Very few people have the time or inclination to cook this way anymore. Putting together a dinner party from this cookbook can take a good couple of days from your life. Julie Powell did this on a daily basis–after coming home from a dead-end secretarial job.
Now this is not to say that every recipe is difficult. Once I started cooking from this book, I realized how accessible a lot of the recipes are. Julia Child walks you through everything in such detail that you cannot fail as long as you follow her instructions. Although I have not yet attempted an aspic or a Canard en Croûte, there are many recipes that don’t take a lot of time. In fact, I put a little dinner together for myself the other night that took no more than half an hour to make: Steak au Poivre, mushrooms in Medeira sauce, and Tomates à la Provençale. It was all so delicious that I wondered why I had waited so long to get this culinary masterpiece.
Julia Child’s Steak au Poivre
Pepper Steak with Brandy Sauce
Serves 4-6 people
2 tablespons mixed or white peppercorns
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. steak
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons shallots or green onions
1/2 cup stock
1/3 cup cognac
3-4 tablespoons softened butter
1) Place the peppercorms in a mixing bowl and crush them roughly with a pestle or the bottom of a bottle.
2) Dry the steaks on paper towels. Rub and press the crushed peppercorns into both sides of the meat. Cover with waxed paper. Let stand for at least half an hour; 2 or 3 hours are even better, so the flavor of the pepper will penetrate the meat.
3) Sauté the steak in hot oil and butter 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove to a hot platter and season with salt.
4) For the sauce: pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the butter and shallots and cook slowly for a minute. Pour in the stock and boil down rapidly over high heat while scraping up the coagulated cooking juices. Then add the cognac and boil rapidly for a minute or two to evaporate its alcohol. Off heat, swirl in the butter a half-tablespoon at a time.
I’ve never been an ardent fan of the All-American hamburger. The meat is almost always too dry and lacking in flavor, requiring a dousing of mustard and ketchup to make it palatable. I am, however, a lover of a different kind of hamburger. It’s called pljeskavica and can be found in Balkan countries like Serbia, Croatia, and Bulgaria. The cuisines of these countries are a mishmash of German, Hungarian, and Turkish influences, due to their domination under the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. My family are ethnic Slovaks from Serbia. Our cooking is even more varied due to the influence of both the Slovak and Serbian cultures. We eat all sorts of dumplings and stews, as well as bake with phyllo and grill a lot of our meats. Whenever I go to Serbia, eating pljeskavica is one of the things I look forward to the most.
Pljeskavica is served in most restaurants and on city street corners, the way vendors serve up hot dogs in North America. It’s a meat patty typically made of a combination of beef, lamb, and pork. The bun is not your typical hamburger bun, but something between a bun and a Georgian baguette. You can garnish it with mustard and mayo, of course, and chopped onions are de rigeur. The best part is the cheese, called kajmak, similar in taste to feta but creamier–almost like a spread.
Since I live in the city and don’t have a balcony, I can’t grill my own pljeskavica at home. When the craving gets to be too much, I drive out to the suburbs to a restaurant called the Balkan Grill, the only Serbian restaurant we have here in Vancouver. The meat patties served there are the size of your head; three people can eat one of them. At this restaurant they stuff them with feta cheese. This is how I got the inspiration for this little burger here.
At home, I make my own version with lean ground turkey meat. Yes, it’s lower in fat, but it’s also juicy and I like the taste. I just fry the burgers up on an oiled cast iron pan for about 20 minutes. I have tried baking them but that made a lot of the juices and cheese run out.
This recipe also calls for something called Vegeta, a seasoning mix for meats, soups, and vegetables. It’s produced in Croatia but every European deli I’ve ever been to in this country carries it. It’s a very popular product across Europe. It’s an optional ingredient, but it does boost the flavor. It also contains a lot of salt, so if you skip the Vegeta, you will need to add more salt than this recipe calls for.
This recipe makes 4 small burgers. Pljeskavica is usually much larger than a regular hamburger, but thin.
Turkey Burgers Stuffed With Feta
1 pound (1/2 kilo) lean ground turkey meat
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Vegeta seasoning
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1) Mix all of the ingredients except the feta in a mixing bowl until well combined. Divide the meat into 8 chunks. Roll 1 chunk into a ball and then press it out into the shape of a patty in the palm of your hand.
2) Press the feta on top of the meat patty. Take another chunk and form a patty with it as well, and then press on top of the feta covered one. Repeat with the rest of the meat.
3) Fry on medium heat for about ten minutes, until well browned. Flip over and fry for another ten minutes or so. Make sure that the meat is well cooked. If you cook it on too high of a heat it might burn on the outside but might not be done on the inside.
In restaurants, pljeskavica is typically served with Greek salad. I also really like it with a salad of cucumbers in yogurt. I find the turkey burger is great with both. Once you have a burger stuffed with feta, you’ll never want a regular one again!