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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Prime" Rib

I can't believe that the holidays are basically over! Where is the time going? I'm sitting here in my in-laws house in Illinois, enjoying a beautiful white Christmas (never mind that it only became white Christmas day). What I love about spending the holidays with my husband's family is the splendid chaos of so many family members packed in one home on Christmas day. Going along with that is the cooking. Because we live so far away, my husband and I can never host Christmas day, which I would very much enjoy, but at least I can help with the fixings.

A couple of years ago, my in-laws decided they wanted to try a prime rib for the first time. I was charged with figuring out how to cook this expensive piece of meat without ruining it. Since that initial attempt, I have since made this dish four or five other times, always with great success. For a large meal, you can't beat it. It can be a bit pricey, but - if you can afford it - I recommend giving it a try.

Now, if you noticed, I put prime in quotes in the title of this post. That was not an accident. Meat is graded by the USDA as prime, choice, or select. A rib roast (basically uncut rib eye steaks) that you find in the grocery store will typically be choice graded. Prime is usually reserved for restaurants and the like. If you can manage to arrange to get an actual prime rib from your butcher, all the better, but choice (or even select) are still fine cuts of meat.

The other thing that I think is especially important for prime rib is the spice rub on the outside of the meat. It wasn't until I got married and moved east that I first came across restaurants serving prime rib without any kind of herb or seasoning rub. It just ain't right, let me tell you. Now, I like the taste of the meat itself as much as the next gal, but prime rib really is all about that outer edge of flavoring. That's why - in my experience - the end cut is such a highly requested cut in restaurants.

The good news is that the seasoning rub is so easy to put together. You can either rub the garlic into a paste like I show in my creamy garlic salad dressing post or you can use a food processor. Either way, the idea is to end up with a nice, thick garlic and herb paste that you can then smear all over the meat. It doesn't have to be a heavy coat to grace your roast with fabulous flavor.

Place the meat in a pan, fatty side up. If the roast has the bones still in it, it is best to leave the bones on for even cooking. However, I like to cut the meat off the bones before roasting and then tying them back to the meat for cooking; it makes it much easier to serve once done. In this case, we had a boneless roast.

Be sure the meat is at room temperature (or close to it) before placing it in the oven. This step also helps the meat to cook evenly. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Just as a warning here: if your oven is dirty, it may smoke a bit. Also, be prepared for the potent aroma of garlic! When this baby gets in the oven, the air will be perfumed...

Roast at 450 F for 15-20 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 350 F and continue cooking until the roast reaches 130 degrees in the very center. This will mean that the meat in the very middle will be rare and the meat will be increasingly done as you work toward the outside. Everyone can have the meat at the doneness they want! Be prepared to provide 20 minutes per pound of roasting time.

If no one at your table appreciates rare meat, then leave it in longer and shoot for an internal temperature reading of 145. If you want to reheat the meat or change its doneness like the restaurants do, then cut a slice and dip it into hot au jus. A good restaurant never puts its prime rib on the grill or griddle.

Here's what it will look like when you pull it out of the oven. This was an eight pound roast. If you compare the before and after pictures, you can see just how much the meat shrinks up. But, you see all that browned crust on the outside? That's food paradise, there. As the cook, be sure to take your commission and savor the first few bites by yourself.
Let the roast stand for 10-15 minutes before slicing. This is a great time to use all those fabulous juices (and, yes, maybe even some of the fat) to make some gravy, but that is a posting for another day. Slice and serve! Be prepared for your guests to think you should be elevated to sainthood!

"Prime" Rib
Yield: Variable, herb rub below will easily cover an 8 pound roast

2 TBS minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried whole thyme leaves
1/2 tsp dried parsley
3-4 TBS olive oil

rib roast (minimum 4 pounds), prime, choice or select grade

Mince garlic and add salt and smear with the edge of your chef knife to form a paste - OR, use a food processor to blend all ingredients. If you use a processor, try not to over process as having a blend with small pieces of the ingredients is preferred over a smooth paste. Mix the remainder of the ingredients with the garlic paste and stir to mix.

Place roast in a shallow pan (pan with 1 inch sides is best), fat side up. If the roast has bones, cut the meat away from the bones and then use kitchen twine to tie the roast back together. This process allows for even cooking and then easy serving when the roast is done. Smear the meat evenly with the herb paste. Be sure to coat the ends of the meat, too.

Place roast in a preheated 450 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue roasting until reaches desired doneness inside. Measure in the middle of the thickest part of the roast with a thermometer. I like to pull it at 130 degrees F for rare. Pull at 140-145 for medium rare. Allow 15-20 minutes per pound cooking time.

Remove roast from the oven and let rest on the counter for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Baked Black Bean Dip

The first thing I want to do is challenge you to try saying "Baked Black Bean Dip" five times in a row! Now that's a tongue twister. Fortunately, who cares if you can say something when your mouth is busy downing some of the best chip dip around.

This recipe is in honor of my recently horrible diet. I figure by the week's end, I've hit all of the food groups, even if I don't within a day. Last night's dinner was a huge plate of broccoli. Tonight, it was this dip with chips. Well, maybe a lot of this. I feel a little roly-poly...

... but it was worth it! So tasty!

I've been fiddling around with some new ingredients lately. I bought my first jar of crema mexicana last month and tonight was its second use. I also recently purchased some queso fresco, which despite having talked about it before, was used in my kitchen for the first time tonight. That is some good cheese. And when they talk about it being a "crumbling" cheese, they ain't a-kidding. It was so fun! See how it's so beautifully crumbled on top of this dip that's ready to go in the oven?

When it came out, it had melted, but had not lost its integrity (which I appreciate since I'm rather fond of integrity). It has a great flavor, but even better, I love the texture. It's a bit... I'm afraid to say chewy because I don't want you to get a negative connotation. But - dang it, it was chewy, and I mean that in the best sense possible! The bits of cheese were my favorite part of this concoction. It's so velvety and flavorful with these great bits of chewy cheese in it.

I must warn you, though; I think if you are planning on serving it at a party, you might want to bake it in two smaller dishes so that you don't end up with a fight at the dip bowl!

Baked Black Bean Dip
Yield: approximately 2 1/2 cups of dip

1 - 16 oz can of black refried beans
1/2 cup crema mexicana
1/4 cup salsa (drained of excess juice)
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco (divided)
2 TBS shredded cheddar

Mix the beans, crema mexicana, salsa, and 1/4 cup of the queso fresco thoroughly in a bowl. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a shallow 10-inch round baking dish (or other similar sized dish) with cooking spray. Spread the bean mixture into the dish and smooth out with a rubber spatula.

Sprinkle the top with the remaining queso fresco and the cheddar. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes. Be sure to let cool five minutes before serving. If desired, you can garnish the top with sliced olives (before or after baking) and sliced green onions.

NOTE: If you do not have queso fresco, you can substitute mozzarella cheese. If you do not have the crema mexicana, you may substitute sour cream. Also, be aware that most beans are very salty and pre-seasoned so no additional salt or seasoning is necessary. If the beans you are using, however, do not fall in this category, you can add salt, garlic powder, and cumin to taste.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Oh la la... can it really have been almost two weeks since my last post? And Christmas - is it really only fifteen days away? WAIT! Stop the clock! I haven't been able to do anything yet. Christmas shopping? Uh, nope. Christmas cards? Ditto nope. Holiday decorations? Hmmm... does hanging a wreath on the front door count? Oh my goodness! How about holiday baking - my favorite part of the holidays? Not a darn thing. Not one single little cookie. It's positively depressing. Unfortunately, those darn priority things are getting in my way. Grrrr.

The worst part about the whole deal is what I've been eating for dinner. In the last week, the closest I have come to cooking was boiling up a packet of ramen. Other dinners this week have included canned soup, frozen burritos, and a bowl full of salad greens. Fortunately, while my mom was visiting over Thanksgiving we cooked a few things, so on these recently rare occasions when I have a few extra minutes, I at least have something to share with you. Please bear with me as I make it through the rest of this school year... believe me, lately, I would much rather spend the time with you than continually trying to convince my students that the purpose of my class is to prepare them for life, not to simply give them another 'A' they haven't earned. But - I digress - this is a cooking blog for crying out loud!

So, let's cook! I am not a marshmallow fanatic, but I like them reasonably well in certain applications and occasionally as a snack. I always wanted to try making homemade marshmallows and I rather enjoyed the process. As far as the product goes, they really don't differ that much from the store bought. In fact, in a blind taste test, I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference. The good news is that with homemade marshmallows, you can play with flavorings, colorings, and shapes. How fun! Of course, I'm not going to talk about that today. Since it was my first go at the things and I needed a baseline from which to work in the future, I just made plain ones.

It starts with unflavored gelatin. This type of gelatin requires "blooming" before you use it. All that means is that you mix it with a little cold water to soften it up. Here it is in the bowl of my mixer looking funky.

The next step is to heat up a sugar syrup on the stove. It gets heated to the soft ball stage, or about 240 degrees F.

The hot syrup then gets poured slowly into the softened gelatin with the mixer on low. Be sure to use the whisk attachment. Once the syrup has all been added, the speed gets cranked up until a magical transformation occurs.

It turns a beautiful white, glossy color and expands significantly in volume. It only took about 7 minutes in the mixer to get a nice, thick marshmallow cream.

While the marshmallow is beating, prepare a couple of cookie sheets with parchment and then sprinkle with the cornstarch/powdered sugar mix. I used a little strainer to get an even distribution. Don't be stingy with the powder or you'll regret it later. You can never have too much, but believe me - you can definitely have too little.

Once the marshmallow cream can stand on itself like shown in this picture, turn the mixer off and remove the whisk.

Spoon the cream into a pastry bag either with the tip cut out or use a large, round tip. You could simply line a rectangular pan with the parchment and powder, but I like the whole marshmallow shape too much. Pipe the cream into rows on your sheet. I found it's best to make them on the small side unless you don't mind them having a slightly oval shape, as the large ones tend to flatten a bit under their own weight.

Refilling the bag can be a bit tricky. In the future, I might simply use a new disposable bag for each refill. It's a pretty sticky situation...

When you have finished piping out the rows, sprinkle them again very generously with the starch/sugar powder mixture. Let them sit out for a few hours to firm up.

There are two ways to go about separating the little buggers. I tried the scissor method first. It was fine, but the scissors tended to goop up more quickly that I have the patience for, so I ended up using the secondary method.

Ah... now this is more like it! The pizza cutter worked like a gem. Just be sure to use plenty, plenty, plenty of the powder to keep from ending up with a crazy, sticky mess!

Hey, look! It's a marshmallow! As I cut them up, I tossed them around in a bowl with more of the sugar to cover all sides. I then placed them in a colander to shake off the excess.

Be sure to store them in an airtight container. Because they are mostly sugar, if you keep them air tight, they will last for weeks... which is good, cause I'm not ditching them after just a few days with all this effort!

Oh, and let me tell you about the hot chocolate application. Here is where I might actually be able to tell a difference between store-bought and homemade. The homemade ones seemed to melt differently - and in a good way. Yup, they were worth the work after all!

Yield: about a half-gallon container of small marshmallows
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup ice cold water

1/2 cup water
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract (or any other flavoring you choose)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup corn starch

Place the gelatin and the 1/2 cup of cold water in the bottom of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk.
In a small saucepan, mix together the other 1/2 cup of water, granulated sugar, salt, and corn syrup. Outfit the pan with a candy thermometer. Turn on the heat to medium high and cook without stirring until the mixture reaches soft ball, or 240 degrees F. Remove from the heat.

Bring the pan of hot syrup over to the mixture and add slowly while mixing at low speed. Once you have added all the syrup, increase the speed to high. Mix on high until it gets thick, shiny, and white, and can stand up on itself (see picture above). This step took me about 7 minutes. Add the vanilla and whip just until well mixed. While mixing, prepare a couple of baking sheets with parchment and a liberal sprinkling of the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture.

Spoon cream into a pastry bag with a round tip (or with the end cut out). Pipe into 1/2 - 3/4 inch logs on the prepared pans. This is a sticky procedure, so be prepared! When finished, sprinkle the top sides completely with the powdered mixture.

Set the tray aside for a few hours to firm up. Use a pizza cutter to cut into small marshmallows. Dip into a bowl with the starch/sugar powder mixture to completely coat all sides. Remove excess by shaking marshmallows briefly in a colander.

Store in an air tight container for at least a month.

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