Stuffed Grape Leaves

Grape leave

Roma smells amazing. Every time I’m in there I want to order one of every deli meat, all of the cheeses, and tons of olives. They have a bunch of Middle Eastern groceries, and I picked up 2 lbs of grape leaves for $5.25! Not too bad! This was about 75 or more leaves, some were bigger than others, but overall this was a great price. The supermarkets charge about the same for less grape leaves.

This time I decided I wanted to try making stuffed grape leaves in my crock pot. I put slices of lemon in between the layers, which added a different sort of bitterness to the grape leaves that made them interesting in addition to the tartness of the lemon juice. I shared a bunch of these with some  friends (well, those that I managed to wrangle out of Albany John’s clutches – hot damn, that man loves stuffed grape leaves, especially these), and the overall verdict was that they were quite tasty and more would be welcome at any time.

I added a bit of mint to the mix, too, which Roma also sells.

Make these vegetarian by leaving the meat out. I think I will do that the next time.

Stuffed grape leaves

Crock Pot Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe:
1 C brown rice
3/4 lb ground meat (I used a combo of veal & beef)
2 onions, minced
Olive oil
2 T dried mint leaves
3-4 lemons
50 Grape leaves

Sautee minced onions in olive oil until firm but translucent. Remove & let cool in a bowl.

Once cooled, add rice, ground meat, and mint leaves.

Rinse the grape leaves well (until water runs clear). Put about 1-2 teaspoons of filling in each leaf and roll up like a little burrito.

Snugly fill a layer in your crock pot. Once full, cover that layer with grape leaves & lemon slices and juice of 1/2 lemon. Repeat until you are out of grape leaves! Pack them tightly – put a plate in the crock pot and weigh it down, then add another weight on top of the crock pot lid, otherwise the rice may expand and break the grape leaf skin. Cook 3-4 hours on low heat.

Shortrib Ragu

Beef Shortrib Ragu’ll cure your winter blues. And if you don’t have winter blues, it’ll make you feel as cozy as a bug. Definitely stick-to-ya-ribs stuff.

I popped 2-3 lbs of beef shortibs into a crock pot with some diced onions, whole cloves of garlic (like, a head in total – garlic cooks up so sweet and mellow. It’s hard to believe it’s so bracing raw) several cans of tomatoes, and some oregano and fresh basil.

Later in the day, I made whole wheat pappardelle.
1 C semolina Flour
2/3 C whole wheat flour

1/3 C AP or Bread flour (I only had high-gluten bread flour on hand)
2 whole eggs
1/4 c olive oil
a few T of water.

Mix them all together, adding some water here and there if the dough is tough and crumbly. Then let it sit for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Crock pot! Ugly picture! My shortribs weren’t falling apart and dissolving into nothingness after being crock potted for hours on end, so Albany John shredded ’em for me. Worked like a charm.

I also remembered I had some hard cheese rinds (parmesan, romano) in the freezer, and tossed those in for good measure. A delicious tip I gleaned from the Profussor. So chewy and melty, and cheesey, and probably not good for you.

The beef shortrib ragu I was gunning for had morphed into something more like a stew. Either way, it was great over pasta, mashed potatoes, and rice. 2.5 lbs of beef short ribs is also kind of a lot for two people (even with bones), so we’ve been happily picking away at this for a few days.

Oh, and that pappardelle was awesome. I figured it would have that dreaded “Whole Wheat Bite”. You know – like when you eat it and all you taste is heaviness, brown, and meh?
There was a bit of bounce to the noodles, and they just had a subtle nutty-wheat flavor to them, along with speckles of color. I am so making these again. Totally not boring whole wheat papardelle noodles. Oh, and they were only pappardelle because I used that roller to cut them out with. These could have easily been whole wheat linguine/fettucine noodles, too. Or spaghetti. Or ravioli.

Beef Tendon in a Crockpot

Made beef tendon in a crockpot. So good. So easy.

All it took was a seasoning packet, some whole beef tendons (don’t cut them up), 2-3 cans of beef broth, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. Set on low overnight and wake up in the morning to delicious smells. You can find that spice packet locally at the Asian Supermarket (Central Ave, Albany, NY) for under $2 for about 8 or so tea baggies worth.

Beef tendon is gloriously chewy and unctuous. I love getting it for dim sum, but many places in Albany don’t have beef tendon on their menus.

It smells like a barn when raw (which I was blaming on the tripe or chicken feet in my cart), but cooks up into magical beefy goodness. Once it’s done cooking you can cut them up into long strips, or short chop stickable nubbins like I did. It’s great with some noodles mixed in, too.

It can melt away into a gelatinous soup base, so if you want a soup that’ll turn into jell-o after it cools off, just toss in some beef tendon chunks until they disappear with your regular recipe. Which brings me to another point – don’t cook this too long or you’ll be left with a pot of gel. Although I suspect that would take all day to cook, or if you cut them up before crockpotting them.

Give it a go, it’s really good, and about a pound of it will feed 5 easily. It’s pretty filling stuff. All I know is it’s an easy road to umami city.

Almost African Stew

The cheese plate in my last post was a precursor to my crock pot-ed meal.

I tried to make an African/Moroccan chicken stew. Actually, I was really jonesing for an oxtail, lamb or a neck bone stew, but Albany John had bought chicken legs, so that’s what I was using. See? I am SO coming along in the kitchen FIFO (first in, first out) accounting system. In years past I would have just gone out and bought the damn oxtails or lamb, but no, no. This time I was being all good and shiz and using up the stuff we already had.

So I skinned and trimmed the fat off of the chicken legs. As a note – skinning and trimming chicken fat is icky and difficult in the summer time. The legs warm up pretty quickly in my hot hands, which makes them stretch and give a little more. The fat turns a bit gooey, and I probably end up spreading salmonella all over the kitchen trying to cut the fatty deposits out. Maybe I should turn on the AC more often, or freeze my hands before handling meat.

After the chicken legs (legs are the thighs and drumsticks of a chicken, still attached together, just FYI) had been de-fatted, I plonked them into ye-olde Crock Pot. Then I diced up an onion very finely. I’ve learned that unless you do that, it will take onion slices a LONG ass time to soften in a crock-pot. Then I bashed some garlic cloves to skin them and plopped them in slightly crushed from the bashing. I also added a can of chickpeas and liquid, cause chickpeas are tasty. Then I tossed in cumin, chili powder, turmeric, and… other spices I can’t remember. Maybe it was just those three. I remember wishing I’d had cardamom, just a pinch, even though I hate it in large doses, just because I think it would have added a rich African taste and rounded everything else nicely.

Side note – I’ve learned I don’t much care for cardamom after ordering the Kifte leb leb, a ground lamb/beef dish from Abiata in Montreal. That meat was LOADED with cardamom and would have been so much better (to me) if they’d used a lighter hand. Then after biting into cardamom pods in Indian food a few times, I’ve decided I’m not a fan overall. But I really liked all of the other food at Abiata, so I figured a teensy bit of cardamom would have made the stew kind of sort of like a bastard cousin to their cuisine. Oh Abiata, how I miss yooo.

“Okay Albany Jane. Just take a freakin trip up to Montreal to get your Abiata fix, why dontcha?”

I could, but this is a lot closer – and now I have a recipe to tweak!

Just before we ate the chicken stew I made fufu (just click here – it’s a wikipedia entry on fufu. It’s way more explanatory than I could ever give ya). I’d never even heard of fufu until Albany John brought a box of it home, just waiting for a bit of water. I think he got it from Sabah Market on Central Ave, Albany, NY, but it’s been in our pantry for a while and he’s not 100% sure.

This box of fufu was kind of like the instant mashed potatoes of African cuisine. The type we have is a powder of plantains that you add a bit of water to over the stove and mix to combine it. It takes on a playdoh like texture – soft, squishy, fairly bland. Unlike instant mashed potatoes, I really like fufu.

You can use fufu as a non-flour thickener, or it can be served on its own with the diners pinching off bits or hunks and eating it with their meal.

I really like the 2nd option, so that’s how I serve it. It went very well with the chicken stew – a nice squishy semi-bland plop of dough. If this doesn’t sound appetizing, trust me it’s worth a try. I balled up the fufu into 3 small balls, since there were 3 of us dining.

Almost African Stew:

2 Chicken Legs, skinless
1 15 oz can Chickpeas
1 12-15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 whole onion, diced
2 t cumin
½ t turmeric
1 t chili powder
4 cloves garlic
1 medium eggplant

Set Crock Pot on high.

Cut eggplant into quarters. Salt and let drain 30 min – 1 hour. Remove salt, then skin and dice. Put in Crock Pot.

Dice onions finely and put in crock pot.

Add diced tomatoes, reserving all but 2 T of liquid. Too much liquid will turn this stew into a soup.

Open chickpeas, add entire can, liquid and all.

Add spices.

Almost African Stew will be ready in 3 hours.

This isn’t the best recipe, but a guideline – for improvements, I would include more seasonings and double the spices I used initially. Next time I’d also like some oxtails. You can’t go wrong with oxtails.

Happy Birfday To Yew

Albany John had a birthday this year. I actually went ‘all out’ (for me) and planned a surprise party.

To those of you who know me, the fact that I was able to keep a party under wraps from the actual birthday boy (who I live with and see 24/7) was… shall we say, re-dizz-iculous.

Part one entailed having my awesome friend and neighbor stow away my crock pot and pork roast. Once she was on board, I went to Roma Prime Cuts & Produce in Latham, NY. (I keep calling them Roma Meats) They have all natural meats, similar to Cardona’s Market.
I was expecting higher prices. One of the last times I went there (about a year or two ago) I thought prices were pretty high, so I just went to Cardona’s Market on Delaware Ave in Albany, NY instead. But I was nicely surprised when I ordered a pork butt aka shoulder roast aka boston butt and the price was $2.99 per pound. I was expecting somewhere around $3.75-4.50 for their pork. Much cheaper than Cardona’s, but for some reason I still think I prefer Cardona’s. They didn’t have the roast when I walked in, but when I asked, they cut me a fresh one, and I walked out with 4.82 lbs of boneless pork roast.

With the pork roast safely stowed in Senorita Awesome’s fridge, I got the rest of my ingredients.

Oh, wait, hold up.

Parties need a theme, at least crazy, wonky, Albany Jane-ified surprise parties that happen once every 20 years.

The episode of South Park where they send the whale to the moon via the Mexican space program was our theme. If you have not seen that episode, go out and watch it – like most South Park episodes, it is hilarious.

One of Albany John’s friends told me that that was a theme with about 12 words more than he’s ever seen.

So in other words, it was Mexican themed, with some killer whales slapped up on the walls as well.
The day of his birthday, I picked up some Dos Equis beers, ice, and tequila. I told Albany John I’d forgotten the rest of the fixins for margaritas, so he had to go out and get them. It took forever and a day to get him actually out of the door, and our first guests arrived 5 minutes after he left.

Phew. I ran around a bit too much for that one, and I really neglected my hostess-ing of them, but they were awesome and understanding.
When Albany John walked in, he was really surprised and happy to see his friends (and half of Party City’s ‘fiesta’ aisle) in our place.

I made carnitas/pulled pork in the crock-pot. That was a lot of pork. With no measurements (because I made this in Senorita Awesome’s kitchen at hellabuttassearly in the morning so Albany John wouldn’t notice), here is a quick recipe:

1 pork shoulder roast, boneless
Adobo without pepper to rub all over roast
4-5 Japonais dried peppers
1 28 oz can of whole tomatoes
3 t tomato paste
1-2 t dried thyme
1 whole onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced

Directions: chuck in crock-pot on low, cook 10 hours.

Easy, peasy. It may not have been authentic carnitas, but Albany John would have known something was up if I brought home 3 different kinds of dried chili peppers.

On the whole, I think I should have used crushed tomatoes, but the whole ones were quite decorative. I also wished I had gotten the Adobo spice with cumin in it, to give it a little kick.
The roast gave off a TON of liquid. When I went to retrieve it after he left it had gone from 1 can of tomato liquid to being over half full. That’s a lot of rendering.

But the rendering was worth it – the pork was moist, flavorful, and not terribly fatty. Senorita Awesome and I slathered each other in porky goodness when she came up later. Cause we had a mountain of pork. Mountain of Pork!

I also liked Albany John’s cake, which I picked up from Bella Napoli for $7.95 (including tax!). It was a 2 layer vanilla cake with vanilla icing and rainbow sprinkles. Very good moist crumb, and the icing was nice and light. I didn’t pre-order it; I just walked in and bought the smallest cake I saw that didn’t have chocolate on it. Neither of us cares very much for chocolate. The good folks at Bella Napoli also wrote Happy Birthday on it, easy peasy.

We had quite a bit of leftover pork (and Dos Equis. And tequila.) which made wonderful quesadillas. I just used cheddar, pork and a little adobo. Yum.

Albany Jane does Pot Roast

It started getting a bit chilly over the weekend, and I had a craving I haven’t had in… well, ever.

Pot Roast

I never crave pot roast. I ate it on a weekly basis (plus leftovers for then next few days) in high school, and I just haven’t ever really wanted to eat it again. To clarify, this pot roast of my younger years was mainly meat, a few potatoes, carrots, and on occasion, diced daikon as well. Yes, Daikon. Not roasted, no nothing, just peeled and diced in there. These daikon pot roasts were the most scarring, palate-wise. I mean, can you imagine thinking you’re getting a spoonful of broth and potato, and then… BAM – daikon hits your tastebuds with a vengeance? It is not pleasant. So pot roast and I have a shaky history.

However, for some reason, I’ve been wanting a nice brothy, beefy, fork tender pot roast with tons of veggies.
I went over to Cardona’s Market and got a top round roast ($3.69/lb at the moment) that was just under two pounds. They didn’t have any top round roast out and the butcher brought out a huge slab of beef and actually cut it out! It was so cool to watch, especially since I usually just point to something already in the display case and ask for that. They are so sweet! My roast cost about $11.50. It’s not the cheapest roast in the world, but the prices are fair, plus I think the meats at Cardona’s Market have so much more flavor than regular grocery store meats. I grabbed a bottle of olive oil and some stuffed olives (which are sooo salty and pungent – mmm) and checked out.

When I got home I sat around and tried to analytically decide how to attack this pot roast. (My sweet, sweet boo Albany John normally cooks, while I stick to baking carby things) I mean, do I just chuck it in the crock pot? Do I sear the sides? Does searing a pot roast make the meat tough? *Brain Overload* Then, I realized it’s a POT ROAST. You cook the sucker for half of an eternity, so searing isn’t going to hurt it.

I put a pan on the stove, and revved the burner on to high. About 10 minutes later I had some serious sear going on. Yay flavors! While the meat was searing, I cut some onions into chunky wedges and diced up potatoes and a few carrots. All of these veggies are from our Community Shared Agriculture with Fox Creek Farms, btw. And I was really glad to have a big pot to throw a lot of the week’s bounty into before receiving next week’s bounty, if you get my drift.

Once the searing was finished, I put the pot roast into the crock pot, threw in the veggies and a few cloves of garlic, and then added in about ¾ c of apple cider vinegar to use as an acid to further break down those beefy tendons and whatnot in the roast. I put in half a carton of chicken stock then filled the rest up with water.

The next day, Albany John was circling the crock pot like a hawk. It was like a meaty man potpourri wafting through our house. We tucked into it around dinnertime. It wasn’t too shabby!

I think I may have used a bit too much cider, but I liked the tangy flavor it added, too. It kept the broth light, which I like. I think next time I will just use water and not use any stock at all. The potatoes were soft, but not falling apart. The onions…oh, the onions were almost fork tender. The carrots were soft. The garlic was melt in your mouth soft. I am adding at least a head or two of cloves the next time I make this, not just three or four. The beef fell apart when you touched it.
Over all, this was great, especially since I used a crock pot. I will definitely make this again, only with less beef, as I really love the broth… Maybe just some bones and a pound or two of beef. I will also double up on the veggies. There just weren’t enough! We ate this for about 4 days straight for lunch and dinner. And this is from the girl who hates leftovers.

Sort of Recipe:
Beef for pot roast
3 onions
4 cloves garlic
2 carrots
5 potatoes

Sear all sides beef in a pan on the stove.
Cut up veggies while searing beef.
Stick them all in the crock pot.
Pour water/stock into pan to remove all the flavorful crusty bits stuck to the pan.
Pour that into the crock pot.
Fill up to the top with water.
Set crock pot to high for 2-3 hours, then put on low. Realize after 2 hours that you forgot to put any seasonings in it, and in a nod to your English heritage, just chuck in some salt and pepper.
Eat in about 15-20 hours, or once all the veggies are cooked through and tender.