28 March 2010


I'll admit that I made this recipe out of culinary curiosity rather than any desire to eat flank steak. Matambre, a rolled stuffed flank steak is a classic of Argentine cuisine. A friend mentioned that she had made it back in the seventies, when cooking unusual international dishes was all the rage. I realized that I'd never made it myself, and though I'll admit to not adoring matambre, I thought I'd give it a go.

The difficulty with matambre is that flank steak is a tough cut of meat best suited to quick cooking. However, matambre is a lengthy stew, and it's sometimes difficult to identify when it gets tender. I've heard that Argentine butchers cut the steak differently than American butchers, which makes it more suitable to slow cooking. However, when the steak is pounded, marinated, and stewed long enough it can be soft tender and flavorful.

The traditional stuffing for matambre is carrots, spinach, roast red pepper, and hard-boiled eggs. Argentines put hard-boiled eggs into lots of meat dishes, but frankly, I think it's weird and adds nothing here, for the white color feel free to substitute parsnips or turnips instead. Matambre is traditionally served at room temperature or cold with chimichurri sauce. It's a good dish for a buffet since it can be made ahead and looks beautiful on a platter.

Matambre (Stuffed Rolled Flank Steak)
I highly recommend having your butcher butterfly the steak for you- it is difficult to do well, and you don't want to have holes in your steak or the roll may fall apart. The spinach helps the stuffing adhere together.

1 2-pound flank steak, butterflied length-wise
for the marinade: red wine, garlic slivers, a dash of soy sauce and cayenne pepper
a handful of spinach leaves (arugula or watercress also works)
3-4 very skinny carrots
1 roasted red pepper, cut into strips
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered, or sliver of parsnip or turnip
2 cups beef broth
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste

1. Pound out the butterflied steak until even and tenderized. Place in a plastic bag or dish with red wine, garlic, soy sauce, and pepper to cover and marinate overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 300 F. Drain steak, discarding marinade, and place on a work surface. Scatter spinach leaves over steak. Align the carrots, red pepper, and eggs/parsnips lengthwise along the steak. Carefully roll up the steak and tie it firmly. Trim any ragged ends from the roll.
3. Heat a nice glug of oil in a dutch oven large enough to hold the roulade. Add the steak and sear on all sides until browned. Add the beef stock, the garlic cloves, and enough water to come 2/3 of the way up the side of the roulade.
4. Place in the oven and roast, covered, for 2 hours, turning the steak occasionally. Test the steak for done-ness starting at the 1.5 hour mark. You may want to slice-off a bit of steak and taste it.
5. Remove the steak from the liquid (don't discard it- strain it and keep as broth). Let cool, then slice the roulade as thinly as possible. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with chimichurri sauce.

23 March 2010

Sausage and Smoked Cheddar Tartlets

I like to entertain, but when your guest list involves 6 vegetarians, 2 pescatarians, 3 avowed carnivores, 1 semi-religious Jew, 2 Seventh-Day Adventists, and a couple die-hard pork fiends, well, I think you see my challenge? I love my friends and their diversity, but I swear cooking for them can be awfully complicated. This one won't eat this, that one won't eat that. So my goal is always to have a variety of things to satisfy as many people as possible.

We had a party last week and I thought making sausage and smoked cheddar tartlets might fit my criteria (if you have vegetarian friends that faux sausage stuff works well here and I swear no one will notice the difference). I made a grated potato crust for half the tartlets, and the second batch I made with plain old pastry dough because those potato crusts were awfully time consuming. However, the potato ones were delicious, very much redolent of a breakfast of hash browns and sausage, only in a portable morsel. The smoked cheddar adds meatiness, and there's a bit of kick from red pepper and scallions.

Also like many things I do for parties, this dish has a make-ahead element - the crusts can be done far in advance. Even the tarts themselves can be a made a day or two ahead and reheated. I like to entertain, but I also like to make it as stress-free as possible.

Sausage and Smoked Cheddar Tartlets
Makes 2 dozen. Can also be made with a traditional pastry or phyllo crust.

8 cups grated potato
canola oil
4 eggs
1/4 cup cream or whole milk
16 oz ground sausage
8 oz smoked cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons diced scallions
pinch of red pepper, depending on how spicy your sausage is

1. Heat the oil in a wide pan. Add the grated potatoes (you may need to do this in batches) and saute until softened and lightly browned in spots. Continue in batches, adding more oil as necessary, until all potatoes are cooked.
2. Grease very well 2 dozen muffin tins. Press the potatoes into the tins to form crusts. Make sure there are no gaps in the crust, and err on the side of making thicker crusts. At this point, crust can be frozen up to one week before proceeding.
3. Preheat oven to 375 F. Heat more oil in a wide saute pan. Add the crumbled sausage and cook, crumbling with a spoon, until cooked through and crispy in some places, but still tender in others. Transfer sausage to a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste, let cool slightly.
4. Add the eggs, cream, scallions and pepper to the sausage. Fold in the cheddar cheese. Use a spoon to fill the potato cups with the sausage/cheese mixture.
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Let cool 10 minutes before very delicately attempting the remove the tartlets from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

13 March 2010

How To Make Arabic (or Turkish) Coffee

When I lived in Damascus I would sit around on Saturday afternoons with friends, drinking coffee and telling our fortunes with the grounds. I was drinking coffee in a meeting with some Syrian cabinet ministers one afternoon, and out of habit I flipped my cup upside down over the saucer when I was finished. Everyone laughed at how the foreigner was acting like a superstitious housewife. I was horribly embarrassed, but I think they all took it as a sort of compliment, and it certainly broke the ice! Here's how to make strong intense, sludgy-at-the-bottom Arab style coffee.

1. The coffee: the coffee must be ground at the finest possible setting. While you could technically use any coffee, I find those ground specifically for Arabic-style coffee are the best. A popular Arabic brand is Najjar. Some chose to grind cardamom in with their coffee, or add a pinch of cardamom when cooking.

2. The vessel: technically the beak-lipped pot is calleda rakweh or ibrik, but any tall narrow long-handled vessel will do.

3. The sugar: sugar should be added before cooking, otherwise if you stir in sugar after serving you'll stir up the grounds which should remain at the bottom. Sugar levels are as follows: saddah- no sugar, wasat- medium sugar, helou- sweet enough to give you cavities.

4. The proportions: You will use a teaspoonful of coffee for every espresso-sized cup you plan to serve.

5. The fortune: Turn your cup over when you're done and let the designs in the grounds tell your fortune.

What you do:

1. Measure the water into the pot by using a demitasse cup (ie, if you want four cups of coffee measure out 4 demitasse cups). Add the sugar. Bring to a boil.
2. Pull the pot off the heat and stir in as many spoonfuls of coffee as cups you will be serving. Stir rapidly in a circular motion and return the pot to the heat.
3. Watch the pot like a hawk. When the coffee begins to boil over, pull it off the heat, let it settle, and return it to the heat.
4. Let the coffee foam up again and pull it off the heat. (you can boil it more than twice, but then you'll lose the foam which is undesirable). Let the coffee settle briefly, then pour into your serving cups.

07 March 2010

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup

This recipe is apparently so well known that it has Google predictive text. And yet I, the person who regularly reads every food section on Wednesdays and has an entire library of cookbooks, I had never heard of it. Which is why you shouldn't feel bad if you haven't heard of it either. Let's remedy that together, shall we?

I spied this recipe over at Leite's Culinaria, and luck be had it, I had the three primary ingredients- canned tomatoes, blue cheese, and sriracha. I was snowed in at the time, and since we have already discovered that snowstorms are good for your cooking mojo- not only did I discover my new favorite salad, but perhaps also my new favorite soup.

Now, I do have a bone to pick with this recipe, which bills itself as "quick and easy," yet has 10 ingredients, some of which I deemed unnecessary. I nixed the chicken stock for water, since it's subtlety was completely hidden by the blue cheese and hot sauce elements, and left out the heavy cream since the cheese adds creaminess on its own.

Bust basically what you do is stew a can of tomatoes with some garlic and oregano, just until everything is nice and combined. Then add in chunks of blue cheese and a splash of spicy hot red pepper paste (sriracha). You puree the whole mix and that's it, you've got soup.

Now would be a good time to point out that I actually don't love blue cheese- sure it's great when you're in the mood for it, perhaps over a good wedge salad or matched with pears on a cheese plate, but it can also be overwhelming if used in excess. But paired with hot sauce and tamed with the sweetness of tomatoes, it's pretty darn great.

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup
Adapted from Michael Symon.

a splash of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, such as San Marzano brand
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, or fresh of available
pinch salt
1 1/2 cups water or chicken stock
1/2 cup blue cheese
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
a splash of heavy cream, if desired

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and saute the garlic cloves until soft. Add the tomatoes, water, oregano, and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
2. Add the cheese, sriracha, and cream if desired, and simmer for 5-10 more minutes, until combined. Puree in a blender, taste for seasoning. Reheat if necessary and serve.