Beef

Iron Chef America

I set out to post about a different show, then I realized I had not commented about Iron Chef America. After watching the second set of Chopped episodes available on Netflix, that was the next food show to catch my eye. I blazed through all 25 episodes even faster than I had with Chopped.

Obviously nothing about it cries frugality, and it’s a game show that has far more to its production than what you see on the screen. However, it’s cool to see what the competing chefs make, and the tools they use in the process. Wouldn’t you just love that kitchen? I live in an apartment on the second floor. There is no such thing as “grilling” for me, let alone any kind of indoor grill. When I shared a house with a gas grill on the deck by the kitchen door, I used it all the time, even in the dead of winter, even if it was mostly just for burgers.

To me the worst ingredient might have been liver. I was made to eat liver a few times as a kid, but I didn’t like it, as much for texture as taste. My grandfather loved it, especially with onions. I have never eaten pate and don’t care for the idea. Of course, I don’t care for the idea of raw or rare meats, either. I’ve never tried sushi. Raw beef actually seems more appealing to me. Which is apparently the extreme end of my having come to like beef rarer than I once did, along with sometimes craving it intensely. I’d never make it as a judge on the show.

Frugal or not, it made me feel like I could and should be more creative and varied about what I make with the ingredients I can afford.

Chili and Refried Beans

Sharon has what sounds like a tasty and easy chili recipe, complete with actual measurements. I notice it doesn’t call for chili powder, but you’ll note that it includes all the components of chili powder: cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic and oregano. I also love cornbread with chili. Her post and the cold weather inspired me to make some last night, even if it is nontraditional with pasta and red sauce. The kids just love it, until they get full and merely turn it into tiny crumbs.

I made my version of chili the other day and meant to write about it, so I thought it was funny we were doing unplanned chili synchronization between households.

First a bit about history.

Once upon a time, I used to make what I call faux chili based on cheap cans of Campbell’s Pork & Beans. Which isn’t so odd, in that they are pinto beans in a tomato-based sauce, and chili seems to be made normally with pinto and/or kidney beans. I considered it both tasty and part of eating cheap, which will be the topic of another post Real Soon Now. Let’s just say I didn’t know from eating cheap, and didn’t know at the time that cans of those beans on sale 3 or 4 to a dollar was not that cheap.

Back then, I’d cook up some pepper and onion if I had it, ground beef, toss in beans, season it mainly with chili powder, add some ketchup and a squirt of yellow mustard, add sugar or brown sugar as needed, and serve it to myself for 2 or 3 big meals. It was quite good. I believe I also used tomato paste at least sometimes.

Lately I’ve discovered the joys of dry beans, taking it back closer to scratch and being really cheap. When I knew I was spending my last cash for probably a couple weeks on stocking up groceries last week (except a little reserved for milk and a few other run-outs), knowing the rate we’d been using them and comparing the unit price, I bought a 64 oz. bag of pinto beans instead of the customary one or two 16 oz bags.

Dry beans require planning. You can’t get to 5:00 or 6:00 and say “hey, let’s have beans!” We put them in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, then turn them off and let the gassiness soak out of the beans for an hour or more before draining them and adding fresh water for the actual cooking.

At that point you have beans on their way to ready for whatever you mean to make. Heck, you could serve just beans with some butter, salt and pepper on them, the way my father loves shell beans. When I set out to make chili, I wasn’t sure if it would be truly ready on time, and even if so, we would also want refried beans around in the next couple days for burritos.

I cooked 16 oz. of beans, 2 cups dry, and when they were cooked enough, I took two cups or so wet out of the pan, and some of the water as needed, for refried beans.

For the refried beans, I actually used a medium sauce pan. I threw in a generous chunk of butter (probably 3 tablespoons), cooked a handful of chopped fresh garlic, onion and green pepper, all of which are optional or could be replaced with dry seasonings. All you really need is beans, if you want nothing more than their yummy flavor. What I missed is an effective masher, and I’d not cooked the beans to the point of mush before splitting them for refried and chili.

When the flavoring veggies were cooked right (translucent onions, for instance), I threw in the beans, did a lot of smooshing and stirring as best I could, adding liquid as needed to keep them from being too stiff and dry to work with or to cook without burning. I also added I forget what else, but mainly cumin, not a lot, and possibly some red pepper, cilantro or oregano. The beans came out tasting mostly like beans, to give some idea; more enhanced than flavored. They were absolutely fantastic and got raves. We did indeed have burritos that night and let the chili simmer longer. It was interesting making two suppers at once, but a huge treat not cooking the second day.

The stiff texture of the beans made me picture making sandwiches based on them. I figured mix a small amount of finely shredded meat in with them, maybe use meat broth to imbue them with meat flavor, and there you’d have a serious meat stretcher or substitute. Which means I just reinvented the idea of falafel, sort of.

Back to the chili…

My new favorite thing to do is make chili not with expensive ground beef, but with the cheapest on sale beef, like top round for London broil at $1.69 or whatever. By comparison, I recently bought 90% ground beef and by buying it in a 6.67 lb package at BJ’s got the remarkably low price of $2.29. Chili would be fine with the fattier ground beef, fortunately, but we normally buy and freeze one kind and use as needed, rather than running to the store specifically for a variant for a meal we decided to make.

I cut the beef into small chunks and add it to a frying pan with, optionally, stuff like chopped garlic, pepper and onion. I add spices to it, or to the butter before it goes in, including but not always celery flakes, cilantro, red pepper, black pepper, paprika, allspice, ginger, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Without the real versions added, that would include garlic and onion. I basically stir regularly and cook until done, letting some of the juice cook off but keeping some.

If I ever remember, I will probably throw a small amount of vinegar in with the meat not long after it starts cooking.

In the meantime, I’ve thrown some chili powder and maybe other spices into the beans. Tomato-based stuff can go in before or after the meat. I normally use tomato paste, as small can, and ketchup, using more as needed later to adjust the flavor. Diced tomato, tomato soup, or whatever would work, depending what you have and what you like. The beauty of chili is it’s highly variable and a matter of taste.

A little vinegar can be good, giving it added tang, especially if you are not using ketchup, or have too little ketchup on hand. I keep forgetting until the chili is well underway, and then this time I added too much. The small dribble turned into a good sized glug. It didn’t ruin the chili, but it added more tang than I planned and needed to cook and soak in far longer to balance the flavor.

After everything is mixed together, it’s just cook, stir, taste, adjust as needed. I normally throw in a not insignificant amount of brown and/or white sugar. I normally add more chili powder at least once, and perhaps other spices depending how strong the flavor seems. If you get it too spicy, it remains too spicy, but at least sugar tends to ease the bite.

What amounts to no more than 3/4 of a 16 oz. bag of beans and no more than 2 lbs of beef makes us two good meals. It can be served with shredded cheese, a dab of sour cream, tortilla chips, bread and butter, or corn bread as mentioned earlier. It can be made thinner or thicker. It can be made in greater or lesser proportions of beef to beans. It can be made hotter or milder. Whatever I start with, mine tends to come out in a particular taste range, frankly almost identical to the taste I used to achieve starting with Campbell’s beans and owning a smaller variety of spices. I haven’t tried it on hot dogs yet…

I actually have pictures off the camera in time to use them in the actual post. Some orphan pictures should follow today in their own post. I had some fun with raw ingredient or cooking stage pictures this time around, just plain trying to get interesting pictures.

Partially cooked and then mostly done refried beans:

The chili, done or near the end:

Leftover Meatloaf Adventure

I was going to make chili today, but fell asleep at my desk about the time I’d have started the beans. By the time I remembered after waking again, it was too late.

Just as well, as we had beef the past two nights. The first was Deb’s meatloaf. The second was an experiment in using the leftover meatloaf. It may have been sparked by unconsciously remembering my mother making meatloaf burgers in sauce when I was in my teens. We had meatloaf burgers regularly, perhaps to stretch the meat, or perhaps to save time over baking in meatloaf form, or maybe both.

When you get meatloaf at a restaurant, gravy seems to be the norm. I never had gravy on meatloaf when I was a kid. In fact, gravy wasn’t a big thing at all. Since I discovered my talent for making gravy, I’ve come to see how it might have developed as a way to increase the richness and food value of a meal cheaply. Not to mention being a way to impart extra flavor or moisture. I made gravy once for meatloaf, a while back, but forgot this time. When we decided the leftovers would be supper the next night, as opposed to lunch – usually I have a meatloaf sandwich – I decided to make some.

I wanted it to be different, though.

I crumbled up a small hamburger I defrosted, this being to supplement the fact the meatloaf itself was limited. I cooked it with some butter and spices. I set out to complement the meatloaf, which was heavy on oregano, and otherwise spiced mainly with cumin.

I used some garlic powder, red pepper, black pepper, oregano, cushed bay leaf, cumin, and a wee bit of ginger and allspice. At this point Deb was making yummy smell noises from the living room.

Usually when I make gravy I heat a cup of water for two minutes in the microwave and drop two boullion cubes into it. I used one.

With the beef cooked, I moved that to the side, added 2 – 3 more tablespoons of butter and started adding flour to cook in it when that was mostly melted. It solidified right up so I started dribbling beef stock in, stirring, adding more flour, and so forth. It was two heaping tablespoons of flour. Then I added the rest of the beef stock.

Now the departure: I added half a cup of ketchup. This was too much, so I ended up doing far more adjusting than I would have liked. Tomato soup, paste or sauce could also have worked, while varying the exact flavor and how it might have needed tweaking. I am sure that what my mother served with meatloaf burgers was tomato soup based, if not essentially nothing more than tomato soup.

After the ketchup and stirring in the crumbled burger, I had to add more water and then more flour. In adjusting the taste, which had an oddly astringent quality, I added more cumin a couple times, a pinch more red pepper, black pepper, and brown sugar. I also added an entire beef boullion cube to the gravy and let it dissolve in. So much for using only one.

The idea was to get moderately spiced beef gravy tinged with ketchup – another item used in the meatloaf too – rather than ketchup flavored gravy. I succeeded, after all the tweaking.

Once I was happy with the gravy, I set slices of cold meatloaf in it and covered the pan for a couple minutes. Then I flipped them, stirred the gravy around them a bit and covered them longer. It was a nice way to heat the cold meatloaf.

We ate the meatloaf and gravy/sauce over rice, with lima beans on the side. The kids devoured it! Valerie was more interested in the lima beans, but she ate everything. Sadie especially loved the leatloaf and gravy. Deb enjoyed it, despite having been initially concerned over my adding ketchup. She thought I succeeded in my goal of complementing the flavor of the meatloaf in how I spiced the gravy.

I’d do something like it again, though it would remain subject to experimentation.

Sounds weird, eh? I’ll have pictures, but they’re still on the camera now. The pictures make it look great.

Burritos

[Edited]

One thing we eat all the time is burritos and related items. They’re easy, flexible and tasty.

The ingredients start with flour tortillas. These can be from the store, or they can be homemade. For the former, we prefer Manny’s brand Market Basket’s store brand. Usually it’s the burrito size, but the smaller ones work fine too. For the latter, we naturally like Mama Jedi’s Flour Tortillas. These are much tastier than store bought, if a lot less uniform.

That is perhaps all that is consistent about the ingredients here, though cheese is also customary. I could imagine leaving it out if there were no cheese or you were not a cheese eater (the youngest is not a cheese eater in some contexts, despite outgrowing the dairy allergy, and this is one of them). Thus the list of ingredients is mix ‘n’ match, with some combos more likely than others. Possible ingredients are:

Meat – Chicken, Steak, or Hamburger. Presumably pork, venison, etc. could work too.
Cheese – Usually shredded with a grater, normally some combination of cheddar and/or jack.
Refried beans, usually canned but can be homemade easily and cheaply.
Shredded lettuce
Chopped tomato
Corn
Rice
Sour Cream

I’ve also tried adding salsa, and if you were fanatical about onions or such those could work.

Corn or rice are potential sides, as well as potential ingredients [in practice those have become primary, due to preference of the kids, and we have abandoned lettuce and tomato for the most part]. We are more likely to use them if we don’t have beans, lettuce or tomato, or have eaten too many beans too recently.

For chicken, I thaw if needed, cut into small pieces or strips, and cook them in butter or oil I’ve heated with spices. Cook until somewhere between done enough to eat and crisped fairly well. Spices vary to taste. More can be added later in the frying. Typically I use black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, cumin, cilantro, and a touch of powdered ginger. [I don’t remember ever using ginger! I do use Turkish oregano, which I prefer to Mexican oregano despite the context. Sometimes also paprika or chili powder in modest amounts. Amounts vary depending which meat. I sometimes add a tiny bit of powdered cloves to burger, but would never add that to chicken. Also, I left out salt.] Only the first two are what I would consider absolutes. You can also use chili powder instead or in addition. that is essentially a mix of red pepper, cumin and garlic, though somehow with a distinctive flavor I don’t seem to get from combining the individual items. You can also use some oregano, some celery flakes [I don’t remember ever doing this, though with chicken it could work] or salt, or a touch of allspice [applies more to beef, just as with cloves]. That’s just what I have tried or what comes readily to mind; the sky is the limit. You could make a more traditional poultry spiced chicken to serve in wraps with other ingredients; use the tortilla as a delivery system without pretending to be Mexican about the flavor.

For steak, I thaw if needed and then fry it whole. I either spice the butter or apply a dry rub. The dry rub came out so amazing when I tried it recently that it is likely to become my method of choice. The spices are similar to what I’d use for chicken, but stronger to be able to penetrate. You could use a grill if you have one, make a marinade, pretty much do whatever you want. Cook to your preference. I like steak well done [I’ve become less vehement but still prefer it not too rare], but it’s better if you get it off the heat still slightly pink, or at least not too overcooked. I slice it into thin/small pieces and try to ditch any fat or gristle you’d not want to run into while chewing.

For hamburger, I spice the butter [actually, I don’t normally use any butter, especially for fatty burger, and I just spice the meat], crumble in the burger and cook it up as if I were going to make scrambled hamburger, or were doing the initial prep for a store bought taco making kit. Speaking of which, taco seasoning from one of those would also work [turned out the kids hated commercial taco mix compared to my own], with or without other spices, especially in the hamburger variant. Hamburger can be stirred into the beans if you’re using them, or used as a separate ingredient. You may want to add a dribble of water to the beans to thin them and let the meat mix better. The result can also be served with tortilla chips, rather than as a burrito filling.

Chop, grate, and heat as appropriate for the other ingredients of your choice. A can of refried beans – we have a mild preference for Old El Paso, with Taco Bell probably second, but none we’ve tried are actually bad, and we prefer traditional, but low fat/no fat/vegetarian labeled ones can be okay – heats up quick in a saucepan. [We’ve come to prefer Ortega, which conveniently cost the least, at least at Market Basket.]

You’ll want a big flat frying pan. We have a round one, flat like a griddle, the kind of thing good for pancakes, which is perfect. Use that to heat your tortillas one at a time. Call it medium heat. Lay it down, give it a moment, flip it over, give it another moment. If it starts to have pockets inflate with hot air, it’s probably ready to flip or remove. The goal is to warm and soften, unless you like them crisped a bit. You can use the microwave, but they aren’t as good that way.

With the ingredients and tortillas at the ready, everyone can start piling on whatever they like. If it’s with beans, I usually put beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato if available, and sour cream. Speaking of which, we’ve found sour cream is best served with a small plastic “baby” spoon, to get dabs the right size. If there’s no beans, usually I’d smear on sour cream, add meat, rice and/or corn, and cheese.

Fold up the tortilla around the fillings, burrito style, or fold it like a taco if you like. Leftover meat, beans or cheese can be used to make quesadillas the next day.

The beauty of all this is it needn’t be spicy. When I make it, it’s usually less spicy than it probably sounds. Or you can make it more spicy. You can make them more or less meaty. You can make them vegetarian-ish, using just beans plus other ingredients. In fact, bean burritos are quite good, and can be faster to prepare.

Do you make anything similar to these? Any ingredients I’ve overlooked or ideas I’ve not tried?