Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Shaking Beef

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Shaking beef, or Bò lúc lắc, is a classic Vietnamese dish typically reserved for special occasions, since beef is considered a luxury. The term "shaking" refers to shaking the pan back and forth to quickly sear the cubes of marinated beef.


This dish is surprisingly light and refreshing, especially for a red meat recipe. The salad served beneath the beef cubes is slightly sweet, tangy, and vibrant. It does a great job cutting through some of the richness of the beef. The meat juices are also extremely delicious and fragrant, boasting the melange of flavors found in the marinade. It all blends together in a hot and cold concoction that cooks in minutes to shake up your summer menu.

Shaking Beef
Serves 4
(From Vietnamese Food Any Day)

Marinated Beef:
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, put through a press or minced and smashed
1 1/2 pounds boneless tri-tip or New York strip steak, trimmed and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil or other neutral oil

Salad:
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallot
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar or honey
2 pinches fine sea salt
About 4 grinds black pepper
4 cups lightly packed watercress, baby arugula, or other salad greens
6 to 8 halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh mint, basil, or other herb leaves, torn (I used fresh cilantro)

Make the beef: Stir together oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, fish sauce, pepper, and garlic in a medium bowl. If a saltier finish is desired, add up to 1 1/2 teaspoons more oyster sauce. Add beef, toss well to coat, and let marinate 20 minutes at room temperature.

Make the salad: Rinse onions in a strainer under cold running water for about 10 seconds; set aside. Whisk together 2 tablespoons water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add onion; top with greens, tomatoes, and herbs. Do not toss.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high, and add oil. When oil is shimmering, carefully add beef in a single layer. Cook, shaking pan every 30 to 60 seconds, until seared on all sides and meat reaches desired degree of doneness, 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare. (If you want to minimize mess, cover the pan with a splatter guard, and flip the meat with a spatula.) Remove from heat.

Quickly toss salad, and transfer to a platter or serving dish. Pile cooked beef and juices on salad, and serve immediately.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spaghetti Sciuè Sciuè

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Spaghetti Sciuè Sciuè literally translates to Spaghetti Hurry Hurry, and it's pretty much the ultimate summer weeknight pasta dish. The sauce cooks in the same time it takes to boil the pasta, and the flavors are bursting with the essence of summer days, from the juicy cherry or grape tomatoes to the fragrant basil.


The inspiration to make this dish actually began beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris back in May when my mother ordered it at a charming Italian restaurant. It was really the simplest dish imaginable, and yet it blew away everything else we tried on the menu (and everything was delicious!).


Ever since then I've been waiting for tomato season to kick into high gear so I can make it myself. The local cherry tomatoes aren't quite ready, but I definitely plan to make this dish again later this summer when they are. The sauce is also very basil forward, but you can scale back on the herb if you want the tomatoes to shine more on their own.


Spaghetti Sciuè Sciuè
Serves 4

1 pound dry spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1/4 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
3 pints (about 2 pounds) large cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (don't get the super tiny ones, they aren't as juicy)
Kosher salt
1 cup loosely packed basil, sliced into chiffonade, plus 4 basil sprigs from the top of the stem for garnish

Cook the pasta until al dente in boiling salted water.

Meanwhile in a large, deep skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic and chili flakes. Cook for a couple minutes until very fragrant, but be careful not to overcook, as the garlic can burn. Add the tomatoes and a generous sprinkle of salt, stir and cover, mixing occasionally until the tomatoes have softened and released their juices but are still relatively intact, about 10 minutes. Uncover during the last couple minutes to thicken slightly. If any of the tomato skins slip off, feel free to remove them! It will make eating the dish even more enjoyable. Stir in the basil chiffonade.

Strain the pasta and add it to the tomato mixture. Toss gently until thoroughly mixed, and serve immediately topping with a basil sprig per serving for garnish.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Bastille Day Festivities at Ellie's

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If you follow me on social media, you would have noticed all last week I shared French recipes in honor of Bastille Day, French independence day, which was on Sunday, July 14th. I have been obsessed with France and French culture since I was a child, so celebrating Bastille Day is something I obviously enjoy doing!


My favorite local French bakery and cafe, Ellie's, recently expanded into a full bistro in new, larger location in downtown Providence. They continue to serve their excellent breads, pastries, and breakfast and lunch offerings, but are now also open for dinner with a sit-down menu, and alcoholic drinks.


For the past couple of years I have joined in on Ellie's Bastille Day festivities which until this year were hosted in their former, smaller location. The party was always free to all, and featured delicious savory and sweet bites, sparkling wine, and live French music.

Team Ellie's

This year they combined the Bastille Day party with a grand opening of their new location. Although the new location had been open for a couple of months, I hadn't been able to visit until now, so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to check out the new digs.


I loved the old charming, cozy location, but I really love the new location as well! It's larger, but still not huge, and features a lot of the same charm. In the center is a beautiful communal table where I would love to host a group dinner someday.


The party was split between the upstairs dining room, and the pastry kitchen in the basement. Here we sampled a couple of sandwiches off their current seasonal lunch menu, Blackbird farms ham, gruyere, cornichons, and Dijon on a croissant, and roasted chicken salad, marinated cucumber, and pea greens on a milk bun.




A spread of pastries and desserts was also featured on the lower level, along with hand-dipped signature French vanilla macarons. We sampled their London Fog Cake, a vanilla cake with lemon curd and Earl Grey buttercream (hallelujah!), their raspberry pistachio cake (also fabulous), the tiramisu cake (shockingly I skipped this one), their delectable Kouign Amann pastries (my absolute favorite), and sample-size chocolate croissants.





We returned upstairs and parked ourselves at the communal table right by the band. Passed hors d'oeuvres included escargots in choux buns, pork terrine with Dijon and cornichons on crostini, Camembert and hot pepper jam crostini, mussels with capers and olive oil, and two varieties of beignets with cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar.







There were some additional sweet treats set up near the bar, however I think these were leftovers from earlier in the day when they were open for breakfast and lunch, and did not appear to be replenished once they were all gone. I managed to snag half a sweet herb and lemon Kouign Amann, and it was excellent.



The French-inspired celebration was a hit! The music brought me right back to Paris, and many of the offered delicacies were reminiscent of foods we enjoyed abroad. Most importantly, I was thrilled to visit the new location, directly across from the Providence Performing Arts Center, and plan to return again soon!


Do you celebrate Bastille Day? What are your favorite French dishes? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Steak Tartare

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Steak tartare, also known as beef tartare, is a combination of hand-chopped raw beef, finely minced shallot/onion, capers, and cornichons, all tossed in a tangy and acidic Dijon mustard-based dressing. Sometimes egg yolks are included in the dressing, and sometimes they are presented whole atop each serving.


I ordered steak tartare during my recent trip to Paris, and although it wasn't my first taste of the raw delicacy, I was suddenly reminded of how much I enjoy steak tartare and decided to make it upon my return to the States.

There are many recipes for this dish throughout the interwebs, and in essentially every French cookbook. There are of course similarities and some differences, from the type of beef used to the slight variations in how the meat is seasoned. The late great Anthony Bourdain's recipe in the Les Halles Cookbook includes ketchup, anchovies, and Cognac, which I did not see in any other recipe I came across.


After much research I put together my own formula using a more traditional approach. Although some folks use top round or sirloin for their tartare, you're best off using beef tenderloin if you can afford it. My local meat market was selling it for $10.99/lb which I thought was very reasonable for this top cut.


This particular recipe is a bit more acidic than some others, but I really wanted to replicate the highly acidic flavor of the steak tartare I enjoyed at Cafe Blanc in Paris back in May. It definitely packed a punch, and that's what I liked so much about it. It's important to taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking once everything is mixed together, and of course as is the case with any raw preparation of meat, be sure to serve it cold and immediately.

Steak Tartare
Serves 4

1 pound beef tenderloin (I have seen recipes that use sirloin--Anthony Bourdain's does--and top round, but beef tenderloin should be your first choice if it's affordable)
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped cornichons
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
A couple shakes of hot sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the beef in the freezer for about 1 hour until the exterior begins to firm up and form crystals but it's still easily pierced with a knife. This will make it easier to finely hand-chop.

Meanwhile, prep the shallot, capers, cornichons, and parsley in a small bowl, and set aside. In another small bowl whisk together the egg yolk, vinegar, mustard, oil, Worcestershire, and hot sauce.

Remove the beef from the freezer, slice it thinly against the grain, then slice into fine strips, and then finally dice into small cubes, about 1/4-inch across. Transfer the beef to a large mixing bowl and gently combine it with the shallot and caper mixture as well as the dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, etc.

Divide into 4 equal portions, press each portion into a round cookie cutter on a plate. Remove the ring and serve immediately, preferably with fries and/or toast points, and salad.

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