Cowgirl Chef: ‘Tis the season to cook with booze

Posted Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Toni’s lamb Serve 4 to 6 One of my absolute favorite ways to make lamb, this practically cooks itself. It’s a perfect winter dish, and if you’ve got leftovers, do what I do (something that my friend Toni, from Belgium, would never do) — make tacos. Sea salt and pepper 2 to 3 pounds lamb shoulder Olive oil 1 onion, sliced into half-moons 5 garlic cloves, left in their jackets 1 cup semi-dry red wine, such as a pinot noir 1 cup water 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 cinnamon stick 5 whole cloves 3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 3-inch fingers 5 red-skinned potatoes, chopped into 2-inch chunks A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for serving 1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and slide the rack to the lowest level possible. 2. Salt and pepper the lamb, put a little bit of olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven and turn the heat on medium-high. When it’s nice and hot, brown the lamb on the top, bottom, and all sides, turning the meat with tongs. When you’re finished, remove the lamb and let it rest on a plate. 3. Turn down heat to medium-low. If there’s still some oil in the bottom of the pot, add the onion now — if not, drizzle a tiny bit more oil — and let them cook for just a few minutes, just until they begin to soften. Toss in the garlic. Now add the wine and water, and with a wooden spoon, stir and scrape all of the brown bits off the bottom — this is the key to making a merely good braise really great. Let this reduce by half — it’ll just take about 5 minutes, stirring all the while — then add tomato paste, cinnamon stick and cloves. Put the lamb back in the pot, and scatter the carrots and potatoes all around. 4. Tear off a big piece of parchment paper and press it down into the pot, directly onto the lamb, veggies, and the juices. Even though we’re putting a tight lid on the pot before it goes into the oven, this helps push more of the moisture back into the meat, which will make it that much more tender. It’ll also make the sauce more concentrated. 5. Cover the pot and slide it onto the lowest rack and set the timer for 15 minutes,making sure to check back and see if it’s simmering. If it is, great; if not, adjust the temperature. Let this cook 2 to 2 1/2 hours to cook, checking every now and then, and pulling it out to flip the meat over. It’s ready when it takes just the gentle push of a wooden spoon for the meat to fall apart. Let it cool in the pot with the lid on for a couple of hours. You can eat it right away, but I like to make this a day in advance, because it always tastes better the next day. 6. To warm up the lamb, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the meat and veggies in a casserole with some of the juices, cover with foil, and let it warm through 30 to 45 minutes. Serve with chopped parsley on top and crusty bread on the side with the roasted garlic. Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx xxx xxx – from “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” by Ellise Pierce (Running Press, $25)
Hot buttered rum apple pie Makes 1 pie Funny story about this pie. I thought the idea of a pie based on this old-school winter cocktail was so original — only to find out there were others out there, too. I don’t know about those versions, but this one’s a winner in my book — plus it makes the whole house smell like hot buttered rum when it’s cooking, which is never a bad thing. 5 large Granny Smith apples 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/2 cup brown sugar 4 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup dark rum 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon cloves 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 1 pie dough (recipe follows) Vanilla ice cream, for serving 1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 2. Peel, core and slice apples into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Toss them in a large bowl with the cornstarch and set aside. 3. Melt the brown sugar and butter and pour this over the apples. Toss. Add the rum and spices and mix well. Put this into the unbaked pie shell, cover with the top layer, and make a few slits on top with a sharp knife. 4. Put on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees for another 30 minutes or until the pie is golden brown and the juices are bubbling through the top. Let cool before serving — with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Nutritional analysis per serving: xxxx xxx xxx
Pie dough Makes enough for 2 pies or 1 double-crusted pie 2 1/2 cups flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cold and cut into tiny pieces 6 to 8 tablespoons ice water 1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a time or two to combine. 2. Add the cold cubes of butter and pulse quickly 4 or 5 times. The mixture should look like it has pebbles scattered throughout. You don’t want to over-process — there should be a good mix of medium and small pebbles. 3. Add half the water and pulse a few times to combine. If you need to add more water, do so a little at a time, and only as much as you need to hold this together. If you can pinch the dough together with your fingers, it’s where it needs to be. Again, try to avoid overmixing. 4. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and gently press it together with your hands so it’s a ball. Now flatten it into a disc, cut it in half, and wrap up one half and put it in the fridge. Lightly dust the other half with flour and roll it out to fit a pie pan. Gently lower the dough into the pan and trim the edges so there’s about a 1-inch overhang. Put this in the fridge to firm up. 5. Right before you’re ready to fill the pie shell, prepare the filling and roll out the other half of the dough. Fit it on top of the pie, and trim the edges to match the now-filled pie shell. Fold both edges under and crimp. Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx xxx xxx
Orange curacao flan Makes 6 servings Spiked with Pierre Ferrand orange curacao, a liqueur made from the peels of curacao oranges from the Caribbean island of the same name, this flan is bright, intensely orange and lightly sweetened with the caramel sauce. It’s a perfect dessert to end a winter meal of any sort, but I especially like this after a stew or braised dish. 1 cup sugar, divided use 6 tablespoons water 5 eggs 2 egg yolks 1/4 cup heavy cream 1 cup fresh orange juice 2 tablespoons orange curacao (See note) 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 2. Make the caramel by putting 1/2 cup sugar and water in a deep, heavy saucepan, give it a stir so it combines, and turn the heat to high. Now leave it alone. After 10 or 15 minutes, you’ll notice the sugar beginning to darken around the edges of the pot. Do. Not. Stir. But, you may, if you want to (and usually I do) pick up the pot and give it a swirl. A gentle swirl. Now, the sugar may look weird and crackly at this point, but don’t worry. Soon, you’ll notice that the bubbling sugar has turned into a bubbling foam, which means you’re getting close. Watch for the color to turn to amber, and when it does, turn off the heat. Pour this into a 1 or 1 1/2-quart heatproof glass dish placed in a larger pan. 3. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, cream, orange juice, curacao and vanilla. Pour this into the glass dish, add water to halfway up the sides, and slip into the oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until it sets. Let it cool, then refrigerate overnight. To serve, just spoon out servings, making sure to add caramel on top — or invert the flan onto a platter for maximum showiness. Note: I normally don’t call out a specific brand, but I love Pierre Ferrand’s orange curacao, which is blended with brandy and cognac, thus the tawny color. It’s also great for sipping on its own. You can find this at Goody Goody and Spec’s. Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx xxx xxx — Adapted from a recipe in “The New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Shelia Lukins
Beer battered onion rings Makes 4 to 6 servings Light and crispy, these are the ultimate onion ring in my book. You might even call them elegant. 1 quart peanut oil 1 1/2 cups flour 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal 1 teaspoon sea salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 cup buttermilk 1 cup beer (something light, like Corona) 2 to 3 large onions, sliced into 1/2-inch rings 1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and line a cookie sheet with paper towels. 2. Heat the oil in a large stockpot (it’ll help reduce splatters) to 350 degrees. A candy thermometer attached to the side will help tell you when it’s at the right temperature. Too low will result in greasy onion rings; too high, burned ones. 3. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. 4. In another bowl, pour in the buttermilk and beer. Give it a stir. 5. Working in batches, dip the onions in the buttermilk-beer mixture, then dredge them in the flour. Shake off any excess — we’re not going for a thick batter, just a fine coating — then gently place in the hot oil. Let these fry until they’re golden brown on both sides, then remove with very long tongs and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain for a minute or two, then transfer the cooked onion rings to the cookie sheet and put them in the oven to keep warm and crisp until serving. Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx xxx xxx

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There’s something inherently fun about popping the cork of a bottle of wine ... then pouring it into a pot to cook with it. It already feels like you’re on your way to something special, which you are.

Cooking with alcohol makes things taste better.

Whether you’re adding wine, liquor, or beer, just as salt enhances flavors, so, too, does alcohol.

I’ve suspected this all along but wasn’t sure how, exactly, it worked, so I did some research. According to an article I read in Fine Cooking magazine (by David Joachim and Andrew Schloss), it’s pure chemistry. Alcohol evaporates rapidly, so it actually helps “carry” the aroma of whatever we’re making to our nose that much faster, which enhances our eating experience by giving us an olfactory sneak preview of what we’re about to enjoy. (Most of what we actually “taste” is what we smell, anyway.)

Secondly — nerd alert — alcohol serves as a helping hand to link fat and water molecules. In a brine or marinade, or even a braise, this means that the alcohol, wine, beer, or whatever will actually help the flavorings penetrate the meat (the fat), so you’ll have a richer-tasting roast.

Then there’s the flavor of the alcohol, which I like to think of as simply an added ingredient to what I’m making. Bourbon can add a hint of smokiness, whereas rum, made from molasses, has a sweet note. Lager beers can add a brightness, whereas stouts, like a Guinness, add richer, deeper, sometimes caramel flavors.

Depending on what you’re cooking, it usually doesn’t take much. A tablespoon or two in a sauce or a dessert, and you’ve just upped your flavor manyfold. Plus if you add a little alcohol to ice cream or sorbet recipes (which I do often), it’ll help keep it from freezing rock-hard. It’ll firm up but be scoopable.

Finally, note that less booze is usually more — flavor, that is. If you overdo, it may end up overshadowing something more delicate, like a dessert or a sauce.

Contrary to popular belief, unless you’re cooking something for hours and hours, the alcohol doesn’t cook off in the process. But even in a long braise — a beef Bourguignon, coq au vin, or below, Toni’s lamb — which often call for a half-bottle to a bottle of wine, you’re unlikely to get tipsy.

Either way, you should always cook with what you’d drink. A lesser-than wine or liquor is only going to make whatever you’re making not be as wonderful as it could be. It’s worth it to spend a few extra bucks. Plus then you can happily taste as you go.

Which I always like to do. Cheers.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com; @cowgirlchef.

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