How You Can Help to Fight Poverty on Blog Action Day

We know, not the title you were expecting to see show up in your RSS reader or inbox from us is it?  Well today we are taking a minute to use this blog as a voice for an important cause on Blog Action Day.  It is amazing to see the blogging community band together to support solving poverty!  There are over 9,700 blogs registered (as of 2:20a est on 10/15) to be a part of Blog Action Day.  These 9,700 blogs will reach over 10.7 million people through RSS feeds along, not including email subscriptions and non-subscribers.

Most people understand that poverty is an extremely serious problem that is plaguing the entire world.  However, a lot of people probably don’t understand just how tragic of an issue it is.  For those in that group, take in some of these stats compiled by GlobalIssues.org:

  • Over three billion people live on less than $2.50 per day while over 80% of humanity lives on less than $10/day.
  • Approximately 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty.
  • There are 1.1 billion people living in developing countries who do not have adequate access to water while approximately 2.6 billion people lack basic water sanitation capabilities.
  • Every 2nd child born in this world is born into poverty.

Stats like those we highlighted above are just a few of the many horrific stats that are part of our world reality.  One of the major problems is that people don’t understand how their small contributions can help such a massive world issue such as poverty.  However, what many fail to realize is that there are groups out there such as Heifer International which provide you the ability to donate small amounts which can go towards purchasing livestock such as a flock of chicks ($20) or a water buffalo ($250 or a shared donation of $25).  Such a contribution can feed easily feed an entire family and sometimes even a whole village.

So, instead of going out to a restaurant today, take a few dollars of that money and donate it to a charity like Heifer who will use it to provide sustainable foods/technologies to families and villages who can’t even provide something that we take for granted such as clean drinking water for their young children.

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Meat the Press Mondays: Learn Your Cuts of Steak – The Beef Digarams

A few weeks ago we discussed some of the most popular cuts of steak.  For today’s Meat the Press Mondays we wanted to further your knowledge of the different cuts of steak by presenting you with the beef diagram.  These diagrams will show you where the cuts come from on the cattle as well as the typical shapes of these cuts.  There are a lot of different versions of these diagrams but the following two are the most simple but informative.

It seems that everyone I talk to has a different favorite cut of steak.  So, I’m curious to know what your favorite cuts of steak are and why?  Please post your responses in the comment section below.

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Fresh Fridays: Corn and Potato Chowder

It’s starting to get cold (and fast!) here in New England which starts to bring the thoughts of crackling fireplaces and hot soups, chowders, stews and chili.  Therefore, for this week’s Fresh Fridays we are going to provide you with an excellent recipe for a corn and potato chowder with a kick.  If you don’t like either of the main ingredients, corn or potato, feel free to omit from the recipe and substitute with more of the other ingredient.  If possible, try to buy fresh and local corn though it’s not necessary.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
1-2 jalapenos, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups canned vegetable stock
2 cups heavy cream
2-3 Idaho potatoes, diced
6 ears corn
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 lb bacon
¼ cup scallions
¼ cup cheddar cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Cook the bacon until crispy then remove from the heat.  Allow the bacon to cool for approximately 5 minutes so you don’t burn yourself.  Once the bacon has cooled, dice into small pieces as the bacon will be used to top your chowder.

Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, jalapenos and thyme.  Cook these ingredients for approximately 8-10 minutes or until the onion appears to have softened. Evenly add the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the heavy cream and potatoes.  Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Boil hard for about 7-10 minutes until the potatoes soften.

Cut the corn kernels off the cob and add to the soup.  To help thicken the soup, you can take the back of your knife and scrape the cob into the soup however this is not necessary to the overall preparation of the soup.

Season with salt, pepper and parsley. Lower heat and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes.  Once the soup is done, let it rest for approximately 5 minutes which will allow the chowder to thicken. Next, ladle into serving bowl.  Top the chowder with the chopped bacon, scallions and cheddar cheese.  Allow the cheese to melt and serve.

Note: Whether you peel the potatoes is up to your preference.  Also, feel free to modify the ingredients in this recipe to fit your palette.  Many people will wonder if the jalapenos will make the chowder spicy.  Since the jalapenos have the seeds removed and are cooked down from the start of the cooking process, they add some kick but does not make the dish spicy overall.

Enjoy!

You can download a PDF version of this Corn and Potato Chowder.

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Original Recipe by: Tyler Florence
Photo by:
fille_de_photo


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The Steps to Making a Proper Risotto

Joe is known for his famous risotto recipes and today he shares the basics of those recipes with all of you.

Risotto is a glutenous rice that is cooked with small additions of flavored liquid such as stock or broth, rather than the measure, cover, and cook method which is traditionally used for most rice.  This cooking method and the glutenous nature of risotto creates a creamy texture unlike other rice, which is simply delicious, and has led to risotto often being referred to as “macaroni and cheese for adults”.

Risotto IS in fact a rice, not a pasta (orzo is rice shaped pasta)  which it is often confused with because of its creamy texture and the fact that on many restaurant menus, risotto is offered in the pasta section.   For those that doubt that risotto is in fact a grain, look closely at an uncooked piece before you begin to cook it next, and you will clearly see a stem scar, something all grains that were once attached to a plant will have.

The following are the steps to making a classic plain risotto (exact measurements aren’t needed here)

1.  In a rondeau pan, large saute, or small soup pot, on low-med heat, heat some vegetable oil and begin to sweat some thinly sliced shallots or onions(approx 1/4 cup)

2.  When the shallots take on the first bit of color, add your dry risotto (approx 1.5 cups).  I like Arborio rice, but there are many types to choose from.  Stirring occasionally, allow the risotto to be coated completely with the cooking oil and to toast a little bit (about 5-10 minutes).  If it begins to get very brown you have toasted too much.

3.  Time for the first addition of liquid – I almost always use white wine (approx 1 cup).  Both Chablis and Chardonnay work well.  Stirring constantly, allow all almost all this liquid to be absorbed.

NOTE! AT THIS POINT DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM YOUR RISOTTO!  GOOD RISOTTO IS STIRRED CONSTANTLY AND SMALL ADDITIONS OF STOCK ARE ABSORBED QUICKLY.  IF YOUR RISOTTO IS STICKING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAN YOU ARE NOT STIRRING ENOUGH, WAITING TOO LONG BEFORE EACH ADDITION OF LIQUID, AND/OR COOKING ON TOO HIGH OF A HEAT.

4.  Add your stock a little at a time (1/2 cup, or a few small ladels worth) and keep stirring.  I like to use vegetable or chicken stock, and if your stock is seasoned properly, you shouldn’t have to season the risotto very much if at all.  When the liquid is almost all absorbed, guess what… add more.  You will repeat this several times, varying in number based on the size of the liquid additions, and type of risotto you are using.

5.  Check for doneness frequently by tasting – you are looking for an al dente firmness, where the risotto is soft and creamy, not dry, but the center of the grains still has some raw “tooth” to it.

6.  When your risotto has reached this stage of doneness, you can take it off the heat if you are going to use it later.  (Spread it in a thin layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment, this will allow it to cool faster and more evenly as well as stop the cooking process).  It is now ready to complete.

7.  You can add almost anything to your risotto at this point, but I suggest before you do, you first perfect the plain risotto and your risotto timing as well.  Put your risotto back in the pan (that is if you took it out to cool for later use) and add another single addition of stock.  When this is all absorbed, taste, if it seems almost ready and needs no further seasoning or cooking, add some cold butter (for this batch 1/4 stick will do).  Let the butter melt completely, stirring constantly of course.  When the butter is melted, add some grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan or asiago (about 1/4 -1/2 cup), stir it in and when it has almost melted completely, turn off the heat.

8.  Possibly the most important step, let your risotto rest for 5-10 minutes before you eat it.  It will need some time to set and get to the right thickness for maximum creaminess and the ideal texture.

Once you have mastered the plain risotto, the possibilities of ingredients you can add are almost endless.  It is however the final timing of the last addition or two of stock that will make or break your risotto.   For example if you were to add shrimp, you could add them raw and let the heat from the cooking process finish them off or you could add pre-cooked shrimp at the very last second. You could also start with a fresh pan and some par-cooked risotto, sear the shrimp to about half done then add your risotto back to the pan with the final addition of stock and let this cooking time finish them off (this is the common restaurant method of making individual portions of risotto to order).

When adding additional ingredients it is possible to over and under cook both the risotto and other ingredients.  Use your level of experience to base cooking times.  You don’t want crunchy, or mushy risotto and you wouldn’t want uncooked or overcooked ingredients, especially proteins.

The best advice for perfect risotto is to keep it to a “less is more” kind of philosophy,  the risotto itself is the star, the additonal ingredients are the supporting actors, and you really don’t want too many of them.   A general rule of thumb is to think of 5 or less flavors and textures that will be present in your risotto.   With the rice, stock and cheese you already have three flavors before you add additional ingredients; Think of the rice, the stock and the cheese, as the main cast and base your supporting actors on what will best compliment them.   Fish stock, cheddar cheese, beef tips, and dried apricots certainly doesn’t sound as appealing as a garlic/veg stock, and Parmesan with snow peas and shrimp.

Enjoy, practice, and have fun with the endless combinations of flavors you can add to a proper risotto!

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Photo by: evilnick

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Grilling Gaucho Style in the Backyard

Although the outdoor grilling season is almost finished for us New Englanders we wanted to write about a fun and different way to kick up your next barbecue.  Joe has done this several times when he realized all too late that he was out of charcoal (kind of like Justin forgetting to charge the camera battery for Meat the Press Mondays 🙂 ).  It is simple but requires a bit of time and a few tools, however the rewards are worth the work.  Just about all New England folk who have a yard and have a fireplace in their home have some type of wood pile out behind the house and most people who have ever barbecued outdoors before have an old charcoal grill, or at least the frame to one.  If this is you, grilling the Argentine way is easy.

The few tools required are a small tree saw and a hatchet or axe, and that’s about it.  Start by completely cleaning out the charcoal grill and removing all but the bottom most grate.  Next you will need to examine your wood supplies, what you are looking for are two things: some small dry kindling wood, and some nice hardwood pieces that are not buggy, rotten, or moldy.  You won’t need a lot of the latter as proper hardwoods burn for a long time.  Our favorites are cherry, oak, and apple, but just about any non-evergreen wood will do, and if you are in doubt whether it’s a good cooking wood, give it a sniff…if it smells pleasant, and not rotten, chances are the food you cook over it will taste good too.

Next, you will need to get a base fire going in the grill.  You don’t want it to be huge but at the same time it will burn down and reduce in mass, so you don’t have to worry too much about this step.   While your base fire is burning down, split some firewood sized logs into 1/4’s or smaller, if theses will fit in your grill with the cooking grate on top, you’re good to go, if not, that’s what the tree saw is for, just cut ’em in half.  When the base fire has burned down to coals, add your nice cooking wood, not too much – two to three pieces should do for most charcoal grills.  Wait for the fire to catch, flame up then reduce in size and intensity typically taking about 15 minutes.  Place the grill grate back on top, let it heat a few minutes, brush it to clean, wipe it with a vegetable oiled towel and you’re good to go.  Cook over it just like you would a charcoal grill, only before you place any food on it, give a quick feel about a foot over the top of the grill to locate your hotspots.

When adding more wood fuel to the grill, add small amounts at a time, and remember they will flame up at first so don’t add wood directly under your food.  Master the art of cooking over a wood fire and you will quickly notice the sweet difference in flavor that hardwoods add, especially to steak.

Try a perfectly cooked, wood-fired steak just once and we guarantee you will be hooked!

What innovative cooking methods have you tried before?  We’re very interested in hearing your stories!

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Contributing Writer: Joseph M. Gionfriddo
Photo by: Munkchip

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Meat the Press Mondays: Hen of the Woods Duxelle

So, we are taking a break from our regularly scheduled broadcast of Meat the Press Mondays due to the small issue of Justin forgetting to charge the battery (and backup battery) for the camera…woops :).  Next week we will return with some great new videos for you.

A couple weeks ago we highlighted the use of compound butters to enhance a meat.  Today we would like to discuss the use of a duxelle, specifically a Hen of the Woods mushroom duxelle, to make your next dish stand out.  We thought this would be great due to the popularity lately of our previous Fresh Fridays posts about these great wild mushrooms.

This year in New England agriculture has been one of mixed blessings,  we had lots of rain which translated to good watering of crops and aesthetic plants alike.  Some plants had trouble, mixed growing seasons, some did ok, or about the same as always, and some did especially well.  In the beginning of the year, the Hadley asparagus was a little on and off, with plentiful harvests and great availability one week, and then limited to no availability the next.  Fortunately, asparagus grows extremely fast.   On the other hand a crop that grows relatively slow, pumpkins, had a bad year here in New England.  The ground was just too wet for too long and the big orange fruits had issues with mold and rot.  Joe recently observed the price of a three pack of kind of crappy small/mediumish pumpkins at $14…not what we’re used to seeing at all.  But the real blessing from all the rain this year has been the abundance of wild mushrooms, in particular the Hen of The Woods type, which we thoroughly enjoy and have written about before.

This weekend at work we had calls from three different mushroom foragers asking us how much we needed.  Fortunately for our friends we are loyal customers and went with our regular mushroom man and we ended up purchasing some of the most beautiful Hen Of The Woods mushrooms that either of us have seen to date.
Hen of the Wood mushrooms are favorites of people that live in the area but many do not know the rich history of this mushroom.  For over four thousand years, these wild mushrooms, also know as “Mitake” mushrooms have been praised in Japan for it’s excellent health benefits, including:
  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Regulating the healthy functioning of the digestive system
  • Moderating blood sugar levels
  • Providing anti-oxidant support
  • Improving skin health
  • Assisting in weight control
  • Calming of the nervous system

Due to their abundance in Japan, this wild mushroom makes up one of the 4 major or so major mushrooms which are popular in the country.  Within the United States, Hen of the Woods are typically found in the Northeast but some have been found as far away as Idaho.  In the Northeast, Mitakes typically grow in clusters at the foots of big oak trees which is exactly where our local mushroom forager has been finding them for us.  These mushrooms can grow up to 50 pounds earning them the nickname of “King of Mushrooms”.  With mushrooms that can grow so big, there is only one thing to do and that is come up with recipes to use them in!

A couple weeks ago when we got our first Hen of the Woods mushrooms of the season, we ran a risotto special last time and it sold like hotcakes.  Joe doesn’t like to be repetitive, so this time around we ran a special featuring a Hen Of The Woods duxelle, which is just a fancy word for mushroom stuffing.  We used this stuffing in filet mignon, which was butterflied, pinwheel style (basically unrolling the filet like it was a roll of paper towels), spread a generous layer of my duxelle on the inside and then rolled back up, tied with butchers twine, and grilled the whole thing.  The result is a wonderful melding of mushroom and beef flavors in every bite.  Doing a stuffing like this is also especially nice because the juices released by the meat as it cooks are absorbed by the mushrooms, and mushroom juices are permeating the steak as it rests both before and after cooking, creating a delicious harmony of flavor.   This stuffing is especially good in game birds, pork, or even as a spread on crackers or in a puff pastry appetizer.  But if you’ve read any of our previous posts you well know that I am partial to beef, so naturally that is where my duxelle ended up this week.

Hen Of The Woods Duxelle

  • 1.5 lbs hen of the woods mushrooms, stems and leaves, evenly distributed and chopped to a small rough dice
  • 1/2 large onion, small chop
  • 1 leek white part only, small chop
  • 1 tsp garlic minced fine
  • 4 slices bacon, rough chop
  • 1/2 cup dry white cooking wine
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1/8 lemon worth of juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Once you have all your chopping done this recipe is really easy. Start by rendering the fat out of the bacon on a large pan over medium heat.  When the bacon bits are crisp remove them and set aside.  In the rendered bacon fat add the onion and the leek, saute till  the onion and leek are soft and begin to almost brown,  add the garlic and stir to combine, next add all the mushroom bits, mix well, and when the mushrooms begin to sing to you, salt liberally.   Keep stirring, and when the mixture seems to be slightly reduced and looks a bit dry, add the wine, let this mixture reduce stirring occasionally, and when approximately, 7/8 of the liquid has reduced/been absorbed, add the lemon juice, parsley, and reserved bacon bits, mix to heat through, then taste to check for seasoning, add more salt and black pepper if needed.

The result should be sweet and aromatic from the onion and leek, and woodsy and rich from the mushroom, with a hit of salty savoriness from the bacon flavor, which will all be balanced with a slight fresh tang from the acid of the lemon juice. Now all you have to do is let the duxelle cool before stuffing your favorite food with it, use it liberally, and experiment with a wide variety of foods.  The duxelle will hold well in the fridge for several days, or if you can’t get to it immediately, do what my mushroom forager does, pop it in an old ice cube tray, wrap it tightly and freeze it.

Enjoy!

You can download a PDF version of this Hen of the Woods Duxelle recipe

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Contributing Writer: Joseph M. Gionfriddo
Photo by: sweet little bunny

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Yes, I’m still alive!

For those wondering, I am still alive!  I had a business emergency which snatched me from BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas and I had to go the Philippines for the past week or so.  Unfortunately, my schedule there prevented me from being able to do anything else besides fix the issues that were going on.  However, I’m back and have a bunch of posts lined up over the next few days.

Today I wanted to share with you a keynote that I recently watched from Gary Vaynerchuk.  You might know Gary from Wine Library TV.  If you have no clue what I’m talking about then definitely visit him over there if you love wine (which I know all of you Prime Cuts fans do 🙂 ).

I really respect Gary for his passion, dedication and for being real.  I’ve watched a few of his keynotes and other non-wine related videos and they are all motivating…especially when you’re feeling tired (like from a 24hr long flight) or run-down from working long hours on whatever it is that you do.

Enjoy!

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