Shallow Thoughts : tags : recipe

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 04 Mar 2016

Recipe: Easy beef (or whatever) jerky

You don't need a special smoker or dehydrator to make great beef jerky.

Winter is the time to make beef jerky -- hopefully enough to last all summer, because in summer we try to avoid using the oven, cooking everything outside so as not to heat up the house. In winter, having the oven on for five hours is a good thing.

It took some tuning to get the flavor and the amount of saltiness right, but I'm happy with my recipe now.

Beef jerky



Heat water slightly (30-40 sec in microwave) to help dissolve salt. Mix all ingredients except beef.

Cut meat into small pieces, trimming fat as much as possible.

Marinate in warm salt solution for 15 min, stirring occasionally. (For pork, you might want a shorter marinating time. I haven't tried other meats.)

Set the oven on its lowest temperature (170F here).

Lay out beef on a rack, with pieces not touching or overlapping.
Nobody seems to sell actual cooking racks, but you can buy "cooling racks" for cooling cookies, which seem to work fine for jerky. They're small so you probably need two racks for a pound of beef.

Ideally, put the rack on one oven shelf with a layer of foil on the rack below to catch the drips.
You want as much air space as possible under the meat. You can put the rack on a cookie sheet, but it'll take longer to cook and you'll have to turn the meat halfway through. Don't lay the beef directly on cookie sheet or foil unless you absolutely can't find a rack.

Cook until sufficiently dry and getting hard, about 4 to 4-1/2 hours at 170F depending on how dry you like your jerky. Drier jerky will keep longer unrefrigerated, but it's not as tasty. I cook mine a little less and store it in the fridge when I'm not actually carrying it hiking or traveling.

If you're using a cookie sheet, turn the pieces once at around 2-3 hours when the tops start to look dry and dark.

Tip: if you're using a rack without a cookie sheet, a fork wedged between the bars of the rack makes it easy to remove a rack from the oven.

[ 12:24 Mar 04, 2016    More recipes | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 25 Nov 2014

Yam-Apple Casserole

Yams. I love 'em. (Actually, technically I mean sweet potatoes, since what we call "yams" here in the US aren't actual yams, but the root from a South American plant, Ipomoea batatas, related to the morning glory. I'm not sure I've ever had an actual yam, a tuber from an African plant of the genus Dioscorea).

But what's up with the way people cook them? You take something that's inherently sweet and yummy -- and then you cover them with brown sugar and marshmallows and maple syrup and who knows what else. Do you sprinkle sugar on apples before you eat them?

Normally, I bake a yam for about an hour in the oven, or, if time is short (which it usually is), microwave it for about four and a half minutes, then finish up with 20-40 minutes in a toaster oven at 350°. The oven part seems to be necessary: it brings out the sweetness and the nice crumbly texture in a way that the microwave doesn't. You can read about some of the science behind this at this Serious Eats discussion of cooking sweet potatoes: it's because sweet potatoes have an odd enzyme, beta amylase, that breaks down carbohydrates into sugars, thus bringing out the vegetable's sweetness, but that enzyme only works in a limited temperature range, so if you heat up a sweet potato too fast the enzyme doesn't have time to work.

But Thanksgiving is coming up, and for a friend's dinner party, I wanted to make something a little more festive (and more easily parceled out) than whole baked yams.

A web search wasn't much help: nearly everything I found involved either brown sugar or syrup. The most interesting casserole recipes I saw fell into two categories: sweet and spicy yams with chile powder and cayenne pepper (and brown sugar), and for yam-apple casserole (with brown sugar and lemon juice). As far as I can tell it has never occurred to anyone, before me, to try either of these without added sugar. So I bravely volunteered myself as test subject.

I was very pleased with the results. The combination of the tart apples, the sweet yams and the various spices made a lovely combination. And it's a lot healthier than the casseroles with all the sugary stuff piled on top.

Yam-Apple Casserole without added sugar


(Your choice whether to use all of these spices, just some, or different ones.)

Peel and dice yams and apples into bite-sized pieces, inch or half-inch cubes. (Peeling the yams is optional.)

Drizzle a little olive oil over the yam and apple pieces, then sprinkle spices. Your call as to which spices and how much. Toss it all together until the pieces are all evenly coated with oil and the spices look evenly distributed.

Lay out in a casserole dish or cake pan and bake at 350°F until the yam pieces are soft. This takes at least an hour, two if you made big pieces or layered the pieces thickly in the pan. The apples will mostly disintegrate into little mushy bits between the pieces of yam, but that's fine -- they're there for flavor, not consistency.

Note: After reading about beta-amylase and its temperature range, I had the bright idea that it would be even better to do this in a crockpot. Long cooking at low temps, right? Wrong! The result was terrible, almost completely tasteless. Stick to using the oven.

I'm going to try adding some parsnips, too, though parsnips seem to need to cook longer than sweet potatoes, so it might help to pre-cooked the parsnips a few minutes in the microwave before tossing them in with the yams and apples.

[ 19:07 Nov 25, 2014    More recipes | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 12 Nov 2014

Crockpot Green Chile Posole Stew

Posole is a traditional New Mexican dish made with pork, hominy and chile. Most often it's made with red chile, but Dave and I are both green chile fans so that's how I make it. I make no claims as to the resemblance between my posole and anything traditional; but it sure is good after a cold, windy day like we had today.

Dave is leery of anything called "posole" -- I think the hominy reminds him visually of garbanzo beans, which he dislikes -- but he admits that they taste fine in this stew. I call it "green chile stew" rather than "posole" when talking to him, and then he gets enthusiastic.

Ingredients (all quantities very approximate):

Start the crockpot heating: I start it on high then turn it down later. Add broth.

Dice potato. At least half the potato should be in small pieces, say 1/4" cubes, or even shredded; the other half can be larger chunks. I leave the skin on.

Pre-cook diced potato in the microwave for 7 minutes or until nearly soft enough to eat, in a loosely covered bowl with maybe 1" of water in the bottom. (This will get messy and the water gets all over and you have to clean the microwave afterward. I haven't found a solution to that yet.) Dump cooked potato into crockpot.

Dice pork into stew-sized pieces, trimming fat as desired. Add to crockpot.

De-skin and de-seed the green chiles and cut into short strips. (Or use canned or frozen.) Add to crockpot.

Add spices: salt, chile powder, cumin, and hot sauce (if your chiles aren't hot enough -- we have a bulk order of mild chiles this year so I sprinkled liberally with Tapatio).

Cover, reduce heat to low.

Cook 6-7 hours, occasionally stirring, tasting and correcting the seasoning. (I always add more of everything after I taste it, but that's me.)

Serve with bread, tortillas, sopaipillas or similar. French bread baked from the refrigerated dough in the supermarket works well if you aren't brave enough to make sopaipillas (I'm not, yet).

[ 17:49 Nov 12, 2014    More recipes | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 07 Mar 2010

Recipe: Crockpot Rouladen

I never blog recipes. But while I was making rouladen today, I remembered when I first tried to make it, and discovered that the recipes on the web were all for something entirely different than the delicious rouladen my mom used to make. Mom got the recipe from a German babysitter named Betty who used to take care of me when I was little. It was fantastic and I haven't had anything else like it anywhere, so I asked Mom for the recipe, adapted it a little for my crockpot, and have been enjoying it ever since.

Apologies for the lack of precise quantities. This is how we do recipes in my family, and I'm not great at following precise instructions anyway, and in any case, the recipe originally came from Mom watching Betty make it once.

Crockpot Rouladen

Flank steak - lay it out flat.

Mustard - whatever kind you have lying around. Paint a thin layer onto steak. I personally hate mustard, but it doesn't taste like mustard in the final dish so it's okay.

Bacon - maybe 5 pieces. Cook to not-quite-crisp, to get rid of some of the fat. I cut off some of the fat too, but I'm weird that way. Lay strips on top of mustard.

Bread crumbs - Sprinkle on top of bacon. A little or a lot, as you wish. Enough to leak out when it's rolled, as it thickens the sauce nicely.

Roll steak up and secure with skewers or string. Watch the grain and roll it so that when you slice it, you'll be slicing across the grain. This will seem weird and wrong and you'll want to roll it up the other way because this way you'll end up with a long skinny thing that doesn't fit in the pot. It'll taste just as good either way, but it'll be a lot easier to eat if you roll it up the right way.

Brown steak a bit in small amount of oil, any kind ... maybe use a little of the bacon grease.

Onions, sliced - I don't like onions, so I leave them out.

Tomato sauce - one regular-sized can. Pour over steak. Add a little water too, up to about 1/3 can, if you want more sauce.

Salt, pepper, spices as desired. I add a little cinnamon, to make it taste more like Grecian Chicken (another tomato-sauce recipe where googling gets entirely the wrong result, and if I ever find it I'll be sure to blog it) or like the chicken tikka masala at Bollywood Cafe (which has no resemblance to tikka masala anywhere else, but is wonderful). I usually toss in a couple of bay leaves too, and whatever else I feel like adding that day.

Cook in the crockpot maybe 6.5 hours on high, longer on low. Also works fine simmering in a pan on the stove -- check it about 2.5 hours but expect it to take 3 or so. It doesn't hurt to baste occasionally, or add water if it starts to look dry (in the crockpot that usually isn't needed).

In the last hour or two, toss in:

Raisins - maybe a double handful (a couple small boxes).

When it's done, it should be falling-apart tender.

Serving: Cut small rounds, ladle sauce over them, and serve with noodles or bread.


[ 11:56 Mar 07, 2010    More recipes | permalink to this entry | ]