Comfort Foods and Indulgences

Steak-4-630x407It was a two-line email—the kind that makes you sit up and think—because it addressed an issue faced daily by millions of grill masters around Planet Barbecue:

“Sometimes we buy cheap beef because we are on a budget,” wrote Diane Q. “These steaks are often tough. We have tried salt, meat tenderizer, and marinades. Could you please tell me the best way to tenderize the steaks?”

I immediately thought of my last trip to Southeast Asia, and in particular, to steaks I ate hot off the grill in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Both were explosively flavorful thanks to complex marinades and polymorphic condiment spreads. And both were tough as proverbial shoe leather.

We North Americans and Europeans are spoiled when it comes to steak. Our notion of a “fork-tender” filet mignon or a “silver butter knife” sirloin (the signature steak at Murray’s in Minneapolis—so named because it’s so tender, the steak knife glides through the meat as though it were butter) are the stuff of dreams on much of Planet Barbecue.

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jalapeno_cheddar_cornbread.jpgI love Austin, Texas. The people are warm, the food is amazing, and the weather – well, let's not talk about the weather. Let's stick with the people and the food. One morning while Jeff and I were eating breakfast at an Austin eatery, we started chatting with a lovely elderly couple next to us. The conversation quickly turned to food: we talked brisket, chili, Shiner bock (which they drink from the bottle), and cornbread. When I told the wife that I had never made corn bread in a skillet, she replied, in a dramatic affected Southern accent, "Well, dahlin', if it ain't made in a cast-iron skillet, then it ain't cornbread."

She shared how her skillet had been in her family for three generations and how she wouldn't dream of making cornbread in a regular metal pan or glass baking dish. I would have loved to share a sentimental tale about my family's cast-iron skillet and corn bread recipe, but the truth is, we don't have one. Sure, my mom made cornbread, but it usually came from a Jiffy box, and I wasn't gonna tell that to the Texan with the third generation cast-iron skillet.

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porkapplemashQuick and easy is what this stew is all about. It does not require a four-hour simmer, so it’s perfect for a last minute craving. With preparation time, it took me about 50 minutes to get this on the table. The best part is that it is absolutely delicious.

Using pork tenderloin is ideal for this meal since it’s already tender and doesn’t require hours of braising time to make it that way. Since the base of the stew uses apple cider, there is a slight sweetness to it. When served over the apple-potato mash, it becomes this over-the-top meal.

Don’t leave out the Granny Smith garnish as it really adds a nice touch to the dish.

With rain today in the Pacific Northwest, this meal is the perfect accompaniment to cold weather.

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ImageI’ve got to admit it – I’m a total cheese snob. I blame my foodie parents – I got wedges of brie in my preschool lunchbox when the other kids got string cheese. My first winery job, at Vihuela in downtown Paso Robles, was fabulous because we shared a space with Vivant Fine Cheese – therefore, I lived on a strict diet of wine, cheese, and baguettes for almost a year (sorry, arteries!). I learned so much from Danika, from wine and cheese pairing to the particularities of making the perfect platter – what an education!

“More Taleggio? Do I need to stage an intervention?!”

Yes, this is what Danika said to me when I was last in her shop. My mom and I have been obsessed with Taleggio lately! We usually just eat it on slices of baguette or on Triscuits, but this weekend I decided to get creative and tried it on stuffed mushrooms. If you like earthy, you will love this combo!

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mttownsendcheese.jpgCheese, how much do I love thee? Forget it, I'm not going to count the ways. I know you, my sweetest of readers, have not the time nor the patience for me to even begin to tell you how cheese runs through my veins.  But believe me, it does.

My pal Matt from 1000 Markets told me about a vendor on his site. The company, Mt. Townsend Creamery, had a unique story and a delicious product. I must've dozed off when he began telling me the company history because all I could do was daydream about little wedges of cheeses from the Pacific Northwest. A few days later I was able to understand his excitement and sat down to a small little cheese tasting at home. And then my little cheesetasting turned into a full-on pig out moment until most of my cheese was gone.

Mt. Townsend Creamery began three years ago when partners Matt Day, Will O'Donnell and Ryan Trail decided to create artisan cheeses using fresh local milk from Washington dairies. Located in Port Townsend, Washington, the creamery is housed in a fifty year old building that has been home to boat builders, glass repair companies, a radical fringe book publisher (why not?) and most recently the local Department of Licensing. The three cheese fellas, along with the help of friends and local contractors, created a modern facility that produces traditional European-style handmade cheeses that are pretty damn special and delicious.

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