Friday, March 16, 2012

World Famous Secret Recipe

Yes, I know St. Patrick’s Day isn’t until tomorrow, but I’m going to be too busy quality-testing traditional St. Pat’s Day libations to be cooking.  So, I made my world famous corned beef & cabbage today.  That’s right, world famous!  Hey, the world of my mind counts.  What does this have to do with writing?  Everything.  Writers need to eat.  Enough said.

I think it’s important you know the official name of this dish so when you are asked what brought on your foodgasm, you’ll have the appropriate answer:  Russ’s World Famous St. Patrick’s Day Irish/Polish Corned Beef & Cabbage.  No, I’m not Polish, I’m pure Irish.  Never mind that my pure Irish blood got mixed up with Scottish, Welsh, English, French and Cherokee blood.  And, as is said, everyone’s Irish on St. Pat’s Day.  But, you’ll see in a moment why the Irish/Polish.

Oh, now you’re getting excited.  That’s right, I’m actually going to give you the secret recipe.  So much for the secret.

I make it in a pressure cooker, which is an Aries Crock-Pot because we’re too impatient for that device.  Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking in Crock-Pots, but sometimes I just can’t wait.  Pressure cookers rock!  And I don’t just mean the heavy little pressure cap on top when it’s under pressure. 

You just can’t beat pressure cookers, not only for fast cooking, but also for how tender it makes meat and how well it combines and holds in flavor.  If you’re too chicken to use a pressure cooker, thinking it’s going to blow up, fine.  You can make it in a Crock-Pot or a traditional stew pot.  But we really need to talk about your fears because there are many things much more dangerous than a pressure cooker, things you use every day without a second thought, like your car, or your butane lighter (one actually blew up in my face once), or your cell phone (especially when used in combination with your car), or homemade bombs.  Yeah, think about it.  Nonetheless, I’m going to tell you how to make it in a pressure cooker, and if you want to use something else, figure it out.

All measurements are approximate, and if you’re one of those nuts that thinks cooking is an exact science, you’re in the wrong place.  It’s art, like writing, and the rules were made to be broken, or at least bent…like the cook.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need (for an 8-quart cooker):

3 to 3 ½ lbs. corned beef brisket, point cut, whole. (Sounds like an oxymoron, huh?)  Be sure to get one packaged with the little packet of spices.
2 lb. head of cabbage, quartered.

½ gal. apple cider, 100% pure. (No, NOT apple juice. I said, “cider,” and, no, not hard cider, but now that you mention it, hmm…maybe next year.  Oh, I must thank my friend Rhonda for cluing me in on the apple cider.  Genius!)

1 lb. smoked kielbasa, sliced about a quarter of an inch thick. (See?  That’s the Polish part. Of course you leave the skin on!  I swear, some people’s kids.)

1 large yellow onion, cut into bite-sized pieces. (Okay, use white or purple, I don’t care.)

1 to 1½ cups sliced carrots…okay, 2 cups then, about 5 to 7 carrots. (No, damn it, don’t peel them! That’s just wrong.  Wash them well and cut them into bite-sized pieces, about a half an inch to an inch thick.)

About 1 ½ to 2 lbs. red potatoes. (I like red potatoes and think they’re perfect for this.  Use your standard, run-of-the-mill potato if you’d prefer.  Again, peeling is forbidden!  Washing, though, is highly recommended.  You may want to cut these into slightly larger than bite size, maybe 2-inch cubes, because they have a tendency to diminish in size and even vanish if they’re cut too small.)

*Oh, all right, if you absolutely must, go ahead and peel the carrots and potatoes.  I realize some people just have a thing about that.  But I’m of the opinion you’re sacrificing some wonderful flavor, and it’s just fact that you’re losing much of the foods' natural nutrition when you toss the skin.  But, I swear, if you skin the kielbasa we’re done right now.  Please click off my site.

If you’d like to add some sliced celery, it’s okay with me.

BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE:  Open the beef package, set the spice packet aside and thoroughly rinse the brisket under cold water.  It’s called corned beef for a reason having nothing to do with corn.  That puppy is SALTY!  You’ve been warned.  And there’s no need to pat it dry unless that gives you a little thrill.  It’s going to get wet again, anyway.
Put the brisket, the contents of the spice packet and, if you'd like, a few dashes of black pepper into the pressure cooker, preferably atop the thin rack that came with your cooker.  But, if you don’t have a rack, don’t use it.  Make sense?

Pour in enough of the apple cider to just cover the top of the brisket.  Don’t drink the remainder, you may need it.  Also, please note, if you haven’t already, that I’ve said nothing about water except for washing meat and vegetables.  That’s right, you don’t need any.

I’ll assume you’ve already read the general and safety instructions for your pressure cooker and that you’ve got a modicum of common sense.  For the sake of your own welfare, please don’t prove me wrong.

Keep in mind, all measurements being approximate, you may want or need to vary some ingredient amounts depending on your tastes and to ensure that the cooker’s contents don’t exceed the level recommended by the manufacturer during cooking.

Seal up your cooker, place it on the stove and turn to ‘high’.  Once the heavy little pressure cap atop your cooker begins to rock like Mick Jagger, slowly but steadily reduce the heat to ‘medium-low’.  The cap should not stop rocking, but it should rock gently, more like Donny Osmond.  If it’s still acting more like Mick than Donny, reduce the heat a little more.  From the time the cap begins to rock like Mick, let it cook about 50 minutes for a 3 ½ lb. brisket (45 mins. for 3 lbs.).
Remove from heat.  Use the quick-cool method by placing your cooker under cold running water.  Once the pressure releases, open your cooker and put in the kielbasa and all veggies EXCEPT the cabbage.

Return the cooker to the stove and bring it back up to rockin’ like Mick, then down to Donny.  Just as before, time it from rockin’ like Mick for about 7 minutes, then remove from heat and reduce pressure as before.

Use a meat fork to remove the brisket to a platter.  Put the cabbage quarters into the cooker and add more apple cider so all veggies are covered.  If you like a lot of broth like I do, you can add enough cider to nearly fill the cooker since you won’t be cooking under pressure from here on out.  Without sealing the cooker (lid off), bring it to a medium simmer and stir occasionally.  Cook until the cabbage is as tender as you’d like.  I like it after it’s cooked about 15 or 20 minutes, not too mushy.

Tonight, I sliced the brisket and put it back into the pot to simmer with everything else a bit longer.  I like to eat it all from a bowl like very chunky soup.  But, again, this isn’t rocket science, it’s eating.  I’d like to recommend you have some fresh, thick-crusted bread with it. Do what you want and enjoy.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Summer of Love

I’ve seen something quite strange in the last few days.  I’m afraid to look directly at it and, if memory serves, I’m well advised not to.  It’s fulgent and striking—piercing—and gives off a most delicious warmth.  Could it be—yes, I think it is—it’s the sun!

I know many of you live places in which mention of the imminent spring makes you scoff, but I tell you it’s not mere legend.  It’s running at us, and on its heels is summer.  Oh, I long for summer.  Perhaps I can evoke the delights of it for all of us in still chilly climes with a remembrance of a summer long ago—45 years ago, to be exact. 

Hush, kids!  I know that seems like ancient history or perhaps nothing but myth, but I tell you it really happened.  Listen and learn of… 

The Summer of Love, 1967, in San Francisco, California.  Nearly 100,000 people massed in and around a neighborhood known as Haight-Ashbury, an impetus for a startling shift in social and political culture.  Call it a social experiment marking the culmination of a counterculture movement that gained momentum all through the 60s.

Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner once remarked, "If you can remember anything about the 60s, then you weren't really there."  For those of you who were there, I’ll try to fill in those huge lapses in memory. 

It was a decade explosive with social unrest, upheaval, dissent and rebellion as we fought to free ourselves—to challenge and transform the status quo.  Not to lay a bummer on you, man, but for all the talk of peace, love and understanding, it was one of the most violent, chaotic periods in America’s history.  Nevertheless, as tumultuous as the times were, so were they joyous and free.  Amidst all the turmoil, free love flowed and the non-violent message of “flower power” flourished.

Things were, as we used to say, “Heavy, man!”  Mass street protests and “sit-ins” against countless political and social conventions were commonplace.  Generations of young and old stood divided.  Bloody riots flared in major American cities, and halfway around the world in Vietnam our government waged a war that snuffed the bright flame of nearly sixty thousand of America’s youth, left hundreds of thousands forever scarred, and ravished the psyche of the entire nation.
Chemically-induced “mind expansion” ran rampant.  Low-tech became high, and so did we.   As we began to travel into outer space, so we traversed the inner space of our minds.
Rock ‘n’ Roll ruled and served as soundtrack to our lives and the counterculture’s movement.  The music echoed the radical changes afoot and became our anthem.  Two years after the Summer of Love, another summer saw a musical celebration previously unprecedented in history.  More than the convergence of half-a-million people on Max Yasgur’s New York farm, Woodstock was the weaving of a generation’s youthful energy, angst, fears, hopes, ideals and music into the tapestry of a vision of justice, peace and love for our world—an endless summer of love.