Braised Short Rib Matzohdilla

DSCN4796I get my inspiration from all sorts of places.  Since the husbandman and I are on the cheap these days, I usually peruse the menus of Boston’s finer restaurants, looking for what they’re serving which I can replicate at home. But that’s my high-brow approach; sometimes, it’s better to be influenced by popular culture.  For example:  Chickenhawk’s Chicken and Beans, one of my most popular posts, was inspired by this ditty on the new Looney Tunes show.  Tonight’s meal crawled into my imagination thanks to Sean and Gus from USA’s Psych; a silly show, to be sure, but one that makes me laugh every time I watch it.  On their 100th episode, Sean – with his customary wit – celebrates a verbal mashup of Yiddish and Spanish by coining the term “Matzohdilla”, which Gus thinks “sounds delicious”.  So did I, dear readers – so did I.  The concept of a quesadilla made with matzohs instead of tortillas just lit me on fire!  My mind immediately conjured a delectable vision of crusty pressed unleavened flat-grilled crackers stuffed with gooey cheese and savory meat, served Mexican style with some guac and sour cream for garnish.  I ran pell-mell to Whole Foods to make my dream a reality.

DSCN4772

Braised Shortrib Matzohdilla

1lb boneless short ribs
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 qt beef broth
3 slices bacon
1 can black beans
1 bottle dark beer
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb cheddar cheese
6oz cream cheese
1 avocado
1 small red onion
3-4 tablespoons minced cilantro
4-5 tablespoons diced tomatoes
4 matzohs
sour cream
garlic powder, red chile powder, ground cumin, black pepper, sea salt, smoked paprika, onion powder, EVOO

DSCN4775My original idea was to make carnitas for this meal, but I figured I was already slapping kosher in the face with the inclusion of cheese and cream cheese in my recipe; pork would just be cruelly insensitive.  (Of course, I ended up using bacon in my beans (see below), but bacon doesn’t count, right?)  Instead, I chose some lovely beef short ribs; I rubbed them down with a nice healthy blend of my dry spices (salt, pepper, cumin, garlic & onion powder, paprika, chile powder), and dusted them with flour before searing them thoroughly in hot EVOO in a large pan deep enough to submerge them in braising liquids.

DSCN4777After they’ve been browned on each side and all the edges, I dump my tomatoes and 1/2 my minced garlic into the pan…

DSCN4778…before adding my broth.  These babies floated a bit, but they eventually sunk to the bottom.  I throw a lid on top, lower my heat to a bare simmer, and let these braise for about 90 minutes…

DSCN4779b… or until I can easily shred the meat with a fork – like so.  Um: YUM!

DSCN4780Apparently, I can’t avoid pork.  I tried – I really did.  But before I even knew my auto-pilot had kicked in, I’d done gone and fried up a few slices to include in my beans.  What can I say?  I’m a degenerate.

DSCN4781After my bacon crisped, I dumped in my beans and a few scoopfuls of the braising liquid from the shortribs, and my bottle of beer.  I let these simmer on medium heat until most of the liquid had burned off, then I mash up everything with a fork to give them a nice, spreadable texture.

DSCN4788Time to break out the matzohs!  I spread cream cheese on each cracker, then layer them with meat, beans, and cheese before carefully pressing them together.

DSCN4789Like so!

DSCN4790I get my largest, non-stick skillet set to medium, and I brush it down thoroughly with a little EVOO.

DSCN4791I very carefully lay my matzohdilla in the pan, pressing down gingerly to flatten.  I made two of these – one for me, and one for El Husbandious; I sort of snapped one, but I am happy to say they stayed together pretty well, enough so that none of the filling leached out.  As the matzohs heated in the oil, they became slightly pliable – but without losing their crunch!

DSCN4792The trick to an excellent grilled cheese anything is time.  The heat should be set at a relatively low level, or else the outside can burn before the inside melts.  With constant gentle pressure, it took about 5 minutes on each side for these babies to cook up, and for all the cheddar cheese inside to melt and ooze.  Since I only had one pan large enough, I had to make these in shifts; I placed the cooked one on a sheet in a low oven to stay warm while I grilled up the other one.

DSCN4793See how nice?  All my cheese is gooey and ready, and the matzohdilla is born!

DSCN4793aIn a separate bowl, I whip up a quick guacamole: mashed avocado, diced tomato, diced red onion, minced garlic and cilantro, paprika, salt, pepper, and chile powder.  Mix that all up, and you’re good to go.

DSCN4795My cultural mash-up is complete!  I can’t really express how good this was: the matzohs stayed crispy and crackly, but they didn’t fall apart or crumble under the pressure of my teeth; the cream cheese/cheddar cheese blend was rich and creamy, with the cheese stretching from bite to bite like a most excellent pizza; the savory beans and tender, shredded meat were hot, flavorful, and delicious.  I admit, Clayton and I rather laughed our way through the whole meal.  It was freaking amazing, but I’d never seen or heard anything quite like it before (and I searched the internet for recipes – to no avail!), and it just seemed so silly to have been inspired by a cast-off quote from a TV show.  But, in this case, silly was super-delicious.  I wonder what other mash-ups I can come up with?  Chicken Tikka Chow Fun?  Caribbean Cassoulet?  Pad Thai Pizza?  Suggestions are welcome!

Weeknight Wondermeal: Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

This dinner is dedicated to some very special friends, for whom – to protect the innocent (and to avoid prosecution by FERPA) – I shall use a delightfully Victorian convention of referring to them by initials only (in no particular order – to avoid any implication of favoritism): AC, TP, KN, MS, CG, TD, CH, AL, SC, and SV. They not only invited me into their summer homes to enjoy lovely dinners prepared by them with affection and good humor, but they inspire me daily with their grace, wit, intelligence, youthful vigor, and general wonderfulness.  However, I am also spurred by a particular comment made by two of the above listed group —  a pair of ladies who suggested that my Weeknight Wondermeals, recipes I tout as super-simple and très-cheap, were “so fancy, and way too complicated!” What the what?  Dear girls, these offerings are the most basic of basics! If you can execute a successful Western blot, or re-engineer the severed limbs of an army of axolotl, you can TOTALLY make any Weeknight Wondermeal, if you have the right stuff in the kitchen.  To wit: tonight’s delectable dinner.  A tender, succulent, juicy salmon filet encrusted with honey and ginger oil, plus a similarly prepared but-also-soy-sauced scallop, served with a super-food salad.  I dare you, young friends, to make this dinner (note to TP: 86  the walnuts!): the effort is simple, but the reward is sublime!

Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

.75-1lb filet of salmon
2 very large scallops (these equalled .3lb)
1 cup honey
1/2 cup ginger oil (or fresh grated ginger blended with EVOO)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 avocado
1 fresh pear
1 small white onion
fresh arugula
baby tomatoes
parmigiano reggiano
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, fresh snipped chives (for garnish)

Since I keep honey, ginger oil, and soy sauce in my pantry, my shopping list was pretty slim.  The most expensive items were these specimens of seafood: two huge, fresh sea scallops, and a lovely bright pink wedge of king salmon.  I want them to marinate a bit before I cook them, but they need to do so in separate bags.  Let me explain…

The salmon gets 3/4 cup of honey, 3 oz of ginger oil — a product I purchased at a nearby Asian supermarket, for about $2.49 — and lots of fresh cracked pepper.

I remove the adductor muscles from my scallops (here’s a pic), and then they get the rest of the honey and ginger oil, with the addition of the soy sauce – which is going to add just the right umame to the experience.  I seal both bags up nice and tightly, after removing as much air from them as I could, then I chuck ‘em in the fridge to marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, we plug in Little Red and get him all hot and bothered.  Clayton fashions a simple tray out of some foil paper, since we want to catch and cook the marinade as well as the proteins.  You’ll see what I mean a couple steps from now.

I brush a little EVOO onto the portion of the foil that will cook the scallops, but I want to skin of the salmon to stick to the foil (it will make it easier to remove the fish-flesh (and nothing but) later), so I leave that side clean.

The salmon goes on first, and I pour the marinade carefully over it’s pink yumminess to coat it.  It doesn’t matter if it spills onto the foil — in fact, it’s good for some of it to do just that.  As it cooks, the honey will thicken and brown, making a nice glaze.  Again, you’ll see what I mean soon.

The scallops go on next, but they’re doused in less of their marinade, since the soy will have already permeated the meat.  I do save both marinades, in case I want to add more a the halfway point.  For now, though, I lower the lid and walk away for 10 minutes.

My salad tonight was inspired by the similarity between the shape of a pear, and the shape of an avocado.  I surmised that if they had the same figure, perhaps they would go well together…  Yes,  yes – there are all sorts of things wrong with that supposition, but in this case it worked.  I removed the pit out of my avocado, and removed the seeds from my pear, before slicing each half into an equal number of thin wedges.

After fanning the pear slices onto my plates, then layering a fan of avocado over that, I toss some arugula with thin slices of white onion, some shavings of parmigiano reggiano, salt, pepper, and EVOO.

After 10 minutes, my seafood is halfway done, and – as you can see – the honey in the marinade has started to caramelize.  Using a basting brush, I get as much of that honey off the foil and onto the exposed flesh of my fish – top and sides.  It’s slickery — meaning it doesn’t stick to the fish very well unless you sort of scoop it onto the brush and dab it onto the pink.  Be patient, and get as much honey to stick to the fish as you can — it will be SO worth it.

Instead of basting the scallops, I rub them into the marinade darkening on the foil before flipping them.  It’s just like basting, but this time I’m going bottom up instead of top down.

See?  Even through the foil, the scallops are taking on lovely grill marks.  I close the lid for 10 more minutes, and watch the sun sink lower on the horizon over this hot summer day.

When I lift the lid again, my scallops are done (so I remove them to a warm plate to hold), and the honey/ginger marinade for the fish has turned a deep, dark brown.  Never fear!  This is what we wanted!  Using my basting brush one more time, I transfer as much of that black honey to the fish as I can.

Like so!  I lower the lid for another 5 minutes, go indoors, plate my salad, then come back out to fetch supper.  The good thing about using the foil is I only have to pick that up and bring the whole thing inside – no muss, no fuss!  Using a long, narrow spatula, I divide the filet into two equal portions, lifting the fish right off the skin which is stuck to the foil paper.  The flesh slides right off.

After finishing my salad with a couple home-grown cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts (for crunch), and garnishing the seafood with snipped chives, we’re ready to dig in.  The whole dinner has taken about 30 minutes of activity, and it cost only about $20 (plus pantry items, like the honey, soy, and ginger oil).  But what deliciosity!

The salmon is sweetly encrusted, with tender, moist flesh and a wee snap from the black pepper; the scallops are succulent and sweet, with the additional amped up savor of rich soy; and the salad is inspired: the fragrant, firm pear is perfectly complimented by the soft, nutty avocado, and the peppery arugula, salty cheese, and crunchy nuts fill the palate with delectable complexity, richness, and freshness.  Each bite was sheer enjoyment!

As the sun sets over Hamilton Street, setting the sky on salmon fire, Clayton and I dig into our salmon dinners with gusto.  So, dear friends — and you know who you are — are you up for trying this yourselves? I promise you’ll enjoy it!

Summer’s First Grill: ChimmiChurri Strip Steaks and Asparagus

It’s SUMMER, baby! After a long, but relatively mild winter, a super-busy spring, a difficult month, a vexing week, and a hard hard morning for Clayton and I (those of you in the know, know to what I am alluding…), we can finally say we got our first real summer evening in Chez Fontaine.  After taking a stress-reducing bike ride through downtown Boston, to the Seaport for lunch, to the North End for meat, to Haymarket for veggies, and back home again (14 miles, more or less), we settled on our lovely little deck, dusted off Little Red, and had ourselves some supper in the fading sunshine.

ChimmiChurri Strip Steaks and Asparagus

2 8oz hand-trimmed NY Strip Steaks
1 lb fresh, thin asparagus
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 lime
zest of 1 lemon
6-8 cloves garlic
2 small foccaccia
1 medium sized tomato
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, dried oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, dried parsley flakes, sea salt, cracked black pepper

I start by  trimming the woody ends off my slender asparagus spears and peeling 1/2″ or so of some of the outer green off the ends of the stalks.

Into a large zipper bag they go, along with several glugs of EVOO, a glug of white balsamic vinegar, some dried oregano, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a healthy dose of garlic powder, and salt and pepper.  I let these marinate for about 20 minutes while I prep my chimmichurri.

Traditional chimmichurri sauce, of Argentinean fame, is made from parsley – but I like mine predominantly made of cilantro. The peppery snap of the sauce pairs really well with grilled meats — from land, air, and sea.  I pull the leaves off a small bunch, wash and dry them well, and then chop the crap out of them.

I smash my garlic cloves, reserve two of them for later, and then finely mince the rest.

The chopped cilantro and minced garlic go into a bowl, along with a few dashes of dried oregano, a couple tablespoons of dried parsley, the zest of one lemon and the juice from one lime, along with salt and pepper.

Finally, I add just enough of my best EVOO to the bowl to cover the herbs, and I mix this very well.  Letting it sit so it can get to know itself better for a little while is a good idea.

The handsome fella at Sulmonia Meat Market in Boston’s North End ….

… trimmed these babies off a huge hunk of so-fresh-it-was-still-mooing meat – and I was happy.   I sprinkled them liberally with salt and pepper to prep them for the grill.

Here are some cute foccacias I got at Trader Joe’s, of all places.


I slice them into 1/2″ thick wedges, then spread them on a cookie sheet doused with EVOO, swishing them around a bit so they can soak up its olivey goodness.  And here is one of Lolita’s jerry-rigs: I then set my cookie sheet onto a slightly larger sheet before setting them both – one on top of the other – across both my stove-top’s back burners.

By raising the heat on both eyes to medium, I’m sort of making myself a little flat-grill.  Once I get a nice tan sear on the 1st side, I flip all the slices over, push them around in the EVOO so they get nice and greased up, and then drop the heat to low so they can continue to toast leisurely.  This makes perfectly crunchy, crispy bread – ideal for Pa amb tomàquet, one of my favorite Barcelona foods.

Quite literally “bread with tomato,” Pa amb tomàquet was served to us in Spain many different ways, but for my home use I like to keep it super simple: for two people, all I do is slice one medium tomato in half, salt it liberally (especially if it’s a hot-house tomato like this one, which lacks native flavor), and set it face down on top of a crushed clove of garlic and a couple tablespoons of high-quality EVOO in a ramekin with just the right circumference.

Using a couple of tiny forks (designed for picking crabmeat out of claws and legs), I stab through the center of each tomato half.  When the time comes, we’ll each rub the oiled and garlicky face of our tomatoes across the toasted surface of our slices of bread, depositing pulp and deliciousness on each bite. The more I squish my tomato, the more juicy redness I get to enjoy on my bread – and if I want a more garlicky snap I scrape the crushed clove across the scratchy toast.  Who needs butter?  Along with my S&P and my chimmichurri, I bring this out to my deck to start the steaks.

The asparagus goes on first – because we like the heads to get nice and crispy.  Clayton lays them carefully across Little Red’s grate and starts them roasting for about 10 minutes.

While my spears roast, I sit back and enjoy the best thing about our tiny little apartment among the treetops: our view.  I know it might not look like much to many of you, dear readers, but it’s MINE – and the exorbitant amount of money we spent on our 592 sq ft apartment in Cambridge, MA, was paid to secure this piece of sky.

In a few months, our tomato bushes will start bearing fruit; until then I love the trees and Easter egg colored buildings that surround us.

Our southern view.  When the Red Sox are playing, we can hear the game from here, and watch it on the DirectTV blimp that floats overhead.

After my 10 minutes have passed, it’s time to throw the steaks on the grill.

After 5 minutes on this side, Clayton starts the delicate task of rolling the asparagus spears over, pulling them to the front of the grill …

… so he can flip the steaks over and onto the back of the grill, where the electric heating coil can be raised slightly to sear the meat even more effectively.  We close the lid and let this sizzle for about 8 minutes, or until the steaks are a perfect medium rare.

My bed of crispy, seared asparagus spears serves as the base for my tender, grilled steaks and a healthy slopping of tangy, sharp, savory chimmichurri sauce.  The crunchy, garlicky, tomato bread pairs perfectly with the juicy beef and snappy flavors.  A light, simple meal with a complex set of flavors — just what our first night of summer demanded.  And this is one kind of directive I never mind obeying — the “eat something good” kind.