Recipe: Grilled Beef Heart Peruvian-Style (Antichuchos)

Antichuchos Platito

Antichuchos (grilled beef heart) with traditional accompaniments of red and green aji sauces and chunks of corn and potato

This is the classic Peruvian street food, made with a taste-alike marinade created from ketchup and chili powder to replace the native Aji Panca. The sauce has a nice balance of sweet/tangy/spicy and would be good with other beef cuts or chicken as well. Serves 4-6.

1 beef heart, 2-3 pounds
2 T ketchup
2 T chili powder (I used 2/3 Tone brand, a mild version, and 1/3 chipotle)
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
6 T red wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Method: Cut the heart into bite-size pieces, discarding fat and connective tissue. Mix marinade ingredients and add the heart chunks, then marinate at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. Thread the chunk onto skewers (in Peru these are traditionally wood skewers, which need to be soaked in water first so they don’t catch fire). Grill until lightly charred, turning once. This should take less than 10 minutes on a medium flame; don’t overcook. Traditionally antichuchos are served with some mild dipping sauces (recipes to follow) and a chunk of corn and some boiled potatoes.

Note: With the skyrocketing cost of brisket, I’ve been looking for other meats to throw on the grill. Beef heart is a good solution. I had to special order it from my butcher, but it was just $4/pound and about 75% edible lean meat. Once it’s cooked, your guests will likely not recognize it as heart unless you tell them; it tastes like a tender steak though it’s red all the way through.

If you want to try the authentic recipe (or see how close my taste-alike version is), Aji Panca paste is available in jars from Amazon. It has a pleasant tangy/sweet flavor base which is how I came up with the ketchup substitution. To make the authentic version, substitute 6 T Aji Panca paste for the ketchup and chili powder and reduce vinegar to 4 T.

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Food for Thought: Chef Jacques La Merde

A typical Chef Merde creation

Dunkin Munchkins, Snickers haché, birthday Oreo soil on Shamrock Shake creme

Hah! On this Instagram feed, a wise guy who calls himself Jacques La Merde creates food porn by disasembling junk food and reconstructing it with tweezers, then shooting it with a big lens. See if you can recognize the Pop-Tarts®, gummmies, Hungry Man™ dinners and “Doritos© dirt” masquerading as real food.

There’s absolutely nothing redeeming about any of this, unless it disabuses you of the idea that composed food that looks beautiful is automatically good to eat. Check it out.

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Recipe: Carrot Pineapple Jello

Carrot Pineapple Jello

Carrot Pineapple Jello with a squirt of Kewpie mayo

I was going to share my family’s Southern recipe until I found this version which really is superior. I’ve only made minor tweaks for better management of proportions. Serves 8.

1 3-oz package jello, lemon or orange flavor (we traditionally used orange, but I think lemon is better)
1 c boiling water
1/2 c ice water
1/2 c pineapple juice
1/4 c crushed pineapple from can (do not use fresh pineapple)
1/2 t lemon juice
pinch salt
1 c grated* carrots

Method: Pour boiling water over jello in a glass or metal bowl and stir until jello is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add salt, lemon juice, ice water and pineapple juice and stir to mix. Refrigerate 45 minutes until jello is just beginning to set up. Transfer to a mold or flat-bottom glass tray and stir in carrots and pineapple. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. Cut into serving pieces (if it sticks to the pan, place it briefly in a tray of hot water) and top with a bit of mayo (ideally Kewpie brand) before serving as salad course or dessert.

* Grate the carrots with the stems facing into your box grater or other device. If you do it the long way you’ll end up with beautiful long strands which are impractical to cut and serve.

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Recipe: Mamo’s Carrot Raisin Slaw

Carrot Raisin Slaw

Carrot Raisin Slaw

A very good and very simple recipe that often made its appearance at holiday buffets when I was growing up in Dallas. Serves 8-12.

4 c grated carrots
1 c raisins/currants/golden raisins in any combination
¼ c mayonnaise
2 T sugar
2 T lemon juice

Method: combine all ingredients and refrigerate 2 hours or more to allow flavors to develop.

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How to get big(ger) holes in your baguettes

Holes cross section

Slice on the right has bigger holes/more open crumb

Big, lacy holes are a right of passage in baguette making. Big holes mean an airy, well-made loaf with a chewy, tasty crumb. Contributing factors to big holes may include very high hydration dough, extremely careful dough handling, years of experience or all of the above. Like oven steam, big holes are a goal that can elude the home baker.

Today I discovered a short cut which, while not producing the biggest holes I’ve ever seen, definitely is a step in the right direction. I found this while watching a video on baguette making which had recently been posted to to Breadtopia. While I didn’t agree with some of the other techniques, and the loaf this baker produced actually didn’t have big holes, it gave me an idea for preshaping the dough, the step before it’s actually rolled out into baguettes.

Typically I preshape my dough into a ball… I use Jeffrey Hamelman’s “gingerbread man” technique to flatten a disk, fold in the arms and legs, then flip it over and shape into a ball tucking the open surfaces tight inside. The purpose of this is simply to provide a sealed surface so air has less chance of getting out as the dough expands. But the Breadtopia demo does something different. The baker pulls the unshaped dough piece out into a rectangle, then folds in the sides to meet in the middle, then folds from top and bottom like a business letter and finally shapes into a log. This adds a number of layers of lamination, each of which can trap some air. It’s the way I’ll be shaping my baguettes from now on.

300 g lump of dough

Unshaped dough at 300 g. The scrap on the top is to bring it up to weight.

Stretch dough sideways

Pull it out into a rectangle…

First side fld

Now fold in from one side so the fold meets in the center

Second fold

Fold in from the right, so it looks like this

Business letter fold

Now fold 1/3 down from the top and 1/3 up from the bottom like a business letter

Shaped log

Flip it over, seam side down, and shape gently into a log

Compare log to ball

Three logs compared to one traditional ball at upper right

Holes cross sectoin

Cross section with the open crumb on the bottom

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How to steam bread in a home oven

Steamed baguette closeup

Variegated color, nice “ears” and blisters are benefits of oven steam

Every home baker tries to get more steam into his/her home oven, and most always we fall short. I’ve tried spraying water on the oven walls, pouring water into a cookie sheet in the bottom of the oven, dousing the loaves themselves with water as they go in among other strategies and never been satisfied. This is especially frustrating because any of us can produce perfectly steamed boules simply by cooking them in a cast iron dutch oven and leaving the lid on for the first 20-25 minutes of the bake.

Steam and no steam

Baguette at top baked without steam, on bottom with steam

Today I had the inspiration to try recreating the dutch oven environment with my baguettes by using a caterer’s aluminum tray as the lid over my half-sheet baking surface. The tray was the right width but a little long so I folded some aluminum foil over the ends. The tray was preheated along with the baking sheet and I sprayed my loaves and the inside of the tray with water as it went in, then again at 10 minutes for good measure, and removed the tray at 20 minutes to finish the bake.

Home made steam setup

My home made steam baking setup

The results were pretty, pretty good, definitely as good a crust as I’ve achieved on an open pan in my home oven. I’m going to continue to tinker with the fit of the tray and the baking sheet, maybe using some heat proof tape or just finding a pan that’s a better fit. But I’m very encouraged with this first effort.

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Why nitrites are so bad for you. (Or ARE they?)

Bacon strips

Top bacon strip has no nitrates, bottom has nitrates. Which is healthier? (Answer below)

A while back we examined “uncured” meat products and how they actually are cured, just with different methods than the traditional curing salts. We also talked about how those products can contain just as many nitrites as a package of Oscar Meyer bacon, yet can be labeled “no nitrates or nitrites added” because their nitrites come from celery powder, which the FDA classifies as a flavoring agent rather than a cure. But we stopped before defining why it’s so important to avoid nitrites (and nitrates, which turn into nitrites through fermentation) in the first place.

Well, maybe it’s not that important. Maybe nitrites are not that bad. After all, they’re derived from nitrogen which is one of the common elements in nature and fundamental to plant growth. The Piggery has a great bar chart on this blog post, showing that leafy greens like kale contain far more nitrites than cured meats.

Last time we talked about a nitrite byproduct called nitrosamide, which indeed has been shown to be carcinogenic. It used to be found in burnt bacon, then the bacon industry changed its curing method so the nitrites are reduced before the bacon cooks and nitrosamides have less opportunity to form. Nitrosamides are also found naturally in our stomachs (as a byproduct of digesting nitrites) and in beer. So if you’re worried about getting sick from food you can probably find better things to worry about—like getting botulism from uncured meat.

In a way this issue can be seen as an instance of no harm, no foul. Concerned consumers think they’re buying food without nitrites, which they aren’t. But they think nitrites are bad for them, which they aren’t. However, deceptive marketing practices make you wonder what else the marketers being disingenuous about.

I’m specifically thinking of this FAQ on the Applegate website, to which I’ll add some italics for emphasis:

In the early 1900’s, scientists discovered how to make sodium nitrite synthetically. Since this factory process was easily standardized, synthetic nitrite became popular. Today, these industrial chemicals are also used in products like fertilizer, pyrotechnics and rocket propellant, and can contain heavy metals, arsenic and lead.

But not to worry! Applegate products never contain synthetic sodium nitrite. We cure meat using nitrates found in nature – in celery, specifically. When mixed with a culture starter, the natural nitrates in celery juice turn to nitrites and achieve the desirable results (better flavor and appearance) without the factory side effects.

See what they did there? They don’t claim that “synthetic sodium nitrate” is different from “natural nitrate”. They can’t, because it’s chemically identical. But they build a case for guilt by association. Synthetic sodium nitrate (whatever that is) is used in making fertilizer and rocket fuel (!) which can contain bad stuff like heavy metals or even arsenic (!!). Ipso facto, nitrates not from a natural source may also contain those poisons, and it’s better to avoid the “factory side effects”. What factory side effects? See what they did there?

Maybe Applegate Farms just hired an overeager copywriter—because according to this New York Times article they’ve also been active in lobbying the U.S.D.A. for more accurate labeling standards. But don’t hold your breath. The Times article was written in 2011, and nothing has changed.

Paleo Bacon

Answer: neither. But this zero-nitrites paleo bacon is pretty good.

Meanwhile, I found one bacon that’s completely free of nitrates, natural or synthetic. The cure is based on plain old sodium chloride, AKA table salt. It’s also got lots of saturated fat, so don’t think of it as healthy. (The package helpfully tells us it’s “not a low calorie food”.) But it ain’t bad.

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Recipe: No-Knead Pizza Dough (in pictures)

Yeast and water

Add yeast (1/4 t if making tonight, 1/8 t if making tomorrow) to 340 g water (about 1 1/2 c)

Add flour

Add 500 g (3 1/2 c) all purpose flour

Before Autolyse

Mix flour and water with a spoon (or your hands) so water is absorbed by the flour. Distribute 1 1/2 t salt over the top, but don’t mix in yet. Let rest 20 minutes. (autolyse)

This is what it looks like after.... the flour and water are already working together with no effort from you.

This is what it looks like after…. the flour and water are already working together with no effort from you. Now, moisten your hands and work the dough to get out any lumps.

Dough after Rising

Cover and let proof till doubled in size. 4 hours for 1/4 t yeast, overnight if using 1/8 t. I let this one get away from me a bit. Notice those nice bubbles.

Dough Shaped and Unshaped

Divide the dough into quarters. Shape each piece into a smooth disk like the lower left example, tucking under any rough pieces. Wrap in plastic wrap until 2 hours before baking.

No knead dough flattened

Place one of the dough balls on a silicon baking sheet. Flatten it with your hands, then use your fingers to push it out to the edges with uniform thinness. When you’re done, wait a few minutes and resume. The dough will further expand. If it gets so thin a hole appears, repair it with a piece from another part of the pizza.

No Knead Cheese Pizza in Progress

Rub the dough with olive oil, then add tomato sauce, then your choice of toppings starting with the cheese (or maybe just cheese)

No Knead Cheese Pizza, Done!

Transfer the silicone sheet to a preheated pizza stone or upside-down cookie sheet in a preheated 500 degree oven. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is brown around the edges and on bottom. Serve promptly.

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A visit to the Casola Dining Room at SCCC (Schenectady County Community College)

SCCC table setting

Welcome to Casola Dining Room at SCCC

There are two things that the Casola Dining Room has in common with the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley. First, you have to call exactly two weeks in advance of your desired dining date and time to have any hope of a reservation. And second, if you do score a table, you are going to have an excellent meal.

Salad Nicoise

First course in the Provence themed menu: Salad Nicoise

Casola Dining Room is the showcase of Schenectady County Community College’s Culinary Arts Program. Students who have completed three foundation courses work together on a menu that is American Regional in the fall, International in the spring. (It changes every week, but those are the overarching themes.)

There are two seatings at lunch and two at dinner and you will get attentive service in a white-tablecloth setting as you enjoy a carefully prepared appetizer, entrée and dessert for the grand sum of $16 (plus a scholarship surcharge at dinner). No tax, no tipping (though you can, and should, leave something extra which goes to the program) and you can bring alcoholic beverages for a modest corkage fee.



SCCC is a treasure in Upstate New York that has spawned countless chefs and front-of-house folks who are broadly distributed throughout a region filled with eateries. Because of the known quality and work ethic of its graduates, some of the best establishments make a practice of focusing their hiring on SCCC and those grads, in turn, hire their fellow students. Between 550 and 650 students are in attendance at any given time, pursuing a two-year associate’s degree path that can lead them to hospitality or casino management as well as culinary arts. If you attend full time, the entire two years will cost less than $7000. That’s a ridiculous bargain.

Almond Pear Tart

Almond Pear Tart (look closely for some spun sugar latticework)

My server mentioned she was a first year student which caused me to ask Instructor Jay Larkin (a hotel management specialist whose classes are always full) about prerequisites for front-of-house staff. He had a great response which I’ll share in full:

For the service class there are no prerequisites and this is both a challenge and a blessing. The challenges come in the form of nervousness on the part of the student serving the guest for the first time as it truly can be the first time they have experienced fine dining service as a server or even as a guest. The blessing comes by way of no preformed habits to modify in service techniques. Many “seasoned” professionals have come through the program only to find their skills are not as well honed as once thought. We instruct at a high level of service to make any service thereafter easier to understand.

I think that gives you a good idea of why this program is so special and so successful. If you’re planning a visit to Upstate New York, consider putting Casola Dining Room on your itinerary. Be sure to check schedule because they only serve during school semesters. And don’t fail to call exactly 2 weeks in advance.

For the current Casola Dining Room menu, check here. For reservations call (518) 381-1391. And if you know someone who is ready to consider a career in cooking or hospitality, send them to the SCCC Culinary home page.  (Remind them if you learn to cook for a living, you’ll likely always be able to find a job, and you’ll likely never go hungry.)

P.S. There are students of all ages at CCC including lots of mid-life career changers. Jay and Dean of Students David Brough and Supervising Instructor
Rocco Verrigni told me about one student who completed the curriculum while still in high school, and another who got her certification at age 72 and is now pastry chef at one of Albany’s most prestigious restaurants. So no excuses. Come on down!

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Recipe: Tunisian Chickpea Salad

Tunisian Chickpea Salad

Reverse engineered Tunisian Chickpea Salad, with the original at left

This is my reverse engineering of the wonderful Tunisian salad from Healthy Living Market. The flavors and textures are nicely balanced and the unexpected spices (ground coriander and caraway) add a note of mystery. Serves 8.

2 c cooked chickpeas (canned, or prepared from approximately 7/8 c dried)
1 c carrots (about 4 medium), peeled and grated
1/4 c currants
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley, leaves only, or a combination
1 1/2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1 T fresh squeezed orange juice (optional, but nice if you have it)
1 t Kosher salt
1/8 t ground black pepper
1 1/2 t caraway seeds
t t ground coriander, or to taste*
1/8-1/4 t cayenne**

Method: Add all ingredients to a glass, metal or ceramic bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Allow flavors to develop for an hour or more, then adjust spicing to your preference. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

* Ground coriander quickly loses its flavor, so get a fresh batch for this recipe. Start with 2 t then add more if needed. It should contribute a prominent but not overpowering taste.
* 1/8 t will be nicely peppery while 1/4 t will give you something bordering on “hot” which is how Healthy Living serves it.

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