Beef with…pickles? Are you kidding me?

Nope. It’s called Rouladen. Or in my case, Rouladen that isn’t actually rolled. And it’s delicious.  One of those wonderful stews that takes what appears to be a contrary list of ingredients and somehow, with a little time, manages to become something wonderful. My Austrian grandmother used to make it. She was one of those cooks who made everything without a recipe, so a couple decades ago one of my aunts stood over her at the stove, night after night for months, writing down everything she did. The recipe I’m giving you is the one from my grandmother’s “cookbook”– a binder of Xeroxed pages that every household in the family has squirreled away in their kitchen. The only difference is I’ve added a little chicken broth instead of the traditional Depression era water.

I made a huge vat of it over Christmas for a family dinner last year—enough for 12 hungry adults because I wanted leftovers — and the eight of us, with eight different dietary preferences, nearly licked the platter clean. No leftovers to speak of. Even my sister, who isn’t much for beef, chowed down. It’s that good.

Rouladen–Unrolled and delicious

  • 1-1/2 lbs beef round or London broil cut in ¼ inch thick strips. Most butchers will cut it for you.  If you’re in a neighborhood where there are German residents, they’ll know what rouladen is. If not, just tell them you’re making brigole, the Italian stew, and you won’t have to bother explaining how you want the meat cut. (Note, I admit here to getting lazy sometimes and just cutting up cheap pot-roasts into slabs of whatever size and thickness my knife makes. I aim for long flat strips but let’s be real, I get chunks. Eh.  So long as you have pieces with long flat sides to brown, it does the job.)
  • 1 regular old yellow onion cut in strips or diced. Whatever floats your boat.
  • Dijon mustard (I use Grey Poupon or, as I call it, the big grey poop. Probably they won’t be hiring me to do their marketing any time soon.)
  • Dill pickles—not kosher or anything fancy. Just your cheap, supermarket brand dills.
  • No-salt-added chicken broth. Or low salt if you can’t find the former. Or a mixture of beef and chicken broth. Do not add all beef broth or it will taste as if it came from a can. Ick. if you’re feeling v. industrious, make your own beef or chicken broth, but don’t flavor it up with a lot of herbs.
  • Token amounts of pepper, flour, butter, vegetable oil (I use grapeseed oil, as it doesn’t have a taste, is cheap where I live, and takes some abuse before it burns).

What to do: Pat the meat dry with paper towels, brush with Dijon mustard on one side and sprinkle with black pepper. Brown meat on both sides in a little vegetable oil. Remove.  Brown onions. Deglaze pan (scrape up brown bits) with a couple cups of broth.

At this stage, you can either dump everything into casserole, slap on the cover and throw it into a 325 oven. Or you can put the beef back in the pan, plop on a lid and leave it slowly simmering on low on the stove top. After 45 minutes or so, slice the pickles in quarters—3 or 4 pickles depending on size—you should have a good handful or two. If you are using low-salt broth instead of the no-salt-added, you can rinse the pickles first to get rid of some of the salt. (Though some salt-lovers will love going full strength salt all the way.) Add pickles to sauce. Continue cooking for another 30-45 minutes or until beef is tender.

The gravy will be thin. You can thicken it.  Mix 2 tbs of soft butter with 2tbs of flour in a bowl until you have mush. Put a quarter cup of gravy into a cup or bowl and mix in the flour/butter mixture until you have a paste. Stir this back into the stew and bring the stew back to a simmer.

Serve with rice, dumplings or noodles. Green beans and carrots go well with this. The recipe can easily be doubled, tripled or quadrupled. (As I did last Christmas).  You can also brown up up a beef bone and throw it in to the broth for flavoring.

I am not kidding, and I can’t explain why it is the case, but this is to die for. (Note, I stole a rouladen-like picture off the internet because I never think to take pictures while I’m cooking.)

This is part of a holiday recipe blog hop! Hop here to see more holiday recipes from authors who should be writing their next book but are tinkering in the kitchen instead!

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(Mis-) Naming your pet

We had this cat, Fuzzy. No, I did not name her. I would not have named her something so insipid, so…generic. In my family, we like to get a feel for the cat’s personality before naming him or her. (Unfortunately, this often leads to confusion, as the cat’s name tends to change over time as we get to know him or her better.)

Anyway, the point is. my cat’s personality was not the sort that goes with “Fuzzy”. “Fuzzy” belongs to a sweet cat. A nice cat. The sort that sits on your lap and purrs.

THIS cat was more the sort to sit on someone else’s lap and purr, just to stick it to you. And she’s not cute the way a name like Fuzzy would imply. Frankly, she was much, MUCH better looking than that. You know that euphemism about someone having a “good personality”? Well Fuzzy was the reverse. She had a terrible personality. We kept her because she was so darned good-looking. She was a ridiculously cute cat.

Eventually, after a few years of spurning, we got over her blinding cuteness, stopped calling her Fuzzy and started calling her by the name that went with her personality: That Little Turd.

But even that name didn’t last forever. As will happen, The Little Turd got old and her kidneys went on the blink. Which means I had to give her (foul tasting) meds twice a day and inject her with some stuff. As you might imagine, there was a lot of hiding under furniture and complaining. Often by me. We changed her name to Cranky Pants. That lasted about a minute, until we got caught in the death ray of her glare at being, once again, named something insipid. She became known from then on as Bitter Butt.

About that time I moved. I was good. I read all the books. I bought her treats and crooned at her. I bought two litter boxes so Bitter Butt could have her pick. And how did she respond? How did she show her gratitude?

Spite peeing. She never used the litter boxes unless it was as a place to stand while she went off the side. She hit the bathroom rugs, so you’d get a little damp surprise under your feet if you had to go in the middle of the night. She went inside closets. On luggage, towels, and electronics. She particularly enjoyed peeing on iPods. I don’t have an iPod. But she could sense it from two rooms away if a guest brought one in the house and was stupid enough to leave it unattended.

You might be reading this and thinking, “Oh that poor sweet dear kitty! So traumatized at illness and moving.” That just goes to show you’re a total sucker for a pretty face. “She was just expressing her feelings,” you insist.

Of course Bitter Butt was expressing her feelings! The feeling she was expressing most often was enjoyment in watching me me get down on my hands and knees and scrub up after her, coughing my way through thick vinegar clouds. I could tell because off in the distance, I could hear that rarest of all Fuzzy sounds: her purring. The little turd.

Anyone else gravely mis-named a pet?

How I fell out of love with Jake Gyllenhaal and why I still think Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is dreamy

For those of you don’t recognize the latter name right off, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai was “Broken Sword” in the movie  Hero and now plays Mr. Lee in Lust, Caution. I fell in crush with him when I saw him in Hero.  He’s just gorgeous. He’s got the long hair going on and enough quiet charisma to set a screen on fire. Very dangerous, given all the rapturous sighing going on in the audience. (Though if the conflagration were to set the multiplex on fire, the fire department would come, and I’m sure the audience would be happy to transfer their affection from hot actor to hot firefighters.  But I digress.)

I’ve had a crush on Tony Leung Chiu-Wai for years now. I didn’t realize how unusual it was for me to keep an actor in my theoretical “Five people you get to cheat with” list (Oh, come on. Everyone has a list.) until this morning when I saw an ad in the paper for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Rendition. Instead of going “Jake Gyllenhaal! He’s so dreamy,” as would have back when Brokeback was still on people’s tongues,  I shrugged and flipped the page to Doonesbury.

The sort of falling out of crush happens a lot to me, and I wondered why.  The simple answer is “over exposure.” But that’s a little facile. I think the answer is that I don’t ever really have a crush on the actor, but the character he is playing. When I see an actor outside a movie, in an interview where he’s deliberately holding back personal information (for good reason), the actor goes from 3-D, surround-sound Technicolor to cardboard facsimile.  And though crushes are two-dimensional in nature, I can’t be sustained by a piece of cardboard for long.

But Tony Leung Chiu-Wai lives in China, and while I’m sure he does the usual cardboard cutout interviews there, I never see them. So he is always Broken Sword. (Or some other rich, gorgeous character like Mr. Lee he’s now playing in Lust, Caution. But I haven’t seen it, so, he’s still Broken Sword in my heart.) Broken Sword. Shuddery indrawn breath. Flutter of lashes. Sigh. 

 

What’s on your coffee mug?

Everyone has a favorite coffee mug.

I maintain that the mug you choose says something about you, or at least about the day your having.

When I was in college and in the the worst ever 8 am math class (Modern Abstract Algebra–shudder!), my mug sported a lovely pastoral Christmas scene. The mug was a holiday gift from my roommate, who had broken all the rest of my mugs and who thought I needed cheering. It was cheerful. It held coffee. It was fine. Until I lifted it up and it jangled out a Christmas tune. Loudly.

Professor: “There is an element e such that for all a in R–”

Liz’s coffee mug: “Oh! The weather outside is frightful…”

Liz: (Muffled)”Crap.”

Professor: “A times e equals e times a–”

What Liz Hears: “Blah blah blah blah”

Liz: (internal) “Must…have…caffeine.”

Liz’s coffee mug: “But the fire is so delightful–”

Liz: (Muffled) “Crap!”

Professor turns from board and sweeps baleful glance over classroom. Liz has yet to have a sip of coffee…

Professor: (going back to writing on board) “Equals a, then the–”

Liz’s coffee mug: “And since we’ve no place to goooo”

Professor: “Miss Jasper, would you please turn off your coffee mug? Some of us are trying to learn.”

Liz: “Sorry, professor.”

Liz’s brain: “Caffeine! Caffeine! Now! Now! NOW!”

Liz’s mug: “Let it snooooowwww.”

Liz: “Crap! I mean…Whoops! Sorry, professor. I thought if I covered the bottom it wouldn’t sing–nevermind. Sorry. Won’t happen again.”

Liz: (internal) sigh!

Professor: “Blah, blah, blah, Q.E.D.”

Thankfully, for all concerned, my coffee always went cold and undrunk in that mug so it was only a matter of time that I hit desperation and stuck it in the microwave to reheat and fried the music chip.

Which brings me to the coffee mug I am using today. Today I have lots of mug choices. Also, today I have roofers overhead. So far as I can tell, they’ve got fifty 400-lb linebackers up there with oversized power tools, nails the size of baseball bats, and cement boots.

Which means I am desperately clutching my Shakespearean slurs mug and trying to get coffee down my throat.

(Good gad what are they using now? The hammer of Thor?)

In between gulps I’m muttering the rudest slurs on the mug that I can find. “Canker-blossom!” I yell at the ceiling. “Roast meat for worms!”

The slurs seem inadequate. I’m going to do what murder mystery writers do. And, frankly, what I’m sure Shakespeare would have done, at the very least, if he’d had to deal with this kind of stuff. I’m going to fire up my pen and kill them off.

(First posted at The Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers blog Jan 2008)

 

Blogging about…stuff

I used to blog. A lot. At least it felt like it. I used to have my posts archived, as a service to anyone stupendously bored at work, but when I moved my website, I lost all the archives. So I’m reposting them here and in time they’ll be archived with this site.  Just in case anyone was wondering what the heck I’m doing posting old stuff on a new blog. I’m sure there are more direct ways of doing this, but I don’t know them, so I’m being…creative.

(The things authors do when they’re busy writing their next novel!)

Cranky Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don’t know what the rest of you were doing this morning. Probably you were having a wonderfully relaxing time reading the Sunday paper and lingering over that second cup of coffee and third pancake.  At least I hope you were doing something nice like that to help out the global Sunday morning average while I was on the phone with computer technical support.

I am cranky.

When I’m in a foul mood, I bake.  Usually cookies.  And today, I’ll be making chocolate chip. Now, my mother says chocolate chip cookies are boring because everybody makes them. I disagree.  I think the reason they’re boring is because most people don’t make very good ones. And while normally I would very tactfully opine that no one who reads this blog could possibly be the sort to make less than perfect chocolate chip cookies, I lost all tact about 45 minutes ago when I was put on hold for the fifth time. So, here, for anyone else who may be having a day like mine, is a recipe for GOOD chocolate chip cookies. The sort you need after an hour and a half with technical support.

LIZ JASPER’S CRANKY DAY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Preheat oven to 375. Fahrenheit.  If your oven thermometer only works in Celsius, you’re on your own for the conversion.  I’m in no mood to look it up for you.

INGREDIENTS:

  • TWO STICKS NUCOA MARGARINE.  I’m sure other brands of margarine are fine, but this one is superlative.  Get it. It’s cheap and you can always stick the other two cubes in the freezer for next time. Vegetable shortening is tasteless and leaves a nasty coating on the roof of your mouth.  Butter is what you need for shortbread and such, but frankly it gives drop cookies the wrong consistency. I had a hard time accepting margarine was good for anything, but it is what you want for this sort of cookie.
  • A SCANT 1/2 CUP WHITE SUGAR.
  • 3/4 CUP BROWN SUGAR. If you have problems with your brown sugar getting hard, store it in a plastic bag in the fridge
  • 1 TEASPOON VANILLA EXTRACT
  • 1 EGG (room temp is nice, but if you just took one out of the fridge and don’t want to wait, don’t worry about it. You’re making cookies, not negotiating world peace.)
  • 2 AND ¼ C. all-purpose AT FLOUR. (I use 1 c. all-purpose flour and 1 and ¼ c. whole wheat pastry flour.  You’d think adding whole wheat flour would make the cookies heavy and icky tasting, but the whole wheat pastry flour is v. light and gives a nutty flavor. So far all tasters, even my “I only eat Wonder Bread” friends have preferred this blend to white flour alone. But if you don’t have the whole wheat pastry flour, don’t worry about it. And on the subject of white flour, get the unbleached. Who wants bleach in their food?)
  • 1 TEASPOON BAKING SODA
  • A TINY PINCH SALT
  • ½ HERSHEY’S BAR, GRATED (yes, you can leave this out if you don’t have it.  They’ll still be good.)
  • ONE BAG SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS. (I use Nestlé’s because that’s what I like, despite what I read about blind taste testing. Use whatever you like.)

Making them:

If your margarine isn’t nice and soft, nuke it in the microwave for five seconds and give it a stir. You can keep doing that until it’s good and soft. Stir in both sugars.

Add egg and vanilla and take out your aggressions on the batter until they’re both well incorporated. Stir in the grated chocolate.

In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and pinch of salt. If you’re feeling lazy, or the need to thwart authority, you can add the salt and baking soda directly to the batter, give it a mix, and then add the flour.

Open the bag of chocolate chips.  Take a good deep whiff.  Eat a few. They’re your cookies, and by gum if you want a few chocolate chips, you can darn well have them. Poor what’s left into the batter and give it a stir.

I line my cookie sheets with parchment paper because they no longer make aluminum cookie sheets and those heavy steel ones seem to work better with parchment paper. Also, the last ones I got had the manufactures information stuck to it with some glue like substance that didn’t fully come off the cookie sheet, no matter how hard I scrubbed, and though I’m sure it’s long gone by now, I don’t particularly want to eat even a trace of it. I slit my sister’s Silpat (sp? Eh, who cares.) sheets once with a spatula and ruined them, so obviously I don’t go that route. So, parchment paper. Stick blobs of dough on the cookie sheet. My blobs are about the size of a fat, lumpy walnut. I put about 12 on a cookie sheet. Put it in the oven.

After seven or eight minutes, give your cookies a check. If you like them chewy, take them out when they’re still white and a little raw in the middle.  I take them out a few minutes after that, when they’re nice and brown on the edges but still a little pale in the middle. This recipe turns out cookies that are chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Slide them off onto brown paper grocery bags. I rip my paper bags (la la la, thinking of you, tech support) and use the inside as Lord only knows what’s in that ink they use.

Cookies are best between about five minutes and a half-hour after you’ve taking them out of the oven. The first hardening has set in. The second one, which eventually turns your cookies soft and stale, starts in after about a half hour. But that’s okay.  If you’ve had a crappy day, there won’t be any cookies left after half-hour.  If there are, these freeze really well. When they’re totally cool, toss in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer.  If you pop them in the toaster oven for about a minute until they defrost, they’ll taste as if you just taken them out of the oven.

I can only hope no one besides me has to make these today.

(Original posting on Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers blog 10/2007)