Sopa de Albondigas

sopa 2

This was inspired by by sister from another mister’s mother… yes, you heard me right. My best friend’s mother, Josie, used to have a pot of soup or beans or something on the stove all the time… which was made living next door quite delightful! I recently discovered a genuine Mexican market up the street from me (which I’ve missed since moving to Nashville from Los Angeles) and I went a little crazy shopping. Seriously – support local vendors any time you can. I mean, FIVE limes for $1.00 and they’re .85 each at Kroger! With the exception of the seasonings (which I already had) I got every ingredient listed below at my new favorite market. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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Fall-apart Pot Roast


Who doesn’t love pot roast? Well, I suppose some of my vegetarian friends are not fans, but most everyone else I know deems pot roast as the ultimate comfort food. However, I have heard many friends complain that they have not been successful… that often the meat comes out tough!

Contrary to belief, tough pot roast is not a result of over-cooking… but of UNDER-cooking! And the science of that is not always consistent. For example, the rule of thumb is to cook low and slow, about 1 hour per pound of meat. But temperatures in ovens vary and sometimes the weather can throw everything off… so shoot for an hour per pound, but if it’s not falling apart tender then put it back in and check it every 20 minutes. I had a small 2lb roast this time, yet it took 3 hours. You just never know. But the longer in the oven the more the connective tissues break down and turn into succulent deliciousness.

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Rosemary, Sage & Shiraz Beef Tips w/Herbed Goat Cheese Dumplings

The secret to cooking with wine, especially red wine, is to use one that you think tastes good when drinking it by the glass. Many people make the mistake of cooking with a wine that’s been open too long and has become a little bitter. I appreciate not wanting to waste it.. but if it tastes bad in the glass… it’s going to taste bad in your food. So, please – toss that sour stuff out.  You don’t have to buy anything super expensive… the little Shiraz I used for this stew was only $7.99 a bottle!


For the Stew
(serves 4-6)

2 pounds beef, cubed (I use locally-grown grass-fed beef from Whole Foods – Stew cut)
1-2 cups flour
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup butter or olive oil
2 cups wine – I used a Shiraz (wait, make it 3 cups – 1 for drinking while cooking)
5 cups beef stock
5 stalks celery, sliced
1 medium fennel bulb – cored & sliced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 medium red potatoes, cubed
2 bay leaves – whole
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary – whole
4-5 fresh sage leaves – whole
pepper – a pinch to taste

For the Dumplings:
2.5 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons each of fresh parsley, sage and thyme – finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 cups chicken stock (you can use beef stock if you have leftover, but chicken is lighter and doesn’t discolor the dumplings).

There is a lot of chopping and mixing required to prepare this dish. So it’s a perfect example of when Mise en Place would be a necessary discipline. 

Ready To Cook?

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt and mix well. In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk to the eggs. Add the egg/milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the goat cheese and the herbs. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Have the stock boiling in a small saucepan. Make sure the sauce pan is small enough that the dumplings will have room to float. Using 2 tablespoons, drop the dumpling batter into the boiling stock. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the dumplings float to the surface. Remove the dumplings from the stock and place on a plate. To finish: Place the dumplings into the stew.

*Note: This is a fairly messy process. Do not be discouraged if your chicken stock is full of goo and looks disgusting. It will. The key is to leave the dumplings alone for 5 minutes so they can cook. The more you mess with them the more they’ll fall apart. I suggest reserving some of the stock to add after each batch. It’s probably best not to cook more than 3 at a time. Give them room in the pot.

In a large frying pan, heat 1/2 the butter or olive oil and sauté the celery, onion, potatoes and garlic until slightly browned. Set aside.

Combine flour, paprika, parsley and some pepper in a shallow bowl –  roll the beef in it until well coated on all sides. (TIP: Pat the beef dry with a paper towel and the flour mixture will stick better and your meat will brown. Meat will not brown if it is too wet. Julia Child was right!). Melt remaining butter or pour oil into in a large stew pot, and then add meat.

Sauté the meat until well browned. Make sure to have your pan well-heated – the key to a good sear is high heat. You only want the outside browned… not cooked all the way through. Add the previously prepared vegetables and sauté for about two minutes with the beef in the stew pot.

Add the wine, and sauté another three or four minutes.*

*This is when you would transfer the contents of your pot to a slow cooker if that is the method you’re using to make this stew. Otherwise, leave everything in your soup pot.

While the pot is hot, pour in the beef stock and the Bay Leaves, rosemary and sage and allow to simmer covered for about 2-3 hours in a preheated 300 degree oven. After this time the vegetables and beef should be very tender. You should be able to easily cut the meat using only a fork when it’s ready. TIP: I always thought I was cooking the meat too long which is why it was coming out tough – but actually I wasn’t cooking it long enough! It needs time for all those connective tissues to break down… so be patient!

At this point remove the lid, sift in any additional flour required to thicken to a desired consistency (use fresh flour – not from bowl), and allow the liquid to simmer roughly 30 minutes.

You may add pepper and salt to taste. But you shouldn’t have to if seasoned well. ;o) Serve with one dumpling per bowl of stew.

The Perfect Bite
The perfect bite for this stew consists of stacking your fork (yes, your fork… it’s thick enough to for-go the spoon if you’d like) with a piece of juicy meat, rich red potato, a bit of tangy celery and of course, be sure to include a chunk of the dumpling… so you can swirl it all around in the gravied-juices. I’m just sayin’… this may change your life a little.

The Perfect Pairing
There’s a fun little wine I recently came across called Luna Di Luna… it’s fun because none of their dual varietals are too overpowering or too weak. It’s kind of a wine you don’t have to worry about. Be sure to click on the link to their site and enjoy some groovy tunes.  Each varietal blend comes in solid colored bottles that take people by surprise and look great on the table. I paired this stew with the Merlot/Cab blend… which went perfectly with the hearty roasted beef and tangy goat cheese dumplings. Here in East Nashville I can find it for about $8.99 a bottle.

The Perfect Health
Did you know that a 6-ounce steak from a grass-fed steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer?  If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grass-fed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year! Read more here about the health benefits of eating grass-fed livestock. Also, I highly recommend seeing the movie Food, Inc. I can no longer just buy a hamburger at the drive-thru or pick up the cheapest chicken at WalMart or Kroger. It may be more expensive to get the grass-fed beef but it’s worth it and you can actually taste the difference!   Keep in mind that when buying free range chicken this is not what you think it means in the U.S. The only way to know how the chicken was raised is to buy from local farmers that you can get to know and trust.  That may not be an option for you… but just don’t be fooled into paying more by misleading labels and claims.

Big Daddy’s (& Little Debbie’s) Spicy Patties

I’ve made 2 trips to Jamaica and both times my favorite food memory has been a local favorite, Juici Patties. Spicy or mild, beef or chicken, ground to perfection with onions, garlic and spices… stuffed inside a flaky empanada-style pastry.

Oh. My. Word.4482984078_7b519eb3a0_z

Patties are found at most road-side Jerk Shacks throughout Jamaica – they can be a snack or a meal – whatever your pleasure. I finally found a little Jamaican restaurant in The Farmer’s Market here in Nashville, Jamaica Way… and they carry patties! They also serve curried goat, oxtail, and rice & peas…some of the prepared specialties once only found in Jamaica.

The other day, while watching the Food Network… Big Daddy’s House came on. Now I love me some Big Daddy… Aaron McCargo is not afraid of spice and heat. Using flavors from the Caribbean and South America… infusing them in some of our everyday dishes making them even more savory and exciting! Plus, he was The Next Food Network Star‘s Season 4 winner… and I love that. And what do you know? He was making patties!

So, all that to say, I took Big Daddy’s Spicy Beef Patty recipe and tweaked it to make it my own. I always want to give props if I try to copy someone’s recipe (highest form of flattery, right?)… but if you know me, you know I’m not good at following recipes verbatim. I always need to add a little somethin’ of my own…

1 pound lean ground beef or turkey (or try lentils and diced potato for a vegan version)
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic or garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon fine sea salt (add more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of African Hot Pepper (you can use dry Chipotle pepper if you can’t find the African Hot Pepper-which I found at the International Market in downtown Nashville)
2 teaspoons curry powder – divided
1 jalapeño, finely diced (include seeds for extra heat)
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup beef broth (or vegetable broth)
1 beaten egg (or flaxseed and water for vegan option)
1 tablespoon water
2 packages pre-made pie crust (Pillsbury are lard-free)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Sauté meat (or cooked lentils & potato) over medium heat, adding garlic, onions, paprika, thyme, 1 tsp curry powder, black pepper, African Hot Pepper and salt. Stir together, and then add the diced jalapeño. Be sure to mix thoroughly so you don’t get “hot spots” from all the spicy peppers. I use a potato masher to break up the filling so it starts becoming cohesive.

Remove from the heat, adding the bread crumbs and the broth. Stir well to combine and set aside to cool completely. Make sure mixture is cooled or it will start cooking the dough if you add it in while it’s still hot.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg, remaining curry powder and water in a small bowl. Set aside.

On a work surface, unroll the pie crusts and cut out 3-inch rounds using a cookie cutter (or a prep bowl rim as I did – see photo).

Add a hearty tablespoon of the filling onto each round. Fold over and press the edges with your fingers. Crimp the edges with a fork and transfer the patties to a baking sheet and brush the tops with the curry egg mixture.

TIP: I always use parchment paper on my baking sheets. It keeps things from sticking, no added calories from cooking sprays or greasing your tray. And helps food cook evenly because it acts as a buffer from contact with the metal tray.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.

The Perfect Bite
Now… it’s tempting to take a big ol’ bite as soon as they come out of the oven – the curry smell and the golden flaky pies are almost too much to resist! But be careful… they’re piping hot! Take my word for it, they WILL burn the roof of your mouth. Not that I did that or anything…

The Perfect Pairing
Sheerly by accident, I discovered a great pairing for these pies. While waiting for these delicious little babies to cool… I popped open a bottle of Barefoot Cellar’s Pinot Grigio Champagne. I was in the mood for celebrating the discovery of how to make one of my favorite foods. Why not champagne with a little street food? I mean, it’s made by Barefoot after all… so it warrants casual consuming. Anyway, this champagne is bright, slightly sweet and perfectly tames and soothes your pallet for your next bite of your spicy beef patty. And starting at $9.00 a bottle… it’s hard to beat.

Did You Know?
Jamaica is a culturally diverse country whose population most notably includes Africans, African-Europeans, and Chinese. Original Jamaican inhabitants, the Arawak and the Carib Indian tribes have established a rich variety of cooking styles and techniques, using the fresh produce native to the island. Although Caribs are known to be cannibals, they are known to spice raw meat and seafood using chili peppers, a staple in Jamaican cooking. Arawaks, on the other hand, devised a slow-cooking method of meat by placing it on a makeshift wooden grill over open fire. Food historians believe that this method is what pioneered barbecuing. Read here for more information of Jamaican cooking.

The Unagi Burger

This Japanese version of the burger is probably one of my favorites. It’s light and refreshing. You almost forget you’re eating a burger! Biting into a combination of fresh ginger, crisp cucumber and crunchy broccoli sprouts brings you a burst of surprising sweet and tangy goodness.

(makes 4 burgers)
2lbs ground sirloin beef (grass fed)
1/2 cup panko
1 egg
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup fresh ginger
1/2 cup green onions sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp of sesame oil
3/4 cup broccoli sprouts
*8 pcs of shaved cucumber ribbons (2 per burger)
4 whole wheat baker’s rollWasabi Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons wasabi paste

Mix first 7 ingredients together thoroughly… then add salt & pepper. Form patties and pat together well. Because of the volume of ingredients in these burgers… they will fall apart easily on the grill.

*If you don’t have a mandolin slicer, use your regular vegetable peeler and slice the cucumber lengthwise. Don’t peel the cucumber first, you want the dark green edges still on the strip. See here for more details.

Wasabi Dressing
Mix all ingredients well. Taste it and add a little more wasabi paste if you like it really spicy. This can be made ahead of time and last in the refrigerator for a week or more. I always make extra because it makes a great dip.

Ready To Cook?
When ready to grill burgers, test one of the patties to see if it is holding up on the grill and not falling apart. These are delicate burgers to cook. Be sure to coat grill with non-stick spray. If it’s falling apart too much, try browning it in a skillet first so the outside is a little done. B careful not to brown it too much or it’ll dry out on the grill.

Brush sesame oil on the inside of the split baker’s roll and toast on the upper or outer edges of grill. When rolls are lightly toasted, spread wasabi sauce on top bun and add broccoli sprouts. Place meat on bottom bun and 2 cucumber ribbons on top of meat. Carefully fold together and you have The Unagi Burger!

The Perfect Bite
I think the perfect bite here… is the first bite. When all those fresh ingredients explode in your mouth for the first time. But it’s a burger… every bite will be perfect.

The Perfect Pairing
As a side dish… opt for a bowl of edamame instead of fries or chips. And if you haven’t tried sake before… now might be a good time to try it. Gekkeikan Sake can be served chilled or warm. Serve in small demitasse cups if you don’t have sake cups on hand.

The Perfect Health
Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects. Read more here.
The Unagi Burger on FoodistaThe Unagi Burger