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Monthly Archives: February 2013

THE DEFINITIVE WAY TO COOK TRI-TIP

I don’t recall tri-tip being around when I was a kid. We certainly never had it when I was growing up; it only seemed to appear when I was an adult.  And apparently it wasn’t around, at least under that name and cut. According to good old Wikipedia:

In the United States, this cut was typically used for ground beef or sliced into steaks until the late 1950s… Shortly thereafter, it became a local specialty in Santa Maria, California… 

It has different names and cooking methods around the world. If you’re really interested – I don’t know why you would be, but if you are – you can look it up here.

About 20-25 years ago tri-tip suddenly started appearing at barbecues. It was something I always looked forward to and was nearly always bitterly disappointed by. It would have the shit cooked out of it and be grey and tough. You’d have to floss your teeth after eating it to get the stringy bits out. Great flavor but  like chewing on a dog’s tail, without the fur.

A few years ago I bought a tri-tip because it was on sale. I thought maybe it could be made into chili or carne asada.  On some long-forgotten website, I found directions for cooking tri-tip in the oven.  Thinking that even if it was a flop, I could still make the ruins into tacos, I tried it. I was instantly converted, yea verify the scales had fallen from my eyes and lo the voice of the turtle was heard in the land. Tri-tip CAN be modestly tender, juicy, and not overcooked. Done this way, it’s perfect every time. Big thanks and props to the person who posted this, whoever they are.

First: thoroughly preheat the oven to 450 degrees – let it preheat about 20 minutes.  If previously frozen, the tri-tip must be completely defrosted; then let sit at room temperature one to two hours. Don’t worry  – it won’t spoil.

Tri-tips don’t vary much in size. They’re about 3  to 4 pounds, not much bigger or smaller.

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Sometimes they have lot of fat across one side. You can slice this off if you want. I usually leave it on to protect the meat while it’s cooking, and also I don’t mind some fat, but suit yourself.

Here I have coated the tri-tip with spicy brown mustard and herbs de Provence plus lots of freshly ground black pepper. You could also marinate the tri-tip for 24 hours in your choice of marinades.  A great marinade with Mexican flavors might be a combination of tequila, chopped cilantro, ground cumin seed, olive oil, salt, and a crumbled dried chipotle pepper (or one from a can of chipotles in adobo). For tastes more associated with a Greek lamb dish, try a combination of red wine and/or lemon juice, crushed garlic, olive oil, rosemary, and pepper. Or apply a dry rub, or just salt and pepper the meat. Your choice. What I would not do is  apply any sweet sauce like a commercial barbecue sauce, because it will burn like crazy.

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Put the tri-tip on a baking sheet/cookie sheet and put in the 450 oven for 20 minutes.

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After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and roast the meat another 30 minutes.

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Now: wrap the tri-tip completely in aluminum foil, and let sit 30 minutes.

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After 30 minutes, place on a platter and unwrap, carefully letting any juices pour onto the platter.

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This is great with horseradish and mustard. To go with, serve a tomato-based dish like lentils and salsa, stewed tomatoes, or a tomato salad, plus a starchy dish… mashed potatoes are always good with beef, but creamy polenta would be delicious too.

If you have leftovers, this makes great tacos, or is even better tucked into pita bread with chopped tomato-cucumber-lettuce-onion salad, plus a big spoonful of yogurt.

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REALLY SIMPLE CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE

I hate it when recipes have cutesey-poo names.  You know what I mean. Prune Whip Prunella. Wacky Cake. Flippin’ Flapjacks. Giddy-Up Gerbils. That sort of thing.  If I serve one of those concoctions, I rename it.

When my mother was young, there was a popular recipe for a cake called Booze Cake, which she said “smelled just like someone threw up on it,” but was really good, or so she said. Many years later the local Ladies’ Auxilary produced The World’s Worst Cookbook (in which the editor had an unhealthy obsession with semi-colons) and included the Booze Cake, only in deference to local tender sensibiilties renamed it Boose Cake. Maybe someday I’ll make it.

Anyway. Tonight I had a bad jones for chocolate layer cake. I found one in The Doubleday Cookbook (which is, by the way, a really good basic all-purpose cookbook) – Crazy Chocolate Cake. It turned out surprisingly well.  Here it is, slightly adapted and renamed.

SIMPLE CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE

Preheat over to 325. Grease two 9″ cake pans.

Take a large mixing bowl and put the following ingredients in it, in the order listed. Do not mix.

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour milk (if you don’t have any, substitute commercial buttermilk, or mix 1 tablespoon vinegar with 1 cup milk and let stand 5 minutes)
  • 3/4 cup cocoa (I use Ghirardelli’s)
  • 1 cup butter, softened (this is why God made microwave ovens – this should be quite soft but not melted)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups cake flour (regular all-purpose flour is OK)
  • 1 cup boiling strong coffee (add 1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee such as Medaglia D’Oro to brewed coffee)

When all ingredients are in the bowl, beat 1 minute with electric mixer (or 3 minutes by hand).

Pour batter equally into prepared pans and bake at 325 for 45 to 50 minutes, until cakes pull away from pan edges and are springy. Let cool on rack 5 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool completely on rack.

BUTTERCREAM CHOCOLATE FROSTING

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate (I use Baker’s)
  • 1 pound confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • cream or milk as needed
  • pinch salt

Soften butter in microwave.

Melt the chocolate, either in a double boiler or by microwaving in a cup for 2 minutes, stopping and stirring every 30 seconds, until chocolate melts.

Mix butter and chocolate together. Then slowly add powdered sugar, beating slowly and persistently until sugar is incorporated. You may wish to add a tablespoon or two of cream as needed to make a smooth, thick frosting. When sugar is incorporated, beat in vanilla and salt.

To frost a cake:

Place one layer top-side down on a sturdy dish. Brush away any crumbs. Using a butter knife or dog-leg spatula, evenly spread about 1/3 of the frosting on it nearly to the edges. Don’t fuss too much over it; it’ll all even out. Top with second layer (top side up) and spread 1/3 of the frosting on top of it. Then spread remaining frosting on edges, turning cake slowly so you get all the bald spots. If you want to decorate the cake with something like slivered almonds, put the almonds in one cupped palm and gently, quickly, push them onto the sides of the cake. Some will fall off and that’s to be expected. Just pick them up and repeat.

A nice variation is to spread frosting on the first layer, then top with a layer of jam, such as raspberry, blackberry, or lekvar (prune). Then set the second layer on top and frost as usual.

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