Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Oven Roasted Reverse Seared Beef Sirloin Tri-Tip


 The Sirloin Tri-Tip was first known in here in the US in Central California as the Santa Maria or the Newport Cut.  In recent years this relatively inexpensive cut has become known and more popular East of the Mississippi River. It's a triangle of meat that usually weighs about 5 pounds trimmed, and is a versatile and forgiving cut of meat, capable of being prepared many ways, from simple roasting to smoking, grilling to pan searing.  The meat is tender and favorable, as long as it is cooked medium rare to medium.  The fibers do tighten up considerably at higher temperatures.

Most recipes  that I have seen or read commonly call for the cut to be treated like a brisket, though it does not require nearly the twelve hours to prepare a tri-tip properly as it does a full packer cut brisket. The preparation method that I prefer is called the Reverse Sear, where the meat is seasoned, then smoked, or roasted at low temperatures until the internal temps are medium rare to medium, and then allowed to rest 15 minutes.  This ensures the juices are re-absorbed  into the meat.  The cut is then grilled or pan seared over high heat for color, which only takes a few minutes.  I like to marinade the meat overnight, but it is not necessary.  This recipe is based on a preparation by Sam Zien, of Sam the Cooking Guy on YouTube, and is easily my favorite.


Marinade:

1/2 cub low sodium soy sauce

1 cup olive oil

5-10 cloves crushed or diced garlic

1 tsp black pepper

Other ingredients:

1-2 tbsp. olive oil

1-2 knobs of butter

Sprig of thyme (optional) 

Directions:

Most tri-tip roasts from the supermarket have the fat cap and silver skin well-trimmed, but you may need to clean up these areas.  I don't mind a thin fat cap, especially if I'm grilling it over flames. The meat may be tenderized at this point if you have one, but it is not necessary.

Combine the marinade and pour it into a sealable gallon bag.  Seal the meat in the bag with the marinade and move it around to coat the entire tri-tip,  If you have overnight to let the meat marinade in the refrigerator that is great, but a minimum of four hours would be ideal.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let it set on the counter in the marinade for a hour, or until it comes up to room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  

When the meat is a room temp, remove it from the bag and place it on a wire rack in a shallow pan. A meat thermometer comes in handy here.  Insert into the thickest part of the roast and place on the center rack, uncovered.  Roasting times will vary per oven, which is why it is best to use a meat thermometer.  For medium rare the meat should be pulled at 128-130 degrees.  For medium, 135 degrees is best.

Let the meat rest with a sheet of loose foil covering for about 15 minutes.  The meat will continue to cook internally while sealing in juices.  While the meat rests heat a cast iron pan over medium high heat and add some of the marinade to the pan if you wish, or a tablespoon of olive oil and a couple knobs of butter and the optional thyme sprig.  When the pan is hot, sear the roast about three or four minutes on each side, basting with the oil and butter as it sears.  You are looking for color, not to cook the meat any more internally.  

When the color you want is achieved, the meat can be removed and sliced immediately, because it has already rested.  Tri-tips have fibers running in two directions; the long end toward the narrow tip, and the short end running away at an angle. You can separate the meat at this juncture for ease of slicing. You want to cut across the grain, not with the grain.


Serving:

With the drippings from the pam and some of the marinade, its possible to make a pan gravy with a little flour.  Be sure to heat the marinade to a boil in order to avoid raw meat contamination.  The tri-tip also goes well with a chimichurri sauce dressing, made with minced cilantro, garlic, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes.   



Saturday, June 18, 2022

Baked Barbecue Beans


 It is easy to grab a can of those commercial beans at the supermarket and toss them into a sauce pan and heat them up.  I'm not knocking it; we all have done that at one point of other in our busy lives while preparing meals for our families.  But if there is extra time available, why not prepare baked beans with a little more love, and a lot less sugar than is contained in our favorite store-bought brands?

It starts with the choice of beans.  I mean after all, they are the star of the show! You can use any kind of bean variety that you like, though the canned variety most often use Great Northern beans.  I prefer red beans personally, because they have a bit more texture and heft to them, which means more flavor to me.  I prefer them dried and soaked in water overnight, but if pressed for time, a couple of low sodium canned red beans, liquid drained are a suitable alternative.  If using dried beans, don't salt the soaking or the cooking water, because that can toughen up the red beans.

Preparations:

Drain the soaked beans and place them in a pot of fresh water, bringing them to a boil in a medium large pot.  Some folks like to add pork shoulder or some type of smoked meat with onions in this step, but I prefer to control the amount of fat.  But that's an option available.  Turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour.  While the beans are simmering, the ingredients for the sauce may now be prepared.

You'll need:

1/2 medium onion, diced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 jalapeno pepper (optional), seeded and diced

3-4  strips thick cut bacon, diced

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup molasses

1-1/2  cups of barbecue sauce, any variety (less sugar varieties are best)

1/4 cup ketchup

1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce 

1 tbsp yellow mustard

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sauté the diced bacon in a large pan until the fat renders, then add the chopped onions and peppers, heating until the onions are clear.  In a separate bowl combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir to combine, then pour the prepared sauce into the pan, stirring until incorporated.  Let it come to a simmer, but do not reduce.

Drain the beans and pour them into a large casserole dish. Pour over the prepared sauce from the pan and combine well in the dish.  The sauce will appear a little thin at this point. If you are adventurous, strips of bacon may be laid over the beans, but it's totally optional. Place the dish in the oven, uncovered for about two hours, or until the sauce has reduced.

At the end of this time the casserole dish may removed.  The excess liquid should now be reduced and the beans nestled in their thick sauce.  Spoon out and garnish with parsley next to your smoked or barbecued meat of choice.  It's so much better tasting than the old canned standbys! 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Easy Oven Baked Baby Back Ribs


 

Nothing really says summer like smoking, grilling or barbecuing ribs in the back yard or on the patio.  But let's face it, mother nature sometimes doesn't want to cooperate.  You have that taste for ribs, but it is rainy, too cold, or as often is the case here in Arizona summers, the temperature is too hot, over 110 degrees.  Who wants to cook outdoors in those conditions?

But there is an easy alternative, even in the most inclement of conditions - our kitchen ovens.  I like baby back ribs because they are more meaty, but spareribs will also turn out great in this recipe. As for dry rubs, there are many, from your favorite bottled dry rubs to home made.  And if those don't suit your tastes, even salt and pepper will work great.  Below I'll list the ingredients that I like to use for my custom dry rub.


Preparation: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Pork ribs a have a membrane on the bone side that I like to remove.  Some keep it on, but I find that my ribs come out more tender when this silver skin is removed.  To remove it, use a butter knife and push it under the membrane alongside one of the bones near the end of the rack.  Give it a tug up, then grasp the membrane with a paper towel and pull it away from the ribs.  Then pat the rack dry on both sides.

For a spice binder when I'm smoking outdoors I like to use plain old yellow mustard, spread lightly across both sides of the ribs. For indoor cooking, olive oil will give the ribs a nice crispy crust.  Use a brush to coat the ribs on both sides.

The Rub:

There are some great commercial dry rubs easily available in the supermarket.  I have used them, and have even used Old Bay, which works great too.  My favorite scratch-made rub is as follows:

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 tbsp black pepper

1 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)


Procedure:

Season the oiled ribs generously on both sides with the rub.  Place the ribs on a large cookie sheet over aluminum foil, do not cover.  Bake the ribs on a middle rack for two hours at 350 degrees.  At the end of that time, carefully removed the ribs from the foil and replace it with new foil.  Turn up the oven temperature to 450 degrees.

While the oven heats up, place the ribs back on the cookie sheet and liberally brush on your favorite barbecue sauce. When the oven is at temperature place the ribs back in the oven for ten minutes.  Set a timer for this so it's not left in too long.

Now set the oven to broil and place the ribs on the top rack for three minutes.  It might be helpful set the timer once again.  Pull the ribs out and let them rest for a few minutes; they will be very hot.

Brush on more barbecue sauce and enjoy with baked barbecue beans and a creamy, crisp coleslaw.  These ribs are not the fall off the bone variety, but they are very tender.

 


Monday, March 8, 2021

Medicare: My Experience Navigating Through Enrollment


 


If you are in that elite group of folks, like me, who are about to turn 65, you are no doubt being bombarded by robocalls and junk email imploring you to sign up for a Medicare supplement plan of some kind to augment the coverage Medicare provides. And of course if you watch daytime television, just about every hour there is some Medicare coverage plan being advertised, especially during the enrollment period.  They like to use the word "free" a lot. This article is not about detailing choices for you, because I am no more than another fish swimming in the Medicare sea, with no special knowledge.  There are others sources far more knowledgeable than I am.

For more in depth information I would urge those who need it to log onto www.medicare.gov, or simply call your Medicare office for specific information.  I would not go online and give personal information like phone numbers or email addresses some of these companies advertising on TV.  Expect to be deluged with calls, texts and emails if you do.  

My goal here is to discuss my own recent experience, and some of the steps that I took to get answers to my questions.  My situation will not be the same as yours, so your choices will be different. But I would advise everyone to go directly to the source first, that is Medicare or Social Security.  If you don't have one, sign up for a secure account on their websites, and keep passwords safe and secured.

I retired early from teaching at age 62; while teaching I enjoyed a relatively low cost, school-district subsidized health insurance through one of the major healthcare providers .  I was in relatively good health and on a PPO plan; I liked my doctor and the plan benefits, so naturally it was a no-brainer for me to continue paying on my own through the pre-Medicare years of my retirement.  Also, knowing the political uncertainties in ACA, that decision seemed like a safer, though more expensive choice.  And expensive it was; my monthly premiums in retirement, even with a supplement from my state's pension system, was nearly $700 a month.  That's a far cry from the $120 a month single coverage I enjoyed as a fulltime school employee.  

But this is a a lament that so many retired teachers and other government workers have had to voice, and I was not supporting a family anymore.  If I had been on a family plan, my monthly costs would have been well over $1000 monthly.  So obviously, I was very anxious to learn how Medicare coverage would reduce my monthly healthcare costs.  I had been able to deduct my premiums on my tax returns, thankfully, but it still has been expensive.

There are a lot of terms and phrases that that you have to become familiar with, starting with Original Medicare, enrollment periods, Medicare Parts A, B, C and D, Medicare supplemental plans, Medigap plans, Medicare Advantage plans, HMO, PPO plans inclusive. There is so much more.  What were these plans, and how could I tell what was best for me?

I actually started my search on YouTube.  Being a visual learner, I found  many channels there which helped me to define better what my choices were, and where I was currently.  In addition, my state retirement board and Social Security had each mailed packets of good information, which I used to further refine my knowledge.  Going on the Medicare site also provided a great deal of background material that I knew I would need.

Ultimately, what helped me most was being a member of AARP.  Through them I learned that my own healthcare company offered several AARP-endorsed Medicare plans to cover Part C and D, plus dental and vision.  I obtained spreadsheets from other companies too, and finally decided to contact my insurance company directly, working though a local agent.  I settled on one of their PPO Medicare Advantage plans that seemed closest to what I was already paying for, at a fraction of my current cost, beginning on the first of my birth month.  Ironically as I was recently working with my agent over a Zoom call, my Medicare card actually arrived.  Social Security had automatically enrolled me 90 days ahead of my birthday.

There are a lot of details here which informed my choices, but I don't want to get bogged down in them because my situation probably won't apply to others.  I'll just say that there is no need to feel apprehensive about the process.  There is simply too much information material available to throw up your hands.  Reach out to the government agencies.  If you are a phone person, you can easily find a person-to-person contact there to help you.  If you are like me, I like to compare visual information, so online resources worked best.  At the very least, you can contact your own healthcare provider for answers.  

The best thing about Medicare coverage is that you are not forever locked into a plan.  If a specific plan isn't working for you, it can be changed during the next enrollment period.  Ultimately we are responsible for our own choices; if we have the best information available, we are in a much better position to make good choices.  Good luck!


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Easy No Knead Bread


 People often find bread making an intimidating task, and yes we are talking about some basic chemistry here anytime we contemplate baking, but we are not building an orbital booster here! All we want to do is make an easy bread using some basic equipment any home cook likely already has.  The one piece of equipment that might be lacking is a Dutch oven.  But even if you don't have one, a good cast iron skillet will work! And don't worry, you don't need a fancy, expensive stand mixer either.

This recipe is also beneficial on a couple other fronts.  If you've been in the stores during the current pandemic you might have found that yeast is sometimes hard to find.  And if you have yeast, you may be asking yourself if you have enough.  Well this recipe only takes 1/4 teaspoon of yeast, so if you find yourself scraping the bottom of that yeast jar, you'll probably have enough.

Also, people with arthritis will find this recipe useful because their is no kneading involved.  Basic chemistry and mother nature will take care of that.  You will need a scraper, or a spatula, which I use to shape the dough into a ball. If you are on a Keto diet, you can substitute almond or coconut flour.

Ingredients:

3 cups of bread flour or all-purpose flour (either will do), sifted into a large bowl.

1/4 Tsp yeast

11/2 cups hot tap water (no hotter than 130 degrees, or it will kill the yeast)

1 Tsp salt

1-2 Tbsp of flour reserved for the bench to shape the dough

Two large bowls, one filled with parchment paper

Preparation:

Combine the salt and yeast with the flour in the bowl and mix.  Then pour in the hot water and mix with a spatula until the until the flour begins to come together, and no dry flour is on the side of the bowl.  Cover this bowl and let it stand for at least three hours.

After this time you will see that the dough is bubbly and should have nearly doubled in size.  Flour your working area and pour the dough out onto it, taking a spatula or a scraper and folding the dough over several times into the shape of a ball.  Sprinkle more flour if you find the dough too sticky to work with.

Now take the dough ball and place it in the clean bowl in which you have placed a large sheet of parchment paper.  It is okay if the parchment spills over the side of the bowl.  Cover this bowl with a towel for 30 minutes.

While your dough is rising a second time put into a cold oven on the middle rack the Dutch oven with the lid on, and then preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  When the 30 minutes have elapsed, carefully remove the dutch oven from the stove with mitts and set aside on a heat proof surface, removing the lid.  A large elevated wire rack works great for this, or if you don't have one the stove top will be fine. Then carefully lift the parchment and dough ball out of the bowl and place them inside the dutch oven, replacing the lid.

Return the Dutch oven to the oven and bake, lid on for 30 minutes.  At the end of that time remove the lid and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the bread is a nice golden brown. At the end of this time, remove the Dutch oven from the stove and let cool off on the rack or stove top.  It bears repeating that the Dutch oven and lid will be extremely hot during this, so please exercise due caution when handling it.  Handling the hot Dutch oven is not a task for kids!

The bread will be very easy to lift out of the Dutch oven by the parchment paper and will have a nice rustic look.  There are all kinds of variations for topping this bread while baking, but the standard recipe above works well. 

If you do not have a Dutch oven, you can use a good large cast iron skillet.  You won't be able to cover it, but the bread will rise just fine.

If you desire to have your bread rise overnight for baking in the morning, use cold water rather than hot.  That will increase the proof time to eight hours, but the results will be the same, a nice bubbly dough ball that has self-kneaded by the action of the yeast!   Enjoy!


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Vegan White Bean Chili


I love all kinds of chili, and during January will very often go on a meatless diet for four to six weeks. in an attempt to rid myself of carnivore toxins (and maybe some bad cholesterol too!).

Beans are an excellent source of protein during these diets, and I am always on the lookout for recipes which will be satisfying, yet suitable to replace the proteins that I am not taking in from animal products.  Great Northern Beans are an excellent substitute for these proteins and are flexible enough to work well in so many dishes.  They are my go to bean when I am looking to change out animal protein.

I'm going to give you two preparations for dried beans, one using the ubiquitous Instapot pressure cooker, and one using the old fashioned soaking method.  You can of course cut out these methods by using drained canned beans as a substituent, but I like to use the pressure-cooker bean juice too.

Traditional Bean Preparation

Pick through one pound of dried beans for stones, imperfections and other foreign objects such as twigs.  Rise the beans under cold water and place them in a sauce pot of salted water (about a teaspoon of salt to six cups of water).  Cover and let sit for eight hours minimum, or overnight.  Drain the water and add fresh salted water before bringing to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about an hour, or until the beans are tender.

Instapot Preparation

Pick through beans as above and rinse.  Place in the Instapot and add up to six cups of low sodium vegetable stock.  Secure the lid and set the Instapot for 45 minutes, allowing the steam to vent naturally.  This will take an additional 15-20 minutes.

Chili Ingredients

1 onion, diced medium
1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced medium
1 red bell pepper, diced medium
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups diced cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, fine diced or pressed
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
Sprigs of cilantro, chopped
Baked corn tortilla chips

Directions

Prepare the beans first.  (If using the Instapot, you can do this beforehand and then saute the vegetables and cook the chili right in the unit.  I chose to use the stove top for final preparation). Saute the vegetables until the onions are clear and the garlic is fragrant, over medium heat.  Add the tomato paste, stir and cook until the paste begins to change color.  Ladle in the beans, with their juice, and add the sliced cherry tomatoes and spices. Now add the vegetable stock, cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour.

Depending on how hearty you want your chili,  you may want to add more vegetable stock or water if it is too thick at this point. Check for salt and add chopped cilantro before serving.  Reserve a sprig or two of cilantro for garnish, as well as a few baked corn tortilla chips.

If you are like me and discovered during this meal prep that you were out of chili powder, you can make your own! Here's how:

1/8 cup paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon adobo powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper







Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How Long Should a Beginning Brass Student Practice?


This is an old question that band directors and private teachers have to answer all of the time from beginning students and their parents.  Often times students think that their twice a week band class or their once a week private lesson, if they are fortunate enough to afford them, is all the time they need to put into music study in general, and brass playing in particular.  As a retired band director and current private teacher I was always very hesitant to put a number on minutes to practice or the frequency, because students will tend to do just that much and no more.

What I do teach them to how to practice, and how to establish a good practice habit, and then commit to it consistently every week, class/private lessons not counted.  Instead of focusing on the minutes on a clock, I break down the session into different activities, each with the idea of achieving some overall goal for that day.  This gets them out of the mindset of just filling up twenty minutes with unstructured noise and then boom, horn goes in the case.

Not only do I teach this approach, I reinforce it by structuring lessons, and even my rehearsals when I taught school the same way. All the while I prompt students to think about what wee are doing and why we are doing it. Rather than assigning minutes to an activity, I ask them to think more about repetitions, specifically being able to repeat something without errors before moving on to the next activity.

It's a never ending struggle to keep kids focused in this way, because they (and we as adults too) are so preoccupied with our phones, video games, computers and television.  Practicing a musical instrument is time consuming, because it requires an investment in that time to develop specific instrument-related motor skills.  That's an old world idea that may not be compatible with today's instant gratification mindset.  Any skill that requires repetition to improve on will run into this resistance, because our devices teach us that we can find answers instantly by swiping a screen or using our thumbs to key in words on a search engine.

If you want to be a good shortstop in baseball, you gotta take a lot of ground balls. That takes a lot of time.  If you want to become a good trumpet player, you've got to develop the fine muscles in your face to make a good sound, supported by proper use of your air. That too takes time, through doing it consistently.

What is this structure that I teach? With brass it begins with the mouthpiece.  I start every lesson, every practice session with mouthpiece buzzing.  A good buzz happens when you have the mouthpiece set in the right place on the lips, which will vary slightly from one person to the next. I work to achieve a long low buzz sound using, without puffing the cheeks, then trying to make sirens with the buzz, varying the frequency of the buzz in the upper lip (the lower lip should not buzz).  Later I encourage students to buzz scales as they become more advanced, or even tunes that they can buzz by ear.  Only when the buzz can be made cleanly do I encourage the mouthpiece to be put on the horn.

Once the horn is assembled the next activity is to use the same buzzing technique to produce long tones on the instrument, and then work on lip slurs from one partial to the next, until they can be done cleanly.  The more advanced the student is, the more involved the lip slurring can become.  But again, repetition until success is the goal.

There is an old approach called the Caruso method, which involves keeping the horn on the face while playing a limited number of notes through playing or resting periods.  I'll discuss that method more in a later article, but even beginning brass players can do this, and I emphasize it as a warm-up activity even for kids just starting out.  Again when it can be done quietly and cleanly, that's the signal to move on.

As students become more advanced in age and experience scales may be worked on at this point, though a beginning fifth grader might only be able to play the four or five notes of a Bb Concert scale at this point.  If using the Caruso approach, they may use those first four or five notes of that scale anyway, a two birds at once sort of thing.

Kids will play what they know in their song practice list, and then disregard everything else.  I teach them to think of the song portion of their practice routine as a runner might think of warming up before a race.  I ask them to find something that they know and like to play for fun, and invite mom and dad or others in the house to listen.  Once this mini recital is over, dismiss them and then try to play the assigned lesson, song, or etude next, taking as much time as they need on something that gives them trouble.  If they have questions about a note, or rhythm or something they can't quite get, write that question in pencil directly over the measure (s) that give them trouble. If they can, then skip over it and finish by playing what they can to the end.

I also teach kids to have closure.  Never end a session by feeling bad about your playing,  Go back and find something that they know or have fun playing, and play it a couple of times.  Maybe change the tempo, or do something different to it that they can play without mistakes.  Sometimes young brass players will fatigue here.  That's okay.  Play to failure and them stop!

Not once here did I emphasize emphasize time elapsed.  If all these steps are taken, even at the most basic level, thirty to forty minutes will fly by.  That's a good structured expenditure of time.  And the good news is that as the player advances more material can be added to expand the session.

I always teach students to set a little goal for themselves every day they go into a practice session; perhaps a better buzz, learn one new note or fingering, play a note that they haven't reached cleanly before, or maybe even just holding a tone for longer than four or eight beats without gasping for breath.  With these type goals in mind, the session now has a purpose other than just blasting random notes for ten minutes, or playing Hot Cross Buns for five minutes. Structure is the framework for developing progress.