Monday, January 31, 2011

Fish Taco Night

Has anyone noticed that it was impossible to get a decent apple in 2010? Onions also seemed very hit and miss, many past their prime or moldy. Lately I am starting to feel like that about fish. I generally buy mine frozen as we are "more than an hour from the ocean" in Tucson. The last frozen tilapia we ate had a definite ammonia tang. Last nights cod used for the tacos that follow lacked flavor except some bites that had flavor that was off.

I'm guessing these fish were caught (or harvested) in 2010, the year of questionable groceries.

Last night I had a guest cooks in the form of Carl Gulliver slicing the fish, making the sauce (even though he hates mayo) and taking pix and Veronica Lodge making the batter and helping fine tune the salsa.

Fish Tacos

For the sauce;

key "Mexican" limes
1 Serrano chili, finely minced.
dried Mexican oregano

Mix together about a cup of mayo and the juice of three limes. It should be a fairly thin sauce. If necessary, thin with milk. Add the minced chili and oregano to your taste

For the batter;

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 t salt
1 not dark, not hoppy beer (I used Trader Joe's fake Corona, perfect at $.84 for one bottle)

For the fish;

Some kind of innocuous white fish that doesn't scream "I'm skate" or some such thing. Tilapia and cod work fine.

tortillas (I used small corn ones)
cabbage cut into shreds

We made the sauce, shredded the cabbage, mixed the batter and made some delightful salsa (tomatoes, onions, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, Serranos, olive oil, salt) before digging into the frying of the fish.

The salsa posing with the cod

The shredding of the cabbage

The batter seemed awfully thin per the recipe above but we thought perhaps it would result in a tempura-like outer crispiness.

The dipping of the fish in the batter

In hindsight, we should have added flour to the batter. A thicker coating would have been more authentic and satisfying.

And then into the oil until done (I was timing 4 minutes);

And onto the draining rig of an upturned cooling rack on paper towels on a baking sheet.

To put it all together; heat a tortilla over the flame of a stove burner (here we do it over a high flame, turning often), put on a piece or two of fish, a bit of sauce, some cabbage and eat.



Friday, January 28, 2011

2 Things I Recently Learned about Mac 'n' Cheese

Thing 1; layer the cheese between layers of pasta. (From Saveur Cooks Authentic American)

Thing 2; melt butter in a pan and stir in breadcrumbs for the breadcrumb topping. (From co-worker, Judith)

The mac 'n' cheese recipe is dead, long live the mac 'n' cheese recipe!

Mac 'n' Cheese

1 pound box pasta (something tubular, I used rigatoni last night) prepared per package directions and drain
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper
3 cups grated cheddar, divided
about 1/4 cup bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until frothy.  Add flour and whisk pretty much constantly for a minute or so.

Whisk in milk, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to bubble. Whisk in a cup or so of the cheese a little at a time until smooth and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat until frothy. Stir in breadcrumbs and a cook for a couple minutes stirring constantly.

Stir mornay sauce (this is what you have now) into the pasta. Spoon 1/3 of the pasta into a baking dish and top with 1/3 of the remaining cheese. Repeat this step 2 more times. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top and bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and delicious.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Paen to an Onion

“The onion and its satin wrappings is among the most beautiful of vegetables and is the only one that represents the essence of things. It can be said to have a soul.”
Charles Dudley Warner, ‘My Summer in a Garden’ (1871)

I was thinking this morning that there is no more important pantry staple besides salt than the onion. As long as I have onions and salt I can make something from whatever else I have. If all I have is onions, I can still make soup, or roast them as a vegetable. If I have some bread and butter I can make a sandwich.

James Beard was extremely fond of a finger sandwich made of rounds of bread with butter and onion between them, edges slathered with mayonnaise and rolled in chopped parsley. I saw Martha Stewart honor her Dad by making her version of his onion sandwich.

For me the smell of onions sauteeing is the smell of my Mom starting dinner, the smell of home.

Almost daily I do a sautee or soup of vegetables and I always start with onions. (As my wife and son can attest as they are particularly susceptible to the onions sulfuric acid sting.)

Cooked in a dish they add flavor and sweetness. Raw they add their sulfur snap and crunch. I can't make salsa without an onion. I can't make soup, stew. Long cooked beans and meats need their offsetting sweetness and allium-ness.

The onion is claimed to be a defense against the common cold and I admit that during a cold is when I am most likely to indulge in onion sandwiches.

To sum up, onions good.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fried Chicken Giblets in Lime Juice

Chicken gizzards and hearts mostly gizzards are super cheap and at my grocery store they were frozen so as not to have the stigma of clearance meat mentioned Monday.

I was browsing the internet for a method and stumbled upon this recipe which seemed like a good starting point. I had to do some substitutions due to different pantry items on hand and this recipe will be as cooked. I found the ingredient "mixed spices" to be particularly charming. I used panch puran which seems to be becoming my family's spice blend.

The house still smells of onions and anise which doesn't bug me a bit.

Fried Chicken Giblets in Lime Juice

2 cups chicken giblets
2 tablespoons butter (the original recipe called for ghee)
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon panch puran (or your family's spice blend), ground to a powder
4 tablespoons lime juice

Heat butter over high heat until the frothing dies down. I would even go so far as to let it start browning. I used a nonstick wok but a skillet would have worked great.

Add giblets and cook, stirring occasionally until almost cooked through, about 15 minutes. Mine exuded a lot of liquid which then evaporated and the giblets were beginning to brown.

Add onions and garlic and cook until soft and brown at the edges.

Add salt, pepper, spices and lime juice an cook for another 3 minutes. Garnish with parsley if you like (I don't) and serve over rice.

This was a truly delicious use for Chicken gizzards and hearts mostly gizzards!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pollo Pulquero (Slow Cooker Chicken Pocket Stew)

One of my favorite social media aphorisms is that you will not have your "aha" moment by following a celebrity. I feel like this when I Google pollo pulquero. I have of not compiled the supporting data but at a glance it looks to be the most blogged recipe of all time. This is what I get for blogging about a recipe from Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday. And why not retread upon this worn old path? It is delicious and easy, it practically cooks itself.

And now I will add my name to the list of Rick Bayless lovers who have told and retold you the short easy tale of the slow cooker version of a kind of pocket stew enjoyed by pulque makers.

Pollo Pulquero

1 white onion, sliced 1/4" thick
4 Yukon gold potatoes, also sliced 1/4" thick
2 pounds skinless chicken thighs
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 1/4 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed and sliced, yes, 1/4" thick
1/4 cup pickled jalapeño slices
2 tablespoons jalapeño pickling juice

Place onions in bottom of slow cooker. Season with salt. Add potatoes. Again season with salt. The salt is important as this is your one chance to season before adjusting at the end.. Add chicken.

Again with the salt. Cilantro. Salt.

Tomatillos. Salt. This is a good time to show you my tomatillos in various stages of undress.

I made a delightful sub of the tomatillo trimmings, jalapeños and some sliced leftover pork roast on a crusty baguette.

Sprinkle the jalapeños on top and add the pickling juice.

Cook for 6 hours on high. It will hold well for 4 hours on the warm setting.

I served mine with rice and slices of lime for squeezing. I was really, really good. It may not be my lone special "aha" moment but it is delicious. Thanks Mr. Bayless!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Cheap Pork Chops with Potatoes and Chestnuts

A couple of shopping event preceded this recipe; bag of kosher chestnuts for 50% off and 30% off the already cheap pair of pork sirloin chops in the always scary meat clearance bin.

Pork sirloin chops tend to me my cheap meat nemesis. The only thing to do with them is braising so I tend to only use them when making "birds" long cooked in marinara sauce.

I stumbled upon this recipe which I did not follow but used for inspiration.

Cheap Pork Chops with Potatoes and Chestnuts

2 Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 big pork sirloin chops
salt and pepper
Italian herb blend
1 cup hard cider
1 cup prepared chestnuts

Cover potatoes with water (salt it) in saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Cook for 20 minutes or until fork tender.

Meanwhile, season chops with salt, pepper and Italian herbs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan  (I used a small enameled dutch oven) over high heat. When oil is shimmering, add chops to pan and cook for about 5 minutes on each side ('til brown).

Add cider to pan, it'll come to a boil almost immediately. Reduce heat to low and cover. Season the cider with salt but use a light hand. I was going to reduce it after the chops were done but it was way too salty already. Cook for as long as you can stand up to an hour. I went 30 minutes but the chops were still pretty chewy. Tasty though!

When the potatoes are fork tender, drain and allow to cool until they can be handled. Peel and cut into big chunks. Heat remaining oil in a non-stick skillet and add potatoes and chestnuts. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until they begin to brown.

Remove chops from braising liquid and add to pan with chestnuts and potatoes with a little of the cooking liquid. Cook for 5 minutes more to allow flavors to meld.



Friday, January 21, 2011

Twice Baked Potatoes with Smoked Paprika

Today is potluck day and the theme is potatoes. It is a potato competition.

I recently read a HARTMANsalt article about the top picks for 2011. One of the items listed was smoked paprika. We have a bunch of vegetarians where I work and I have always been puzzled as to how to add a smoky flavor (bacon is traditionally the cheater ingredient in our pot luck cook-offs). Smoked Gouda is good but it definitely has to work well with cheese (I know, twice baked potatoes would have). Chipotle is brilliant but it adds a lot of heat which, although always welcome to me, could cost one the contest if the judges are capsicum lightweights. Smoked paprika seemed just the ticket.

Upon purchase, I opened the lid and found the aroma to be not unlike that of bacon. If the flavor lives up to the smell we might have a vegetarian cheater ingredient.

Twice Baked Potatoes with Smoked Paprika

3 pound bag Yukon gold (or other) potatoes
grated cheddar cheese, divided
sour cream
salt and pepper
smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Rub potatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Poke with a fork or knife if you are that kind and place on middle rack of oven for about an hour.

Remove potatoes from oven and allow to rest until cool enough to handle.

Half that potatoes and scoop most of the flesh into a large bowl reserving the hollowed out halves. Now you want to think like you are making a very rich potato puree. I added a few handfuls of cheese and a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream and salt. I mashed, too dry. My wife began fine tuning the texture with milk. Again with the salt (potatoes can take a lot of salt, if your soup is ever too salty, add a couple of diced potatoes, if appropriate).

Once your potato mixture is to your liking, scoop into the hollowed out potato halves. Top with more cheese, salt and pepper and sprinkle liberally with smoked paprika. They can now be baked in a 350 degree F oven until hot and beginning to brown at the edges.

We did a test potato last night and the smoked paprika was amazing.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Beef Borscht

My Grandfather, Earl Epp, on my Mom's side was born Mennonite. He always said his father, Gerhardt, was kicked out of the church for smoking. It seems far more likely that my Grandfather shunned that life and rebelled against it for the rest of his life.

It always seemed though that it was tugging below the surface. He would speak of his Russian, Danish, German ancestry when it suited him. Turns out all may have been right.

He grew up speaking low German in America. He did not speak English until he was 9. At his funeral, his siblings, born in America, spoke to each other in low German. I would like to add that I am 6'5" and some of them were taller than me in their seventies.

My Gramma speaks of being the only Lutheran family in a Mennonite town. Her only friend there was Hulda. When I met her as a kid my Gramma confided that she felt uncomfortable saying "gee" in front of her (in her 60s) because as far as Hulda was concerned, it was swearing.

When I ran across a recipe for beef borscht in Saveur Cooks Authentic American, attributed  to Mennonites in Kansas, I thought, I bet I have been eating Mennonite food all my life in one form or another (we spent the summers with my Grandparents as kids). Here's my chance to taste a different recipe picked up in farming along the Volga River in Russia on their long road to escape religious persecution.

Beef Borscht

1 tablespoon butter
1 pound beef chuck cut into 1" pieces
2 yellow onions peeled and chopped
1 small green cabbage shredded
8 cups beef stock (I made my own, more on that another time)
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill (I left this out as I had none)
1 1/4 pounds red bliss potatoes peeled and diced (I used Russet Burbanks as that's what I had)
salt and pepper

Heat butter in soup pot over high heat.

Add beef and brown, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium, add onions and cook, stirring often until onions begin to soften (or as I would say, begin to brown)

Add the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to wilt.

Add stock and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat to medium-low and return beef to pot.

Add tomatoes with juice and dill and cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Add potatoes and cook until tender, about thirty minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mesquite and Weber and Christopher Kimball

These are my two old workhorse Weber Kettles. One was willed to me by a roommate when we parted ways and one was left by the previous tenants at the old office building.

The Weber Kettle is my favorite vehicle to impart flavor to ingredients that can be cooked quickly; chicken, fish, expensive cuts of meat (high on the hog), veggies, flat breads etc. My two favorites are marinated skirt steak and asparagus.

My favorite charcoal to use to impart that flavor is big chunks of mesquite. They burn unevenly, they crackle and snap and spark and they smell like something good is about to happen. Oh, and they're cheap.

My favorite method is to get the coals good and hot (using a hair dryer if I'm in a hurry and the coals aren't), toss on the cooking grate, scrape if necessary, toss on the items to be cooked, cover and approximate a good time to flip the ingredients.

At that time, remove the lid, flip the ingredients, replace the lid and finish cooking.

Over the years I have, frequently it seems, read/seen in the various Christopher Kimball concerns (Cooks Illustrated {which I love}, America's Test Kitchen and the Test Kitchen cookbooks) that mesquite does not impart a great flavor, that covering the kettle with the lid makes the flavor too strong? acrid?

What I do remember is that the solution is to cover just the food that is being cooked with an upturned foil baking pan so that the smoke can get out the sides.

I saw this method in action by Don Scheer at our company Iron Chef chicken competition. He did chicken with grilled peaches. It tasted great and indeed won but I honestly think it would have been just as good with the lid on and the smoky snap of mesquite. (Snappy smoke?)

The point I would like to make is this; there are lots of ways to make food taste good. If you have an inquisitive mind and the time, try a couple of methods and nail down the way that you feel tastes best. You're the cook.

If you want very serviceable and foolproof recipes for all kinds of foods, please by all means, start with Christopher Kimball. They have done a lot of the work for you. Their spaghetti carbonara is in my regular repetoir, their pad thai is fantastic and their product reviews and tips can save you time, money and heart break.

However, mesquite, good, lid on, good.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Stuffed Tomatoes

This was a slight repurposing of the stuff tomato recipe from Saveur Cooks Authentic American. These are little individual tomato salads stuffed with arborio rice and black beans.

The recipe recommends arborio as it stays creamy at cold temperatures. The recipe also specified Lima beans as do a few recipes in this book. It sort of feels like they based the book on about 6 stories from the early days of the magazine. (Not that that's a bad thing, I love the Saveur cookbooks!)

The recipe specified arugula but I had herb salad greens so I used those. They used lemons, I used limes. If I had gone all the way and used cilantro instead of parsley we would be eating southwest style mini tomato salads.

Stuffed Tomatoes

6 large beefsteak type tomatoes or in my case 8 romas
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked arborio rice
1 handful mixed greens, chopped
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
the juice of 2 key limes
salt & pepper

Plunge the tomatos into a big pot of boiling water and remove after 30 seconds.

This next instruction is cute, "slip off the skins". I have peeled enough tomatoes this way to know that I will have better luck if I make an X at the bottom of the tomato with a paring knife, which I did. Also, even with the short blanching time, my tomatoes were so small (thin walled) they pretty much cooked which left them not exactly salad cups. Next time round I will simply pare the raw tomatoes and sacrifice the little bit of flesh I would lose.

Cut off the top 1/4 of the tomatoes and reserve. Scoop out the seeds and core of the tomatoes and reserve. Salt the tomatoes well and set upside down to drain their exuded juices.

Chop up the reserved tomato flesh.

Mix together the reserved tomato flesh, beans, rice, greens, parsley and chives. Drizzle with oil and lime juice. Season to your taste with salt and pepper.

Set tomatoes cut side up. (This was impossible for my soggy tomatoes so I stuffed them and leaned them against the sides of the Le Creuset 3-1/2-Quart French Oven I was serving them in. (There are definitely less expensive ways to serve a salad.)

Et Voila! Little mini tomato salads.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Grilled Vegetables

Whenever I grill, I try to take the time to hunt through the fridge for appropriate veggies to toss on before or after I cook the meat. These are great as a side with the meal or really great the next day on some crusty bread.

I prepared the following ingredients in the following manner;

yellow hots, whole
bell pepper, big slices
zucchini, 1/4" lengthwise slices
onions, thick slices so they stay together for the most part
tomatoes, big slices so they don't completely disintegrate

I toss them in a big bowl with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and some dried herbs. I grilled these for around 12 minutes turning 3 times after the meat had come off the grill (marinated flank steak, by the way).

Other appropriate veggies would be; any kind of capsicum, portabella (or other large) mushrooms, eggplant, any kind of summer squash.

Fall veggies like sweet potatoes, winter squash, potatoes and other corms/roots could be done sliced thinly as well but would require more time on the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking.

I remove the veggies from the grill and toss them in the bowl that had the residual olive oil and seasonings.

These are delicious hot or at room temperature.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Fever Dreams and Curry Paste

And I have the flu or something. So we had leftovers last night and I have nothing fancy to show for myself.

I did drink some of this;

Normally I drink red wine on weekdays to maintain my girlish figure and also for the vitamins and fiber. However, with the fever dreams and the shakes, good old fashioned medicine seemed like the ticket, and it was.

Also, I cooked up some of this;

Sauteed vegetables simmered in the leftover curry paste from my Musaman Beef Curry. Then I ate it on rice. Very healing. In case you did not know, rice is the commodity grain that digests in your small intestine. Good, right?

Next week; Por-eef, it's got the bite of beef with the smoky texture of pork. Also, I think I'll finally get around to the method of making bread out of that dough.

Now I am going to lay down.

Have a great weekend evvabody! Bye bye!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blackberry Calzone

Previously I have referenced a daddy dough recipe for many bread-type applications most notably pizza. If you fold the pizza in half before cooking, you end up with a calzone. What follows is a blackberry dessert calzone that I improvised last night.

Blackberry Calzone

2 one pound hunks of daddy bread dough alternately you could use the same amount of pre-made pizza dough such as Trader Joe's
2 cups blackberries (or a mix of the berries that are available or on sale)
3 tablespoons or so sugar divided and as needed
1 or 2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons butter, melted
corn meal

Macerate berries with about 2 tablespoons of the sugar (depending on how sweet your berries are. Taste one) and the cornstarch .

I let them sit until the powdery appearance is overtaken by the exuded juices.

Preheat oven to as hot as it will go (mine gets to about 550 degrees F) with your pizza stone or an upturned cookie sheet inside.

Shape your dough into 2 equal discs and roll out thinly using flour as needed to keep from sticking.

Place half of the berries on each calzone skin.

Fold over half of the skin and roll/pinch together the edges.

Place on a well corn mealed pizza peel. Brush with butter, sprinkle with a bit more of the sugar and poke a few holes in the top for the steam to escape.

Slide onto the pizza stone/cookie sheet and start checking for doneness after 5 minutes. I was looking for nicely browned and definitely cooked dough. I ended up checking it every minute for an additional 5 minutes. This does not equal 10 minutes though as I was letting all the heat out of the oven once a minute. However I am not about to give a direction of let the heat out of the oven every minute for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool some before devouring in one sitting because of how surprisingly delicious it is.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kitchen Notes 1/12/11

Green Onions and Vinegar

I was able to find one reference to this on the web. Someone's neighbor? Grandmother? would serve freshly pulled green onions in vinegar as a snack.

My Mom would put out a bouquet of green onions in a glass of cider vinegar with other appetizers (shrimp dip, Triscuits with cream cheese and smoked oysters) when we were having company or at holiday meals. My brother and I carry on this tradition but I admit we are the only ones eating them.

Baked Potatoes

Half of the trick to delicious baked potatoes is the pre-cooking prep. The other half is the pre-eating prep.

I rub my potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, poke with a fork or knife (I really have no idea if that matters as when I forget, the potatoes do not explode. But just imagine if they did!) and bake at 400 degrees F for an hour.

At the other end of the hour I slit them lengthwise and press the ends together. I then cut up the exposed flesh some and add a sprinkle of kosher salt and a pat of butter.

Trust me, there is something about this that makes a difference.

End of Week Soup

At the end of the week I generally end up with a few vegetables, aromatic and otherwise, left in the fridge before we do our shopping on Saturday.

I deal with them, and clean out the fridge by preparing a soup before we go. This is my method;

Chop up the aromatics; peppers, onions, carrots, celery, garlic in any combination. I also do the mushrooms in this step as well.

All of the other veggies, greens, summer squash, cabbagey things, turnips and such, get shopped up and put in a another bowl. Soft herbs and tomatoes would go in this bowl as well.

Bring a tablespoon of fat or oil to shimmering over high heat in a big soup pot.

Add your aromatics and a bit of salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently until they begin to brown. If I want to add spices, I add them at the end of this step and allow them to cook for a few seconds.

Add water to about halfway up the side of the pot. I generally add a some bouillon, a can of tomatoes, a couple of bay leaves, some kind of acidy thing like the juice of last weeks limes or some vinegar or Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste at this point.

After the water comes to a boil I add the other vegetables an return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for as long as you like. This is a good point to add any soup-friendly leftovers like beans, pasta, rice, chicken, etc. Again I taste for salt and pepper.

This soup is always different and I admit I am sad at the end of the week if I don't have some leftover produce. I certainly rarely have to throw any away.