Archive for May, 2009
What better filler is there to complement a BBQ than cornbread? It’s easy, tasty, and matches perfectly with anything you eat without utensils. Depending on where you grew up the type of cornbread you were exposed to may vary. I’m a regional mutt so I had a taste of both the sweeter, cakelike Northern variation as well as the crumbly, salty Southern style. And I really dig on both when done well.
Lately I’ve been trying recreate a version I have fond memories of growing up. And I’ve failed.. a lot.. each failure closer and more tasty to what I’ve been shooting for but fail none-the-less. Oh don’t get me wrong, as a result of my missteps I can make some damn tasty cornbread, but that adored variation I’m secretly terrified was just Jiffy mix is a mystical and allusive bitch.
Creating a moist, delicate texture as well as having that corny flavor while balancing sweet, salty and savory tastes is worth a few dozen more tries. Until I’ve perfected this seemingly impossible cornbread, enjoy one of my favorite “southwest style” cornbread that’s just brilliant in a cast iron skillet.
Another glorious memorial day has come and gone, and summer has finally arrived. Ladies and Gents, grilling season is upon us!!
Lately I feel like chicken is starting to get a bad rap. Ok, fine, maybe not a bad rap (pork may win that contest right now), but it’s just not sexy anymore is it? Cheap, easy to find chicken just isn’t making the average food aficionado get excited. But why the hell not?! I’ve had some amazing roast chicken a few times in my life, the kind that’s finger smacking delicious you’d travel across town just to chow down on. Why the hell aren’t we trying to figure out how to make chicken like that before spending a fortune on fancy pants ingredients? It’s taken me a while to acknowledge this fact, but chicken really does deserve a spot on our food radar. How better to do that than by lighting up a hot grill and opening up a cold beer?
As per usual, I turn to my favorites: Childs, Pepin, Cook’s Illistrated to figure out how best to do a little BBQ. I was looking for insight into cooking cut up pieces as well as maximizing crispy skin texture. Cooks Ill. won out on this one because of the comprehensive breakdown of different chicken parts/grill methods. It also turned me onto a method I’ve been curious to try for a while now: brining. My friends, why do we not brine? Like the chicken this seems so unappreciated. What are we doing that makes us so busy that we cannot prep our meats an hour or two early by soaking them in a bath of salt water? Ok, fair enough, there are probably tons or reasons, but if someone came up to you and said that they had a magical way of seasoning, tenderizing and infusing moistness in your chicken, wouldn’t you want to take note? That’s right, a little salt water is magic.
Now I know I like to preach fundamentals and technique on a regular basis. Knife work in my opinion can make a lack luster home cooked meal look really sexy and help deliver that wow factor to complement your flavors. But also, and again this may just be me, it’s just fun cutting shit up! Sharp knife, good cutting board and fresh ingredients just make me happy in my kitchen. Almost more so than the actual cooking process itself. So take a little time out of your busy Memorial Day schedule and chop up your ingredients.
The thing is, if you fuck up, no worries! It’s not like you can’t cook/eat/savor your chopping failure. There’s a couple different ways of julienne your produce, but for today we’ll just cover making apple matchsticks with go fantastically tossed in a fresh salad or as a tasty garnish.
There’s something about having a not so sober conversation with the old school, neighborhood lush about the quality and freshness of your local seafood that’s both amusing and troubling. On the one hand you’re thinking maybe this guy knows a thing or two and I should heed his advice; on the other (and this is coming from years of bartending experience) you want to just write the guy off and chalk it up to drunk banter. “No, I get it, check the eyes, yes I understood the first 37 times you mentioned it.”
Either way, it did get me thinking, there’s a few ingredients out there you do really need to be careful about when purchasing and storing. Fish: clean eyes and fresh smell = good. Crustaceans: moving around and smell fresh = good. Other major meats are fairly obvious as well, but clams and mussels. That’s a bit trickier. Freshness with those guys is very much necessary simply because a dead one can lead to a horrible world of pain and the red flags aren’t as obvious.
But have no fear mussel lovers! A little prep when coming home with fresh mussels means you can eat well and safe all week long. Top things you need to know about buying and storing mussels:
- Check your mussels, they should be tightly closed! If cracked or stay open after tapping them, that’s a deal breaker ladies.
- Mussels need to breath, so if wrapped in a plastic bag they will suffocate. The good stuff is in a mesh bag, rinsed with water and ideally displayed up front and not in a back room out of eye shot.
- If you’re not cooking your mussels immediately, place them in a bowl with a layer of aluminum foil and wet paper towel or newspaper on the bottom, as well as another paper towel on top and they’ll keep in your fridge for about 5 days. ALWAYS check them again before using to discard the opened, dead ones.
I must say I do enjoy starting the week with a breakfast post. Typing up a lazy sunday’s brunch for Monday helps take the edge off of the stinging reminder of the impending hours spent in front of my computer in my office. Nothing like a few hours on the couch on my laptop to offset that sentiment. But while I was dreding the work week, I got to thinking. What could I make on Sunday that would be good left overs for Monday? Or even Tuesday. Yeah sure, lots of dinner leftovers would work fine, but I’d like to have something a bit more versatile, something I could tweek to suite what ever mood I was in the next day. What could possibly be so easy, versatile, and preserve well in the fridge? Oh right, crepes!
The recipes for crepe batter vary depending on what you’re reading, but the general recipe is pretty standard: flour, milk, eggs, salt, rest, pour, serve. The only trick I’ve ever discovered was shown to me by a roommate born and raised in Paris (I only had to bug her 37 times to teach me something “French”). Maybe it’s more obvious to some, but her “trick” of melting a little butter and whiping the pan with a paper towel to coat was brilliant to me. Doing this seasons your pan so the crepe won’t stick, no butter clumps up or burns and the crepe cooks quickly and evenly.
So who’s recipe did i end up going with? Home French cooking simply equals Julia. Period. And not surprisingly, it’s the most common sense way to mix the batter in my opinion. Plus this is a master recipe, adding a little vanilla extract or sugar can sweeten up the mix for dessert crepes easily.
I really shouldn’t call anything Jacque Pepin recommends a cheat. I mean, if he does something in the kitchen, it may as well be a law because you know there’s a sound rationale behind it and he’s going to do it right. Lately I’ve been reading his autobiography, The Apprentice, and I stumbled upon the souffle recipe that his mother used to make. I’ve been getting into making souffles lately partially because I enjoy the challenge and partially because a well made souffle is fucking delicious. What really attracted me to the recipe was that Pepin’s mother didn’t actually make her souffle the traditional way. Instead of separating the yolks and whites and recombining after changing the composition of both, she just mixed everything together with a white sauce and popped it in the oven. WTF?
And there I was, scratching my head wondering if this was a real thing or not. Had my cookbooks been lying to me? Is it really possible to make a tasty, delicate souffle without the multiple, messy steps I had become accustomed? Well, turns out Pepin wins yet again (no surprise). Not only was the souffle a great meal, but it rose beautifully. Simple, relatively fast, and much less sensitive to the normal restraints of throwing a souffle together. Future Top Chef contestants, you are welcome.
Why the hell would you be munching on shredded pork at 1 am you ask? Well, my initial reaction would normally be, “I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it”, but I suppose another reason could be because you enjoy the Spanish style of eating dinner in the late evening. Or maybe you take the initiative to prepare a large amount of pork and package it up for easy access when you’re so inclined. Or you’re like me, you can grossly underestimate the amount of time it requires to braise down a whole pork shoulder while your friends happily hang out and drink all night until the food is ready.
Don’t get me wrong, braising is pretty dummy-proof even for me, but there is one tiny bit of calculation that needs to be factored into the process: the weight of the meat.
A good rule of thumb to consider with most tough cuts of meat is braising for a solid 3 hours for 3-4 lbs of meat, plus an extra hour for each additional pound. You need at least 2-3 hours for even smoall cuts just to break the tissue down enough to tear apart easliy. With this dish, we braised it at 350 degrees in the hopes of a slightly faster cooking time which turned out great, but I’d really recommend 300-325 degrees as the ideal temperature to set your oven. You want that connective tissue to break down and dissolve into the meat to really give it that amazing melted texture. Too hot or too cool, the connective tissue doesn’t break down properly and the meat remains chewy. The braising liquid is best if fat skimmed off and reduced to thicken as a sauce.
Also, one good thing about the long cooking/drinking time was have a chance to throw some bottles around and coming up with new shot/cocktail. Next time you’re looking for something to do with that Southern Comfort, cheap tequila and triple sec you’ve had sitting around collecting dust, pick up a can of guava juice. Mix equal parts each spirit and juice, shake with ice and pour into shot glasses or martini glass. Bonus points for adding a dash of whipped cream to an already very girlie shot. Not the best cocktail for the scotch drinkers out there, but the cosmo drinkers of the world will not be disappointed.
Apologizes on the lack of photography on this post, it was not a sober evening.
Keep in mind that ingredients are very interchangeable and this recipe is more of a guideline. You can vary the vegetables, braising liquid, seasonings to your liking. The only thing i would add to this recipe is hotter peppers and/or some spices to give it some heat.
Well, actually that may not necessarily be accurate. My mom loves tomatoes so I know any dish with tomatoes as the centerpiece is going to be a hit. I myself am not a big tomato fan, but I must admit the Provençal variation is pretty damn tasty. And it pairs brilliantly with roasted read meat or a simple white fish. Snazzy, simple and dare I say.. elegant? All you really need to Provençal anything are the trifecta: tomatoes, garlic and olive oil so tinker with these ingredients. What follows are the classic stuffed variety, but there’s no reason why the mix can’t contribute to other dishes if your looking to add a little acidity and garlic.
Ok, today lets talk upkeep. Sure you have a $1,000 su vide machine, sure you shop only at Whole Foods and farmers markets and order special ingredients online, sure you have every one-use toy the local kitchen supply shop sells, but is that gonna make delicious food? Well.. probably, yeah, but you’re still far better served focusing on your two best tools in a kitchen: your pan and your knife. So like your ingredients, treat them with respect! I bang my gear all around the kitchen enough to scare my roommate from coming within 10 feet of the stove, but after the foray of tossing ingredients around, making messes and hurting myself, I always debrief and make sure my knives and main tools are properly maintained.
If you’re lucky enough to find a untreated/unseasoned skillet in your local supply stores buy it immediately. These guys will last FOREVER if taken care of properly. I plan on passing my skillet to any future spawn I may have or leave it to someone in my will. I’m not even kidding about this. House burns down, I’m digging through the rubble for my skillet then calling friends and family to say I’m alright.
The concept is simple: Cast iron is porous. When heated metal pores open more. When heated and rubbed with oil, oil seeps into pores treating the metal. It takes a few applications to break-in the skillet, but by seasoning it, you distribute heat more evenly, prevent any rust from forming and basically help cook anything and everything perfectly.