Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Deliciousness: The shit I didn't post this year

Popovers are easy. These were served with a simple ramp-butter sauce. Easily one of the top ten best-tasting things I made this year.

Rotisserie duck, a no-brainer, with a couple of oranges, in the cavity, with the spit right through them.

Leftover duck? How about tostadas.

I did a lot of ribs this year. Don't forget to make a bbq sauce with whatever fruit is in season at the time. Tomatoes are great but you can be more creative than that.

Calzone type things. In my opinion they are easier to turn out a great result than pizza and a great use for leftovers. I don't remember what's inside these.

Mmmm, morels. Enough said.

Kung pow octopus.

Once in a while, my friend and fellow Coit Rd. Farmers Market board member, Tony do something we call "meat day". He brings over some huge cut of meat and we spend our Saturday afternoon after market cutting it up and cooking it any way we can think of while drinking excessively. Good quality experimenting time. I think this time we were playing with Thai spices, herbs and stuff.

Fun stuff!

Grilled toms. About to be a great summer sauce.

I love these frozen New Zealand greenshell mussels. They make an easy quick meal topped with whatever you have around. (Top) Grilled with annatto oil and asparagus. (Bottom) from the oven with sesame oil, wasabi and pickled ginger.

Some meatloaf I made at the market. I have no idea what was in this.

Some pasta thing with both a nutmeggy bechamel sauce and a cinnamonny tomato sauce. This thing was delicious.

Fried potato skins stuffed with spaghetti squash that was tossed with red pepper puree and topped with cheese.

Shrimp and andouille sausage meatball gumbo. This was eaten outside with friends while a hurricane (Ike, I think) actually made it's way through Cleveland. Our food blew off our plates and branches fell around us from my 100+ year old maple tree while we ate. This was dangerous but probably the most fun meal of the year.

This pizza may have been the most delicious thing I made this year. It was one of those times when the result was so much better than the sum of the parts. I topped it with stuff I just happened to have around from other cooking experiments, an aji-orange sauce (aji amarillo chiles, cumin seed toasted and freshly ground, granulated garlic, mandarin orange slices in light syrup and heavy cream cooked down and pureed), some pre cooked sweet longaniza sausage and, after it came out of the oven, a cilantro-hazelnut pesto (cilantro, hazelnuts, garlic, locatelli, olive oil and gray salt), which my wife still reminds me "looks like a bird shit on the pizza". The bread machine made a great dough and the pizza stone was screamin' hot. I haven't even tried to duplicate this one, I don't want to be disappointed.

Thanks to all of those who took the time to read this crap this year. I'll try to be better at responding to peoples comments and while I'm at it, I'll try to take better pictures and learn how to use the blog well enough to add the blogs I follow and all of that other stuff the rest of you have already figured out. Peace.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The pit revisited: lamb

For our second pit-roasting experiment, we decided to do a lamb for Thanksgiving. Since local lambs were not available this time of year we headed to the restaurant store to pick up a 25 lb. frozen Australian lamb.

We seasoned it by inserting dozens of whole cloves of garlic into slots we cut all over the animal. We intended to stuff the cavity with lots of fresh rosemary but the store was out of it. Instead, we decided to make a rosemary infused olive oil. I took a cup and a half of olive oil and slowly heated it and an ounce of dried rosemary to about 200 degrees and let it rest for a few hours and strained it. Using a brine pump, we injected the oil into all of the thickest parts of the animal.

We rubbed the whole thing down with salt and pepper and tucked the hind legs up into the body before wrapping it in a single layer of banana leaves. Following my own suggestion from our first pit-roasting experience, we also started with much more coals and burned the pit for three full hours to preheat it.

As you can see, we had 16" or more of coals. We mounded them up on both sides to make room for the lamb. We could smell the banana leave smoking a soon as we placed it in the pit so we quickly covered it with the steel lid and plenty of dirt. It spent a whole 17 hours underground before we unearthed it.

The lamb was cooked beautifully, the garlic and rosemary oil perfumed the lamb nicely and we were happy with the touch of smoke that the burning banana leaves gave the lamb. But it was clear that the pit had dropped below cooking temperature hours earlier. The meat was barely warm when we unwrapped it. We thought that by starting with an animal half the size, with no skin, using less banana leaves and using more coals for a longer time might even result in over-done meat. We now know for sure that it is nearly impossible to over-cook anything using this method. When we build the final version of the pit, we will use much more brick (for more thermal mass) and add a adjustable vent to allow a small amount of air to the bottom of the pit so the coals can be fed and allowed to smolder longer.

We will need a few more experiments and learn a little more about temperature control before we will be ready to cook a 100+ pound hog in the ground but we we do have a much better idea of what the design of the final version of the pit should be.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Turkey mole

Since turkey day is upon us, I thought this would be a good time to consider preparing it similar to the way that people were likely preparing it on this continent long before any Europeans even new this bird existed. Unfortunately, mole is another one of those recipes that people tend to shy away from doing at home. It's not nearly as hard to prepare as most recipes make it sound. Moles often have twenty or more ingredients and each ingredient has to be roasted, toasted, fried, charred (sometimes burnt), ground, re hydrated or any combination of these things. Still, as long as you have some dried chiles around, most people have a well enough stocked pantry to make a good version, from scratch, all their own.

It helps to break down the sauce into groups of ingredients and pick one or more ingredients from each group.

The chiles.

Clockwise- ancho, mulato, pasilla, pulla and guajillo.

Dried chiles make up the bulk of a good mole even though they aren't usually very spicy. You can make a good sauce with just one type of chile but using several will give you a more complex end result. I almost always use guajillo and/or ancho as the primary chiles. Mulato and/or pasilla, with their extra deep flavors, add a nice second dimension and I used some pullas, guajillos slightly hotter cousin. There is no reason to follow these guidelines. If all you have is a pile of cascabels, then use those. Once the chiles are stemmed and seeded they should be either fried in oil or toasted. This time I toasted them.

Once they are all toasted, re hydrate them in a bowl of hot tap water. After 15 minutes, throw them in your blender and puree.

Dried fruits, seeds and nuts.

If all you have are roasted peanuts and raisins (most people do) you will be fine. I love sesame seeds (and I have pounds of them) so I always use some of those. They also make a nice garnish for serving. This time I also used cashews and some dried cherries from Michigan which added a nice fruity note. Pumpkin seeds are a very common addition. If the nuts and seeds aren't already roasted, toast or fry them. Add the seeds and fruits to your blender and puree them. I always add the nuts last. My Vita-Mix is a motherfucker of a machine but once the fats from the nuts begin to emulsify with the water, even it gets a little pissed at me.


Cumin and coriander are always a good idea as are black peppercorns. I consider a stick of Ceylon cinnamon crucial but that's just me. Other sweet spices add a nice touch so I use a little clove and allspice. On the herbal side I used bay leaves, Mexican oregano, savory (thyme would be more common) and an avocado leaf. Avocado leaves have a slightly anise-like flavor so if you don't have them, you may want to add some fennel seeds, anise seeds, a star anise or none of the above. Since I dry toasted the chiles and other ingredients, I decided to fry the spices in a little oil. If you have a good blender, you should be able to add them directly to the puree. If your not sure they will blend well enough, dry toast them and grind them separately first.

Aromatics and veggies.

Onions and garlic are a given. You can roast the garlic (individual cloves, still in their paper, heated in a dry skillet) or not. The onion can be added raw or cooked. Sometimes the onion will be cooked, cut side down, in a pan until it burns. Tomatoes and/or tomatillos are often used and you may want to try a banana or plantain (fried would be nice) or mango or pineapple. be creative. I cooked the garlic and onion along with the last couple of pathetic tomatoes and tomatillos from my garden in a little oil until everything started to burn a little.

Add the veggies to your puree.

Most recipes will use some stale tortillas or bread to thicken and bind the puree. You may or may not choose to toast or fry them first. I added a couple of leftover tostada shells. Now you want to add the nuts and get the puree as fine as you can. You will need to decide if you want to strain it or not. I prefer to strain it (through a chinois) in order to get a silky smooth result but if you have a really good blender and want to save some time you can skip this step.

The strained sauce.

Now it's time to fry the sauce. Many people have never used this technique that is common for dried chile sauces in Mexico. Frying the sauce takes away the brassy-bitter edge and makes it sweeter while adding to the overall depth of flavor. Heat a cast iron kettle until it is screaming hot. Add a little lard or oil and immediately add all of the puree at once.

This can be messy but it's important. You want to keep stirring and reducing it until it's several shades darker. Then add some water or stock, lower the flame and simmer with the lid cracked so it can reduce further.

Chocolate is easily the most famous ingredient in moles. It is what make them sound so exotic (You will often see recipes titled "chicken in chocolate-chili sauce"). It is important but more of a secondary flavor or seasoning. Mexican chocolate is the right thing for the job but chocolate in other forms will also work. In this case I used an extremely dark baking chocolate mainly because I forgot to check and see if I had any Mexican chocolate in the house. Now is the time to melt it into the sauce.

All that is left is to season it with salt and sugar. Salting to taste is easy but don't over sweeten it. Most commercial moles are over sweetened to cater to those who aren't used to the extremely complex bitter notes in a good mole. I use Mexican piloncillo sugar which is just unrefined dehydrated cane juice. Jaggary is also a nice idea as is any raw sugar but if you don't have any of those, brown sugar or regular white sugar will work.

The turkey is simply braised in the sauce. I was making a ton so I could share it at my civic club meeting and at the market the next day. I split two 13 lb. turkeys and browned them in two cast iron skillets. When browned well, I turned them over and covered them with a generous amount of the sauce.

Cover and cook in a slow oven (325˚or lower if you have more time) until it pulls from the bone easily. For serving to a crowd, I separated all of the meat (and skin) from the bones and served it over rice and on corn tortillas.

When you think your sick of eating leftover turkey, heat some up in your homemade Mole. It will be transformed into something completely different.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Puerco pibil

I finally got around to digging a pit so I could do a real "Yucatan style" pit-roasted pig.

I dug a hole 3'x 4'x 2 1/2' which I lined with brick that was salvaged from a recently demolished school. The size of my pit was determined by the size of the steel cover that my friend scrounged up from his shop. Although the finished with of 30" is good, I intend to lengthen it to 5-6 ft from the 42" that it is now. The 50 lb. pig that I got had to be beheaded in order to fit in the pit.

The pit happily burning away.

The almost complete lack of good descriptions for this style of pit-roasting is sad. I was able to find some good info on how to do it "luau style". Most recipes will give a short explanation of how it used to be cooked it in a pit, but go on to describe making it in an oven or crock pot. Pit roasting is a smoke steaming process and without the smoke from burning banana leaves it will not be the same. Sure, pork slow cooked in an achiote marinade will be tasty but it wont be puerco pibil.

The marinade

8 oz. annatto seed
1.75 oz. black peppercorns
1 oz cumin seed
1/2 oz whole allspice
1 3" stick Ceylon cinnamon
1 1/2 lbs. peeled garlic
2 whole habanero chiles (from my garden)
4 cups of orange juice
1 cup of lime juice
1 healthy fistful of kosher salt
Grind the spices and puree with the balance of the ingredients.

Many sources (even Wikipedia) suggest that annatto is primarily used for color. One person even suggested substituting paprika. Annatto is one of the main flavors in the dish, paprika isn't at all appropriate. You wont have any trouble grinding the other spices but annatto seed is hard to grind to a fine powder. Grind it the best you can. The marinade will have a gritty texture but after the long cooking, the little bits will soften up and you shouldn't notice them.
I used lots of garlic, more than any recipe I read would suggest. Use your best judgment.
Traditionally, sour oranges would be the citrus of choice. Some day I will track some down and try them but I chose to use regular orange juice with some lime juice. Acidity is important and most recipes will suggest much more lime (or lemon which is similar in acidity to seville oranges) or even vinegar than I used here. I err on the less acidic side for things that are going to marinade for a long time. Years ago I made a pork shoulder in achiote that was made with vinegar and after a 24 hour rest, the vinegar had "cooked" the meat and I was unable to get an appealing texture after it was actually cooked. Be cautious with lime juice or vinegar but you could probably get away with more than I used.
The other crucial "ingredient" is banana leaf. You will be wrapping the pig completely in the leaves which will trap steam and add an important herbal flavor that is key to a proper end result. They should also be allowed to burn a little in order to get some smoke flavor. Don't use too many layers or the smoke wont penetrate.

The pig.

I bought a 50 lb. pig at the local butcher shop. As I mentioned before, even a very small pig like that was too long for my pit so we removed the head. We also removed the hocks so it would be easier to wrap in the banana leaves. From the inside, we cut some big slots into the thickest part of the rear legs and the shoulder so we could get some marinade in there and so it would cook more evenly.

Sucks to be delicious

Lay down multiple pieces of butcher twine and lay a couple of layers of banana leaves across them. Set the thoroughly rubbed down pig on top, cover completely with more leaves and tie it up.

We made a cradle out of some concrete reenforcement wire although any plain steel fencing or chicken wire would work well.

The fire.

My friend came over at 5 am Sunday morning to get the fire going. Standing around a huge fire, on a crisp fall morning, drinking a beer and watching the sun come up was extremely pleasant. It has been quite a while since I've had beer for breakfast and I forgot just how fun it is.

You will need a shit-load of fire wood to get enough hot coals to cook this thing for the nine or more hours it will spend in the ground. Most references suggest two to three times the volume of the pit and that is about right. We used a variety of scrap hardwoods from my friends shop that burned down to a nice 10" deep bed of coals in about two hours. If you are using logs, you may want to give yourself three to four hour to get it burned down enough. Shoot for a full 12" of coals. Put the pig, back down directly on the coals.

Place the cover over the pit and seal completely with damp dirt. If you see any places where steam or smoke are escaping cover with more dirt and pack it down. Now it's just a waiting game. We left ours for 10 hours and while it was done, It could have cooked a little longer. You are far more likely to under cook it than over cook it. My guess is that it would have been even better if we had left it until the next day. Once the pit is sealed the only thing cooking the meat is the residual heat stored in the brick. By a strange coincidence, my friend ran into a guy from Georgia at a bar in Pittsburgh the night before we did this. Having done many pig roasts, he gave him many pointers on how to go about it. He was correct for the most part but he did suggest that we add a bag of hardwood charcoal just before sealing the pit. This doesn't work. The coals will die down once they are deprived of oxygen and the charcoal never even lit. In fact, when we opened the pit it looked the same as when we closed it.


We ate it as tacos on home made tortillas (gotta do something with all that time while the thing roasts), shredded romaine, Pickled onions (onions, lime juice, orange juice, annatto oil and salt) and a tomatillo-panca chile salsa (roasted tomatillos, roasted garlic, aji panca, dry malt extract and salt).

That's probably how it actually looked to my Doppelbock compromised brain

The things that I need to keep in mind for my next time:

More entry points (cut more slots) for marinade and a longer marinading time- The flavor wasn't as strong as I would have liked.

Less banana leaves- They need a chance to char through in order to get some smoke flavor.

More coals- The pit didn't sustain enough heat to cook it as well as I had hoped. It fell just short actually "falling apart" tender. (We did build a fire on top of the lid toward the end to add more heat.)

If you've got some room in your yard, I suggest building your own pit. I expect to do a lamb next and maybe a goat after that. Or maybe a couple of banana leaf wrapped, mole' rubbed turkeys for thanksgiving.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Green chile pasta with cilantro-lime brown butter sauce

(Warning: I recently discovered that I can add video to my blog. This post contains a completely silly piece of video that I can only blame on a six-pack of Commodore Perry IPA and the unexpected free time that came from a canceled meeting. I'm only posting it as a test but it is kinda' funny)

Making fresh pasta is easy and always satisfying. You can make the dough, roll it and cut it in not much more time than it takes to bring the water to a boil. A bizillion different flavors can be added to the dough itself and you can also stuff it with any number of different things. I'm not sure why more people don't do it.

I headed out to what's left of my garden and picked a couple of green chiles which I roasted, seeded and pureed. To the Puree I added 1 cup A.P. flour, 1/2 cup semolina, an egg, olive oil and salt. Mix the ingredients and form them into a ball. Dough is not my friend. I can't make a decent loaf of bread or pizza dough without a bread machine. The only advice I've got to share is to leave on the "wet" side. I'll add flour as I knead it through the machine, just enough to get it to hold together. Wrap it in plastic if your not going to roll it right away. You will probably want to divide it into two or three ball to be rolled one at a time.

(Sorry about that.)

I like to keep the sauce simple so I decided on a cilantro-lime brown butter sauce. Heat butter until it just begins to brown then quickly add some cilantro, lime zest and lime juice. Your fresh pasta will cook in only a minute or two then you just drain it and toss it with the sauce. I browned a little queso fresco in a nonstick skillet as a garnish.

If you don't own a pasta machine, get one (unless you really like using a rolling pin). There is no end to the fun and interesting things you can do when you make your own pasta.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Real Swedish meatballs

I have only one family recipe that has been handed down to me. My Swedish grandmother's Swedish meatballs have been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. I actually don't remember having ever tasted "grammy's" version, but my mother made them several times a year and as a child they were my favorite meal. I've eaten many versions, including many of the "cream of mushroom soup" types that would go better with a bong than with a Swedish meal. I've also read dozens of "traditional" recipes and only found one that was similar to our family's. The distinguishing thing about them is that they are seasoned with dill weed and nutmeg. No canned soup, no cream sauce, no dried fruit, just seasoned meatballs with brown gravy.

2/3rds beef, 1/3rd pork, egg, white bread soaked in milk, dried dill weed, fresh ground nutmeg, dried onion (my mom would have used fresh but I'm weird like that) salt and white pepper rolled into balls the size of your choosing.

Brown the balls. I'll save my "brown doesn't mean grey things boiled in there own juices" tirade for another day but if you brown them correctly, not only will they have great texture, but you wont need to add beef stock or bullion to your fond to make a great gravy.

Remove them from the pan and sprinkle the fond with flour. (my mom uses Wondra and so do I) add water and let sauce thicken. Check for seasoning including dill and nutmeg (add Minors beef base if your gravy is weak). Return the balls to the pan and simmer slowly until they are cooked through.

Spice of the week: Nutmeg

Only buy and use whole nutmegs. I've turned away dozens, if not hundreds, of customers who insist on buying nutmeg already ground. I wont sell it. While I will sell other spices ground, that I would rather have people grind fresh, nutmeg is so fuckin' easy to grind and is so much better freshly ground that it makes zero sense to use it any other way. Even if you needed a cup full for a hundred pies, it would only take you a few minutes to grate it. Use it in your pies and other sweets, use it in your white sauces, but don't ignore it when it comes to everyday savory dishes. I'll be using it on all of the wonderful local cauliflower I'll be eating this fall.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Salbutes y salsa fresca

Nothing tastes like summer quite like a simple salsa fresca. Like most people, I make dozens of versions of salsa but for this few weeks of the year, when perfect tomatoes, fresh green chiles, cilantro , onions and garlic are abundant, I like to keep it simple.

Red and yellow tomatoes, serrano chiles, seeds and all, sliced into little discs, Minced garlic, diced red onion (although I usually prefer white), chopped cilantro, a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a pinch of salt.

While it's not unusual for me to eat this stuff with a spoon, I decided to use some of my leftover smoke-roasted duck and make some salbutes. These are small stuffed and fried masa cakes. First you need some masa. We are fortunate enough to have a small tortilla factory here in Cleveland where you can get fresh masa for only $.70 a pound. Unfortunately, fresh masa is extremely perishable and doesn't provide very good results if it's been refrigerated or frozen. If you can't get fresh masa and use it within 12 hours or so you can use dry masa harina which is what I used for these (the tortilla factory isn't open on Sundays). Mix your masa dough according to the package directions (If using fresh masa, you may want to knead in a little water to get a workable dough). Roll the dough into small balls, slightly larger than golf balls.

When all of the dough is balled you can press them one at a time in a tortilla press into 5 inch rounds. You want to keep them on the thick side, you're not making tortillas.

I filled mine with some leftover smoke-roasted duck, shredded and mixed with some red onion, cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper, but you can, of course, use anything that you find interesting. Pile a small amount of filling on the center of on of the rounds and cover with a second one. Pinch the edges closed and fry in some hot oil until bubbling subsides and they are golden brown.

These can be eaten with your hands as a snack dipped in the salsa or sauce of your choice. Have fun.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chiles rellenos

I'll be stuffin' a lot of peppers in the next couple of months while they are so abundant. Today I picked a half dozen long green chiles, similar to Anaheims but slimmer and without the square shoulders. The first thing I like to do when stuffing these things is to peel them. Generally you roast peppers to peel them so the first thing we need to discuss is choosing the right roasting method. I'm sure most of you have roasted red peppers in the oven or on the grill which gives you those wonderful sweet, melt in your mouth peppers that are so good in about a bazillion recipes or just by themselves. The problem with this method is that you tend to cook them until they are falling apart which will likely make them hard to stuff. What you need is to char them fast while leaving the pepper largely uncooked. You could char them on a comal or in a cast iron pan, you could char them directly over the flame on your stove or on a very hot grill which works well or you can use my favorite method. I find it works well, especially on thin walled chiles, to scorch the skin with a propane or butane torch. This chars the skin quickly without cooking the pepper at all, leaving you with a firm pepper that will be easy to clean and stuff. unless you have constant plumbing problems or your a sculptor, your torch probably sits in your shop, collecting dust anyhow so you may as well give it something to do. I usually use the bottom of an overturned cast iron pan to set the pepper on while burning it. Char the skin evenly all over and after a brief rest the skin should slip right of under cold water.

Slit the chiles down the side and scrape the seeds and veins away with a spoon and their ready to stuff with whatever you choose.

Naked and eviscerated

Today i'm going to do a couple of kinds of cheese, queso fresco that I briefly fried in some annatto oil to get it a little browned and some Monterrey jack for the melty ooziness.

I made a quick cinnamon-chipotle tomato sauce by putting some fresh tomatoes through my old reliable Foley food mill and cooking them down with some chipotle chile powder and a small chunk of Ceylon cinnamon until the sauce thickens and reduces. After adding a tablespoon a heavy cream to the sauce, I arranged the stuffed chiles in a pan and spooned the sauce over them. A short time in the oven to melt the cheese, brown the top and finish cooking the peppers is all you need.

When I get some fresh poblanos we'll talk about doing some battered and fried chiles rellenos. Have fun.