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.

Spice of the week: Fire-brick pepper

I've been playing with this mix for a while and I finally decided to blend it for sale. It is a blend of cut black peppercorns, red pepper flakes and hickory smoke powder that is great for all of you who, like me, love to encrust salmon, steaks and other things with black pepper. The red pepper flakes give it a bit of sweetness and a modest but different heat than just black pepper and the smoke powder gives it just a little supplemental smoke, especially when your not grilling. You can see where the name came from.

If you want to make this yourself, use equal quantities of very coarse black pepper and red peper flakes (Not crushed red pepper but the stuff without the seeds or veins) and add a very light dusting of hickory smoke powder. Easy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fuckin' asshole!

I pitched the thing in the pond, I wonder if the fish will eat it.

Sorry about the lack of posts lately, I've cooked some great stuff, grilled white bass, Roasted corn with tarragon oil, roasted corn with coconut curry ghee and culantro chutney, grilled pizza, playing with my new blend "Fire-brick pepper", but haven't had the time to document any of it. Now that my brewing demo and the Coit Rd. market corn roast are over and I've recovered from the loss of our 14 year old German shepherd "Pepper", I hope to have some time to catch up.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Spice of the week: Annatto seeds

This is a bit redundant to my regular customers since I made annatto seed my "spice of the week" about a month and a half ago but I've been playing with this one lately and thought it was worth talkin' about. Everybody has eaten annatto since it is a common natural food coloring. How do you think that cheddar cheese ends up being orange? The first thing everybody should do with these seeds is make some annatto oil. Put two ounces of annatto seeds in a pot with about a cup and a half of olive oil or the oil of your choice (real rendered pork lard makes this something really special). Slowly heat the oil until the seeds start to bubble. Don't get it too hot, you don't want to fry them or they will get bitter. About 200 degrees is hot enough. Now just turn off the heat and let it cool. Once cool, strain it and marvel at its vibrant orange colour. I keep mine in an old wine bottle in the fridge.

Now that you have the annatto oil, you can make a wonderful seasoning base called sofrito. There are many variations on this theme and I don't really follow any of them. Basically, it's a mixture of onion, garlic, peppers, herbs and spices sauteed in the oil. I started with a few things from my garden.

Then I added some stuff I picked up from the market. Leeks, onions, green peppers and garlic all coarsely chopped. Heat a decent amount of the oil in a large saute pan. The first thing in the oil was a generous tablespoon of cumin seed cooked until they started to pop. Then add your veggies and cook 'til soft but not brown. Then I added some Mexican oregano, a couple of chopped tomatoes and a goodly amount of salt.. The most important herb in many sofritos is culantro. This can be hard to find ( I do have an herb farmer who will be growing some for the market ) but it can be found at Latin and Asian stores. Cilantro is a good substitution but in this case I used a shadon beni ( another name for culantro ) chutney that I bought a a Latin store. The main ingredient is culantro but it also echos some of the other ingredients that I have already added. Once this cools a little, I like to pulse it in a food processor to get an even texture but this is optional. Now you have an awesome, flavorful seasoning base that can be used for many different things. The first thing that comes to mind is rice or rice and beans but I love it to flavor a simple saute of whatever summer veggies I have on hand.

The other thing I love to do is make achiote paste. It is nothing more than annatto seed ground together with garlic, vinegar, water and usually some other spices. I like allspice and fresh habaneros. This mixture is rubbed on pork or some other meat and pit roasted for a good long time. This will be a post of it's own some day soon.