Friday, August 21, 2009

Chorizo is your friend

Here is a quick, simple recipe for a "flavor-bomb" sausage. It only takes a few minutes and is perfect for stuffing all kinds of veggies this time of year.

1/3rd cup chile powder (Today I used ancho but use whatever you like and of course, using whole chiles, soaking and pureeing is preferable but not as quick)

1 head of garlic, coarsely chopped (grate it on a box grater if the cloves are large enough)

1 Tbsp. freshly ground coriander seed (cumin would be more common)

1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano

1 Tbsp. Kosher salt (or equivalent amount of your favorite salt)

1 Tbsp. cider vinegar (or more to taste. It should have a bit of a twang)

1 Tbsp. brown sugar, give or take (to offset the bitterness from the large amount of chile)

A little water to mix to a loose-paste consistency

Mix into

1 lb. good coarsely ground pork (And yes, grinding it yourself is better)

Today I mixed the cooked sausage with some cheese curds and inky-binky tiny red potatoes and stuffed it into some small poblano chiles. I then heated them over a low flame in a small amount of freshly made tomato puree.

And after a little mozzarella is melted on top.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Homemade masa for tamales

I love tamales. I've been making them for years relying on my now defunct local tortilla factory for fresh masa. Sure, I've made them with Maseca, and you can make a passable version with that stuff but the result will likely be a passable corn batter with (hopefully) a great filling. The problem is, a great tamal is about corn. The masa should be exquisite with the filling being more of a garnish or a bonus. To have an awesome masa batter you need great fresh masa and even if you have access to a tortilla factory, you can do much better by making it yourself. As it turns out this is pretty easy and wont add to much time to what is usually a pretty involved tamale making day.

Aside from the normal tamal batter ingredients (fat, stock and salt), you will need need only two things, Cal or calcium hydroxide which you can find at most Latin grocery stores (or from me) and some sort of dried field corn. The first time I attempted this I used field corn grown by a local farmer for animal feed. It worked great but needed alot of cleaning before I could use it. A couple of weeks later I found myself with a little time to try again and had an idea. Almost everybody has dried corn in their house in the form of popcorn! I look forward to trying many different blue, red and other various heirloom maize varieties in the future but I highly recommend popcorn as an always-available alternative.

To turn your popcorn into nixtamal all you need to do is boil it with the cal (a generous tablespoon per pound should be fine) for 15 minutes and let it rest for an hour or more, even up to a day. After resting it needs to be rinsed thoroughly. Put it in a colander under cold running water and rinse it, rubbing it together to remove as much of the softened hulls as possible. In a perfect world you would end up with perfectly white and completely hull-less corn. I have yet to achieve this and don't consider it necessary for a great tamale batter. Then you'll need to grind your nixtamal in a blender or food processor. The food processor will not give you as fine a grind but will get you a stiffer batter, closer to what most of us are used to using. The blender will give a much finer grind but will require more liquid (hopefully good homemade stock) to keep it moving through the blades. I've done it both ways and have had slightly better results from the blender version even though the thinner batter can be a bit messy to work with during assembly. Either way, don't be concerned about the gritty texture. Once they are steamed you will end up with a completely un-gritty result.

Standard procedure would have you beat your fat (hopefully real, fresh rendered pork lard) with salt and maybe some baking powder to aerate it which will ensure a good rise during steaming and therefor a light texture. That's fine but I've had great results from adding cold fat to the machine for a few seconds once the mixture is ground as fine as you can get it. Feel free to experiment. As always, make sure it's seasoned well and tastes great.

Fillings can be anything you want. The one pictured above was filled with some leftover achiote-braise pork shoulder but anything delicious will do and a small amount of leftovers can be turned into a feast.
As far as filling, folding and steaming, Rick Bayless can explain it better than anyone so I'll leave that to him.

Now go make some tamales.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A couple of new books you should own

I know, I know. I've been slackin' on posting again. I'm very busy this time of year trying to pull the market together for another season. I do have a couple of things worth posting that I hope to get to soon. Here's a hint.

I do want to mention o a couple of new books I'm excited about.

The first one is Ruhlman's new book, "Ratio". I can put him at the top of the list of people I can blame my ever increasing cooking obsession on. He's the reason I make all of the bacon I eat from scratch and now he's responsible for my recent bread-making compulsion. I have tried many times to make even a passable loaf of homemade bread but after reading the first chapter of Ratio, I made some pretty nice baguettes. The next day I went out and bought a 50# bag of flour and haven't stopped baking since, with very good results. This book belongs in everyone's often neglected reference section of their recipe book collection along side Ruhlmans "Elements of cooking", Ruhlman's "Charcuterie", McGee's "On food and cooking", Corriher's "CookWise" ect.

The other book I'm looking forward to picking up is the latest version of Cleveland Ethnic Eats. I first ran into this book in the late "90's at a time when the wife and I were searching every corner of Cleveland looking for the unusual ingredients we needed to fuel our new found passion for ethnic cooking. It rode around in the car with us for years and not only helped us find ingredients, but also to find the ethnic restaurants and festivals that were our inspiration. These little stores eventually became the first suppliers for a spice stand that I started at an old farmers market in my neighborhood which lead to my rewarding (although not financially so) career as a part time spice vendor and full time volunteer at the Coit Rd. Farmers Market. If you live, or spend any time, in or around Cleveland, (and require the consumption of food for your survival) you should own this book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Homemade goatmilk ricotta

The first time I made ricotta was about a year and a half ago. I began buying goat cheese from Lake Erie Creamery and asked about getting some whey to make ricotta. I was told that it can't be made from an acid precipitated whey because there are no solids left after the process of making chevre. Even though everything I read said the same thing, I decided to try anyhow. After heating four gallons of the whey I did get about a pound of very tangy cheese. While it was certainly not real ricotta it was usable and I made a zucchini casserole that took into account it's tart, lactic quality. Why mention this? Well, if you have access to whey from an acid precipitated goat cheese, don't write off the possibility of making a ricotta-type cheese from it. If you're clever, you will be able to come up with a recipe that will benefit from a tangy soft cheese.

Since then, Lake Erie Creamery have begun making several other cheeses including a French feta and the award-winning Blomma. I requested whey from a rennet-precipitated cheese and received nine gallons from a Caerphilly they are currently working on.

I did a search on making homemade ricotta and the first problem that I had with the results was that the over-whelming majority begin with or include milk. This ignores the spirit behind ricotta which is to take advantage of a by-product, whey. So for starters, no milk. The second variable was whether or not it would require the addition of an acid to increase yield or coagulate at all. After all, ricotta is supposed to be an heat AND acid precipitated cheese. I thought it would be smart to split the whey and try it both ways.

The first batch was the simple version. All We did was heat 4 1/2 gallons of the whey to 200 degrees and large chunks of curd began to form immediately. We scooped the clumps into a strainer lined with cheesecloth and then gently spooned the rest of the liquid through. After a half hour or 45 min. we had a pound and a half of delicious cheese. Definitely easy enough to make homemade ricotta on a regular basis.

The second batch would have an acid added. There were several quantities and types of acid suggested including one that suggested as much as 1/4 cup for two gallons of whey. That sounded like an awful lot of acid so I decided on a modest two tablespoons of lemon juice expecting that if the flavor came through (which it did), it would be more pleasant than vinegar. We heated the 4 1/2 gallons of whey to 200 degrees and added the lemon juice. We saw nothing. None of the big clumps that so easily formed without the acid. I even called Mariann at the creamery to make sure the whey in each bucket was exactly the same. She confirmed that it was. Since there was some very fine particles in the pot we decided to strain it anyhow. The fine particles nearly completely clogged the cheesecloth but it continued draining very slowly. After several hours (during which we reheated the spent whey from batch one and added 1/4 cup of vinegar to see if we could squeeze any more curd from it. Nope.), we finally got the last of the liquid in the strainer but it would take all night until it drained to approximately the same moisture level as the first batch.

The results were surprising. Two distinctly different cheeses. The first one had a texture similar to standard supermarket stuff but with a far superior flavor along with just a hint of "goatiness". The second batch, much to our surprise, did have a slightly better yield, about 1 5/8 lb and an amazing soft, fine cream cheese like texture with a hint of lemon. Both were awesome in their own way.

Batch one became part of a cannelloni dish. I seasoned the cheese modestly with salt, white pepper, a dash of nutmeg and a little mixed Italian seasoning. I rolled the mixture in some squares of fresh pasta that I made and fit them into a baking dish. I topped them with a simple sun-dried tomato sauce I made by sauteing in olive oil, garlic, onion and minced sun-dried tomatoes (or more correctly "oven-dried tomatoes" that I dried last fall and packed with olive oil in mason jars) and adding some heavy cream. The wife and I must have sound ridiculous as we moaned our way through this meal. It was awesome.

Batch two was seasoned with some sugar, vanilla and a tiny pinch of salt and rolled into some homemade crepes and topped with some black raspberry jam that we heated until it melted into a sauce. These we ate for breakfast and, needless to say, they were great.

As good as batch two was, it was no fun to strain. I will do it again, primarily to see if I get similar results with a different batch of whey (the real variable) but I can't see doing it regularly unless I come up with a more efficient straining process. On the other hand, batch one was so good and so easy that I expect this to be how I get all of the ricotta I use in the future. It was a simple and low impact process. It took maybe an hour and a half and and half of that was spent bringing it up to temp. The half hour or 45 min. strain and drain was well worth the pound and a half of excellent (and free) cheese. If you have access to whey I highly recommend that you intercept some before it all goes to feed these hogs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some beer recipes

I recently threw my semi-annual beer bash and since I've found it hard to post about my beer and brewing I thought this was the right time to talk a little about it. I had six beers on tap and I cooked up a menu that included each of them in a recipe, something I hadn't done before. Unfortunately, I didn't take the time to shoot many photos but here are some details:

On tap no.1 I had a Belgian wit, not just any wit but without a doubt the best one I ever brewed. My opinion of this beer was backed up by the fact that it was the first keg emptied at the party. This is the first time a wit has beaten out both my pale ale and my IPA for this distinction. Here's the recipe.

Mash: 1.5 gal. per pound at 65 degrees centigrade for 90 min.
5 1/4 lb. Durst Pilz malt (Yes, it's German but I couldn't get the Dingemans pilz I prefer)
5 1/4 lb. raw red winter wheat (I'm a big believer in using the traditional raw wheat in these beers)
1 ml. lactic acid
Sparge: 4.5 gal w/ 1 ml lactic acid at 100 degrees centigrade for 90 min. (Yes, I sparge hot but as long as the grain bed doesn't increase above 75˚ you will be ok)
Boil: 75 min.
1 ml. Hopshot 60 min. (Hopshot is a hop extract I've been experimenting with, 1 ml= about 10 IBU's or substitute 3.5 or so AAU's of your favorite noble hops)
.75 oz. whole coriander seed (steeped for 45 min. after boil)
.5 oz. bitter orange peel (steeped for 45 min. after boil)
Pitch: White Labs 400 Belgian Wit yeast tube and aerate or oxygenate well.

O.G. 13 F.G. 3.2 A.B.V 5.3%

With this beer I made unconventional Belgian carbonade. Traditionally, cabonades are a beef and onion stew made with an Oud bruin (old brown), A slightly sour/malty Belgian beer. I used this wit and echoed the flavors by adding some ground coriander and giving it it's sweet and sour notes with cider vinegar and an orange/apricot fruit spread added at the end.

On tap no.2 I had a Belgian tripel brewed with 1 1/2 lbs. of local honey. These can be dangerous beers to put out at a party because they are both potent and deceptively easy drinking. As a warning to the uninitiated I named this one "Tripel Fukt" complete with a blue silicone phallus as a tap handle.

Mash: 1.25 gal. per pound at 68˚ centigrade for 90 min.
11.5 lbs. Durst pilz malt
.5 lb. Breiss dextrine malt
1 ml. lactic acid (the lactic acid in both of these recipes adds just enough acidity to help avoid having them end up "floppy" of cloying because they are not very bitter beers)
Sparge: 6.25 gal. at 100˚ for 90 min. (long sparges will give you better yields)
Boil: 90 min.
7 AAU's whole Sterling hops 30 min.
1 1/2 lbs. honey added at the end of the boil
Pitch: White Labs 500 Trappist ale yeast (This is a strong yeast but you should make a starter. I used the slurry from a Dubbel I had previously brewed) Oxygenate well!

O.G. 20.2 F.G. 3.1 A.B.V. 9.5%

This beer was used in both a chicken waterzooi stew and some beer braised meatballs.

On tap no.3 was an English-ish IPA. I used all English hops but I hopped it aggressively enough to give an American "over the top" vibe. This was the second keg to be emptied that night.

Mash: 1.25:1 at 66˚ for 90 min.
10 lbs. Maris-Otter malt
1 lb. Dingemans caravien malt
1/2 lb. Dingemans Biscuit malt
1/2 lb. Breiss 20L crystal malt
Sparge: 5 gal. at 100˚ for 90 min.
Boil: 90 min.
31 AAU's Millenium pellets FWH (First Wort Hop = added to runoff at the start of the sparge)
1 oz. Kent Golding pellets 13 min.
1 oz. Willamette leaf 6 min.
Pitch: White Labs 001 (starter or slurry from previous batch)

O.G. 17.2 F.G. 3.6 A.B.V. 7.5%

This one was used in a beer-cheese ball. Amish Cheddar and Colby with cream cheese, "worst chest hair" sauce, IPA and brown mustard seed pureed in the food processor.

On tap no.4 I had a mistake that I called a "burnt brown ale". The recipe is a variation of my robust porter recipe that didn't ferment down far enough to be a porter but ended up as a nice, if not overly roasty, brown ale.

Mash: 1.25:1 at 68˚ for 90 min.
8 lbs. Maris-Otter malt
1/2 lb. Breiss 90L crystal malt (So you know, my real porter recipe would use Breiss Victory malt in this malts place)
1/2 lb. Dingeman's special B malt
1/2 lb. Chocolate malt
1/2 lb. Black malt
Sparge: 6 gal. at 100˚
Boil: 90 min.
5 ml. Hopshot 60 min.
Pitch: White Labs 005 (I usually use 001 for the porter)

O.G. 15.6 F.G. 5.7! A.B.V. 5.4%

This beer was used in Welsh rarebit. Butter, flour, beer and Cheddar cheese.

Tap no.5 was my Imperial Oatmeal Stout. I make this beer once a year and it's always great. I'm fortunate to still have some left after the party. It's a big rich "meal in a glass" kind of beer so it's hard to drink too much in one sitting.

Mash: 1.1:1 at 66˚ for 90 min.
8 lbs. Otter malt
2 lbs. Quick oats (Quick oats are pre-gelatinized so they'll convert without having to do a separate cereal-mash)
1 lb. 90L crystal malt
1 lb. chocolate malt
1 lb. roasted barley
1/2 lb. 40L crystal malt
1/2 lb. dextrine malt
Sparge: 5 gal. at 100˚ for two hours
Boil: 2 hrs.
7.9 AAU's Cluster pellets 90 min.
Pitch: 005 (slurry from porter)

O.G. 20 F.G. 6 A.B.V. 7.9%

This beer was used in a stout-malt cheesecake fondue dessert type thing. I thought it was great but I think it showcased the beer too much for some people. It would have been too easy to add chocolate and leave the beer as a backround flavor. It was basically 3 cups of heavy cream, 8 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 lb. dry light malt extract and around a cup or so of the stout. I should have added some vanilla. This was served in one of those cheesy (pun intended) fondue fountains that you find at discount stores.

The fountain the morning after. MMMMMMM.

The last beer was a simple pale ale (although it was the third keg to die that night). I served it strait out of the keg since I only have 5 taps on my fridge inside. (I have 3 more outside on the garage but it was too cold to use them). While a good utilitarian ale, it's not interesting enough to worry about posting the recipe. I used it in my first, and very successful, shepherds pie.
I ground lamb and fatty beef (trimmings from the brisket that I used in the carbonade) and cooked it down with minced carrots and onions. I added some beer, "worst chest hair" sauce, salt and pepper and spread it evenly over a full sheet pan. The hard part was spreading a layer of mashed potatoes over the meat but once I succeeded in that it was a great way to heat and serve it.

Before potato spreading.

After spreading.

After being eaten (you'll notice the lack of a proper "done" shot).

And the brewers morning-after treat?

Some of the almost 100 pieces of glassware I got to hand-wash.

I'll be doing a ricotta cheese making experiment tomorrow and I'm overdue on a post about my recent experiences making fresh masa from scratch at home. I appreciate the patience of you who like to read the shit I post. Thanks.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Winter salsa

We're months away from fresh local tomatoes, cilantro and chiles so here's a winter-friendly salsa that still incorporates some fresh local ingredients. O.K., can you really call the tomatillos "fresh" if they were picked almost 4 months ago? I'm going to.

The humble tomatillo is often under appreciated. They are very easy to grow and you only need to plant them once and they will provide volunteer plants every year. They also have the amazing ability to keep for months. This pile is the last two pounds that I picked at the end of October and stored in a bowl on my kitchen counter ever since. Eighty percent of the two pounds was still in great condition. No refrigeration or processing was necessary and I get to enjoy cooking from my garden one more time while I wait for spring.

All you need to make a great tomatillo-chipotle salsa is some garlic (the other local ingredient), chipotle morita chiles, piloncillo sugar and salt.

This is pretty much a typical version of a traditional Mexican salsa with one exception. It's aggressively sweetened with piloncillo sugar. Most recipes I've read use little if any sugar but I love the smoky spicy sweet balance in this version. The other thing that makes this unique for me is that I can actually provide a precise recipe. I used to make this salsa to sell at the market so I took the time to refine the recipe so I could duplicate it every week. Keep in mind the all of the weights are for the ingredients after processing.

1 Lb. roasted tomatillos (husks removed of course). I like to roast them on the grill but in the broiler or in a dry skillet on the stove top is fine. You will loose about 25% of the weight during roasting so buy 35% more so you will have the right amount.

4 1/2 oz. roasted garlic. Roasting in a dry skillet, skin on would be traditional but use whatever method you prefer.

2 1/4 oz. stemmed and seeded chipotle morita chiles soaked in as little hot tap water as you can get away with and still rehydrate them.

3 oz. piloncillo sugar. Brown sugar also works.

1/2 oz. salt

Puree all of the ingredients except the tomatillos until completely smooth and then add the tomatillos pulse them until you get whatever consistency you prefer.

You can, of course, alter the amounts of any of the ingredients to suit your own taste but remember that this is a hot salsa and should be a showcase for the real flavor of the often misrepresented chipotle chile so if you're concerned about the heat, this salsa isn't for you. Mixing it 50/50 with sour cream make a great dip and cuts the heat quite a bit. It also works well as a seasoning paste or use it to braise a pork shoulder. Or just fry up some thick, enchilada-style corn tortillas and eat it as a snack.