The Mad Chef

One man's search for sanity through the creation of tasty vittles

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Red Rice Update

OK, my kind and loving sister dear was good enough to send me the link for the rice mix I used the other night, as well as for the incredible stone ground chile mustard. And here it is. Still working on the concept for the catfish chiles rellenos, I'll update this weekend. Last night I got home late, I was participating in this. So I just made a quick angel hair with sauteed mushrooms, garlic, spring onions, and sage. I threw in some chicken stock, salt, pepper, ground tabasco chiles for kick, and the juice of one lemon. Tossed it with the pasta and topped with some fresh grated parmesan, and that's some good late eating. Made enough to take for lunch today, too. Well, that's it for now, and I'm just reheating frozen chili tonight. But I'll be back when the chiles rellenos develop. Until then. . .

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Vision of the Future

Last night was a simple meal, I had to get some things done in the garden. So I just used a red rice mix that my sister had given me (and I apparently lost in the back of a cabinet). It's from some market in Charleston that I've forgotten the name of, and apparently their stuff is pretty darn good. The stone-ground chile mustard from the same folks lasted all of a week. But, not being able to leave anything alone, I had to mess with the rice a little bit. I took the leftover pizza toppings from Saturday and mixed them in when I added the rice. The juice of half a lemon added a little brightness to it, and I just cooked it to the package directions. I have to say it was pretty tasty, especially for something that cooked while I was outside planting. There is certainly something to be said for taking the easy way every now and then.
But the main reason I'm even bothering to post today is that I received a vision of what I have to cook on Saturday night. I'm going to do a little fishing with a buddy of mine (and presumably not catch anything), then we're going to whip up some grub. If we actually do catch anything, I may have to alter the vision a little. But, for now, I'm planning to pick up some catfish fillets. And that sparked the vision. . .fried catfish chiles rellenos. I figure I'll slice them into nuggets, then do a cornmeal breading and fry them up. Then I'll mix them with some cheese, probably sharp cheddar or monterey jack, and maybe seasoned rice and stuff them into roasted poblano chiles. I'll have to use the fryer for the chiles, too, but that's quite alright with me. I'll have to refine this as the week moves on, but I'll definitely update and report back with the final outcome. Until then. . .

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Broccoli Soup for the . . . Stomach

Last night was something new. My lovely wife came home from work feeling sick and promptly went to bed. This brought the challenge of making something tasty and comforting, so I stepped into the kitchen. I grabbed the baby yukon gold potatoes that I had picked up at the farmer's market on Saturday, and washed them, then put them in a small baking dish. I had originally planned to roast them, so I tossed them with olive oil, kosher salt, ground pepper, 4 crushed garlic cloves, and some chopped fresh thyme. Into the oven at 400º for 40 minutes they went. I did split them in half and put the cut side down in the garlic-oil for the last five minutes. At this point, I decided that I should figure out what else I was planning on doing with these potatoes. I thought about making a cheese sauce to put over them, and serving them with broccoli, so I started thawing some chicken stock (the last container, I need to make more soon) and shredding some cheese. As I melted the stock, I realized that broccoli-cheese-baked potato soup sounded more ideal, so that became the plan. I grated a big chunk of NY sharp cheddar, then mixed in some shredded pizza-cheese mix from the bag (I know, it's sad, but it's just so convenient). While the stock continued melting, I started on a roux so that I could keep the fat content down. I melted ~2-1/2 Tbsp butter in my large saucepan, then mixed in 2 Tbsp flour, some garlic powder, dried tarragon, and grated nutmeg (just a little). I kept it going over low heat until it started to smell a little nutty, then I began ladling in chicken stock (which had boiled at this point). The potatoes came out of the oven, then I quartered them and spread them on a baking sheet, skins down. I sprinkled grated cheese over them and popped them under the broiler. The idea was for the potatoes to take the place of the cheesey bread that is usually served on top of broccoli-cheese soup, and I think they did pretty well. Once the stock/roux had come to a light boil and started to thicken, I began to whisk in the cheese.
I have to note here that I love my balloon whisk. It's not much good for beating eggs, or mixing batter, but it's impossible to beat for making polenta, or whisking cream sauces, or mixing melting cheese into stock.
I melted in all the cheese, and pulled the slightly-browned cheesey potatoes out of the oven. I had microwaved some frozen broccoli, which I placed in a layer at the bottom of the soup bowls. I ladled the cheesey-broth over the broccoli, then placed the potatoes on top. Voila! My first attempt at broccoli soup was done.
I feel fairly good about this effort, although I didn't cook the broccoli enough. It's so easy to turn frozen vegetables into mush when you cook them, that I erred on the side of raw. I don't mind it, I'd much rather have a crunchy vegetable. But I would recommend checking the larger pieces of broccoli to make sure that they're tender before they go into the bowl. The potatoes made a nice touch, though, as they added some crispiness to the dish. And slightly browned cheese is a wonderful thing. The roux did a great job of thickening the stock, allowing me to add a lot less cheese or cream to achieve the right consistency. I would skip the pizza cheese in the future, and just stick with all sharp cheddar. The soup just needs a strong-flavored cheese, since you're not adding as much of it. But I feel it was an overall success. I would say that I'll try it again soon, but I need to make more stock.
And that will be another post. . .

Monday, May 24, 2004

And, Behold, It Was Fried, And He Saw That It Was Good. . .

OK, so I broke in the fryer Saturday night, and it is incredible. The chicken wings were so crispy that they made little "tink" noises when they hit the draining rack. Amazing stuff, and really easy to use. Plus, since it controls the temperature digitally, the oil stays hot enough to keep the food from getting greasy. Beautiful. I think some fried catfish may be in order this weekend. . .but that's another post. I did two sauces for the wings, honey-mustard and a concoction yet to be named. The honey mustard is my standard recipe with dijon, tupelo honey, lemon juice, garlic, fennel, salt & pepper, and olive oil. There are probably a few things I left out, but that's the basic recipe. The other sauce. . .that was fun. I took garlic, red onions, fresh thyme, two of these, a few of these, and one or two of these, and then I buzzed the whole thing down. I sauteed that in some canola oil, then added chicken stock, soy, molasses, apple cider vinegar, and a little ground pepper. After the wings had been fried and cooled, I tossed them in a bowl of sauce and plated them up. 3.5# of chicken wings, gone in less than 10 minutes. And only 4 people were involved, one of whom only ate 5 wing pieces. Good times. Those will definitely make a repeat appearance.
Unfortunately, the pizza was a slight letdown after the wings. It tasted good, the toppings were delicious, the duxelles worked perfectly to add mushrooms without the big chunks that don't always cook through (in case your wondering, the duxelles consisted of cremini mushrooms, shallots, red onion, garlic, fresh thyme and oregano, and a little squeeze of lemon at the end of cooking). But there was one problem. Apparently, it's very important to check the date on the packet of yeast you're using. My buddy Erik is now referring to it as the "Passover Pizza." It tasted good, it just had absolutely no rise. Kind of dissappointing, but still pretty tasty. Any time there are no leftovers, I can't be all bad. We served it all up with the champagne of beers, and I think we had a pretty darn tasty meal.
Sunday night, I got inspired by a cooking show on PBS. He made a kaffir lime leaf-soy syrup, and used it on 4 different dishes. I felt the need to make something complicated. Of course, by the time it was done, I hadn't made anything like his dishes (although kaffir lime leaf and soy sauce were both used). I took two chicken leg quarters, and coated them with an Asian spice rub that was given to me. Then I chopped up two jalapeños, four cloves of garlic, and one spring onion. In a sauce pan, I melted some chicken stock, then added soy, rice wine vinegar, and two sliced kaffir lime leaves, and left it to simmer. I seared the chicken in the pan, then removed them to a plate. I sauteed the garlic, chiles, and onion in the chicken pan, then deglazed with the liquid I had going and placed the chicken back on top of this. I covered it, and let the chicken cook through with the yummy stuff underneath. For a side dish, I cooked up some rice noodles, then tossed them with soy, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, wok oil, shredded mint, and sliced Thai Sun chiles. Lately, I've really enjoyed using fresh mint with chiles. They just provide such a great contrast to each other. When the chicken was done, I discovered that I had not added enough liquid to the pan. Even with the lid on, too much had cooked out. All those tasty items in the bottom of the pan had cooked into an overly-carmelized goop. Had I been making a soup, I might have tried to revive it, but it wasn't happening this time. Soooo. . .into the sink to soak for the pan, and I plated up the chicken and noodles. Nice, cold beer on the side, and that wasn't a bad way to end a weekend. Of course, the after-dinner cigar and whiskey didn't hurt, either. Too bad it's monday again. . .

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Like Sands Through an Hourglass. . .

I realize that I often measure my life by the food I prepare, and how long it has been since I prepared something of significance. Last night, I cooked the other half of the Butter Burger Experiment which I had kept in the deep freeze. They were very good, but not culinarily satisfying. Tonight should be better, but still not the culinary event that I crave. I'm grilling herb-marinated chicken with yellow squash and radicchio, pretty simple. It was a little tricky to judge the flavors of the marinade while balancing it with my coffee this morning, but I do like to live on the wild side.
I guess that this is my method of validating my existence. When I've cooked an exceptional meal, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This is not a sensation I regularly receive through my work, so maybe that's why I'm so driven to achieve it in the kitchen.
I do feel good when I think about this weekend, and the pizza and hot wings I'll be making. Even though the souls of the dishes are simple, the inclusion of specialized equipment (the aforementioned fryer and pizza stone) makes it feel bigger than it is.
But, I truly look forward to the first weekend of June because of Taco Night. This is another simple dish that can be so much better than what most people experience, just by making it yourself. Plus it's a wonderful way to bring everyone together.
We invite everyone and assign them an ingredient to bring. We'll watch the Belmont Stakes, then combine it all into a pretty damn good meal. It's amazing how you can create that feeling of community through the preparation of something so simple and so often bastardized. The beer helps, of course.
It's like a pot-luck, but we're all preparing one dish. Well, I'm preparing it, but everyone else is selecting ingredients. You also get the chance to try things a little differently when other people are making the selection, so we try not to get too specific about the ingredients. Let people use their imaginations, rather than just giving them part of your shopping list. Maybe I over-simplify it to say that this one meal can unite a group of people, but I believe in it. Food is fellowship. And it's a fellowship that doesn't put you on the spot to say clever things, or work the room. You just make good food out of the ingredients that people bring, and you let the tacos do the rest.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Thrill of the Grill (toys, that is)

Last night I got to break in another of my birthday gifts, and it may be one of the greatest inventions ever. I received a grill skillet (or "grillet," as I like to call it) from my lovely wife, in addition to the aforementioned pizza stone & peel plus assorted other kitchen goodies. It seems so simple, but it has changed my grilling.
I always had to grill my veggies whole or in large chunks, to keep them from slipping through the grate. But no more. Last night I chopped up zucchini, mushrooms (quartered), and red onions, then tossed them with olive oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and ground pepper. After marinating my chicken in balsamic, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and honey (thank you Mr. Batali for the inspiration), I tossed the chicken on one side of the grill, and the grillet on the other. After a minute to heat, I dumped in the veggies, and behold the flames! It was great, I grilled my chicken, and tossed the veggies in the grillet, cooking the whole thing right there. And every time I shook the pan around, oil fell through and shot up more fire! So I got chunks of fire-roasted veggies, plus my crispy grilled chicken all in one shot. Much happiness.
Granted, this is not a new invention, and it's pretty simple, too. But I just didn't realize how well it worked. The handle stayed cool, and I was able to close the lid with it sticking out thanks to the low connection point with the grillet itself. For anyone who enjoys grilled veggies, I highly recommend it.
Nothing on tap tonight, going to a baseball game. I guess that means hot dogs, which could be worse. Saturday night I'll be trying my hand at pizza again, as well as hoping to break in the new fryer that I also received as birthday gift. Mmmmm. . .fryalicious. . .

Monday, May 17, 2004

That's Amore!

Haven't been too adventurous lately, just grilled chicken and a few pasta concoctions. Although I did discover that angel hair pasta with peas, fresh mint, cayenne, garlic, and a little butter and parmesan is pretty much magic (not to mention I was seated and eating before my wife had her frozen pizza out of the oven).
I did make a return trip to the greatest mexican restaurant ever for a Yucatan-style soft shell crab sandwich with "Yucatan slaw," black beans, and habañero mayo. It was incredible, plus I scared a passing patron by making the crab wave it's claws and say "help meeeeee." Always good times.
Last night, though, I got to try something new. I'm almost ashamed to admit that I've never made my own pizza from scratch, but I have always wanted to. I've used pre-made crusts before, but never the real thing. And then, on Saturday, my wonderful wife gave me my birthday presents. Lots of cool kitchen toys, a very nicely-framed picture of us, and. . .a pizza stone and peel. It was set, I would make my first attempt at pizza Sunday night for dinner. I wanted to use my hero's recipe for pizza dough, but it had to rise in the fridge for 18-24 hours (and it was Sunday morning when I found that out), so I settled for the recipe that came in the box. I was busy doubting it, but proceeded unafraid. I'm not much of a baker, and dough is slightly intimidating, but I can't even begin to explain how easy it was to make using this (in Empire Red, that is). A little mixing, a little kneading, and a little rising while I chopped toppings. I went for mushrooms, red onion (thin sliced), chopped garlic, sweet and hot red peppers (Marconi red and Fresno, for those keeping score), sliced andouille sausage, mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan. I threw a little chopped basil, oregano, and thyme (from the garden, of course) on top of the sauce, for good measure. The sauce was from a jar, so I felt guilty, but the herbage helped assuage that.
I quickly discovered that I may have over-worked the dough, as it kept contracting when I tried to spread it into a crust. But the two of us eventually reached a compromise, resulting in a fairly pizza-like shape. I was working on the peel, which I had dusted with cornmeal before I started. I don't know if that affected it at all, but they say you have to dust it or the pizza won't come off. I brushed the whole crust with olive oil, then spread a thin layer of sauce. I topped that with the garlic and herbage, then a hefty layer of mozzarella and provolone, with a little parmesan on top. Next, mushrooms, onions, peppers, and sausage (in order), topped with a little more parmesan. Figuring I had nothing left to lose, into the oven it went onto the hot pizza stone. For dough that kept contracting back on itself on the peel, it sure didn't want to come off onto the stone. I had to help it along with a spatula, but no major catasrophes.
I checked back on it with about five minutes left, only to discover a crust of mammoth proportions. It looked like a baguette had been wrapped around my pie. I was no longer feeling so optimistic. When the cheese was bubbly, and the crust was browned, I slid the peel under it (again, helping with a spatula) and removed it from the stone to a cutting board. Then, after five of the longest minutes of my life, the moment of truth had arrived. I tapped the crust with my pizza cutter, and it made a sound not unlike knocking on a door. Optimism declined even further. I cocked my arm back, and stabbed the cutter into this gargantuan leavened lobe, only to discover the soft crust within. optimism was returning. I cut the pizza into eight slices, then served them up for our awaiting guests. Always a good sign when you have to scoop the cheese back on. They ate, I sat quietly, and, behold, it was good. The hard outer shell of the crust was a perfect counterpoint the soft bread interior. It held up to the piles of toppings, and it even tasted pretty good, too. This could work.
I'm already wanting to make pizza again, and attempt to master my new toys. And I've also learned that you shouldn't dismiss the box recipe just because it doesn't have a famous chef's name attached to it. That doesn't mean I won't be using the professor's recipe next time, but I can always fall back on the one from the box if I need to. I can now make my own pizza AND beer. Life is good. . .

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Pork 'n Beans

OK, so the running journal didn't happen. I took on a few too many things today, and that was the one to be sacrificed. But I'm OK with that.
First off, the Butter Burgers were very good. I'll add more butter next time, but I think the technique is solid. I even got the treasured compliment of "this is the best burger I've ever had." I love that.
On to the Pork 'n Beans!! I brined the 6lb Boston Butt from Monday night until Saturday morning. Then I made a paste from ~1 head of garlic, 3 shallots, canola oil, dijon mustard, paprika, fresh tarragon, salt, ground pepper, and lemon juice which I slathered the meat chunk with. I should probably add that I deboned the meat first, and threw the bone in with the beans. But, I let the pork marinate in it's slather all day, then broiled it until the top got brown, dropped the heat to 250º, and it's still in the oven.
The Beans! I soaked 2lbs of great northern beans for a few hours this morning (should have been longer, I forgot to do it last night. Then I sweated ~1/2 head of garlic, 1/2 a red onion (diced), and a chiffonade of ~20 fresh sage leaves. When the garlic started to brown, I dumped in the beans and 2 pork shoulder bones (I saved one from the last time I cooked a Boston Butt). Right now, everything smells pretty damn good, but I'll have to report on the taste tomorrow. I'm going to sautee up some spinach to go on the side, otherwise the entire plate would be off-white.
But, now, back to the Pork 'n Beans!

Friday, May 07, 2004

The Butter Burger Project

I have to start off by saying that last night's meal didn't dissappoint. Habañero hushpuppies, habañero and grilled salmon quesadilla, and pan-seared tuna tacos with Yucatan slaw and. . .habañero mayo. Topped off with a few of these, and that's pure magic.
Now, on to the Butter Burgers. . .
I had seen the concept on a cooking show, and it always intrigued me. Stuffing a chunk of butter into the center of your burgers when you patty them up, and my first thought was "Mmmmm. . .buttermeat . . ." But my second thought was that, once cooked, the butter melts out and you having a gaping hole in the middle of your burger. If something is going to be stuffed in there, it should stay there. Like cheese, or sauteed mushrooms and onions. But that will be another project. This time, it was about getting butter into my burger without sacrificing structural integrity.
So I purchased 2lbs of beef, going for the 93/7 instead of the usual 80/20 to compensate for the butter. I want flavor, not grease. Then I picked up a link of smoked andouille sausage (I like to add sausage to burgers, just some extra flavor) and a medium shallot. I chopped the sausage, diced the shallot, crushed ~6 cloves of garlic, and ground up 7-8 chile pequins from last year's garden. Threw all of that in the food processor with some kosher salt, ground pepper, cumin, and fresh thyme, then pulsed it down to a pretty fine crumble. Then, the butter. Half a stick of butter, sliced into thin pats, though I may try more next time. I pulsed it all into a wonderful, aromatic, buttery lump of meat-product, then worked it into the ground beef with my hands.
Right now, it's all pattied up and sitting in the fridge, waiting to be grilled tonight. I made a chipotle-cilantro mayo to go on them, with a little bit of garlic and lime. Other garnishes will have to be improvised at the scene. I beliebe that I'll wash it all down with the champagne of beers, which is always surprisingly good. Tomorrow I'll report on how they turned out, plus start the running log of our Pork 'n Beans dinner party (my wife is so proud). Until then, stay buttery.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Make a Joyful Noise Unto Your Seat Cushions

In celebration of my impending birthday, we're going to the greatest Mexican restaurant ever. They have chilehead night every Thursday, and it's one of the only dining experiences that I can count on for a pure endorphin rush. I highly recommend it, if you're in the area.
Tomorrow night's food project is my first attempt at making "butter burgers," which I'll have to report back on. Saturday is going to be a slow-roasted 6lb Boston Butt, which has been brining since Monday night. More on those as they develop.


It Begins. . .

I've always been a little odd. In elementary school, I had a sweatshirt that said "Why Be Normal?" I guess my parents were trying to tell me something. They probably still are. I'm still socially awkward, I still get nervous in large groups of people, and I still say things that end conversations and make everyone walk away.
But I make really, really good food. And that's usually enough to get me invited back to the party. . .