The Mad Chef

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

Monday, June 28, 2004


OK, I sent the registration forms in. Now I just have to wait until October for the classes to start. Feels pretty good to even start to try, though.

Put Up or Shut Up

Before I get to the meat of this, I have to say how much I resent the Google ads at the top switching from heirloom tomatoes (which made me very happy) to the Atkins Diet, which will probably end up killing more people than any health fad in history (health, not beauty, just wait for Botox on that). And it's not just a resentment over them using my last name without my permission, it's that any "diet" that results in commercials for "Aspen Edge" which claim "surprising real beer taste" when it still has less alcohol are just plain evil. It has less alcohol, and it almost tastes like real beer. No. Just. . .no. That's wrong, and I refuse to have any part in it. Plus, they're driving down Krispy Kreme, and that's downright un-American.
Anyway, back to what this is about. I've decided to do something about this. It's just a small step, but I'm signing up for two continuing ed classes this Fall. One is about focusing your dreams into an actual business plan, and the other is about building a career as a personal chef. I found myself terrified last night as I filled out the registration forms, and I really wish our fax machine was working so I could send them in before I talk myself out of it. I've spent my whole life afraid to try, because I just expect to fail. But it's time now. I get that heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I think about going to work, and I can't imagine doing this for the rest of my life. It's time to face my fears and take a chance, see if I'm really as good at this whole cooking thing as I claim to be.
The classes don't start until October, but the choice to live my life starts now. I've actually got goosebumps. Yee-fucking-ha.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Simple is Good. . .Sometimes

Last night was a good time, nothing fancy. I made twenty hamburger patties for a cookout tonight at which I am supposed to man the grill. I told them that I would be happy to play grill king, but I'd rather make my own burgers than use the pre-made ones you get in the freezer case. So, into the food processor (I always figured it would sound cooler to call it a "coup", but it just doesn't) went a head of garlic, some vidalia onion, and half a bunch of flat leaf parsley. I added just a little olive oil to help it blend, and then pulsed it down to a pretty green paste. I threw 5# of ground beef (80/20, any less fat content and they dry out on the grill) into a big metal bowl, then gave it a little salt and pepper. I scraped the green prettiness out onto the meat, topped it with a little worcestershire, and in with the (clean) hands. There's something about mixing up all that raw meat with your bare hands, it just feels right. I can't imagine any other way to do it. It also feels right to do it in the giant metal bowl, and I'm not entirely sure why. But it is not my place to question these things.
I divided the meat into 5 equal lumps, then split each one into 4 balls to patty up. They're currently sitting in the bottom of the garage fridge, waiting to go on the grill tonight. Aside from the burgers, I'm just grilling hot dogs and corn, so it'll be good. Simple.
Last night I made a Summer traditional for my family. You just cook up some pasta, then toss it with garlic, parmesan, olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic, and fresh tomatoes and basil. Magic stuff.
A buddy of mine came over, he suffered his second water-related household disaster in the past few weeks and needed to do some laundry. We poured a 40oz of the Champagne of Beers into a frosted pitcher, broke out the beer goblets, served up some pasta, and watched this. Good times, great oldies.

For the Sticklers

I want to clarify that I don't think my pork shoulder from Saturday is actually barbecue, that was just the feel I was going for. I know that you can't cook barbecue in an oven, I just don't own a smoker (yet). I do hope to remedy that in the not-too-distant future, though. . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Yes I am twelve, thank you very much

Just a quick thought: You haven't lived until you've heard Martha Stewart say the word "spatchcock." You just haven't. The only way it could be better would be to hear her discuss making "spatchcock at Shinnecock." Not that she has done that on tv, yet, but I really hope she does.

Pork Goodness

Saturday around noonish, I fished a 6.77# Boston Butt out of the soy-molasses brine it had been soaking in since Tuesday. I rinsed it off, and applied a rub of garlic powder, brown sugar, kosher salt, dried thyme, unsweetened cocoa, paprika, NuMex chile powder, ground fennel seed, cayenne, ground pepper, and ground mustard. There were probably some other things in there, but that's what I can remember. I let it rest in a bowl on top of the stove for about an hour while I preheated the oven to 550º. After the oven was good and hot, I popped the pork on a rack in a baking dish (I really need to get a roasting pan) and stuck it in for 10 minutes. Then I dropped the heat to 250º and put in the probe thermometer set for 145º. I have full faith in the Professor's statement that pork is safe at 150º, particularily if it has been held over 140º for more than 15 minutes (this will kill any bacteria). Then, I waited.
I had made a sauce the night before. Two sauces, actually. My cousin had requested a hot one, I was happy to oblige. For the hot, I started with cider vinegar, molasses, tomato paste , thyme, garlic, soy, and habañero powder. A little ground pepper, and I just let it simmer. I'm honestly not quite sure what all went into the main sauce, I think everything. A similar base to the hot, but no hab powder. Some dark beer, ground mustard, NuMex chile, lots of stuff. I ended up adding a little commercial bbq sauce to help thicken it without adding too much pure tomato, and it worked out nicely. I let them both simmer for about ½ an hour, then bottled them up.
I had never made slaw before, so this was a little bit of an experiment. I got a head of red cabbage, and did some digging from the Professor's slaw episode. I decided to base it off of his cole slaw, mostly because I liked the idea of a buttermilk base. But I ended up subbing cider vinegar for the pickle juice he callse for, and I think the flavor suffered for that. I replaced the chives with grated vidalia onion, and the yogurt with sour cream, but the rest stayed pretty intact. Also, having had some more of the slaw yesterday, it definitely imporved with a little more time.
I tweaked the temp of the oven back and forth between 250º and 200º over the course of 7 hours, most of the time it was at 215º. During this time, I have to say that my house smelled pretty damn good. When it finally came out, I covered it to rest for 15 minutes and finish cooking. In hindsight, it needed more rest time. Juices still came spilling out when I tore into it. Also, I would skip the initial blast at 550º. While this does seal up the meat, it makes it pretty hard to "pull" it. I actually took the leftovers and chopped them the next day, then mixed them with sauce before freezing three bags of pork.
So, we ended up having sliced pork sandwiches instead of pulled, but that was ok. As Erik put it, it was almost better to have this chunk of meat to sink your teeth into. A more visceral bbq experience. We put down dish towels on the table as placemats, all the better to wipe your face with. Threw a few slices of pork on a roll, topped with the main sauce, then dribbled on a little of the hot. Cole slaw, top of the bun, dig in.

That'll do.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Pan Steak, but no Waylon

I've lost Waylon. I looked everywhere, and I can't find him. This distresses me. I had to substitute Whiskeytown. They're very good, and very talented, but Ryan Adams is a brat. A brilliant, gifted brat, but a brat nonetheless. Not the same, but I made it work. The steak helped, as did the giant, frosty mug of homebrew.
I cranked the oven to 500º and put the steak out to come to temp, salt and peppering both sides. I scrubbed up 3 med-sized yukon gold potatoes, and sliced them into eighths, lengthwise. I tossed the potatoes with some canola oil and steak seasoning, which brings my uses of this particular seasoning on steak to a total of one, and my uses of it on everything else to approximately ∞. I spread those on a baking sheet, cut side down, and popped them in the oven for ½ an hour. Turns out, I probably should have pulled them at 25 minutes, or gone lighter on the seasoning as it started to burn a little. Still tasted good, but just a thought.
I chopped some zuchinni, mushrooms, and vidalia onions, and heated up my chef's pan. I popped my sauteè pan (which they no longer make) on the stove over medium heat, and threw in a chunk of butter to melt. Once the chef's pan was hot, I coated the bottom with olive oil and tossed in the onions. When they started to sizzle, I hit them with some worcestershire sauce, which I've had a renewed interest in of late. It has so many great flavors already in it, but I definitely ignored it for way too long. It was one of my favorites to use as a child, though. After the onions started to cook down, I added the zuchinni and 'shrooms, plus a little more worcestershire.
When the butter started to sizzle, I put the steak in. I have to say, there's not much more beautiful of a sight than a chunk of red meat cooking in butter. . .and the Atkins Diet says that it's good for you (not that I'm on it, but I do like to mock it so). I gave it four minutes on each side, then put it aside (covered) to rest. I added a little more butter to the pan, gave the veggies a toss, then dumped two minced garlic cloves and one minced shallot into the steak pan. They started to brown pretty quickly, so I deglazed with some shiraz that I had handy. I let the wine reduce, whisking the bottom of the pan to get all that goodness, then added some cream. I let that come together, pulled the oven fries out, checked the veggies, and I was ready to rock. I had made so much food that I had to use a platter as my dinner plate (and, no, I didn't eat it all last night- I saved some for breakfast). I put the steak, fries, and veggies on the platter, then spooned the sauce over the steak and drizzled a little bit on the fries. I have to say that the pan-sauce on the fries was absolutely magic. Just stupidly good. So were the worcestershire veggies, they had this great, carmelized quality to them. They tasted like they belonged with a steak. And the steak was pretty freaking amazing, too. I must admit, one of the better meals I've made in a while.
I was most surprised by just how good the oven fries were, though the pan sauce helped. But I tried them before the sauce, and they were still really tasty. I got the idea from this lady, who seems to make them all the time. She annoys the hell out of me sometimes, but I still feel that I can learn much from her. So I watch, and I try to ignore the bubbly perkiness and dumb jokes that she makes over and over, and just accept the fact that the knowledge is what matters, not the teacher. She's a lot more attractive in the older episodes, too. But they say to never trust a skinny chef. . .
I'm feeling downright giddy about the pork tomorrow, even if I have no idea who is coming to eat it. I'm going to work on the rub and sauce tonight, so I can weed the garden tomorrow morning. At my sister's suggestion, I may try to recruit my 4½-year-old nephew to help. That'll insure that he'll never want to have one of his own. . .

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Mental Salvation

I sometimes wonder what I would do without food and Waylon Jennings.
I was reading a post on Figment Shifts that got me thinking:

"the night before last, i dreamed i went insane. i dreamed the whole process: before, during, and after. i was sitting at a table, by myself, eating in a restaurant. all of a sudden my mind just snapped. in the dream, i could see myself from the outside, and watch as my actions and words grew muddled and strange. it was confusing, not outright insanity but a drunken sort of bewilderment. in my dream, i was also experiencing this from the inside. someone approached me, to see if i was ok, and in that instant i had a choice. have you ever been awakened by someone, when you weren't completely asleep? you have a choice of coming fully awake and responding to the person, or pretending to be asleep and hoping that they will go away. if you choose the latter, and they do indeed go away, chances are you will soon be fast asleep. when this person, a stranger, came to my table to check on me, i had a startling moment of lucidity, the realization that i was on the very edge of sanity and it was not too late to go back to life as i had known it. i still had the presence of mind to know that all i had to do was snap out of it and respond. simply by making a personal connection with this other person, i would be pulled back from the abyss. i understood all this, in that instant, but i decided instead to let go, to resume my babbling, and my mind quickly followed me over the edge. from the outside it looked horrifying. from the inside it was sweet relief."

It made me think about how we all cope, and what happens when our coping methods get so extreme that we sacrifice our sanity.
I find myself treading that line more often than I would like, I wonder sometimes if I'll ever take the easy way out. Most people I know wouldn't be too surprised if one day I just snapped and lost it, but I can't do that. Maybe back when I lived alone, and had no responsibility to anyone else, I could have just quit one day when things got too hard and resigned myself to the depths of my own madness. My parents could have had me committed, and that would have been it. But, now, I have too much at stake. I have a wife, and a home, and our pets, and my garden, and I refuse to be the one who quits on them.
Don't get me wrong, I have a great life. The reasons why I tread that line are based solely on my own shortcomings, nothing more. There are just some days where it all feels like too much, and I don't know what to do anymore. Today is one of those days. So I'm going to head home tonight and take the steak I bought myself out of the fridge. I'm going to season the steak, cook it in butter, and make a pan sauce for it. I don't know exactly what the sauce will be, because I'm not quite sure what I'm seasoning the steak with. But I'm going to roast some potatoes, and cook up some zuchinni, mushrooms, and onions to go on the side, I'm going to pop a beer and pour it into a frosty mug, and I may even garnish my plate. Then I'm going to put Waylon in the stereo, and I'm going to remind myself that life is pretty good.
Quoth Waylon:
"Saints are just sinners that never quit tryin'/
losers are winners that picked the wrong day.
We're all just beginners when it comes time for dyin'/
so rest your mind easy, 'cause you'll die anyway."

Life is too short to let any of it get you down. You have to enjoy what you get, because death doesn't care. It won't wait for you to learn to be happy, it won't wait for you to reach your goals, it won't wait for you to make peace with others, or with yourself. Live every second, rejoice in the moment, don't be an asshole. And don't think that admitting you're an asshole makes being one OK, even if it is a good start. Like Robin Williams said about when he quit drinking, "I realized that I was still the same asshole, I just had fewer dents in my car." Waylon had a little less than 65 years on this earth, and I have no doubt that he got his money's worth out of every one of them, even if he may have had a little trouble recalling a few.

Gaucho Night

I'm no cowboy, but it's fun to pretend sometimes.
Last Wednesday night, I had the chance to spend some time with my two best friends. Erik lives here, but our pal Baucom is at UCLA getting his doctorate in clinical psych. We see him maybe twice a year, so it's a big deal when he comes to town. You can imagine my feelings when I found out that he was arriving the day before I was leaving town for a wedding, and that I wouldn't be back until after he had left. It came down to less than 12 hours between when his plane landed, and when I had to be at work the next morning, so we had to make it count.
We picked up 2lbs of NY strip steak, some leeks, red bell peppers, chayote squash, and some of Hungary's finest. We added a few cigars, and we were in business.
I made a chimichurri sauce, slightly modified from the recipes I found. I used two bunches of flat leaf parsley, ~1 head of garlic, a few cayennes off the plants outside, a handful of fresh oregano, juice of two lemons, some red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, ground pepper, and cumin.
Then we fired up the grill. We just cleaned the veggies and tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper before tossing them on over medium flame. They took a little while (chayote takes a long freaking time to cook), but it was a great time to stand around, drink some wine, and catch up a little. While we were outside, the steaks were coming to room temp inside with oil, salt, and pepper. No need to get fancy when you have chimichurri.
Once the veggies were through, I turned the grill up to high flame and closed it up. Once the grate was good and screaming hot, we threw the steaks on. I spread some chimichurri on top, flipped them after 2 minutes, spread some more chimichurri, flipped after 2 minutes, gave another 30 seconds and pulled them off. Nice, beautiful grill marks, nice, beautiful steaks. I let them rest for 5-10 minutes while I chopped up the veggies, then sliced them thinly across the grain. Tossed them with a little more chimichurri, and threw them in the middle of a platter with all the veggies. Damn, that was some good meat. It was actually a little done for my taste, but still pink. Simply beautiful.
People often ruin their meat by not letting it rest. They get impatient, cut into it as soon as it's off the grill, and all the juices run out. Plus, it doesn't get to finish cooking, so they throw it in the microwave or back on the fire, and cook it to death. I don't understand how you can spend the money on a steak, and then not wait five more minutes for it to be cooked properly. Shameful.
As much pride as I took in the steaks, I think the true prize of the evening was my lovely and talented wife's dessert contribution. Wow. That's all I can say about it, wow. I highly recommend trying this recipe, it's pretty amazing. There's simply no comparison with the conventional ones, this is a whole new level of yummy.
All in all, one hell of an evening. The next day was rough, running on ~1-1/2 hours of sleep. Plus our flight got delayed, so we didn't actually make it to our hotel in FL until 2am on Friday. At that point, I believe I may have transcended exhaustion. Once you get that ninth wind, it's all gravy. I hate that the time was so short, but at least no-one can say we didn't make the most of it.

This weekend I'm doing another pork shoulder. I'm going to attempt a bbq-esque, pulled-pork style. We'll make slaw, and potato salad, and maybe even some hushpuppies. Should be good times. It's been sitting in a soy-molasses brine since Tuesday night. Mmmm. . .

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Garden Walks

I like to walk through my garden, I try to do it daily. It needs to be done, to keep an eye on the plants and make sure they don't need water, fertilizer, mulch (which they do right now) etc. But the true beauty of it is just to look at the plants. They seem so static, so calm, but they're doing so much. It's amazing that something which seems to never move can grow 6" in a few days, and you never see it budge. I won't even try to expound upon photosynthesis, Bio 101 was a long time ago.
There are also subtle differences between the plants, it's like a little prize when you notice them. At first glance, a zuchinni plant and a pattypan squash look exactly the same. But then you start to notice the patterns on the zuchinni's leaves. They're look random, but they're pretty remarkable. They're almost like spiderwebs.
It's nice to spend just a few minutes to lose yourself in the plants, to notice the little things. Like the smells. Basil is an obvious one, and I can't resist rubbing the leaves when I pass so I can catch a whiff of it. But there's something about the smell of tomato leaves that just puts your soul at ease. I've never fully understood it, but I always like to get down there with the plants and run my hands through the leaves, just to smell that. It smells like life, and Summer, and the promise of tomato sandwiches that you have to eat over the sink and that make you thank God (or whoever you thank for things like tomato sandwiches) that you grew up somewhere that appreciates the poetry of one thick, red slice between two pieces of white bread with a little salt, pepper, and Duke's Mayonnaise.

Taco Night

Taco night was a success. Good times, good friends, great oldies. When I went to the store in search of meat, I found ground sirloin on special and grew very excited. I picked up two pounds of it, plus 1.25# of ground, lean pork. I'll add my own fat, thank you. Erik, who was assigned seafood, came through with a beautiful monkfish fillet, and thoroughly trumped all other guests in the interpretive ingredient category. Although, my cousin was foiled in his search for Queso Oaxaca by the poor selection of our local supermarkets, so it's not his fault. He did contribute traditional taco know-how from his semester in Mexico and taught us the "right" way to prepare them. Apparently, you should serve the taco meat in a warmed corn tortilla with nothing but cilantro, white onion, hot sauce, and a squeeze of lime. As much as I love all of the other toppings, it's pretty darn good like that. Our friends Liesje and Chris won the prize of most thorough contribution, by bringing chopped lettuce and tomato, bean dip, and guacamole (and possibly something else that has slipped by me, there were a lot of containers). My lovely wife's sister and her boyfriend weren't given much room to work, as they were assigned the tortillas and taco shells, but they were coming almost straight from work. Somebody has to bring those.
I made a fresh hot sauce that morning, with chiles I had picked ~1 hour before I used them. 45 cayennes, some fresh thyme, juice of one lemon, fresh garlic, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and water. I let it simmer on the stove for about an hour, then ran it through the blender. I strained it through a mesh sieve, and bottled it. Probably won't keep too long in the fridge, but it probably won't last too long, either. I marinated the monkfish in lemon, cilantro, oil, salt, garlic, and pepper, then seared it up. After it was browned, I popped the pan into a 400º oven for ~7 minutes to finish it. After removing the fish, the marinade went into the pan to cook down to a sauce. Erik chunked up the fish and poured on the sauce, then hit it with some fresh lime juice. Good times.
Then, the meat. I took a head of garlic, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, and a few sage leaves. I threw them in the mini-prep with a little oil and salt and buzzed them down to a mash. I started that in the pan over low heat with a little more oil, and let it go until it sizzled. Then I threw in some finely chopped vidalia onion, and some thin-sliced shitake mushrooms. I realize that my tacos deviate heavily from Mexican tradition, but I'm not Mexican, so I have no tradition to offend. Once all the veggies were cooking down nicely, I added the meat. There's something magical about that moment when meat hits the pan. You know it's still raw, and you know you shouldn't eat it, but the sound and the smell are so enticing that it's hard to resist. I broke up the meat and stirred it in with the veggies, letting all those flavors blend. Then I threw in the dry mix. I used cumin, pepper, paprika, ground NuMex chile, cayenne, and a little bit of unsweetened cocoa powder. Just wanted a little more richness to the flavor. Once that was all mixed in and cooking down, it was time for the secret ingredients: red wine vinegar and soy sauce.
I firmly believe that soy sauce is one of the most underappreciated ingredients in the world. It brings the saltiness that is so essential to enjoying the other flavors in the dish, plus it provides this incredible depth of flavor. I usually have 2 extra bottles of it in my cabinet, just because I use it in so many things. And I do use the low-sodium, which tastes even better, in my opinion. Wonderful stuff, experiment with it.
We put it all together, and most folks did try the traditional-style tacos (and thought they were pretty damn good). We pulled chairs out onto the porch, poured lots of beer from the mini-keg that my cousin brought, and felt good about life. We had just watched an almost Triple Crown winner fall short, but we had friends and good food (and lots of beer). Although, my cousin and I both had money on Birdstone.
We finished the meal with an incredible devil's food cake topped with homemade cream cheese frosting, courtesy of my lovely and talented wife. There were only two small pieces left, and I just ate one of those last night.
After the meal, I sat on the porch with my friends, drinking and smoking cigars. Hard to find much wrong with the world at that point. I even serenaded them with what was called "the most disturbing rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic that I've (Erik) ever heard."
No matter how loudly the voices may speak, they can never speak louder than your friends.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Of Food and Life

Sometimes I wonder why food and cooking are so important to me. I know my general love of food coupled with my obsessive nature are a big part of it, but that doesn't quite explain why they matter so much.
I've touched on the fact that they give me a way to relate to other people that lets me circumvent my social awkwardness, and I know that's a big part of it. But I use cooking as my security blanket. When I'm stressed, unhappy, angry, etc., I always feel better when I make dinner. When I feel overwhelmed, cooking helps me relax.
Maybe it's because I'm actually in control when I'm in the kitchen, and it's the one aspect of my life where people actually realize and acknowledge that I know what I'm doing. It's nice to have something where people trust your abilities. It's not that I shouldn't be questioned, by any means. For God's sake, my motivations rarely make sense, and I'm usually in need of someone to put me back on track. But I do love the feeling I have in the kitchen, that I do this better than anyone I know. Unfortuantely, this means I get a little touchy sometimes about my food, and that is not a good by-product. As an already insecure person, I know I blow it out of proportion, so I am trying to work on that. But, when it all comes down, I just cling so tightly to food and cooking.
I define myself through my food.
I used to define myself through sports, but it's much better this way. I was never that talented, just athletic. Now, I sometimes have to use the cane that I received as a 24th birthday present to get around the house. Not so athletic. After sports ended, I defined myself through theatre. It's an interesting way to define yourself, by pretending to be someone else. But it works when you're not sure exactly who the hell you are to begin with. But that is over, too. A marriage, a house, a garden, and the pets all need time and attention (they deserve it, too). Time and attention are in short supply when you throw yourself into a performance.
So, that leaves me with food, and I'm OK with that. Some days it feels like food is the only thing I have, the only thing that works the way it's supposed to. On other days, it's the perfect compliment to make the day complete. Either way, food is more than sustenance. Food enriches my life, and I try to use it to improve the lives of others. There is history to food, there is science to food, there is art to food, and there is poetry to food. Food is at the root of culture, and it helps share that culture with others. It brings people together, and it can comfort you when you're alone. And I'll stop being so dramatic now.
I wish I hadn't been too afraid to pursue a career with food when I had the chance, but I was. Erik posted a quote from a friend of his here that has been in my head the last couple of nights when I was staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out how I was ever going to become something that people respected. It said "all other things being equal, you should choose the option that scares you the most." And I realized that this quote lays out exactly what I did wrong. When faced with my fears, I backed down. I tried to play it safe. So here I sit, with no college degree, no career, and no idea what I would choose to fill those voids. My personal life is a success, the people in my life are exceptional. I have a wonderful wife, a loving family, and great friends. But I will always feel like I have failed my potential until I do something with mysef professionally. But I will always have food.
So when I lay awake at night, and can't sleep because of the knot in my stomach and the pain in my body and the voices in my head that tell me I have failed and will never be anything more than a number working a desk job for the largest private employer in the state of North Carolina, I will think of taco night, and pork shoulders, and the look on peoples' faces when they take that first bite of something extraordinary, and know that I was able to give them that moment. When I can do that, I can tell the voices to go fuck themselves, and sometimes I can sleep.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Zucchini Roasting On an Open Fire. . .

Well, good to be back at work where I have time to write. Saturday was truly a food event, I'm kind of proud of it. We built a charcoal fire in a brick pit to cook our veggies, and broke out the fryer for the meat. We threw the corn directly on the coals with the husks on, just trimmed them a little to prevent them from catching fire. We chose to call this "Native American Style," although we have no idea if our nation's indigenous people actually cooked corn like this. But, I guess after a few of these, it sounded good enough. I made a chile-lime-garlic butter to pour on the corn, and it was pretty amazing. The corn got just a little carmelized through the husk, and the lime helped accentuate that sweetness. Plus, it's hard to go wrong with chiles and garlic. I used ground New Mexico chiles for the butter, tons of flavor and not too hot. Good stuff. I marinated the zucchini in olive oil and worcestershire sauce, then put it on the grill. Ended up having to wrap it in foil to help it cook through, but it was still some tasty stuff. Nice, easy combination.
Then, the meat. I took some catfish fillets and soaked them in buttermilk with a little more NuMex chile powder. After a couple hours, I drained the fillets, sliced them into "fingers," and rolled them in cornmeal, salt, pepper, thyme, and (you guessed it!) more chile powder. Into the fryer for 3 minutes, and they were beautiful. A little hot sauce, and those were magic. Hard to beat fried catfish, I think I ate a full fillet while I was standing there. Also did chicken wings again, too good to pass up. I made a sauce with dried, toasted ancho chiles for those. I reconstituted the chiles, then chopped them into a pasted. I sauteed almost a whole head of garlic, then added the chile paste and cooked a little longer. Next, we added molasses, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, thyme, pepper, and then the water from soaking the chiles. I cooked that down until it was nice and thick, adjusted the seasonings, and tossed the wings in it. Mmmm. . . Suffice to say, no leftovers.
And, of course, the dessert. This was Erik's baby, I just tried to help out. We picked up two huge, red papayas at the store, and decided to use them as serving vessels. After scooping out the seeds, we chopped one into chunks and threw it into a pan. Erik cracked open a coconut and poured the "milk" in with the papaya, then cooked it all down. He broiled the other papaya to get some different textures going on. All of this was to be served with something that I've honestly never seen before, and I wasn't so sure about it at first. But, all the more reason to try it. He took a carton of vanilla ice cream, scooped it out into a bowl, and mixed in a little good balsamic vinegar. I never would have thought of adding balsamic to ice cream, but that was pretty good. It also gave it a great balance to the sweetness of the papaya. I regret that I ate so much catfish that I could hardly touch the ice cream, but I will have to try that again in the future.
All in all, a very successful event. Grilled veggies, fried meats, the world was in balance. We had a good crowd, we ate outside, and we had plenty of beer. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.