The Mad Chef

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

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis. This is apparently what I have. Not so thrilled about that fact, but at least I know why my body has been doing this for the past 10 years. So much for that dream of cooking for a living someday, but it can't stop me from making some damn fine food at home. So what does one do when faced with the diagnosis of a chronic illness? One plans one's father's birthday dinner, damnit!
His birthday was actually in June, but he's been across the pond all Summer. We got to see him when we went to Spain, but not really the ideal moment to have the b-day celebration. Soooo. . . .this Saturday he, his wife, my sister, her husband, and my wife and I will all be feasting in our humble home. He requested a pork shoulder, after hearing me babble about it (did I mention that we drank a LOT in Spain? At least, I did.), so I'm opting for my French-like method of preparation. At this moment in time, I have a ~5# Boston Butt soaking in a honey-salt-garlic-thyme brine in my garage fridge and getting ready for Saturday night. The slather should consist of dijon mustard, garlic, shallots, thyme, tarragon, salt, black pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice, all buzzed to a paste in the food processor. I'm sure something else will end up in there, but I haven't started drinking yet, so I don't know what it will be. I'll pull the Butt out of the brine Saturday morning and cover it in slather to marinate.
Now, the problem I faced is that my father and I are huge fans of spicy food, but the rest of our dining companions are not. So I needed to come up with some kind of spicy condiment to go on the pork. But what spice goes well with that blend of flavors? Texas Pete ain't going to cut it with something like this, it had to be good. So I decided to try my hand at making some kind of a relish or chutney, bound by what was in my cabinets and fridge. Here's what I ended up using:
1/2 a vidalia onion, diced
2 Inca Hot chiles (any yellow C. Baccatum works), minced
1 Harold's St Barts chile, minced
~1" knob of ginger, minced
3 sprigs thyme, leaves only
Salt & Pepper
Juice of 1 Lemon
Rice Wine Vinegar
Allspice, ground

I started off by sweating down the onion, chiles, ginger, and thyme, then adding some vinegar to deglaze. Poured a good bit of honey in, then stirred 'til it melted into the other liquid. Salt, pepper, allspice, and lemon juice next, then cooked down til it got syrupy, pulled it off the burner, and let it cool. It's been steeping in the fridge for a few days, I'm contemplating pureeing it with some fresh mint or basil before serving. Still not sure, though, I need to taste it against the slather before I make any more rash decisions. Pretty good stuff, though, nice burn with a little sweetness, ideal for pork. I just need to make sure the flavors don't clash, but they seem like they would get along.
For the side dishes, I'm doing the grilled ratatouille, and garlic-Parrano cheese polenta cakes. I'll make the polenta tomorrow, then let it set in the fridge overnight. On Saturday, I'll slice it into cakes and fry them in a little olive oil before serving. Hopefully I'll get some nice crispy bits on the outside.
Now, if you've never tried Parrano cheese before, I highly recommend it. The site is a little over-the-top sometimes, but this is some of the best stuff you can get for your money. It's much cheaper than true parmesano reggiano, but it has that same wonderful nutty flavor. Great for stuffed mushrooms, polentas, cream sauces, etc. Find some. Try it. Whole Foods carries it.
While you're at it, you should also try raclette. The cheese, not necessarily the complex devices for melting it. It smells like a seafood market dumpster on a hot day, but it tastes incredible. I used it in an omelette one morning, and my wife wouldn't come near the kitchen. But it's worth the stink, just trust me on this. Especially now that the weather is cooling off, and you could open the windows while it's melting. Take the chance, embrace the stench, live life to it's fullest. Possibly nauseate your spouse. This is all that I can offer to you. Until next time. . .

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Worth Repeating

Had to share something I made last week, too good to keep to myself. We had gone to visit my sister and fam over Labor Day weekend, and we cooked with them and two of their friends one night. I revisited the strip steaks with chimichurri sauce, and their friend made a ratatouille. We cooked up some cous-cous to go with it, and it was a very (surprisingly) tasty meal.
Now I use the word "surprisingly" because the only ratatouille I had ever had before this was a gloppy mixture of stewed vegetables. Underseasoned and overcooked, it made this a bad word in my mind for all of these years. But as I watched their friend work, I could clearly see the differences not only in ingredients, but in technique. To his distinct advantage, the man was born and raised in France, so he learned how to do this all properly, so I was eager to steal his method and see what I could do with it.
I started with the same veggie mix that he did: green peppers, zucchini, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and eggplant (had some fresh from the garden). But I wanted to find a way to make this on a week-night, and I wasn't sure if his method of cooking each vegetable individually in a skillet before adding it to a larger pot was the most efficient way, although it tasted pretty damn good. So I had the thought to try and grill the veggies, and just toss them into a pot on the side-burner when they were ready. I tossed the veggies with olive oil and kosher salt, then cranked up the grill. I used the grillet for the garlic cloves and whatever else needed to go in with them, depending on space. The whole process didn't take that long, just required vigilance on my part to keep from burning things.
I also chopped up some fresh oregano, basil, rosemary, and flat-leaf parsley to throw in the pot, as well. Once the veggies started to build up in the pot, and turned on the heat and poured in some white wine, plus added salt and pepper. Just for kicks, I threw in a pinch of saffron while it simmered. After I had all the grilling done, I brought the pot inside to cook on the stovetop. Covered, on low heat, it simmered away nicely while I pretended to work on it and really just drank in the kitchen. After it had cooked for ~30-45 minutes, we fired up some cous-cous to go with this one, too, as the combo was great last time. Put the cous-cous in the bottom of the bowl, ratatouille on top, and dug in with some sopping bread for back-up.
All in all, that was really damn good. My wife even said it was one of her favorites of anything I've ever made. What really surprised me was the rosemary. It's so easy for rosemary to be overpowering, but it adds something wonderful to this dish. I couldn't imagine removing it from the recipe. The key seems to be cooking everything separately, then combining with just enough liquid to prevent burning while it finishes. Wonderful stuff, and a welcome round of vegetable matter after spending the weekend eating fast food on the highway.
Also, the SoBe Adrenaline Rush energy drink? Tastes like ass. I'm normally a big fan of their products, but this one tastes like grapefruit-infused urine. Not so great, I'll stick with Red Bull (which also tastes like ass, just not as much) next time I try to drive cross-country on three hours' sleep. Until next time. . .

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I used to write here, didn't I?

Time to get back to that. Too long, too many meals have passed and been left unblogged. Some. . .that may be for the best, but most should have been shared. A week in Spain and Portugal got me off-track, and I just never quite recovered. But here we are again.
Where to begin? Now. Too much has occurred for me to try to recap it all, so I'll just pick up with the glorious present.
I'm working on getting past my obsession with complicated meals, trying to do things a little simpler sometimes. Not that I'm abandoning the ridiculous feasts, just realizing that I can cook a whole lot more stuff if I simplify some of it. I actually made chilli on Sunday without spending 3 days preparing for it. I stuck to the true spirit of the dish this time.

A coworker, who had the misfortune of leaving his freezer door ajar overnight, bestowed upon me a large chuck roast on Friday. I thought to myself, "Questionable chunk of meat? Chilli!!"
I trimmed it up, got rid of the more questionable parts, and cut it into chunks. After browning those in a pan with some oil and salt, working in batches and transferring the browned ones to a pot, I sauteed a chopped red onion in the leftover meat-ness. Dumped that in the pot, deglazed the whole thing with a bottle of questionable beer (left over from a party, not my own), then added a can of tomatillos (run through the blender first), and some Mexican spice rub that had been given to me. Salt, pepper, paprika, and cumin went in, then I let it simmer for a little while.
While this was going, I was also working on the next batch of beer, The Night Porter. Should be a solid, Robust Porter with a little touch of blackstrap molasses. Smells good through the airlock, it's bubbling away pretty happily right now.
After a little while, it became apparent that the chilli needed more veggies to it, so I started digging in the fridge. I found a little container of salsa that someone had brought the night before, so in it went. Still lacking, though, I received a fortuitous phone call from someone on their way to the house, and I asked them to pick me up a jar of salsa and some kidney beans.

************side note************

OK, I know how a lot of people feel about beans. Honestly, I could care less. I make chilli with them, without them, it just depends on mood and company. It just happens that my wife likes beans in her chilli, and she's cuter than you are. End of side note.

Once my buddy arrived, I threw in the beans and salsa and let it simmer a little longer. We made some cornbread muffins and grated up some sharp cheddar, and I was pleasantly surprised. Not quite the same flavor impact of most of the chilli I've made, but the ratio of effort:flavor was remarkable. There may be something to the lazy chilli. . .but I do advise using caution when selecting the meat itself. That can still make or break any pot of chilli, no matter how lazy you feel.

Wellllll. . . .back to work now, just feels good to get the old ball rolling again. I'll try to keep in touch better this time around. Really. Stop looking at me like that.