The Mad Chef

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Pork Tacos!

I love pork. I think it's one of the most versatile meats on the planet, and it is definitely my favorite to cook. While nothing beats a fine steak, you can just do more with pork. That beautiful steak may be a great experience to eat, the pork will always be more fun to cook. That's why I'm making pork this weekend for our football tailgate.
I've been attending my boss's tailgate for the past two seasons, and I don't feel like I've truly contributed to it. I've mostly showed up, hung out, drank their booze, and eaten their food. But this weekend, it's time for me to give back.
Now, the most critical thing to understand is that I am a die-hard fan of a university that really, really sucks at football. Basketball season is another story, but we mostly go to the football games for the tailgate itself. So I've got to make this one count.
I'm planning on making stewed pork tacos, and here's what's going in:

Boston Butt (of course)
Tomato Juice (Fresh, from home-grown tomatoes that my boss canned. Use canned crushed tomatoes if you don't have something like this, don't use canned tomato juice)
Onion (probably red, but maybe vidalia if they look good)
Garlic (lots, at least 1 full head)
Scallions (1 bunch)
Cilantro (some into the pot for cooking, some saved fresh for garnishing)
Lime juice (fresh, probably 3-4 limes)
Chiles (variety TBA, still trying to decide)

Those are the ingredients that I'm sure about, still debating some spices. Cumin, salt, pepper, maybe some oregano are all in the mix, but I want to keep it fairly bright-tasting, and too much earthy seasonings (cumin & oregano, mostly) can bring that down a notch. I'm probably going to do this the lazy way and just combine it all in a pot and put it on the heat. It's a 1pm game, so I'm going to have to get a pretty early start on this. Don't know if I'm going to have time to sautee and brown everything before combining it. If I don't brown the pork first, I'm planning to trim off that lovely layer of fat that sits on top of the boston butt. Don't really need that in the liquid. I'll cook it until the meat falls apart, then take it out and shred it. While I'm doing that, I'll let the liquid reduce down and thicken up, then mix the meat back in.
Planning to serve it with tortillas, but I'm still deciding between corn and flour. Corn is more traditional, and has more flavor, but they don't fold as well if you don't heat them first. Really don't want these to fall apart on everyone. We'll see on that, I'll have to report back on Sunday.
Toppings should be pretty standard, but the show will be about the meat anyway. We're going to get slaughtered this weekend, but at least we should be able to eat well!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Fun With Pasta

Just have to say. . .I still hate the Atkins Diet. Starches are our friends, and I could never part with them. Like last night: we got home from the gym, and were just going to make pasta. I didn't feel like the standard jar tomato sauce, so I started digging through the fridge and cabinets. Here's what I pulled out:

fresh ginger
cremini mushrooms
lemon
1/4 vidalia onion
garlic
scallions
leftover potsticker filling

I ran out to the porch and came back with fresh mint, basil, and 3 chiles from my chilli tree. I put some canola oil in the bottom of my sautee pan, added the chopped garlic, vidalia, ginger, scallion, and chiles, then put it on medium heat. While that was going, I sliced up 4-5 creminis and chopped up the basil and mint. Once the pan got to a sizzle, I threw in the mushrooms and potsticker filling, added salt, and let it start cooking down. Not quite enough liquid, but a shot of rice vinegar fixed that. Once everything had cooked down pretty well, I added the juice from one lemon and stirred in the herbs. By this point, the angel hair was done and drained, so I combined it all in the pasta pot. Still a little shy on liquid, so I just drizzled some olive oil over it to keep it from getting sticky. Tossed it all together, and that's some damn fine fridge scrap pasta.
This is why the Atkins Diet is evil. Only starches have this power to support whatever crap you throw at them. Potatoes and pasta are just waiting to revive your miscellaneous ingredients. Speaking of which, I'm going to go heat up the leftovers. And Dr. Atkins can kiss my ass.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Fillin' The Freezer

My lovely and talented wife had a great idea for this past weekend. We were going to mass-produce all of those wonderful freeze-able food items that are so great to have on hand, just spend a day or two working on it, and we would have them ready and available for months. I like this plan. This is a very GOOD plan. We just had to figure out what to make. That ended up being simple enough, we had already made two of the recipes before. But we decided to do potstickers, gnocchis, and apple tarts.
The gnocchis are great, and fairly easy once you get an assembly line going. We made a little over 5lbs of them, though, roughly 2-1/2 times this recipe. I don't mess with this recipe. I don't own the gnocchi board that it talks about, I use a plain fork, but that is really my only standard variation. You can mess with the sauce all you want, but you would have to be very careful about moisture levels if you added more flavors/ingredients to the gnocchis themselves. That's not to say that I don't fully plan to do thisat some point, I'm just not going to try it out when I'm making 5lbs of them. It did get me wondering about what a gnocchi board actually is, though, so I googled and found this. Seems like a neat little thing, but I don't think I can justify losing the space in my kitchen. Anyway, once you get in a groove, you can really churn these things out. Once they're all made, you just spread them on a baking sheet to freeze, then pop them off into freezer bags for storage. Cook them the same as fresh ones, just allow another minute or two for the thaw. Highly recommended.
For the potstickers, I start with the Professor's recipe. I have made it before, and it's very good. But I found myself wanting more garlic, ginger, and spice this time. So I made a double recipe, and added about a 1-1/2" knob of ginger (grated), five cloves of garlic (also grated, I had my microplane workin'), and I substituted 3 ripe jalapeños for the red bell pepper- omitting the cayenne. These jalapeños are fairly mild, so I'm not too worried about the heat being overwhelming for my lovely and talented wife, or our guests. Plus, they are scattered throughout almost 100 potstickers. For these, definitely line the cookie sheets with waxed paper before you put the finished dumplings on them. Then stick the sheets in the freezer until they're solid and repeat the bagging process. One thing I would add, though, is increase the amount of chicken stock to ~1/2c when cooking the frozen ones. Not necessary if you're cooking them fresh, but they dry out a little in the freezer and the extra stock helps keep them from being chewy. All around great dumplings, though, and you just have to trust some of the ingredients. They sound strange, but they taste great in the end.
For the finale, we made apple tarts. I have to admit, my enthusiasm waned a little for this one. I don't really eat dessert much, and apple tart isn't exactly what I go for when I do. But it is also a favorite of my lovely and talented wife, so that matter was settled. This is the recipe we used. Pretty simple, easy to mass produce, but it did turn out pretty darn tart. I would make sure that you use all of the cinnamon/sugar mixture, probably making an effort to sprinkle more between layers. But, all in all, still a success.
Now we have 5lbs of potato gnocchis, 100 potstickers, and 12 (we ate four) apple tarts all ready to go in the freezer. I think I could do this whole personal chef thing. . .

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Chile Beer

OK, the time had come. I had to try my hand at brewing chile beer. Not just any chile beer, but a roasted chile wheat beer. Here's the list:

6.6lbs of Wheat Liquid Malt Extract (a 60/40 blend with barley)
1lb Carapils (Dextrin) Malt
2oz Tettenang hops for bittering (these are great for the finished product, but they do smell a lot like feet on their own)
25 Jalapeños
5 Poblano chiles
5 Anaheim chiles
WYeast #3056 Bavarian Wheat Ale Yeast Blend

All of the standard homebrewing items were from American Brewmaster, a mighty fine place to buy your supplies. Huge selection, and very helpful staff. Now that I've made my plug for them, back to the beer!

I decided not to use aroma hops, as I wanted the beer to smell like roasted chiles. I'll know if I succeeded in a few weeks. Good time was had, my stepfather came over and helped out. Also discovered that my blackstrap molasses porter is the perfect beer pairing with Glenlivet 12yr, that's a beautiful thing. May have to test it out again tonight, though. . .

Well, must get back to work, but I'll leave you with this lovely image:

Thursday, October 07, 2004

LOOK! I made. . .Something!

Last night, I found myself unsupervised in the kitchen again. My wife had just been to the dentist, and her mouth was too sore for what I was planning to make. Soooo. . . .I was on my own. A quick scavenge revealed the following:
cooked chicken
celery
1 carrot
1/2 vidalia onion
garlic
flat-leaf parsley
5lbs of russet potatoes that I bought for $.98 on VIC buy
Some pre-shredded Italian cheese mix (I like it for pizza)

First things first, I cubed up 4 potatoes and put them in a pot. Covered with water, and onto the stove to boil. Then, I ran outside and came back with some fresh thyme (~5 sprigs), 1 ripe poblano chile, and 1 Harold's St Barts. I minced 4 cloves of garlic, thin sliced 1/4 of the onion, then put them in the bottom of a saucepan with a little canola oil. That went over med-low heat while I stripped the thyme leaves into the pan. I chopped up one rib of celery, and ~2/3 of one large carrot (I ate the rest, I like carrots). Into the pan with those, plus some salt to get the liquids going. Gave the pan a stir, then chopped up the chiles. Threw those in the pan, added a little rice vinegar, and gave it a good stir. The potatoes were getting close, so I drained them and dumped them into a baking dish, and I added a layer of the cooked, shredded chicken on top of the potatoes. Then I poured ~1 cup of chicken stock in with the veggies, ground in some pepper, gave it a stir, and upped the heat to a high simmer. After a few minutes to make sure the carrots and celery were tender, I poured that mixture over the chicken and potatoes. I spread out the veggies, topped with some pizza cheese, and popper it into a 400º oven for 15 minutes to bring it all together. Pretty dang good stuff, and I even got a little sniffage going from the Harold's St Barts. I'm about to go reheat some for lunch, we'll see how it does the second time around. My only problem is that I have no idea what to call it. Oh, well, maybe inspiration will strike during lunch.

Small Potatoes

I just wanted to clarify that these were small potatoes, almost tennis ball small. If someone tried to duplicate this with full-sized, big 'ole russets, they'd have a lot of potato to not so much of anything else. Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Belize Chicken Salad?

Sounds like a good idea. I was just on a chile pepper forum that I belong to, and someone posted a recipe for a Belize-style habañero sauce. I thought to myself, "that sounds tasty, what could I do with that?" The answer, of course, is to make chicken salad with it! I have gobs of habañeros from the garden, I just made chicken soup for my lovely and talented wife so I have plenty of chicken meat in the fridge, and the rest of the ingredients are pretty basic.

I will need:
Chicken
Habañeros
Carrots
Lime Juice
Salt
Vinegar (maybe, I'm still up in the air on this one)
Onion
Garlic
Mayo (Duke's, damnit, and don't you forget it)

If you remove the chicken and mayo, this is a recipe for hot sauce. If I keep the vinegar in, I may not add the mayo, just doesn't seem right. It'll depend on what feel I want to go for with it, and I'm just not sure yet.
I hope to make this tonight, but probably tomorrow. It's supposed to get cold tonight, so I need to dig up a few chile plants for the Winter, plus we're supposed to go out for dinner with some friends. I don't know where, but I know I'll vote for here.
More on the chicken salad later. . .