The Mad Chef

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Turkey Day Preview

Just a quick note as I get ready for Thanksgiving. Currently I have a 31lb turkey soaking in brine according to the Professor's recipe , and two turkey breasts (boneless, as of this morning) soaking in their own individual brines. One is in a plain brine, and will be roasted with garlic herb butter. The other is in a soy-molasses brine with garlic and chiles and will be grilled with a fennel/cocoa/garlic/smoked chile rub. Top it all off with 10lbs of sweet potatoes that are ready to be mashed up for my signature "Yams 'O Death," and I'm a busy little boy right now. The YOD are definite trademark material at this point, with haba├▒eros, molasses, rum, brown sugar, garlic, shallots, thyme, and spices (plus butter, never forget the butter), and I think this will be an excellent batch. Don't really have time right now to delve too far into the whole process, but I will try to pop in with something tomorrow.
On a future note, just sent out the Evites for a Paella Night party in December, and I'm very excited about the potential for this one. Nothing like requesting that people bring ingredients like "land mammal" and "shellfish" to make things interesting. Following the Taco Night Procedure (everyone gets a general ingredient category to bring, then they pick the specifics) for this one, that always makes thing fun. I like the challenge of not knowing exactly what I'm cooking until someone walks through the doorway with it. Also just discovered that the Evites have a feature for listing items you want people to bring, and they'll take them off the list as people select them. Neat little feature, I'm a big Evite fan. I'll stop whoring myself out for them now, though.
Well, back to work and trying to get out of here early so I can go celebrate my lovely and talented wife's birthday a couple of days early. Onward to Turkey Day!

Monday, November 15, 2004

I'm Still a Man

OK, I just realized how girly that post sounded. Yes, I love strong coffee, dark beer, and straight whiskey, it just happens that I'm a sucker for the holidays. It's nice to have a mug of something the evokes that spirit without having to put up a 10' inflatable snowman that sings "Deck The Halls" on your front lawn, or having to cram all of your family members into one small room and make them pretend that they all like each other. I just thought it needed to be shared with the world.
That, and I can only drink the coffee at work. I need some variety.


Tea Time

I have to say, I'm not normally a huge hot tea fan. I love sweet iced tea, and I don't dislike hot tea at all, I just normally opt for coffee. Sunday morning at the grocery store, though, I picked up a box of this. Not sure what motivated me, but I just saw it there on the "seasonal products" kiosk at Harris Teeter and grabbed some. Maybe it's a desire for the joy of the holiday season, or maybe I just felt like I needed to get something since my lovely and talented wife was buying 8 boxes of the Pillsbury pumpkin spice bread/muffin mix that is only available one or two months out of the year. I have to say, this is really good. I actually didn't have any coffee yesterday, but I made three mugs of this stuff. I steeped it for a long time to get a stronger flavor, then just added a little bit of honey. Wow, it's like holidays in a mug. If you're looking for something to get you in the spirit of the season, break out some of this stuff. Didn't get to do much cooking over the weekend, mostly trying to get caught up around the house. I took down what was left of the garden yesterday, and the beds were white this morning. No snow, just a hard frost. Glad I managed to save one plant that turned out to still be alive yesterday, wouldn't have been today. Well, some culinary adventures ahead later this week, but nothing right now. Until then.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Keeper

I often get inspired to cook things that, while tasty, aren't going to make it into my standard rotation. I like them, but I don't know how often I'll actually cook them again. Last night was not one of those. Last night was a keeper. As is often the case when I come up with these dishes, I was cooking for one. This is good, because it grants the freedom to experiment. While driving home and running a couple of errands, I took an inventory of what I had in the house. I knew I had 1 white sweet potato, some frozen (unseasoned) hamburger patties, half a sweet onion, some garlic, and half a bottle of wonderful jerk sauce that was brought to me from Canada of all places.
Before I get into the meal, I have to expound upon this jerk sauce. It's the equivalent of a Harris Teeter store brand, but this is the next best thing to homemade. It's got a great flavor, it's tangy, and it actually has some real heat to it. Normally I make my own, but I feel no shame in using this, especially on a week night. Very good stuff, bring yourself some back from the Frozen North, if you should find yourself up that way. Bring me a bottle, too, I'm almost out.
Now, back to the meal. I realized that I wanted to use the jerk sauce, but I had to find the application. Then it hit me: Jerk Shepherd's Pie.
Here's what went in:

1.25# ground beef
1/2 vidalia onion (diced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 white sweet potato
1 cup frozen peas (still frozen, keeps them from overcooking)
The Jerk Sauce (Sorry, had to link it again. It's that good.)

I peeled and cubed the potato, then boiled it until fork tender. While the potato was cooking, I sauteed the garlic and onion in a little olive oil. Once they were softened, I added the beef. After the meat was browned, I drained the fat and poured it all into a casserole. I added the frozen peas, poured on some jerk sauce, and stirred it all together. I drained the boiled white sweet potato, and mashed it with a little butter, milk, salt, and black pepper. Then I spread that on top of the meat, covered it, and popped it into a 400┬║ oven for 25 minutes. Then I took off the cover, and put it back in for 5 more minutes. Let it cool for a minute, then scooped it into a bowl and dug in. I have to say, this one was just about perfect. I think a red sweet potato would have been too sweet for the beef, but it was a perfect balance to the jerk sauce. Highly recommended.

If you can't find white sweet potatoes (I get them at the Carrboro Farmer's Market from a father and son team, they're my sweet potato hook-up, red or white), I would use ground pork and red sweet potatoes. The pork will taste better with the extra sweetness, and the rest of it can go unchanged. But this one will definitely be making a future appearances on my table, and the whole thing was ready in less than an hour. That includes 30 minutes in the oven. Not too shabby for the man who can't get a dinner party served before 10pm. . .

Friday, November 05, 2004

I Love the Smell of Pork in the Morning

Took me a little too long to get back to this, but I've been a little under the weather of late. Sorry, if anyone was actually waiting for it! The pork tacos ended up consisting of the following:

5.5lbs Boston Butt Pork Roast (trimmed of extra fat)
2 medium sweet onions, sliced thin
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 heads garlic, minced
Juice of 4 limes
2 (15oz) cans black beans
2 cups uncooked white rice
~1 gallon tomato juice (fresh canned from my boss's cellar)
Black Pepper
2 Fatalli chiles, minced

The flavor from the Fatallis was perfect, but I would definitely use more of them for a group that could all take the heat.
I sauteed the garlic and Fatallis, which I had run through the mini-prep, the onions, and the scallions until they started to cook down, then threw in the pork. Rolled it around for a little bit, just to add a little color, then added cumin, salt, and black pepper, half the cilantro, and the juice from 2 of the limes and topped it off with the tomato juice. I let it simmer (covered) for about 2 hours, then pulled out the meat. While the meat was cooling, I added 2 cups of white rice and the two cans of black beans (rinsed and drained), then brought it up to a strong simmer/weak boil (uncovered). I shredded the pork, and when the rice was done (about 15-20 minutes) I added the meat and the rest of the cilantro and lime juice back to the pot. Mixed it all together, then into a huge tupperware and off to the tailgate!
For serving, all we did was spoon it into a flour tortilla and fold it up. It was also great as a dip for fritos scoops. Not nearly enough heat, but I was cooking for the masses. I think it turned out great, seemed to be a big hit. I've got two tubs of it in the freezer, can't wait to find out how well it keeps! My only big recommendation to anyone trying this is to make sure that you stir the liquid well after you add the rice. It gets very thick, and it's easy for rice to burn on the bottom. In a perfect world, we would have had shredded cheese and lettuce to go on the tacos, and maybe some sour cream (I love sour cream, don't know why). But it was great as-is.
And, now, here's the plant that the chiles came from, it's the one on the left: