Monday, December 28, 2009

Porktastic Holidays!

Okay, so it's a given that by the time the holidays are over you have gained about 10-15 extra pounds and you feel like a terrible pork and cookie addict with no memory of the word salad.  You instinctively reach for the gravy even though you're on your lunch break at work eating a Vietnamese sandwich.  You can't figure out why there is no pie or cake to be had after your breakfast coffee and toast.  Trust me, I know how you feel.  You are not alone.  Take a deep breathe and repeat after me "Cookies can't control me, cookies can't control me, cookies can't control me".  There, feel better?  No?  Okay, screw it.  Finish your leftovers and turn on your cable TV pilates workout.  That's all I got for ya.  Hell, that's all I can muster.  Here's what we've been eating this holiday season:

Thanksgiving 2009
Sweet Bourbon glazed Ham
Creamy Garlic Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Mi Abuela's Stuffing de Cubano
Braised Swiss Chard with Toasted Almonds
Spicy Red Eye Gravy

Who doesn't love the all mighty pig?  Unless you're Muslim or Kosher you have no excuses.  Pork should be in at least three of your daily meals in some shape or form.  Studies show that the consumption of pork greases your insides so that your body can digest more evenly hence helping you live a longer and more fulfilling life (Heck I'm no scientist, but that sounds good to me).

I went down to my favorite butcher shop, trying my best to avoid the millions of shuffling tourists standing in my way as a sockeye salmon gets flung over their heads by a bunch of screaming fishmongers, fish juice whipping the poor saps in the face.  I picked out the prettiest bone-in hog thigh (ham) I could find.  All natural, locally sourced pork.  I tend to pick ham over turkey for Thanksgiving.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a nicely cooked turkey.  But when it comes down to it, ham is yummier.  So I roasted the ham for a few hours, brushing the glaze on every 1/2 hour or so.  The sweet smokiness that the bourbon provides is blissful and the skin gets so incredibly crispy and amazing that you'd kill anyone that stood between you and your chicharrones.

Mashed potatoes are one of those ubiquitous dishes that seems to find it's way onto every holiday table.  There's a reason for that.  They're freaking delicious when cooked properly.  Yes, there is a skill to making good mashed potatoes.  I like to whip them up in my Kitchen-aid after simmering the hell out of them in salted water.  Then I add a good amount of cream, butter, salt, pepper, chives, and roasted garlic.
Here's a video from that shows you how to make perfect mashed potatoes.  Do these steps and you can't fail (assuming you're not the worst cook ever).

I've been eating my grandmother's Cuban stuffing since I was a baby.  Yes, it's sort of an odd stuffing but it still is the best I've ever had.  Ground beef, ground pork/sausage, potatoes, allspice, seasoning, and a specific brand of prepackaged stuffing mix.  It's just one of those family dishes from the past that you try to recreate on a higher quality culinary level (i.e. making my own bread crumbs and not using prepackaged stuff) but it just doesn't work out.  It's like our grandmothers made a special pact with these companies.  Every time Grandma uses a jar of Ragu Garlic and Herb Flavor Tomato Sauce in a casserole she gets a royalty check.

To add some green to dinner I braised some Swiss chard in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.  To finish the dish I tossed it with toasted almond slivers.  I love winter greens.  The bitterness cut with a little lemon or sherry wine vinegar.  I try my best not to make vegetables an afterthought but when you have a juicy ham roasting in the oven that's all you can think about.  But alas, the greens did show up to the dance and we're all healthier people for it.  Eat your greens kids, they're good for ya!

Don't forget to top everything off with delicious gravy!
Red Eye Gravy

about 2 cups ham drippings
1/4 cup butter
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup freshly brewed black coffee
few dashes of hot sauce
fresh cracked black pepper

Remove the ham for the roasting pan.  Pour off a little of the fat but keep all the ham juices and some of the remaining fat.  Put the pan over medium heat on the stove.  Add the butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute.  Add the coffee and hot sauce, whisking to combine.  Let the gravy cook and thicken for a minute of two.  Adjust seasonings.  Pour over everything.

Christmas 2009
Lechon Asada Con Mojo (Cuban Roast Pork)
Arroz con Frijoles Negros
Coles de Bruselas con Mostaza (Brussel Sprouts with Mustard)

As a Cuban, growing up we always had the traditional Noche Buena (Cuban Christmas Eve dinner).  The roast pork, black beans and rice, fried plantains, yucca con mojo, etc.  It's a tradition that I failed to continue through the young, rebellious years after leaving home.  As I get older these sentimentalities are creeping back into my brain.  You come to realize that some traditions are not just "the products of uninspired imaginations used for the purpose of control and conformity" and that by roasting a freaking pig on Christmas Eve doesn't make me any less of a rebel rouser.  It's not like I'm buying war bonds with my Bush bucks (whatever the hell that means).  Anyways, to get back on track, pork is in my blood.  I am Cuban.  Swine is my spirit animal.  If I was blind I would have a seeing eye pig.

I went back to favorite meat guy and bought a huge pork shoulder roast.  My butcher knows that I am a pork addict.  He even said "Hey, do you ever eat anything not pig?" "Sure I do." I said.  "I also love those spicy sausages you sell"  "Those are made of pork too ya know." He yelled while laughing.  I got my roast and I headed home to make a mojo.  Cuban mojo is easy.  Fresh sour orange juice (or orange juice and lemon juice), lime juice, garlic, salt, pepper, fresh oregano.  I marinated the pork overnight in the mojo.  Bright and early Xmas morning I turned the oven to 200 degrees F and roasted the beast for 8 hours.  When the time was up, I poked the pork with a fork (that was poetic) and it fell apart into juicy shredded Cuban pork.  Serve with the juices and mojo and you're good to go.  We'll be having Cuban sandwiches, BBQ pork sandwiches, carnitas tacos, you name it, for weeks.  My Kitty Clara was the most excited about all the leftover pork.  She's such a vulture.

My Cuban black beans are vegan.  No ham hock or bacon in this this recipe.  Just black beans, water, salt, pepper, onion, green peppers, garlic, sugar, and vinegar.  Very simple but so tasty.  Serve over white rice and you're good to go.  By cooking the rice in the bean broth you end up making Moros y Christianos.  The black beans signify the Moors and the white rice the Christians.  That's one of those things that seems like it could be racist but not really.  It could be worse I guess.  So anyways, leftover frijoles negros can also be transformed into black bean burgers, spicy black bean soup, etc...  I have to come up with more ideas considering I have like 3 gallons of the stuff.  Good thing I love black beans.

Brussel sprouts are another great go to vegetable.  Quick and easy to make and it always seems to impress people.  They always say "I don't care for Brussel sprouts" until they try mine.  A little butter, white wine, mustard, and chicken stock and you have the best tasting baby cabbages around.  Here's my recipe for Seastack Brussel Sprouts.

So fine, you gained a couple pounds and your cholesterol is a bit high, and your pants don't fit anymore, and your skin feels greasy.  Isn't that what the holidays are all about?  Decadence and debauchery.  Over-indulgence and low self-esteem.  That why New Years conveniently comes along with it's resolutions and black out drinking.  So we can drink champagne to forget this past tragic year and come up with an amazing array of ways that this year will be spectacular.  The next day, the next year we will rise out of the dirty ashtray and pull our pants-less bodies out of our neighbors bushes and get a greasy breakfast to start the New Year of right.  We can start working on those New Year's resolutions tomorrow right after we get rid of these freaking headaches.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sovereign State #8: Armenia

The Menu:

Soojoukh (Air-dried Pork Shoulder Sausage)
Sunni (Armenian String Cheese)
Lahvosh (Armenian Cracker Bread)
Basturma (Cured Beef with Paprika)
Prinzov Pilaf (Armenian Rice Pilaf)
Mahdzoon Chicken (Baked Chicken Breast with Yogurt)

The Republic of Armenia is situated right smack dab in the middle of Europe and Asia.  Hell, it's almost in Africa.  The cuisine is the love child of Eastern European (white food for white people) and middle eastern cultures.  Think of Midnight Express meets Red Heat but in food form(and minus all the Turkish prison beatings and Schwarzenegger one liners).  As a country, this former component of the U.S.S.R., has definitely seen it's share of misfortune. During WWI nearly a million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire. Yet, they survived and maintained a unique identity. Now a democratic nation that belongs to all the cool kid groups (ie: United Nations, Council of Europe, and the evil WTO), aside from being a slightly poor country Armenia is still rich in it's culinary traditions.

 So Eastern European food tends to look very unappealing.  There is not a lot of color going on in some of the food.  Aside from beets and a few winter greens, brown and white is the palate you get to work with.  I'm glad I didn't serve the Mahdzoon Chicken on a beige plate or I would have never found my food.  The taste of the dish is fantastic though.  First you marinate the chicken overnight in some white wine, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs.  The you cover it with yogurt and bake it.  The yogurt congeals and the chicken doesn't get much color so presentations-wise you better have some garnishes laying around or it'll look like a pile of anemic bird flesh covered in spit.  Like I said, it was super delicious though.  Very moist and slightly sour from the yogurt.  I would make this recipe again but I would perhaps sear off the chicken breasts first and add some fresh herbs to the final dish.

I served it with Armenian pilaf which reminded me a lot of Rice-A-Roni, but made from scratch.  I love the stuff so I was very much at home with this dish.  Perhaps it's not just a San Francisco treat. Armenians love it too.  I think the combination of pasta and rice, although somewhat maniacal, is a great idea.  Saute the basmati and small broken vermicelli in butter until golden.  Cook it in some fresh made chicken stock, add some scallions, and fluff to serve.  Yum.

Now it's no secret that I love cured meat products.  All forms and sizes all animals, I don't care what kind  it is.  If it's edible meat and it's cured I want it in my mouth.  So much to my delight, Armenia loves cured meat products as well.  I found an online purveyor of such delicacies and went nuts.  I have enough Armenian sausage to last me my whole life.  The Soojoukh is a lot like a salami.  It has that briny sour taste and would great in a sandwich or chopped up in a salad.  The Basturma is a little bit more unfamiliar.  It's an air cured beef that is covered in paprika.  The flavor is slightly gamey and pungent even though it's cow.  It has the texture of perhaps a thickly sliced Serrano ham.  Finish off a charcuterie board with some Armenian flatbread and Sunni (yummy string cheese) and I'm a happy girl.

So yeah, it took me a while to get through the Armenian portion of the ride but I finally did it and I'm glad I did.  The food was delicious and research was interesting.  Now, any volunteers to help me eat all this sausage?  Next up, Australia.  Yummmm....kangaroo....

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Cold War.

Here lied a review of Zhavago's Cafe on Broadway, Capitol Hill.  It was a review that had an innacuracy or two (I accidentally called a shawarma sandwich a souvlaki sandwich.)  My finding after eating there were: A) They seem to have a hard time making the piroshkies hot,  B) the chicken shawarma sandwich was dry and didn't taste very good, and C) although the owner and staff seemed friendly some of the staff had no clue as to what they were selling.  I really wanted to like this place but the experiences I've had there have led me to the conclusion of not wanting to eat there again.

The review was accidentally lost but I decided that it was important to put this in it's place.  The original contained a few comments from people who agreed with my comments and a few from people who denied the possibilities of Zhavagos being mediocre.  My blog is my opinion.  It's my experiences.  People can take it for what it's worth.