Monday, January 25, 2010

Don't mess with the classics.

Sometimes it's the simplest of dishes that nobody seems to get right.  Take the classic shrimp cocktail for example.  You can't just dump some sweet, store bought cocktail sauce around some thawed out frozen shrimp and call it a day.  This dish is all about the quality and freshness of the ingredients.  Shrimp cocktail was the dish that I would "keep an eye on" at every wedding and holiday brunch I ever attended as a kid.  Guarding the platter of lovely pink crustaceans, checking the taste and quality every 10 seconds or so.  I felt like I was doing the event a service.  "No sir, you don't want to eat these, I think they have spoiled" I would say with a mouth full of deliciously sweet shellfish, my eyes tearing from the horseradish infused cocktail sauce.  "Perhaps you should move along to the cheese platter.  Just don't eat too much of the deli meat because I shall need some of that." I would say.   I probably ate several pounds of shrimp at every single one of these events.  I was a caterer's nightmare.  Deveining, shelling, and cleaning shrimp is a time consuming process.  "Somebody yank that damn kid away from the shrimp."  I could see them glaring at me but it would take more than a mean look to derail me and my mission.

K and I did a little "cleanse" or "diet" this past week just to put our bodies back on track after a gluttonous holiday season.  I think my body had become 80% pork roast by the time the New Year had arrived.  I needed some vegetables and seafood stat.  One day for lunch I decided to make Pacific Shrimp Cocktail with Pickled Okra and Spicy Brava Cocktail Sauce.  The fresh Pacific shrimp, so lovely and sweet.  The crispy, smoked pickled okra added a nice textural note and contrasting tartness.  For the brava cocktail sauce I used organic tomato ketchup, horseradish, spicy pimenton (smoked paprika), a few spices, and a couple dashes of my favorite hot sauce.  Served all pretty in a martini glass.  I nearly reverted to my adolescent ways by telling K that perhaps she should have something else to eat because I didn't think it would suit her tastes but my conscience kicked in and we both enjoyed a delicious light lunch.

Grilled Pacific Shrimp Cocktail with Pickled Okra and Spicy Brava Cocktail Sauce
Serves 4

28-32 shell-on (21/25 count) Pacific shrimp

Brava Cocktail sauce:
1 1/2 c fresh organic tomato ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
3 tsp spicy pimenton (smoked paprika)
3 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
fresh cracked black pepper & kosher salt tt
4 or 5 dashes of hot sauce (I heart Tapatio)


Using a pairing knife, make an incision down the backside of the shrimp, following the intestinal track. Devein the shrimp and rinse under cool water leaving shells intact.

Heat up a grill pan over med high heat.  Brush with olive oil.  Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and grill the shrimp for 1-2 minutes each side until just cooked through.  Remove to a sheet pan and refrigerate immediately.

For the sauce, place ketchup, horseradish, pimenton, salt pepper, lemon juice and hot sauce in a bowl and whisk to combine. Refrigerate cocktail sauce until ready to serve.

Once shrimp have chilled, arrange with cocktail sauce in a martini glass and serve with pickled okra.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sovereign State #9: Australia

Beef and Cheese Meat Pies
Sausage Rolls
Aussie Lamb Burger with the Lot
Chiko Rolls
Vegemite Scrolls

G'day mate.  Forget everything you think you know Australians.  They aren't all magical Hobbits, koala bear poachers, or the great, great, great, great grand children of criminals.  Most of them wear shoes and don't even own anything made of crocodile.  I have a few Aussie mates and I can tell you that they are a kind and friendly sort.  Anywhere you go there is probably an Aussie right next to you.  These people freaking love to go on walkabouts.  Every hostel in every city in the world will consist of 2% Americans, 2% Japanese, 1% Italians, and 95% Australians travelers.  So lets see, where have us Americans gotten all of our Australian info from.  Well, there's Crocodile Dundee of course.  "That's not a knife, this is a knife" and all that.  Sure, Paul Hogan was charming and could speak to animals kind of like the Beastmaster.  We fell in love with him and everyone started drinking Fosters (it's Australian for beer) all of a sudden.  There was the Men At Work song "The Land Down Under".  Some guy from Brussels makes some other guy a Vegemite sandwich because he comes from the land down under.  It's where beer does flow and men chunder.  Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?  Let me ask this.  "Do I really want to know what it means when men chunder?"  I don't think I do.  Oh yeah, and let's not forget Yahoo Serious, the Carrot-Topesque Aussie comedian whose charming wackiness was a silly, picturesque window into the Outback just as Yakov Smirnoff gave us a hilariously bleak and desperate view into Communist Russia.  Australia seems like a lovely place full of talking marsupials and traveling drag queens.  How could you not be intrigued?  I sure am.

Let's talk about Vegemite.  It's a spread made from yeasty goodness and Australians freaking love the stuff.  They put it on everything.  Now, I tried to be open minded but it is definitely an acquired taste which I have yet to acquire.  Here's a recipe for Vegemite & Cheese Scrolls from my friend Liz's Aussie/Kiwi recipe website All Recipes

..and then came the Chiko Roll...

What's that pretty lady on motorcycle eating?  Why, she's eating a Chiko Roll.  What's that you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  It's a crazy Australian egg roll with minced sheep meat (mutton) and barley and ketchup and cabbage and soy sauce all fried up in a big crispy won ton wrapper.  They have taken bar food and take out to a whole new level in the land down under.  It's like the bastard child of an egg roll and a weird burrito.  The Chiko Roll, as frightening and disgusting as it sounds, is actually very delicious snack when you are drunk.  That is the likeliest time you would eat something like this so I say mission accomplished.  It almost seems like this recipe was concocted by some black-out drunk person rummaging through their fridge at 4AM in the morning.  They especially seem to be a hit with the motorcycle driving ladies.

...and then there was Meat Pies...

Meat pies and sausage rolls are two of the most amazing foods (let alone Australian foods) ever.  The pies are super flaky and buttery on the outside and all gooey and meaty cheesy on the inside.  Like the best pot pie you ever ate.  Think of a Hot Pocket filled with cheeseburger and crack cocaine and only then can you imagine what a Aussie Meat Pie tastes like.  The beef and cheese variety is my favorite and although it is customary to lather it with tomato sauce (ie: Australian for ketchup) I prefer it virginal and untouched.  You can also get meat pies filled with things like beef and onions, mushrooms, BBQ chicken, bacon, etc..  Sausage Rolls are little puff pastry burritos wrapped around yummy sausage meat. Very delicious.  I actually like these little bad boys with some spicy curry ketchup.  Very tasty.

Recently I took a trip out to Burien, about 1/2 hour from where I live to visit the Australian Meat Pie Company.  For a few bucks a pie you can stock up and put them in your freezer for later.  They'll even sell them to you frozen if you like.  After arriving I sauntered up to the counter and said "I'll have a few meat pies please."  "Ummm, what kind?" the very friendly man behind the counter said.  I guess I hadn't really thought of those kinds of decisions yet and suddenly I realized that I WAS that super annoying person who walks up to counters without knowing what they want.  I deserved to be kicked in the spine.  I hate those people.  Anyways, he was very patient with me and I went with the classics.  Beef and Cheese Meat Pies, sausage rolls, and a couple of Lamingtons.  I will be making trips to this magical establishment often because I now have a new addiction.  I need my meat pies.

...don't forget the Lamingtons...

Lamingtons are giant square chunks of cake that are dipped in chocolate and then rolled around in coconut.  My teeth hurt just thinking about them.  The Aussies sure love their sweets.  Tim Tams, Minties, Pollywaffles, Caramello Koalas, Fruit Tingles, Violet Crumbles.  No I'm not talking some Willy Wonka gibberish.  I'm just talking sweets.

Everybody eats burgers.  McDonalds made sure of that.  Hell, they're everywhere.  There's even one in the Museum of Communism in Prague.  I bet there's one in the deepest jungles of Borneo with some fifteen year old employee, who doesn't give a shit, forcing cardboard burgers upon the toothless headhunters.  Anyways, the Australians do the burger a little different than we do.  They call it the Burger with The Lot.  As in a burger with everything.  I made mine out of Aussie Lamb to represent!  You know what I'm sayin'?  It's topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, dill pickles, spicy peppers, pickled beets (edit: beetroot as the Aussie say), mustard, spicy curry ketchup, and a fried egg and placed lovingly into a giant kaiser roll.  Freaking amazing.  I wasn't sure I was going to like the beets in there but I did.  I especially love the added heart-attack fuel with the fried egg.  When the yolk breaks all over it's fattening bliss and you can't help but smile as your right arm tingles.

So in doing this project I learned a lot more about Australia than I ever thought I would.  I learned that they have cute goofy names for a lot of things and they love to spread yeast onto stuff and eat it.  I also learned that they tend to be kind and sweet people with a love of great food and a great sense of humor.  And because of this, I forgive them for Yahoo Serious.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't squeeze too hard.

The word Avocado originates from Ahuacatl, the Aztec word for testicle.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Waiter, there's a rabbit in my salad.

Believe it or not, I was a vegetarian for ten whole years.  I was even vegan for one of them.  And this was back in the day when if you wanted to eat out your choices involved a burger with no meat (ie: a nasty sauce sandwich) or as many Taco Hell bean burritos you could stomach (I wish I still had my iron gut).  Perhaps if I had not been a scrappy, broke teenager at the time of this ethical decision my choices would have expanded but alas, I was a kid and I ate a lot of terrible fast food.  I still remember the time I told my parents I no longer wanted to eat meat.  From their reaction it felt as if was telling them I had just joined a demonic cult.  I think my mother almost cried.  I mean, I know being a Cuban means you have pork fat in your veins but I didn't think it would be a big deal.  My mother tried to accommodate me but the concept of not eating meat eluded her.  She would say things like: "Can't you just pick the chicken out of your chicken soup?"  "Oh don't be silly, butter isn't an animal."  "Plants are alive too, are you going to stop eating them?"  It was a little rough but I persevered and eventually she caught on.  My step-Father was another story.  I don't how many times he would say "Hey, there's meat in that!  HA HA"  when there clearly was not or the times that he would make dinner that had meat in it and try to fool me into eating it by saying it was vegetarian.  Yeah, we got along swell.  So the animal's lives were being spared and the world was going to be a better place with people like me making "the right" decisions.  It was so beautiful being so very enlightened all the time.  Ahhh,  my teen years.  Ha ha, yeah right.  You couldn't pay me to be a teenager again.

Years later it was a club sandwich that did me in.  Turkey, bacon, cheese, mayo, mustard, rye bread.  I couldn't help myself.  Sure I sold my ethics for a sandwich, but I have to say, I don't regret it. Everyone draws a line in the sand somewhere.  I just decided that I needed my line to be a little higher and a little more delicious.  In fact, I love animals more than most human beings.  But I also know that my body did not respond well to being a vegetarian.  My skin was a greenish color  which may seem attractive in some hippie circles but to me I just looked sick all the time.  I think I was sick all the time.  Oh, and my teeth hurt, my joints hurt, and my I couldn't muster enough energy to do much of anything but get high and watch CHiPs.  Okay, so I guess you could counteract with "Well, perhaps if you ate something besides Doritos and saucy bread, you would have been healthier."  Yeah probably, but what's your point?  (don't argue with me when I get irrational, it's useless)  Life is all about choices. Don't get me wrong, I love the Veg.  I just love meat a little more.

The other night I was making a lovely salad made with fresh baby spinach, toasted walnuts, Point Reyes blue cheese, and these amazing homemade pickled beets that a client of K's gave to us for Christmas,  all drizzled with a tasty balsamic Dijon vinaigrette.  That was going to be our dinner.  After thinking about the salad for minute I realized that it would need something.  I got it, it needed some rabbit.  So I took some hind quarters of rabbit, marinated them in olive oil, lemon, fresh oregano, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic.  I then roasted them in my oven until golden and juicy.  Placed atop the beet and spinach salad, it made perfect sense.  My dinner was complete.

Roasted Rabbit and Beet Salad

The Rabbit:
2 rabbit hind quarters, cleaned and trimmed
juice of 1 lemon
Tbsp EV olive oil
1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper tt

Marinate all ingredients for 1-2 hours.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Roast the rabbit for 20-25 minutes just until cooked through.  Let the meat rest

The Vinaigrette:
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp extra vigin olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 shallot, minced
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper tt

Mix all of the ingredients except for the olive oil.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.  Season.

The Salad:
1 bunch spinach, washed & stemmed
1 cup pickled beets, sliced
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled

Lightly toss all of the ingredients together.

Pour some of the vinaigrette over the salad and gently mix to coat.  Top with the rabbit.  You can also shred the rabbit meat into the salad to make eating easier.  Enjoy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Buckeye Chili.

I have never once had a nice time in Ohio.  I'm sure it's a great state and all but the Buckeye State doesn't seem to like me very much. During my "I'm so punk I refuse to shower, college is for suckers, and I'm almost eighteen years old so I know everything" phase I decided to leave home and have a go at living in the open plains of the good ole Midwest.  I packed up my few belongings and headed out for St. Louis, Misery (oh sorry, I meant Missouri).  The run down city had it's charm but there wasn't much to do.  Hell, throwing broken televisions off an abandoned railroad station bridge and blasting them with shotguns becomes monotonous after a while.  It seemed like every other week my friends and I would go on a road trip that inevitably led us to Ohio.  Let's see, what are some of my experiences in Ohio?  Get beat up by the police for loitering.  Check.  Get chased by a pack of vicious skinheads.  Check.  Having the tire of your Honda ripped off by a rogue cinderblock while driving 75 mph on the highway.  Check.  It seemed like every trip to Ohio ended in tears yet we somehow always ended up coming back.  Perhaps the state wanted to tell me something.  Perhaps it wanted to tell me how awesome it's chili was.  If only I hadn't been a vegetarian at the time maybe I would've listened.  I've long since moved out of the middle of the country and in my adult years I have come to appreciate the bounty that the midwest including Ohio has to offer.  I just wonder what horrible experience would befall me should I return?  Would I drown in a burning river or maybe get swept up by a twister?  Or perhaps the Ohio curse been lifted?  Maybe one day, I'll find out.

Did someone say Cincinnati style chili?  Why yes, I sure did.  So, a friend of mine gave me some fresh venison (along with some black bear but that's another story) that her dad recently hunted.  I was thinking about all of the tasty things I could do with it and decided that I needed to make chili.  Perfect for a cold, wet, winter day.  "Venison chili would be delicious" I thought to myself.  So I scoured through my semi-organized folders of recipes that I've collected over the years and I came upon a tomato paste (or blood) stained recipe for Cincinnati style chili.  I made some adjustments, replaced the ground beef with ground venison, switched out the sirlion for well marbled top round, and added a few ingredients that I thought would enhance the stew.  The little hint of cinnamon and coffee in this chili gives it a unique flavor that will blow your mind a little bit and the fact that it is served over spaghetti and covered in cheddar cheese is pure genius.  Midwest cooking at it's finest.  People give this kind of American cooking a bad reputation but I have to say, it's not the food that makes us unhealthy, it's the amount we eat.  What's worse, a bowl of chili, pasta, and cheese or a croissant made with a pound of butter and filled with chocolate?  I say enjoy it all, just don't be such a pig about it.  Anyways, I'm not going to lecture you how to eat.  I am going to tell you how to make the best bowl of chili you've ever had in your life.

Cincinnati Venison Chili
serves 6-8

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large coarsely onions, chopped
4 minced garlic cloves
1 lb ground venison
1 lb. top round, cut into 1" cubes
3 Tbsp. chili powder (I use New Mexican chili powder)
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. smoked paprika (pimenton)
3/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. tumeric
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cardamon
1 8oz. can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 Tbsp. molasses
4 cups beef stock
1 ½ cups dark beer
½ cup strong brewed coffee
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2 cans red kidney beans
Salt and freshly ground pepper

cooked spaghetti
green onion, sliced
cheddar cheese, grated
oyster crackers

In a heavy Dutch oven or pot, cook the onions in oil over moderate heat, stirring until they are softened. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the beef and venison and brown them lightly on all sides. Add chili powder and other spices. Cook mixture for one minute. Add Tomato paste and cook for one minute. Stir in tomato sauce, cocoa, molasses, beef broth, beer, coffee, water, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until thickened. Add beans with ½ hour left. Serve over cooked spaghetti and top with green onion, cheese, and oyster crackers.  This chili will be even better the next day.