Friday, June 29, 2012

Pretty on the Inside.

I have a soft spot in heart for ugly food. Those brown, squishy dishes that are just so damn hard to make pretty. Some of the most tasty things are just ugly as hell and there's nothing you can do about it.  Even if you try to spruce it up by shoving it into ring molds or garnishing with a little sprig of fresh herbs it still ends up looking like lipstick on a pork chop.

There's a saying the we eat first with our eyes (taken literally that sounds quite terrifying). Actually, I like to eat first with my mouth. You see, I'm kinda half blind most of the time depending on the position of the sun and the pollen count. Also I have a deviated septum and a slight crooked nose that has been broken two times (it gives me character). Anyways, on the best of days my shoddy sense of smell can't be trusted. "Hmmm, I think I smell lavender. Nope that's ham." I do trust my taste buds. I'm not a supertaster by any means but I have a trained palate and I know my flavors. Also, I have eaten a lot of food over my lifetime so my mouth knows the difference between a chicken leg and a prawn.

Do I like my food to be pretty? Sure I do. I'm just saying that once in a while you have to embrace the brown squishiness and focus on the taste. Some of my favorite dishes are ugly as hell. Chicken and dumplings, moco loco, chili dogs, picadillo, saag paneer, etc. Don't judge a book by it's cover. I actually have love in my heart for the monotone, brown and yellow haze of 1970s food photography. Sure it's drab but I find it very appetizing. Glistening dreary meat slabs with double starches. Tasty! Here's the thing. If you love food, you love to eat food. Not just look at it. 

So I made a deliciously ugly plate of Lebanese food. Lebanese Kofta with Zahtar Roasted Cauliflower, Persian Rice, and Kousa Bi Laban (courgette and yogurt sauce). Yes the kofta look like a cross between a football and bear droppings. Don't let them fool you. They are packed with delicious Middle Eastern spiced meaty flavor. For the Persian rice just saute basmati rice in some butter until the rice becomes fragrant and translucent. Then add 1 tsp of turmeric, 1 tsp of coriander, 1 fresh cinnamon stick, and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the water (1 part rice to 1.25 water) and bring to a boil. Turn the heat as low as it goes and cover. Leave it alone for 18 minutes. Take off the heat and leave the cover on for 5 more minutes. Fluff with a fork. For the Kousa Bi Laban simply saute some diced zucchini in a little olive oil with some minced garlic and shallots (don't forget to season). Let it cool. Toss it with some plain yogurt and fresh chopped dill. Season with salt and pepper. Try it, you'll like it.

Lebanese Kofta with Zahtar Roasted Cauliflower

(for the kofta)
3/4 lb ground lamb
3/4 lb ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced1 white onion, minced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp fresh chopped mint
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

(for the cauliflower)
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
2 tsp zahtar (Middle Eastern spice mix containing sumac, sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, anise)
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
olive oil

Preheat over to 375F degrees. Mix all of the kofta ingredients in a large bowl without over-mixing. Season well with salt and pepper. Shape 2 Tbsp of the kofta mixture into a long oval. Place on a sheet pan lined with foil. Repeat the process until all of the kofta are shaped. Do do let them touch each other on the sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the kofta rest 5 minutes.

Place the cauliflower florets in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with the zahtar. Make sure they are well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Place dish in the same oven as the kofta and cook for 30 minutes.

Serve with Persian rice and Kousa Bi Laban. Enjoy your tasty but slightly homely food. xoxo

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cocktailin' - The Havana Sunset

What better way to forget your crappy job and unpaid medical bills than a delicious alcoholic beverage or three. Being sober is not nearly as fun as it was when you were a kid (unless you were a drunk kid). When I was little there always seemed to be party happening at my house with happy slurring Cubans everywhere. I would play bartender and stir up a batch of rum and cokes for my relatives and neighbors. "One for you and one for me" was my motto. Don't get me wrong. I have a very healthy attitude towards booze snacks. I also have a very healthy gag reflex and sadly now that I'm older 2-3 cocktails knock me on my ass and I get a hangover for 6 days afterwards. So now I gently approach the liquid medicine and know my limits.

Anywho, enough of that. I was starting to sound like a bad After School Special PSA. Don't drink and drive kids. Being dead is stupid. 

So what we have here is The Havana Sunset aka El Gallo Borracho. Put on your favorite Carmen Miranda outfit (including the fruit hat) and shake, shake, shake.

The Havana Sunset

1oz white rum
1oz dark rum
1oz fresh mango juice (puree diced in a blender and strain)
1oz fresh squeezed lime juice
2 dashes of grapefruit bitters
maraschino cherries to garnish

Shake with ice and serve in a martini glass. xoxo

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wings and Radishes of Desire.

The bowl of pink shiny candy was dessert.

Well, it's officially summertime (everywhere but Seattle). Truth be told, I'm not particularly fond of the big, hot ball of fire in the sky. No, I don't drink human blood but I do tend to be as pale as milk and skulk around in the shadows. Occasionally, I crave the sunlight even if it makes me sparkle (especially after I roll around in glitter, which I do daily). Yeah, I'm a shiny, sharp toothed vamp... uh regular person. A real Jane Doe. Yup, that's me. I'll steal your soul and damn you to an eternal Hell!  Haha. Just kidding. So, who's hungry?

What I mostly crave about summertime is the food. I'm a sucker for fresh watermelon. I once ate a whole watermelon in one sitting seeds and all. I threw-up pink gobs of seeds for days. Still love it though. Grilled corn on the cobb? Yup, even the 7 years of painfully prying corn out of my braces couldn't sway me away from the golden, buttery treat. I still love the creepy warped music of ice cream trucks driving by and I've been known to bully my way to the front of the line for the last rocket pop (Sorry kid, get a Spider-man pop. That rocket pop is mine!). Another one of my summer favorites is chicken wings. Spicy, delicious, messy, tiny chickens with a handle.

Chicken Wing heaven.

There are a few ways to cook a good wing. On the barbecue, deep fried (when I make Buffalo wings I go this route), and baked or broiled. My go-to wings are broiled and have a South East Asian sort of thing going on. Glazed with sweet kecap manis (Indonesian sweet, syrupy soy sauce), spicy chili garlic paste, rice wine vinegar, & sesame oil. Super tasty. This time around I made a batch of those but I also made a batch of honey mustard BBQ wings. Sort of a Carolina style BBQ wing (minus the homophobia). I mixed together white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, chili powder, Worcestershire, cumin, garlic, and salt and pepper. Marinated the wings for a few hours and broiled them (on middle oven rack) for 7 minutes each side basting halfway through. So simple and tasty even a monkey missing a leg could do it.

I made three sauces to go with the wings.
sauce #1: Honey Mustard BBQ Sauce (for my super gay Carolina BBQ wings)
sauce #2: Harissa and Lemon Spiked Sour Cream (for both wings)
sauce #3: Fermented Black Bean & Chili Garlic Sauce (for my Indonesian wings)

I also made a fresh and cooling (especially since I made my wings so damn spicy) cucumber and radish salad. Very simple but addictive like crack for hippies or rabbits.

This is my kind of salad.

Cucumber and Radish Salad
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, thinly sliced
1 bunch of summer radishes, thinly sliced (I use a mandoline. You can chop some of the leaves in too)
1 small stick of celery with leaves, thinly sliced and the leaves roughly chopped
1/4 cup red onion, small diced
1 Tbsp fresh chopped tarragon
(for the vinaigrette)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove of roasted garlic (I always roast extra garlic and let it soak in olive oil. Use for a few days)
1 tsp honey
1 tsp salt
fresh cracked black pepper to taste

In a bowl whisk together the rice wine vinegar, roasted garlic, honey, salt, pepper. Make sure you mash up the garlic. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. The whisk in the sesame oil. Toss with the remaining salad ingredients and serve.  Make sure you have a sixer of peach wine coolers to wash it all down. xoxo

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hot Potato.

There are a lot of cultures out there that seem to have a terrible reputation when it comes to bad, bland food. The British, the Irish, the southern half of Central America, Canada, Utah, the middle part of Africa, most of the former U.S.S.R., Australia, Hawaii, etc... I call bullshit. Every single culture has something delicious to offer. Just because you travel somewhere and have a bad meal doesn't mean that the whole country can't cook. Perhaps your Americanized palate just can't deal with jellied squid faces or petrified snake hearts. Truthfully I don't have an appreciation for most things squirmy or wiggly. Not my thing.

When you're a tourist, do some serious research on where to eat. Otherwise you'll probably wind up at a shitty restaurant eating bland or squishy things you don't like. There are things to love about all of the cuisines mentioned above. Shepherd's Pie, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Carimañola, Poutine, Funeral Potatoes, Muamba de Galinha, Borscht, Aussie Meat Pies, Spam Musubi, etc... all deliciousness. Be adventurous and try new things. If you travel somewhere and come back with the blanket statement "the food in that country/state/city/town sucks", you are an unimaginative pessimistic bore. Really, the two restaurants you ate at out of the thousands of other restaurants gave you a solid grasp of a whole culture's cuisine? Wow, you are like a god. All knowing and powerful. Shut the front door! Anyways, enough of my middle finger pointing. On to the tasty!

I'm a sucker for Irish food. I love the stuff. I love cabbage. I die for meat in pie form. Potatoes are my second favorite starch next to rice (Hey I'm Cuban, beans and rice are in my blood). I married into being Irish and I've done my best to represent. I make a mean Corned Beef and Cabbage, a seriously tasty Irish Fry, and one damn fine Black Velvet. One of my favorite Irish dishes is the simple but oh so satisfying Colcannon. Mashed potatoes with kale, scallions, ham, and butter. Sometimes made without scallions, sometimes without ham but pretty much always potatoes, kale, and butter. It's perfect on it's own or you can pair it with some roasted rack of lamb for a deluxe fancy meal. Go ahead, try it. I dare you to make this and still say that Irish food is boring. I triple dare you.

Colcannon (Mashed Potatoes with Kale, Scallions, Ham, and Butter)
2 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes (about 4-5 potatoes), peeled and quartered
1/2 lb cooked ham, diced
1 bunch of kale (3 cups chopped), washed, stems removed, thinly chopped
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of sour cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stick (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

In a large pot of water pot add 3 Tbsp of salt and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and boil until the potatoes are fork tender (about 18 minutes). Drain in a colander.
Return the pot to the stove and set over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp butter and add the kale. Cook the greens for about 3 minutes or until tender. Add the scallions and cook for another minute.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the potatoes back to the pot. Pour in the cream, sour cream, and 3 Tbsp butter. Using a fork or potato masher and mash the potatoes, mixing them up with the greens. Mix in the ham. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with a pat of butter on top. Enjoy. xoxo

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My What Big Meatballs You Have.

As the late, great wordsmith Bon Scott of AC/DC once said "Some balls are held for charity. And some for fancy dress. But when they're held for pleasure. They're the balls that I like best." I'm not sure but I think he may have been talking about meatballs. I love a good meatball. Moist and succulent. Perfect when covered in sauce. Okay hmmm, how to escape the somewhat nasty images floating around in my dirty bird of a brain. Oh, I know. From now on, I'll write the rest of this piece with Julia Child's voice in mind. That'll help get our minds out of the gutter. Or perhaps it just adds another layer of weirdness. Oh well, it can't be helped. Moving on...

The lowly meatball. Ground meat with spices. Perhaps some onion, garlic, and cheese thrown in. Every culture has a version of the meatball. In the Middle East they have kofta. In Spain, Portugal, and Latin/South America they make albondigas. In Sweden they make köttbullar. In Greece they make keftethes. In Antartica they make meatballs out of baby seals (okay, I made that up). Here's a nice bit of information of all the kinds of meatballs out there.

They other day I was thinking about meatballs and how simple and economically friendly they are. I decided I would make albondigas. Spanish meatballs spiced with onion, garlic, pimentón, and cumin. Fried up in olive oil and garnished with grated Queso Manchego (my favorite Spanish sheep's milk cheese) and a sauce made of roasted piquillo peppers. Serve it up as an appetizer or serve it with some fresh bread and a salad for a delicious meal.

Albondigas with Roasted Piquillo Pepper Sauce and Queso Manchego

(for the meatballs)
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup grated onion
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
2 tsp pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I use Progresso with garlic & herbs but use whatever you like)
1 cup chicken stock
Spanish olive oil

(for the piquillo pepper sauce)
12 oz of roasted piquillo peppers (usually found in a can or jar. You can also use roasted red bell peppers if that's all you can find)
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup of diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
kosher slat and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

(to finish)
2 Tbsp grated Manchego cheese
1 Tbsp parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix together the pork, beef, onion, garlic, parsley, cumin, pimentón, and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Add the egg and bread crumbs and gently mix. Once the mixture is combined start shaping little meatballs. I use a Tbsp measuring spoon and scoop out 2-3 Tbsp for each meatball. You should have about 16-20 meatballs. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add a thin layer of olive oil and add meatballs to the pan. Brown the meatballs on all sides (in batches if necessary). When all sides are browned (about 2 minutes per side) add in the chicken stock to the pan and place the pan in the oven. Cook the meatballs, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, in a separate deeper saute pan saute the red onion and garlic in a little olive oil for the piquillo pepper sauce. Once softened add them to a blender with the remaining piquillo sauce ingredients. Pulse until the mixture is smoother but still a little chunky. Pour the mixture back into the pan and simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed.

To plate pour some of the sauce on the bottom of the bowl/plate. Place the meatballs on the sauce and top with the grated Manchego cheese and parsley leaves. Enjoy your balls. xoxo

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Keys To Having A Bad-Assed Pantry: Part 4 - Grains, Legumes, and Other Dried Goods

Okay, let's see here.

You should be all spiced up.
You must be all lubed up.
and of course you must be all sauced up.

Here we are, the end of the pantry stocking world. It's all about the dried goods. It may not seem that exciting but let me tell you, when the world collapses these are the items that are going to save your life. When I was a poor college student (okay, I lived on a collage campus but I didn't actually go to college. It's a long story for another day) I lived off of dried beans and rice. I could cook up a giant batch of beans and steamed rice that would feed 2 people for the whole week and it would only cost about $4. Check around your area and you probably have a bulk foods (perhaps a prepper supply joint) place nearby. Buy some sealable plastic containers and stock up in bulk. Beans, rice, flour, pasta, grains, etc... Those cans of beans you buy at the grocery store are loaded with salt and sludge and for the same price you could have had leftovers for days. So without further ado: Beans, beans the magical fruit...

Dried beans & Legumes
*Black, Pinto, Navy, Kidney, & Cannellini beans - The are hundreds of types of beans. These are some of the basic ones you should know about. Buy them in bulk and store them forever. To cook them just soak in cold water overnight. Drain and recover with water. Add whatever seasonings, aromatics you like. Simmer until tender (usually from 1-2 hours depending on the bean).
*Lima, Butter, Broad, & Fava beans - Larger beans that are creamy and delicious when cooked. I love my fava beans with a nice chianti. f-f-f-f-f-f-f (it's hard to spell out that Hannibal Lecter lip smacking sound)
*Chickpeas, Black-eyed peas, Pigeon peas - These legumes (peas to be exact) are awesome for soups and spreads. Also great for veggie burgers. Pigeon peas are not made from pigeons.
*Edamame - Yummy green soy bean pods that are awesome steamed with a little salt and sesame.
*Adzukis & Mung beans - Asian beans that are used for stews and even desserts (I for one am not a big bean dessert fan, just sayin'). Not necessary for your pantry but interesting and fun none the less.

*Long grain or Short grain. As with beans there are hundreds of varieties of rice. Some cultures are very serious about their rice. These generic rices are the perfect go to rice. 1 part rice to 1.25 water when cooking. Season with salt. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to lowest setting. Cover. Let it alone for 18 minutes. Remove from heat. Done. Just do me a favor. If the word minute or microwave instructions come with your rice. Throw it the hell out and learn to cook real rice properly.
*Basmati Rice - Nutty in flavor. Perfect for Indian or Middle Eastern style dishes. One of my favorites.
*Jasmine Rice - Slightly floral in scent with a delicate flavor. Great for Thai or Vietnamese style dishes. Also has a pretty name just like the Disney Princess.
* Calrose / Sticky Rice - This is the rice can be used for sushi rice. It's short grains become clumped together and 'sticky' when steamed. Great for cooking Chinese & Japanese food.
* Brown Rice - aka hippy rice. This is just the same as short or long grain rice but the outer layer (the bran) has not been hulled or removed. Brown rice is healthy for you (so they say) and takes longer to cook. People love or hate brown rice. I do not love it but I'm sure if you top it with some steamed vegetables and tahini dressing you will live longer than me and my white rice topped with chili and cheese. I almost shed a tear.
* Wild Rice - Sometimes there is no rice in wild rice. It's just a tasty mix of grasses & grains. Cooked with some chicken stock it makes a nice pilaf. Looks neat too.
*Bhutanese Red Rice - Here's a super fun rice to impress your guests with. Grown in the eastern part of the Himalayas. It's semi-hulled so it cooks faster than brown rice plus it's bright red color is super cool. I call it blood rice because I'm morbid and it scares my dinner guests.

Other Grains & Pulses
*Lentils (red, yellow, French) - Small and round. They are used for making Dahl (Indian lentil stew) and are perfect for soups. Lentils can be great for making salads as well. Neil in The Young Ones seemed to be always cooking a batch of lentils. Nobody seemed to want it or care. Except for Rick...

*Couscous -  Semolina grain originating from North Africa. Used a lot in Mediterranean cookery as well. Easy to steam and serve with stewed meats and chickpeas. Add a little lemon. So Yummy. Israeli couscous is actually tiny pasta.
*Bulgur - aka the hippy grain. A form of whole wheat used to add bulk to stews, great in veggie burgers and salads. Also great for stuffing a mummified corpse. 
*Quinoa - This grain-like pod is actually the seeds of the Goosefoot plant. Quinoa makes great salad and is tasty served with fish and veggies. Pronounce keeeeen-wahhhh.

Dried Pasta
*Italian - Spaghetti, Linguini, Tagliatelle, Penne, Rigatoni, Macaroni - Italian pasta is one of those things that pretty much everyone has in their pantry. All you need is salt and boiling water. Pasta is delicious tossed with some butter, olive oil, cheese, tomato sauce or baked into a casserole. On a sad note, I am still nostalgic for Chef Boyardee. When I'm sick I need a can of Spaghetti-os and meatballs. Just thought I'd share.
*Chinese -  Rice Noodles, Choy Fun, Chow Mein, Egg Noodles - I am a chow mein fiend. I love the stuff. Tossed with some shrimp and chicken and pork and squid it's delicious! They say that egg noodles originated in China. However my favorite kind of egg noodles are the ones made for making some delicious white trash food such as turkey a-la king and tuna noodle casserole. Also the Eastern Europeans really dig the egg noodle.
*Japanese - Ramen, Soba, Udon, Somen, Shirataki - Ramen isn't just for starving college kids. Real Japanese ramen is chewy and delicious, made with homemade stocks and garnished with tasty treats like bright pink and white swirled fish cakes. I also really love eating soba noodles, made of buckwheat. Just cook them off and toss them with some soy sauce, sesame oil, and scallion. So good.
*Southeast Asian - Cellophane, Bami, Pancit, Laksa Noodles - I love the chewy rice noodles in a spicy bowl of malaysian laksa. So comforting and filling. I'm also a huge fan of Filipino pancit. Short chopped up rice noodles tossed with cabbage, lap cheong, shrimp, and scallion. Masarap!

*All Purpose Flour - As the name implies this is the go-to flour. Baking, frying, thickening, welding, loving, sleeping. This flour can do everything. It's like the Swiss army knife of cookery. This the flour that you should always have. When a recipe says AP flour, that's what this is. There are a ton of other flours that serve different purposes. Here's a great list of flours and their purposes for you.
*Cornmeal - Grains/flour made from corn. Used for polenta and corn bread. Great coating for deep frying. Cooks in the South use it for everything.
*Semolina - Not to be confused with Somalia (that's a country in Africa). When ground as flour, this is the one you want for making Italian pasta. It has tons of protein and a great chewy consistency. 

Dried Odds & Ends
*Corn Starch - Awesome for thickening sauces. Makes a light crispy coating for meat when mixed with egg and flour for frying.
*Yeast, Baking Soda, Baking Powder - If you bake, you need these things.
*Dried Chilies - These are essential in my pantry for making sauces, adding to stews, and making marinades. Just soak them in hot water for a little bit and they'll be reconstituted and ready to use. Or you can toss them in a spice grinder to make fresh chili powder. There are tons of different chilies to choose from so start exploring.
*Dried Mushrooms - These are the non-hallucinogenic kind. I know, I know. Cooking with me is no fun. If you want your Salisbury steak to make you see tracers and contemplate the mysteries of the universe that's your business. Same rehydrating concept applies to dried mushrooms. Great for making mushroom stock. Their flavor is usually a little more concentrated than fresh so they can be used to enhance any dishes that you want a deep mushroom flavor.
*Breads, Cereals, Crackers - You have these things. No really, you do. Go look.

Alright folks. If you've listen to a single word I've said over the four installments of The Keys to Having a Bad-Asses Pantry you should have one serious ass-kicking bad-assed pantry. You can cook anything now. You have reached culinary enlightenment. Start a fire and cook like there's no tomorrow. The meats and veggies are sold separately. No batteries necessary. Enjoy my darlings of cookery. Eat and be merry. xoxo