What happened to my pictures?

10 Dec 2011 Uncategorized

A while back, Blog.com had a server failure and lost a lot of files. I too had a hard drive failure in the mean time and thus a lot of my pictures are lost. I will be rebuilding what I can, but in the mean time, pardon my broken links.

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Is It Really Cheating?

7 Jul 2011 Uncategorized

Over at eatocracy, apparently I’m a cheater?! Starting from a boxed mix isn’t cheating. While I am an advocate of the Slow Food Movement, in under 30 minutes I can turn Hamburger Helper 4 cheese lasagna into a pretty fancy pasta course that hardly resembles the picture on the box. I take issue with calling starting from a boxed mix cheating…

Unless you followed the directions exactly and then claimed the credit for yourself.

A Peck of Peppers, Revisited

10 Mar 2011 Garde Manger, recipes

Remember when I posted A Peck of Peppers last month? I thawed out my frozen peppers a few days ago and ended up with some left over. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how i feel about letting leftover produce go bad from neglect; that’s not how I roll.

About half of the leftover pasilla peppers are destined to find their way into a salsa, but the other half I want to turn into a seasoning. To some home cooks, that might sound like black magic, but in truth it’s incredibly simple.

I set my oven to the lowest temperature it will go to, 170º F, then lined a baking sheet with parchment paper. I laid out a few of the roasted peppers, placed them in the oven and propped open the oven door with a wooden spoon to allow moisture to escape.

After sitting in the warm, dry oven all night, I ended up with this:

I broke up the dried peppers and placed them in my spice grinder (a food processor or even a pestle and mortar will work if you don’t happen to have a spice grinder). You’d be surprised how little powder this produces, it was probably a little less than 2 tablespoons. I passed it through a small strainer and ended up with a pasilla chili powder. Let it sit for a while before you open the grinder or food processor; there will be enough fine powder floating in the air that it can give you a nasty coughing fit if you accidentally inhale it.

I want this seasoning to be ready to sprinkle on just about anything; eggs, potatoes, chicken, etc. However, in its current form, it wants to absorb moisture from the air and cake together, and I don’t want to put it through a strainer every time I use it. The simple solution to this problem is to add salt. I grabbed some hickory smoked sea salt I made with a toy I got for Christmas and put some in the grinder to reduce it to a finer powder. A quick buzz later, I added a teaspoon of the fine smoked sea salt to my pasilla powder.

Now I have a delicious seasoning that is ready to shake out onto anything I want to add a little green chili kick to. It has a different, grassier quality than red chili powder. Normally when chilis are dried, they are dried whole, allowing the chlorophyl to diminish and leaving the chili deep red with a smokier flavor. Because they were roasted while green and then dried, the powder still contains the dried chlorophyl that a red chili powder lacks. The taste this adds reminds me a little bit of nori, the dried seaweed product used in sushi, which happens to make it pair well with asian style food as well as my favorite latin dishes.

Peasant Bread @ Honey and Jam

9 Mar 2011 Baking, recipes

I was catching up on Honey and Jam when this recipe for Peasant Bread caught my eye. If you enjoy the smell of fresh baked bread, check it out. That doesn’t mean you have to bake it, just looking at the photographs you’ll swear you can smell it baking!

Improvising Condiments

8 Mar 2011 Garde Manger, recipes

I would love to tell you that as a holder of an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts, I prepare a multi-course gourmet meal from scratch every night.

I would be lying.

I work retail 30 hours a week, I write and I have that mysterious side project taking up a lot of time. On top of that, I am extremely poor, so there is no extra money to buy all the fresh ingredients I need to make everything from scratch all the time (eating well gets expensive!). This isn’t meant to be a complaint, as the situation has nudged me into improvising with what I have handy and minimizing food waste.

I wasn’t really consciously thinking about any of this until Matt pointed it out to me one night over dinner… A dinner that consisted of frozen chicken tenders and microwave steamed vegetables. I felt like having spicy honey mustard sauce with my chicken so without even thinking I grabbed mustard, clover honey, chili powder, ground black pepper and a dash of hickory smoked sea salt and whisked it all together to make a pretty tasty honey-mustard dipping sauce.

Honey mustard is pretty straightforward, when I’m in the mood for barbeque dipping sauce, things are trickier, but much more creative.

My Pantry Barbeque Dipping Sauce:

2-3 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, finely minced
pinch ground black pepper
pinch chili powder
1/4 tsp paprika

Barbeque sauce should be tangy, sweet, with a little bit of sour and as much spice as you want. (I happen to like a lot so I add much more chili powder). Stir all the ingredients together, add salt if necessary.

There are all kinds of substitutions you can use for most of the ingredients. For example, if you are low on ketchup, try using a combination of tomato paste, vinegar and brown sugar. Add some onion powder if you have it for more authentic ketchup taste. I have yet to find a good substitution for worcestershire sauce or mustard, but I’ve also never been out of either of those two ingredients before.

Honey can be replaced with molasses, brown sugar, agave nectar, granulated sugar, etc. (I used some orange marmalade once).

I’ve used red chili flakes (grind if possible) in place of chili powder. I’ve also used sriracha sauce, chipotle tobasco sauce and chunky salsa to add some spice before.

The garlic is optional, but nice to have.

Other optional ingredients:

Onion powder
Fresh or crystallized ginger
molasses
tobasco sauce
chipotle peppers
fresh orange zest/juice

Don’t be afraid to improvise, and don’t expect it to be exactly like a store-bought barbeque sauce. It will taste a little different every time you make it, that’s the nature of an improvised condiment. The best part it using ingredients that have a tendency to sit in a refrigerator or pantry literally for years rather than paying more money for a bottle of barbeque sauce when you only need an ounce or two.

Coming Soon!

1 Mar 2011 Uncategorized

I’m working on a great side project that’s taking a lot of my time as of late. While it has affected the frequency of my posts, I have some good stuff coming up in the next few days. My favorite has to do with a few tricks when you go to the refrigerator looking for a condiment and find you are completely out of what you’re looking for. Thanks to Matt for the idea, It should go live tomorrow.
Thanks for sticking with me.

A Peck of Peppers

16 Feb 2011 Cookware, Garde Manger, recipes

I have fond childhood memories of my grandmother’s cooking. Handmade flour tortillas, fresh roasted salsa, enchiladas with sauce made from scratch and the elusive ability to perfectly prepare mexican rice exactly the same way every time without measuring anything. My fondness for mexican food leads me to a a local supermarket that caters to a largely latino demographic, where last week I found a great price on pasilla peppers, one of my favorite types.

One problem: I had 4 pounds of peppers and no way to use them all while they were still fresh. Even in the refrigerator, peppers can only last so long, and freezing is not an option for whole peppers without damaging them.

Not to worry, there is one great way to prepare peppers for freezing; roast them!

Ideally I would use a grill to roast peppers, but I don’t have a grill at my current apartment. A grill provides high enough heat to cook the outside of the pepper without reducing the insides to a mushy mess. The goal is to cook the pepper enough that the skin can be easily removed, while keeping the flesh firm enough to handle for other uses.

So without a grill I have a few options available; I could roast them, but roasting is more likely to overcook the flesh before the skin can be easily removed. The better option is to sear them in a cast iron skillet (cast iron can get much hotter than almost any other kind of pan without damaging the pan itself).

The key to cast iron is to heat the skillet slowly so it heats evenly. Cast iron acts like a vast reservoir of heat to ensure the surface of the pan stays hot enough to sear the surface of the pepper without cooking all the way through.

When the pan is smoking hot (literally smoking), you can start to place the peppers into the pan. They should hit the surface with a satisfying sizzle. Be patient and allow them to sit long enough to char most of each side before turning them. Make sure you char all sides of the pepper.

When the peppers are more than half charred on all sides, as in the picture here, put them in a heat resistant container and cover it tightly. The residual steam will help to finish cooking the outside of the flesh. Allow them to rest in the sealed container for about 15 minutes.

When the peppers have rested, it’s a good idea to put on some latex gloves and grab some paper towels. Paper towels have an almost the perfect amount of friction to pull off the skin without grabbing on to the flesh itself. Their ability to wick away excess moisture is an added bonus that helps make the peppers less slippery.

Once you peel off the skin, cut them off from the stem so they can fit flat, then wipe off any excess seeds

Store the roasted peppers in a ziplock bag in your freezer for up to 2 months.

Basic Chicken Stock

5 Feb 2011 Basics, recipes

My friend, Adam, asked me why he’s having trouble getting the sauce on his chicken marsala to the right consistency. The answer? Take it back to the basics, start with making the chicken stock at home instead of purchasing it from a store.

Store-bought chicken stock and broth are often watered down and fortified with bouillon or else expensive, and generally lack the level of gelatin you get when you make it yourself. It takes some time to make, but it’s not that difficult.

Start by choosing the right product to make your stock. Don’t waste parts of the chicken that are usable as meat. Breasts, thighs and legs (among other parts) are best served on the plate. It’s a waste to use them to make a stock as they are lower in water soluble protein and collagen than bones, not to mention they are several times more expensive.

They might look gross, but chicken feet are high in collagen (which turns into gelatin), which gives a stock the silky body that is so important to making a rich and flavorful stock that will translate into a luscious sauce. Definitely make chicken feet a part of your stock.

Also, before you start making chicken stock, put a plastic container full of water and ice in your freezer. This will help you quickly cool the stock when it is done.

Here’s my recipe for chicken stock:

1 lb chicken backs
1 lb chicken necks
1 lb of chicken feet
1 medium to large onion
2 medium to large carrots
2 stalks celery
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
5-10 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

• Rinse the chicken parts in cold water and add to your stockpot. Fill the stockpot with enough cold water to cover all the chicken parts. Put the pot over high heat to bring to a boil as quickly as possible, then reduce the heat to a simmer. One important thing to remember to make a clear stock is to simmer it instead of boiling.

• skim any foam and fat that rises to the surface of the pot, this is important to having a clear stock without particles clouding it.

• When you have cleared all the foam and no new foam appears, add the vegetables. (I skipped the celery rather than run back to the store to get some. The stock still came out great)

• Simmer for 4-8 hours to extract the maximum flavor and protein from the bones and vegetables. Place a large bowl or other container in your sink and surround with ice. Strain the stock through a sieve to sort out the vegetables and chicken parts. Use the plastic container you froze before you started and stir the stock with it to rapidly cool it. When it drops to lukewarm temperature, seal the container and refrigerate overnight.

• When the stock has been refrigerated for several hours, any remaining fat will solidify on the surface where it will be easy to remove. You can scrape it off with a spoon to de-fat the stock, leaving you with a clear, flavorful stock. Keep what you can use within 5 days in your refrigerator and freeze the rest.

A homemade stock is the foundation for the best soups and sauces. Taking the time to make one yourself is an easy way to bump home cooking up to the next level.

Out To Eat: Yuca’s Tacos

3 Feb 2011 Restaurants

This unassuming shack of a building is one of LA’s best kept secrets, although everyone seems to know about it. Nestled snugly on a tiny lot on Hilhurst in Los Feliz, this unassuming, 35 year old taco stand actually received a James Beard award a few years ago, probably because the carne asada is truly outstanding.

In spite of the fact that it’s pretty far out of the way for me, I still find plenty of excuses to go there to enjoy the best tacos I’ve had so far in Los Angeles. It’s a charming experience; a sweet old woman sits outside and takes my order on a paper plate, handing the plate to the busy cooks that crowd the tiny space inside the taco stand. A few minutes later I’m sprinkling a few drops of El Yucateco habanero hot sauce on some tender carne asada along with a slice of pickled jalapeño and chowing down.

Fully Equipped: Cast Iron Skillets

2 Feb 2011 Cookware, Kitchen Equipment

If you are not harangued by a debilitating physical ailment that makes picking up heavy things very difficult, you have no excuse not to own a cast iron skillet. As some of my favorite kitchen tools, I almost didn’t think to write about them as they are in front of me all the time. I suppose it’s easy to take something you love for granted when it’s always right in front of you.

Cast iron is “old school.” I’ve met many people who own cast iron cookware that have been handed down in their families for generations. The technology behind them is so simple that with basic care, little will go wrong with them. Even if you do find your way to ruining the patina coating that makes them become non-stick and protects them from rust, with a little effort and some patient care, they will be good as new again. Their extremely high heat tolerance, ability to distribute heat evenly and relatively low cost makes them a fantastic tool and a great value… As long as you are willing to adhere to a few rules.

Just to be clear, I am writing specifically about seasoned cast iron skillets in this post, not enameled cast iron. Seasoned cast iron is sealed and protected from oxidizing by a patina that forms on the surface over time as oils and fats fill “pores” on the surface, rendering it both non-stick and rust resistant. Over time, this “seasoning” layer builds up and becomes smooth and shiny. Eventually it will be seasoned enough that it will require little or no fat at all to cook with.

Best Performance Suggestions

To get the best performance (even heat distribution) out of cast iron I heat the pan slowly on a low flame. The cast iron will spread the heat evenly across the surface but it can only spread that heat at a limited speed, so if you warm your pan with the heat on high, the pan will be hotter in the center than on the edges. The best policy here is to have the patience  to let the pan get hot over the low flame.

Limitations

There are some important limitations to seasoned cast iron skillets. Chief among them is their poor suitability for pan reduction sauces. Most pan reduction sauces require deglazing the pan with an acidic ingredient or alcohol. Acid and alcohol will dissolve some of the patina (seasoning) that develops slowly over time. It’s not toxic, but it will change the flavor of your sauce and require you to take time consuming steps to rebuild the seasoning layer of the skillet. Avoid acidic ingredients, especially tomatoes.

Care

Cleaning a well cared for cast iron skillet is pretty simple: rinse the pan out with warm water while the skillet remains warm. Use a pot scraper to release anything that does stick to the inside. Do not use soap or harsh abrasives! They will remove some of the seasoning layer. Make sure you dry the pan completely before putting it away and any water can cause rust. If the skillet has a dull finish, it’s probably a good idea to oil the pan.

When you do oil the skillet, steer away from olive oil and vegetable oil. Vegetable oil has a tendency to oxidize and become sticky, which makes it a poor choice for developing a non-stick surface. Olive oil, like several other popular cooking oils, has a low smoke point (it burns at a low temperature). Part of the appeal of cast iron is the ability to heat it to very high temperatures without damaging the skillet, but if you oil yours using an oil with a low smoke point, you will fill your kitchen with the noxious, carcinogenic fumes of the oil breaking down long before you reach the searing temperature you’re looking for. Use oils with high smoke points, particularly peanut oil and grape-seed oil.

My favorite uses for cast iron skillets include searing meat, fish and vegetables, pan frying just about anything and roasting vegetables for salsa (the next post will feature a quick tutorial on roasting and peeling pasilla peppers). And while a cast iron skillet is not the one pan for all jobs, they perform so well (for so low a price) that I highly recommend you have at least one around.