Archive for June, 2010

Vermouth Onions

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 by otfp

I bought a bottle of Hendrick’s gin for the boar roast, thinking that none of us would be too cranked on beer to enjoy a martini or two…  Boy was I wrong.  I was supposed to live-blog each step of the cooking process and I think I got as far as the first turning of the ribs, which actually started before anyone arrived.  Shame on me.  At this point, it’s totally irrelevant, though.  Being broke and unemployed, I relied heavily on the good graces of my friends to supply a lot of the various other side dishes and booze for the event.  Then it started to rain, which inevitably led to more drinking because what the heck else are you going to do when the weather gets that way?

Someone else brought some vermouth.  A third person brought bleu cheese and spanish olives.  Ideally, this would make some really interesting martinis.  Embury says a cocktail is only as good as its worst component, and boy, was he right.  The vermouth was crap and the olives were worse.  The end result was one dumped martini and a depleted supply of homemade lemonade, and an empty bottle of gin.  But what of the vermouth?  What do you do with a three-quarter full bottle of vermouth?

Before a few days ago, I didn’t even know what vermouth was.  Apparently, in the old days it was a wine made in Germany that was flavored with herbs and wormwood.  I knew that absinthe is also a wormwood drink, but have not yet tried absinthe so I don’t know if the flavors are similar but the vermouth in my fridge is a mildly dry white wine with some herbal or floral notes at the back end.  Wikipedia also says it can be subbed for white wine when cooking, and as I am not really a fan of drinking white wine, I was waiting to see what I might be able to concoct that’d get this weird stuff out of my refrigerator.

Let me digress a moment:  We’ve not had pork chops in my house in over a year, literally.  Cathy asked me if we could pan fry some chops in butter and onions, and after thinking about it for a half-second, I realized that it would be probably be a damn good meal, and that we’d probably been in the dark on pork chops for so long that even if they turned out like boot leather, they’d still be different enough to be really good.  She also asked for sauteed onions as a garnish.

My first instinct was to finish the onions and then cook the chops, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed as though the right answer was to fry the chops in butter and then saute the onions in the drippings and butter. So I did that instead.  But by the time I’d pan-fried all 16 thin chops in butter I had quite the rime on the bottom of my pan.

Enter the vermouth.

I poured about one and a half cups of dry vermouth into the hot butter to deglaze the pan and then dropped three sliced onions into the resulting bubbling concoction.  Almost immediately, the smell became overpowering in a very good way.  The onions began to cook down and I stopped to taste them.  I then added a dash of sea salt and tasted again.  Something was still missing.  I realized I had some fresh rosemary left over from the ratatouille experiment in the freezer, and I dropped one small sprig of rosemary into the frying pan.  Almost immediately, the character of the aroma shifted from caramel sweet to a deep herbal freshness.  Perfect.  After a few more minutes, the onions were completely tender and caramelized to accent the pork chops.  The vermouth completely removed the burn-on from the chops, and the resulting sauteed onions were actually the best I have ever eaten, in my life.

The pork chops were mighty tasty, but the vermouth onions were the stars of the show.

Here’s what ya need in order to do it:

2 sticks of butter

3 medium – large onions cut into wide slices

16 thin-sliced porkchops

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1.5 cups of dry vermouth

Chapter 2 – OK, that’s all great, but what do I NEED?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2010 by otfp

If you missed out on Chapter 1, you should probably start here.

So what do you need? Honestly, not much. You can do just about any cooking with a range of some sort and an 8qt pot and a large saute pan, both need lids. You need a place to cut and a sharp knife. You should have some way to clean up afterward, too.

But if you’re reading this blog, that’s probably not really the answer you’re looking for, and that’s OK too. Hell, we all want toys and tools and variety and things that make life easier, right? So here’s some things that I have that I like.

Pots and Pans

I purchased a set of 18/10 stainless steel pots from Costco. For those not familiar with 18/10, another name for this is 316 Stainless. 316 is the type of steel used to make the equipment that is used by pharmaceutical companies, dairies, and many, many other food producers in the US, Canada, and Europe. It’s not the most durable metal (you’ll never find it used inside a car engine), but it is very, very highly resistant to corrosion (rust) and for that reason you’ll find it in all these other places.
But there is a problem with stainless steel: it has poor heat transfer rates so it actually makes a shitty pot that heats unevenly and has a lot of hotspots.

You’re probably wondering, “didn’t he just tell me to buy 18/10 stainless?”

Yes.

But here’s the thing – the pots to buy will have a copper core, a layer about an eighth of an inch thick that spans at least the bottom of each pan, and may extend up onto the sides. The thicker this copper is, the more evenly your pots will heat.

This reduces hot-spotting in your pans, reduces burning of your food, and will ease cleanup when you’re done with dinner. No one wants to work too hard cleaning up after a great meal, anyway.

So what about true copper pots? Oh, they’re much better for cooking and maybe one day I’ll have one copper kettle in my kitchen, but no more than that. They are extremely expensive, hard to maintain, and when you cook acidic foods, like tomato sauce, they dissolve a little, and that dissolved copper oxide goes into your food. Over a lifetime, I doubt this is harmful, but why ingest metal if you don’t have to?

You could probably spend the equivalent of one month’s mortgage on a set of good cookware. That’s a lot of money for most people, and maybe you’re thinking that it’s just too much money for what are essentially just chunks of metal. But, remember that it’s very, very likely that if you do spend that much on a set of good cookware from All-Clad, it is highly unlikely that you will ever need to buy any new pots for the rest of your life. Using myself as an example, I’m about to be 32 years old. If I live to 75, that’s 2 cooked meals per day for the next 42 years. Break the cost down like that (84*365 = 30660) and you’ll find that $1500.00 spent on pots comes to about a nickel per meal. Got a spouse? Cut that in half. Kids? I have four, so I can divide the $0.049 by 6 for a whopping 5/8 of a penny per meal. Cheap. And heck, if you live longer than another 42 years, it’s even less. I’m not even going to think about adjusting for inflation.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to spend $1500. Try this instead, which is similar to my main set, for $179, shipped:

Costco

Here’s a couple other places* to consider shopping for new cookware:

Williams-Sonoma
Macy’s

Occasionally you can find similar stuff on Amazon, and get deals on shipping.

Knives

I will admit right here that the set of knives in my kitchen is ridiculous. Stupid. Cheap. Horrible. Chinese crap magnetic stainless steel. I won’t tell you what to buy because I can’t testify to solid performance when it comes to kitchen knives. I can tell you that the set of Farberware knives I have I bought from Kohls nearly 10 years ago. I bought them because they were one-piece construction and easy to clean, particularly at the joint between blade and handle.

I have since learned that the type of steel from which they are made is at least as important as the ability to clean them. But I can’t replace them just yet, so they’ll continue in my kitchen for another few years.

I know that Gerber makes awesome knives because I have 3 of their pocket knives and would gladly use them in my kitchen if my wife never saw me do it. Unfortunately, she’d see me and then not eat whatever I cooked.

I have heard that there are some awesome santoku knives out there, and I do think that I could get by with one really high-quality knife. Part of a blade’s quality is in its ability to hold a sharp edge. I’ve learned how to sharpen knives so they are dangerously sharp, but the cheaper knives won’t hold an edge for a long period of time. I think that there’s a tradeoff… You can spend a lot of money on a knife that stays sharp, or you can spend a lot of money on abrasives to keep junky knives in top form.

I am not religious about sharpening, though, so my knives are a source of daily aggravation. Don’t be like me. Get one good knife and keep it sharp. The rest of them can be crap stainless steel from China that is magnetic and gets spots in the dishwasher, but your workhorse should be a chef’s knife or a santoku and you should spend some money on it. I hear that Wusthof makes a really special hollow-ground santoku.

And speaking of things to cut with, you should have something to cut on. I own 2 cutting boards. One of them is a nylon board and the other is bamboo. The bamboo is a recent addition and it’s about 50% larger than the nylon board. This size differential is why I got it. It’s tough to cut a pizza on the smaller nylon board.

Some like glass cutting boards.  I want to like them because I know they can be cleaned really well, but glass will really wreck a knife edge.  There are two other types of cutting boards available, though.  Wood, or nylon.

I have found that the “nylon vs wood cutting board” debate has been done to death and I do not want to get into it. I will say, as I have said previously, that wood is not allowed in a food production facility because it is impossible to clean.

I will also say that if you must have a wooden cutting board, bamboo is a pretty tough and environmentally-friendly alternative to a hardwood like maple. I like my bamboo cutting board.

Baking Pans

You can find two different types of baking pans: metal or glass. If you go with metal, you have coated steel or disposable aluminum. Both of these are equivalent. The coated ones cost 3x more than the disposables and they last just as long.  The coating comes off, your stuff sticks to the pan, and then the pan gets all rusty and gross, and then you should throw it in the trash.  Or recycling bin.

Glass (pyrex) baking pans take a little longer to transfer heat, but they do it more uniformly (just like copper-core pots) and they are easier to clean. And as long as you can clean them, they are 100% reusable. I use mostly glass bakeware in my kitchen for these reasons.  If they somehow become unusable, remember that 1 pound of glass to a recycling facility = 1 pound of glass out of that facility.

Clean up

You need three things. In order of importance, here we go:

My grandpa taught me about elbow grease. He advised the use of elbow grease for just about everything I came across until he passed when I was 14. I never really understood what he meant until I started cooking on my own. Sometimes, you get in there with a vigorous amount of elbow grease and the results will stun you.

Soap is also great and helpful, and one bit of new info I proffer to my readers is something that would have saved me and my siblings a lot of angst as we grew up. In a food manufacturing plant, we use a technique called CIP, or clean-in-place. CIP describes the methods for cleaning pipelines and 500 gallon kettles and pumps and nearly everything in most modern food plants. There’s a chemical we use to do this and it goes by a lot of different names: Caustic, Alkali, Chlorinated Caustic, etc. All of them sound nasty. And almost everyone has some of this stuff in their house. Usually, you can find it in a Clorox bottle. It is, essentially, bleach. Bleach dissolves both fats and sugars. Usually, anything burned on is made of some combination of fat and sugar.

So if you burn popcorn or milk or almost anything else onto the bottoms of your stainless cookware, pouring straight bleach onto the burn-on and letting it sit for an hour or two should be enough to loosen all but the worst of the problem (which is where you will need a lot of elbow grease). Preferably, it should be placed outside or in some other well-ventilated area because the fumes are something else. Also, bleach will wreck nearly 100% of things it touches if they are not metal or glass. Skin, clothes, eyes, pets, carpet. DO NOT splash this stuff! Don’t! If you mess up with bleach it can permanently change your life, and not often in a good way.

Warm water is your friend, and possibly the one best invention that makes cleaning with elbow grease a possibility. If you are using water that’s as hot as you can stand it without scalding yourself, soap and elbow grease will both reach maximum efficacy. Don’t be afraid of the left water handle. Use it with reckless abandon.

* This blog is not sponsored by these companies, or any other.  I only recommend them because they have what I like.

Wild Boar!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2010 by otfp

I woke up on a sunny morning at the crossroads of US-66 and the 21st century. By nightfall, the smell of burnt rubber and blood filled my nostrils, and an old friend hit town. The next morning, the sun blinded me awake and I knew that it was no dream. Art had arrived in a fury.

My Task was At Hand.

I rose from my bed, dressed, and visited my secondary refrigerator; the Amana in the garage that we refuse to admit is all but done-in.

I pulled the door open, and ignored the imp that switched the light from off to on. I was distracted.

Blood was in the air. Fresh blood.

But not mine. For my Art is the Art of the Flame.

At 11am this Saturday past, I lit my trusty Weber Genesis Silver B and tossed the first of a series of pieces of meat on the cast-iron grates, a pair of ribs from a 240lb wild boar from Texas.

These were not your daddy’s baby-back ribs, either. Each set measured about 10” by 18”. I rubbed each rack with sea salt, garlic powder, and guajillo chile powder. I set the Genesis on indirect low and cooked them for about 2.5 hours, basting every 30 minutes with honey.

At high noon, the first guests arrived. I heard the rumble of an angry V8 and knew that Art, the person, had arrived.

He’s the one who shot the pig, the founder of the feast.

By 2 pm, we were ready for the second round of meat. This time, it was tenderloins. They received the same treatment as the ribs. Low flame, rub, and time.

At 4, we tossed on a shoulder and shank. They got the same treatment, sans honey.

By 6, everything was well-cooked.

* * *

Here’s what you need to know about cooking a wild boar.

1 – The meat is lean, leaner than the leanest beef you’ve ever seen.

2 – The meat is red, like raw beef.

3 – It must be cooked well-done. Trichnosis has been all but eradicated in store bought pork, to the point you can cook most store-bought pork rare without worry of any food-borne sickness, but wild game is totally different and should be treated with the utmost care.

Some personal observations about prepping and cooking wild game:

1 – You have to be ready for real blood, and a lot of it. And fur. Be ready to cut fur off of your food. If you are not used to this, it will shock you but it isn’t really that bad, and you may find that using a sharp knife may be more “in-tune” with the process than using kitchen shears may be. That said, my garage refrigerator may never be the same.

2 – You may get a little nauseous when you are slicing up pieces of a real dead animal, but it may help to recall that your grandparents probably did this on a weekly or more frequent basis. It was how they got their meat. They did it, and so should you. Also try to think that you aren’t the person stringing the dead boar up in your yard. If you think what you are doing in your kitchen or on your deck is gross, think about what happened before it got to you. You should be kissing that meat as you toss it on the grill.

I now know I can field-dress a deer or gut a fish, no problem. There’s a serenity that comes with preparing meat. Cutting the plastic wrapper will never get you there. It’s not about the generally gory task; there’s more to it than that.

3 – Flavor. Be ready for a more wild taste. I am not ashamed to admit that the ribs I made were not ‘good’ in the traditional sense of the word. I choked down the meat from two bones. I heard from Art that the middle bones were better than the ones from the edges, which was what I sampled. The tenderloins were almost as good in texture as any store-bought meat I’d made before, and the flavor was beyond good. The shank and shoulder which finished the grilling extravaganza were among the best-prepared meat I’ve eaten – in my life.

4 – Wild pork is so lean you have to cook it like beef brisket. There’s next to no fat to soften the tissue so you have to rely on cold heat and a long time to make things right. I would expect that if you are considering cooking any type of wild game, this may be something to remember. Slow, low, and lots of moisture in the heat.

* * *

Want to know more about how this Texas boar got to Illinois? Let me know! Have other questions? I’d love to answer them. Email me or just leave a comment via the links below.

Tacos!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2, 2010 by otfp

An unscheduled trip caused this one to be pretty late and I see my site traffic has plummeted in the interim. Sorry about the over-promise.

More than half the crap I do in the kitchen is totally off the cuff, or a simple case of bait and switch because I found out at the last second that I didn’t have an ingredient I really wanted and had to improvise.

No one ever knows about these things when they happen unless I tell them, and things usually turn out OK. Sometimes, I discover a certain improvisation that really works well. This recipe includes one of those improvs that really rounded out the flavor of the meat.

Tacos are great for kids and parents. It’s dinner in its own pocket. Portion control is simple, and leftovers are often even better than the original meal. They are multifaceted, and it’s relatively easy to choose one or two ingredients that you know will go over well with the pickier eaters in your family.

Despite the flexibility of tacos, there are a couple places where you really, really can’t move too much. The tortilla is one of those things. There are A LOT of different brands of tortillas out on the market, but I’ve really only found one brand in Chicago that is worth buying. Azteca? Might as well wrap your fixins in kleenex. Hell, kleenex is probably sturdier and tastes better, too. Mission? Very popular and prolific around here, but they are pretty wimpy and gummy. Prone to breakage. Not great. Del Rey? Now we’re getting somewhere! Nice flavor but the texture can be inconsistent.

The best tortillas in the Chicago area are made by El Milagro. They are consistently tender yet strong, have a great, home-made flavor, and THEY ARE RIDICULOUSLY INEXPENSIVE at $0.89 per dozen. If you can find these in your area, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Buy them. You will not be sorry.

This last time around, I used chicken for the meat. Three chicken boneless, skinless breasts are more than enough meat for a family of 6. You could probably use 2 and be OK, but I hate the idea that someone might leave the table and still be hungry. I marinated the meat for about an hour before cooking, but you could skip the marinating and just use the recipe for the marinade as a mop for the meat while it’s cooking on the grill.

Marinade/Mop

1/2 cup Sprite soda (Improvision here)
1 Tbs ground ancho pepper
1 Clove garlic, minced
1 Tsp cumin
Salt to taste

Grill the meat over indirect medium heat for about 5 minutes per side or until they are cooked through. Dice the meat into ~1/4” cubes after removing from the grill.

While the meat is marinating, make your own pico or salsa. This is the place where you’ll get to showcase some creativity or a special ingredient.

For this particular meal, which turned out exceptionally well, here’s what I used and what I did:

4 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, gutted and minced
1 can of pineapple chunks, very well drained (Dole Tropical Gold is about the sweetest canned pineapple available)
3/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Cumin to taste

Blend all those ingredients in a bowl and stick it in the fridge for as long as you can. If you’re organized and can do it at lunch time, the flavors will have a better chance to blend. But throwing it all together works too.

Note: You can increase the heat by including some of the seeds from the pepper, or increasing the amount of peppers in the pico.

You’ll also need:
Sour Cream
Shredded cheese, like cheddar, monterey, or a blend thereof

And you might want to include:
Crumbled Bacon
Shredded Lettuce
Shredded Cilantro

Heat the tortilla over an open flame, if possible. I use a small warming burner on our stove for this and it works really well. I flip them over with my fingers. Be careful, though. Don’t come running to me if you burn yourself, others, or if you torch your house doing this trick.

After it’s warmed up and you haven’t harmed yourself or your home, fill it with the grilled chicken chunks, some pico, and some or all of the other fixins. The creamy cheese and sour cream blend with the tangy pineapple and fresh tomato in a way that is remarkable. Your kids will love it, and so will you!