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30 November 2010

Just holiday rambling....

Thanksgiving was pretty quiet around here. I spent 3 days prepping and configuring food items in the fridge and oven and in 20 minutes it was all gone, albeit well enjoyed. 

I love setting myself up. Makes things go smoothly, quickly and organized.

I am thankful this year. Maybe more so than in other years, I just felt like it, there is no real reason to be.

It was very traditional, although we also had a ham. I de-boned the turkey and cooked just the breast. I made dressing, similar to my Grandmothers (kinda heavy, like bread pudding)...which I didn't know about until my Aunt Pat brought it up via email... although, I did not include raisins in it. (I am a raisin snob, they belong in cereal and the occasional cookie.) Steven made his candied yams... sliced and piled up with layers of butter, pecans, brown sugar and topped with marshmallows. (reminiscent of Anna potatoes). 



We also had Brussels sprouts with bacon, mashed potatoes and 3 desserts: pumpkin-apple butter pie, pecan pie and a pumpkin roll. 
There was a great deal of food for 5 people, but my in laws took food to their shut-in people and we shared with others. I was disappointed in my pie crust, which ended up tough but tasty. I think I over worked it..in fact I am sure I did. Minor mistakes from someone who should know better. Steven is always on me to do better. But, sometimes, in the heat of it, you do what is good enough, especially if you are the only one doing it and there is a ton of other crap you are trying to accomplish and you are out of ingredients. It happens. It happens in restaurants all the time. But, there, you MAKE it happen. Run to the store, do it over and do it right. At home, you get lazy and since being out of work has dwindled the bank account to nil, it is hard to justify doing it over. 
Christmas is coming. It is my favorite just barely above Halloween. It of course has to do with food.
Cookies mainly.. which in the coming weeks will be my focus. I have a list of recipes to try, including pistachio biscotti and damn it....I have to find my pizzelle iron! Arrrrgh! But, there are cookies to be made. 
Anyhow, this Christmas... I will make cookies and we will eat them. 
Thanksgiving is the beginning of the baking season for me, no matter if I am working or not... This is the time of year to bake and I will do so... I am going to try new things, products and flavors, and I'll let you know how that goes. This year, despite the depression, I will bake my way through, and put love in it, because that is all I have left.

23 November 2010

Carnitas-left of center

Here in the rural town of Hughson, California, we have one (real) grocery store for 6000 people. It's a La Perla Mexican market, with a meat counter. Steven and I sometimes walk down there and pick up a burrito from the kitchen they also have in the back, full of typical Mexican cuisine, or grab an empanada with custard or apple. My favorite is the meat counter though, they have all sorts of cuts of pork, beef and chicken or they will cut whatever to your specifications. I have found that kitchen Spanish or remembering your high school Spanish is good enough to get through ordering your meats.
I love pork. It is probably my favorite medium as far as meat goes. (pause for insight) Oh, yes, the pig. And I love what Mexicans do with it. Boil, roast, braise, with some sort of thick sauce and salt and maybe brown it in manteca, mix some nuts, chilis and chocolate...okay anyhow, I love it. I am going to go off on a tangent if I don't tell my story... and since this is Thanksgiving week, I don't have a lot of time to sit here and write... there are pies that are not going to make themselves.
So, we go down to La Perla and I get exactly what I want, 4 pounds of pork shoulder. Steven has been begging for carnitas... slow braised shoulder that is then roasted in the oven after shredding it. Since I received those samples from Pollen Ranch, I have been chomping at the bit to use the "Big Devil" spice mix. I love spicy stuff, and when you open the tin of this mixture, it smells hot (and will cause you to sneeze, a lot, do not inhale too deeply like me). So, I pulled out the crockpot... and put this little ditty together:

4# pork shoulder
1 1/2 fat tbsp Big Devil
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Rub the outside of the pork with the salt and Big Devil and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Place olive oil in skillet and brown the exterior of the pork shoulder golden brown, be careful when handling hot meat in hot oil.
In crockpot:

1 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup apricot nectar (Kerns)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp Big Devil
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp garlic
1/2 white onion, sliced

After you have browned the meat place in crockpot on HIGH for 6-8 hours. Go do something else....leave it alone.
When you return, heat oven to 400, remove meat from crockpot with tongs and place on sheet pan, or in a large bowl. Be careful, it is hot and is going to fall apart. You can reserve the crockpot juices for another use (soup, more meat braising etc.) Anyhow, take 2 forks and pull it apart until it is however shredded you would like. Place in oven for 20 minutes to render off any other fat left and to crisp the ends of the shredded meat.

Now, you have carnitas. Do with it what you like, put it in tacos, burritos, make sopes or tortas, whatever, just enjoy it! The flavor of this meat is so good... there is this sweetness from the apricot nectar, but then residual heat on the back of the tongue from the Big Devil...and the crunch of the overcooked (burnt) ends of meat... Oh Joy!

I also picked up some crema at La Perla too, which is Mexican sour cream but with a brighter, fresher taste. I mixed a tablespoon of Big Devil and a tablespoon of apricot preserves into about 4oz or crema and came up with a little awesome-ness to tie everything together too... and I would use that on anything if given the chance.
 Have a Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, don't overwork or over-stress, just over eat!

... may your Turkey breast be moist, potatoes well whipped and gravy, smooth as glass! 

12 November 2010

Pollen....

I mentioned on my last post that I had received some samples of dill and fennel pollens as well as a pollen/spice mixture called "Big Devil". Usually when you hear the word "pollen" images of sneezing fits and Kleenix piles come to mind, at least for me. But not this stuff.... after preparing dinner tonight I have a new respect for dill.
I have always like dill things: relish, pickles..etc, but the actual herb, it has always made me wince. Too grassy feeling in my mouth and I always felt like I was having to spit something out. But using the pollen gave me all the flavor of dill without all that grass.
I chose to do salmon basically because I wanted something simple and it said on the back of the package that it was excellent with salmon. I love wild caught sock-eye salmon, mostly because I like the texture. Wild caught is firmer and less fatty.
I made a compound butter out of lemon zest, kosher salt and the pollen and placed it in the freezer to firm up while the salmon cooked. I heated up a 12inch cast iron skillet in the oven (450) and seasoned the salmon: sea salt, a generous spoonful of pollen, drizzle of olive oil and lemon zest...
Once the skillet was hot, I swirled some butter in the pan and placed the salmon in, meat side down. Placing it back in the oven for 7 minutes. Heating the pan would get me the caramelized crust I wanted immediately and get the salmon cooking quickly. I made my red rice and steamed some broccoli...
What came next was pretty awesome...
I removed the salmon from the oven...the dill pollen, salt and lemon zest had carmelized to the meat, giving off this toasted dilly buttery aroma.. yes, aroma! The house still smells late into the evening...

Okay here is the recipe:

4 each, 6oz salmon, skin on
4 tbsp dill pollen, available HERE
2 tsp kosher or sea salt
zest of one lemon
Coat salmon with ingredients and place meat side down into hot cast iron pan and into a 450 degree oven for 7 minutes...

Compound butter:
4 tbsp butter, unsalted
1 tbsp dill pollen
1/2 tsp kosher salt
make sure the butter is room temperature and mix ingredients together. Place on piece of plastic wrap and roll into a tube, place in freezer while salmon cooks. After salmon is cooked, remove butter  from freezer, slice a piece off and place on top of hot salmon..it will melt slowly as you enjoy the salmon. (see above photo, in front of the lemon)

I have pork shoulder that will be getting the "Big Devil" treatment next week... I think I am going to go kind of Jamaican with that meal... but we shall see... Big ups to the folks over at Pollen Ranch for the samples.  I am looking forward to whatever else I make next....

10 November 2010

Bread

I have been in the mood for bread baking. The weather has changed and it seems that having the oven on is a good thing. It makes the house warm and inviting without having to have the heater blasting...plus you get the house all smelly with yeasty goodness!
Alas, bread baking has escaped me. The last two things I attempted with yeast, failed. Well, the focaccia wasn't bad, it just wasn't like I remembered. Then I attempted these Parker House rolls in the latest issue of Saveur, a recipe by Tom Colicchio. Well, they ended up like hockey pucks! I followed the recipe to the letter, but, sometimes stuff just doesn't work out. Anyhow, so I have been disappointed with the whole yeasty thing.
I found a new site: yummly.com for recipes and such. It is a pretty cool site, mainly geared towards the home cook... which is totally cool with me, because what did I start as but a home cook? I did not get to be an Executive Chef without first understanding how to feed my family.
Well, I had some molasses, basically enough for one recipe and that would warrant me purchasing more, and I had whole wheat flour... so I made this awesome Molasses Bread. No yeast involved and something that would make the house smell... seasonal.
Needless to say, this was an extremely easy recipe, quick to go together and something tasty to get me out of this funk.

Molasses Bread
found here

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar (I used brown)
1/2 cup molasses (it says "dark" but I don't know of "light" molasses)
1 1/2 cup milk (skim)

Preheat oven to 325, spray a 9x4in loaf pan with non stick spray
Sift  first 4  ingredients together, mix wet ingredients together in separate bowl. Gradually add dry to wet. Mix well, pour into prepared pan and into the oven for 1hour 20 minutes. Cool for 10 and turn out onto rack.
I tasted it right out of the oven... and I was sorta disappointed that I didn't add any ginger. But, I wrapped it in plastic and let it sit overnight on the counter, and needless to say, the next morning, it was full of sheer awesomeness! The outside had this super chewy texture, gummy sorta but in a good way and the way it was so molasses-y.. very dense and dark. It tastes great slathered in butter or cream cheese, or with peanut butter and flax seed (helps lower cholesterol, I am over 40, you know).

Oh, and I am still searching my storage unit for my pasta roller and pizzelle iron... I so need them BEFORE Christmas! But I did take 4 boxes of just pure garbage and turn it into one. Slowly, I am going to get my life in order.

By the way...I am on the Twitter, "chefconstance" if you want to follow my amusing real life tweets. Also, I made a new friend, PollenRanch.. they have sent me samples of Fennel Pollen, Dill Pollen and a rub/seasoning mix called "Big Devil", there is habenero and red chile gound up in it and WOW! it made me sneeze!! So, stuff to play with and talk about...YEA! Got me all giddy when I opened the mail today! More up coming on that fo'sho'...