28 January 2011

Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot Pie

I don't know what made me crave a chicken pot pie, but I had the fever this week: making one on Tuesday and one last night for a friend and her son. So this week will be the first that I have a guest on Cooks with Skipper, as she helped me assemble and whipped up some mashed spuds. Since the server at my office has been down since Wednesday, I've had plenty of time to walk between my computer checking to see if it's back up and the kitchen to tend to broth.

I know, it's a dutch oven and not a stock pot, but my stock pot is still with a friend that I've been neglecting to pick up. Basically, I threw the following into le Creuset to saute golden brown in half a stick of butter:

1 onion
2 carrots
3 stalks celery
5 clv garlic
2 parsnips
1 large turnip
1/2 celery root

To this, I added 1.5 qts of water, half a bunch of parsley, and a bag of collected chicken bones from the freezer. Then I brought it to a boil and simmered for 1 1/2 hrs.

Meanwhile, I roasted three chicken thighs in the oven and took one of the most disgusting photos evar.

I've taken it this far, so I went ahead and made pie crust.

In the food processor, I pulsed 1 c flour with 1/2 tsp salt, added 4 tbs cold cubed butter and mixed until grainy, 1 shot vodka and enough water until the dough holds together when pressed with your fingers. This gets wrapped and chilled for at least an hour to let the flour proteins to do their thing.

I left my camera battery on the charger so I used a camera phone for the following photos.

After all this, you take everything to your friend's house and have her roll out the pie crust...

and lay them in pot pie tins that she will happen to have.

While your friend does this, you saute more of the same root vegetables in butter...

add the cubed chicken and frozen peas (yea, I know. I didn't go and fetch fresh ones); cover with flour, stir in, and allow to cook until the flour browns on the surface of the vegetables; add broth to cover, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to simmer for five minutes. I realize that cream is normally added but since pot pies are heavy enough with butter, it really doesn't need it and working off my gut is hard enough.

Cover with the top crust and puncture holes with the initial of the person for whom the pie is intended.

Brush with an egg wash and bake at 375°F until the top is golden brown.

Break open and do what you want with it.

20 January 2011

The Visitor

Some of you probably know that I work from home. I have a desk facing out one of my front windows. It's a decent view, but decent really just means I'm not staring at a wall when I take my eyes off the computer screen. Anyhow, I come to the tail end of my morning telecommute and start becoming eager to start lunch because today turned out to a pleasant sunny day, perfect for busting my pad's barbecue cherry.

I moved into this place last October and for some reason I haven't bbq'd here yet. But today was the day to grill what I'd been preparing for nearly three days. Ribs...

I brined them in the base brine mixture from Charcuterie. I believe I've linked to this book before, but really, if you're interested in curing your own meats and stuffing your own sausage, this is probably thee best place to start.

To the base of:

1 l water
1/3 c salt
1/4 c sugar
2 tbs pink salt,

I added the following:

5 juniper berries
1 tsp black pepper corns
2 laurel leaves
1/2 chopped small onion
4 clv garlic
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp chili powder

I got the idea to cure the ribs from my friend JC who lives in LA. He had tried to actually corn his beef ribs, but he had overbrined the ribs thus making salty ribs. My idea was to cure pork ribs to make them taste like bacon. I had previously tried this with the typical bacon curing elements and although tasting good, did not taste like bacon rather more like ham. Due to the failed bacon rib, I'd abandoned that plan and went toward trying to push the ribs to taste like a country ham complete with mustard glaze.

I began by cutting a slab of pork spare ribs into equally portioned segments to reduce a 12 hr brine to a 6 hr brine. After the customary rinse and additional rest day for more equal salt/seasoning distribution throughout the meat, I slow braised them in a mustard-base bbq sauce (see below) wrapped in foil for 6 hrs. I believe it was 6 hrs because I remember starting them late afternoon and pulling them out around 10 o'clock before I went to bed. What I know for certain was that I kept myself awake because I didn't want to set an alarm to wake me up to take out some Goddamned ribs and then go back to bed. That'd just be crazy.

What's crazy is that I got crazy pants in the pantry for the mustard sauce:

1/4 c yellow mustard
1/4 c molasses
1 tsp dried chopped garlic
1 tsp dried chopped onion
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary

I took the ribs out, wrapped them in foil, and poured the braising liquid into a saucepan to later reduce with more mustard and molasses for basting.

All I basically did this afternoon was start the grill, throw the ribs on, baste the hell out of them while the fire did it's magic.

Unfortunately, I cannot describe how these ribs tasted because I brought the ribs in from off the grill to rest, I went back out to gather the rest of my grill crud and when I got back in, this jerk was there and had started in on my ribs:

I was like dude, wtf?!

He just stood there with that gentle arrogant face smirking back at me, so I knocked the rib out of his hands and what did he do? He started barfing up all these collard greens.

It looked like they were made from about 6 oz of homemade bacon, 2 bunches of greens, two self-pickled Fresno peppers, some garlic, black and white pepper, an onion, and I think I smelled molasses and vegetable broth.

At that point, I was just shocked and disgusted. I was so distracted and riddled with disbelief at the temerity of this guy that he was able to make off with the rest of the ribs.

I'm glad I had the presence of mind to stop him from snaking my Easy Cheese.

12 January 2011

Vaya con tostada pizza por ahora

In keeping with my New Year resolution to post at least once a week, I am either going to post recent cookery or post the back-log of items I have recorded in my long blogging absence. So far, so cooked.

I have been eating out entirely too much lately. Mostly out of laziness and convenience, but I realized that, although I'd been buying some decent food, I've been purchasing some pretty mediocre fare as well.

I'd been left with a large surplus of pickles, leftovers, and pantry stock that has been untouched for some weeks. I blame the holidays for the neglect, as I've perpetually been given food--and the cheap bastard I am--I am always reticent to turn it away.

I have finally worked my way through the gratis food and became determined to use my current cache and cease paying for drab local stomach-filler when I could at least be making it myself.

On these excursions, I'd usually be picking something up from a market for later preparation. The most prominent among ingredients coming from mercados that I frequent.

I didn't make anything genius today, but it was surprising that it worked and better that it fed two dudes with lasting satiation. And with that, I give you the tostada pizza:

I was particularly weary with this concoction because I had no hand in the creation of a few toppings that I would normally make for myself: those being the crust, the refried beans, and salsa.

The crust was a package of add-water-to pizza mix (gifted), the refried beans out of the can, and the salsa being leftover from Lalo's that I am still in the process of reverse engineering for personal recreation.

Lalo's sala has a tomatillio, heat provided by serrano peppers, finely diced onions, lime juice, some garlic, and some cinnamon. This is all I can tell so far. You can buy a 16 oz soda cup for 4 bones to take with, or 8 for a 32 oz cup.

At least they were these beans

The assemblage of this pizza starts with a prepared package of pizza dough laid out and dotted for bubble prevention. Upon this is smeared a heated can of beano refrito and then topped with the Lalo's salsa. Tostada shells are cracked, and pressed into the beans and then covered with quartered pieces of provolone. For toppings, I used sliced red onion, diced tomatoes, and sliced olives. I like the soft sweeten taste of cooked tomatoes and the cool feel of fresh tomatoes against a hot pie post bake, so I topped the pizza with half the tomatoes before baking, and threw the other half on before consuming.

Here is the end result after 600°F for 12 minutes in my electric oven.

As I do with all my pizzas that I remove from the oven, I crushed oregano flakes (Mexican in this case) over it for the pleasant fragrance and a twist of pepper and toss of sea salt.

I would've added crushed chili flakes, but Lalo's salsa is spicy and robust enough a flavor to deal with the unseasoned toppings.

The result: A Taco Bellish version of a tostada in the vein of the Double Decker Taco. Soft crust, beanie interval with a splash of salsa flair, followed by the chewy stretch of the provolone before the mix of cool tomato pressing down across my palate on top of firm black olives and follow-up crunchy bite of subdued baked red onion.

Tasted better than a Double Decker but took two hours of prep and cook time. Mind you I didn't miss any work, as my kitchen is 10 ft from my work station at home, duh!

06 January 2011

Pickle and a Pickle and a Pickle

Happy New Year, Kids!

I'm back after four months of extensive pickling experimentation...well not really, but I've been doing a lot of pickling

a lot of wine-making

and miscellaneous food preparation such as this deboning of a turkey in order to stuff and re-sew it back together

But the turkey is for another time as is the wine-making, for it takes a good 6 months for the sarsaparilla wine to mellow and mature.

In my absence though, I have accomplished one thing though, and that is the standard Skipper pickle. It is an at first pleasant garlic dill but is followed by a spicy follow-up that left alone, meaning ceased consumption, will build to a sensible but not awful heat in the back of your throat.

Since the summer, my pickles have maintained their heat due to an abundant late pepper harvest despite the cool weather. I grew the ubiquitous jalapeno to the scalding Thai pepper. People with a palate for spice haven't complained about my generous 5-15 l batches of pickled goods of cucumber, carrot, and broccoli that I've given away.

It wasn't until I began running short of peppers that I was forced to rethink and adjust my recipe to a new beast.

I have a few friends that have multi-seasonal-fruiting citrus trees, and it was with this that I decided to work with. That and I had just finished painting a house that had a ridiculous number of lemons coming to ripeness.

I love lemons. There are endless dishes and dressings that call for it. I love making the simple lemonade and using them for my perennial need for Nước mắm, but that was the extent of it. I am aware that there are several ways of preparing lemons; such as, making lemon confit, lemon preserves, and candying it even. I like sour, but not enough to commit myself to a sour snack that would go rotten in month.

Then it occurred to me, why not ferment them. I checked through some casual online research that lactobacillus fermenting with lemons is common in parts of Italy, so it was a-go--leading me to simply add some lemons to my standard cucumber pickle ferment with a reduction in peppers.

I have to say that the results are very pleasant.

The cucumber has the standard dill taste that I would expect but with an additional brightness gained from the lemon's absorbic acid. This sour trait expectantly carries over to the other veg elements that were in the brine. The surprising component in the mix are the lemon slices. They have lost all their intolerable tartness and have taken on notes of the Thai chilies and garlic as well as some sweetness from the carrot. The end result is more of a sour savory fruit, which can hold its own along with any olive or other cured fruit or veg rather than hide in the background inter alios in a prepared dish.

I prepared this ferment over two weeks as follows:

3 l (12.5 c) 5 % salt solution (150 g kosher salt + 3 l water) (10.5 tbs salt + 12.75 c water 3.5 tbs salt + 4.25 c water)
3 lbs pickling cucumbers
1 lb celery
1 lb carrots
2 sliced lemons
1.5 heads garlic skinned cloves
1 half handful Thai chilies
1 handful dill seeds
1 palmful mustard seeds
1 palmful coriander seeds
4 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick

Check every two or three days, and skim off the "bloom" or scum on the surface. "Don't worry, everything submerged is fine and in anaerobic heaven."

2-3 weeks is the normal fermenting time in the winter due to the colder weather and the icy apartment that I keep. If you're doing it in warmer conditions, slice a cucumber after one week. If it's uniform in color, it's ready. If some parts are lighter than others, allow the fermenting to go another week.

When you're ready to package, place the vegetables in your jar and cover with the brine (after being boiled to stop the fermentation). Some fermentation folks say not to boil it because it kills the beneficial bacteria and the further development of flavor in the fridge. In my experience it continues anyways. These pickles will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely (supposedly) as long as they're covered in brine, but I've never allowed them to go that long. Mostly because I get sick of them and give them away because I'm already working on another batch. I need the space.