Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bite me again!

Hey there. Only got a minute for a quick post, but I had to get this in. I had another foray into the Bite Me cookbook and it turned out great again. I will try and post the full details in a day or two, but for now a little teaser....

First was this brilliant Key Lime pie. Soooooooooo good. I substituted the usual meringue for whipped cream spiked with a mystery ingredient. Ok, twist my arm, it was tequila.

And, since I had the oven on and a bunch of extra egg whites (skipped the meringue, remember?), I whipped up this batch of spiced pecans more-or-less following another recipe in the book. This is a major coup since I keep blowing big bucks at a local store that makes spiced pecans. Now I can make my own! (They aren't in danger of going out of business, but I am in danger of going broke, so this works out for the best.)

These pecans can be used in this salad, again following yet another idea in Bite Me. (You'll be forgiven if you think I have a pecan problem -- I think I do.)

So there's the teaser. Back in a day or two. I have a movie I want to watch, and a Father's Day to enjoy tomorrow. :D

Peace y'all, bye for now!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Potatoes Anna

I don't know who Anna is, but she must be really chubby if she eats this very often. This dish is over the top. I can eat half a black forest cake for breakfast, but this one almost put me in the grave. But man, is it good.

This dish comes from the book Seven fires, a must have for any of you kindred souls out there who love to cook with fire. Just so you know the seven fires in the book are the parrilla (grill), the chapa (a huge cast iron griddle), the infiernillo (a crazy oven-type grill that has live fire below and above the food), the horno de barro (clay oven), the rescoldo (in the ashes), the asador (iron cross), and the caldero (the cauldron). It's also the only book I know of that tells you how to cook una vaca entera (you guessed it, a whole cow -- the instructions begin at 7 pm the day before when you start the fire using 20 large logs...).

Surprisingly, this is not just a book about meat. It covers it all. There is a great empanada recipe, there are breads, desserts, and several vegetable dishes too. This potato dish caught my eye because it looked so nice and I happened to have a couple of peeled potatoes lying around that I had to do something with.

To make this dish, you'll need butter (I used about half a cup, the recipe calls for a whole pound!), 4 potatoes (these are stunt potatoes, the ones I used were already peeled), some herbs (thyme, chives, oregano, sage, whatever strikes your fancy), some lemon zest, and salt and pepper. Start by heating your oven to 350 (the book, of course, suggests using your horno de barro but the oven inside is fine too).

The first thing you have to do is clarify the butter. There are three main things in butter: fat, water, and milk solids. (The water is what makes butter sizzle when it hits a hot pan -- it starts to boil out.) The goal of clarifying is to get the milk solids out. This lets you use the butter at higher temps since the solids are prone to burning. The first thing to do is get the butter in a sauce pan over low heat.

When it's melted it will look like this. The white foam on top is composed of milk solids.

Underneath is the butter fat, then on the bottom of the pot is another layer of milk solids.

So, you skim the white stuff off the top, then gently pour out the fat trying to leave as much of the remaing white stuff in the pot.

You should end up with something like this at the end. You can see that I have just over 1/3 cup of clarified butter here, and trust me, it was plenty.

Chop your herbs of choice (I used oregano, thyme, and chives) and zest your lemon.

Then slice the spuds: the book says 1/16 of an inch thick. Good luck with that. I just sliced as thinly as I could with a thin, sharp knife.

OK! Ready to roll. Pour about a tablespoon of the clarified butter in a skillet (this one is about 8 inches). The book suggests making this in 4 individual ramekins, but I can't see how you could pull that off with out it getting really fussy.

Put down a layer of overlapping potato slices. (Leave a hole in the middle.)

Then add a sprinkling of your herbs and lemon zest. Season lightly with some salt and pepper too, and drizzle two tablespoons of clarified butter on top (you can see where this is going).

Repeat these layers until you are out of spuds. Make sure you have some butter on top, and then give the whole stack a gentle press to make sure they are all nice and smooshed down together. Now pop that puppy in the oven for about 50 minutes. (It's probably a good idea to have something else in there too, like maybe a chicken in a pot?)

Cook until they are nicely browned on top.

Then ease a thin spatula under the spuds and around the edges to loosen them up. They must not be stuck anywhere, because now...'re going to flip them over onto a plate. In retrospect it may have been wise to try and drain off some of the bubbling, molten butter, but, oh well. Drained or not, you need to put a plate over the skillet. You should have gloves on both hands (to protect you from the freakin' hot handle and all the molten butter that's about to fly around). Then, firmly holding the plate to the skillet, grab the handle, lift and flip in one deft butter flinging motion and...

...voila!! Let me here ya say "OH YEAH!"

I recommend serving with a slotted spoon, since having too much butter going with the potatoes is heart attack city. I'm serious. I needed a dose of Unicum after supper just to make sure I'd see the dawn, and even then I had my doubts (and that's saying something!). But, man, was it good. Francis, you're a genius.

¡Buen provecho!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Peeecan piiiiee.

Ok, enough about slugs already. On to cooking again!

I made a great discovery the other day at a local bookstore. I stumbled across a marvelous cookbook called "Bite Me." Seriously, how could I resist?! (As a quick aside here, I hope you all know that you can take an "Eat More" candy bar and fold the wrapper a la Al Jaffe's fold-in at the back of Mad Magazine and make it say "Eat Me." Just putting that out there. This kind of knowledge should not be lost.)

ANYWAY, the book instantly captivated me with its campy photos and interesting recipies (Brandy, if you happen to read this, I think you'll really dig the pics in this book. Just so you know!). The cash register started ringing as soon as I turned to the pecan pie page and found the recipe I've been looking for these past few months. I've really had a hankering for pecan pie lately. And not just because it's an excuse to talk like Billy Crystal and say "Peeeecan piiiee" like in When Harry Met Sally. (If you're prone to being annoying like me, this is a perfect opportunity to push the envelope.) I have no shortage of pecan pie recipes in stock, but none of them managed to captivate me and hit the inspiration button. Even Edna Lewis's recipe didn't yield an immediate "Ah ha!" and that's saying something.

The key to this pecan pie recipe is that it has three stages instead of the usual two (genius!). The first is the pie crust. The second is the filling. And the third, the innovation, is the topping. The topping stage is what is missing from most other recipes. This way, you can chop the pecans for a smooth filling, and then add big honking ones on top later for a nice look and a cool pecaney crust on top. Oh yeah. So here we go. Start by heating your oven to 350.

Now, the pie crust. You'll need 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp of salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 cup of butter, and 4 tablespoons of cold water (put a bunch of cool water and a tablespoon in a measuring cup and use it when called for).

The basic idea behind pie crust is to create a dough with little blobs of butter hidden in it. This way, when it bakes, the butter melts under the dough and makes a nice flaky crust. The key is to keep the butter cool as you mix so that it doesn't just smear around and make a paste. You also don't want to work the dough too much, or it will start forming gluten (like bread dough) and get all tough. So, with that in mind...

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar.

Add the butter and cut it into chunks.

Then take a pastry cutter and mash the butter in until you stop making progress and the thing gets all clogged up.

Then, take the best tool in the kitchen (your hands) and pinch around in the dough until the butter is well broken up and distributed fairly evenly. If you have hot hands like me, be careful not to let it get all greasy -- stop when it's good enough!
Now for the water. Gradually add your four tablespoons, stirring the dough with a fork each time. Once it's all in there, keep stirring and mashing the dough around until there is no "dust" (i.e. loose flour) left. Some of the water will hide in big blobs of dough, so break these up with your fork to release the water and get it evenly distributed. 

When you're worn out by the fork work, get your hands in there and mash the dough into a ball.

Then lightly dust a work surface. (How do you like my funky rolling pin from Slovenia?)

And roll the dough out until...'s big enough to overhang your pie plate by at least an inch.

Trim the dough so it has 1 inch extra.

Then gently lift it, set it in the pie plate, and pinch the overhang under to make a nice edge.

Now pop the pie crust in the freezer (good luck finding space) while you prepare the filling. (This is another of the neat things about this recipe. You don't need to wrap the dough in plastic and stick in in the fridge forever before rolling it out. I'm a big fan of avoiding plastic, so this makes the whole recipe even greater.)

Ok...on to the filling. This requires 4 large eggs, 1 cup of corn syrup, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1 cup of coarsely chopped pecans. (You may notice a bottle of bourbon in the background. I switched that for the vanilla -- with maybe a splash extra :D It isn't the most brilliant thing to do to change a recipe you haven't even tried yet, but a) I really wanted bourban pecan pie, and b) well, that's just the kind of guy I am.)

You can melt the butter over the oven vent on the stove (there is enough heat coming up there). Don't throw this pot in the sink after you're done with the butter, you can use if for the topping too.

Mix all the filling ingredients except the pecans.

Chop the pecans if you haven't yet.

Then stir them in.

Pull your pie crust out of the freezer. Pour your filling inside and put the whole thing in the oven for 45 minutes. (You'll notice the pie is on a cookie sheet. This is a good idea. I don't know if you've ever made one of these before, but the filling tends to puff up into a frothy molten goo that you really don't want dripping onto the bottom of your oven. It didn't happen much with this pie -- more kudos to the recipe --, but it's a good idea to take the precaution.)

While the pie is baking, you can get the topping ready. (Ok, this takes a lot of dishes, but common, it's totally worth it!) The topping requires 1 1/2 cups of pecan halves, 1/3 cup of brown sugar (lots of sugar, eh? YES!), 3 tablespoons of honey (even more! Oh yeah!), and 3 tablespoons of butter.

Melt the butter with the sugar and honey until combined (again, the oven vent provides enough heat).

Then add your pecans, stir to combine, and remove the pot from the heat. Now, wait til your 45 minutes are done.

When the pie has finished the first 45 minutes, take it out of the oven.

Then gently add the topping mixture. The filling will form a bit of a skin as it cools, so the topping will sit on top. Still, be gentle, since you don't want any molten sugary goo to be splashing around. I found it helpful to use tongs to spread the pecans more-or-less evenly.  Pop it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. The recipe advises to use some foil on the crust if it starts to brown too much, but I didn't have to.

Take the pie out, and now for the hardest part. Let it cool for THREE hours!! Agony! How can I wait?!

Well, one way is to listen to the Bite Me playlist that they have in the cookbook. (How cool is that?!) Some good tunes in there, although I heartily suggest adding Sleepy LaBeef's version of Poke Salad Annie. I accidentally downloaded the JXL Radio Edit Remix of A little less conversation instead of the original, which happened to be a happy mistake.

Another way is to have a beer! I found some nice bottles of Betelgeuse at the LCBO today. It's great. Betelgeuse is the name of a star in the constellation Orion -- it's the red one up at the top. If my astronomy teacher was telling the truth, Betelgeuse is an Arabic name for "armpit of the mighty one!" How's that for a handle?! (I had opened two bottles before realising that these puppies are over 9%, but I had to fill my big glass, so what could I do?) :D

Once you've managed to survive the wait, whip up some bourbon spiked whip cream, slice your pie, and sink your teeth into a happy fork full of bliss. Make a little extra whipped cream, and it might be nice on your coffee in the morning (just sayin'). And when you cut the pie, use your sharpest, thinnest knife -- if you use a big fat chef's knife it will be like using a doorstop and your nice filling will get mushed into a pancake. I hope you are pleased to partake of this peeecaan piiieeee. Now I have to make some paprikash -- so I can put too much peeeper in it, of course!

Peace, y'all.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Sidecar

A little while ago I developed an interest in the history of cocktails. I purchased a copy of Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (deluxe edition, no less) and quite enjoyed it. The book traces the genesis of the cocktail, what happened during prohibition, the war years, the rise of vodka (and near demise of aged spirits) in the 70s, and the current revival of these intoxicating creations. My interest pretty much stopped there, though, since to become a true devotee of the hobby, you need to buy about 30 trillion dollars worth of different types of booze, and kiss your liver goodbye if you want to try and make all of them -- well, I guess you could make them and not try them, but where's the fun in that?! Still, it's a nice reference to have on hand, and I have developed a fondness for the Sidecar and its cousins.

The Sidecar belongs to a category of drinks that Gary Regan (in The Joy of Mixology) calls the New Orleans Sours. This is because they are based on a drink called the Brandy Crusta that was created around 1860 in, you guessed it, New Orleans. These sours are all made from a base spirit, lemon or lime juice, and an orange liqueur. It is the use of orange liqueur instead of sugar syrup that distinguishes the New Orleans Sours from the standard ones like the Whiskey Sour.

The Sidecar is made from equal parts (usually an ounce of each, but you can make it as big as you like!) lemon juice, Cointreau, and Brandy. Just load the liquids into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake away, and ...


Now, if that were the whole story, you'd probably think it's pretty boring (you still may after this, but at least I tried). What I found interesting is that the Sidecar branched off and evolved into something we all know, the Margarita. (The original version of the Margarita, mind you, not the boozy green snowcone most of us are familiar with at the local Tex-Mex joint.)

The original Margarita is also a New Orleans Sour, made with lime juice, Cointreau, and tequila (in equal parts again). Follow the same steps, and...

...sit back and pledge a toast to Joseph Santini (aren't Joes great?) who came up with the Brandy Crusta back in the mid 1800s. Apparently, he also created gumbo, but that, dear friends, is another story.