Friday, December 30, 2011

Organic Gold

Organic farming changes the way you look at things.  What I once considered litter, or trash, is now Organic Gold.  What I am talking about is the spent leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and spent annual plants.  I would go buy lawn bags so that I could throw this stuff away.
So, yesterday was my annual wintertime yard cleanup, after all the leaves have fallen off the trees for winter.  The net harvest of Organic Gold was several cubic yards over the past year.  I have four wire mesh cages about 3.5 feet in diameter, and 3 feet high full of compost, and another free pile.
The reason this is Organic Gold is the local biology.  All this organic matter has the microorganisms that have acclimated themselves to the local environment.  This yard produced all this organic matter, and it makes sense that it should be recycled by composting, and feeding the result back into this yard.  It gets used for mulch, and fertilizer.  I add the compost to the vegetable garden when I am tilling it in the spring, as fertilizer.  Then also the composting action produces countless microorganisms, and soil dwelling insects.  When you add these microorganisms to your soil it makes your soil happy.  Happy soil makes happy plants.

Hot Sauce Shelf

Having received a membership to a Hot Sauce Club for Christmas, I thought I need a Hot Sauce Shelf.  In my kitchen is a curious little edging that runs around the border close to the ceiling.  I had often mused that it would be great as a Hot sauce Shelf.  So i gave it a test fit, and its perfect, like it is made for hot Sauce Bottles...
Most of these sauces are incendiary, with chiles like the Bhut Jolokia, Naga Jolokia, and the simply wicked Trinidad Scorpion.  The Orange Habanero, and the Red Savina Habanero have some formidable buddies now.  Typically I'll use a bottle of sauce in a week or two when it is a Cayenne Chile sauce, not so hot.  These super hot sauces don't move as fast.  The "Zombie Apocalypse" sauce I have had since Zestfest last year.  I had probably ten sauces from that show, and its the only one left, because its so hot.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Mole'

OK, now for the Christmas Mole'.  Most people are familiar with Enchilada sauce, a red Chile sauce.  Enchilada sauce is standard fare while Mole' is for special occasions.  Enchilada sauce is basically a red Chile gravy made from Red Chiles, flour, fat, and water, while the Mole' has many ingredients.
First are the Chiles.  Here I have some homegrown, and some store bought Chiles.  There are Cayenne Chiles and Anaheim Chiles from my garden, and some New Mexico Chiles from the Market.  Also we have a variety of Nuts, Spices,Onion, Garlic, Raisins, Tomatoes, and Mexican Chocolate that are also in the Mole'.  Mole' is a very complex food, which gives it extraordinary taste, but also superior nutrition, more on that later.  First we'll need to rehydrate the Chiles.
I added a small rack on the bottom of this sauce pan, then added enough water to fill the space underneath the rack, maybe about a cup.  Bring the water up to a boil over medium heat, add the Chiles, cover, and steam the Chiles for 15 minutes.  This will rehydrate the chiles so we can work with them.
After the Chiles are steamed break them open and remove the seeds and white membranes, the spicy bits.  we want the Red Chile flavor here, and not the heat.  I usually leave the Cayenne Chiles intact for a little heat, but don't want to overpower the Mole' with excessive heat.
Now we'll prep all the other ingredients.  First are the nuts, which are Pine Nuts, Almonds, and Sesame Seeds.  Each of them will roast in the oven for their specific time, and then ground before going into the Mole'.  Pine Nuts roast for 10 minutes, the sliced Almonds roast for 5 minutes, and the Sesame Seeds roast for 3 minutes.  Then there are the Spices, which are Coriander, Anise, Star Anise, and Black Peppercorns.  I roasted them in the oven for 5 minutes, whole, and then ground them also.  Then Onion needs to be coarsely chopped.  And I sliced the Garlic thin.  All of this is going into the Vita-Mix machine to puree it into a sauce.  I've seen them do this on that "Iron Cook" show, and also in Vita-Mix manual there are recipes for sauces.  Mole' is the King of Sauce, so I think it works good here.
OK, first things into the Vita-Mix are a 14.5 ounce can of whole Tomatoes, a 8 ounce can of Tomato sauce, the Onions, the Garlic, and maybe about half a teaspoon of Sea Salt.  Turn the Vita-Mix machine on low, and let it continue to run while we are adding the ingredients.  We're making a sauce here, so everything needs to be super pureed.  For now we are going to keep it on low while we add the chunky things.  Next in is the Chiles.
I have rough chopped the Chiles, and they are in relatively large pieces, so it will take a while for them to break down.  Another chunky ingredient is the Mexican Chocolate, which are pretty hard blocks.  Definitely need to break them down before adding them to the Vita-Mix machine.  I use my Santoku to break them into smaller pieces, then into the Vita-Mix with them.  OK, right here is about the spice level of a typical Mole'.  If we were to add some chicken stock and pork fat this would be an everyday Mole'.  But this is a Christmas Mole', and it needs to be special, so we're adding the Holiday Spices also.
I'll include a full recipe listing at the end of the post.  All the spices are roasted together, and ground before going into the Mole'.  The spices are 8 Cloves, one third of a stick of cinnamon, one teaspoon of Black Peppercorns, two Star Anise Flowers, one teaspoon of Coriander Seeds, and one teaspoon of Anise Seeds.  These spices together give the Mole' a very unique taste.  Then we'll also add the Nuts, which are one ounce of Pine Nuts, one ounce of sliced Almonds, and one ounce of Sesame seeds, which are all roasted and ground before going into the Vita-Mix machine.  At this point the mixture is very thick and needs to be thinned.  Any liquid can be added, typically a broth, but in this case, for the Holidays were using Ale.  The alcohol will enhance alcohol soluble flavors in the Mole' already, like the Tomatoes and Chiles.  I added about a cup and a half of Ale to the Mole'.  Then the Mole' also needs some fat.  Typically this is Lard, Pork Fat, I chose Olive Oil, a healthier substitute.  We'll bring the Vita-Mix machine up to high speed and let the Mole' puree for several minutes.  Remember, we're going for a smooth sauce here.  Then pour the Mole' into a sauce pan, bring it up to a simmer, and simmer it for at least 30 minutes, an hour is better.
Christmas Mole' is full of powerful spices.  It might have medicinal properties it is so potent.  So, a little goes a long way.  It will repel people that don't like spicy things.  They will literally stay on the other side of the kitchen.  So, now I'll go get some of those Tamales and make some Nom Noms after all of this cooking.
Remember this is very complex food.  you don't need big portions.  Its also very spicy food, so you don't need big portions.  I do the finish cooking in a very hot oven, 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Make sure you use an oven safe plate, not the cheap stuff, well unless you like eating paint.  Place the Tamales on the plate, cover with the Christmas Mole', add a little cheeze, and bake for 5 minutes.
Now that's Nomlishious...

Here is the full ingredient listing for Christmas Mole'

15 ounce can of Whole Tomatoes
8 ounce can of Tomato sauce
6 New Mexico Red Chiles (Big Jim, Ancho)
4 red Cayenne Chiles
2 ounces of Mexican Chocolate
1/2 medium white Onion
4 cloves garlic
1 ounce of Raisins
1 ounce of Sesame Seeds
1 ounce of sliced almonds
1 ounce of Pine Nuts
8 Cloves
3 Star Anise Flowers
1/3 of a stick of Cinnamon
1 teaspoon of Coriander Seeds
1 teaspoon Black Peppercorns
1 teaspoon of Anise Seeds
3 tablespoons of Olive Oil
12 ounces of Ale
Sea Salt to taste

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Tamales

Christmas Tamales are a Mexican tradition that is something I chose to adopt this year.  The Masa carrier of the Tamale is the perfect carrier for my Smoked Pork.  This is a labor intensive process.  Mexican families will spend a week making Tamales, and give them to everyone they know.  We'll start with the Corn husks.
The corn Husks are processed with Sulfur Dioxide to bleach them, and preserve them.  The Corn Husks need to be soaked, to soften them, and then washed to remove the Sulfur Dioxide.  So we'll immerse the Corn husks in water and soak them for 15 minutes of so.
After the soak, we'll rinse each on under running water to remove the preservatives.  My recipe for the tamales came from the Maseca Tamale Doh package.  The Mole' that will be served with the Tamales was inspired by Diana kennedy's book "My Mexico" and Deve Dewitt's book "The Fiery Cuisines".
Next we'll assemble the Tamale Dough.  We'll need 2 cups of Maseca Tamale Doh, two cups of Chicken Broth, one teaspoon of Baking Powder, half a teaspoon of Sea Salt, and two thirds of a cup of Lard, pork fat.
Add all the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl, and turn the mixer on low.  Then drizzle in the Chicken Stock.  Let the tamale Doh mix for around 5 minutes to get everything incorporated.
The finished Tamale Doh is softer than a Tortilla Doh, and you'll need a spatula to spread it into the Corn husks.  I set up a rolling station to do the assembly of the Tamales.
For the filling I am using my Smoked Pork Butt, which is good all by itself, but I figured that it would also be great in the tamales.  I'll pull this Butt apart, and dice it up into half inch pieces.
Next is the assembly process.  The directions on the Tamale Doh package say to add two tablespoons of Tamale Doh to each Corn Husk, and spread it in the middle of the husk.
Then we'll add some Porx in the middle there.  Alternatively you could add green Chiles, Chicken, Beef, Taco Fillings, an amazing array of food stuffs are available to fill the Tamales.
Last we roll the Cork Husk around the Tamale and filling and fold the top over to keep it closed.
We'll repeat the process until we have used up all the tamale Doh.  I do have some Porx left over, but that's OK, there are plenty of other things to put the Porx in.  The recipe on the Maseca sack said it would be enough for 16 Tamales, and that is exactly what we wound up with.
Next the Tamales will go into a steamer and cook for one hour.  I have a steamer basket which is supposed to be used for vegetables, but is going to act as a tamale steamer today.  Its important to have enough water in the steamer so that it can go an hour.  If you run out of water during the steaming process you could damage the pot that you are using.  So make sure there is a little more water than you'll need, and monitor the steamer pot while the Tamales are cooking.
After an hour is up pull all of the Tamales out of the steamer, and let them cool for a while.  During the cooling process the Masa will set, and the Tamales will be ready to eat.
The next post will be the Christmas Mole' which is the topping for the Tamales.

Aunt Bet Bet's Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole is a holiday tradition around here.  For both Thanksgiving and Christmas is a an obligatory side dish, no question.  Sweet Potato farmers throughout the region depend on our holiday feast.  First thing to do is procure 7 pounds of Sweet Potatoes, wash them and then roast them in the oven for an hour and fifteen minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
This will soften the Sweet Potatoes, but also convert the starches in the Sweet Potatoes into sugars.  After the Sweet Potatoes are roasted you can smell the sugars, and some of them will have what looks like liquid brown sugar coming out of them.
Next we'll allow the Sweet Potatoes to cool for a while and then peel them.  Watch for dark spots and remove them, and also you may find some fibrous tissue just inside the peels, remove that also.  We want to take out anything that would detract from the mouth feel.  The finished product should have a light mousse like consistency.  After the Sweet Potatoes are peeled we'll put them in the mixing bowl, and gather up the rest of the ingredients.
Holiday dishes should all use fresh ingredients, no orange juice out of a box here.  We're going to squeeze some fresh Orange juice, and whenever I add fresh juice, I will also add the zest of the Oranges.  This is how you get the brightest flavors, and most compliments.
Now we'll add the the rest of the ingredients, which are;  half a cup of melted butter, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of fresh squeezed Orange Juice, the zest of two oranges finely diced, half a cup of Whipping Cream, and a tablespoon of Cinnamon.  Everybody goes into the mixing bowl to get whipped.  Obviously you don't want to start this process with the mixer on high, or you might wind up with Sweet potatoes covering everything.
I start the mixer on low, and let it run for several minutes, then kick the speed up a couple of notches, and let it run a few more minutes.  The idea is to whip this mixture to make it as light as possible.  We'll get the mixer speed up as high as possible without slinging Sweet Potatoes all over.  I mixed this batch for over ten minutes.  While the Sweet Potatoes are mixing we'll prepare the topping.
The topping is one cup of Brown sugar, half a cup of cake Flour, and a third of a cup of melted butter.  We'll mix those together to make a crumble topping for the Sweet Potatoes.  The crumble is applied to the top of the casserole before baking.
There, now we have the casserole mixed, and the topping made, all we have to do is assemble the pieces.  Pick out a festive casserole dish and add the Sweet Potato base.
Then add the crumble to the top of the Sweet Potatoes.
Then we'll bake the Sweet Potato Casserole for 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
And that's it, ready for feasting.  i usually prepare this the day before, refrigerate it overnight, and reheat for the festivities the next day.  The flavors meld in the refrigerator overnight, so it will taste better the next day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Slow Cooker Porx

When I don't have a lot of time to spend messing with the Smoker, I use the Slow Cooker in addition to the Smoker.  I bought a Pork Shoulder Roast, but didn't want to mess with the Smoker all day.  So I started the cooking process with the Smoker, and let the roast go for about an hour in the Smoker.  Then I transferred the roast to the Slow Cooker and let it go for about eight hours on low.
This makes the Porx ultra-tender.  It is so nomlishious.  Plus there is a bonus, the Slow Cooker traps the Au Ju from the Porx.  The Au Ju is the best part of the Porx.
The Porx are literally fall apart tender when they come out of the Slow Cooker.  The roast split in half when I pulled it out of the Slow Cooker.
I pushed on the side a little and it falls apart.  To the barbeque purist this is too done.  They like a little more chew to the meat, so its not going to win any competitions.  I find it is easier to assimilate the proteins when it is cooked to this state, more easily digestible.
The bone pulled out almost totally clean.  I was taking this roast apart was in the morning, so I decided to make breakfast with it.  The meat is good all by itself, but I wanted some eggs too, and I had just made some fresh Pico de Gallo.  So I thought lets make some pulled pork breakfast tacos.
I've got a stack of Corn Tortillas, and some Wheat Flour Tortillas as well, three scrambled Eggs, and a bowl of Pico de Gallo.  Looks like we're going to need a nap after this one...

Later that day I used the Au Ju from the Slow Cooker for a Hot and Sour Brussels Sprout Soup, its another Tex-asian fusion thing.  I love Hot and Sour Soup, then we fusions it up with Brussels Sprouts.  Sorry didn't get a picture of that one, ate it too fast...

Vegetable Chop Suey

There is just something about steamed vegetables and chicken broth that I love.  I crave Moo Goo Gai Pan every once in a while, which is similar to what I have made here, albeit sans the Chicken.  For this Chop Suey I start with some Sliced Onions and Garlic, then add Mushrooms, julianned Carrots, and shredded Napa Cabbage.  Let all that cook together for a few minutes, and then add some Chicken Stock.
On the side I made some fried Wonton strips.  We take Wonton wrappers, and slice them into thin strips.  Then fry them in a Wok until they are crispy.  They are like super light Asian Fritos.  This plate is very simple and light.  Good for a working lunch...

Napa Salad

What if we were to take some Asian vegetables, and make a green salad, would that be Asian food?  Its another fusion thing.  Lets take the basic concept of a vinaigrette, and make it with Asian ingredients.  Instead of white vinegar we'll use seasoned rice wine vinegar.  Instead of Olive Oil we'll use Toasted Sesame Oil.  Then add some salt and pepper and whisk it up, thus Asian Vinaigrette.
Then instead of leaf lettuce I'm gonna use Napa Cabbage.  Raw Napa cabbage has a mild flavor and lots of crunch.  We'll throw some Scallions in there, and some Cilantro.  really you could add anything you want in a tossed salad like this.  I usually only add a few ingredients.
Then we'll pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss it about.  Maybe add some toasted Pine Nuts, or Pepitas to give it some nuttiness.  Something like this could be used for an Egg Roll filling, or Tacos.

Chili Cheeze Eggs

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  You gotta get fueled up so you can work hard.  This means you need a hearty breakfast.  You have probably seen Chili Cheese Omelets, they are pretty popular, at least around here.  So I took this concept and simplified it a little.  I took three pan fried eggs, arranged them on a plate, and filled in the gaps with Chili and Cheeze.
This Chili is a mix.  Its Carroll Shelby's Championship winning ICS Chili, my favorite mix.  I use a pound of ground beef and a pound of seasoned pork.  I deviate from Shelby's recipe by adding copious quantities of green Chile and Onion.  I also have to kick it up a few notches with extra homegrown Cayenne Chiles.  That is a stack of Corn Tortillas on the side there.  Texas Sized Breakfast.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crayfish Gumbo

Howz y'all are?

Sometimes you just getta craving for Gumbo.  Its a natural thing.  Nineclaw and Samurai needed this taste of N'Orleans last weekend.  Who dat?  Ju know, dem Saints...  Dats where you need to go to learn the secrets of the Cajun, and Creole Chefs.

Roux, scary thing to some peeps.  Simple really, fat, flour, and werx.  Gotta have fresh Gulf Shrimp, and some Crayfish out of the Bayou.  Then some Andoulie, gotta have that Pork Fat.  Okra it wut Gumbo are, that and File'.  Ju also needs the Trinity...  Dats Celery, Onion, and Green Pepperz.  Don't forgets the Cayenne Peppers, Man, it ain't Gumbo without the Cayenne Peppers.  Den we add some Beer and Chicken Stock, and let it simmer a while.  Then add some wild brown rice.  Good Gumbo needs something Wild...

We conjour up a wicked good batch of Gumbo...