Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tomatillo Salsa

Okay, I know I promised this a while back, and I now apologize replete with a full remedy: my tomatillo salsa procedure.

First, get yourself to your local store and buy about 12 of these bad boys. You will need to be sure they are firm to the touch, but not rock-hard. Think: the texture of a regular tomato you would buy and plan to eat about 5 days later. Get a bunch of cilantro. Buy one jalapeno. Buy 2-4 limes, depending on size. You will need 2 cloves of garlic.

Second, and this is the odd part: get a large (1-2 qt) bowl; add about 4 drops of dish soap; and run water into it to make a soapy water bath. One by one, peel the paper skin off the tomatillos, trash the skin, and then wash the fruits in the soapy water. As you'll understand when you do this, these bad boys are sticky-gooey. Give them a good soapy bath, paying special attention to the woody part in the top middle where the skin is ultimately connected to the tomatillo. Then, MOST IMPORTANTLY, rinse them off under the faucet. Rinse more than you think you need to. You do not like Dawn in your salsa, though if we know you it is probably true your mouth needs a good washing out with soap.

Third, check your tomatillos to be sure that they aren't sticky and gooey any more. This stuff doesn't really taste good in your salsa. If they are, re-clean and re-rinse them.

Fourth, now that your tomatillos are peeled and rinsed, you are ready to quarter them. So, fuckin quarter them already.

Fifth, get out your food processor or blender. Add tomatillos to fill up your receptacle about halfway. You can do this part in small batches if you need. In total, for 12 tomatillos, you'll need about half a bunch of cilantro to go with. Add about a quarter of your jalapeno. Add the garlic. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of pepper, give or take. YOU can always add more (salt and jalapeno) later! Squeeze in a lime. Blend this mess.

Now, once you have blended all your tomatillos and all your other stuff together, put them in a medium saucepan on medium-low heat. After about 10 minutes, taste your salsa and see if you need more jalapeno, salt, lime, or garlic. Once it comes to a boil, let it cook down for another 10-15 minutes, until the consistency is pretty good and thick. Another way to judge when your salsa is done is when it is a forest green (see your box of 64 Crayolas if you need). This is not the darker "pine green," but it is a solid, full, deep green. Remember, this is a salsa VERDE, so yea, that's what you want.

Sometimes we eat this one hot, and sometimes let it cool down. I think it is phenomenal the next day as a rule. Also, the tomatillo salsa can be used as your salsa in chilaquiles (eggs scrambled with salsa, tortilla chips crushed in while the eggs are still liquid, cheese (usually a white cheese) added as you would normally). In short, this salsa is ridiculously versatile and can be kept up to a couple of weeks in the fridge. Enjoy!

Robot out!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nachos, Burritos and Tacos, who knows...

I dig Mexican food, as you may have noticed. One thing I'm particularly fond of is a good tamale. As you might recall, I've got a 5lb bag of Masa waiting to be turned into tamales. Whatever will I fill them with? Pork, also highly likely will be chicken, cheese and jalapenos, in some combination or another.

In preparation for my tamale-stravaganza, I decided to make some "pulled pork" tacos for dinner, and then save the leftover meat for the tamales.

Mexican shredded braised pork (aka Carnitas)
4 lbs of Pork butt (shoulder, Boston butt) -- boneless is ok, bone in will taste better
1 onion, cut into large chunks
rub -- whatever you'd use on your bbq -- these days I'm using Mesquite Country (if I don't make my own)
canned tomato sauce
beer! -- Miller Lite, the official domestic light and cold of BeefRobot
The below spice mix will season approximately 6-8 oz of liquid.
1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
2 tsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1tsp Mexican Oregano
a Bay leaf or two
1.5 teaspoons Garlic Powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper

You'd be wise to start this process two days before you really want to eat. One night will work, if necessary, and I suppose you could do this all in the same day, but, you're going to be with this thing for some time should you choose that option.

Coat the outside of your butt with your bbq rub. Heavy, on all sides; don't be shy, remember, you're seasoning at least 4 inches of meat here. Note: if your rub is of the sweet variety, this is probably not the application for it. Get, or better yet create, something savory, preferably with some heat. Once you're good and coated, wrap the whole thing in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for a few hours. Hopefully overnight.

Warm your biggest dutch oven on the stove on medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. I like this Le Creuset knockoff that I got as a wedding present. This thing rules. And it's way cheaper than the real deal. Anyway, when the oil just starts to smoke, throw your hog in it. Don't move it for a good 5-6 minutes. Once it's seared nicely on the one side, flip sides and repeat. Continue this until the butt is seared all over. Meanwhile, mix up your first round of spices. I'd start with enough to season two cups of liquid and make more if necessary. What liquid are we going to season? Beer. Pretend you're making the most hardcore michelada ever. Mix all the dry seasonings, combine the beer with a can of tomato juice, and whisk in the dry seasoning.

I will tell you that I cheated at this point, and used a can of Hatch Enchilada Sauce as part of my braising liquid (along with the seasoned beer). You should feel free to do the same, assuming you can find said sauce. It is absolutely unnecessary though; you could certainly just make your own braising liquid as described above. Throw the chopped up onion in the pot and add enough liquid to the pot to come 2/3 of the way up the sides of the meat. It took about 16-18 ounces for me. Cover this and put it in your 275 degree oven until the butt is done.

How do you know when it's done? Well, its temperature should register in the 170 degree range, but, it should also be fall apart tender. This will take some time, probably upwards of 3 hours, if not longer. Don't rush it; you're developing flavor and tenderness. If it needs to cook to 200 to be tender, let it. Tough tamales/tacos = not so good.

When the pork is 170 degrees and fall apart tender, pull the meat out of the pot and allow it to cool. Pour the juice from the pot into your gravy/fat separator and allow the fat to rise to the top. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove as much fat as you can and pull it apart using two forks, or your fingers.

Once you've got the meat shredded, add it back to the pot and add a little of the cooking juices back at a time until it reaches the consistency you'd like. I had to use ALL of the liquid from mine. If you run out of liquid, season up some chicken stock and use that. This is a divergence from true carnitas, which would cook in the pan in its own fat until crispy. If you want crispiness (for tacos or burritos) throw this mess under the broiler until it has the crispiness you desire. Then add more of the braising liquid. It's up to you. The meat is now ready to eat, but, if you can refrigerate it and wait until tomorrow, it will be so much better.

For the tacos, I made a simple slaw with cabbage, lime juice, garlic powder, oil, salt and pepper. This went atop my pork taco with some avocado slices and sautéed onions/tomatoes. Coro's tomatillo salsa would have been nice as well, but he has yet to publish the recipe. A-hole.

When you try this, you're going to like it. Prepare yourself, as this is going to be an ongoing theme until I've decided I've got enough filling to ensure making tamales is a worthwhile effort.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Comfort Food V.1

The other day, Cory and I were chatting back and forth via email and discussing "what to do" with the pound of boneless skinless chicken thighs I had lying about. We had discussed many options, including marinating them in the Jerk seasonings I returned from Jamaica with, creating some sort of Italian chicken type dish or possibly turning them into some form of fashion of stir-fry. The stir-fry option got me thinking about another chicken and vegetable combination. The pot pie. That pot pie got me thinking about other pot pie options, so, you get a two-fer today.

I never used to like the pot pie, maybe because I wasn't really all that into vegetables when I was a kid or maybe it was the "gravy-esque" sauce inside. I don't really know, but I do know that my tastes have changed and I now love me some pot pie. The below recipe could be adapted to any cut of chicken, or even leftover chicken. Also, it could be seasoned and flavored however you like. It's your call. Do what you will. Pot pies are also an excellent way to get rid of vegetables that are nearing the end of their usefulness.

Chicken Pot Pie (Italian, in this case)
1 lb Chicken -- cooked
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 onion diced
3 ribs of celery diced
3 zucchini diced
2 squash diced
2 random colored bell peppers diced
3 tbsp fat (oil, butter, bacon grease)
3-4 tbsp flour
Chicken stock
seasonings of your choice -- I used garlic powder, some chicken bouillon, salt, pepper and basil.

Chop up your onion and place it in a sauté pan over medium heat with a touch of olive oil. While the onion softens, chop the rest of your vegetables (3-4 minutes). When the onion has become somewhat translucent, add the celery and the bell peppers. Cook all of this till the onion begins to turn golden, and the celery and peppers are beginning to soften, and then add the zucchini and squash. Now is the time to hit all this veggie mess with some salt and pepper (and in my case, some basil and Italian seasoning).

Once your veggies have obtained a nice golden hue, add a couple of tablespoons of butter drop the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of flour. Stir this in and make a nice roux, and cook this roux for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. You want to cook the rawness out of the flour. If your roux looks to thin, add more flour. To thick? Is there really such a thing? You could add more butter, I suppose. Now, whisk in some chicken stock. I used about a half a cup of stock and a little bit of milk, for some added creaminess. You're going to want to make enough sauce to lube up all your veggies, and all the chicken you're about to add. While your gravy/sauce thickens, shred your chicken and add it to the pan.

Once you've achieved the desired viscosity of your chicken/veggie/sauce mix, pour it into a casserole and top with the puff pastry. Trim the edges and crimp them so you get a nice seal around your casserole. Brush the top with egg wash and jam it in the oven @ 400 degrees till the top is golden. Mine took about 25 minutes.

You'd be wise to place a sheet pan under your pot pie in the oven. Mine boiled over. It makes what some might call "a mess".

My wife really, really likes the crust, so, next time I'll likely make a bottom crust also, or use a store bought pie shell. Or, as Cory suggested, crescent roll dough. That suggestion made me think of a pocket pie made with crescent roll dough. Yum.

I was on a bit of a pot pie kick, and wanted some Mexican food. I found this recipe for Tamale Pot Pie on Texas Monthly and decided I'd give it a shot. With a few minor adjustments, of course.

Things I changed --
I used ground chicken, instead of pork
I added a diced chipotle or two, and discarded the Tabasco
I added some zucchini and squash (surprised? I didn't think so)
2 tsp of Cumin instead of a whole tablespoon, no allspice
For the topping, I used a packaged cornbread mix to which I added Velveeta, a can of green chili peppers and chili powder. I would have used another cheese, but, all I had was the Velveeta.

All in all, it turned out pretty nice. I'll probably use a mix of ground meats next time, as all chicken was just a little dry.

So, there you have two tasty pot pie type meals for your weeknight consumption. Go forth, experiment, and if you have any questions, let me know.

By the way, there are no pictures of these meals for a number of reasons. One, cause a forgot to take a pretty picture before service and two, because after service it's really hard to take a picture of a pot pie and have it come out looking like anything other than vomit.