Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thyme Pickled Peppers

The basil harvest was easy. Make a shit ton of pesto, pack into tiny salad dressing-size containers, top with olive oil, and stash in the freezer. What to do with all those peppers once the ground (or much quicker, the dirt in my containers) has frozen? Pickle them!

Now there isn't a reason to panic. You don't need canning jars and hot water baths and all that get up. We're not talking about actually canning, or preserving them. Much more simple than that, this is a quick refrigerator pickle, the method of which is also employed here.

These little guys are a perfect addition to the familiar cheese, cracker, salumi and mustard platter that is often the weekend lunch format. They would also be good friends with a turkey sandwich as well, the mayo nicely cooling inflamed taste buds.

The weather conditions during the 2010 growing season in Chicago were ideal for a variety of chili peppers- hot and humid. In increasing heat level- bell pepper, anaheim, jalapeno, orange habanero, red sevina habanero, and scotch bonnet peppers. You might want to handle those last couple very carefully, as in with respect to quantity and the use of latex gloves.

A lot of boring vegetables can be turned into tasty items through pickling- think radish, carrot, cauliflower, string beans, hard boiled eggs (technically not a vegetable). My favorite is a quick pickle of very thinly sliced red onion for roast beef and cheddar sandwiches on kaiser rolls with a generous spread of horseradish mayo seasoned with a couple cranks of the pepper mill.

The amounts here will make a few jars worth, perhaps some could be gifts? If you only have a handful of peppers, just keep the ratio of water and vinegar even, and scale down the salt and sugar accordingly. If you are just using bell peppers, you can slice them into rings too. Multiple colors would be pretty.

Thyme Pickled Peppers

1 lb fresh peppers, washed
2.5 C water
2.5 C distilled white vinegar
3 TB sugar
3 TB kosher
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 TB whole coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 TB whole black peppercorns

Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat. Evenly distribute the remaining ingredients among your tupperware, mason jars, or other appropriate containers. Pack with the peppers and then pour in the liquid, covering the peppers completely. Your containers should be full, with a minimal amount of headspace. Let sit for a minimum of 5 days, turning over a few times during that period. Will last for a month at least, refrigerated of course.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jalapeno Cheddar Skillet Cornbread

It's the end of November already??? Blame it on the warmer than normal fall temps for this year's eleventh month rapidly about to become a memory.

It's Thanksgiving already??? I almost forgot about that...

Thanksgiving. What does that mean to you? Time with family? Time with friends the night before (biggest bar night of the year, dude!! ha ha)? Time to make that annual pumpkin flan or green bean casserole dish with the French Fried onions on top? Time to hear that not-so-appetizing sound of the cranberry as it shakes and quivers its way out of the can? Complete with ring impressions from the can interior!! That's about as real a shape as this impostor. Which dish do you look forward to the most each year? The big guy? The mashed? Stuffing? You put some marshmallow on sweet potatoes or some other weird shit? My favorite part is the leftovers, you may call them leftovers, but that's a misnomer of sorts. Cold turkey sammiches with a heaping of mayonnaise and black pepper, that gets me feeling like a kid on Christmas. Damn! It's almost Christmas???

For the foodie, what else could you ask for? It's an American Holiday that revolves around eating. Throw in some football and a few thoughts of what to be thankful for, and you've got a pretty sweet deal going. Maybe one year you should serve deer and ducks, to stay true to the original feast? Alternatively, you could do this.

In anticipation of the snow and winter that isn't here yet- time to make some chili. You know your freezer is more efficient when it's full of frozen stuff, right? Might as well pack it full of tasty stuff. The perfect accompaniment to chili? That would be some cornbread.

Don't be scared of the jalapeno, there isn't a large amount used and thus will not set your buds on fire. If I had a can of creamed corn, I woulda tossed that in the batter too. Don't have a cast iron skillet? You should get one, these are easy to find, cheap, and they do work on tasty things like bacon, pork chops, fried chicken, and can sear the balls off a bear if necessary.

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbead with Chili-Lime Butter
6 servings

Chili-Lime Butter-
3 TB unsalted butter
2 ts fresh lime juice
pinch black pepper
1/2 ts medium chili powder
sea salt
See below for compound butter method.

Jalapeno Cheddar Skillet Cornbread-
1 C AP flour
1 C yellow corn meal
3 TB white sugar
1 ts baking soda
1 ts kosher
1/3 ts black pepper
1.5 C low fat buttermilk
2 large eggs
1.5 C sharp cheddar, freshly grated
1 TB diced jalapeno, about 1/2 a large jala
2 TB butter

Fire up the heater to 425F, place the rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat a large cast iron skillet in the oven, about a 9" pan or so. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, salt, baking soda, and pepper. Whisk to combine and then make a well in the center. Add the eggs and the milk, whisking just enough to break up the eggs. Stir in the jala and cheese.

With your ove glove, remove the hot skillet from the heatbox and throw 2 TB of butter in. Once all the butter has melted, turn to coat and pour in the batter evenly. Bake for about 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes until cutting into. It will still be warm and you should serve immediately, passing the butter.

Here's an easy way to make a compound butter- throw a few TB's in a heat proof bowl and set on the working stovetop. Add in your flavorings, whisk a bit once warmed up to combine, then remove from heat and let harden. Yummy.

As with most Thanksgivings, it's a great time to be thankful for all the food that we are fortunate enough to have. Not just good food either, I'm not going to list foie gras or truffles or pork belly or anything like that, just food. Any food, all food. We're pretty damn lucky to have access to so much food and so many choices in this country, where we spend trillions of dollars a year to offset overeating. So thank a farmer, thank your butcher, say thanks to your fishmonger, thank the dude who bakes your bread. And then enjoy the feast! Need help with a wine pairing?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Herb and Cheese Onion Gratin

Already? I thought I just went to the store? You've been there many times, that familiar situation where you think there can't possibly be anything in the house to eat. No fresh veggies, greens or leftovers in the fridge, nothing but a freezer full of various animal parts and frozen meals, beer mugs and ice cubes. That's not the quick nibble you were hunting for.

Just like this dish and this pie, this gratin is assembled from pantry items that are always happy to be tossed together at one end and come out as a meal at the other.

Like most recipes, you can substitute dried herbs for fresh, although you should try for the latter as often as you can. You can find them cheap at places like this. You can't really overbuy, as you can dry any unused fresh herb to replenish your stash. Or you can grow your own- the rosemary in the garden is always the last to succumb to these increasingly cold fall nights, at least for my garden in the Midwest. The basil was the first to bow out to the cold, the resulting harvest has produced a hibernating bear's worth of pesto, which is pretty damn exciting.

In true ode to the scouring-the-cupboards-for-ingredients fashion, use whatever herbs and cheeses you have, it's like Gumby, which is to say very flexible.

This makes a tasty snack on its own or will go nicely with a grilled steak or roasted chicken.

Herb and Cheese Onion Gratin
four servings

3 large vidalia onions, sliced 1/3" thick
2 TB EVOO or veggie, canola
1 TB chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 ts dry)
2 ts fresh thyme, minced (1/2 ts dry)
3 TB mayo
2 ts fresh lemon juice
1/2 ts dijon mustard
1/2 C mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 TB blue cheese, crumbled
2 TB Parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino-romano (not that nasty shit in the green can that was grated in 2007)
Black pepper
Hot Sauce, optional

Fire up the hotbox to four fitty. Coat a large sheet pan with spray or oil it up. Lay the onion slices out evenly, rub with oil. Sprinkle the herbs over, then a bit of S&P. Roast the onions for about 15 minutes, they will have become nicely softened. While doing that, make the topping-

In a small bowl combine the mayo, lemon juice, mustard, cheeses and black pepper. Stir until combined, it will be lumpy and that's okay. Coat a large glass casserole dish with spray or oil/butter. Lay out the onion slices into the casserole and then top with the cheese mixture, spreading sort of evenly with a spatula, it doesn't have to be perfect. You will probably bake for about 25 minutes, but check on the browning after about 20. Bake until top is golden brown and all delicious. Serve immediately. Enjoy very much.

Slice and toast a baguette, rub one side with a split clove of garlic while hot, then top with the gratin. A glass of pinot noir or cotes du rhone would pair nicely, don't you think? And you thought there's wasn't anything in the house to eat....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Classic Meatloaf, updated technique

It shouldn't be like this. I want my seasons, dammit. Eating is so centered around them, if you live in an area to appreciate seasonal change. Sometimes Chicago has four seasons, but most years you get three. You're bound to have at least one chilly spring or a warm fall, negating those shoulder seasons that shift into the big ones. Of course it was 25 a couple days ago and now there's a string of days at bout 70F. That's to be expected.

Why would I want it to be cold, gloomy and possibly rainy outside? Because I want to have meatloaf. Classic meatloaf, with a mix of protein for varying taste and texture, complete with the well-known ketchup-based glaze on top. You can make it with any blend of meats, I do prefer the common meatball/meatloaf ratio of half 90-93% lean ground beef and half ground pork. Some stores package their own a mix, some include ground veal as well.

What was your version as Ma used to make it? Mine was covered in ketchup and sprinkled with Kraft parmesan cheese. Here we have this much loved and familiar flavor, tweaked with some updated techniques- don't even bother digging out a loaf pan, that just holds the fat in and it inhibits tasty browning with the extended surface area. And to adhere the glaze better you should broil the loaf before baking.

Classic Meatloaf, updated technique
6-8 servings

1 C ketchup
1/4 C brown sugar, packed of course
2.5 TB cider vinegar
couple dashes your favorite hot sauce

EVOO or veggie oil
1 medium onion, fine dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 C crushed saltine crackers (bout 15 crackers)
2/3 C milk (high fat good)
1 lb. lean ground chuck or sirloin
1 lb. ground pork
2 large eggs plus one 1 yolk
2 ts good Dijon mustard
2 ts Worcestershire sauce
1/2 ts dried thyme, or a couple springs fresh
1/2 C fresh parsley, finely chopped

For the glaaaaaaze-
Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and whisk over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove a 1/4 C and reserve. Turn the heat down to low and simmer until slightly thickened, bout tree fo minutes. Then cover and keep in a warm area on the stovetop.

For the loaf-
Place a few turns of oil in a skillet over medium heat, then add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine, cook for 1 minute and then remove from heat. Transfer to a small bowl to let cool.

Pour the milk in a small bowl and then add the crushed saltines. Mix well and let sit for 5 minutes. During this rest, add the meat, onion, eggs, yolk, mustard, Worcestershire, thyme, parsley, and bout 1 ts kosher, 1/2 ts freshly cracked black pepper to the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the milk/cracker mixture. With the mixing blade, stir on 1 or 2, low, until just combined. Alternatively you can do this by hand, I just think it's easier this way if you process until just combined and don't kill the damn thing by mixing the hell out of it.

Place your top rack about 4" from the broiler, turn on high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, coat with spray, butter, or a touch of oil. Transfer the meat onto the sheet and shape by hand into a 9X5" loaf. Broil for 5 minutes, turning a few times to adjust to your broiler's temperance. You haven't mapped your broiler's hotspots? Brush 2 TB of the of the reserved glaze onto the loaf, then return to the broiler for 2 more minutes. The glaze should be nice and shiny brown, caramelizing them sugars.

Switch the oven to baking mode, set at tree fifty. It will probably be higher than that from broiling, which is fine for a bit. Brush with the remaining reserved glaze. Place the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for about 40-45 minutes. The internal temp should be 160 degrees. Let rest, covered with foil, for at least 10 minutes. Slice and then serve with some of the cooked glaze.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Beer-Braised Cabbage

This post should have been in October. Nevertheless, it's still Fall and that's a season you should, at least twice, have a plate of various sausages with a dab of really good mustard, some pickles or cornichons, and some beer-braised cabbage. Oh, and a stein of lager to go with that too please.

You know how Hot Doug feels about sausages. Beer brats are the ol' stand by, however I encourage you to try and procure some real wursts- I'm lucky enough to have this place.

And all this talk about sausage reminds me of a personal favorite... It's worth the 30 second intro add, trust me!

This recipe braises the cabbage just right, not to the death and just enough so you don't have a pile of stink on your plate. Not tasty. Add a touch of herb and mustard, and now you're eating your vegetables happily.

Beer-Braised Cabbage
four servings

2 TB unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 C light lager or pilsner
1 TB good dijon or stone ground mustard
1/4 ts dried thyme (or 1/2 fresh)
1 small to medium size green cabbage, halved, cored, thinly sliced
2 TS cider vinegar (ww vin can sub)

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened up a bit, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the beer, mustard, and thyme. Simmer until this mixture thickens slightly, a couple minutes or so. Add the cabbage and vinegar, then stir to mix. Cook covered, stirring two or tree times, until nicely tender, bout 7-9 minutes. Finish with a touch of S&P.