Sunday, January 25, 2009

Texas Chili with Dusted Onion Straws

Texas is the official birthplace of chili, and any chili enthusiast will tell you that real Texas-style chili doesn't contain beans. Indeed the use of beans or other fillers like pastas are banned at most of the big time chili cookoffs.

I developed this recipe from scratch pretty much with no clear plan going into it, as to how I wanted the final product to turn out. I just had two criteria: meaty and hot. SO I went to work, tinkering with the chili as it simmered until I got a final product that I was happy with. And boy was I happy with this one. I thought, lets top it off with some southwest seasoned and dusted fried onion straws. Sure why not. The end result was certainly in the all-time top 5 dishes I have made, ever.

A note about this recipe, first I should call it something cooler than, "Texas chili with dusted onion straws." I'm working on that one, but I'm open to suggestions. Second, the exact measurements would be impossible to give so I'll just put a rough estimation. I'm sure you can experiment for yourself to find something that works. The cubed beef really makes the dish outstanding, so I'd recommend it, (cubing it yourself, what I did, doesn't take long) over ground beef. Also be advised, if you want this for dinner, start making it after lunch. The longer it simmers the better, 2-3 hours is my magic number

Here's what you need:
For the chili:
2lbs Top Round Beef (cut into 1 inch cubes)
1 case of Mexican beer (I like Model Especial, but Corona or Tecate or any other Mexican beer will do the trick)*
2 ancho peppers (chopped)
1 jalapeno (slit down the middle)
1 white onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
chilli flakes
1 small bottle of Tapatio hot sauce (the best hot sauce ever, in my opinion)
salt and pepper
1 8oz can of tomato sauce
smoky mesquite BBQ sauce (I used Stubbs')
beef stock
cheddar cheese (grated)
*Note, you only use once can for the actual recipe, but takes about 3 hours to make, so you want to be well hydrated during that time.

For the onion straws/rings
1 white onion, chopped lengthwise into thin rings
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup of my Cajun seasoning, or if not, seasoning salt
vegetable oil

Here's what you do:

For the chili:
1) Brown your beef cubes in a skillet, drain them, then transfer to a large pot.
2) Turn the large pot on low heat, it will be at this temperature for the rest of the time. Add all ingredients except for oregano, garlic and cheddar cheese. Just dump it all in, I used the entire bottle of Tapatio, and about a quarter bottle of BBQ sauce. You can just set the cheese aside for now, it's for topping the chili once everything is done. It's best to start off with less beef stock rather than more, you can always add more later to thin the chili out. Simmer for one hour, covered.
3) Add oregano and garlic. Stir. The reason why I held off putting these two ingredients in until later, is that if cooked too long they can tend to get bitter. Let simmer for another hour, uncovered this time.
4)Taste test! See how you like it, does it tickle your taste buds? Grab another beer. Add more spice as needed. If it is at the perfect spice level right now, then take out the jalapeno, remember how you just slit it down one side? The longer you leave it in, the hotter the chili gets. It's your chili, do what you want. Also, judge the consistency of the chili, if it is getting to pasty, add either more beef stock or more beer, if it is still too watery, never fear, simmering with the lid off will let it slowly reduce and thicken up, concentrating all the flavours into one power punch. From now on, just let it simmer, uncovered until it reaches the desired consistency.
5) Once it's done, spoon it out into a bowl, top with grated cheese, and on top of that, put some of your delicious onion straws (see below). Pair with a nice cold crisp Modelo Especial.

For the Onion Straws
*These can be called straws or rings, doesn't matter, it all the same. Depending on how thin you cut them, they could be either! Maybe I should call them something different. Like I said, I'm working on it.
1) Get a big Ziploc bag or Tupperware container with a lid. Put your flour and Cajun/seasoned salt in there too, and mix it all around, so you end up with a nice rusty coloured flour.
2) Toss your onions into the flour mixture, seal it nice and tight and give it a good shake. You want complete 360 degree coverage. Your onions should be a little damp from the natural onion juice, but if they aren't then just wet them down with a paper towel, to help the flour stick.
3) Heat up your oil in a medium sized pot. Heat it up pretty hot so we can flash fry these suckers.
4) A few at a time, drop your onions into the oil, stir them around a bit so they don't get stuck together, keep the in for about 5 minutes, then take out and pat dry. Repeat until all your onions are crispified. Feel free to eat them by themselves or as a topping on your chili.

Although this meal takes a long time to make, it's actually pretty easy because you aren't doing anything most of the time. Let the stove do the work for you. But the end result is something, delicious and hearty, easy and cheap to make. Plus, it's endlessly customizable. It also stores really well in the freezer for later days.


Drink: Modelo Especial
Listen: Sigur Rós, Agaetis Byrjun, Takk, and Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
Three albums here should span the whole process from start to finish. Chili is a very contemplative activity if you think about it, and you can't rush it. Much like the glacial music of Sigur Rós. I've organized the three albums to match the trajectory of cooking chili. As things start to get exciting, around when you start making the onions and you get to eat everything, it gets more upbeat, fun and climactic!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Irish Mussels

This recipe is my attempt to reverse engineer a dish from Flex Mussels, a restaurant I've never been to, and who's food I've never tried. It started out as a small shack in PEI, then to a small shack in Manhattan, to a larger shack in Manhattan. I thought it looked like a genius idea though, so why not? Mussels with Guinness, caramelized onions and toasted walnuts. Let's do this.

Here's what you need:
All the quantities here I've based on 2lb of mussels. I can eat 2lb of these myself, but as an appetizer, plan on about 1lb per person
2 lb mussels (east coast, PEI are great)
1 Can of Guinness for mussels, 1 Can for the Cook
1 white onion, chopped
Walnuts, chopped
Vegetable oil

Here's what you do:
1) Toast/Roast your walnuts at for 10 minutes at 350F. Just spread them out on a pan and toss em in, nothing to it
2) In a large iron skillet, put your onions in and a bit of vegetable oil, enough to coat the bottom of the skillet. (Why veg-oil and not olive? Well veg-oil has a higher smoking point, better for this purpose. Now you know.) Turn to medium heat and give the onions a stir to coat everything with oil and let them sizzle. In about 10 miuntes, when they start to begin caramelizing, I like to add a bit of sugar as a catalyst, and for overall deliciousness. So just sprinkle some in and stir it around.
3) While your onions are caramelizing, and your walnuts are toasting, take this time to clean your mussels. Debearding is easy, just pull the stringy stuff towards the flat opening of the mussel and give it a good tug to remove it. Throw away any mussels with cracked shells, and any mussels that are open, give them a good whack on the counter. If they close up, you can eat them, if not, that means the mussel is dead and you should throw it away. Don't be a hero.
4) After about 25-30 minutes of good solid onion caramelization, we get to the easy part. (Yeah, it gets even easier!) Dump in your can of Guinness, your toasted walnuts and your mussels and give it a good stir. Now all you have to do is wait for the mussels to open up and you're done. I like to stir up the skillet while the mussels are cooking, that way it gives the beer and onions a chance to seep into the mussels and really get a nice flavour goin' on there.

Easy as that. You can even serve the mussels right out of the skillet to the waiting masses. It's got that nice, form follows funciton feel...forever. Five F's...or was that 7?! My skillet has high enough sides that I could probably fit about 3 lbs mussels max, any more than that and you'd need to tranfer the ingredients to a pot, but everything still works the same.

A note on the toasted walnuts. They're great as a snack, I find myself just buying them and toasting them to have around the house.

These mussels paired with the belgian frites (a.k.a. moules et frites) are dyy-noo-miiite.


Drink: Harp Lager (you could also go with Guinness, I just figured you might want to switch it up a bit, and you get the nice hoppiness of a pale lager)
Listen: Kings of Leon, Only By The Night

Belgian Frites

First and foremost let me quote Paula Deen, from her show that is on right now, making onion rings. "Putting a deep fryer in my kitchen was the best thing I ever did. Us southern girls earned the right to have a fryer handy at all times." How awesome is she.

And now for a beautiful segue, let's make belgian frites! Belgian style frites (they hate when you call them fries) differ from regular fries because they are fried twice. Once at a lower temperature cook it all the way through, then once again to quickly crisp the outside. Frites are one part of the superhero lunch duo, moules et frites. Incidentally, that is what I had for dinner last night, and am now sharing with you.

All you really need are russet potatoes (1 big one per person) and some sunflower oil.

Here's what you do:
1) Cut your fries. True frites have no skins on them, so you can peel your potatoes first, I decided to leave the skin on and it worked out just great. You want a nice thick cut fry, a centimeter or two in diameter, a bit bigger than McD's. The thicker fry will absorb less oil and should theoretically be healthier. Square off all the ends of the fries, as it both looks nice and it you won't get burnt tips.
2) Soak the frites in cold water for about 5 minutes, just to wash all the starch off so they don't stick together. Pat them dry.
3) Heat up your oil in a pot, to about medium temperature if you're using a stove (6 on the dial?), and when its hot (you know, using the potato trick: when the oil is cold, drop a scrap of potato in, when it starts sizzling and floats to the top, you're ready to rock.)
4) Add your fries a few at a time to the oil, not too many, other wise the oil will cool too much and you're cooking times will be all off. Total disaster. Well, more like minor inconvenience, but still, don't do it.
5)After about 7-8 minutes, take the fries out and let them relax on some paper towel, or a cloth or whatever, for about 30 minutes. This is the key stage, where the flavour is about to get locked in.
6) Crank up the oil to a decently high temperature. Whatever it was the first time, make it hotter. We want to make these frites nice and crisp.
7) Put the frites in for 2 minutes then remove, pat dry, dust with salt serve with some mayonnaise for a tasty treat courtesy of the Belgians.

Simple yet delicious, what more could you ask for?


Drink: Heineken, from the can, why mess with greatness?
Listen: Supertramp, Crime of the Century

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ya Salty Sea Dog!

What's the deal with salting the water before you boil pasta?

I will defer to Robert L. Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, food columnist for the Washington Post and author of the book "What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained."
There is a very simple reason for adding the salt: It boosts the flavor of the food, just as it does when used in any other kind of cooking. And that's all there is to it.
At this point every reader who has ever paid the slightest attention in chemistry class will object. "But adding salt to the water raises its boiling point, so the water will boil hotter and cook the food faster."
To these readers I award an A in chemistry but a D in Food 101. It's true that dissolving salt - or really anything else, for that matter - in water will indeed make it boil at a higher temperature. But in cooking the rise is nowhere near enough to make any difference... Adding a table spoon (20 grams) of table salt to 5 quarts of boiling water will raise the boiling point by seven hundredths of one degree F. That might shorten the cooking time by half a second or so. Anyone who is in that much of a hurry may also want to consider rollerblading it from the kitchen to the dining room.
There you have it. My buddy Mario Batali once said, "good Italian pasta should taste like it was cooked in the sea." So salt accordingly. A note on "What Einstein Told His Cook", it's actually quite fantastic, and I would highly recommend it. Kitchen chemistry explained, in layman's terms. Maybe its just me who loves reading that type of thing but hey, that's just who I am.

Panko Please!

Q: Ever wonder how your favourite Japanese eatery always gets their shrimp to be so light and fluffy, but also with the requisite crisp- and flake-factor that you so desire?

A: Panko breadcrumbs. You can buy them at the store or make them yourself for a buck. Easy breezy Japaneasy.

Panko breadcrumbs are made with white bread, no crust. Some say wonderbread works best, I just hollowed out half an Italian loaf. As long as it's white sans crust, you're good to go.

Just get some bread, and if you have a food processor, great, then shred the bread so you get nice fluffy pieces. IF you don't (I don't) you can do what I did. Just ball up your bread and grate it on a cheese grater.

Spread the flakes on a baking pan, put it in the oven for 6-8 minutes at 400F, shaking the pan once or twice while they are in there. Don't let them get toasted or browned. That's it. Then you can store them in the freezer for a couple days even weeks if need be, to crispify anything you want really.

Lobster + Mac + Cheese

Before I start I'd like to point out that this dish almost didn't get made. Not from a practical standpoint (impossibility, lack of ingredients/skill) but for a more philosophical reason. Traditionally, in Italy at least, it would be unheard of to pair fish in pasta with cheese. The flavours of the cheese were thought to sour, and overpower the delicate fish. Indeed, you want the to speak for itself without burying it under loads of ingredients. The fish might have something interesting to say, after all, it has been in school all its life! HA!

This goes doubly for lobster.

So, with some internal debate, I decided that I'd go for it anyways and use body meat. You can get it from your local fishmonger, and its not that expensive anyway, plus it involved less labour in the preparation stages. I made this dish in a skillet and when it gets baked it looks pretty cool, melted cheese crisped by the hot iron, heck yes.

So here's what you need, for the pasta:

Half cup unsalted butter
Half cup flour
2 cups half and half cream
Cayenne pepper
3 cups old cheddar (shredded)
2 cups gruyere (shredded)
1 lb elbow macaroni

...and for the lobster:
Third of a cup of panko breadcrumbs (see post about panko creation, real easy)
1 lb lobster body meat, chopped (cooked or uncooked, doesn't matter, but I bought mine freshly steamed at the fish place and it worked out fine)
A bit of butter, aww yeah

Here's what you do:
1)Preheat oven to 350F please. And thank you.
2)Boil your macaroni in heavily salted water (why salt your water? I will explain, but it has nothing to do with water boiling faster.) Boil till it's allmossst done but not quite.
3)So in your trusty skillet, melt the butter till its bubbling on medium heat. Now this is where a semi-deft touch is required. Add your flour a little bit at a time, whisking furiously until its all incorporated. IF you just dump it in, you're an idiot and you will have the worst tasting, chunky and purely bad cheese sauce ever. So whisk for a minute or so, then slowly add the cream in the same manner as the flour. Keep stirring until everything is more or less creamy. Once you are satisfied with your cream, turn the heat off and add your cheeses, cayenne and s+p and mix it all up until the cheese is melted.
4)Dump your mac into the cheese sauce you just made and mix it all up real good, then put it in the oven for 30 mintues.
5) While the mac is in the oven, melt a scoop of butter in a pan, once it melts, turn off the heat, add the lobster, panko and grate some parm-reg over it and give it a good stir.
6)When 30 minutes is up, take the skillet out of the oven, turn the oven to broil (full heat), and spread your lobster mix out all over the top. Put it back in for 8 minutes. When you take it out, you'll have a deliciously cheesey, but more importantly, crunchy top.

Some notes on lobster + mac + cheese. First of all, it was great, but I think that the mac and cheese bit would be just as good without the lobster, and I'm going ot try it again with some nice chorizo or polish sausage, yeeaaah. Going to back to what I said above, I believe that lobster with melted butter is truly a great dish and doesn't need to be enhanced with cheeses or mac. So if you want, you can use this recipe sans lobster and you're golden. Second, play around with the cheese selections, maybe you want all cheddar, or marscarpone, or cheesewhiz! It don't matter, do what tastes good.

So there you have it. Oh yeah, a nice Belgian Pilsner goes smashingly with the l+m+c.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

5 Albums I Like Right Now

I've decided I'm better at writing lists than actual record reviews. Besides there are enough people out there who do that already. I will stick to posting stuff, old or new, that I'm digging at the moment.

Four Tet - Pause
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Arkells - Jackson Square
Hauschka - Ferndorf
Blackfilm - Blackfilm

Friday, January 16, 2009

Saltimbocca alla Romana (with sage)

Big shout out to Molto Italiano for this one. (and to my gf's mom for getting me the Mario Batali cookbook for Christmas!)

How to explain this. The English translation of this is roman-style veal cutlets with sage. I guess the best way to describe this is like an Italian version of my beloved (to eat, not to cook) Austrian veal schnitzel. It's basically a pared down version, minus all the bread-y breading, sauce-y sauces and overall heaviness. That aside, how could you not love anything wrapped in prosciutto and fried in butter?

Here's what you need:

Veal cutlets, lets say about a compact disc sized cutlet per person
Fresh sage leaves (one for every veal cutlet)
Prosciutto Di Parma (again one slice per cutlet, and yes it does make a difference that its Di Parma, or at the very least Italian, domestic North American stuff really doesn't compare)
A pile of flour
S+P (the uush)
A stick of butter about the size of an iPod nano (gotta keep it current, for the kids)
Dry white wine (sauv blank, shar-doe-nay, or if you're going to be drinking it as well, peeno greeg)
Le Wedge du Limon

Here's what you do:

1) Pound your veal a bit to get it nice and thin, if you don't have a meat tenderizer (I don't) you can just as easily pull a Rocky Balboa and just give it a few hammers with your fist.
2)Wrap each piece of veal with a slice of prosciutto, put a sage leaf on top and stick a toothpick through it to keep it altogether.
3) Spice up the flour (which you have piled on a dish) with some S+P. Drag the veal through the flour a few times to get it thoroughly coated
4) Heat up a skillet and toss half your butter in, wait till it's bubbling then put your veal in the pan, cooking each side for about 2 minutes
5) Take the veal cutlets out for a minute, keep the pan on and add about a two second pour worth of white vino. Add the rest of your butter and stir it all up until everything is melted and good.
6) Drop the veal that you set aside in the sauce just for a minute max, just to heat it up and get it coated with sauce, not too long now. Take them out and serve right away with a lemon slice per plate

I just had this for dinner, with the bone marrow as an app. Mario B's got his signature all over this dinner.

I think by now we've realized that I wouldn't post a recipe that I didn't think was good, so I will spare you the sales pitch on how much you're going to enjoy your meal in about 5 seconds. Pour yourself a nice glass of wine and enjoy life. Because life is good.

Roast Bone Marrow

The concept of using a band saw to slice an animal's leg bone to scoop out the inner marrow with the sole purpose of eating it does not appeal to some people. That's fine. If it does tickle your fancy then ahoy! More for you and I good friend!

Next time you're cruising the local butchers and you see a bunch of 3inch bone segments all wrapped up like the Christmas present you never wanted, think of this post. Think of the potential. I promise you won't regret it.

I had the marrow in this particular fashion as an app at PizMo a couple months ago and the sheer deliciousness of it has not been forgotten. I picked 5 segments up at Ralph's today for 3 bucks. Can't go wrong. But you came here to cook, not to read. Onward and forward.

Here's what you need:

Bone marrow segments, 2-4 inches across (2 per person if you are a good host)
Sea salt
Italian Bread
Olive oil
*Optional garlic, if you decide you want garlic, just roast a head of garlic a la 2 posts previous.

Here's what you do (don't laugh its actually this easy):
1) Preheat oven to 450
2) Put bone segments on a baking pan or skillet, and bake for about 15 minutes, until the top of the marrow forms a little crust, but before it starts to run. I prefer to use a skillet because the resulting fat that gets left behind forms a nice natural non-stick coating on the skillet for future use.
2) With about 5 minutes to go, slice your Italian loaf, brush some olive oil on the slices, and toast the pieces
3) When the marrow is done, take it out, sprinkle some coarse salt on top and serve it. Let your guests fork out the marrow onto the toast, with some salt and garlic if they/you choose.

Keep the bones, and boil them to for some crazy delicious beef stock that you can use for anything really, from boiling potatoes to making stew to cooking pasta in for a meat sauce.

If you have never had marrow before, I guarantee that you have never tasted anything like it and it will blow your mind into a million little pieces (not a fictional statement).
If you have had it before, well then, by all means, enjoy!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


First post of Y2K+9.

I was at home for the holidays and my mom pretty much dominates me in cooking so I just let her do everything. I did make mussels as an app for christmas eve, but then she showed me up with a lobster/scallop/shrimp lasagna with creamy white wine sauce. Very tasty. It was my idea. Seriously it was, lobster prices are in the tank (pun 100% intended) and you can grab them cheap these days.

This weekend I'm going to make a lobster mac and cheese, so stay tuned.

BUT that's not the point of this post. I haven't been out grocery shopping since I've been back, I just bought rye bread and milk. I was hungry and saw that I had a head of garlic in my fridge. Instantly, I thought... LUNCH!

The classic, roasted head of garlic on dill rye bread. It's almost like I'm back in the old country. Just for the record I'm not claiming that I invented this, nor am I pretending to enlighten anybody on how to make it with some special skillz. It's more to serve as a reminder incase you forgot how good roasted garlic spread on rye is.

So easy, so delicious, such wonderful breath.

Here's what you need:

1 head of garlic per person
olive oil
tin foil

Here's what you do:

1) Preheat the oven to 400F
2) Peel all the outside skin off your head of garlic, but you don't have to be too meticulous.
3) Cut off about the top quarter inch or so of the head, just so you can see the inside of the garlic.
4) Drizzle some oil on it, sprinkle salt and wrap each head in some tin foil.
5) Put it in the oven for 30-40 minutes, depending on how soft and squishy you want it.

When it comes out you can literally eat it straight out with a fork or squeeze it out on to bread, or even use it as a puree for later dishes. It's the best. And dirt cheap. And healthy, from what I understand.