Wednesday, April 25, 2007

al Pastor Revisited

I am still on a mission to make tacos al pastor fit for a “roach coach”. I am closer to mastering this fine pork preparation than ever. I have cooked and eaten pastor every week since my first pastor blog and my piles of meat have come a long way. I still want to work on this recipe but I am temporarily losing steam considering the amount of Pastor that I have consumed in the last 3 or 4 weeks. This is what I have come up with so far:

5 dried Gaujillo Peppers
5 dried Pasilla Peppers
8 cloves Garlic
3 Bay Leaves
5 Cloves
½ tsp cumin
I tsp Mexican oregano
1cup white vinegar
1cup crushed pineapple (unsweetened)
Salt to taste

Heat the coarsely chopped dried peppers, bay leaves, cloves, and Mexican oregano in vinegar on the stovetop until the peppers are hydrated and soft, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and puree in a food processor until smooth. Transfer the mixture back to the stovetop and simmer until a thick pasty texture is formed.

Slice a pork shoulder into thin slices, about 3/8 inch thick. I had to postpone my pastor making one week and froze the pork shoulder, which worked out great because it is much easier to get uniformly thin slices when the meat is still partially frozen. Do not trim off the fat! There is a reason why we are using such a fatty piece of meat. Coat each slice of pork with a thin layer of sauce and stack the slices on top of each other. One reason why I cannot make entirely authentic al Pastor is because I don’t happen to own a vertical rotisserie which is used to cook sliced pastor stacked on a vertical spit. Instead I marinate the pork slices stacked on top of each other for 4-12 hours. Then I fry the slices in a hot pan with oil until the pork is well browned and crispy. Finally, Chop up all of the cooked pastor pieces into more taco-appropriate pieces. Serve with chopped cilantro and onion, lime, and El Pato hot sauce. If you want to be really authentic, don’t forget the paper plate.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fun with Farmer's Market

I LOVE shopping at the market on Saturday mornings and getting whatever tickles my fancy, especially when I have no idea what I'm going to do with it all. It's fun to challenge myself to find new ways of preparing and pairing seasonal ingredients. Spring provided me with the usual suspects last week: asparagus, strawberries, beets, spinach, mushrooms and fava beans among others. I also had to pick up my favorite cilantro pesto from the afghan/italian booth to munch on during my culinary adventures;-)

Here's what I came up with to cram all this produce into one meal: Sautéed chicken breast, crispy white-truffle polenta triangles, mushroom-asparagus sauté with roasted beet relish and warm fava beans. The spinach and beet greens ended up in a lasagne the night before, so they won't make an appearance in this blog.

As you can see from the picture above, one booth had kumquats, but they didn't make it into the meal.... they peaked my curiosity as I have never worked with them before and they're so pretty! Beets and citrus are a classic combination, so I was planning to somehow pair them, but I was foiled by gigantic seeds, so I gave up...I had enough other stuff to work with!

The beets and fava beans needed a little advance prep. I roasted the beets in the oven with water, evoo, a cinnamon stick and some cloves, but you can steam or boil them also. I was excited to taste that white beet you see in the pic above because I've never encountered one, but I soon found out why: it was bitter, and I think it was just an unripe got tossed. When the rest of the beets were done I peeled and quartered them, then marinated in shallots, dijon and champagne vinegar. Fava beans are quite a feat of prep, but I was inspired because I only get a fleeting chance every year to work with them. I took them out of their super-padded pods, then blanched the beans in boiling water for 30 seconds, shocked in icewater, then slipped off the skins. I got about 1/2 cup of fava beans from 1 pound at the market...yes, this is a LOT of work for such a small yield, but hey, they're special. To warm the fava beans I just tossed them into the chicken jus after I was done cooking everything, just before service. I will spare you the chicken prep because I don't want to insult your intelligence; it's sautéed chicken, enough said.

For the polenta I boiled 3 cups water and added 3/4 cup of polenta while whisking (4:1 ratio for firm polenta). As soon as it was cooked and pulling away from the sides, about 20-30 minutes depending on grain size, I added 1 tsp. white truffle oil, 3 T. butter and a good handful of grated Parmegiano Reggiano, s & p...don't season with salt until after you add the cheese, it's pretty salty. I spread it out in a shallow plastic container (no need to grease, cookie sheet works too), cooled until firm, then inverted onto a cutting board and cut into triangles. To 'crispify' I dredged each triangle in flour and fried in olive oil until crispy.

I prepared the asparagus and mushrooms simply, sautéing with shallots and garlic. I had regular button mushrooms, shiitakes (my favorite), and oyster mushrooms...I asked the mushroom man at the market why they're called "oyster mushrooms". He told me that they have a slight shellfish aroma, and I thought he was pulling my leg, but he was right! Needless to say a big, steaming pile of sautéed garlicky mushrooms and asparagus is pure spring comfort food, yum!

The dinner was great, but I took my time preparing it because I was catching up with friends, so some of it was COLD, a cardinal culinary sin! Still good, but I learned my lesson: catch up over eating, but get the food on the table! I think it will be another year until I'm ready to spend that much time on fava beans again:-) -K

Monday, April 9, 2007

I used to be enraptured by chefs who could make good Thai curry. It was an utter mystery to me how something so wondrously tasty could be concocted. Today, I am no longer impressed by the chefs who prepare Thai curry. I have done it myself, the mystery of Thai curry preparation may very well be the biggest hoax ever played on mankind. I have discovered that it is almost as easy as making pasta and dumping some of that bottled red stuff on top. Even an Irishman could make Thai curry (Speaking of things Irish, If anyone can tell me where I can get some fresh blood, you all will be in for quite a treat with the resulting blog....) . The key is the curry paste. That may have been obvious to most, but I can be a bit slow sometimes as Kristen will attest to. Instead of buying the American made curry paste which comes in a little bottle for $4, I went to an Asian supermarket and found some curry paste strait ‘outa Thailand (A big container for $1.99). I will just say that the American “Thai curry” paste that I used to buy had the word “Thai” as part of the brand name. Would real Thai curry have use “Thai” in the title? I don’t have a clue what the name of my new curry paste is because it is actually written in Thai, but I will wager that “Thai” isn’t part of the brand name. I feel a little guilty about using curry paste, like I am cheating by using this pre-prepared product. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that most Thai restaurants use Thai curry paste rather than make their own though.
There isn’t much to it, I just heated up two cans of Coconut milk, added 3 or 4 tablespoons of curry paste and brought the mixture to a simmer. Then I added green beans, red bell pepper, yellow onion, and sliced raw steak. I happened to have the king of steaks, a Ribeye, in my refrigerator so I tossed that bad boy in. I felt a little bit silly chopping up a fine Ribeye to dump into curry, but I had no regrets after I tasted it. Instead of the chewy chunks of boiled beef that I usually encounter at the local Thai restaurants (This was where I finally understood what Holden Caulfield meant when referring to "chewing the fat"), the Ribeye retained the soft and tender texture for which it is praised. It is definitely worth a few extra bucks to use a good piece of meat even though it is going to be boiled. I hope there are some British people reading this blog. You all must boil some part of the cow’s anatomy that doesn’t even exist on American cows. They most likely send the Ribeyes, New yorks, and Filets, to the dog food companies while keeping these “special” cuts for their cauldrons of boiling water.
As an aside, I decided to do some research on Thailand in order to broaden the horizons of my blog and came across a fine product that is made in Thailand. It is a George W. tissue dispenser. I like the Thai people even more now!!! Someone finally found a good use for George W. At least he is doing something for healthcare now!!! I think a toilet paper dispenser would be more appropriate though.
Food blog, not politics………Once all your veggies are cooked, but not too soft, spoon the curry over Jasmine rice, no other rice will do. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the rice before cooking to remove the excess starch that leads to stickiness. I’m not a big rice fan, but I think that jasmine is the best rice for about any meal, except maybe for Kristen’s fancy “Forbidden Rice,” but my morals don’t permit me to partake in the consumption of such a rice.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

My new goal: Making my ideal Tacos al Pastor. I have never had this hypothetical al Pastor because it does not exist as far as I know. I have scoured the bowels of Woodland and the Bay Area for the perfect pastor. I’ve visited the shadiest of taco rolling establishments, on a solid foundation, and on wheels. There are many fine al Pastor tacos out there, hence my obsession with this blessed form of pork, but none of them have all of the qualities that I desire in one tortilla. I am looking for the perfect flavor matched with the perfect texture, it’s hard to find both. Considering the price of near perfect Tacos al Pastor, I don’t know why I want to make my own. Contrary to most foods, I firmly believe that the quality of Mexican food is inversely proportional to the cost of the food; I have found very few exceptions to this rule. Tacos should cost no more than $1 and burritos no more than $4, $5 only if it is big enough to beat down George W. (To the FBI Agents illegally utilizing the Patriot Act: Brooks takes full responsibility for this statement, these are not “necessarily” the views of Kristen).
I did some preliminary research and formulated a recipe that I will try first based on the collective wisdom of others. I procured all of the ingredients so I could make “Tacos al Pastor al Brooks” for my taste testers, but could not find my food processor anywhere! I don't think I have moved it from my old place in the land of Roach Coaches yet. So why am I writing this if I didn't wasn't able to make the adobo sauce? I still had to feed my friends so I cheated and used the adobo that is used to pack with chipotle peppers in the little cans from Mexico (Embassa, La Costena, Herdez). If it is in the little cans from Mexico it is tasty stuff, but just barely qualifies as adobo. I don't want to talk about this attempt much more because it was a failure. It tasted pretty good and my friends didn’t complain, but I don't think they have ever eaten a taco from an establishment that: 1) Is on four wheels 2) Harbors more flies than a barn 3) Only sells Coke in reusable bottles from Mexico 4) Likely sells the other kind of coke if you go to the back of the truck 5) Offers curbs for seating 6) Serves food on paper plates (and it isn’t that classy “Chinet” stuff)……. If the particular establishment is not on four wheels, then I expect to be watching Mexican soap operas or soccer while waiting for my tacos. These are the characteristics of a fine Mexican restaurant.
As usual, I caught something on fire. This time it was my hands, if only figuratively. My hands were in adobo sauce for about five minutes while attempting to squeeze every last drop of adobo sauce out of the peppers. I will be wearing latex gloves from now on. For two hours, my hands felt like they had been ruler slapped by a mid-century British schoolteacher. I should have learned my lesson a few years ago when I had a bad experience after chopping up Habaneros. This is a family blog, so if you want details on that particular story then we will need to communicate via private email.
If I ever come up with my perfect pastor recipe I will let you all know ("you all," referring to our enormous base of daily readers.) I think if we ever get a reasonable amount of readers I will organize a "Woodland Taco Truck Crawl." Kristen has been dying to do this for some time now!
Although I love the shady Taquerias, I am a little bit choosy on where I go based on the fact that I also love cats. Though I have some issues with the food animal industry in general, I prefer to stick with making tacos from the standard food animals. On another note, don’t forget about our friends from south of the border who man our taco trucks and are also indispensable behind the scenes of our fine dining establishments.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Saturday Sushi Party (part 1)

I have semi-weekly Saturday night "dinner dates" with some of my friends, and each time we have theme for our menu. In the past we've done taco/salsa bar, fondue, farmer's market cornucopia, but this week was sushi, and we were all excited about it because sushi is, well...awesome.

We decided on our ingredients ahead of time so we could split up the shopping responsibility. In the interest of time I made the rice ahead...this made me realize that I need a new rice maker. Aside from the rice being slightly overcooked, I still seasoned it with rice vinegar and it worked just fine. Keep in mind this was our first shot at making sushi. We also had Ahi tuna that we sliced up into sashimi and chopped small to make spicy tuna. Our incidentals included avocado, cucumber, asparagus, spinach, cream cheese, cilantro, wasabi and pickled ginger. I realize several of these ingredients aren't traditionally sushi-worthy, but the rolls turned out excellent! We ate a huge pile of sushi (pictured, and no we did not use a pairing knife to slice the rolls), maybe 12 rolls between 5 people...needless to say we were stuffed. That didn't stop us from going out for ice cream an hour later, though!

Here are some tips to make sushi-rolling easier:
-Have all your ingredients sliced and ready to be rolled (mise en place)
-Keep a bowl of water near you to keep your hands from sticking to the rice
-Press rice on 2/3 of the nori (seaweed wrap), and put your filling in the middle of the rice
-Wrapping your bamboo mat in plastic wrap keeps it from getting sticky
*Check out this site for everything you need to know about making your own sushi

This was so much fun that we're planning another sushi party, but we've decided on a few improvements for next time: more sushi mats (3 was not enough, everyone wanted to roll), rice that's not overcooked, and a little more variety in the proteins...maybe some unagi (BBQ eel) and shrimp tempura. We also agreed that beer would have been a much better accompaniment than wine, so we're going for Sapporo next time. -K