Mostly about food, this blog is just a place for me to throw things that are of interest to me. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by an look around. This represents just some of the stops on the various pathways that this amateur home cook finds himself.

You may find that these foods tend toward protein and away from carbohydrates - this is due to diabetic issues, so I try to only sparingly use carbs, and good ones at that. Of course, sometimes I forget....

Feel free to drop me a line with any suggestions or just to let me know what you think. Thanks!

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I want to thank you for the time that you spend here, and hope that you can find useful things here.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

The "MarkRib"

Some one I know well (who shall remain nameless) appreciates good made-from-scratch meals, but has a rabid weakness for one particularly icky piece of junk food - the McRib sandwich from McDonald's. They are only offered occasionally, so at least I don't have to hear about it all the time. Well her daughter reminded me of this earlier today, and it set my mind to thinking - '"What if?"

I had in the fridge a very tender rack of spares that came out of the smoker 3 days ago. They are so tender that when heated, the bones slip right out. It was all coming together. I reheated those tender jewels, garnered some pickle slices and chopped onion, and warmed some BBQ sauce. Next, some small sesame seed hoagie rolls were toasted in preparation. Put it all together, and voila - you have the MarkRib Sandwich! Muy yummy!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tostadas Cubaño

Sometimes you just need a quick meal. Hunger provides inspiration. Looking about with a Tex-Mex eye, I saw vegetables and extra large tortilla, refried beans, cheese, and some Cuban ropa vieja from a recent feast. I was set!
First, I got out a couple of 11" flour tortilla and placed them on a sheet pan. They went into the oven at 350 to crisp a bit for a few minutes. Next, the mise en place mentality takes over, and you prepare the vegetables. Here's a shot of lettuce, tomato, onion and chopped cilantro.
Next on is the layer of refried beans. These I kicked up with jalapenos, fresh cracked black pepper and a tad of bacon grease, just for good measure. This was followed by shredded cheese, and back into the oven to melt the cheese.
Once out of the oven, the next layer of flavor was the reserved ropa vieja, which I had slowly heated in a small pan. It will provide texture, great flavor and quite a bit of juiciness. It was layered around the tostada like this:
The lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cilantro were layered on the tostada, and topped with fresh avocado slices. It also got some sprinkles of green jalapeño Tabasco sauce, just for good measure. A large pizza wheel made it manageable, and you now have a very easy, relatively healthy, and extremely tasty quick supper!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chorizo Tradicional

If you don't know about chorizo, you need to. It is a spicy fresh Mexican sausage, unlike the dried Spanish chorizo or similar sausages from other Latin cultures. A great chorizo, without fillers, cereal added or made from strange animal parts can sometimes be tough to find. Solution? Make it yourself!

4 ancho chiles
4 New Mexico chiles
1 3/4 lb pork butt, 20-30% fat, fine ground
1/2 cup onion, minced
3 T white vinegar
10 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground
3 t dried Mexican oregano
2 t salt
2 t fresh ground black pepper
1 t ground coriander
1 pinch of canela

Turn on your oven and set it to 300 degrees. Discard the stems and most of the seeds from the peppers.

Put the pepper pods on a baking sheet and roast for 5 minutes. Watch them so they don't blacken. Put all the softened chiles in a blender, and spin 'em until they are evenly ground.

In a large bowl, mix together the chiles with all of the other ingredients, then mix well into the meat. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least a day. You can use it as it is, or stuff it into casings. It'll be good for about a week in the fridge, or a long time if sealed well frozen.

Here's a quick shot of the test sample being cooked for taste-testing:

Green Chorizo de Chiles Verdes

If you love chorizo, and cilantro and green peppers, this is the chorizo for you!

1 mild green chile, New Mexico or Poblano, roasted and pureed
1 jalapeno, finely minced (use a Serrano if you want a bit more heat)
1 3/4 lb pork butt, 20-30% fat, fine ground
1/2 C finely minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup onion, finely minced
4 T cider vinegar
8 green onion tops, finely minced
8 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 t dried Mexican oregano
2 t salt
1 t fresh ground black pepper
1 t ground coriander

Mik all ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, a day is better. You can use it as it is, or stuff it into casings. It'll be good for about a week in the fridge, or a long time if sealed well land frozen. The cilantro flavor tends to fade a bit after the first couple of days, though, but you can add a little more freshly minced at the time to perk it back up.

Here's a quick shot of the test sample being cooked for taste-testing. The veggies didn't get minced enough, unfortunately:

Snack Sticks

Another experience in the sausage world - snack sticks. I'm going to spare everyone the tedious meat preparation, seasoning and grinding - that pretty much is the same for most types of links.

I rounded up a nice fresh pork butt, prepared a good seasoning mix, and loosened up the casings. Since I don't have a stuffer, and I was only making 5 lbs. of sticks, I re-cleaned and prepared the Jerky Cannon. For those of you unfamiliar with such a thing, it is like a giant, food-safe caulking gun with interchangeable ends. Here's a picture of it next to dozen eggs, to give you the idea of the size of the thing:
Usually it is made for forming jerky, but with a sausage tube it works great for filling snack sticks. Here is the stuffed casing, freshly made:
After running down the length of the casings to even out any over- or under- filled sections, I loaded it all up on a tray for an overnight rest in the fridge:
Once out of the fridge the next day, it had firmed up quite a bit. I then proceeded to cut it all into sticks, getting ready for cooking:
Here they are, after getting to 154 degrees internally. I then gave them a shower to cool them down quickly, and let them sit out for a couple of hours to reach equilibrium:
And finally, it's time to enjoy the rewards of all this activity - eats! These are mighty tasty, but I think the next batch will benefit from the addition of a bit more garlic and red pepper flakes. After all, who wants dull snack stix?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Avocado Crema

Okay, this isn't my idea originally, but it's a really good garnish topping. Very classy looking and a great final garnish on things pork and chicken.

1 ripe avocado, peeled and pit removed
1/2 cup buttermilk (or cream, but add extra T of lime)
3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1 1/2 limes)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

Puree all the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pour into a small squeeze bottle. It should be a good consistency for squirting without being runny. If not, add a little more lime juice or cream. Cap the bottle and chill until read to use. It only keeps a few days, so use it well!

Yield: 1 1/3 cup

Ropa Vieja

Story has it that ropa vieja originated in the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory where ships would stop before the long run to or after the long trip home from the Americas. This resulted in a culture that was an interesting mixture of Spanish and Caribbean cultures, and thankfully, food. Immigrants from the Canaries supposedly brought the dish with them to the Caribbean, and to Cuba. Ropa vieja literally means "old clothes" in Spanish. This refers to the appearance of the meat and veggies which end up in strips resembling remnants of old rags. Don't let the ingredients list scare you, it's really not that complicated!


Stewing stuff:
4 T olive oil
2 t Salt
3 bay leaves
1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 jalapeno
2 large onions, quartered,
2 carrots, cut into 1/4" slices
6-8 stems of fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves, mashed
2 1/2 to 3 pounds beef brisket
fresh ground black pepper

Garlic paste:
1 T minced garlic
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper

1/4 C olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
reserved garlic paste (above)

1 1/2 C reserved beef broth
1/2 C dry white wine
2 t white wine vinegar
2 chiles de arbol, ground
2 dried New Mexico chiles, ground
1 T ground cumin
1 green bell pepper, seeded cut in thin strips
8 ounces tomato sauce

limes - cut into Wedges
1/2 C fresh cilantro
Pico de Gallo, for serving, recipe listed on
Avocado Crema, recipe follows
Fresh Tortillas


Stewing stuff:
Add the olive oil to a large, heavy pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the salt, bay leaves, crushed red pepper flakes. Cut the jalapeno in half lengthwise, toss it in and stir. Add the onions, carrot, cilantro, and the garlic and stir again.

Add the olive oil to a large, heavy pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons salt, broken bay leaves, crushed red pepper flakes and halved jalapeno and stir. Add the quartered onions, chopped carrot, cilantro, and mashed garlic cloves and stir again. Time to get out the meat!
Place the brisket in the pot, season with salt and pepper and add enough water to cover by 2-inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that the liquid just simmers, and cook the brisket until the meat is tender enough to shred, 5 to 7 hours.
Remove the meat and set out on a tray until it has cooled enough to shred.Pour the liquid through a strainer, saving the broth and tossing the solid stuff. Save 2 cups of the liquid for later use, and keep the rest for soup or stew. When the meat has cooled, take 2 forks and shred it into strands. Set the meat off to one side and work on the garlic paste.
Garlic paste:
Combine the minced garlic, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a mortar and pestle and work into a smooth paste. Set this aside and cook the aromatics.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add the sliced onion. Saute until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic paste and bay leaf and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Putting it all together:
Add the reserved beef broth, wine, and vinegar. Add ground chiles and cumin and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the roasted bell pepper strips (I used yellow, I was out of green). If the sauce gets too thick, add a bit more of the reserved beef broth. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Add the shredded beef, tomato sauce, stir to combine, and cook, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the meat is fork tender and falling apart, coated with a thick sauce, and the flavors have come together.
Remove the bay leaf and serve, garnished with Pico de Gallo, Avocado Crema, lime wedges and cilantro, if desired. You can eat this by itself, or over rice; but it also makes some darned fine tacos, which are always popular in South Texas. My version differs from some others, in that it adds some South Texas flavors to the mix.

Here's some ropa vieja in a couple of tacos, with the avocado crema and pico de gallo:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Buckboard bacon at home

Buckboard bacon, made from a pork shoulder rather than pork belly, is a simple to make treat with many rewards. It's fresh, since you made it, you can control the amount of fat included in your bacon, and you can control any flavors you want, like hickory, maple, mesquite or others. A big plus is that it is much cheaper than store-bought bacon. A pound of thick-cut pepper bacon goes for at least $4.00 per pound - this pork butt (I used half for bacon) was purchased on sale for $1.00 per pound and used maybe 75 cents worth of spices, ending up with 3.5 lbs. of bacon. Here's part of the boneless butt, trimmed to just over an inch thick:
Then I mixed up the cure and spices - 1 tbsp of Morton Tender Quick per lb. of meat, a couple of rounded tablespoons of fresh black pepper, and some granulated garlic for flavor.
This mix was rubbed thoroughly over all exposed surfaces of the meat, into the recesses and any cracks, making sure there were no spots left uncoated:
Next comes the hardest part - waiting. the rubbed meat was put into a gallon Ziploc and placed in the coldest part of the fridge for 5-7 days, depending on thickness. The meat will release some liquid during this time, and that's okay. You might consider putting the bag in a tray or pan just in case it leaks. Each day I turned it over to make sure it cured evenly.

Once the fridge time is up, you'll want to take out the butts and rinse them exceedingly well under cold water to remove any residual salt and cure. Do this a couple times. Then, before putting it in the smoker, I often coat the wet surface with coarse ground black pepper for some pepper bacon.

Into the smoker it went at 225 degrees until it reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees. It was pulled and left to cool on the counter. Once it was cooled, it was time to slice. I used a 12" roast beef slicing knife, since a good slicer is behind a good sausage stuffer on my list of things to buy. Here is the finished product:Starting to slice through it, you can see just how lean it is compared to regular belly bacon. I could have left a large fat cap on the meat, which would have given a nice fat strip on the upper surface. Personal preference, really, but here's how my slices came out :
Three and a half pounds of buckboard bacon, fresh from the smoker and sliced. I can't wait to be eating on this:
Here's a closer view of the slices, with a good look at the typical fat/meat percentage when prepared this way. Lots more meat to eat, lots left fat left in the pan, on the plate, or in your arteries!
Probably the best reason to make rather than buy bacon is your control over what goes in it. Have you ever noticed a watery, lightly whitish liquid left in the pan after cooking bacon? That's added water and other additives that were put in the bacon to 'enhance the flavor'. These often include things like Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Sugar, Dextrose, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavour, Colour, Polysorbate 80 (mfg aid), Calcium Silicate (mfg aid). I used a salt cure, pepper and garlic powder. Period.

Dry-aging steaks at home - sort of...

What I did is not as long as a traditional 'dry age' process (which can be up to 3 weeks), but it is similar, shorter, and makes a big difference when using a good cut of steak. First, the steaks are dried with some paper towels, but don't rinse them. The idea is to remove moisture, not add it. Then I heavily salted both side of the steaks with kosher salt to pull the from the meat.

Then I put the salted steaks on a rack to allow air to circulate around the steaks, and but the rack in a pan to catch liquid. Put the pan in the back of the bottom shelf, where it will be the coolest in your fridge. Next is the hard part - waiting 6 to 24 hours. Six is a minimum, but 24 hours works the best, especially with thicker steaks. You will notice that the steaks have shrunk a little bit, appear a bit darker in color, and there is liquid in the pan under the rack that has been removed from the steaks. Remove all the salt from the steak before cooking to a nice rare/medium rare.

Removing a lot of the steak's water helps to concentrate the flavor, making it taste richer. According to one source, "It is excess water that can cause a steak to be tough and bland. When that steak is cooked over a 400f fire the water boils within the steak. This causes the meat to be tough and cooks away much of the precious fat. By removing the water, the steak will cook by the heat of the fire not the boiling water, and the only moisture in the steak will be the rendered fat that greatly adds to the flavor." I am not a meat scientist, but I so know a good steak when I taste it, and this can really help.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

St. Valentine's Day

I am a fortunate guy - I had company for dinner on Valentine's Day. So I was thinking, what would be a perfect Valentine's Day meal for a couple of hungry carnivores with healthy appetites? The story begins with a pair of 20 oz. 1 1/2" thick Prime Rib steaks:

These were dry aged for a while, and then lightly rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground sea salt and black peppercorns. After a short rest, on to the grill they went.

But, man (or woman) cannot live by steak alone, but one can come close on surf & turf. So along with the beef, I fetched up some U-10 shrimp and scallops. When placed alongside a baked potato wearing butter, sour cream and chives, the feast was complete:

Everything was delicious! There are however two half-steaks left over, so another great meal lays just over the horizon.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How To: Trimming Spare Ribs the St. Louis way

Spare ribs are a very popular meat and are prepared in many ways across the country and around the world. For years, I always cooked them right out of the bag, and was happy, even though it meant dealing with the inedible sternum chunk of bone and gristle and the thin flap meat that was always overcooked.

Then I leaned about the "St. Louis" style ribs. It isn't a method of cooking, but instead is a method of preparing the rack of ribs for a more even cook and much better presentation. Not much goes to waste, and it tales little time to do for such a great reward.

Here's what we all pretty much start out with, a cryovac bag with a slab in it.
Here it is again, removed from the bag.
First step is to flip it over, and have a look at the flap meat. This is actually part of the diaphragm, and needs to be removed for looks and for even cooking.
Here I've started to cut the flap meat away.
And here it is, removed and set aside. Don't throw anything away just yet!
Still on the bone side of the ribs, you'll see the shiny membrane covering most of the back of the ribs. It needs to come off too, as it's really tough to chew through, and it prevents smoke and rub seasonings from getting through to the meat.

The best way to do this is with a butter knife - you don't need sharp, you need strong. Here I have worked the knife all the way through along a bone until it came out the other side.
The easiest way to pull it off is to free one end up, and then use a paper towel to grab the slippery devil and slowly pull it off. If you are lucky (or good), you might get it off all in one piece.
This membrane you can throw away. Here's a shot of the flap meat removed and the membrane removed as well.
In the above picture, if you look about a third of the way up from the bottom, you'll see a dark line running the length of the ribs, then turning 90 degrees up towards the tip of the knife. You will be removing this as well. You can find out just where to make this cut by flexing the ribs and feeling in this area - you can feel the joint where each rib bone ends and the cartilage begins - and that's where you separate them with a sharp knife.

Continue doing this down the ribs until you have separated them all. Once you get past the last (12th or 13th) rib, you make the perpendicular cut to separate the thin tail meat from the slab of ribs. Cutting off that end as well as the chine bone and catilege is what makes a St. Louis cut into a Kansas City cut (so I've been told). Remove all this meat and bone and set it aside, we'll get back to it. Here's what it looks like now.
Flip the rack back over, and search for and remove any globs of fat that don't need to be there. This varies from one slab to another. In this example, there is a big glob at the far right hand side. You don't have to get all the fat off, just the bigger pieces, as the rest will render out and keep the ribs juicy.
Now, set the ribs aside and go back to the meat you just trimmed off. On end will be all bone and gristle. Separate that part from the rest and remove ant meat form it you want to. This bony area is part of the chine bone (sternum), and isn't worth cooking on the smoker. Toss it out.

Take the rest of the large meat you trimmed off and remove any obvious areas of fat. What you are left with in trimming the rack of ribs is referred to as 'rib tips'. These can be saved and used in other dishes, or can be put on the smoker with the ribs. They will cook much faster, and so make nice 'chef's treats' for the cook! Here are all the pieces that were trimmed off this slab. I freeze them until I have a lot from several slabs and will use them for other dishes.
This really takes less time than you think, and the rewards are well worth it when you get to eat. Not only that, they look really professional when you serve them up!

Enchiladas Verdes de Carnitas

I had some carnitas left over from the last batch (recipe here on the blog), so I decided to make some green enchiladas. Rather than use the regular filling - chicken - I thought some carnitas would make yummy filling. Also different than usual with enchiladas, the sauce is heated separately and poured over the baked enchiladas; this keeps it tasting fresher.

INGREDIENTS - salsa verde
3/4 lb. tomatillos, husked and minced
1 medium bell pepper, small dice
1 Roma tomato, diced
2 jalapenos, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 t. sliced green onions
1 t salt
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced

1 lb. carnitas, warmed
4 oz. cream cheese
3 t. sliced green onions

12 corn tortillas
8 oz. Asadero (or Monterrey Jack) cheese, grated
chopped tomatoes and green onions for garnish

METHOD - salsa
Put all salsa ingredients into a saucepan except the cilantro.
Simmer 20-30 minutes, or until liquid has reduced and you have a smooth and chunky sauce. Remove from burner and stir in cilantro, then set the sauce aside.
Optional (recommended) - whiz up the salsa with a stick blender into an almost-smooth consistency - kinda like split pea soup.

METHOD - assembly
Set the oven to 350 and grease up a 9 x 13 glass pan.

Shred up the carnitas a little for a better texture in the filling. You can use forks or fingers.
In a bowl, mix the carnitas, cream cheese and onions well and set aside.
Heat up half an inch of oil in a skillet until the surface just shimmers. One at a time, dip the corn tortillas into the oil completely using the tongs. It should go limp in a couple of seconds - you will see tiny bubbles just forming at the edge. Take it out right away, you don't want it cooked or hardened. Repeat for remaining tortillas, placing them on paper towels to drain grease.
Now, using the tongs, dip a tortilla into your salsa verde to cover. Remove and lay it on a plate and put about 3 T of filling down the center.
Roll it up snugly and place in the baking dish. Repeat for the rest of the tortillas.
Cover the enchiladas with the shredded cheese in an even layer, but do not add the salsa.
Put enchiladas in pre-heated oven and check in 20-25 minutes, removing when the enchiladas are heated and the cheese is bubbly. Remove them from the oven and cover with sauce. Garnish with chopped tomatoes and onions and serve hot.

Plated picture coming soon!