Sunday, December 12, 2010

You Can Call Me Al......Albondigas!

For some reason, I have been in a Meatball State of Mind lately. I have been wanting to make this recipe so now seem like the appropriate time.

Meatballs take some time to prepare. It is a messy job, pushing your fingers through raw meat, mixing in raw eggs, and it isn't fun when your knuckle deep in a bowl and your phone rings. Oh well. It is easy to get over and just jump right in. It is important to achieve a consistent shape in your meatballs. Too big and it dominates the plate, too small, it might over cook. I like the size of golf ball or just a smidge smaller.

For this recipe, albondigas are being prepared for a really flavorful soup. You can it order online or find in a Mexican grocer but making your own Ancho Chile powder is key I think. Just look for dried ancho peppers in those plastic see-through bags, toast them, and then grind them in a spice grinder. The albondigas also call for roasted poblano peppers. Mild in heat but adds a nice roasted pepper flavor.

From the January '10 issue of Bon Appetit (with a few changes..):

Poblano Albondigas with Ancho Chile Soup

2 large fresh poblano chiles* (9 to 10 ounces total)
1 pound ground PORK
1/2 cup coarsely grated zucchini
1/4 cup finely grated onion
1/4 cup panko
1 large egg, beaten
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, coarsely grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons homemade ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
8 cups beef broth
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini
1/4 cup long-grain white rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
4 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
Chopped fresh cilantro

Char chiles under broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in plastic bag and steam 10 minutes. Stem, seed, and peel chiles, then chop finely.

Place chiles in large bowl. Gently mix in pork and all remaining ingredients. Form meat mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs.

For soup:
Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add chile powder and cumin; stir 1 minute. Add broth and oregano; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir zucchini and rice into broth. Increase heat to medium and drop in meatballs. Return soup to simmer. Cover and cook gently until meatballs and rice are cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add 1/4 cup cilantro and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season soup with salt and add more lime juice if you desire.

For toppings:
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium heat. Add half of tortilla strips. Cook until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer strips to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips, adding more oil if needed.

Ladle soup and meatballs into bowls. Top with tortilla strips and cilantro.

This soup was like a slap in the face. POW! Spicy, hot flavor nails you right away. I added a lot of ancho chile powder to create a nice base in the broth. The chile really comes out and makes the dish. The meatballs were like butter, mushy and comfy, and seasoned well. The tortilla strips added my need for crunch in a meal and the rice and zucchini added a nice, soft, pillowy texture to the soup. Me love Albondigas!

Meatballs are obviously versatile and each culture seasons and cooks them differently but they all achieve the same goal, a meaty ball of goodness!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vietnamese Pork Pho - YES!!

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup in its basic form. But it offers a world of varieties. Pho is an example of why I love to cook and eat. Simple, basic, peasant-workingman's food that contains a ton of flavor that expands the globe and cultures. Slowly-simmered for hours while intoxicating aromas fill the kitchen, it is hard to wait it out.

Varieties include all different cuts of beef like flank steak, or chicken, and my favorite, pork. It also includes any vegatables you want to incorporate. Most popular are bean sprouts, onions, and chiles. Garnishes such as cilantro or basil leaves, Sriracha and Hoisin sauce are mixed in to personal levels. It is basically an open canvas, an empty bowl wanting to be filled with anything.

Pho is popular in the States. Small shops and counters are opening up offering steaming bowls of pho for cheap price. Traditionally, it is a breakfast dish but pho can be enjoyed anytime of course. Websites and blogs are devoted to it. Chef celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain die for a good lip-smacking bowl of pho.

I gave it go, tried to make my own version after compiling ingredients from people's recipes on the web. Like the pad thai I made last week, I don't want to totally botch it and ruin the experience but I did my homework so hopefully it will be amazing.

Pho has a lot of components but like most soups, the broth has to be on the spot aces, remarkably tasty and a power punch of flavor. I decided a boxed pre-made stock wasn't going to satisfy my attempt. Sure, you can use premade stock and it probably would be great. But I wanted to put my own stamp on it.

For the broth:

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 star anise

Heat a pan and toast spices until fragrent, about 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

In a large pot, add:
a touch of oil
2-3 lbs of pork bones/meat - I used 2 lbs of pork neck bones, smoked pork neck bone, and reserved pork butt bone/meat. Brown meat and bones.
8 cups (or more) of homemade stock or premade stock. I used leftover stock from my German meatballs.
3 inch piece of ginger, cut into strips
a few tablespoons of fish sauce

Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours or more. Strain stock and discard the solids.

While the stock is simmering, prepare the accompaniments. I used:

bean sprouts
cilantro leaves
red onion, sliced thin
red chile pepper, sliced thin
lime wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce, to mix in
Maifun noodles
center-cut pork loin chops
pickings from the pork neck bones

I cooked the pork chops seperately instead of simmering a pork shoulder or pork loin in the broth. I feared drying out the meat as I have had bowls of pho at places where the pork was tough and dry. I thinly cut center-cut pork loin chops into strips and added it into the broth after it was cooked.

Ladle the broth into bowls and add the noodles and the pork. The accompaniments can be displayed in a spread on the table as you can pick what you want. Add as much of whatever ingredient you want!

Wow! I did alright with the pho. It had plenty of flavor. The broth was the real star and the slow-cooked pork neck bones were very moist. I would recommend using a bone-in pork shoulder or 3 lbs of pork neck bones to simmer in the broth. I made the wrong decision to incorporate sliced pork chops. It was ok but the pork neck bones cooked in the broth had more flavor.

With the sauces, you can control the amount of heat you want to add to the bowl. I love the assembly of pho, you control what you want it to be essential. The sprouts, onions, and peppers were cooked by the heat of the broth, best to cut them mega thin. They added a nice crunch to the pho. The squeezed limes provided nice acid to the broth too. Oh yeah,  I love schlurping up those maifun noodles!

People, good people, literally stop what you are doing and go make some Pho.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Königsberger Klopse - German Meatballs

My ancestory comes from Germany and Poland and this dish is a staple from that heritage. I am making an attempt to cook more of the food from the old land.The dish originated in Königsberg, which used to be the capital of eastern Prussia, an old German state. Klopse means meatballs in German.

The original recipe for klopse includes anchovy but chopped up herring can also be mixed into the meatball. It is an age old recipe brought down from generation to generation on German tables and it represents the epitome of old-fashioned German comfort food.  Guten appetit!
Soak a thick slice of bread in water, broth, or milk. Mix together 1-1.5 pounds of ground beef and pork. Beat 2 eggs well together and add to meat mixture.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to a hot pan and add 1-2 small, finely diced onions and saute until golden. Let cool for a bit and add to the meat mixture. Wring liquid from the bread and add bread to the meat along with 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon worchestershire sauce or grated nutmeg, anchovy paste, salt/pepper, to taste. Combine ingredients with hands and shape into balls however size you desire.

Drop klopse into vegetable stock, simmer, and cover for 15 minutes.

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour (or more to achieve desired thickness)
remaining broth (you can also add 1 cup of dry white wine)
salt/pepper, to taste

2 tbsp whole capers, drained
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbsp whipping cream

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and stir in flour. Then add broth/wine. Add remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper. Cook sauce over a low flame for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.  Add the warm meatballs, cover the pot, and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

The German meatballs are usually served with boiled potatoes, rice, boiled noodles, or spätzle.

German comfort food at its top! The meatballs were Über tasty and the sauce was perfekte! Capers and the lemon juice added an acidic touch which balanced well with the creamy white sauce.
I literally licked the bowl like a schweinhund, sorry no photos.

This was an easy meal to prepare, done the old world way, with your hands, combining, mixing, forming, very German. Simple in its presentation yet reich in flaver.

More German recipes coming soon..........

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pork Pad Thai

Maybe some of you can relate. Maybe some of you know what I am talking about. Sometimes your life is consumed with work and tight schedules that doesn't allow for substantial cooking time. Or you are too tired to make the effort to cook late at night.

Sometimes my work schedule doesn't allow for my style of cooking. I like a window of at least a few hours to braise or roast or marinate or grill. To me, thirty minutes or less calls for a sandwich or take-out or something unhealthy. I struggle to find a common ground between work schedule and adequate cooking time. I live alone so I have to plan these things and it can get difficult. Well, whatever, enough excuses, lets cook anyway.

Another dilemma is my respect for certain dishes, cuisines I like so much I don't dare to make and try on my own, you know, in fear of totaling screwing it up and in return, not liking it anymore. Pad Thai is one of those dishes. I first had pad thai in Portland, OR and it was amazing. Big, bold flavors, noodles, sauce, meat, vegatables, washed down with beer, fabulous!!

There are lots of variations of pad thai but despite the differences, it can be prepared and cooked fast and be a sufficient and satisfying meal.

So you get home at 8-9pm from work, you are tired and hungry and bored of frozen pizza or sandwiches, suck it up and make some Pad Thai.

If you don't prefer pork (why are you reading this then...), you can substitute shrimp, chicken, or beef....
Warm up a pot of water and add:
  • Maifun noodles-rice stick noodles
Soak in hot water for 10-20 minutes, until softened. Drain and cover, set aside.
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into strips
Combine and add to bowl with pork. Marinate for 15-20 minutes. Prepare sauce base. Combine in a bowl:
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons sugar
Stir together and set aside.

Heat a wok with 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat wok . Saute pork for a few minutes. Set aside. Add another 1 tablespoon of oil and add:
  • 3 well-beaten eggs
Cook until scrambed and remove to bowl. Reheat wok and add:
  • 1/2 cup of scallions, white parts only
  • 3 small red chiles, chopped and deseeded
  • 3 small garlic cloves, chopped
Saute for about 1-2 minutes. Add maifun noodles and stir until well coated. Add fish sauce mixture and stir well. Add pork and eggs. Stir in:
  • 1/2 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • lime wedges, to garnish

Yes! The pad thai was very pleasing. Ok, I haven't perfected pad thai or have been cooking it the vast majority of my cooking life but it was awesome. Lot of great thai flavor. Speckled with amounts of heat and acid from the lemon and lime. 

I wouldn't dare match it to the fantastic pad thai I had in Portland many years ago but for a quick meal, late on a work night, it kicked my ass.

I love the dish for its simplicity and it has a world of potential and room for improvement. Perhaps pork belly would work well or a broth would elevate it. But this version would please many people. The cilantro and basil herbs provide a great balance to the acid and the chile peppers and dash of red pepper flakes add enough heat. I really enjoyed the maifun noodles. They are easy to cook and act as a good base to the pad thai. They don't inferfere with the other flavors and its thin noodle combines well with the ingredients.

Do it!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Picadillo de Puerca a.k.a Cuban Pork Hash

Picadillo is a traditional Latin American dish that usually features ground beef but you can easily substitute "puerca" or ground pork. The word derives from the Spanish word picar which means "to mince or chop" as well as small bits and pieces. Hash is a bunch of ingredients tossed together, mixtures of meat, vegatables, spices mashed into a coarse paste and then cooked.

Many countries have their own versions of hash. This Cuban version features a combination of sweet and savory ingredients: raisins, pimentio-stuffed green olives along with tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and spices. A traditional side of Cuban black beans and rice accompanies the dish.

I like the concept of Hash dishes as you really don't need a recipe. Grab what is in the pantry and chop it up and mix it together and cook it up. Serve it with rice or tortillas, stuff it between bread or in an empanada, mix it in with scrambled eggs. Varieties are endless but I enjoy experiencing the authenticity of the dish.

Here we go, lots to prep in the kitchen. I started out cooking the rice because when it is done, the rice can sit for awhile. Plan ahead for the beans. They need over two hours to cook because they are not the canned version. I usually chop up all my vegatables and arrange my mise-en-place.

Cuban black beans with Rice (Frijoles Negros)
  • 1.5 lbs of black beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh oregano
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, split
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 12 green onions, finely chopped
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • salt and pepper
Wash the beans and place in large pot. Add bay leaves and oregano and 1 tablespoon oil. Cover beans with water by 3 inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for about 1.5 to 2 hours until beans are tender.

Taste check the beans after 1.5 hours for tenderness. Near the end of cooking time for beans, start cooking the sofrito. In Cuban cuisine, sofrito is a combination of garlic, green bell peppers and onions. Much like the French's mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery) or New Orleans cajun/creole's Holy Trinity (onions, celery, green bell peppers), these versions are bases for stews/soups, etc..

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on low-medium heat and add a tablespoon of cumin with the onions, garlic, and peppers. Stir often and cook it low and slow for about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add it to the beans.

I don't like my beans watery so I drained out some of the bean water but kept about a half cup to a cup of water in the pot. Mix sofrito into beans. Cook for another 10-15 minutes stirring often. You can keep the rice and bean separate on the plate but I usually mash them together so I added the rice to the pot of beans.

Keep taste testing the rice to check for seasoning. I added a few extra sprinkles of salt and cumin to get it at the right point. Damn, I have a pot half-filled with frijoles negros!

Now to the main dish.

Picadillo de Puerca a.k.a Cuban Pork Hash

With about 30 minutes left with the rice and beans, I started cooking the hash. I wanted time for the rice and beans to cool slightly while the hash was fresh and hot out of the pan. My mise-en-place:

  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 lbs of ground pork
  • 3/4 cup of raisins
  • 1/2 cup of slivered almonds
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup of green pimiento-stuffed olives, halved (not pictured, forgot to include in photo)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil over medium heat and add onions and peppers. Cook 10 minutes or until soft. Next, add cinnamon, oregano, cloves, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Be careful on the amount of the ground cloves, 1/8 teaspoon doesn't seem like a lot but the taste is powerful and you sense its aroma as soon as it hits the heat.

Add ground pork and cook for about 10 minutes.

Be sure to mix it all around to brown the pork and incorporate all the spices. Season with salt and pepper and add the raisins, olives and tomatoes. Cook until the liquid has evaporated, 20 minutes or so. At the end, add the almonds and red wine vinegar.

It looks really good at this point but cook it until most of the liquid is gone. You don't want a soupy hash on the plate.

Ah, finally done! Kitchen smells awesome, a few beers aided me along the way, have a ton of rice and beans, and cuban food begging to be consumed. You could go the easy, fast route and use canned black beans and just cook the sofrito into them but I had the time and wanted to take the more authentic route. I recommend it as the beans were super.

Picadillo isn't beautiful on the plate but damn does it taste great. I haven't been to Cuba but tasting this dish gives me at least a small impression. Bold, blasting flavors mixed with pleasant surprises. The tomato was very prevelant as the base to the dish, it kept the ground pork in line too. But I was entertained by the competition between the sweet raisin flavor versus the salty-briny green olive. There are a great match! Maybe not for a Blue Sapphire martini but for this cuisine, yes! And the crunch from the almond really made I think. It added a nice texture to the slow-stewed hash. The spices really take stage too. The cinnamon and clove are quite noticable but at the good amount. It will a few more workings of this dish to nail the exact amount of cinnamon and clove but be sure to not over season. The cuban rice and beans were a great accompanment too. Great cumin flavor seasoned the tender beans.

The meal was a bit filling from the meat and starchy quality of the rice but after all the effort, I needed to fill myself up. This is a great example why I love ethnic foods, simple yet big flavors. Sure, it takes a lot of time and but sans rice and beans, the picadillo shouldn't take you more than 30-45 minutes of prep and cook. Don't be afraid, buy a big pot and get to work.

Comer Bien!!

I enjoyed it so much I had some for breakfest!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pork & Apple Stew

Recently, I went to a German restaurant to celebrate my brother's 34th birthday. My mother ordered the special, Pork and Apple stew. I overlooked that for the braised lamb shoulder but I kept it in my mind as it would be a perfect meal to make a few weeks down the line.

It is full-swing Fall here in Milwaukee and I am full-swing into my autumn comfort foods. Slow-braised pork combined with apples and fennel does it for me. You really can't beat that combination for a meal on an October night.

Peeled and cored Granny Smith apples are the apple of choice. They are crisp and hearty and will hold up well in an hour-long simmer. Fennel pairs well with Granny Smiths and after a long stew, the fennel softens up, like onions, and flavors the broth. It really emits the essense of autumnal weather.

You  will need:
  • 3 lb pork butt, cut into 1" cubes
  • 3 tablespoons vegatable oil
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • small head of cabbage, chopped
  • 1 cup of apple cider
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 sprigs of parsley
  • salt and pepper
Heat oil in a heavy pot. Season pork with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the pork on all sides. Transfer to bowl. Add fennel, onions and the cabbage and saute for about 5 minutes. Add cidar to deglaze pan. Make sure to scrape up all the browned bits. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Return pork to the pot along with chicken broth, apples, bay leaves, rosemary and parsley. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1-1.5 hours until pork is tender. Remove rosemary, bay leaves and parsley before serving.

The stew was done after about an hour. The pork was at the right amount of tenderness. It simply melted in my mouth. It can be easy to stew the crap out of the pork and dry it out so moniter it closely. It makes all the difference. The pork should be just as tender as the onions and fennel.

The apples cooked down and became part of the broth. It oozed its sweety, tartiness into the stew but it tempered well and was not too sweet. The rosemary and parsley gave it a nice herbacous touch.

The pork and apple stew is an easy stew to make and you should consider making it a staple during the October month. It is hard to restrain myself from eating more right now but I need to make it last a few days!
A good brew is the beverage of choice.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ham and Proscuitto sandwiches

Find yourself a great deli in your town, one that offers steamy corned beef, pastrami, hot ham, great Italian cured/smoked meats and one where you can have confidence in knowing that when you go to this deli, all that you want will be waiting for you.

Delis usually offer the classic sandwiches and there is no problem about that. I want...I need a great pastrami sandwich every so often. I want to have a sandwich with fresh baked bread that transcends a simple ham sandwich to delicious realms.

But with a lot of restaurants, cafes, and bars opening here and there, competition to gain patrons becomes high. Places offer eating challenges or rely on a specialty food item to set themselves a part from the rest.

So here are two sandwiches; one is a classic deli-type sandwich and the other, is a sandwich you may not see on deli menus.

Panini - Mozzarella, Ham, and Basil

Paninis are a staple in delis. Ciabatta bread bookends the guts of the sandwich together and grilled or pressed to melt the innards for gooey goodness. This ham panini satisifies on all levels: crunchy fabulous-tasting bread, juicy tomatoes, herbacous basil, bite from Dijon mustard, sliced hot cherry peppers, balsamic vinegar, creamy, melted mozzarella cheese and hammy goodness from deli-sliced ham.

Mustard is brushed on bottom on sandwich while the vinegar is brushed on top slice. Layer mozzarella, basil, ham, peppers, and tomato. Cook in pan or grill or panini press for a few minutes a side. Done.

Classic sandwich that packs a lot of comfy, homey flavor. Good, quality ciabatta is key here, fresher the better. The mustard and vinegar paired together gave the sandwich a little sting to it but it only added to the overall pleasure of the panini. The melted cheese rounds out the flavor quite well.

I was a little shy with piling the ham on. Delis are known for stacking meats several inches high, usually half pound to a pound of meat. Shame on me but I needed to reserve some ham for the rest of the week lunches! But I would recommend adding a ton of ham.
Proscuitto, Pear, and Blue Cheese
This sandwich leans more to the trendy side. Paper-thin proscuitto intertwined with Bosc pears and blue cheese is a little more sophisicated then peanut butter and jelly. Peppered lettuce and shallots mixed in red wine vinegar adds a crispness to it Multigrain toasted bread wraps it all together.
The blue cheese and proscuitto lend its salty and fattiness while the pears' sweetness combat those flavors. It put the sandwich is a savory/sweet category but the ingredients all makes sense together. Similar to the panini, creaminess from the cheese pairs well with the crunch of the lettuce and toasted bread.

The proscuitto pear blue cheese sandwich was good and different but I am going to side with the classic panini. Melted cheese and smoky ham is a winner for me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fried Rice-True Fast Food

Yes, fried rice is true fast food. Well, basically anything cooked in a wok. Blazing, searing high heat cook meats and vegatables in mere minutes. Traditionally, woks are placed over a pit stove where wood or coal is burning hot and high. But here in my small kitchen, an electric burner will have to do. It is not ideal for high temp stir fry because it doesn't provide quick even heating to properly stir fry.

Traditions and proper equipment aside, you still can whip up a quick stir fry and have it taste wonderful. Just go to any Asian restaurant or take-out and you can see how many variations of fried rice are out there. Of course, I've always loved pork fried rice. It can be a side dish or featured as a main dish compiled with more ingredients.

The key way to make fried rice is to use previously cooked, cold rice. It will not work if you use rice that you just steamed. So make rice a day ahead or hours before and chill until cold.

Fried rice lends itself to whatever style of cuisine you want. Any type of meat or vegatable works well as do various garnishes and sauces. That is what I really enjoy about it. You can make fried rice out of most things in the pantry.

Ham and Egg Fried Rice
  • 2 cups of cold, cooked white rice
  • 1.5 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup sliced green beans
  • 12 oz. diced ham
  • soy sauce, to taste
  • sesame oil, few splashes
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • sliced green onions, for garnish
The rice may clump up so make sure to break it up before stir frying. Also, allow ingredients to warm to room temperature if possible. When cold ingredients are added to a hot wok, it will kill your wok temp and you basically have to start over to get a high heat.

Heat a wok over high heat and add oil. Add onion and garlic and stir fry 1 minute or until onion browns. Add ham and green beans. Fry for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add rice. Constantly stir around the ingredients. Fry for 2 minutes and then add soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Make a well in the middle of rice mixture and add in the eggs. Cook until eggs set.  Garnish with green onions.

Pork Fried Rice
  • 1.5 lbs pork, I used thin-sliced pork chops cut into small cubes
  • diced celery, carrot, onion, I don't measure out amount per say, I use what I think looks right
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • cooked cold rice
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • sesame oil, few splashes
  • dark, heavy soy sauce, for marinating
  • light, low-sodium soy sauce
  • black pepper
Marinade the pork overnight in a dark, thick soy sauce. I used Pearl Bridge soy sauce. It is a dark soy and worked awesome for a marinade. After a day, bring to room temperature about an hour before cooking. Heat wok over high heat and add canola oil. Place onions and garlic in wok and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add carrots and celery. Fry for 2-3 minutes. Add pork and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add rice, additional soy sauce and sesame oil. Fry for another 2 minutes. Done.

Fried rice may seem elementary but I think it takes time to really perfect the dish. It takes practice to cook the vegatables at the right heat to keep a crisp, crunchy snap to them, to get that right amount of fry into the rice, and to achieve a right flavor mixture.

These two examples of fried rice were pretty basic but I love the simplicity. Yeah, you could throw some prawns in the wok and amp it up with exotic vegatables/spices but I like the humble fried rice.

The ham and the green beans go well together, juicy, slightly smoky ham mixed with crunchy beans. The eggs add a nice creamy touch. I'll admit that I poorly handled the eggs. I got too excited and mixed the eggs into the rice instead of allowing them to cook in the middle well until set. But nonetheless, do not omit the eggs.

The pork was the feature in the second dish. The marinade really built flavor into the chopped pork. The dark soy sauce provides a real deep base flavor. It matched up well with the carrots and celery. The vegatables retained a nice snap and crunch to them. It was hard to keep the spoon away from bowl-to-mouth.

And the rice? Previously simmered in chicken broth and bay leaves, refridgerated overnight, it fried up well. I have tried to fry rice right after boiling it and it doesn't work at all. The rice needs to be cold so it will develop that fried flavor.

I know fried rice won't show up on any fine dining restaurants or won't make any Top Food lists but I am a fan of comfort food and quick and simple huge flavor foods, so fried rice ranks high for me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pork as a Team Player: Lentil Soup

A week or two ago, after many beers, I was hungry. I scoured through my food pantries and found a bag of lentils. I immediately recognized that I have had this bag of lentils for over a year and never knew what to do with it. But at this time, I wanted to get rid of it. I had some leftover mirepoix-carrots, onions, celery, and some chicken stock, plus various aromatic herbs. So I melted some butter, added some oil, sauted the vegatables, added stock, simmered, seasoned, and woooot, I had Lentil soup.

Perhaps it was my drunken state or just an introduction to lentil soup, but I was hooked to the simplicity of ingredients, quality of flavor, and overall satisfaction of the soup, a very tasty vegatarian soup. So I did a little research on lentil soup and combined a few recipes to create a lentil soup that exhibited pork as a humble ingredient to a recipe that features multitudes of ingredients.

Smoked sausage stands in line with many ingredients here, a team player, a blocker on a special teams unit in football or a penalty kill forward in hockey, but it remains an important part of the whole system, key to its to purpose. Sure, yeah, it is just smoked sausage, but I don't think it would be the same without it.

Sharpen your knife, clean your cutting board, throw on some music, because most of this soup is all prep work.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or vegatable oil
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 4stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • bunch of fresh thyme springs, tied
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2.5 cups dry lentils
  • 6 cups chicken broth plus 2 cups water
  • 4 cups spinach, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 3 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 lb smoked sausage, cubed
  • salt and pepper, to taste
In your favorite large soup pot, melt butter and add oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery; cook and stir until onion is tender, 8-10 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add bay leaf, oregano, and bunch thyme and cook for 1 minute.

Add lentils, stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for at least 1 hour. Stir occasionally. After 30 minutes, add potatoes and smoked sausage and cook for 30 minutes more. Remove from heat and let rest. Stir in spinach and let residual heat wilt the spinach. 
This lentil soup is very hearty and chunky and very fulfilling. All the flavors meld very well together. You really get the smoke flavor from the sausage while the thyme, bay leaves, and oregano add a herbaceous tone. The spinach acts like a condiment/topping, wilted and done just right, I really enjoyed it. With all the ingredients, the lentils do not get lost in the crowd. Their grainy texture is noticed on every bite providing many amounts of protein, fiber, and iron. The legumes really absorbs a lot of flavor from the stock.

I am a lover of soups and stews, meaty or vegatarian. Maybe I am nerdy or something but I love prepping for soups and I love a pot simmering for several hours. Life seem more right during these moments. I usually make more than I need to but I enjoy having a huge pot stewing and simmering. This soup does well as a leftover and after a simple reheating, you have another tasty meal.

Please, don't be afraid of vegatables. If you are, add PORK!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bakon Vodka

I saw Bakon Vodka at my favorite liquor and I had a good chuckle. A lot of products, some non-food related, are becoming bacon-flavored. Everything tastes better with bacon, right?

I asked the clerk about it and he said it smelled like bacon but didn't try it. He made a joke imagining it wouldn't be good as a Bacon vodka tonic. It seems, however, to be just right for Bloody Marys. It is being advertised as "the only vodka you'll ever want to use to make a Bloody Mary, and it's a complementary element of both sweet and savory drinks."

From Black Rock Spirits in Washington, here is Bakon Vodka's story:
We started out testing various infusions in our kitchen in the fall of 2007. We wanted to do it right, to create a premium-quality vodka you'd enjoy drinking. To match an infusion, we tested recipes for over two years, finally landing at the one true "Bakon Vodka".

We start with a superior quality potato vodka. Distilled in Idaho from potatoes, it is smooth, slightly sweet with the well-rounded flavor that you only get from a quality potato distillation, with no strong burn or aftertaste. Our vodka is column-distilled using a single heating process that doesn't "bruise" the alcohol like the multiple heating cycles needed to make a typical pot-still vodka. Getting the perfect savory bacon flavor took us a while to get right too. We wanted it to have the essence of a delicious crisp slice of peppered-bacon.

After numerous recipes and a lot of testing, we got it right. And we think you'll agree.

You can access recipes for drinks here. From the Bakon Chocolate Martini and the Scottish Bacon to Bakon Vodka marinated Steak, the recipes offer a decent range of tastes. The quality of taste, that is a different question?

I have read some reviews and some people love it so much, love the smoky, real bacon flavor and my favorite negative review, some guys wrote that is tasted "like pig's ass." It has received a lot of attention on television from late night show hosts Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, to print Maxim Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, to CNN and NPR.

Great, alright, whatever, how does it taste?

I enjoy my Bloody Marys. That is the first thing I thought about when I saw bacon-flavored vodka and I wanted to try it real bad.

I used Tabasco's Bloody Mary mix for the base. It has the right amount of heat that I like and it is seasoned really well with a good tomato flavor. Added a few shots of Bakon vodka, ice, and loaded the glass with homemade pickles and pickled green beans from my garden. Also, I added a few splashes of Worchestershire sauce, soy sauce, and lemon juice and topped it off with some celery seed.

My garnish consisted of pitted green olives, pepperoni, and cocktail onions.
I really enjoyed it!!! The bacon flavor really does come out, makes it presence known and is not overbearing. There is a hint of smokiness that is noticeable in the drink. I wouldn't say it is a perfect accompaniment to a Bloody Mary but I would definitely recommend using it. I prefer a meatier Bloody than one stuffed with greens and veggies. Give me meat sticks, pepperoni, heck, I had a Bloody in Saint Louis that put a pork rib in the glass.
I haven't tried any other of the recipes that the company offers but after reading them, I think I will just use this vodka for Bloodys. Bacon-infused vodka mixed with banana liquor or irish creme are not really the drinks for me. I also don't think this vodka is for straight-up shots. I mean, go ahead, if you want but on its own, it didn't shine.

I also thought it was a little over-priced. A sleek, clear bottle with the brand of Bacon, new popular item on the market, I'm sure they thought they add a few bucks. Retailed at $26.99, it is not too pricy but for me, a one-trick pony, it could have been cheaper.
Honestly though, after drinking two or three of the Bacon Bloody Marys and literally becoming pork drunk, I would probably be up for trying any weird bacon vodka recipes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sconnie Beer Cheese Soup

Ok, we have our stereotype in Wisconsin for being cheeseheads and beer drinkers and I really don't have a problem with it. No, I don't own a cheesehead hat that you see at Green Bay Packers games, I'd rather eat cheese than wear it. But I have to embrace our state's finest products, beer and cheese.

The only way to make Sconnie Beer Cheese soup is to use local ingredients, state-brewed beer and Wisconsin-made cheese. You can't help but notice the cheese chalets along our interstate highway roads, Mars Cheese Castle for example. You can't help but notice tailgaters or football parties displaying platters of cheeses and kegs of beer. It sounds like a riot, doesn't it? That is how we do it in Wisconsin, with moderation of course....(not really)

It was hard to finalize a choice of what sconnie beer would work best for the soup. Sure, you have the Miller beers but nah, too light and void of real, real beer flavor. I love Schlitz Tall Boys and it cooks well but not for the soup, works better for beer brats.

We have a ton of Milwaukee breweries putting out fine brews and ales like Lakefront Brewery, Sprecher, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Leinekugels (also brews in Chippewa Falls), great brewery in Stevens Point, Point Brewery or a ton a awesome breweries in the Madison area: Capital, Tyranena, New Glarus.

And I can't forget to mention the hundreds of microbreweries in Wisconsin as well: Lake Louie-Arena, Horny Goat-Milwaukee, Sand Creek-Black River Falls, Gray's-Janesville, Central Waters-Amherst, Potosi Brewery-Potosi.

Oh I almost forgot to mention the Brewpubs. Some of the best beer is made from Wisconsin brewpubs: Great Dane and Ale Asylum in Madison, Hinterland in Green Bay, Milwaukee Ale House in Milwaukee, and Pearl Street Brewery in LaCrosse. I could go on and on.

But after dreaming about different beers, I narrowed it down to two beers: Hinterland's Pale Ale and Lakefront's Fixed Gear Red Ale. I chose Lakefront's Fixed Gear Red Ale for the deep red ale flavor. I think it will work well for the beer cheese soup.

My knowledge of cheese isn't as extensive as beer but one cheese company that stands out is Merkts. They make plenty of fine cheese spreads from port wine to beer cheese. Merkts sharp cheddar has become a favorite for grillers with the creation of the Merkts' Burger, melting a heaping stack of Merkts cheddar on top of a grilled burger. There is nothing else like it. Merkts sharp cheddar cheese spread will be my cheesy base, along with some Crystal Farms shredded cheddar (Lake Mills, WI).

Where is the pork product you wonder? Like most soups with bacon, it is just a garnish but it is not to be taken lightly. The bacon garnish adds a ton of flavor-smoky, crispy, fatty goodness to the dish. Since I am out of my own home-cured bacon, I went with the next best thing-Nueske's Thick-Sliced Peppered Bacon. The company is based in Wittenberg, WI.

For the Sconnie Beer Cheese soup, you will need:
  • 1.5 cups chopped carrots, onion, celery
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups beer
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups half and half cream
  • 4 cups shredded cheese, I also used 1 cup of Merkt's cheese spread
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
  • chopped bacon, for garnish
  • chopped green onion, for garnish
Saute chopped bacon. Drain on towel and set aside.

Sweat carrots, onions, and celery in butter for 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook additional minute. Add flour, a bit at a time and stir constantly. Cook for a few minutes. Stir in half and half cream, beer, broth, mustards, and Whorchestershire sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, slowly and gradually add cheese while stirring.

Ladle into bowl and garnish with bacon and green onion.

Served with Pabst Blue Ribbon and a pretzel bread roll.

First off, the soup was a knockout! Creamy cheese with crunchy vegatables topped with crispy bacon, mop it up with pretzel bread, wash it down with a cold brew. Is there anything better??!?!?! The bacon did add a nice smokiness to the dairy-laden dish. The soup was also at the right amount of thickness. It should not be runny and watery. You also need a tasty slice of bread with a bowl of soup and the pretzel roll was perfect. I know sconnies garnish their beer cheese soups with popcorn or crushed pretzels but the pretzel roll surpasses those options.

It is Week 2 of the NFL and Green Bay Packer season and this soup was timed just right for another Packers win versus the Buffalo Bills. Good comfort food matched with good football.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Smoky Chili with Plenty of Pig

September is here and that means it is time for the National Football League (and Green Bay Packers!!). Sundays are now for getting together with friends and family, eating good food, imbibing beers, and huddling around the big flatscreen to watch our beloved teams.

I usually like to get up early, throw coffee in the pot, and prep ingredients while listening to pregame football talk on the radio. Usually, the menu consists of some type of soul food/comfort food. I love my stews and soups and slow cooker recipes for fall sunday football days. For week 1 of the NFL, I wanted to make a pork-filled chili that would simmer slowly and build flavors all day until the halftime of the Packers vs. Eagles game.

Chili usually consists of basic ingredients: ground beef, peppers, beans, onions, cheese, tomatoes. This chili incorporates ingredients that are slightly different from normal  giving the chili a Mexican flair, sweet and tartness combined with smoky, robust flavors.

It is also a very meaty chili, which is essential for my type of chilis. Pork shoulder, ground pork, and smoked pork neck bones fill up the pot and all add a different texture to the chili. No beef is present in the chili, no beef! And tomatillos are added to give the chili some zip.

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1lb pork shoulder, cut in half inch cubes
  • 3 cups cut onions
  • 2 cups cut green bell pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup lager-style beer, I used Sam Adams Boston Lager
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 tomatillos, quartered
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 - 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes, undrained (I used fire-roasted tomatoes from Muir Glen)
  • 1 -  15 oz can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 - 7 3/4 oz can Mexican hot-style tomato sauce
  • 2 smoked pork neck bones or smoked ham hocks, or one of each!
  • chopped cilantro, green onions for garnish
  • crumbled queso fresco
  • lime wedges
Cook ground pork in pan for about 5 minutes, drain, and place in slow cooker. Place pork shoulder cubes in pan and brown until done. Transfer to slow cooker.

Add onions and bell pepper to pan and saute for 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute. Add tomato paste, cook another minute. Add beer and cook for 1 minute. Stir to combine ingredients. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

Add salt, chili powder, and next 9 ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook until meat is tender, about 8 hours on LOW setting or 5 hours on HIGH setting.

Ladle chili in bowl and garnish with cilantro, green onion, queso fresco, and the juice of 1 lime wedge.

Serve with cornbread. I made a jalapeno blue cornbread to accomodate the porky chili.

It was a great day! The Packers beat the Eagles 27-20 while the chili packed a punch similar to a Clay Matthews sack (Sorry QB Kevin Kolb).

The chili did have a very deep, robust flavor. The smoked neck bones gave the chili a woodsy flavor. The neck bone meat with the pork shoulder and ground pork thickened up the chili but did not dominate the bowl. The fire-roasted tomatoes also added to the smoky touch while the tart of the tomatillos and acid from the lime balanced the smoke.

The garnish was quite lovely. I spent decent money on the queso fresco but it was worth it, as there is no substitute for queso fresco. It adds a nice creamy touch. The jalapeno blue cornbread was a perfect side dish. Whole corn kernals, minced jalapenos, and toasted pine nuts are added to a blue cornmeal mixture and cooked for 40 minutes resulting in a comforting and pleasing addition.

You can vary the hotness of the chili if you like. I made mine at a moderate level. I'm really not into chili bowls that are super hot and make you sweat, needing 2 beers a bowl to take away the heat. Chili allows you to be flexible with the ingredients, using your instincts to add this or that and quantity of certain ingredients. That is what is fun about cooking chilis, it can be anything you want basically.

And I must admit, the chili tasted better because the Packers won the game.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pork Pie

I had a rare off day from work so I took up the entire afternoon and evening to whip up a Pork Pie. We had blistering winds in Milwaukee so it was perfect to cook inside the kitchen.

I've been wanting to make a meat pie that consists of gooey, moist filling on the inside and a crusty topping on the outside. This recipe brings all those qualities to the forefront. Oh yeah, let's have a go!

Buck up and head the market because there are a lot of ingredients to create this dish but with a little bit of time and love, it all comes together quite well.

For the pie filling:
  • 1.5 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon mexican oregano
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1.5 tablespoons minced, seeded jalapeno chiles
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped white onions
  • 1 cup salsa verde
  • coarse kosher salt
  • 10 oz frozen corn kernal, thawed

  • 2 poblano chiles
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1.5 lbs boneless country-style pork ribs, cut into 1 inch cubes

Char the peppers under the broiler and transfer to a bowl and cover and let steam for ten minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop chiles and pepper. Set aside.

Stir cumin and coriander seeds over a hot pan until fragrent. Finely ground the seeds in a spice mill and set aside.

Coarsely puree thawed corn kernals and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to a pot. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper and brown all sides of the pork in pot. Transfer to a bowl. Add another tablespoon of oil and saute chopped onions, about 5 minutes. Add spice mixture, garlic, jalapenos, and oregano. Stir one minute. Return pork to pot and add chicken broth, scraping up the tasty browned bits. Add salsa verde and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes. Add chopped chiles, chopped bell pepper, and half of the corn puree; cover partially and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

The kitchen smells amazing full of pork goodness during the simmering process. Stir occasionally. Start to prepare the cornbread topping. You will need:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, whole-grain stone ground
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • grated chedder cheese, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and chili powder in a large bowl to blend. Whisk remaining corn puree, whole milk, melted butter, egg, and honey in another bowl to blend. Add corn mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add in shredded cheddar, as much or as little as you like.

Fill a cast-iron skillet with the pie filling and top it with the cornbread topping. Spread evenly throughout. Add extra cheese on top of the cornbread topping.

Bake pork pie until the topping is a deep golden brown color, about 30-40 minutes. Have a look-see during this time to make sure you don't burn the cheese.

Oh, isn't that beautiful?!? Nicely crisp top with burnt edges; it makes a cracklin' sound when you scoop into it. Add a little sour cream to garnish the pie.

Oh yes, this pork pie was fabulous! Well worth the effort and the time put into it. It came out great with the crispy top and warm, gooey middle. The cast-iron is the right pan to use to give the pie a great texture. You can really taste the roasted peppers and the spice mixture in the filling and in the cornbread topping. The corn flavor also shines through but does not dominate the other ingredients. The salsa verde is perfect with the porky insides.

I think this dish would be a crowd pleaser, especially when it comes out of the oven. That golden brown color of the crust really is appealing. The texture is spot on with both crunchy and moist working together.
I must say that this pie was fulfilling on all food levels.

Tuck in!