Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I have had everything I need to make posole since 2 weeks ago. I picked up a package of dried hominy and some chorizo (which has been in the freezer). Oddly enough, the hominy package doesn’t say anything about soaking the corn before cooking. So I just put it on the stove. The package also does not tell you how long it will take to cook the hominy. A couple of recipes on the web say 2-4 hours. What the hey, I’m not in any hurry.

Traditionally posole can be made without meat, but not in my house. The chorizo I have is not a salty variety. If you use chorizo instead of pork cubes, cook a little piece of it in the microwave to ascertain its saltiness. Salt your posole accordingly.

It seems to me that the greatest difference between posole and menudo is whether or not it has tripe in it. Therefore I suspect that if you order one or the other in a Mexican restaurant you will get the same soup with tripe or without.

When I had everything cooked and combined I put in more salt, pepper. I was pleased with the taste but for one thing. The top notes, the spice, were there and not overwhelming at all. The bass notes, hominy and chorizo, were substantial. But something was missing in the middle. I think it was what is called umami, that flavor component that complements the usual list of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

The earthiness of mushrooms is probably the best definition of umami. It may surprise you to learn that I filled in that middle flavor by the addition of Chinese black vinegar. It doesn’t taste much like the vinegar we are more familiar with. It’s something like a slightly sweet balsamic.

2 cups dried hominy
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
½ lb chorizo
1 medium onion, chopped, divided
1 dried pasilla pepper
1 “hot” Hatch chile or 2 “mild”, roasted, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Chinese black vinegar
cilantro, chopped

Cook hominy in stock and water until kernels start to burst. Because there was no directive on the package to soak it, I let it simmer for nearly 4 hours. That did the trick. A pressure cooker would speed this up quite a bit.

Sauté ½ the onion, garlic and chorizo until the pork is completely cooked – about 6 minutes.

Reconstitute the pasilla pepper in warm water for 30-60 minutes. Remove seeds. Place in food processor with Hatch chile(s) and puree with the water it was re-hydrated in.

Combine all ingredients, add salt, pepper and oregano to taste, and simmer for 20 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Add a couple of tablespoons of black vinegar or balsamic. Do this judiciously so that it doesn’t hijack the overall taste.

Serve with remaining chopped onion, oregano, and cilantro for garnishes.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at: scrout1944@msn.com.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

St. Louis-style spareribs

-I've had a few comments on my postings, often wishing for pictures. Someday soon I'll get a digital camera. I, too, like looking at pictures when reading recipes.

I often mention the "specials" bin in the meat departments of my Safeway and King Soopers. Every time I go to the store I check these out. I have gotten some wonderful deals. Last Friday I found a full rack of ribs marked down 50%. The price was still $7.12, but I knew we would get two dinners out of it.

I'm no expert, but I would describe these ribs as a meatier, longer rack than spareribs - not, however, as meaty as the big country-style ribs. There were 14 bones, which I suppose is what the number would be as a matter of course.

I developed a way to cook these ribs some time ago. I'm fond of "dry-roasted" ribs of the sort I used to chow down on in Memphis years ago. Preparation could not be simpler. There is a membrane on the back side which some people insist needs to be removed. It's a little difficult to do and after a brief try I just said screw it.

Roasted ribs
1 rack St. Louis-style spareribs
cayenne pepper
chicken broth
BBQ sauce (optional)

Cut the ribs into 2 7-rib sections. Make a rub by combining 1 part cumin, 1 part paprika and 1/2 part cayenne pepper. 2 tbsp total will be plenty for a rack. I always make more so that it's available on a whim for other applications.

Rub the mixture into the ribs on both sides. Place the ribs on a plate and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Do this in the morning or the day before if you can. At the least give the ribs an hour or two to absorb the flavors.

Preheat the oven to 275°. Put the ribs on a flat baking rack and apply salt and pepper to taste. Roast meat side up for 1 and 1/2 hours.

This next part is optional. If you don't use it, just continue roasting the ribs after covering them with foil for another 1/2 - 1 hour. Combine 1 cup chicken broth with 1/2 cup commercial barbeque sauce or ketchup and mustard, whatever you have. Pour some of this (2/3 or so) over the ribs, cover loosely with foil and continue roasting for another 1/2 hour. I think I actually roasted my ribs for as much as 2 1/2 hours. I wasn't paying attention. If you use this sauce it won't matter, the ribs will just get more and more succulent.

Remove the ribs from the oven and allow them to cool until you can handle them comfortably. Cut them into individual pieces between the bones. Heat up the sauce in the microwave and moisten the ribs with it and serve. Have plenty of paper towels at the table and make a mess of yourself.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at: scrout1944@msn.com.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dill Pickles

I thought I wrote about homemade dill pickles earlier this summer. Turns out I didn't. I've made pickles several times, the most recent using a recipe from the book "Charcuterie" by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. It was far less satisfactory than the recipe I had used before. The pickles were way too salty and had to be soaked in fresh water for several hours before being truly edible.

Our favorite farmer's market, Heinies in Arvada, CO, has had fresh (and drying) dill stalks. I bought some pickling cucumbers and some dill there today. I don't remember where I got my recipe. I've modified it from the original, largely because I have a pickling spice mix. Therefore I don't have to add bits and pieces of aromatics and spices; they are all in the mix.

The number of cucumbers is arbitrary. I happen to have a wonderful multi-sided jar that will accomodate 15. Adjust the ingredients according to how many cucumbers you buy.

Dill pickles
15 pickling cucumbers
3 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup pickling salt or kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tbsp pickling spice (available at specialty markets)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1/2 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced with seeds
8 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
1 bunch dill

In a large stockpot bring water to boil. Add cucumbers, immediately remove from the heat and drain in a colander. Rinse with cold water and set aside.

Combine pickling liquid ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Place cucumbers in a large, non-reactive, container with the remaining spices and vegetables. Pour hot pickling liquid over cucumber mixture and let cool. Tap down solids until liquid rises to top. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Transfer to a sealed conainer and refrigerate for 3 days before serving.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at: scrout1944@msn.com.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Herb-roasted pork loin

I made this from a recipe published in the Denver Post with commentary by the food section editor, Tucker Shaw. It's a flawed recipe. But I made it better. The result was excellent. I think I'll give the recipe as I received it and then comment on what had to be changed.

Herb-roasted pork loin

1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tbsp thyme leaves plus 6 sprigs
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
10 cloves garlic, smashed
1 center-cut pork loin, about 3 lbs
3 sprigs rosemary, broken into 3-inch pieces
3 sprigs sage
6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided, sliced
Chicken stock for deglazing

Whisk together the mustard, thyme leaves, parsley and 1 tbsp olive oil in a shallow baking dish. Stir in the garlic, and slather the pork with this mixture. Cover and refrgerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Take the pork out of the refreigerator 1 hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature. After 30 minutes, season the pork generously with salt and pepper. Reserve the marinade.

Preheat the oven to 325.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 3 minutes. Swirl in the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot, almost smoking. Place the pork loin in the pan and sear it on all sides until well browned and caramelized. Don't turn it or move the pork too quickly or all the mustard will be left in the pan and not on the pork. The searing process will take 15 - 20 minutes.

Transfer the pork to a roasting rack, and slather the reserved marinade over the meat. Arrange the rosemary, sage and thyme springs on the roast and top with 3 tbsp butter. Roast the pork until a thermometer inserted into the center reads 120, about 1 1/4 hours. Let the pork rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

While the pork is roasting, retrun the pork-searing pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Wait 1-2 minutes, then deglaze it with some chicken stock. Bring to a boil, whisking and scraping the bottom of the pan to release the crispy bits. Swirl in 3 tbsp butter and set aside.

To serve, arrange the haricots verts and spring onions on a large, warm platter. Slice the pork thinly, about 1/4 inch thick and fan the meat over the beans. Add the buttery pork juices and herbs to the sauce, bring to a boil, and then spoon it over the pork.

The first problem is the last paragraph. Where did the haricots verts and spring onions come from? No mention of them until serving time. The second, and biggest, problem is the notion that 120 degrees is a sufficient temperature for pork. It is not, not by 20 degrees. 145 degrees is the temperature deemed sufficiently hot to kill any of those old pork bugaboos, trichina worms, though I read frequently that it is now a rare problem.

I wrote to Tucker but got an out-of-office reply suggesting another staff member to contact. I did so and received the most idiotic reply. The young lady in question said she consulted the original recipe and it too says 120 degrees. I wrote back and told her that in retrospect I didn't need to have written to her. Beef cooked to 120 degress would be utterly rare, even with the carryover cooking during the resting process. I heard no more from her.

I served this roast to guests and could not afford to have squeamish eaters if the center of the pork was too pink. I targeted 145 degrees and it turned out fine, just a trace of pinkitude. Next time I'll go for 140 degrees based on this experience.

Now, some other problems. The marinade was sufficiently thick that it adhered to the roast very well. There was no instruction to do so, but I scraped most of it off before searing the meat. The only pan I had that was big enough to hold my roast (almost 4 lbs instead of 3) was my stovetop grill. Using the griddle (flat) side, I was able to do the sear quite well. However, in spite of having set my heat to medium high instead of high, there was some burning...and there was nothing to deglaze, zip, nada. Next time I will wipe off the marinade completely. That should minimize the burning problem. And it will explain the recipes mention of "reserved marinade," otherwise unexplained.

I didn't mention that I had trussed the roast numerous times to achieve a more or less uniform shape and thickness. I slathered the marinade back over it and stuck the herbs on it. The marinade acted as glue, holding the stems in place. I forgot to put butter on the top. No big deal frankly.

I had a firm timeline related to guest arrival, cocktails and shrimp, and a target eating time. The roast seemed to be ahead of schedule about 45 minutes in so I lowered the temperature of the oven to 300 and, a few minutes later, to 275. I nailed the out-of-the-oven time goal perfectly, tented the roast with foil and left it on the counter.

THERE WERE NO PAN DRIPPINGS in the roasting pan. What the f...? Again, zip, nada. This in spite of a nice layer of fat on the top of the loin. I dropped back several yards and punted by heating up some chicken broth, stealing the herb stalks from the roast, and simmering them for 10-15 minutes after adding a bit of salt and pepper. Whew, saved!

I neglected to add butter to the juice I made, but when I served the pork with it our guests were enchanted. All's well that ends well.

I mentioned that my roast was nearly 4 lbs. All I did was increase by 1/4 all the other ingredients. The next time I make this I intend to strip the herbs from their stems and spread them all over the marinade. Then I will wrap the roast in caul fat. I think I'll blog about caul fat soon... no time right now. And, to reiterate, I believe that Peter and I would be ecstatic at the results of targeting 140 degrees. But 120? No way Jose, no way Tucker Shaw, no way food section minion.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at: scrout1944@msn.com.


I know, I know, who needs a recipe for tacos? Well, you might. If you prefer Taco Bell, be my guest, but I wouldn't eat there on a bet.

Living as I do in Denver, we have no shortage of Mexican restaurants where you can get excellent tacos. I felt like making them at home the other day and came up with my own recipe from scratch, start to finish.

A few pointers before beginning: use corn or flour tortillas about 6-7" in diameter; grill them rather than fry them; check out a teaspoon of the chorizo by microwaving it for 30-60 seconds - the varieties of chorizo are myriad, some more fatty and salty than others - if you have a particularly salty variety be careful with the seasoning as you prepare the meat filling; use your favorite jarred salsa if you are too lazy to make your own.

Let's get started.

Tacos (12 pieces)

For the salsa:
3 medium sized fresh tomatoes, 4 if they are roma
1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
chili powder to taste
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
1 jalapeno, be brave and don't seed it, just chop it fine

Carve out the stem end of the tomatoes and cut into 1" pieces. Pulse in a food processor until as smooth or chunky as you want it.

Place the tomatoes in a bowl and add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, lime juice, chili powder and salt and pepper. Taste it. If you want more heat, soak a dried red chili in hot water until softened. Mince it very fine. Add it in increments to the salsa, tasting as you go along. When you're happy with the heat factor, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to use, strain out the liquid and save it to make bloody Marys.

For the other fillings:
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground chorizo
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
chili powder
1 jalapeno pepper
red pepper flakes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
1 corn tortilla
iceberg or romaine lettuce, cut into thin strips
grated or shredded cheese, jack or cheddar, whatever you like

Start by sauteing the onion and garlic until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle on some salt and black pepper. Cook the meat until no longer pink. If there is a fair amount of fat in the pan, drain some of it off. 3-4 tbsp is fine. More will make a greasy mixture.

A word here about the ground beef: I never buy supermarket ground beef. I prefer to take a decent cut of beef (top round, eye of round, chuck) and grind it with my Mixmaster - fine setting. Why? If I am going to make burgers, I like to cook them rare/medium rare. The best way to avoid e-coli is to use a hunk of meat instead of pre-ground. The bacteria can only exist on the surface of a solid piece of beef. It can permeate ground meat. Drop the beef into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, grind it, and now it's safe to cook burgers as rare as you like. For the tacos, since you are cooking the meat thoroughly pre-ground beef is perfectly fine.

When the meat is cooked, add the chili powder, jalapeno, red pepper flakes (if using), tomato paste, broth, and the tortilla, torn into 1" pieces. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, add more broth

Taste. Add more of whatever you feel it needs. If there is too much liquid, let it continue to simmer until thickened. You don't want it runny when you try to pick up your taco to eat it. The tortilla acts as a thickening agent.

To assemble the tacos:

On a stovetop grill, using the flat side, place as many tortillas as will fit at one time, having sprayed them lightly with cooking spray. Grill them for 2-3 per side. For my taste, a still-flexible tortilla with some color on it is ideal. If you are doing multiple batches, wrap the tortillas in foil and keep warm in a low oven.

I like to start the taco with lettuce to keep the meat from too much direct contact with the tortilla. This is a defense against sogginess. Top the lettuce with meat mixture, then cheese, then salsa.

There is a homemade taste that is essential to me when I am cooking.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Roast Leg of Lamb

There are a million recipes for leg of lamb out there. I consulted quite a few and just came away confused. Different oven temperatures, different seasonings, different final internal temperatures, etc. Since I had two days to ponder this, I gradually came up with my own plan. Granted, it is a synthesis of several recipes, but, as is my wont, this is my way. It is extremely simple and extremely easy to prep.

I had a butterflied lamb leg (that just means boned out) from the sale bin at Safeway. It was 3 pounds, fairly small. If you prepare this dish with a larger piece of lamb, increase the quantity of ingredients proportionately. Too hard? For 3 lbs. use the amounts below. In parens, after each ingredient, I include a modified amount for, respectively, 4, 5, and 6 lbs. There, I've just made your life easier.

Roast Leg of Lamb
1 leg of lamb, butterflied (3-6 lbs.)
2 tbsp garlic, minced (2.5, 3, 3.5)
2 tbsp olive oil (2.5, 3, 3.5)
1 tsp dried rosemary, finely chopped (1.5, 2, 2.5)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Lay the lamb out on your cutting board, fat side down. Mix garlic, olive oil, black pepper and rosemary in a small bowl. Smear half of the mixture over the lamb, poking it into all crevasses and crannies. Season liberally with salt. Fold the lamb in half, fat side out. Tie with kitchen string approximately every inch so that you have a roll shape.

Make slits in the fat without cutting into the meat. Smear the remaining mix all over the outside and then add a liberal amount of salt.

Place on a rack over a roasting pan. (Line it with foil for easier cleanup). If you have one, insert an electronic temperature probe into the middle of the roast. Set the target temperature to 125 degrees. Place the roast, uncovered, into the oven with the rack at a level where the meat will be as close as possible to the very center of the oven.

Go watch television and drink your martini until the probe signals you. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, start checking the internal temp after 50 minutes. My 3 pound roast took about 65 minutes to get to 125 degrees. When you're at 125, increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and reset your probe to 135 degrees. When that temp is achieved, remove the roast and cover tightly with foil. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes. If using a manual thermometer, just roast at 400 for 10 minutes and get it out.

Make a second martini. When you're ready to eat, snip the strings and remove. Slice the lamb crosswise into 1/2" slices. Prepare to enter culinary heaven.

My guess would be that, for each pound of meat over 3 lbs, the cooking time will increase by 5-10 minutes. Remember: you can always cook the meat longer, but if you overdo it, you'll never be able to go back.

One addition to this recipe that I made was to toss about a pound of small red potatoes into the roasting pan with the lamb. After I removed the lamb from the oven, I tossed the potatoes in the pan drippings and left them in the oven with the temperature reduced to 170 degrees (the lowest setting we can get) and left them in the oven with the door ajar until dinner time.

For a free excerpt of my book, "A Year of Food," in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More TV Cooks

Lydia Bastianich is one of my favorites. She doesn't appear on Food Network, rather on a PBS channel here in Denver. She is grandmotherly and warm and cooks very simply, making what I would take to be family-friendly Italian food. I don't know what region of Italy her cooking represents, but it is always interesting. And she makes it all look easy.

Another cook, who could call herself a chef if she wanted to, is Ina Garten, host of the goofily named "Barefoot Contessa." The title sounds like a bad choice as a user id for e-mail much less for a TV program. Ina tapes her shows out in the Hamptons, complete with all kinds of gay guys, from the florist to many of her guests. For a long time Peter and I wondered if Ina's husband, Jeffrey, was gay. Then we saw a profile, one of a series of them Food Network did about it's star hosts, in which we learned that Ina and hubby were actually college sweethearts. I have borrowed many recipes from Ina's program. I hope she stays on the air for a good long time.

Another of my favorites was Dave Lieberman. Dave's show is gone I am sad to say. He is a personal chef in New York, and prepared very simple, budget-conscious dishes. What made it all the more appealing a show to watch was simple his handsome/cute face. Ciao, Dave.

"Down Home with the Neely's" features an African-American married couple (no mention of children) who run barbeque places in Memphis. They are a bit over the top but I like them. For some reason I never download their recipes. Recently they took over another show that is about travelling around the country and visiting restaurants and food oriented shops of various sorts. I've watched it a couple of times - once because they were in Denver - and the most startling impression the show gave me (I hope I can verbalize this correctly) was my visceral reaction at seeing, instead of Paula Deen's two white sons, a black couple interviewing and visiting with white restaurant owners and chefs. It made me realize that there are still things to learn about stereotypes (for me at least), not that I feel racist, but rather by the fact that I saw a small measure of progress was accomplished by giving "Road Tasted" to a well-deserving couple and, in an odd way, destroying another "taboo." I wish them a lot of success.

Alton Brown's show "Good Eats" has been running for quite a long time. I really enjoy watching it even though the gimmicky stuff he sometimes does can drive a fellow crazy. What at first seemed like an unlikely premise, a recent show on your home freezer, taught me a bunch of lessons. Alton did a road show a year ago in which he crossed the country, stopping in at out-of-the-way places and generally having a "real nice clambake." Another one, "Feasting on Waves," will begin soon. I believe it's going to be about his trekking around the Caribbean. I can't wait. Alton is also the very genial host of "Iron Chef America."

Speaking of "Iron Chef," I just remembered to Google Kevin Brauch, Alton's hosting colleague. He's a goofy guy who consistently mispronounces "Kon ban wa" as "Kan ben wa," the Japanese for "Good evening." And this on a program with a non-English-speaking Japanese chef, Masayaru Morimoto. Go figure. Kevin became a celebrity bartender in Canada and has, or had (don't know which, a TV show called "The Thirsty Traveler." I need to check it out if it is still on the air.

Guy Fieri is about to be aired in a new show, "Guy Off the Hook." I don't know yet what the premise is. I will certainly watch it.

"How to Boil Water" was a fascinating study in uselessness. Originally hosted by French chef, Frederick Von Coppernel, the show purported to be an instructional tool for people who don't function well in the kitchen. I doubt that such persons watch much food television. His sidekick, Jack Horgan (a woman), would help him out and seem entirely clueless the whole time. When Tyler Florence stepped in, Jack was relegated to a stool at the end of the cooking island where she maintained very well her vapid self.

And, speaking of Tyler Florence, when we first started watching him he was gorgeous. He has porked out incredibly. His hyperactive show, "Tyler's Ultimate," has given me cause to download some of his recipes, but the show is wearing thin with me.

Ellie Krieger does a weekly show about healthy eating. She does easy concoctions and is lovely to look at. A good show.

A couple of TV cooks not on Food Network deserve mention. "Daisy Cooks" features Daisy Martinez cooking South American and Cuban style food. She is very engaging and I think about trying some of the things she does. There's no reason not too, considering the plethora of Latin American/Mexican markets in Denver.

I wish some network would re-run Julia Child's cooking program. What a lady, what a story, what an entertainer!

Rick Bayless cooks Mexican and takes you with him to various places in Mexico, describing and demonstrating along the way authentic dishes. An excellent program. He was a contestant on "Iron Chef" last week and I'm sorry he did not win. However, he was up against Bobby Flay. 'Nuff said.

Well there, I'm tapped out (or typed out) on television cooking. I didn't mention everyone. But I did mention everyone who has made a fairly strong impression on me. If you read this, tell me your own impressions.

For a free sample excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write me at scrout1944@msn.com.

TV Cooks

A few weeks ago my partner, Peter Russell, posted on his blog a series of thoughts about various people with cooking shows on television. I haven’t read it yet, but this morning I got to thinking that I have some things I want to say about the subject. I’ll read what he wrote after I offer some opinions of my own.

I suspect few people watch Food Network, and other cooking shows on other channels, as much as I do. It inspires my cooking, provokes ideas, and opens my eyes to techniques and flavor combinations. There are chefs I learned to love; there are chefs I learned to hate.

I no longer remember when I started watching cooking shows. It seems to me it might have been when we relocated from Washington, DC to New Jersey in 1997 – not that it matters. When I first saw a program with Giada DiLaurentiis I found her to be smarmy, coy, and overly fond of showing off her cleavage. But I kept watching from time to time and gradually realized that she’s quite genuine, a very fine cook, and possessed of male relatives who sometimes grace the screen with their male pulchritude. They include a nephew, Luca, and her brother, whose name I don’t remember. Luca is drop dead cute and the brother is GQ cover handsome. Thanks, Giada.

Sandra Lee, host of “Semi-homemade” is not in any sense a chef. She’s a cook. She actually does some interesting stuff occasionally, but her condescending manner causes me to change the channel as soon as she comes on. She’s a very attractive woman who had a difficult childhood, but who comes across to me as being vapid. Enough said.

I have watched dozens if not hundreds of hours of “Emeril Live,” a show with not only a studio audience but a band to boot. Emeril’s “bam,” his “gahlic,” his “pork fat rules,” have made him seem like a caricature of himself in recent years. And what a slob in the kitchen. His platings are gross, he spills and slops around as he works even more than I do when cooking at home. Nonetheless, Emeril is very popular. He’s more an entertainer than a chef. I’m not disappointed that “Emeril Live” has moved to a time slot when I’m not in front of the TV.

Another self-described “cook, not a chef” is Rachel Ray. She has good ideas but, like Emeril, has become a parody of herself with her “Yummo” and her “how good does that look?” Yet she is fabulously successful, with travel shows, a magazine, and a number of cookbooks. Am I jealous because she’s rich? No, I’m not. I still watch her show, “30-minute Meals” in the late afternoon – for ideas.

Michael Chiarello’s “Easy Entertaining,” was an excellent show, just 30 minutes long and always packed with excellent cooking. Michael is a true chef. His forte is Italian home cooking, although it’s not the only thing he does on the show. He’s left the network, reportedly to go back into the restaurant business. I for one will miss him.

What can one say about Bobby Flay? I’ve never liked him. I recall his first show (not the title, though) where he had a sidekick named Jaqui Malouf. He seemed condescending to her and to the small group of observers who served as his audience. He is ubiquitous these days, with a new format for his grilling ideas every time you turn around. Why do I think, if he had a band like Emeril, it would be him blowing his own horn? He is more than a fine chef, one who does his best wonderfully creative work on “Iron Chef America,” rarely losing a match. But then who does lose more than rarely on that program? At least it seems more fairly judged than the original “Iron Chef” from Japan. One last thing about “Iron Chef America”: Masaharu Morimoto is a) not American, b) does not speak English. What the fuck is he doing on the program?

Ingrid Hoffman became tolerable when she toned down her Charo routine, but I don’t watch her.

The winners of the “Next Food Network Star” series that has run for 4 seasons are a mixed bag. The first year winner’s, two gay guys who are west coast caterers, did a pretty job on their debut series, but only near the end of the run did they seem to become at ease enough in front of the camera to stop me from cringing all too often. Guy Fieri has become a superstar, deservedly so. “Guy’s Big Bite,” his first show, has been renewed and after 2 plus years is still a good one. He’s off on the road visiting “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” and shows up regularly as a judge for this, a participant in that. He’s appalling to look at – weird hair, bad body, tattoos – but is very engaging.

Amy, the third year winner, so declared after the original winner was forced to step down when his bogus credentials were revealed, should have been the winner all along. Unfortunately her easy-to-watch “The Gourmet Next Door” lasted for only 6 episodes and doesn’t seem to be available in re-runs.

Then came this year. Peter and I thought that none of the contestants should be the winner. AND, when the winner was announced, it was a most implausible choice, Aaron McCargo, a nice family man who shucked and jived so much in his recently broadcast and cancelled “Big Daddy’s Kitchen” was virtually unwatchable.

I’m running out of time for today. I can tell I’ll need to write more about this topic tomorrow. See you then.

For a free sample of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write me at scrout1944@msn.com.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chiles rellenos

Wikipedia provides this definition of the popular Mexican dish, chile relleno:

The chile relleno, literally “stuffed pepper”, is a dish of Mexican cuisine, consisting of a roasted fresh green Anaheim, poblano, or posilla chili pepper stuffed with a melting cheese, such queso Chijuajua or queso Oaxaca (traditionally), and/or picadillo meat made up of diced pork, raisins, and nuts, seasoned with canella meat, covered in an egg batter, and fried. It is often served in a tomato sauce. The type of sauce varies widely. There are also many versions in Mexico that use rehydrated dry chiles such as anchos or pasillas.

They said it more concisely and completely than I could have done. I googled “canella meat” and came up with references to it, but no explanation of what it actually is.

When we were shopping at Heinie’s produce market in Arvada, CO, we saw they had some beautiful Anaheim peppers. Rellenos leapt to mind. Until today I didn’t know that the word meant simply “stuffed.” Live and learn. I grew up being fed stuffed green bell peppers frequently. They were a very budget-conscious choice for a family of 7 with little money.

I’ve made stuffed peppers a number of times, and rellenos just a couple of times. I looked up a number of recipes and came away from that exercise understanding that you can stuff the Anaheims with just about anything. Certainly a Mexican mamacita (I think that’s a real word) wouldn’t find it necessary to open her copy of “La Alegría de la Cocina” (“Joy of Cooking”) to consult a recipe. She would use leftovers or find items at the local market she frequents every day of her life. This is the mindset that guided me yesterday.

I determined to use only leftovers, with the exception that I had no appropriate kind of cheese on hand and also wanted to include some tomatillos in my sauce. I bought a bag of 4 kinds of Mexican cheese blended together and 4 tomatillos. It was on sale and was the path of least resistance. I’ll put this down in typical recipe fashion, but bear one thing in mind. You won’t have the same leftovers I have. You’re on your own there. If your pantry doesn’t have dried Mexican peppers, just use some red pepper flakes or some cayenne.

The point I wish to make is one I refer to often in these posts. Shake yourself loose from rules in the kitchen. If you want a certain taste combo for your dinner, say shrimp and something, steak and something, chicken and something, just do it! You can cook absolutely any protein (i.e. meat, fish, or poultry) by using only salt, pepper and olive oil. Anything more is gravy (and gravy is good).

Also, as I haven’t mentioned it in a while, all my recipes are for two. The dogs have their own menu and believe me it does not include chili peppers.

Chiles rellenos
4 Anaheim peppers
4 oz. leftover pork medallions
1 oz. leftover corn relish
½ can leftover white beans
¾ can leftover tomato sauce
4 tomatillos, paper skins removed and chopped
½ red onion, diced
2 dry red peppers, finely chopped, seeds and all
olive oil
¾ cup chicken stock
shredded or grated cheese (any kind that melts well)
leftover Greek yogurt
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in a bit of water

I think it is a pain in the ass to have to char the chiles and peel off their skins, but I did it anyway. We never did this with our green bell peppers. I suspect their skins are more delicate and therefore more edible. Put the chiles on a baking sheet under the broiler until they char a good deal and the skin begins to crack. Then stuff them into a paper bag for a half hour.

The skins should come off quite easily. Carfully make a slit in one side of each chile starting just below the stem and stopping about 1/2 inch from the pointed bottom. Using your fingers, scrape loose the seeds and quickly rinse them out under cold water. I can’t emphasize enough how careful you must be not the tear the chiles while you do this.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

In a bowl, combine pork, corn relish, beans and a fair amount of cheese. Stuff the chiles with this mixture and place them in a glass baking dish.

In a skillet, heat some olive oil until very hot. Add the onion and tomatillos and saute until softened. Add tomato sauce, red pepper, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for a while. How long? Don’t know – just until it starts to taste like one entity as opposed to a collection of disparate ingredients as it will when you start it. Add the cornstarch and stir while it thickens to give the sauce a little body.

Pour the sauce over the stuffed peppers and top with a lot of cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes – until it is bubbling throughout and the cheese has begun to brown. Serve in wide heated bowls with more cheese and the yogurt as a garnish. Of course sour cream would do. Yogurt was what we had.

At first I thought of stuffing my chiles with a shrimp mixture. But shrimp and cheese, while eaten by a lot of people in this universe, just doesn’t sound quite right to me. If I had had chicken or steak leftover I would have used them, separately on in combination. I could have bought several Mexican cheeses and combined them. I could have just used one cheese, such as pepper jack. The on-sale bag I found served my purposes perfectly.

And you know what? I don’t know what I could have done to make this dish taste any better. Slightly different ingredients would have had an influence on the flavor but not on the overall quality. Try it, you’ll like it.

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