Monday, December 29, 2014

Chicken Chili Mac

     Chili Mac!
     Chili Mac is old fashioned home style comfort food.  Just about the only place that chili mac is offered on a menu is at school cafeterias, less costly buffets and American diner style restaurants.  Honestly, a good gourmet style Chili Mac could be a great tavern or saloon menu item.
     Chili Mac is usually made with ground beef or chopped beef pieces.  Not everybody eats beef.  People that suddenly go health conscious tend to go for chicken entrées first when they change their dietary habits.  There also are people who actually only eat chicken meat and nothing else.  Chicken Chili Mac could be mighty appealing to these folks!

     I kept the selection of chiles for today's Chicken Chili Mac recipe on the mild side, instead of the spicy hot wild side, so this recipe would appeal to nearly everybody.  Containers of chili powder that are sold at grocery stores are almost always a blend of ground chile ancho, ground chile guajillo, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and cumin.  Some chili powder blends are pretty good, while others are just okay at best.
     It is always better to tailor the chile pepper mixture for each recipe.  A "one size fits all" manufactured chili powder product will only result in every recipe tasting the same.  This is not what thinking like a chef is all about.  Customizing the selection of dried chile peppers for each recipe will result in each recipe being unique.
     At a Mexican food market or commercial grocery stores in the southwest, rarely are pre-mixed spice blends or chili powder blends seen on the store shelves.  Chili powder is pretty much only for those who have minimal chile pepper knowledge.  Chili powder is a convenience.
     Cooks that make Mexican and southwestern style cuisine have extensive chile pepper knowledge.  They know how to blend varieties of chiles to create traditional flavors.  A better tasting Chili Mac can be made at home by custom blending a well thought out selection of chile powders.  The dried peppers can be ground like a powder or simmered and pureed.  Either way works well.

     Chicken Chili Mac:
     This recipe yields 1 hearty portion!  If several portions of this recipe are needed, use a wide braising pot instead of a sauté pan to cook the Chile Mac.
     Kidney beans or pink beans are an optional ingredient for any chili recipe or chili mac recipe.  Kidney beans taste nice in Chicken Chili Mac!
     Contrary to belief, chili does not always have to simmer all day long.  Chili only has to simmer long enough for the meat to become tender and till the chile pepper sauce flavors meld.  Chicken Chili does not require much simmering time.
     Another fallacy of southwestern cuisine is thinking that all dried chile pepper pods need to be pan roasted.  The easiest way to ruin dried peppers is to roast them to a black color.  Burnt food is burnt food in any language.  If one can smell the roasting chile pepper pods from 20 feet away, then all that flavor is vanishing in thin air, instead of staying in the pot!
     Step 1:  Cook one portion of macaroni pasta in boiling water till it becomes al dente.
     Cool the pasta under cold running water.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Set the pasta aside.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add a 6 to 8 ounce boneless chicken breast that is cut into bite size pieces.
     Sauté till the chicken becomes halfway cooked.
     Step 3:  Add 1 chopped jalapeño pepper.
     Add 1/4 cup of chopped onion.
     Sauté till the chicken becomes fully cooked and till the vegetables start to become tender.
     Step 4:  Add 2 teaspoons of Masa Harina while stirring, to soak up any excess oil.
     Add 1/3 cup of chopped plum tomato.
     Add enough light chicken broth to barely cover the ingredients.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder.
     Add 1 teaspoon of ground chile ancho.
     Add 1 teaspoon of ground New Mexico Chile powder.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of Spanish paprika.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of cumin.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of coriander.
     Add 1 pinch of Mexican oregano.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of ground anatto.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 5:  Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce the liquid, till it becomes a very thin sauce consistency.
     Step 6:  Add the reserved portion of cooked macaroni.
     Add 1/2 cup of rinsed cooked kidney beans or rinsed canned kidney beans.  (optional)
     Toss the ingredients together.
     Simmer till the macaroni and kidney beans become hot.  Simmer till the chili sauce can cling to the pasta.

     Place the chicken chili mac in a soup bowl or stew bowl.
     Garnish with 2 slices of grilled garlic bread.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig or Cilantro Sprig.

     Viola!  A comfortably mild chili mac made with chicken!  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tomatillo Chayotli Veal Stew

     A Nice Light Stew That Is Not Too Heavy For Summer!
     Stew is not always thought of as being a warm weather meal.  Those who endure cold winter weather usually picture stew as being a heavy hearty meal that sticks to the ribs.  Stew can also be made with lighter ingredients that are satisfying in hot weather.  
     Stews are popular in hot tropical places, like Southern Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.  Stew is often served during the hottest months of the year in these regions.  Warm weather stews tend to have a thin broth instead of a gravy.  Lighter meats that are less fatty are often featured with light vegetables in hot weather stews.  A little bit of chile pepper added to the stew gives relief to summer heat.  When the body is tired from extreme heat, a summer stew can provide easy to digest nutrients that can help the body to recover quickly.

     Today's stew recipe is similar to a Mexican salsa verde style stew.  The stew sauce is made with tomatillos, but is is not really a salsa verde.  Very little green chile pepper was added and coriander was used instead of cilantro.  The flavor is a little bit more tart than cilantro and it is less aromatic.  

     Tomatillos are native to Mexico.  They are a member of the nightshade family of plants, but they are a different genus than tomatoes.  Tomatillos are more like a gooseberry than a tomato.  Old Nahuatl and Aztec names for tomatillos do sound like tomate.  The Spanish did not really know the difference, so they called this fruit by the name little tomato (tomatillo).  Tomatillos are still called by their Nahuatl or Aztec name in central Mexico.  Tomatillos look nothing like a tomato when they are sliced open.  An inedible husk covers tomatillos and it dries like paper when the fruit is ripe.  

     Chayotli is the Nahuatl word for Chayote (Spanish).  Chayote is also called Mirliton.  There are many other regional names for this vegetable.  Chayotli is a pear shaped green squash that is native to Central America and Mexico.  
     There are a few varieties of chayotli.  Most chayote that are sold in common grocery stores have a smooth skin with no furry spines.  The variety that has spines does grow a little bit larger.  Both of these kinds of chayote have the same mild flavor.  Chayote does stay fairly firm after simmering, so it is a good squash choice for a summer stew  
     The Aztecs grew a lot of spiny chayotli on their farms and this vegetable is part of many traditional recipes.  Because this variety of chayote is covered with spines, vegetable eating pests were less of a threat to the crop.  The spines are soft and flexible when they are green.  The green spines will not poke a finger.  When the spines start to dry and become brown, they become stiff enough to pierce the skin on a finger.  The spines are not barbed like cactus spines, but they can be a bit irritating.  Where I live in the Mojave Desert, the humidity is very low, so the spines on chayotli dry out after only a day or two.  

     Veal is not a traditional Mexican meat.  Tough cuts of veal are used to make stews in Europe and America.  Traditional European veal stews are usually made with a thickened meat broth sauce or cream sauce.  
     I was in the mood for a veal stew and the old traditional standard recipes did not seem appealing for hot summer weather.  Creating something different that was refreshing and not heavy was the goal of today's recipe.  Tomatillo Chayotli Veal Stew is certainly something new and different.  This stew is perfect for summer       
     Chayotli Preparation:
     The skin only needs to be washed on smooth chayote.  Peeling is an option.  
     Spiny chayotli does have to be peeled.  Handling spiny chayotli with gloves or a towel is necessary.  Once the ends are cut off, the squash can be stood vertically and peeled with a knife like an eggplant.  
      Rinsing the peeled chayotli is necessary, so any spines that might cling to the squash are washed off.  
     Cut the peeled rinsed chayotli in half lengthwise.  
     Use a melon baller tool to scrape out any large seeds.  
     Remove the tough fibrous part of the core.  
     Cut the chayotli into large bite size cube shaped pieces.  (About 1 1/3 cups of chayotli pieces are needed for this recipe.) 
     Tomatillo Chayotli Veal Stew:
     This recipe yields one large hearty portion!  
     This is an easy stew recipe to make.  The tomatillos are pureed after they are cooked tender.  It is best to add the ingredients in stages, so nothing overcooks.  
     Step 1:  Heat a wide sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add 7 ounces of trimmed veal leg that is cut into medium bite size pieces.
     Lightly season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Sauté till brown highlights appear on the veal pieces and the veal becomes fully cooked.
     Remove the pot from the heat.
     Drain the excess oil off of the veal pieces.
     Place the veal pieces in a container and set them aside.
     Step 2:  Place the pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add 2 cloves of minced garlic.
     Add 1/3 cup of minced onion.
     Add 1 chopped green onion.
     Add 1 seeded green jalapeno pepper.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of coarsely chopped tomatillos.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color and the vegetables start to become tender.
     Step 3:  Add 2 cups of light vegetable broth.
     Add 1 cup of chicken broth.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of cider vinegar.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of coriander.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of cumin.
     Add 1 pinch of ground anatto.
     Add 1 pinch of Spanish paprika.
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced epazote.
     Add 1 pinch of Mexican oregano.
     Add 2 pinches of yerba buena.  (Dried Mexican Mint)
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced roasted chile poblano.  (Canned roasted chile poblano is okay)
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer till the tomatillos and vegetables become tender.
     Remove the pot from the heat and allow the ingredients to cool to room temperature.
     Step 4:  Use a blending wand, blender or a food processor to puree the ingredients.
     Return the tomatillo stewing sauce to the sauce pot.
     Step 5:  Add 1 1/3 cups of bite size cube shape chayotli pieces.
     Place the pot over medium heat.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer till the chayotli starts to become tender.   (Chayotli does take some time to cook tender!)
     Step 6:  Add 5 to 6 ounces of cube shaped bite size pieces of peeled russet potato.
     Add 1/3 cup of thick sliced carrot.
     Add the reserved sauteed veal meat.
     *Add a little bit of water, if the stewing sauce does not cover the ingredients.
     Simmer and reduce, till the potatoes and vegetables become tender and till the tomatillo sauce becomes a thin sauce consistency that can cling to the ingredients.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lime juice.
     Ladle the Tomatillo Chayotli Veal Stew into a large stew bowl.
     Sprinkle some very thin bias sliced green onion over the stew.
     Garnish with a cilantro sprig or a curly leaf parsley sprig.
     Serve with warm soft corn tortillas or sopes on the side.
     Serve with lime wedges and sour cream on the side.

     This stew has a very mild chile pepper flavor and it is not spicy hot.  Tomatillo Chayotli Veal Stew is a tasty refreshing meal!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mesquite Smoked Beef Hash with Egg and Grilled Grape Tomatoes

     The Texas BBQ Beef Brisket Tradition In Death Valley
     I guess that I am an authority on serving Texas BBQ Beef Brisket, because I once was contracted to do a cooking job in Death Valley.  The job involved preparing, carving and serving Texas BBQ Brisket Texas for a dining room full of guests at the historic Furnace Creek Resort, every night from June through September.
     When the outdoor temperatures were over 125º each day at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, a heaping plate of Texas Beef Brisket with all the fixings looked mighty appealing!  Tourists could not get enough of this traditional Texas BBQ that also is a tradition in Death Valley.

     The Borax Industry was in full swing at Furnace Creek in the late 1800's.  Workers that could withstand the extreme heat of Death Valley, came from all points of the southwest.  Many of the Borax Industry workers and bosses came from Texas.  Because of the "Yellow Rose Of Texas" heritage, Mesquite Smoked Texas BBQ Beef Brisket became a tradition in Death Valley.   This tradition still lives on in modern times.

     There Is No Such Thing As Wasting Leftover Texas BBQ Beef Brisket! 
     When cooking Mesquite Smoked Texas BBQ Beef Brisket for an event or at a gathering at home, there is rarely such thing as only cooking one solitary beef brisket.  Everything is big in Texas and Texas style dictates that plenty BBQ is cooked for a big hoedown.  The amount of leftover BBQ can be big too.

      I had Mesquite Smoked Texas BBQ Beef Brisket scraps leftover everyday at the Death Valley job.  Employees who had no time to hike the mile long trek to the employee meal kitchen at the ranch on busy days still needed to be fed.  Since I ran the entire old historic inn kitchen by myself, with no other cooks assisting, I often was pressed for time too.  Often, I could not make the extra time that was necessary to get to employee cantina.
      Out of necessity, I figured out many good ways to use leftover Mesquite Smoked Texas BBQ Beef Brisket to create appealing employee meals.  A hungry wait staff is never a good thing, because the servers will usually feed themselves and this can end up driving food costs sky high.  Making a pot of chili, stew or something and feeding the employees before the dining room opens equates to a wait staff that is full and content.  A good employee meal improves employee morale and it reduces food cost by eliminating waste!

     Today's Mesquite Smoked Beef Hash recipe is just one of many Texas BBQ Beef Brisket leftover recipes that I whipped up in a jiffy.  This beef hash could have been a big seller at the restaurants on site that served breakfast.  The reaction that I got from the employees that I served the hash & eggs to was good.  They actually said that this beef hash should be placed on the menu.  This also means that the servers were confident that they could sell this item!

     Texas BBQ Beef Brisket Recipe:
     Follow this hyperlink to the recipe page in this website.  Cooks that have meat smoking experience can skip the introductory paragraphs on that page.  Others may find the information useful.  Here is the link:  

     Mesquite Smoked Beef Hash:
     This recipe yields enough for 2 hearty portions!
     Two simmering reductions are used to make the beef extra tender.  Do not stir often, or the beef will shred.
     Step 1:  Bring a sauce pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat.
     Add 1 cup of peeled russet potato that is cut into small bite size cube shaped pieces.  (3/8" cube)
     Boil the potato cubes for about 2 minutes, till they become blanched.
     Drain the water off of the potatoes.
     Cool the potatoes under cold running water.
     Drain the water off and set the blanched potato cubes aside.
     Step 2:  Trim the excess fat off of 14 ounces of leftover Mesquite Smoked Texas BBQ Beef Brisket or Mesquite Smoked Beef.
     Cut the meat into small bite size cube shaped pieces.  (3/8" cubes)
     Heat a wide cast iron skillet or a wide braising pot over medium heat.
     Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add the Texas BBQ beef pieces.
     Sauté and stir, till the beef is browned on all sides.
     Step 3:  Add 1/4 cup of minced onion.
     Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped roasted poblano pepper.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Add just enough water to barely cover the beef.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 to 2 pinches of Ground New Mexico Chile Powder.
     Add 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer, till nearly all the liquid has evaporated.
     Step 4:  Add the blanched potato cubes.
     Add enough water to barely cover the beef and potatoes.
     Raise the temperature to medium/medium low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till the potatoes are fully cooked and till most of the liquid has evaporated.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Allow the liquid to evaporate.  Now the butter and fat in the pan will start to sizzle.
     Start sautéing the hash in the grease that remains in the pan.  (Add a few pats of unsalted butter, if necessary.)
     Sauté the hash till brown highlights appear.
     Keep the hash warm over very low heat.

    *The remainder of today's recipe is written for 1 serving!
     Grilled Grape Tomatoes:
     Cut 5 or 6 grape tomatoes in half from top to bottom.
     Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add the grape tomato halves.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Sauté till the tomatoes just start to become tender.
     Keep the grilled grape tomatoes warm on a stove top.

     Mesquite Smoked Beef Hash with Egg and Grilled Grape Tomatoes:
     Cook 1 or 2 large eggs any style that is preferred.  (Poached or sunny side up is traditional with hash.)
     Place 1 large portion of the mesquite smoked beef hash on a plate.
     Place the egg on top of the hash.
     Cascade the grilled grape tomatoes beside the egg over the hash.
     Garnish with a cilantro sprig.
     Serve with cornbread or biscuits on the side!

     This mesquite smoked beef hash breakfast tastes as hearty as the old wild west!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

IPA Venison Anaheim Chili

     Real Authentic Western Style Chili
     Western style chili is the real deal.  Greek Chili, Cincinnati Chili, Coney Chili, Cafeteria Style Chili and Mild Yankee Style Tomato Ground Beef Chili are not definitive chili recipes.  They all might look like chili, but they are not traditional.
     In states like Texas and New Mexico, there are plenty of old died hard chili traditionalists that say that western style chili is never made with ground meat.  Mechanical meat grinders were not available till sometime after 1880.  Those old Gold Rush 49'ers ate bowls of chunky chili!    
     Many eastern cooks and northern cooks make the mistake of thinking that tomatoes are the base of a chili stewing sauce.  I have seen cooks on New England make chili that looked like nothing more than stewed tomatoes and burger meat.  There was little or no chile peppers in the recipe at all.  Basically, that chili tasted like like baby food for geriatric patients.    

     Chili has its roots in southwestern Native American cuisine and Mexicana Nativa cuisine.  A basic traditional Native American Chili is a stew made with fresh or dried chile peppers and wild game meat.  
     If the chili is thickened, then it is thickened with nixtamal corn flour (masa harina) and not wheat flour.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, epazote, yuca, anatto, beans, maize and local herbs were sometimes added to the pot of chili.  The peppers and salt in a traditional chili actually help to preserve the meat, so the cooled chili could be carried while on the go.

     Mountain men, explorers and pioneers of the old west liked Native American style chili and they adapted the basic recipe.  A basic recipe for a pot of chili is very easy to make.  This is part of the reason why chili became a tradition in the west. 

     One of the reasons that chili became a main staple in the old west, was because dried chile peppers have a very long shelf life.  Chile peppers also have medicinal value.  Chile peppers ward off the common cold and they help to get rid of digestive tract parasites that come from contaminated water.  Chile peppers make strong tasting wild game palatable.  Not every wild game meat is mild tasting.  Chile peppers can tame the flavor of the strongest tasting wild game meats, when prepared as a pot of chili.

     The base ingredient of a western chili stewing sauce is dried red peppers (Chile Colorado) or fresh green peppers (Chile Verde).  Some chili is made with combination of the two.  Ground or pureed dried chile peppers make the best stewing sauce.  The dried peppers can be used as is or they can be pan roasted first.
     Tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic and onion are desirable additional flavors.  The acidity of tomatoes helps to tenderize meat and this is the primary reason why tomatoes are added to a pot of chili. 
     Beans are always optional for chili.  In fact, chili beans with no meat was eaten more often in the old west than chili made with only meat.  Native bean varietals are always preferred when making chili beans or when adding beans to chili.   
     Today's Venison Chili
     Today's chili recipe features deer meat.  Other than the loin section, the back strap and the rack sections, most of the rest the meat deer carcass is tough and it is better off being stewed.  Deer are active animals, so there is not much intramuscular fat and the meat tends to be very lean.  
     Lean meat from regularly used muscles does tend to be a bit tougher and it has a stronger flavor.  Simmering venison stewing meat in a pot of chili kills two birds with one stone.  The tough venison stewing meat becomes tender and the strong wild game flavor is tamed.  There is no need to marinate venison meat with vinegar, citrus or wine, when making venison chili.  The chili stewing sauce does all the work.

     Beer is a traditional optional ingredient for western chili.  Adding beer to chili is nothing new.  In the old west, gold mining communities usually had a beer brewery nearby.  Often the only thing that was safe to drink in old west mining communities was beer or whiskey, because the local water quality was contaminated with pathogens or it was polluted by gold mining industry chemical runoff.  Cooks in mining camps often used old beer in place of water for cooking.  Old flat beer was part of many old west chile recipes.
     In recent years, many trendy brew pubs and chefs have featured western craft brewery India Pale Ale in chili recipes.  Just like the quality of craft beer, some IPA Chili recipes are better than others.  
     India Pale Ale has a stronger than average hops flavor that tastes pretty good in a pot of western chili.  In today's venison chili recipe, the India Pale Ale accents the flavor of venison in a way that that is hard to describe.  All I can say is that the flavor combination is indescribably good. 
     For a chile made with IPA Beer, robust strong tasting dried chiles like Morita, Chipotle, Arbol, Cascabel or Ancho can overwhelm the IPA flavor.  A less robust chile pepper combination is a better choice.  A combination of Green Anaheim Chiles, Spanish Paprika and Chile Pequin were used in today's IPA Venison Chili recipe.
      Anaheim Peppers can be as hot or hotter than a Jalapeño, but they are a relatively mild chile pepper overall.  Chile Pequin are also called bird peppers.  These tiny red peppers are traditionally used in Central American stews.  Chile Pequin is one of the hottest peppers that there is, so it only takes a few to spice up a pot of chili.        
     Beer Pairing
     One craft brewery that I found to be impressive, is the Bear Republic Brewing Company in Sanoma County, California.  Bear Republic produces Racer 5 IPA, which happens to be well balanced, when judged from a malt, hops and gravity ratio perspective.  Bear Republic uses a nice blend of four specific hops varieties to achieve flavor balance in this brew.  
     As far as pairing a beer selection for a chili recipe that is made with IPA beer goes, suggesting a mellow brew like a nut brown ale or a crisp lager is best.  This way the hoppy IPA beer flavor of the chili can be tasted, without being masked by an accompanying IPA brew.  

     As far as making an IPA chili goes, just about any IPA brew can be used in the recipe.  Racer 5 IPA was used in today's chili recipe and it gave the chili the flavor that I expected.  The rule of thumb for choosing a beer for a recipe is the same as cooking with wine.  Always cook with a beer or wine that is of high enough quality to be enjoyed on its own. 

     The reason that I gave today's chili recipe a generic name with no specific beer in the title, was because Racer 5 IPA has limited availability nationally and internationally.  Racer 5 IPA is not available everywhere, but most liquor stores can special order this brew on request.  Locally in Las Vegas, Racer 5 IPA can be found at Lee's Discount Liquor.  

     Bear Republic Racer 5 is perfect for making an IPA Venison Chili or a chili that features Anaheim Peppers.  Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA is also great on its own.  This craft IPA has a remarkably good balance of hops and barley malt!  

     IPA Venison Anaheim Chili:
     This recipe yields 1 large serving of chili!  
     Deer hunters always have plenty of venison stew meat on hand.  For those who do not have an opportunity to hunt, many butcher shops carry alternative meats like venison.  Venison shoulder and hind quarter section are often sold as stew meat for a reasonable price.  
     Unlike what many chili cooks say, chili does not have to slowly simmer all day.  Chili is done cooking when the meat becomes tender and the sauce is just thick enough to cling to the tender meat..
     Step 1:  Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil or lard.  (Lard is traditional.)
     Add 8 ounces of venison stewing meat that is cut into bite size pieces.
     Sauté the meat, till it is browned.
     Step 2:  Add 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic.  
     Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion.
     Sauté till the onions start to turn clear in color.
     Step 3:  Add 2 seeded green anaheim peppers that are cut into 1/4" wide bite size strips.  (About 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup.) 
     Sauté till the peppers, just start to become tender.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.  Check to see if about 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil remains in the pot.  Discard any extra or add oil to make up the difference.
     Add just enough masa harina, while stirring, to soak up the oil in the pot.  (About 1 tablespoon is plenty.)  Stir till a toasted corn aroma is sensed.  
     Step 5:  Add 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped seeded canned whole California tomatoes.
     Add 1 tablespoon of tomato puree.
     Add 10 ounces of western style craft India Pale Ale.  (Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA is a good choice.)
     Add 1 cup of beef broth.
     Add water, only if the ingredients are not covered with about 1/2" of liquid.
     Step 6:  Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, while stirring occasionally.
     Step 7:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1 teaspoon of cumin.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of coriander.
     Add 2 pinches of minced epazote.
     Add 1 pinch of Mexican oregano.
     Add 1 teaspoon of ground anatto.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of Spanish Paprika.
     Add 3 to 8 crushed dried chile pequin.  (Chile pequin are very spicy hot.  3 Chile Pequin = Mild to Medium Spicy Hot and 8 Chile Pequin = Medium to Extra Spicy Hot.)
     Add sea salt and black pepper. 
     Step 8:  Slowly simmer till the venison meat becomes tender and till the chili stewing sauce reduces to a medium thin sauce consistency.  Only add water if the chili becomes thick before the venison meat is cooked tender.  When the chili is finished, the sauce should be just thick enough to cling to the meat, like a thin gravy.  
     Keep the IPA Anaheim Venison Chili warm over low very low heat.

     IPA Anaheim Venison Chili is nice with rice.  Plain white long grain rice or a simple Mexican style rice that is flavored with anatto are good choices.  Anatto flavored rice was used for the presentation in the pictures above.  
     Use a ring mold to place a portion of rice in a shallow stew bowl.
     Ladle the IPA Anaheim Venison Chili in the bowl around the rice.
     Sprinkle thin bias sliced green onion over the rice.
     Garnish with Italian parsley sprigs or cilantro sprigs. 

     This is a fine tasting bowl of old west style venison chili!  The IPA beer rounds the flavor out in a nice way.  Anaheim peppers give this chili a pleasant mild classic green chile flavor.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Beef Chorizo Rice Stuffed Red Bell Pepper with Cilantro Oil

     Today's Recipe 
     Everybody likes a good stuffed pepper.  Some of the most popular stuffed pepper recipes are Italian or Middle Eastern.  There are many nice Spanish and Portuguese stuffed pepper recipes too. 

     Today's stuffed pepper recipe is made with Mexican style beef chorizo.  The photos of today's recipe show how a modern southwestern style entree can be presented.  Garnishing every Mexican or southwestern style entrée with lettuce, salsa, sour cream and guacamole is not the only option in this modern age.  Chefs and home cooks can certainly create imaginative southwestern style food presentations that are far more interesting.    

     Infused Oils
     Infused oils have been popular for many years and they are not difficult to make.  Because infused oil is highly perishable, it must be kept refrigerated for no more than seven days.  
     According to the National Restaurant Association Servsafe health code standards, infused oils should never be stored at room temperature.  Any infused oil that is stored between 41ºF and 135º for 4 hours has to be discarded.  This is because the threat of Clostridium botulinum pathogen contamination will be likely and botulism is the chief concern. 
    A infused oil should be warmed to room temperature before it is used.  If the oil starts to discolor before the seven day limit is reached, then it can be used to flavor hot food, instead of being used for garnishing.  

     Some restaurant chefs who do not have Servsafe training or food borne illness prevention training are very casual in the way that they handle infused oils.  I have seen chefs let infused oils sit out all day long.  Apparently those chefs did not know what kind of health risk this posed or they just ignored the facts.  
     Las Vegas has the strictest restaurant health code enforcement standards in America and local health inspectors do focus on how infused oils are handled.  A restaurant can drop from an A Grade health inspection rating to a C Grade rating just by not labeling infused oil with a time dated sticker. 
     Infused Oil Cooking Technique Information
     • To make an infused oil with a fresh green herb like cilantro the herb must be quickly blanched, then shocked in ice water.  
     • The oil must have a neutral flavor and the oil temperature should be between 78º to 90º.  
     • The oil and blanched herb are pureed, then strained through a coffee filter into a container.
     • If any moisture settles below the oil in the container, then the oil must be carefully poured into another container, with the goal of leaving the watery liquid in the first container.  Water will oxidize the Chlorophyll in the oil and the green color will turn brown.  
     • If the oil is made for immediate use then the tiny amount of moisture is no problem and it will add an interesting visual effect, even though moisture in an infused oil is not considered to be perfect.

     The choice of filter does make a difference.  Thin coffee filters are easily damaged.  A deep fat fryer filter works better than a coffee filter.  A fine mesh mousseline chinoise strainer works great as long as the mesh is in good shape.  Fine mesh chinoise strainers are used to make infused oil by chefs in restaurants. 

     The concentration of herb flavor in the infused oil depends on the proportion of herb to oil.  Many chefs go overboard on creating intensely flavored infused oil.  Many chefs tend to judge an herb infused oil by how deep green the color is.  Sometimes a delicate infused oil with a lighter color is preferred for certain applications.
     The cilantro oil in the photos above cilantro has a light color and a delicate flavor.  The moisture in the oil was retained, in order to create a nice visual effect.  The problem with the infused oil in the photos was that the last coffee filter that I had in the kitchen ended up getting a tiny hole in it.  Some of the cilantro vegetable matter carry through into the finished oil.  
     Since I only made enough infused oil for 2 entrées, this was no big deal and I used the infused oil for today's food presentation anyway.  Even though the light infused cilantro oil was far from perfect, it actually looked good on the plate.  
     On the flip-side, because moisture and vegetable matter was in the oil, the oil oxidized to a brownish color in less than 12 hours.  The oxidized oil ended up being used to flavor another recipe.  Ce est la vie! 

     Cilantro Infused Oil:
     This recipe yields about 1 cup of light cilantro infused oil.  (Use 1 or 2 whole bunches of cilantro for a bolder flavor and a greener color.)
     Place 1/2 bunch of cilantro in a pasta net strainer.
     Briefly dip the strainer in boiling salted water 2 to 3 times, for only a few seconds, till the cilantro blanches and barely wilts.
     Dip the pasta net in ice water to shock the cilantro.
     Set the strainer aside and let the water drain off.
     Spread the cilantro out on a parchment paper lined pan and let the excess moisture evaporate.
     Puree the blanched cilantro with 1 1/4 cups of neutral flavor oil.  (Vegetable oil or light pomace olive oil are good choices.)
     Place a fine mesh chinoise strainer on top of a catch pot.  (A regular strainer that is lined with a coffee filter or deep fryer oil filter can be used.)  
     Pour the cilantro oil puree into the strainer.
     Allow the infused oil to slowly pass through the filter.  Do not press the remaining cilantro solids, or excess moisture will be released!  
     After filtering, a tiny amount of moisture will be in the bottom of the container.  Slowly pour the infused oil into a second container and leave the moisture in the first container.
     Place the cilantro oil in plastic squirt bottle.
     Keep the infused oil refrigerated for up to 7 days.  Warm the oil to room temperature before serving.

     Beef Chorizo and Rice Stuffing:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 stuffed pepper, plus a little extra.  Keep in mind that it is better to have too much stuffing, than not enough!  The amount of stuffing needed, depends on the size of the bell pepper.  Any excess stuffing can be used to stuff other vegetables or eaten as a snack.
     Mexican Chorizo is a loose bulk sausage has an inedible sausage casing.  Mexican chorizo has a very high fat content.  Only a portion of the fat should be drained off after cooking, because the fat is full of flavor.   
     Step 1:  Boil 2 cups of water over high heat in a sauce pot.  
     Add 1 cup of long grain white rice.
     Bring the water back to a boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat and cover the pot with a lid.
     Simmer and steam the rice, till it is almost fully cooked and the rice still has a firm texture.
     Use a strainer to drain off the excess liquid. 
     Set the rice aside and let it cool.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 5 ounces of Mexican style uncased bulk beef chorizo.
     Sauté till some fat renders.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 2 tablespoons of small chopped onion.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced celery.
     Sauté till the chorizo becomes fully cooked and the vegetables become tender.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the excess grease out of the pan.
     Step 3:  Place the chorizo mixture and the 2 tablespoons of chorizo fat in a mixing bowl.  
     Add enough rice to fill 1 large red bell pepper with stuffing.
     Add 1 pinch of Mexican oregano.
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced epazote.
     Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. 
     Mix the ingredients together.

     Beef Chorizo Rice Stuffed Red Bell Pepper:
     Select a large red bell pepper that can stand upright.
     Cut off the top and scrape out the pulp and seeds.
     Brush the pepper lightly with vegetable oil.
     Stuff the pepper with the beef chorizo and rice stuffing.
     Place the stuffed pepper in a large muffin pan cup.  (Or place stand the pepper in a steel ring mold on a roasting pan.)  
     Bake in a 325º till the pepper becomes tender and the stuffing becomes piping hot.  (The pepper should be al dente and not mushy.)
     Allow the pepper to cool to a safe serving temperature.  

     Beef Chorizo Rice Stuffed Red Bell Pepper with Cilantro Oil:
     Place the beef chorizo stuffed pepper on the center of a plate, so it stands up straight.
     Garnish the plate at the base of the pepper with long bias sliced green onion top slivers, so they create a sunburst pattern.
     Place dots of sriracha sauce near the points of the green onion slivers. 
     Use the squirt bottle of infused cilantro oil to paint a pinwheel pattern on the plate that weaves between the garnishes.
     Garnish the stuffed pepper with a cilantro sprig.  

     Nobody ever said that stuffed peppers had to be a soggy, mushy overcooked mess!  Today's stuffed pepper entrée looks really nice and guests will be impressed. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Panini Mexicana

     I recently went on a streak of creating new panini and monte cristo sandwich recipes, after buying a large loaf of good French bread.  I chose gourmet ingredients for creating some interesting new sandwich themes.
     The ingredients for today's southwestern style gourmet panini are not exotic and they are common everyday Mexican food items.  What made this panini special is that it is one of a kind.  I seriously doubt if a Mexican style panini like this has been made before!

     Ground Beef Taco Meat:
     This recipe yields enough taco meat for 1 sandwich!
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil or lard.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced onion.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced jalapeno.
     Sauté till the onions start to turn clear in color.
     Step 2:  Add 4 ounces of lean ground beef.
     Sauté till the beef becomes browned.  Break up any clumps of ground beef as it cooks.
     Step 3:  Add 1 cup of water.
     Add 2 pinches of ancho chile powder.
     Add 2 pinches of New Mexico chile powder.
     Add 1 pinch of cumin.
     Add 2 pinches of coriander.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Simmer and reduce the liquid, till the liquid has nearly evaporated.  The ground beef should just have a thin coating of sauce.
     Keep the taco meat warm on a stove top.
     Just enough refried beans are needed to spread a thin layer on the sandwich.  Canned refried beans or home cooked refried beans can be used.  Refried Bean Recipes can be found at The Chili & Daily Beans Index Page in this website.  
     Place 2 to 3 ounces of refried beans in a small sauce pot.
     Add about 1 ounce of water.
     Gently warm the refried beans over very low heat.
     Keep the refritos warm on a stove top.

     Panini Mexicana:
     This recipe yields 1 sandwich!
     Cut 2 slices of Soft Crust French Bread.
     Brush one side of each bread slice with pomace olive oil.
     Spread a thin layer of the refried beans on one slice of bread.
     Place an even layer of the taco meat on the refried beans.
     Place a few thin slices of tomato on the taco meat.
     Place a few thin slices of Queso Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese on the tomato slices.
     Place the top slice of bread on the sandwich.
     Place the sandwich on a panini grill that is set to medium heat.
     Close the panini grill lid and just let the weight of the grill lid press the sandwich.
     Grill the sandwich, till it becomes toasted golden brown.

     Panini were originally a bar snack.  Panini are traditionally cut into triangle shapes.
     Place the sandwich on a cutting board and cut it into 3 triangle shapes.
     Place the panini triangles on a plate.
     Place a ramekin of Mexican style hot sauce on the plate.
     Garnish with pickles and an Italian Parsley sprig.

     This is a nice panini sandwich for lunch or for a football game party!

Rio Grande Riverman Skillet Dinner!

     Southwestern Spice Pan Fried Catfish with Cilantro Red Chile Lime Mayo and Sumac Berry Mint Corn Meal Mush!  

     The Riverman Dinner Skillet Theme
     Skillet dinner presentations are rustic.  The food components of a skillet presentation should support whatever the rustic theme is.  
     A Veal Oscar Skillet Dinner would not be a good idea.  Refined high cuisine items are better suited for fancy plated presentations.  Rustic food, like country style southern food, farmhouse food, frontier food and western style food items are better cuisine choices for a skillet presentation.  Meatloaf, fried lake fish, chili, stew, hunter style wild game entrées and even barbecue are good examples of food that is suitable for a cast iron skillet presentation. 

     A skillet dinner theme should be rustic.  Better still, the food theme should reflect upon a historic place and time when the good old classic cast iron skillet was the culinary code of the land.  The cast iron skillet is a symbol of rugged durability.  The days of pioneers in the wide open frontier were also the time and place where cast iron skillets were the king of the campfire kitchen.  Dinner skillet presentation themes along these lines that are easy to think of are the "Wild West Chuck Wagon Skillet, Old Muddy Skillet, Sheep Rustler Chili Skillet and Rebel Mining Camp Skillet."  

     In the old frontier days, there were Mountain Men and Rivermen.  Both were tough ways of life and the trusty old cast iron skillet could "take a lickin' and keep on tickin'!"  In the age of the old western pioneer days, nobody dined on fine china.  People ate food on rugged tin plates and they ate food straight out of the campfire pot or cast iron skillet.  So, skillet dinners actually are an old culinary presentation tradition of sorts.

     There is one particular kind of fish in every lake, river or stream that every hungry camper knows well.  Catfish!  Catfish are fairly easy to catch.  
     In the age of exploration, Rivermen did not have fancy fishing reels and tackle.  Most often they either speared fish, netted fish, set a trotline or cane poled with hook and line.  Bottom fishing was usually more productive than any other fishing method when the waters were muddy.  When the temperatures were hot or a new moon was on the rise, bottom fishing with stink bait put catfish in the skillet for dinner, when no other kind of fish was taking bait. 

     Since catfish is the good old reliable outdoorsman dinner catch, it is a good choice for a Riverman Skillet Dinner theme.  There are plenty of good rivers to choose from, when deciding on a geographic name for a Riverman skillet theme.  For a southwestern spice theme, the Rio Grande is a good choice.  

     Mint and red sumac berry spice corn meal mush supports the Rio Grande Riverman Skillet Dinner Theme, because these ingredients naturally grow in some parts of the Rio Grande region.  Corn meal mush might not sound fancy, but that is what polenta was called in the old frontier days.  
     Tired Rivermen cooked simple food after a long day and corn meal mush was easy to make.  Corn meal mush was plopped on a tin plate in nearly every frontier region.  Native Americans and Early Americans used dried red sumac berries as medicine and food.  The flavor tastes like lemony deep red wine.  Sumac berry tastes real nice with mint.   
     Green Peas?  That is a slim fit in this skillet theme.  Peas and beans are grown just about everywhere, because they are hearty plants that need little maintenance.  In the old west and Texas, peas and beans were grown near rivers where water for irrigation was available.  Most people like fresh picked green peas.  Even Rio Grande Rivermen!

     Cilantro Red Chile Lime Mayo:
     This recipe yields 2 small condiment portions!
     Place 1/3 cup of mayonnaise in a small mixing bowl.
     Add 1 teaspoon of mild red chile paste.  (Mild Sambal or Red Serrano Chile Paste.)
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced cilantro.
     Add 1 teaspoon of lime juice.  
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Chill the sauce till it is needed.   

     Sumac Berry Mint Corn Meal Mush:
     This recipe yields 1 large portion!
     Place a sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add 1 cup of light chicken broth.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of water.
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Add 1/2 cup of corn meal, while constantly stirring with a whisk.
     As soon as the cornmeal starts to thicken the liquid, reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter or 1 tablespoon of roasted lard.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of Sumac Berry Spice.  (Sumac Berry Spice is available in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean Markets.)
     Slowly simmer and stir occasionally.  Add water or chicken broth if the mush is too thick.
     Simmer till the cornmeal becomes very soft and the mush is just thick enough to slowly pour off of a spoon.  (Corn Meal Mush will thicken rapidly as it cools to a serving temperature, so it should be thin looking while it cooks in the pot!) 
     Keep the mush warm over very low heat.  Add more liquid if necessary.  
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced fresh mint just before serving.
     Southwestern Spice Fish Fry Mix:
     Place 1/2 cup of corn meal in a bowl.
     Add 1/2 cup of masa harina.  
     Add 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
     Season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of coriander.
     Add 1 teaspoon of cumin.
     Add 2 pinches of Mexican oregano.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of ground chile pequin or cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 teaspoon of ground Mild New Mexico Chile Pepper.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of Spanish Paprika.
     Mix the ingredients together.

     Southwestern Spice Pan Fried Catfish:
     Heat equal amounts of vegetable frying oil in a wide cast iron skillet to 360º.  The oil should be about 1" deep.
     Select 1 whole skinned gutted catfish that weighs about 12 ounces.
     Cut the catfish into 4 or 5 large pieces.
     Dredge the catfish pieces in plain flour.
     Dredge the floured catfish pieces in whole milk.
     Dredge the catfish pieces in the Southwestern Spice Fish Fry Mix.  Be sure that the catfish pieces are coated evenly.
     Carefully place the catfish pieces in the hot oil.
     Fry the catfish pieces on all sides, till the fish is fully cooked and the coating is crispy golden brown.  (CGB!)
     Use a fry net to remove the fried catfish from the hot oil.
     Place the fried catfish on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan and drain off any excess oil.
     Keep the catfish pieces warm on a stove top.

     Rio Grande Riverman Skillet Dinner:
     Use a spoon to plop a generous portion of the Sumac Berry Mint Corn Meal Mush in a warm cast iron skillet.  (125º to 130º is plenty warm.)
     Place a vegetable of your choice in the skillet.  (Squash, calabaza, green peas or beans are good choices.)  
     Pile up the Southwestern Spice Pan Fried Catfish in the skillet in a way that creates eye appeal.
     Place a ramekin of the Cilantro Red Chile Lime Mayo next to the catfish.
     Garnish the corn meal mush with a mint sprig.  
     Garnish the skillet with a thick slice of lime.  
     Place the skillet dinner on a doily lined serving plate.

      Viola!  An old fashioned Southwestern Riverman style catfish and mush served up fresh in a warm cast iron skillet!