"It IS all about the TASTE"
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  • Ras El Hanout

    spices

    I do so love having a properly stocked pantry / spice rack. The situation is this, while in the store shopping I decided that I wanted to produce a Tangine for Saturday Dinner. Madam BadWolf, just looked at me and asked what did we need. (No pressure there, Just DO NOT SCREW THIS UP..) A quick visit to the meat counter showed very little in the way of acceptable and affordable lamb, we really could not think of chicken, and a “pork tangine?”, I think not, so this left beef. Looking at the beef selection, and referring to my trusty internet connected communications device, I settled on Beef Short Ribs.

    Think of hearty chunks of brisket, with a bone on one side. Perfect for slow cooking, the high collagen and heavy marbling lend this meat to the low and sustained heat and as the meat fibers swell they absorb the braising liquid to deliver a taste that can NOT be duplicated by any other means.

    So several packs of short ribs, some dates, dried apricots, and other items were loaded into the cart, and away we went. The next morning I start my prep to find… I AM MISSING A KEY item. (Ras El Hanout), I missed the line in the recipe, and as if the local not-so-mega mart would carry such… As if I KNEW what Ras El Hanout was…

    Again an internet connected device to the rescue..

    From Wikipedia

    Ras el hanout or Rass el hanout is a blend of spices from Morocco but also used in other countries in North Africa. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” and implies a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer. Ras el hanout is used in many savory dishes, sometimes rubbed on meat or stirred into rice.

    There is no definitive combination of spices that makes up ras el hanout. Each shop, company, or person may have their own blend. The mixture may consist of over a dozen spices. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground chili peppers, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, peppercorn, and turmeric. Some spices may be particular to the region, such as ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk’s pepper, cubebs, or dried rosebud. Ingredients may be toasted before being ground and mixed together.

    A peruse of my spice provided all but one, (optional) ingredients. The smells from the toasting, and grinding were amazing, I can not wait to actually start cooking with this.

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  • Cast Iron Chef – Pepper Steak

    After mastering yet another vendor proficiency test, (one could say I am now buzz word compliant), I decided to chuck the rest of the afternoon and go visiting clients.

    Sitting in an office high overlooking a major intersection, and chatting with a client as he reviewed my missives posted here, a slow cooked pepper steak produced by his wife, was mentioned. As he went on to describe the mouth watering lusciousness of the meat, the contrasting colors of the stop-light peppers and the richness of the gravy produced I knew I HAD TO HAVE that recipe.

    Also remembering that I had made the lady of said clients house a gift of a 18″ Bad Wolf special chef’s knife, I decided that my usual brash tactics might not work, and that a bit of kitchen research would be the better part of valor…

    The real key here is low and slow cooking in a moist environment….

    Collagen, the predominant protein in connective tissue, is quite tough to chew, and is found in abundance in tougher and cheaper cuts of meat. (Almost the tougher / cheaper the better). At 150 degrees it starts to melt and become gelatin-like as the temperature climbs. At 150 the muscle tissue will have tightened fully and the bonds between individual protein molecules become stronger and tighter. These bonds become so tight they drive water from the meat back into the braising liquid!

    IF REMOVED AT THIS POINT, THE ROAST WILL BECOME TOUGH AND DRY.

    Once the internal temperature of the meat reaches 170 degrees, a second process begins as melted collagen makes meat seem tender and moist. Further heated, the collagen in the muscle will break down progressively into soft gelatin as the tightened muscle tissue strands continue to separate.

    Because collagen won’t melt completely until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 200 degrees, the meat must be cooked to this temperature and held there for an hour to take full advantage of this phenomenon.

    The meat fibers will swell to take on the liquid surrounding them, and with the collagen will turn to gelatin, so that the meat becomes a wonderious tender, moist, taste treat seasoned with all the goodness of the various peppers, onions and garlic that have simmered with it.

    Do note:
    I’ve not used high priced sirloin, or tenderloin, but have used chuck steak which is quite economical that produces glorious flavor and a worthy texture when cooked properly. And properly is low and slow.

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  • Meatless Monday – Breakfast Fry

    It’s coolish/ warminsh / coldish / hotish, in short mid spring, I am quite busy, and have a yen for some comfort food. The original comfort food was the potato, crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside. But I want a bit more flavor and texture…

    Maybe I’ll par-boil some potatoes, slice or quarter them, and fry them up in my heavy cast iron skillet, maybe adding some cheese and a Jalapeño, along with some spices to kick up the flavor a notch.

    Home fries, house fries, or cottage fries are a type of basic potato dish made by pan or skillet frying diced, chunked, wedged or sliced potatoes (sometimes unpeeled) that have been par-cooked by boiling, baking, steaming, or microwaving.

    While it is possible to make “home fries” without par-cooking the potatoes, these are technically raw fries. The texture will be more chewy, and the longer cooking time increases the likelihood of burning the potato pieces. Home fries are also made, as the name suggests, as a simple homemade potato dish and can be prepared even by people with modest cooking skills as a meal or a snack.

    The frying is typically done in vegetable oil or butter. Other ingredients may be added. If chopped onions and bell peppers are added to diced potatoes it creates a dish referred to as Potatoes O’Brien. If sliced potatoes and sliced onions are sautéed together with seasonings it can create a dish referred to as Lyonnaise potatoes.

    The consistency depends on the type of potato used. Although various types of white potatoes are the most popular base, sometimes waxy (usually red-skinned) or sweet potatoes are used.

    In the United States, home fries are popular as a breakfast dish and are sometimes served in place of hash browns. Home fries may be served with a condiment such as ketchup or maple syrup.

    Patatas bravas or papas bravas is a dish of the cuisine of Spain, often served as a tapa in bars. It typically consists of white potatoes that have been cut into 2 centimeter irregular shapes and then fried in oil and served warm with a spicy tomato sauce. This dish is commonly served in restaurants and bars throughout Spain, where it is traditionally accompanied by a shot of orujo or a glass of wine.

    The potatoes are boiled in brine for several minutes to tenderize them. They are then rubbed dry and fried in oil in a manner similar to the preparation of potato chips.

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  • Malt

    malt-mike

    Since I am getting nostalgic, perhaps another taste from my past..

    It may be I am still a Central Texas boy at heart, or it maybe the heart burn that makes me crave any form of cold dairy, but the Triple French Vanilla Ice Cream I made last year, literally has me fantasizing, (about the ice cream!)..

    And since I have made a fair batch of ice cream, (which immediately disappeared in to a number of culinary black holes), so I made another (DOUBLE) batch. I can now experiment with other things…. Like Ice Cream Malted’s…

    Background
    A soda-fountain drink, also called malted, that is a thick, rich mixture of malted-milk powder, milk, ice cream, and a flavoring such as chocolate or vanilla.

    A milk shake is a blended combination of milk, ice cream, and flavored syrup, or fruit.

    Now a malt is what I want, a rich buttery, creamy, ice cold glass of goodness and love..

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  • Lettuce and Bacon

    bs-salad

    It is spring and the first heads of lettuce are coming in, I so must have a dish from my youth. I can not count the number of nights dinner was thick strips of bacon, fried, with a salad of lettuce and onion, or spinach greens wilted with a hot bacon and vinegar dressing, served with a big wedge of corn bread and butter.

    One can “class” this up and use spinach greens with a “Hot Bacon Dressing”, but I’ll always think of this as wilted lettuce.

    These are the things that memories are made of, (some times, you wish to go back for just one more meal)

    Background
    As said before

    Bacon is a cut of meat taken from the sides, belly, or back of a pig, then cured, and smoked. Meat from other animals, such as beef, lamb, chicken, goat, or turkey, may also be cut, cured, or otherwise prepared to resemble bacon. Bacon may be eaten fried, baked, or grilled, or used as a minor ingredient to flavor dishes.

    Sarah Hepola, on Salon.com, suggests that eating bacon in the modern, health-conscious world is an act of rebellion: “Loving bacon is like shoving a middle finger in the face of all that is healthy and holy while an unfiltered cigarette smolders between your lips.

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  • Quiche

    Time for food, but given the recent set of medical stupidity one must go a bit lighter. So maybe eggs, but sunny-side up, over easy, scrambled, just is NOT going to do it for me.

    I WANT TASTE!. I WANT TEXTURE! I WANT SAVORY…. So a quiche, but one with real bacon, real veggies, and lots of cheese and eggs..

    Quiche is essentially an custard made with milk and eggs poured into a pie crust and baked. You want just enough eggs to set the milk, but not so many that the quiche becomes truck tire. You want a bit of wobble in your quiche as it comes out of the oven. Wobble means silky, melt-away custard in every bite.

    The fool-proof part comes courtesy of the French. They long-ago settled on the perfect formula of one part egg to two parts milk. A standard large egg weighs two ounces and a cup of milk is eight ounces, so a good rule of thumb is two eggs per cup of milk. One can bump this up a bit to make a more substantial quiche and go with three eggs and a cup and a half of milk in a nine-inch pie crust.

    Or as one person wrote:

    I always use the Julia Child ratio: put the eggs in a large measuring cup and add enough dairy (cream/half & half/milk) to bring the total up to 1/2 cup per egg. So, if you used 4 eggs, you’d add enough dairy to make 2 cups of custard. So simple to remember and a perfect blend of dairy and egg: not too thick, not too liquid, just right.

    Now as per quiches, they have a reputation as a fancy French entree, and for being rather persnickety to prepare, but quiches are actually very easy to make. With a little science, some good chemistry, a proper ratio and a bit of technique, quiches can be a very good selection for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a late night snack.

    There are some things key to good quichery :

    1. Flaky Crust
    2. First of all, the pie crust must be tender and flaky. A good tart crust, works well.

    3. A tasty Filling
    4. The filling must have some kind of structure so the pie will hold together when sliced. As the eggs cook, they set, forming a custard. A basic quiche recipe using the proportions of 1-2 cups of dairy with 3-4 eggs will work. Any other add ins, (bacon, sausage, mushrooms, onions, etc) need to be fully cooked and cooled, BEFORE adding to the filling. In this case, 1 cup dairy to 4 eggs, plus my add ins. I am looking for hearty here.

    5. Proper Baking
    6. Following baking times and temperatures are KEY to a quiche that is cooked but not rubbery. I.E. The center is set and the outside edge is golden brown.

    You can fill your quiches with just about anything; they’re wonderful refrigerator Velcro. Leftover bacon, cooked chicken, ham, cooked vegetables, bits of cheese transform into a “slice of heaven”

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