November 01, 2009

Red Beans and Rice

One of the things about being in the military is that you meet a lot of people from all over. When I was in Desert Shield / Desert Storm, -- one of the guys in our barracks was from Mississippi. Quiet guy, and very big. You got the idea that he'd do anything for you, and you didn't want to cross him. Funny what you remember. I can see this guy's face in my mind, and I can hear his voice like it was yesterday, but for the life of me, I can't recall his name.
Anyway, one of the pearls of wisdom this fellow had gleaned from his grandma, was " wanna cook food that swells". (I believe this was one of her tricks for stretching a dollar.)
Well, dried beans swell, and rice swells, and both are very inexpensive. Couple that up with a handful of pantry staples, and some seasonings, and a few hours of time, and you have a classic comfort dish that will feed the troops. (or at least keep me in lunch & snacks for the week).
Once this is done, I like to slice and add either some kielbasa, or smoked sausage to it. You could also add some ham hocks while it simmers. The variations are pretty much unlimited.

Red beans and rice

2 Tbsp oil
1 Onion
6 Anaheim Chiles
3 stalks Celery
1 tsp Black Pepper
5 Cloves Garlic
2 inch square chunk of salt pork
4 Bay leaves
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
1 tsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 qts. chicken stock
1 lb red beans
1 cup uncooked white rice

Onion, chiles, celery & pepper
Until onions are translucent

continue to cook 1-2 minutes

Pork, bay leaves, herbs de provence, hot sauce, cayenne, chicken stock, & beans

Increase heat to high, bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cover.
Cook 1 1/2 hours (+), stirring every 30 minutes.

After 1 1/2 - 2 hrs, remove cover, and continue to simmer until beans are tender and sauce is thickened.

Cook the rice.

Now, -- there are two schools on this, -- my preference is to dump the rice in with the beans, and let everything get acquainted. Other folks will spoon some of the rice into a bowl, and spoon the beans over it before serving.

October 06, 2008

Roasting Chiles

I don't know about you all, but a lot of the time I spend in the kitchen isn't spent preparing meals. Quite a lot of it seems to be spend preparing ingredients. The undisputed stars of my little vegetable patch are the chiles. I usually plant Serranos, Poblanos, and Anaheim chiles every spring. Starting about mid summer to about this time of year, I pick, wash, and put up chiles. Now, the serranos I can smoke-dry or pickle. But the best way I've found to use the anaheims and poblanos is to roast, peel, and freeze them. It really brings out the flavor, and I use them in all kinds of dishes. Now, out in New Mexico, they have some pretty impressive chile roasters, but here in my kitchen, we make do with the broiler. I've read a lot of sites that say you need to use a gas flame, but this method works just fine. It's real easy, and when you're done, you'll have chiles that you can take out and use whenever needed. If you have more than one kind of chile to roast, I would suggest doing them separately. These pictures are anaheims, and the anaheim chiles and poblano chiles have different roasting times. So putting them all on the same tray doesn't work so well. Basically, you just want to arrange your chiles on a tray or pan that can go under the broiler.
Then, you put them under the broiler for a few minutes. You don't want to turn your back on these. I keep the oven light on and watch them. It's going to take 3 - 5 minutes (approx). You want the chiles to blister. About 80% of the surface should be blistered, then take them out, turn them over with tongs, and let the other side blister.
Once you've turned them, and they're ready to come out, you want to put them in a plastic zip top bag and close it. Let them sweat for at least 30 minutes.

After they sweat for a while, you can take them out one by one, and start peeling them. Just pinch one of the blistered spots, and the skins should peel right off. Once they're all peeled, I usually put 3 in a snack sized zip-loc bag, and put those in a large zip-loc to go in the freezer. You can thaw them out and use them in almost any dish. They do a good job flavoring up soups, dips, spreads, etc...
Later this week I'll post some of my favorite uses for these.

September 08, 2008

Brisket - two ways

Before I get into these two recipes, I want to say a few words about Deer Creek Beef. For some time, I've been reading about this big trend for local, sustainable food. And, although I'm not prone to sacrifice for the sake of fashion, a lot of the arguments I've read actually make sense. I'll still buy artichokes and avocados shipped from California, since I don't see any alternative. But around here, there are plenty of seafood and produce stands. So when it's in season, I buy my produce locally, and get my seafood locally. I was a bit bothered that I didn't know how to get meat locally. Especially considering that I drive by a LOT of farms every day. So I did some snooping around. From a fantastic website devoted to local food in my region; Edible Chesapeake, I discovered Deer Creek Beef. That was some months ago. Last month, I finally got around to dragging myself up to the Bel Air Farmers market, and bought a $50.00 sample pack. Over the next two weeks, I sampled their roasts, steaks, ground beef, etc... Every thing I tried was absolutely delicious. I wouldn't have thought there'd be much difference, you know? It all comes from cow. But the guys over at Deer Creek Beef take a great deal of care in their entire operation. All the beef is dry cured for 3 weeks, and I have to say, there must be something to their methods, because I haven't tasted better beef. And it ends up being less expensive than buying comparable cuts at the super market. For any of you who are local to Harford County, MD, I'll also mention that you can buy their meats at the Mill of Bel Air all year round, in case you don't get out to the farmer's market often. The Mill of Bel Air has a freezer case by the front door, and I also found out that if you call them a day ahead, -- they'll put together a sampler pack for you. So, Deer Creek Beef has made a local sustainable believer out of me. And both these recipes were made with a brisket I purchased from them this weekend. (Really, one brisket was enough for both of these).

Brisket, you may know, comes from the front of the cow. Not a forward area of the side, the actual front of the animal. You might think of it as a chest plate. So there's a fair amount of connective tissue, and it gets a fair amount of work. Both of these factors make this cut an excellent candidate for low / slow cooking methods. And on the weekends, those are usually my favorite methods. Something about slowing everything down and giving the food time to become really delicious, is appealing to me and offers a break from the mad dash of the weeknight dinners when I'm trying to get everything done in less than 40 minutes so I can get everything else done and things set for the morning, not to mention running the kids around to various practices, meetings and so forth.

My favorite treatment for a brisket is smoking. However, my Lovely Charming Bride waxes reminiscent of our favorite barbeque joint in Alpine, CA, Ramon's. Ramon served a delicious smoked brisket that was shredded. So, I decided to cut this brisket in half, and smoke half of it, and braise the other half. The braised half would get shredded. Next time, I think I'll smoke it for an hour or so, then braise it.

Following are both recipes. I should mention that whether smoking or braising, you'll get favorable results by starting with an overnight marinade, and a rub. Both of these started out this way.

The Rub:
2 parts seasoned salt
3 parts fresh ground black pepper
1 part paprika

The marinade:
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce.

Mix the seasonings together and rub them into both sides of the brisket. Put the brisket in your favorite air-tight marinating container, and cover it with the marinade and refrigerate it. (if it doesn't cover, then turn the brisket halfway through the marinade process) This should soak for about 8 hours.

Before you start with the next steps, you'll want to take the brisket out of the refrigerator, and let it come to room temp. (about 30 minutes.)

Braised Brisket:
1 Cup beef stock
1/2 cup burgundy
2 Tbsp worcestershire
1-2 tsp liquid smoke.

Preheat your oven to 275.
Get a cast iron pan fairly hot. (medium, to medium high)
Sear the brisket on both sides. (1-2 minutes per side.)
Place the brisket in a roasting pan.
Mix together: beef stock, burgundy, worcestershire, liquid smoke.
Pour the liquid over the brisket, and lift it a bit to make sure some gets underneath.
Cover the pan with foil, and put it in the oven for 2 1/2 - 3 hours.
After that, remove the brisket from the pan, and let it rest a bit.
Cut it across the grain, in 1-2 inch widths.
shred each strip with two forks.
Take the liquid in the pan, and pour it into a sauce pan.
Put the shredded brisket in with it, and simmer until the liquid reduces and concentrates into the meat. This could take 30 minutes to an hour. You'll be baby-sitting the pot during this stage to ensure that it doesn't scorch. In other words, --stir it occasionally.

Smoked Brisket:
Braising is slow cooking with moist direct heat. Smoking is slow cooking with dry, indirect heat. (and smoke, of course) Smokers come in all shapes and sizes, and you'll want to follow the directions for your particular style of smoker. I'm partial to charcoal, and hickory. But you can do this with a propane grill, and a lot of folks prefer mesquite, apple, or pecan wood for smoking. Regardless of the type of wood you choose for flavoring, the process is largely the same.

Soak your wood chips for at least 30 minutes. While the wood is soaking, start your fire. My smoker has an off-set firebox, so I pile the charcoal on pretty heavily. When the flame dies, and the corners of the briquets are gray, put the brisket in the main part of the smoker, just under the smoke stack. (The vent is open on the firebox, and the lid to the smokestack is also open, which draws the smoke through. The brisket is about 18 - 24 inches from the fire.) Close the lid to the main chamber of the smoker, and add some wood chips to the charcoal. Then close the lid to the firebox, but leave the vent open. My smoker has a built in thermometer, making it easy to maintain the temperature. When the temp gets below 200, add more charcoal. Periodically, add some wood chips. I let this cook for about 4-6 hours, checking the temp, fire, and chips about every hour.
You can also do this with a propane grill, if that's what you have. The key is indirect heat, and smoke. They sell cast iron smoke boxes, that hold your chips. Fill it with wood chips and put it right down on the diffusers. Light the back and front burners, and keep the brisket in the center. Maintain the temp at about 275.
When it's done, take it inside, and slice it thinly across the grain.

Brisket cooked either of these ways can be served with your favorite bbq sauce, or simply as-is. The flavor is incredible. So before the weather cools down too much, carve out a weekend that isn't too packed with errands, and treat yourself to some slow food. And if you can do it, -- make the effort to find local beef. You'll be surprised at the difference.

August 12, 2008

Shrimp and Grits

One of the benefits of my job, is that I get to travel now and then. A couple years ago, I was at a conference in Florida. On the flight home, whoever had my seat on the previous flight, left the food section of the Atlanta Sunday paper in the seat pocket in front of me. (Thank you, whoever you were) They had an entire section on Shrimp and Grits. I had never heard of this combination before, but I love grits, and I love shrimp, so I read through the entire article, along with the 3-4 different recipes for it. The article mentioned that it was a dish originating from Charleston, S.C.
When I got home, I tried a very simple version of this dish, by sauteing some shrimp, and dumping them on top a bowl of grits. Somewhat anticlimatic.
Fast forward to a few months ago, -- I had a conference in Charleston, S.C. Let me tell you, Charleston is a foodie's Mecca! So I found a place that served Shrimp and Grits, and it was Amazing-good! I ate like I was at a trough! So when I got home, I attempted to put together what I'd had in Charleston, and at the risk of sounding prideful, I nailed it! This recipe will produce a version of the famed Shrimp-n-Grits that will satisfy a Charleston native, I promise you.
The key is in the shrimp stock. I'm somewhat fortunate in that most of the grocery stores in my area sell small tubs of steamed shrimp which I take home and snack on while watching TV. I always put the shells in a bowl, and on my way to bed, put them in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Whenever I need some shrimp stock, I pull a handful of shells and tails in some water, and boil it for about 5 minutes. At the end of that, -- I strain the stock and toss the shells. The resulting stock is already well seasoned, from the shrimp shells the grocery store steamed for me. If you're using shells and tails from raw shrimp, just toss some Old Bay in with them. The stock is used in the gravy, and as the liquid for the grits. So without a good shrimp stock, this recipe will be chancy at best. BUT, -- with a good stock, you can't miss. And the best part is, you get to enjoy the shrimp twice! First as a snack, then as the stock for this dish. Now, sans further adieu, -- my version of Shrimp and Grits.

Shrimp and Grits
1 lb. shrimp (51-60)
1 smoked boneless ham slice
2 links Spanish chorizo (or Andouille)
3-4 scallions, green part sliced thinly
1 Roma tomato (diced)
6-6.5 cups shrimp stock (divided)
1 cup grits
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp cream
Salt & pepper to taste

Cut the chorizo links in half lengthwise, then crosswise into half moon slices
Dice the ham in about 1/2 inch cubes.
Peel and get the tails off the shrimp.
Slice the scallions, set aside
Dice the tomato, set aside
Put a saute pan on the front burner, med - med high heat. Put a sauce pan on the back burner, very low heat, covered.
Saute the chorizo slices, ham, and shrimp then transfer to the sauce pan. (the sausage will make it's own juice)
Melt the butter in the sauce pan, then whisk in the flour to make a roux. You'll want a very light roux.
A ladle at a time, ladle in some of the shrimp stock, until what you have is a nice gravy-like consistency. You may want to add another pat of butter, or some cream, (I added both).
When the gravy looks good, add salt and pepper to taste. (At this point, the gravy might resemble chipped beef gravy, without the chipped beef.)
Pour it into the sauce pan and stir everything together.
Now cover the sauce pan and let it keep simmering, stirring now and then. While the different meats have been in there getting acquainted, they've continued to release some of their juices, which will blend now with the gravy and make the whole concoction absolutely delightful.
Now you should have about 4 cups of shrimp stock left. If not, add water until it comes up to 4 cups, and bring it to a boil.
Whisk in your grits, let them boil a bit, then back them down to a simmer. Once they're at the right consistency, you're ready to plate everything.
Put a nice bed of grits down on the plate.
Top this with a ladleful of your shrimp-ham-chorizo gravy.
Now sprinkle some sliced scallions on top of that, and finish with a sprinkling of diced tomatoes, and some parsley if you have it.
You could put this down on any table in Charleston, and it would pass muster.

March 21, 2008

Sauted Oysters with a sherry-bechamel sauce

There's a delightful Seafood shop not far from where I live called Richard's Fish and Crabs, and this time of year, they've got fresh local oysters @ 3 doz / $15. I can't pass that up. So every payday, I stop and get 3 dozen, then stop at the liquor store for a couple six-packs, then (when I have time) stop at the kitchen sink and shuck and eat about a dozen of them with a cold beer. I should mention that I've bought oysters, mussels, crabs, and fish from Richards, and I've always been not just pleased, but absolutely delighted with the quality of the food and the service. If you live in Harford County, MD and you haven't checked them out yet, really -- you ought to. Nothing in my book tops fresh oysters. Thing is, you have about a week to enjoy them. After that, you're taking chances. So I've been finding other ways to prepare them. Fried oysters, oyster frittatas, oyster fritters, oysters on the half shell, oyster pies, stewed oysters, etc...
Last night, I hit upon a dish that was really good, and thought I'd post it here. This week, Richards had really big Maryland oysters. So after I had dinner on for everyone else, I took a few minutes and decided to put these together for myself. (the rest of my family were born and raised in California, -- they don't have the same appreciation for the heavenly bi-valve that I have) It's pretty simple, only takes about 15 minutes once you have the oysters shucked. The thing you want to remember when cooking oysters, is that the oyster should be the star of the show. If you add so many ingredients that the oyster taste is covered up, then why bother? I used 6-8 of these really large oysters, but if your oysters aren't that big, you might want to use 10-12 of them.

For the bechamel:

3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp butter or margarine
1 pt. milk or cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 - 1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
1/4 cup sherry (more or less to taste)

Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet.
Whisk the flour in until it's absorbed all the melted butter.
Start adding the milk or cream, whisking frequently, until it starts to thicken, then keep adding it until you've got the whole pint in there.
Now add your cheese, and stir that in until it's all melted.
Now add the sherry, and keep tasting it until you like it.

For the oysters:
6-8 large oysters
3 Tbsp butter or margarine
about 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning

Shuck the oysters, and set them in a bowl. Drain any of the liquor from them.
Melt the butter in a skillet, then put the oysters in, and sprinkle the old bay on top. Saute them until the edges begin to curl. Once they're ready, remove them to a bowl or plate. (a bowl will keep them from sliding around so much). Spoon some of the sherry-bechamel sauce over them and enjoy.

I didn't try it last night, but I bet a few flakes of tarragon sprinkled over top would make a tasty garnish.

January 12, 2008


Living in Southern California for so long, I grew accustomed to a long(ish) commute. And like other commuters, I was wont to grab a "bite" on the way to work, usually eating it in the truck. After about two weeks, the breakfast sandwiches from McWendy's King all start to taste the same. After two and a half weeks, they start to taste bad. I started to notice that a lot of the taco shops I passed were open early, so I started trying them out, and discovered the chorizo and egg burrito. I'm going to let you all in on this one, because you can actually find mexican chorizo (and spanish chorizo) around these parts. But you'll have to wait until I get a daughter to take some pics.
Like all good things, sometimes you just want something different, and every shop that offered chorizo and eggs also offered machaca and eggs. This was a real find. Machaca and eggs is not just delicious, it's absolutely fantastic. And machaca is incredibly versatile. I discovered it as a breakfast accompaniment to eggs, but you can actually use it in a variety of mexican dishes that call for beef. As I mentioned, I don't have any trouble finding chorizo around these parts anymore, but machaca is another matter. I can't find it anywhere. And as I do when I can't find something I want, I start to see if I can find a recipe for it.
This particular day, Providence was kind to me, and landed my browser on a site called Texas Cooking Online. There is an article there called "How to Make Beef Machaca" by chef David Bulla. Chef Bulla says in his article: "In my opinion, machaca is so superior in flavor and texture to ground beef taco meat that it makes me wonder why anyone would use ground beef for tacos." -- after making and tasting his recipe, I wholeheartedly concur. I'm embarrassed to say that I never considered using it in anything but eggs before reading this, but I've since remedied that. Machaca is now my go-to meat for most of the mexican dishes I make. Enchiladas, Tamales, Tacos, Burritos, and sometimes I just take a fork and eat it from a bowl. Every time I've taken machaca to work for breakfast or lunch, it draws curious colleagues from as far as 3 cubes away. I've lost count of how many times I've emailed the link to the recipe to folks. If you're a big fan of southwestern cuisine, this is one ingredient you'll want to keep on hand.
I spoke with the delightful gal who runs the site Texas Cooking Online, and asked if I could post the recipe, giving them credit for it and providing a link back to their site, and she was most gracious to give me permission to do that. So here is David Bulla's recipe for Beef Machaca. I would encourage you to check out his article, because he also gives you some recipes for how you might use it in enchiladas and quesadillas, as well as a great recipe for enchilada sauce. I'm giving you his recipe, the only alterations I made when I prepared this were insignificant. I used 2 serrano chiles in lieu of 1 jalapeno. (It's what I had on hand). And instead of 1/2 a bell pepper, I used 2-3 roasted, skinned Anaheim chiles. (Again, it's what I had on hand, plus I love anaheim chiles.) So, sans further adieu, here it is, -- enjoy.

This is a basic machaca recipe. You can add to it or take away from it. Spice it up a little by adding chili powder or chili paste. Finish with some diced potatoes for Machaca con papas. You could also make a version of this recipe with leftover roasts or fajitas. Skip the marinade step and the searing step. Simply simmer the meat with the other ingredients until it is falling apart then shred it.


  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ cup vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 2-3 lb Chuck Roast or Skirt Steak, trimmed and cut into lb portions.
  • 1 Large Texas Sweet Onion (yellow onion) diced
  • ½ green bell pepper diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 Fresh Jalapeno Pepper, minced
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes or tomatoes with green chilies
  • ¼ cup beef broth
  • 1 Tb dried oregano
  • 1 Tb ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil for searing the beef

For the marinade, combine all the ingredients in a bowl then whisk them to form an emulsion. Add the beef making sure every piece is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate.

Marinate the beef overnight in a bowl in the refrigerator. Before preparing, drain thoroughly and allow meat to come up to room temperature for about 30 minutes.

In a large soup pot, heat a few tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Sear the beef a few pieces at a time to develop a rich brown color on all sides as well as on the bottom of the pan. Do this in several batches if the pot is too crowded.

When all the beef is browned nicely and removed from the pan, add the onions, peppers, and garlic to the hot pan. Saut for a few minutes then add the remaining ingredients to the pan along with the beef. Bring to a boil, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer slowly for about 2 hours. The meat should be very tender and should easily fall apart when pricked with a fork.

Remove from heat, remove meat to a cutting board and shred with a pair of forks. Return to the pot and bring to a simmer, uncovered. Reduce the liquid until very thick, almost dry. At this point, adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and whatever additional heat you want to add if any.

Serve with tortillas, cheese, salsa, lettuce and guacamole for a great beef taco. Portion and freeze the remaining machaca in zip lock bags for later use.

January 08, 2008

Fried Oysters

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
-- The apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, 13:11.

Of course, Paul was talking about far more weighty matters. (Although, around the Chesapeake, folks tend to defend their feelings about oysters with near Gospel-like fervor.) Specifically, Paul was reminding the believers in Corinth that we currently have a partial view of everything, but a day is coming when we'll see things in a more complete way, thereby having a much clearer picture of things.

This passage from the New Testament reminds me that I ought to expect children to be children. And had I been a more attentive child myself, when the time came, I would have been much more cautious about how I introduced my own children to the crown jewel of Chesapeake seafood, -- the oyster. Nonetheless, one day years ago, in my small kitchen in an apartment outside of San Diego, I managed to score a half-dozen raw oysters, which I stood over the sink and shucked, slurping each off it's own built-in serving spoon. My youngest daughter begged me to try one, so I let her. (mistake) She promptly spit it into the garbage, which irritated me, because they were quite hard to come by.
My own father never let me have oysters at that age, and certainly not raw on the half-shell. When he finally decided I was old enough to try them, (about 13 - 14) he introduced me to the fried oyster sandwich. Two large, fried oysters, on two slices of pasty white bread with catsup. I was instantly in love with this fantastic food. Crunchy, delicate briny flavor, the sweetness of the catsup, all playing together in a maritime symphony. It was absolutely heavenly. I started ordering fried oysters whenever they were available. From there I graduated to oyster stew, oyster casseroles, and eventually, -- raw oysters on the half shell.
So, -- feeling somewhat repentant at the way I introduced my daughter to this incredibly delightful food, and concerned that I had turned her forever against our regionally revered bi-valve, I sought to redeem myself this weekend. I picked up a pint of shucked oysters from my local fish market, and fried the lot of them. Oysters are sold (around here) in two sizes; Selects (large) and Standards (smaller). For frying, I always use the selects. They're a dollar more a pint. I told my daughter how I had an oyster sandwich, and she decided to make her own. Very similar, only instead of white bread, she used a hot dog roll, and she added mayonnaise in addition to catsup. (she is, after all, from California, where the state condiment is Mayo.) And she actually liked it! So I'm hopeful that she'll progress to the point that she'll actually enjoy, even crave this wonderful creature as she continues to grow, and eventually put away childish things. (but not all childish things)
So, here is the recipe, very simple -- that set me on the road to redemption.

Fried Oysters

1 Pt. Select oysters, drained
1 sleeve saltine crackers
1/4 cup corn meal
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. water

Mix the eggs & water in a bowl, and set aside.
Crush the crackers, and mix the cracker crumbs with the corn meal in a food processor until you have fine cracker crumbs.
One by one, dip an oyster into the egg wash, then cover with the cracker / corn meal mixture, then put into hot oil.
Fry until golden brown, then drain them on some paper towels.

It depends on the size of your pan, but I was frying 4 at a time. Probably could have done 6, but you don't want to crowd the pan. Give yourself some room. Hope you enjoy them.