Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mission Taco

Mexican is usually right behind “mayo-on-white-bread” of my choices of dining options.  I live in the Midwest which means you aren't usually getting Mexican; you're getting Mid-Westican.   Most of the items on the menu are various combinations of the same thing "con queso.”  Huge bland tortillas stuffed with meat, beans and cheese of unvaried textures.  We really love quantity and cheese here in the middle states.  I suppose it fits.  And, don't get me wrong, I love some cheese. You just have to cheese responsibly.  Until recently my favorite Mexican restaurant was my mom's kitchen.  Having spent a year in Mexico when I was a toddler, my mother spent that time looking over the shoulders of the SeƱoras as they cooked, writing down everything she could.  I'm not sure that since then we've eaten 100% authentically in our home, but mom has stayed true to the idea of the flavors and textures of Mexico.  Bold layered flavors and contrasts of textures.  It's not about heat, and it's not about queso.  

So, what's steered me back onto the course of loving Mexican food again?  A huge part of it can be attributed to learning to make my mom's recipes and learning to make corn tortillas.  When I say “learning to make corn tortillas,” understand that there is no learning curve here.  They could not take less skill to make, and even the worst ones are easily a dozen times better than store bought, at least here in the Midwest.

Teaching at a local school that is nearly 100% Hispanic is another huge reason I'm falling in love with Mexican flavors again.  In teaching there I've discovered an amazing locally owned Mexican restaurant with a Mexican grocery store attached.  I'll grant you that you can get your "con queso" at La Gardenia, but you can also get birria, pozole, menudo, cebollitas, and what might be my favorite food in the world: "street" tacos.

My love affair with this type of taco is one of the reasons I've been dying to try a place in St. Louis that's been getting a lot of buzz lately: Mission Taco Joint.  Gene has made a lot of deliveries from Mission, and it's nearly always packed and always smells amazing, according to him.  We've attempted a Mission Taco mission a few times and struck out every time.  The first time it was packed full, the second time it was unexpectedly closed for the New Year, and the third time we discovered that we had a Groupon that needed to be used (that didn't work out as planned, See my post about Cafe Natasha).  This time we took advantage of the week night special of $2 tacos after 10pm.

First off, the vibe inside is the very best combination of warm and hipster.  Brick walls, concrete floors, reclaimed style wooden fixtures against Mexican style pop art with dancing skeleton couples and Lucha Libre portraits.  We sat at a high table in the bar area and took in the scenery while we waited for our waiter, Bill, to help us out.  Bill, and the entire staff, were friendly and upbeat.  I really got the sense that they genuinely enjoyed being there.  We even had a chat with one of the bartenders that Gene has gotten to know in all the times he's picked up deliveries.  She was gushing with pride about how they juice all their own juices and even recommended another place to check out in my 12in12 quest (which I'm thinking of making a 16in16 quest. Stay tuned).  After dinner I overheard another bartender educating some willing patrons about tequila and the processes that go into the different kinds.  If the mission of Mission Taco was a relaxed, enthusiastic, non-threatening vibe, then they've got it in the bag.  

Now we get to the part where we learn why I don't have babies.  For a starter, we ordered the Mexican Street Corn Fritters with garlic aioli sauce.  I've officially decided that my first-born will, in fact, be named Mexican Street Corn Fritters and their middle name will be Garlic Aioli.  "Waiter, can I get a straw please...for this sauce?”  It was as if the best thing about donuts was corn, which doesn't sound right, but tastes amazing.  Somehow dense and fluffy at the same time and bursting with sweet corn against the tang of the sauce.  Ok, I've got to stop now.  Just go and get an order.  Get two orders and bring me one.  Even though you're going to hear about some more amazing food, this blog has pretty much peaked with these corn fritters.  Geez, I need some of these fritters.

Taking advantage of the 2 buck taco deal, we got 6 tacos, Mexican Street Corn, and cilantro rice.  The rice was a good side but it suffered so much from being held against other amazing combinations of flavors that it came off a bit flat.  It's great rice, don't get me wrong, but my mouth was just being taken on an amazing roller coaster by everything else.  The Mexican Street Corn however was - I feel like I've used every adjective that means “yummy” that I can so- YUMMY!  Corn off the cob with queso fresco, mayo (don't let this put you off. It's not what you're thinking), and magical fairy dust or something.  All of their tacos are served family style on corn tortillas.  If you're looking for salsa and sour cream on your taco, go to Taco Bell. Of the tacos we tried the Taco of the Month and the Portobello were my favorites.  The Portobello is described as  "Wood-fire grilled Portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, crispy onions, arugula, smashed black beans, huitlacoche aioli".  I describe it as "Can I have another please?” Seriously, rich deep mushrooms and beans against the crispy onions and peppery arugula.  I'm nowhere near a vegetarian but if this is what the grass is like on the other side, then I'm jumping fences. I very reluctantly saved half of it for Gene since he wasn't smart enough to order one for himself.  The Taco of the Month was my other favorite.  It was a Mahi Mahi taco with avocado, shaved kale, grilled onions, and topped off with toasted pepitas.  When they say avocado, they mean a big ol’ slab of delicious, perfectly ripe avocado right there on top.  To round out our choices we got the Roasted Duck, which was meaty and smokey, and the Beef Brisket Birria.

As I got in my car and put "home" into my Google Maps, I discovered it's less than 15 minutes from my house.  Even though it's in another state, it's closer than most places we opt to dine when we're looking for a night out.  If you're “East Side” and you think St. Louis is on the other end of the galaxy, start rethinking that.  It's not only worth the trip, it's not as much of a trip as you think.  

Have I mentioned the Mexican Street Corn Fritters?  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First Snow Cream of the Year

Several years ago I was spending the day at my good friend Darla's house when she decided we needed to make some snow cream.  I was a little put off initially, but mostly curious.  She went outside and scooped up a whole bunch of snow.  Then she added some sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  It was really delicious.  A little sweet for my taste but delicious.  She didn't measure a thing, and you don't have to either.

For those of you who are just totally grossed out by this entire concept I gently suggest you get over it.  Your kids NEED to know about and experience snow cream.  No one's died from it and no ones gotten sick from eating it.  There are some basic things you'll want to keep in mind though.

1.  You need a good snow, a few inches at least.  This allows you to scoop the upper most layer of snow without getting close to the surface of whatever your snow has landed on.  I like to avoid the ground.... but hey, as long as you avoid yellow snow, you do you.

2  Avoid yellow snow.  Seriously, any color other than white and you'll just want to keep looking.

3.  Get the snow early.  This gets you nice fresh snow before other stuff can settle on it and before the sun can create an outer shell on the ice cream.

So, what do you need?  Snow, Sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla.

This happens to be car snow
Depending on how big your bowl is and how many people you're feeding between 3-6 cups of snow.  You know what, forget that.  Fill your bowl with snow or fill it half way or start with a bigish kind of scoop.  This is one ingredient you don't have to run to the store for. If you've reviewed the rules of finding snow with your kids, and you trust them, you can even send them to do the dirty, er.. work.

Add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla... as much or as little as you'd like.  I start with a little and add more if I am not getting the flavor or consistency I like.

Just about perfect

Getting there....

Then you kind of stir/smash until you have something that looks like that kinetic sand that's always on display in the craft stores.  Add more snow or milk if it's too wet or not sweet enough.  Play with it until its the taste and consistency you like.  You really can't screw this one up.

Then scoop it out and enjoy immediately.  It will keep in the freezer though, but what fun is that?
So, the next time everyone runs to the store in a panic and buys all the bread and eggs, don't fret.  Head straight for the Sweetened Condensed Milk.

P.S.  There are recipes out there that use good old fashioned milk and sugar.  I'll let you find the one that works for you.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Cafe Natasha

Hey, I have a great idea!  Gene's new job is proving to be a great way of discovering all the fantastic places to dine in St. Louis.  There really is a plethora of choice from tacos at midnight to pho-sion.  Let's make our New Year's Resolution to try at least 12 new restaurants this year.

Restaurant Gods:
We shall do all in our immense and vast, but largely futile,  power to defeat your plans!

If you've been reading along you know how difficult it was to find Restaurant #1.  Pro-tip, don't think you're just going to find a late night eat on New Year's Day in the Lou, even if it is Friday night.  But I did, eventually, prevail against the Restaurant Gods and found a delicious Titan of rebellion in Three Kings Public House.

This time it was 5 o'clock on a Tuesday on the third week of January.  We had plans to attend the Blues game and it was the last day I could use the full value of a Groupon I'd purchased to Lucky Buddha.  I was excited Pho Sho (see what I did there).  “Heeeeyyyyy, this place looks dark but it's 4:58 and they don't open until 5:00... but dark???”  Sign says stay away fools.  Actually the sign, written in pen, on a piece of printer paper, and taped haphazardly to the window said "closed for the holiday".  Yo, it's not even Chinese New Year yet and your facebook not only says you're open but the last post from you was on December 27 (not a typo Twenty SEVENTH) saying you were closed for Christmas.  Hmmmmm..... Me thinks Buddha not lucky.

All amped for Pho, Gene charts a course to Pho Grand, a place he delivers from pretty frequently.  It's facebook page shows it's closed but that can't be right.  Facebook is right.  Pho Grand, along with a mess of other places that should totally be open on a Tuesday, are also dark, dark, dark.  I shake my fist at the Restaurant gods. Then my eyes sparkle like Ralphie's when he saw the Red Rider in the window of Higbee's Department store.  Among the dark windows were twinkling beacons of hope with all manner of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian eats.  And then there it was Cafe Natasha!  A friend mentioned this place to me after mentioning that I was excited to try some Persian delicacies that my cousin's new wife promised to make if we ever got together again.

Cafe Natasha and Natasha's Gin room are set in a corner on S. Grand Avenue and seem pretty unassuming  from the outside.  If the door didn't say they served Persian food I'd assume an odd combination of sandwiches and Martini's were the specialties.  Upon entering and seeing white table clothes set at tables with high rise black tufted booths I felt immediately under dressed in my Blues Hoodie.  The Gin Room with its well stocked and romantically lit bar are what you see upon entering, and the place seemed pretty small until the hostess asked if we wanted to sit in the back room. It opened up to several more, but still intimate, tables and more black tufted booths.

Our waitress let us know that for happy hour there was an all vegan hummus bar with falafel.  It happens to be gluten free too if you care about that kind of thing.  Well, that decided that for me.  Gene went with a chicken and koobideh combo platter.  We also ordered some pickled vegetables and some seer torshi preserved garlic.  Our waitress told us the garlic was better with food rather than as an appetizer on it's own.  I also took advantage of the Gin Room and ordered a dainty drink called the Bitter Sweet that came in a crystal punch glass and tasted just as dainty as its presentation.  Floral but not flowery.  It was delicious.

The pickled vegetables and garlic were powerful and something that should be tried.  The garlic boasts of being aged in vinegar for 7 years, and that's what it tastes like.  You might love them, you might like them, and you might loathe them.  I am on the side of “like” while Gene was closer to the side of “loathe.”  The vegetables were great as a topping for pita and hummus.  They both were decidedly “pickley” but also had a unique kind of tart that's unexpected.  My suspicion is that if you're looking for a real deal pickled veg and garlic, this is it.

The hummus bar had 2 kinds of rice, crispy and fluffy falafel, curry, sauteed mushrooms, hummus, basil tomatoes that were a fresh and slightly tart perfection.  They were great on top of everything and by themselves.  It also had a Pomegranate eggplant kind of baba ganoush, and a cream sauce for whatever you want to put a cream sauce on.  If you're there on a Tuesday and aren't strictly carnivorous, I'd seriously advise getting the hummus bar and a trying a unique and  expertly crafted cocktail.

On the other hand you should also bring someone who IS strictly carnivorous with you so you can try some of the entree they ordered.  Thank you Gene.  The chicken and koobideh were both super tender and delicious.  He was pretty generous with the table staple that I suspected was sumac based, but it wasn't out of place.  His salad was fresh and came with a tart yogurt based dressing that [“reminded me” unless you really can used “reminisced” this way] reminisced of tzatziki and worked well on the kabobs too.

All in all it was really good food and really good service.  The actual Natasha greeted more than one table as if they were long time loyal customers and friends.  Actually, I think we were the ONLY table that didn't seem to have a long established friendship with Natasha, both the restaurant and the person, who I think is the daughter of the original owners.

I have no idea if the food is authentic, but friends tell me it's pretty close.  Let's be honest though, if it's good, do we care?  I'll be back to Cafe Natasha, maybe I'll see you there.

Since writing this I ventured back to Cafe Natasha for a late night coffee and baklava with Gene.  If you have a love affair with coffee then you'll want to try Turkish coffee some day.  I've found a couple of places that really do it right, and Cafe Natasha is one of them.  This method (boiling the grounds in the coffee over and over until it foams and falls) creates a strong and rich cup of brew with a sooty bottom layer.  This time I opted for Arabic, which is the same coffee but with the addition of sweetened condensed milk.  My coffee and Gene's had a distinctly floral note.  Mine even had a cardamom pod floating in it which stayed with me in a pleasant way.  The baklava was good.  It didn't fall into the sins of most baklava in that it wasn't too sweet, just right on the flavor balance.  It did want a little something from the texture, but we were the very last customers of the day and it's not a made to order item.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Three Kings Public House 1 of 12

The Three KingsThree Kings Public House

For the 3 of you that read this blog I've got something new for you.  This year I resolved to try 12 new restaurants this year.  They have to be local, no chains, and vacations or trips don't count.  I'll share my insights with you because it's what the people, all 3 of you, want.... my insights.

I thought I'd get the first one knocked out right away but it did seem as if 2016 was trying to rise against my goal setting, my new resolve to make resolutions, my presumption to be proactive.  Or, it might just have been the fact that places that are usually open late on New Year's Eve tend to be closed on New Year's Day.  Let me explain, no, there is too much, let me sum up (extra credit if you can name that film).

It seemed as if the food gods were aligned in my quest as Gene's new gig as a Postmates courier made him privy to all the hot late night dining spots and we were scheduled to work the Arch Reactor Booth at First Friday's.  Mission Taco was our...uh, mission.  Gene knew it was popular and it served super late.  We got out of the Science Center soon after 9 and headed to check off the first of 12.  Darkness.  That's what greeted us as we approached Mission Taco.  No problem, Gene knows all the hot spots.  Darkness. Darkness. Darkness.  It was now after 10 and our chances of getting any food at all were looking dismal.  In a last ditch effort Gene headed into the Loop in U City.  We drove down the strip looking for lights, any lights.  I wanted to check something off my list but hangry was taking hold fast, our relationship was in jeopardy.  We just needed food, any food.

There is was, 3 Kings Public House.  Gene had picked up deliveries from there, so we knew they served food.  Would it be good?  Did we care?  Would they be bitter about having to serve us a half an hour before their kitchen closed?

We were greeted by a pretty typical bar atmosphere.  Girls just a little too tipsy, guys throwing back shots and loud music I'd never heard before.  It looked tiny and we were sat in a cozy U booth and offered menus.... with FOOD on them, not bar food, the real kind they serve in the daytime.  Our waiter brought a bottle of water and asked what we wanted to drink.  This is where they decide we're evil for walking in here and daring to just want some food and no adult beverages....and on top of that I just wanted water.  I actually shrank back in my booth as I made excuses for only ordering water.

Not only did he not scoff at this but he gladly told us the food specials and recommendations.  He was friendly, efficient, affable, wasn't over bearing, and anticipated our needs.  Even brought me malted vinegar for the house made chips before I knew that's what I wanted.

I ordered the special of the day, their version of a Bahn Mi with marinated chicken, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, and a chipotle mayo.  As someone not a fan of American sandwiches, this hit all the flavor buttons, and the texture buttons, and the satisfy me buttons.  All the buttons were hit.  I chose sweet potato fries as my side and house made chips as an appetizer.  The fries were waffle cut, crispy, and super yummy.  The house made chips are basically the only kind of chips I want to ever eat any more.  They had fresh herbs and some kind of seasoning that I'm pretty sure included some Parmesan cheese, and they were HOT. With the malted vinegar, I was in heaven.

Gene ordered the fish and chips and a side salad.  At first he was disappointed because he asked for ranch dressing and the dressing didn't look like ranch, but turned out it was just a homemade ranch dressing so it was missing that gloppy ranchy unpleasantness.  The greens were a spring mix and were super fresh along with the veg in the salad.  His fish was flaky, crispy, and thick!

Even though we were seated in the bar area there was a quieter room in the back with larger tables where a few families were dining. The entire place was wood planked and brick walled, and had old world touches that made you feel the building was there since prohibition. I didn't mind being in the bar area.  None of the patrons were being obnoxious and the juke box offered an interesting variety of music.  Our server even commented on the social experiment nature of having a juke box in a bar.  The double door at the entrance made it nice and warm inside, and the people watching made the U shaped booth both romantic and entertaining.  I got to lay my head on the shoulder of my love while watching the patrons greet each other like they obviously came here all the time.  Probably the best part was discovering the reason for the name.  Above the bar on the brick wall was a painting of the "3 Kings", Kong. Louie, and Elvis.  All the waiters and bar keeps had cool hair too.  Maybe that's not important to everyone, but it ads to the atmo'.

If you find yourself in the loop I'd certainly recommend this place to duck into.  Their regular menu is served until 11 and they offer a pretty hefty late night menu as well.  If the bar bothers you ask to be seated in the back, I doubt you'll get bad food or bad service no matter when you choose to go.  I'd say day one of my resolution hit a homer despite 2 strikes and a few foul balls.  I'll try not to use sports analogies anymore. 1 down 11 to go.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Marshmallow Marshmallow

When people find out that I make marshmallows from scratch I get one of three reactions.  The first is a look of awe and wonder as if marshmallows are magically made from the poop of the pet bunnies of Keebler elves.  The second is one of odd disgust.  Why would you MAKE marshmallows, you weirdo!  The third is genuine curiosity.  HOW does that happen, marshmallows, but how?

So, here's why and how, the odd disgust I can't do anything about.  Go get some Jet Puff ya hater.  Homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store bought.  They've been referred to as Crackmallows by some Mallow Afficianados, aka, my friends.  The how is more simple than you think and basically involves boiling sugar and adding it to gelatin and a really long time in a mixer built for endurance.  I'm not kidding.  They're not complicated but by the time the mallows are done with their 15 minute turn in my Kitchen Aid the motor is hotter than a cup of tea in Hades kitchen.  

I use Alton Brown's basic recipe for marshmallows but I've found a few things that have helped me and I'll share them with you.  But seriously, A.B. is practically perfect in every way and the ways that he's not are just none of our business.  

Just as a side note if you never master the actual art of spreading the hot marshmallow goo out into a pan so that it can set into marshmallows then the picture to the right is reason enough to learn to make marshmallows.  I mean COME ON!

Now on to some particulars.  

I've mentioned a really good stand mixer already as you're going to be putting that sucker through a culinary cross fit... not that I know what an actual cross fit session, or whatever, is like but I've seen sweat selfies so I'm pretty knowledgeable.  Why am I talking about sweat at the same time I'm talking about marshmallows??  I've already talked about magical bunny poop so whatever. 

You're also going to need a candy thermometer and a kitchen scale.  You can maybe get away without a scale but a thermometer is cheap, go get one.  And yes, that one you use when you make fried foods works just as well.  A large jelly roll sheet, that's the one that you make your cookies on.  It's a rectangle.  Parchment paper is the first of my tips that makes this a bit easier.  A heavy bottomed pan is the last piece of hardware that's necessary.  

Start by sprinkling 3 packets of gelatin over a half a cup of ice water in your mixer bowl. I would show you a picture of this but it's really just not very exciting.  Now move over to your kitchen scale and measure out your sugar, 12 ounces of it.  Isn't may scale so cute.  My beau got it for me.  He's so thoughtful and he loves my marshmallows and my dog, I'm keeping him.  Ignore the eggs.  They're not part of this whole process.  I'm just a terrible housekeeper. I forgot to put away my eggs after breakfast.  

Once you have this measured out mix it into your heavy bottomed pan with your corn syrup, your other half a cup of water, and salt.  

Lid it up and turn it on medium high and let it go for about 3 minutes.  Take the lid off and let it boil undisturbed, seriously no stirring or swirling or anything.  Leave it alone for about 7 minutes until your candy thermometer reaches 240 degrees.  Watch it closely, don't go anywhere.  This can feel like its taking forever and then suddenly it's too late. 

 Once it reaches this temperature you will start your mixer on low and carefully pour the molten contents of your pan into your mixer.  Once it's all in switch that sucker to high for 15 minutes.  While your mixing prepare a 50/50 mixture of corn starch and powdered sugar.  I make more of this than the original recipe calls for so I just go with the ratio instead of measuring.  Lay your parchment paper out in your cookie sheet and spray lightly with non stick spray then dust with your corn starch mixture.  

 Again, I'm going to have to ask you to ignore the rest of my kitchen and just focus on the pan that's prepped for the marshmallows.  Now back to our mixture that is almost ready for the vanilla, which you are going to add in the last minute of mixing.  Be careful because adding it makes it temporarily unstable and it might splatter.  Then you have a beautiful, fluffy, gooey, bowl full of sugar delight. 

Scrape it into your prepared pan.  Get as much out as you can but you're never going to get it all of it and that's just more for you to lick off the whip later.  The faster you work here the better all that goo that's stuck on the whip is going to be when you hide in a corner and keep it a secret from everyone else.  

 Here's where is gets fun.  You've got to get this spread out in your pan.  Alton advises a spatula but I just wet my hands with warm water and use those.  Once you get it all spread evenly you sprinkle it with more of your cornstarch mixture and let it sit overnight or several hours.  Whichever you have the patience for.  

 Cutting it up can be tricky.  I like to use a pizza cutter and my cornstarch mixture for when it gets sticky.  Cut them as big or small as you like and dust each side in your cornstarch mixture before storing them in an air tight container.  Sneak one into your coffee, hot cocoa, onto a stick to roast it around a camp fire.  Oh, that reminds me.  I must warn you that toasting a homemade marshmallow will send you into marshmallow nirvana and you'll be useless for at least 2 to 3 hours.  

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Humble Chicken

I'm pretty sure that I've shared my excitement over the humble chicken through this blog already, but when you love something this much once just isn't enough.
These were huge.  One of them fed both of us and my man like large portions

No, I did NOT shave my carrot or cut stuff up
Recently (and by recently I mean months and months ago) I got a whole cut up chicken for cheap at the grocery store and stuck it in the deep freeze.  And here is where I give you some very important Yoda like wisdom; ALWAYS buy the chicken.  Oh, Yoda, sorry.  Buy the chicken always.  Chicken is the culinary equivalent of hydrogen peroxide.  Wait, no, nobody wants to think about hydrogen peroxide when they cook.  Ok, the culinary equivalent of vinegar.  Oh, shoot, that IS something culinary.  GOT IT.  It's the culinary equivalent of The Little Black Dress.  You can dress it up or down and so versatile.  You just have to change up the accessories.

I think I'm taking this analogy too far.

Anyway, a chicken is versatile

This is what I had, what do you have?
Today I'm going to show you how I took my cut up whole chicken and with stuff I already had in the pantry turned it into dinner, lunch, and flavor for days... no really.  With broth in the freezer you always have liquid flavor at your fingertips.

The first thing I did was take all the parts that don't thrill us and threw them in my crock pot.  Then I took the parts we like (in this case the HUGE breasts) and threw them on the cutting board.  I dug around for some aromatics and seasonings.

In the crock with the dark meat parts went carrot, celery, half and onion, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf, and water to the top.   Notice there is no salt.  By leaving the salt out I can control that when I use the broth in cooking.

Ready for the oven
For the breasts I put some of the same aromatics under the skin, the bay leaf, thyme, and some fancy salt I had hanging around.  I also put several pats of butter under the skin and seasoned the top of the skin with some canola oil and more of my fancy salt.  You could just as easily use whatever fun seasoning or herbs you have lying around or just keep it simple with salt and pepper.  A slice of lemon would also be amazing.

The crock was set to low and let go overnight.  The Breasts went in a 400 degree oven until the internal temp reads 165 degrees.  About half way through the cooking I put some halved red potatoes in with the chicken, cut side down.  And then some carrots, and then some green beans.  We dined on one of the breasts for dinner with a simple pan gravy.  The other breast will be cut up and saved for chicken sandwiches and salads for lunch tomorrow for both of us.

Since the chicken cost me less than six bucks this breaks down to about 1.50 a person per meal and that doesn't include the few quarts of stock I'll have.

If you have a family of four just hold back the chicken legs from the crock and roast them with the breasts.  Your broth will be just as rich and you'll feed the whole family with left overs.

If you want to know some other ways to make use of a whole chicken check out an earlier entry.
How to be cheap or Making the most of a whole chicken

I guess eventually I'm going to have to show ya'll how to roast a whole chicken.

I threw whatever veg I had in the fridge right on the same pan

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ya Ya Liah: Sausage and tomato chowder on rice sorta

Both Gumbo and Jumbalaya require a lot more time and attention to detail than I'm willing to muster.  They also both require bib overalls and a pretty thick accent, Ah Gare-Ohn-tee.  Dangit, now I have to apologize to all of my southern and Louisianan friends.  Is Louisianan a word?  I guess it is, my spell check says so.  Truth be told my biggest crush is on Harry Connick Jr. His NoLa accent isn't as thick now but when I was a kid and he was a young man he could have turned me to butter just by saying Jumbalaya.  There was also that kid from Baton Rouge in college.  His name was Rusty St. Cyr.  I know he was pretty gorgeous but I honestly can't remember exactly what he looked like but his accent was akin to hot salted caramel running down the back of a dripping ice cream cone on the 4th of July.  Plus there's his name!  Could a name be any MORE Bat-On Rouge?  Do I still have to apologize?

I think you get the point that my knowledge of the cultures that gumbo and jumbalaya hail from have surprisingly little to do with their cuisine.  But tonight I had to manage a meal with some Hungarian sausage that had to get cooked, and then tomatoes started rolling around my brain, and then I thought I'd like to make soup but NO, I want to serve it over rice.  It started to sound not quite like jumbalaya and not quite like gumbo.  I'm not a fan of gumbo.  I like the fact that the sauce is a roux thickened sauce and that its served over rice and chock full of tasty sausages, chicken, and/or sea food, but the roux is too dark for me.  I really love jumbalaya but I am pretty good at screwing up rice that isn't cooked in my rice cooker and since Bobby Flay managed to burn his rice and not cook it through at the same time, I certainly wasn't going to be taking any risks.  A sort of very inauthentic hybrid took shape.  I had the sausage, the tomatoes, the roux, the rice, the spices, but I'd do my own thing and I'd call it "Ya Ya Liah (liar)"  Get it?!

I would like to reassert my assertion that this is really not Jumbalaya, Gumbo, Creol, Cajun, Southern, or authentic of anything resembling anything.  It's more like when you see that guy in a car a couple of lanes away in the grocery store that kind of looks like Toby McGuire until you get closer and he looks more like that kid in the Never Ending Story.  Just me?  Ok, carrying on.  

I started by chopping up an onion, dicing a couple of carrots, and dicing up some of those small colored peppers I had in the freezer then sauteing them in some olive oil.
I totally ganked this pic from the internet
Then I threw in the Cajun seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and a little salt and pepper and letting it cook on medium low for about a minute.  I added a Tablespoon of butter, let it melt, then put in a couple tablespoons of  flour to create my roux. Then I threw in my sliced sausage.  Upon reflection I really should have cooked my sausage, taken it out, and then started my veg in the same pan.  Lesson learned.   Next it was just a matter of throwing in my diced tomatoes, chicken broth, milk, and testing for seasoning while I let it simmer and cook my rice (in my rice cooker of course).

If you start the rice after the stuff is all in the pot then the sauce should be pleasantly thick by the time the rice is finished.  Serve the Ya Ya over the rice and add some hot sauce if you'd like, and there you go.  

1 lb hungarian sausage or your favorite fresh or smoked sausage sliced thin and cut in half moons
1 medium white onion diced
2 carrots peeled and diced
3 or 4 mini colored peppers, one of each color is nice, seeded and diced
1 Tb Olive Oil
2 Tb Cajun Seasoning 
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional to taste)
1 Tb Butter
2 Tb flour
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk (If you must, walk your own path, even if your path looks like white water.  Just don't expect the same creaminess)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup uncooked rice

In a medium pot heat 2 Tb olive oil over medium high heat.  Add sausage and cook until browned and cooked nearly through if using fresh sausage.  

Lower heat to medium and remove sausage, set aside.  Add onion, carrots, and peppers and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 min.  Add Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes.  Cook 1 more minute.  

Add 1 Tb of butter and cook until butter melts then add 2 Tb. flour.  Cook stirring incorporating the flour and then about a minute longer.  You want to cook off the floury taste but don't want to put much color on the flour, a nice pale caramel is about as dark as you want to go.  You might start getting some tasty bits sticking to the bottom of your pan. That's good!  

Bring the heat back up to medium high and deglaze (add) your can of tomatoes scrapping those tasty bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add chicken broth and sausage to the pan.  Bring to a boil stirring frequently, add milk and then lower to a simmer.  Stir occasionally scrapping the bottom to make sure nothing sticks.  

If you're using long grain white rice that isn't parboiled then start it now.  You're rice and Ya Ya will finish about the same time.  If you're using instant - please don't use instant - then let your Ya Ya simmer for about 10 minutes before you start your rice.  How long you simmer it depends on how thick you want it.  It's going to be like a nice thick soup or thin chowder but simmering longer will give you a thicker consistency.  If it gets too thick for you there is no shame in adding more broth or some water.  Just don't let that stuff stick to the bottom and burn and you can let it go for as long as you like.  

Serve over the cooked rice with a shake of Frank's and you're set to go.