Friday, September 13, 2013

Coupons

Coupons, I don't get coupons.
We just got back from the grocery store and got to talking about coupons. For the standard "Save $0.33 on a box of..." coupon, I don't get it. Why not just put the item on sale?
Why make your customer go through ads and newspapers to cut out a coupon? Why make it so your customer has to remember to give the checker a coupon, or a pile of coupons for you hard core shoppers out there, and make everyone else in line wait for the process to complete?
Why not just put the stupid thing on sale?
I understand the need for "Buy two and get one for half price" coupons. But for the others, you've already got your customer looking through the sales flyer, newspaper ad, magazine ad, etc. to see what is on sale. So you already have the customer's attention and interest in your store. I just don't understand the need to make them jump through hoops to take advantage of a special price.
Is it a way for the customer to be engaged in the process, a way for them to feel as if they're actually doing something to get the special price and thus more rewarding for them?
Beats me. I just don't get coupons.

 
Photo copyright JOE HERMITT, The Patriot-News/file, used without permission

And in a related rant...
We've all seen people who are extreme couponers. They seem to usually be in front of us in the grocery store checkout line and they've got handfuls of clipped coupons. The good ones have special little files with all their coupons arranged alphabetically.
I've got to admit, I don't get this either.
I've looked at the coupons in the newspaper, magazines, and flyers. Some of them are pretty good deals: $1.00 off on some item or "buy one get one free." But when I really pay attention I see these items are usually:
a. Something I don't normally buy.
b. A name brand item that is considerably more costly than the store brand (which is my usual choice).
Given those two parameters, I'm not really sure how much I'd save if I used the coupons. Hell, I may end up spending more than I normally would!

Ok, that's it for today. I'm going to get off the soapbox and break it up for the firepit.
Thanks for reading, and...

Happy Shopping!

Friday, June 21, 2013

You Should Get This Book

Fayme recently got a book at the library that I found really interesting.
Forking Fantastic!, by Zora O’Neill and Tamara Reynolds (ISBN: 978-592-40505-3), is labeled to Put the Party back in Dinner Party, with more than 50 recipes for Plate-Licking, Crowd-Pleasing Home Cooking.



Essentially, this book is about the dinner parties the two authors put on in their New York homes and how you too, can put on fantastic dinner parties of your own.

Kinda sounds a little goofy, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s cool as hell.

While the book has great recipes and wonderful advice on how to cook for a number of people and put on a great little event, the best advice they have is to cheerfully have at it, git ‘er done, Just Do It! Have a glass of wine, turn up the music, and start cooking.

The authors celebrate locally grown, seasonal vegetables but they aren’t so stuck up that they don’t have recipes with boxed cornbread mix or frozen peas. Ham with Bourbon-Brown Sugar Glaze is for those inexpensive holiday hams everyone puts on sale but there is also Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate Molasses if you want to get fancy. Really, folks, there are some great recipes in this book and they run from basic comfort food that just about anyone will like to fancier,  more advanced recipes that just about anyone will like.

If you know me you know that I always cook too much. You also know that I love to cook for people but rarely get the chance to do it.

I’m hoping that our new home in Lucerne Valley will make it easier for us to put on some dinner parties or lunch parties. All we need to do is get the place a little more straightened out from the chaos of moving, figure out who will come all the way out here to eat with us, and Just Do It!

FYI, the authors of the book also have a website, Forking Fantastic. It’s pretty good, take a look. You can even order their book directly from them, thus bypassing the evil empire that is Amazon.com.

And if you start putting on dinner parties of your own… why, yes… I am free that night. Thank you very much.


Thanks for reading!

 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How's This For a Pickle?

Lately I’ve been drawn to pickles and the whole pickling process.
This may have been brought on by the Guerilla Chef spending time with his new tsukemono press or perhaps his mention of various middle east pickles he enjoys.
Whatever the reason, when I saw a used copy of Quick Pickles, Easy Recipes with Big Flavor by, Chris Schlesinger, John Willoughby and Dan George, I had to pick it up. As luck would have it this is one of the pickling books the Guerilla Chef recommends in his recent post regarding the cooking books he finds the most useful.

Wandering through the book turns up a whole raft of recipes that just plain sound great. I had to do it!

Choosing which recipe to begin with was actually rather difficult, they all sounded so good. I finally settled on Famous Back Eddy House Pickles. The Back Eddy is a restaurant owned by one of the authors and this dish is said to be very popular with the restaurant’s patrons.

For the full recipe you’ll have to find the book. I don’t want to violate any copyright protections by giving the complete recipe here. They developed it, they deserve to be compensated for it.
Besides, the book rocks, you’ll want to have it anyway.


Here are the basic vegetable ingredients to this dish. We've got pickling cucumbers, a couple onions, carrots, garlic (I put in a few more garlic than the recipe calls for - if you read this blog regularly you know that I love garlic), and a couple bell peppers.
Hiding in the sidewings is apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, coriander seed, allspice, mustard seed, ground cloves, salt, and bay leaves.


The first thing to do is slice and salt the cucumbers. I found this great large crystal sea salt at the dollar store and have been having some fun with it. I typically use Kosher salt for a step like this but these big salt crystals are pretty cool.


The salted cucumber slices get covered in ice and put into the refrigerator for an hour or two. I'm kind of embarassed to say that we didn't have any ice on hand as the freezer is too full of other stuff. I had to treat Fayme to an ice cream cone at the corner Dairy Queen so I could beg a large cup of ice from them.


Here are the other vegetable ingredients ready to play with. The garlic is hiding in the bottom of the bowl under the onions.
There's my favorite knife, too. I gather that there are some high end kitchen knives being marketed these days that are being made from a revolutionary "new" material called carbon steel. Heck, these carbon steel knives have been around for a very long time and some of us have been using and enjoying them all along. It's not a kitchen without a good sharp knife and this one is mine.


Here's an artistic photo of the sunshine coming in the window to light up the pan full of sliced vegetables. This step is sauteeing them lightly to soften the carrots.


Now for the serious stuff - apple cider vinegar and all the spices. We'll bring this to a boil and then cook it for a few minutes to infuse everything together. As the vinegar and spices heat up a taste bud squeezing aroma is filling the kitchen, and the whole apartment!


I've taken the cucumbers out of the refrigerator and drained, rinsed, and drained them again. Now they're being mixed with the sauteed vegetables and we're just waiting for the spiced vinegar to cook a little longer.


Just a little bit longer...


Pouring...


And poured...


And bottled!

Now's the hard part. After the pickles cool to room temperature they'll be put into the refrigerator where they may be kept for up to one month. But after sneeking a couple tastes I don't think they'll last anywhere near that long.
They're ready to eat now but I think they'll be best at refrigerator temperature. I'm looking forward to giving these a real taste test tomorrow morning.

Happy pickling!

Update:
A number of days have passed and I have to say these pickles have turned out really wonderful. We've been snacking on them and also having them with many of our meals.
My pickles don't look like the ones in the book's photo. Those look really clean, crisp, and are still their natural color. Mine have taken on a brownish hue from the brown apple cider vinegar I used and they look somewhat wilted. But they are still crisp with a great snap in the mouth. The taste has a good vinegar bite that isn't overwhelming.
The next time I make these I'm going to see if sauteeing the vegetables a shorter time improves their look and I'll also use a good quality vinegar that hasn't sat in my cupboard for who knows how many years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chili Verde, Second Edition

This past Monday we went out to visit good friends Rick and Lynn at the Synergy Art and Design Studio. I took along the goods to make chili verde for our dinner and Fayme was kind enough to take pictures through the day so I could write about it.

Our hosts...


We had visited Jon’s International Market in Garden Grove, CA on Sunday to get all the parts for the chili. Most of the ingredients may be purchased at any good grocery store but Jon’s had pork on sale and I wanted to find a good piece.


First off I had to cut the pork in half so it would fit in the browning pan.


After seasoning with salt and pepper on both sides the pork was browned in a stainless steel pan with a little bit of olive oil. Vegetable oil will work fine, too.


While the pork was browning I put the big pot on the burner with three cans of chicken broth so it could begin to heat up. When the pork was browned it went straight into the pot. After the second piece of meat was browned and in the pot I put a rough chopped white onion in the pan to brown a bit in the remaining oil and fat. When the onion was almost done I deglazed the pan with a bit of broth from the pot. After that everything went into the pot.


With everything in the pot it was easy to see the liquid level and I added some water to bring the liquid up to barely cover the meat. The pan was covered and left to simmer for some time.
While the pork simmered to tender we began prepping the other ingredients.
First was removing the husks from the tomatillos and washing them.


Next the tomatillos were cut in half and put cut side down on a cookie sheet. Accompanying them were a few jalapeno chilies and a number of garlic cloves. The full cookie sheet was slid under the stove broiler and a close watch was given since I’m not familiar with this broiler. When the tomatillo skins were brown the sheet was removed and set aside for everything to cool. These could have done with some more time under the broiler.


Fayme has become really good at fire roasting chilies on the range top so she took over that task. As each chili was done it was placed into a glass bowl and a clean plastic bag was pulled over the bowl. The chilies will continue to cook inside a covered container like this and that’s just what we want.


When you look out the kitchen window this is what you see. That's Roxy on the left and Jet on the right. They love watching the strange goings on in the house.


The jalapeno chilies hadn’t browned very well under the broiler so Fayme gave them an additional blast on the range top to finish them off.
After these chilies were cool enough to handle I rubbed off the skins, cut off the stem ends, and removed the seeds.


This is probably a good time to remind folks that rubber or latex gloves are recommended when handling chilies like this. I always forget to use them and usually end up paying for my indiscretion. It may be hours later but rubbing my eyes or visiting the restroom will remind me that chilies can be HOT. There are some places you do not want chilies to go; your eyes are only one of them. You’d think I would learn…

As I was cleaning the Anaheim chilies I also gave the roasted jalapeno chilies the same treatment. Jalapeno chilies can have some good heat to them but it can also vary quite a bit from one chili to another. It’s always tricky determining the right number to add. Too little and the dish is bland, too many and everyone is breathing fire. I don’t know how but this dish turned out just about right.

By now, enough time has passed that the simmering pork has become wonderfully tender. I fished it all out of the pot with a pair of tongs and put it on the cookie sheet to cool a little.


After removing and discarding the fat, bones, and any other inedible bits the meat was shredded into bite size pieces with a fork and the tongs. The now very mouth watering meat was returned to the simmering broth in the pot.


When things start smelling good you never know who will drop in. This old girl lives up the road and occasionally wanders down to see what the neighbours are up to.


The skinned and de-seeded chilies were combined with the roasted garlic (peeled), tomatillos, and three bunches of cilantro (I chopped off about half the stem length). Whirled through a blender in a couple batches we ended up with a beautiful green sauce that was poured into the pot on the stove.


We’re almost ready to eat!

A second white onion was chopped up and the pieces added to the pot. When the onion is cooked we’ll be ready.


Right after adding the onion was a good time to do a few other herbs. Dried oregano, dried ground cumin, and dried ground coriander were added to the pot in what seemed to be good quantities. After test tasting I added a bit more cumin and some salt. We're really close now.
These little packages of herbs are available in all the grocery stores I frequent and I really like them. They're far less expensive than the name-brand stuff in jars and the quality seems to be right up there. Best of all, when a package gets too old for the spice to still be vibrant, I don't feel bad about dumping the old one and getting a new one, most of these are less than two dollars a package.


The broth was a little thinner than I wanted so I made a paste of corn masa and water and added it to the pot. When you do this be sure to mix the water and masa into kind of a thin slurry. I made it a little thick and spent the next ten minutes chasing down and squashing chunks of masa in the broth. The masa has to cook a bit to thicken the pot so be sure you don’t add it right before serving the dish.


To accompany the bowls of chili verde I chopped up some cilantro and a few green onions. There was also sour cream and some Mexican cheese. You’re on your own for what kind of Mexican cheese to use. There are a lot of different kinds and they all look very similar in the store refrigerator. I don’t know what’s what so if I pick a good one it’s purely by chance. We also had warm flour tortillas on the side.


This batch of chili verde was voted to be a resounding success. It turned out a bit spicier than the first batch but Fayme was still able to eat it. Although, I have to remember to have milk on hand for her when chili is served. It really does help control the heat.


This was really a great day with some good friends. Many thanks to Rick and Lynn for hosting us and for taking some of the leftovers. With four people the amount I made was just about right for a couple meals for everyone.

Postcript...
Our neighbour, Morgan, has used this recipe to make her own version of chili verde and she did something that never occured to me. It's certainly worth passing along here.
Morgan used a cut of pork that had quite a bit of fat on it. Now, fat can help the meat stay moist and flavorful but too much of it makes for a greasy dish. Morgan simmered the meat in the broth and when it was done she refrigerated the broth overnight. The next day it was easy to pick the cakes of solidified grease off the top of the broth and dispose of them. From there she picked up where she left off and continued making the dish.
The cut of meat I used had fat but not a great amount of it. It never occured to me that de-greasing the broth would be desirable for other cuts. Depending upon the cut of pork you use, and the time you have available to make the dish, this step could be something you want to do.
Thanks, Morgan!
 
Happy eating!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chili Verde For The First Time

I made a mistake today:
I made a dish I’d never done before and I forgot to get any pictures other than one right before I started eating. I hate it when I do that.

Let me start at the beginning…

This past Saturday we went to a friend’s wedding up in Ventura, CA. Our good friends Sal and Aimee let us hitch a ride along with them so we got to visit with them, too. Once at the wedding we all sat with Ken and Barbara and their young son, Jack. Unfortunately, Jack began to get a little vocal during the ceremony so Barbara took him outside the building and she consequently missed much of the ceremony.

The reception and dinner was held immediately after the ceremony in the same room. One of the meat courses was a sliced pork roast. Sal brought up the idea that the leftover pork would make a great chili verde. He went on to describe the chili verde his grandmother makes and it really sounded pretty special. While I’ve made more than a few gallons of chili con carne I’ve never made chili verde (green chili for non-Spanish speakers) so I paid close attention to what Sal said. I asked a few questions along the way and got an idea for how the dish is made.

After dinner we weren’t fast enough to snag any of the leftover pork but by now I couldn’t let that stop me. I hit the grocery store Sunday afternoon.

We already had four pork chops that needed to get cooked and to them I added a couple small pork roasts that were on sale. About 1 3/4 pounds of tomatillos, two white onions, two bunches of cilantro, a number of garlic cloves, three jalapeno peppers, and a handful of Anaheim chilies gave me a bunch of good stuff to work with.

For the pork chops I de-boned them and diced the meat into somewhat large chunks. Those chunks got tossed into an oiled skillet in a couple of batches to brown. The second batch was accompanied by a diced onion. When the pork chunks were browned they went into my big pot where some cans of chicken stock and some water were heating up over a low flame.

On the two small pork roasts I roughly boned them and cut the meat into big chunks, about four inches square, or so. These chunks also went into the skillet to brown. The bones still had quite a bit of meat left on them so after they were browned everything went into the pot to begin simmering. Somewhere along the way I dropped in about five or six peeled and smashed garlic cloves.

While the pork was happily simmering I peeled the husks off the tomatillos and washed them. After cutting them in half I put them on a foil lined pan with the cut side down. After adding the jalapenos and a handful of garlic cloves (unpeeled), the pan went under the broiler until the tomatillo skins were browned.

Moving right along… After the tomatillos cooled they went into the blender in a couple batches. Each batch also got a bunch of cilantro, washed with most of the stems chopped off. Also included were the jalapenos (seeded) and the garlic that had been roasted (now peeled). The pretty green slurry from the blender got dumped into the pot with the simmering pork and now things were looking really good.

Somewhere along the way Fayme volunteered to roast the Anaheim chilies for me. Since she enjoys it and also does it better than I do, how could I refuse?

After the chilies cooled off a bit I peeled them and took out the seeds and stem. The chilies went into the blender and got a very rough chop there. At least it was as rough a chop as a blender can give. We’ll just say they weren’t pureed.

Now it was time to relax and let the pot simmer and tenderize the pork. Somewhere along this step is a good time to taste the chili broth to check for spices. I added some salt, oregano, and cumin. Oh, and the second onion, diced.

When the pork got tender I fished out all those larger chunks and shredded them with a fork. The bone pieces got the meat pulled off and shredded, bones were discarded.

Put the meat back into the broth, add a bit of corn starch to thicken things up, we’re ready to eat.


Thanks, Sal!

I’m glad you put the idea into my head to make this dish, it really turned out good. When I make it again I’ll see if I can remember to take more pictures so the story will be a little more interesting.

Happy Cooking!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Salsa Fresca for Pasadena

Tomorrow we’re going to our monthly gathering at the Pasadena archery range. It’s nothing formal, just a bunch of friends who get together to practice somewhat primitive art in various forms.

Some people work on bows, some on arrows, a couple people will usually flint knap. There are always folks working on and throwing atlatls. We have folks interested in fiber arts and at least one very talented bead worker.

We never go hungry at these gatherings because someone is always bringing stuff to munch on. It may be a tray of cupcakes, jugs of homemade pineapple drink, cookies, homemade cheese, or a big jar of pretzels from Costco. There’s always something.

I thought it’s been some while since I made salsa so at the store yesterday I gathered up the ingredients. I want to make a decent sized batch so I can take it to Pasadena to share with everyone.

Ingredients:
Tomatoes, I used Roma tomatoes this time but they’ll all work.
Anaheim chilies
Poblano chilies
Jalapeno chilies
White onion
Garlic
Cilantro
Lime
Salt, spices

How much of each one to use?
Well, this is going to frustrate some people and I’m sorry for that, but I make salsa by look and taste so I don’t have specific measurements. It’s kind of chancy to do it this way. A couple times I’ve put in too many chilies and had to run to the store to get more tomatoes to even out the tomato/chili ration. This time I almost used too many tomatoes but stopped cutting them just in time.

Making this salsa isn't difficult. The chilies are fire roasted and that takes a little bit of time but for the rest you pretty much just chop everything up and mix it together.
It's really easy to fire roast chilies on the kitchen range but since I had a pretty good amount of them I used the gas bbq on the patio.
As the chilis came off the grill I put them in a plastic shopping bag so they'd continue to steam and cook. When they cooled off enough to handle I peeled the skin, removed the stems and seeds, and chopped them up. Be sure not to rinse the chilis in water as you peel them. Doing so washes away a lot of the wonderful flavor.
The Guerilla Chef has a great tutorial for roasting chilies and he remembered to take pictures (I forgot when I did mine).

Here are the pictures I did remember to take...


Why yes, I do like garlic...


White onion...


I cut a corner on the jalapenos and roasted them in an iron spider on the range. I didn't peel the jalapenos but did remove the stems and seeds before chopping them.


Freshly fire roasted Anaheim chilies and Poblano chilies...


Readying the chilies for dicing by removing the stems and seeds. I've already peeled them at this point.


The bowl of diced chilies...


By this point I've already gone to the biggest container I have short of a 5 gallon bucket. I just need to finish by chopping the cilantro and adding salt, chili powder, and ground coriander.


Oh, yeah... lime juice, too. I didn't use all these, just to taste.


Done and ready to eat. I hope everyone enjoys it tomorrow.

 
Something to keep in mind when taking on a project like this: you've got to have good tools!
That means a knife designed to chop and dice and the knife has to be sharp.
Cutting tomatoes can be frustrating if your knife isn't sharp. Cutting this many tomatoes with a dull knife is begging for a slip and an injury.
The chef's knife is probably my most used tool in the kitchen. I keep it sharp because it works better that way. If you've got dull knives your time in the kitchen isn't going to be nearly as enjoyable as it could be. 
 
Thanks for reading! 
 
Thanks for reading!