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Archive for May, 2012

Guy’s Night

So my friend Ringer and I had a guy’s night when Lindz was out of town a while back.  I know what you’re thinking, “You’ve mentioned her before and unless something drastic changed, she’s still a girl.”  And you’re right, she is a girl,  but over the years she has proved that she has more testosterone than many males that I know.  Heck, she even went to my bachelor party.  So by definition, she is “one of the guys,” and therefore guy’s night is a legitimate option.  Anyway, we both love to try new foods and the best we could come up that night was a Brazilian rotisserie called Rodizio Grill.  We both decided to get the “Full Rodizio” which included the all you can eat salad bar and the gauchos (I know it’s a poor use of the term, but that is what they were called) with their spits of meat.  I’m not going to go into a full blown review like I did before because it was, well, a pain in the nether regions to write up.  I’m just going to give some brief impressions / highlights of the place.

We started off with a round of the salad bar, and I have to say, for the $20 price tag for that option, it is a bargain.  There was at least two dozen options of green salad, pasta salad, collard greens, cheeses, cous-cous, mozzarella salad, yucca salad, coleslaw, and bread.  I know I’m forgetting a bunch of stuff as well as low-balling the number of dishes.  Two of my favorites were the collard greens and coleslaw.  Not that I’ve had a lot of collard greens in the past, but these were best that I’ve ever tried, and Ringer, who’s had more than I have, also really liked them.   The base of the coleslaw was nothing special, it was just your basic creamy-style slaw, but they threw in shaved coconut and chunks of pineapple which pushed it into its own little realm of mouth magic.  The enthusiasm with this dish didn’t carry over to Ringer.  Oh, well, more for me.  We both decided that it would be well worth the trip again just for the salad bar.

The gaucho’s with their meat was an interesting experience.  We got a little hourglass shaped wooden marker with one half painted red and the other half painted green.  It’s a really simple system.  Green up, the gauchos will check if you want some of what they were offering.  Red up, they will skip your table.  On its side equaled “Check, please!”  You should check out their menu because it is quite extensive.  But here are some of highlights that we tried.  The Bife Com Alho (Beef-e Com Al-yo) is beef that is slathered garlic paste.  I mean slathered.  Even after it was cooked, you could see the layer of garlic that is still on it.  If you are a fan of garlic, this is definitely the dish for you.  My personal favorite of the tasty beef options.  The pork options were all very good, but nothing outstanding.  Without a doubt, my favorite chicken dish was the hearts served with a slice of lime.  They are called Coracao (Cor-da-sone).  The gaucho was quite kind enough to give me 3/4’s of a skewer.  He even mentioned that some people asked for entire skewers just for themselves.  The Abacaxi (Ah-bakah-shee), grilled pineapple, was to die for.  I’ve always been a fan of grilled pineapple and this was exquisitely done.

The best part of all of this is that it is that you can eat as much of whatever you want.  So my suggestion is to try a little bit of everything that sounds good and then get a lot more of whatever tickles your fancy.  A quick side-note is that they claim over 90% of their menu is gluten-free, and from what I saw that is completely true.

I would like to give a special shout-out to the gauchos and the floor manager who were extremely helpful in getting us what we wanted and making sure we were able to try everything that we wanted.  They definitely added to the experience.

Mmm. Happiness is chicken hearts.

Guacamole, Terry-Style

Okay, the title sounds more avant garde than the dish is, but we all need an ego stroke occasionally.  Like I said in a previous post, my gold-standard of guacamole is the stuff I scarfed down at Sabor Latino.  I really don’t have a specific recipe, which I’m a bit proud of.  At least with this dish, I’ve moved into the realm of Grandma level cooking!

Ingredients:

  • 6 ripe Avocados
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 2 small Tomatoes, seeded and medium dice
  • small handful Cilantro coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 of a small Onion, fine dice
  • 2 cloves minced Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cut the avocados in half, twist to separate, and pop out the seed.  Scoop the avocado out of the skin with a spoon and into a bowl, then mash it up to a creamy, but slightly chunky consistency with a fork.  Immediately add the juice of the lime and mix thoroughly.  This is to keep the avocado from turning brown.  Add the tomato, cilantro, onion, and garlic.  Mix thoroughly.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Feel free to adjust the ratios to your preference.

The tastiest green slime you will ever eat!

Anyone want to give me $500?

I was watching some of the foodie TED talks (Technology, Entertainment, Design) because I love to geek out like that.  One of them was by Dr. Nathan Myhrvold.  He was promoting his and his co-authors new cookbook called Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.  It emphasizes the science behind all of cooking with a special emphasis on the field of molecular gastronomy.  I highly recommend checking out the talk if you are even slightly interested in the how and why of cooking.  It is a five volume set of books that contain over 2400 pages, plus a waterproof companion volume with the 1500 recipes collected for easy kitchen use.

 

That is one sharp looking set of cookbooks!

One of the things that they do in the cookbook are cut-away photos of cooking in progress.  These pictures are amazing, but not the easiest to capture.  Dr. Myhrvold said their philosophy was that it only had to look good for 1/1000th of a second.  And they succeeded!  Being a nerd, one of my favorite things is that they have differential equations in the book describing the physics behind cooking, one example is Fourier’s Law of Heat Conduction (an equation that describes how efficiently heat/energy is moved along in a certain substance).  Along with all of these, what really got me was their philosophy of wanting to make a cookbook that they wished they had while they were learning to cook.  Of course all of this greatness comes at a price of $450 plus S&H.  But what do you expect from a man who was a chief technology officer for Microsoft, a World Champion of Barbecue, Chief Gastronomic Officer for the Zagat Survey, and has formal training in mathematics, geophysics, space physics, mathematical economics, and theoretical physics.  Oh yeah, he also worked with Stephen Hawking.

How can you not want to own a cookbook with photos like this???

 

Canned Venison

When people hear the phrase “canned meat,” their first thought is usually Spam.  Honestly, that’s not fair to all the canned meat that I’ve eaten my lifetime.  Granted, most of that has been homemade, so it really is like comparing apples to penguins.  But since most people associate canned meat with Spam, it is really hard to get them to try it (I actually like Spam, but it seems like I’m in the minority, as usual).  I’ve tried several times with Lindz, but I haven’t been able to trick her into it.  Yet.

I don’t know why people won’t try this. It looks delicious!

What I think people fail to realize is what the canning process does to the meat.  You take the meat and put it in a jar with about a teaspoon of salt, put a lid on it and put it in the pressure cooker.  You then cook it for an hour or so under pressure (I can’t remember how long Mom told me she cooks it for, but with her cooker it was at 10 psi).  The pressure does two things, first it vacuum seals the contents of the jar so that it is shelf stable for quite some time (I’ve eaten canned stuff that was close to two years old).  But more importantly, it does the equivalent of several hours worth of slow cooking in a fraction of the time.  That is why you see them use it all the time on Iron Chef and other shows.  The slow cooking / pressure cooking process breaks down all of the connective tissue and the resulting meat is even more tender than “fork-tender.”  Because the juices have no where to escape, the meat is succulent beyond belief.  If you don’t believe me, try some canned chicken breast.  It is one of those notorious cuts that always seem dry and flavorless.  The canned version is so unbelievably juicy and tender you will swear off any other way of preparing it.  Yeah, it may look a bit nasty in the jar, but heat it up and turn that juice into a gravy and no one will be any the wiser.

So Lindz had the late shift at work one night and I needed something fairly low stress to make for supper.  I had already used the canned chicken that I stole from Mom, but I did have the canned venison left!

Just so that you’re not confused by the mystery meat inside.

I have yet to find a better preparation of canned meat other than heating it up and making a gravy to go with it.  I did however mix it up a little bit this time.  I did a variation of chipped beef but did a brown gravy and served it on mashed potatoes instead of toast.  When the meat was heating up, I broke it apart with the spatula and added a cube of chicken bouillon, a heaping tablespoon of flour, and about 4 ounces of water.  I then let this reduce and thicken to a “proper gravy consistency.”  For me, that means that when you scrape the pan, it stays clear for a very brief second before filling back in.

A perfect consistency for gravy.

By this point, my potatoes were done.  So I mashed them, added a couple of tablespoons of butter, and mixed to a nice creamy consistency.  If you are a meat and potatoes type of eater, this is a perfect supper anytime.

At this point it’s impossible to tell that it ever looked scary in a jar, so just eat it!

Summertime, fishing and friends

I’ve been trying to organize my photo files a bit and I ran across my profile pic for this blog.  I realized that I never gave any explanation behind it.  The picture was taken several years ago at a friend’s cabin.  Specifically, my friend Mike’s dad’s place.  I’ve known Mike since freshman year in college and we became fast and pretty inseparable friends.  One of the first things that drew us together is that we went to rival high schools, but since neither of us really bought into that mindset, it was never an issue.  We just thought it was funny.  Living practically next door (in the country, someone a county over is still considered a neighbor) I would go over and visit him and his family regularly on breaks.  To say the least, I was informally adopted into their family.  So when Mike’s dad bought a cabin on a lake, I had a standing invitation to come and stay.

The summer before Mike and his wife Karen moved to Montana, Lindz and I had one final getaway at the cabin with both of them.  We went out on the pontoon for some R&R in the sun and a plan to drown some worms.  As luck would have it, we actually caught some fish.  I had to talk people into keeping them for supper instead of doing the catch and release thing.  We just caught some sunfish and one bass, so I took charge of the cooking because this was well within my comfort zone with fish.  Since they were on the smaller side,  I prepped them the way I learned growing up, scrape the scales off, cut off the head, and gut them.  Then just pan fry them in a bit of oil.  Eat and enjoy, but watch out for the bones.

The highlight for me was when I was able to get Karen (not the most adventurous eater) to try the fried tail fin.  I never thought that it was a weird part of the fish to eat because I grew up doing it, but I’ve run into this situation many times before.  If you’ve never had it, it tastes good.  Think of it like this, it is the fish equivalent of a potato chip.  For a good chunk of the evening Karen was beaming and occasionally would blurt out something like “I ate the fin!”  To which I would smile and tell her that I told her that I was good.

The photo is from me screwing around for the camera while we were cleaning the fish.  Just can’t take some people seriously.

Minnesota-style sushi.

Twin Cities Polish Festival

Since the weather has been really nice lately (in between some monsoon-style rains), I’ve been trying to come up with some activities to do with the wife.  One that I would like to repeat from last year is the Twin Cities Polish Fest.  Last year was the first time that we had gone and I realized that we were completely missing out on a great time!  We were only there for about an hour and a half, but it was a perfect break in the weekend and a great “date” to go on.  It was a fairly small affair.  I’m guessing that there were a good dozen or so food vendors and at least as many other booths selling anything from knick-knacks to cloths to information.  Plus there were several stages with polka bands playing in a rotation.  I personally think that it was the perfect size.  Not so big that you felt that you needed to rush to see everything.  And not so small that you stood in one spot, glanced around and said, yup, I’m good.

Just to tempt you into going, here are some pictures from last year.

An interesting book giving the “translation” of Polish surnames.  To no surprise on my part, Czeck derives from “someone from Czechoslovakia.”  What I found interesting was Zulawski (Grandma Bert’s last name) means “a marshy, muddy land.”  Not sure what that means for a family of farmers, but like I said, I found it interesting.

The companion volume to the previous book.  Both are helpful if you would like to dip your toe into genealogical research.  More helpful books can be found here.

I really wish I could remember what the name of the place where we bought these perogies.  My first words after taking a bite was “Oh, my God!”  Then Lindz took a bite of hers, and her first words were “Oh, my God!”  They were filled with “meat, potatoes, cheese, and awesomeness” according to Lindz.

A picture of the happy couple.  I think it’s a great picture of me.  Somehow I managed to look constipated and give myself a double chin.

Okay, this has nothing to do with the Polish Fest.  It’s just a really cool fountain that we saw walking from the car to the Fest.

The booty that was purchased at the Polish Fest.  I specifically wanted a T-shirt that said Polska on it, and I not only managed to find one, but it also had the Polish coat of arms on it!  The cookbook was a gift for Mom’s birthday.  I later found a used copy for myself.  The bottom middle item is a spicy hot mustard that is Minnesota made!  In fact, it is from Rice, a town that is only 20 miles away from Mom and Dad.  The company is called Uncle Pete’s Mustard, and you should check them out.  The last item is a spoon rest that was hand painted in Poland and ended up under the Christmas tree for Mom.

And finally, the Tatra sheepdog.  It is a breed that originated in southern Poland (the Tatra region of the Carpathian mountains) and has been historically used to herd sheep.  A lot of “well, duh” in that last sentence.  They are not that common in Poland and even less so everywhere else in the world.  Which naturally means that if you want a puppy, you are going to be paying a premium for it.  Really sweet dogs though.

I’m planning on sending out an invite to the family to see if we can get a group to go this year.

Grandma Rose was holding out on us!

One of the traditions that we had growing up at the Czeck Christmas gatherings was a dessert called Makówki (pronounced mah-KOOV-kee).  The way that Grandma Rose made it sort of defies explanation.  You almost have to experience it to fully understand and appreciate it.  Of course, being genetically inclined towards the stuff doesn’t hurt either.  You’ll understand that point better in a little bit.

The “official” recipe that Grandma Rose used for Makówki was like all old family recipes.  Not exactly big on measurements.  I’m sure someone has a version written down that has some actual numbers associated with it, but I’m too lazy at the moment to find out, so here’s the version that I have.  Take homemade bread (it has to be homemade) and tear it into chunks, then let it sit out on the counter and get stale.  Next, you make a simple syrup solution with ground poppy seeds in it, and build up layers, alternating between the bread and syrup in a bowl.  Refrigerate it for at least several hours and then serve.  What you end up with is a really soupy, sweet, soggy bread with a crap load of poppy seeds in the mix.  Sounds appetizing right?  I don’t think many of the in-laws actually eat the stuff.  I’m not even sure how many of my cousins do.  I know that at least some do, because my cousin Stephen and I were talking about it at Roy’s wake with a couple of my aunties.  It was established that our respective wives won’t touch the stuff, but we actively sought it out.  I also found out that my aunt Rosie has the official Makówki pottery bowl, and of course it’s green.  Rosie mentioned that her brother Mel was supposed to have been the one to keep the Makówki recipe alive.  He took the time and made it with Grandma Rose so he understood how to make it.  But unfortunately he passed away over ten years ago and no one took the opportunity to learn it again while she was alive.  I know that Mary Ann made it a couple of times, and it is possible that one of Mel’s sons has it.  I’ll have to make inquiries into some kind of official version in the near future.

A reasonably close picture of how Grandma Rose’s Makówki looked.

When I started actively collecting recipes and searching out different dishes, I always was on the look out for this recipe.  I had flipped through every applicable section of any Polish cookbook that I could find hoping to discover a variation of this dish.  I even read through the index looking for the recipe.  I was becoming increasingly convinced it was something that Grandma Rose had made up.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that came to this conclusion because Rosie mentioned that she too was convinced of the same.  Grandma Rose was well known for combining odd things and making them taste amazing.  Her punch being one example (some odd combination of 7-Up, fruit juice, kool-aid, and who knows what else).  I guess living through the Depression and raising nine kids forces you to become creative in the kitchen.

You can’t even imagine my surprise and delight when I literally stumbled across a Makówki recipe while browsing the web.  I finally had a starting point outside of my family to do some research!  It seems that outside of Silesia, this dish is not well known.  In fact, many people in Poland haven’t even heard of this dish.  Talk about your regional cuisine!  This would explain why I’ve never seen it in any of the cookbooks.  Although I was impressed that there is a Wikipedia article on it (a few key selections):

The main ingredient are: sweet white bread and finely ground poppy seeds boiled in milk with butter. Other important ingredients include: dried fruit (figs, raisins, apricots, dates, etc.) almonds and other kinds of nuts (the choice of nuts and dried fruit varies). It is flavoured with sugar, honey, vanilla, cinnamon and rum.

Silesian cuisine can be very conservative. The tradition of makówki/mohnkließla/mohnpilen is well maintained amongst Silesians, i.e., it is hard to imagine a Silesian Christmas without this foodstuff, and it would be rather unorthodox to serve it outside the Christmas–New Year period.

I basically only found two versions of the recipe doing a Google search.  This one is fairly close to what Grandma Rose made (which strangely enough is the one that was in Polish).  The measurements in brackets are the originals, I have converted them to US standard.

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 1 1/2 quarts [liters] of milk
  • 5 large tablespoons of sugar
  • 8 3/4 oz [250 g] of poppy seeds
    (ground dry)
  • 2 small wheat buns
  • 5 1/4 oz [150 g] hazelnuts
  • 1 3/4 – 3 1/2 oz [50-100 g] walnuts
  • 5 1/4 oz[150 g] of raisins

Mix the sugar and milk together in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Add the ground poppy seeds and bring back to a boil (the recipe doesn’t state how long you need to boil this mixture).  Refrigerate the poppy seed mixture until cool.  Meanwhile, cut the buns into slices and chop the nuts quite finely.  In a large glass bowl, alternate layers of bun, nuts, raisins, and the refrigerated poppy seed mixture.  Repeat until you use up everything.

Grandma Rose’s version did not have the milk, nuts, and raisins.  Also, she used white bread instead of wheat buns.

The other version that I found sounds completely over the top compared to what I’m used to eating.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups poppy seeds, ground
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 tablespoons honey
  • 3 ounces rum
  • 6 ounces Amaretto
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup raisins (pre-soaked in a little rum)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 loaf raisin bread (sliced 3/4 thick)
  • 2 ounces chocolate, shaved (bitter sweet)
  • 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
  • whipped cream (optional)

Prepare a day before because this needs to refrigerate over night.  It is sometimes difficult to find ground poppy seeds, so I use the poppy seeds, put them in a coffee filter and pour boiling water over the poppy seeds twice, to soften them up, then put them in the food processor, set aside.  In a large pot over medium heat bring the milk, cream and butter almost to a boil.  While constantly stirring with a wooden spoon, add the honey, rum, amaretto, cinnamon, raisins, walnuts, and almonds.  Reduce heat to medium low and let this cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat off and add the ground poppy seed, stir twice and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minute (its important to have the heat off because the poppy seeds can become bitter if heated too much).  The mixture should be slightly thickened.  In a large glass bowl alternate layers the poppy seed mixture and the bread slices, starting with a ladle of the poppy seed mixture and ending with poppy seed mixture.  Should be 3 – 4 bread layers.  Cover the top with chocolate shavings and almond slices.  Cover and put in the fridge overnight.  Can be served with whipped cream.

Personally, I think the chocolate and the whipped cream are completely unnecessary.  I do like the idea of adding the dairy to make it more like a bread pudding.  And if you are going to do that, you might as well add the nuts and dried fruit because they go well that style of pudding.  Adding a alcohol to a dessert, to my knowledge, has never hurt anything.  But by the time that you get here, you’ve got a fairly typical bread pudding with poppy seed in it.  While it may be the more traditional Silesian version, I think I’m going to stick with Grandma Rose’s for the familial tradition and personal memories.

A Proud Polack Passes Away.

Monday night my uncle Roy (he married Dad’s sister Mary Ann) passed away from a massive stroke.  I haven’t posted anything about him until now because I’ve spent the last week trying to come up with some kind of summery of his life.  Do I take the outdoors angle where he loved to fish and hunt?  His seemingly endless tall-tales that he loved to tell?  The grocery store that he and Mary Ann, used to own about eight miles from Mom and Dad’s?  That he put new meaning behind the the phrase “proud Polack?”  Or do I start with his growing up near Mom?  After attending his wake Thursday night, I’ve decided to go with a short blurb of each of those because he was all those things and more.  Since I like to be difficult, I’m going to start at the end with the wake since that’s the beginning of my making sense of Uncle Roy’s life.

Roy Jurek, 1931-2012

Like I said earlier, I went to the wake on Thursday night.  The wake was held in Pierz and our current job is in Eagan, with a quick stop at our apartment for a 5 second shower and a change of clothes (which strangely enough was on the way).  For those not familiar with the layout of Minnesota, the trip from Eagan to Pierz goes roughly “Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Venezuela, Africa, Beirut, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and then Switzerland…” (thank you Eddie Izzard).  Which translates into about 2.5 hours with no traffic.  So I was figuring on taking off from work at 3 to be up there around 6-ish.  But, there was rush-hour and construction going on and really no way around either of them.  So that meant my 2.5 hour journey turned into almost 4 hours worth of travel.  Really it was the construction that got me.  It took literally an hour to go less than 2 miles to get through the construction zone.  Why am I telling you about my woes?  I just wanted to illustrate what I went through just to say one last farewell to my uncle.  On the way I did make a very quick stop to see Grandma Bert (I was practically driving by her place, also, it was in order not to get yelled at).  I did managed to get up to Pierz for about 45 minutes of the wake.  The first person that I ran into was Roy and Mary Ann’s youngest, Dan.  We chatted for a bit and then I sought out Mary Ann.  She was doing very well, all things considered.  Tired, but doing well.  After that I made the rounds with my relation and caught up on life and shared Roy stories.  The real lynch pin for putting things into perspective was reading through the eulogy printed with funeral information.  Here are a few of the excerpts that I found very appropriate and a bit amusing:

“Roy was the second son of a second generation Polish immigrants and farmers . . . with his 10 brothers and sisters, he learned early the values of hard work, integrity, family, church and one-liners.”

“In 1957, he caught an unsuspecting neighbor taking gravel from his family farm and ten months later . . . he married the gravel hunter, Mary Ann”

“Roy enjoyed catching and not releasing sunnies, napping on deer stands, and boasting (about) his self-proclaimed command of the Polish language.”

I have no idea if the stealing gravel story is true because it sounds like something that Mary Ann would do, but also something that Roy would say to pull your leg.  Along those lines, here is one of my favorite tall tales told at Czeck get-together quite a few years ago.  Roy was telling a bunch of the younger kids that when he was growing up how poor they were.  They could only afford one bullet and his dad told him to go out and get some food for supper.  Roy was walking through the woods and he happened to see three turkeys sitting on a wooden fence.  He noticed that they were all sitting with some of their toes in a crack in the top rail.  Roy being the brilliant man he was, he shot the rail and pinched their toes so they couldn’t fly away.  He just walked up and bopped them on their heads and his family ate well for a week.  This story may not be verbatim, but you get the idea of the stories that he would tell.

Tall tales aside, you could always ask Roy about his last hunting or fishing trip.  It seemed like he was always either going on one or just getting back from one.  Once again, some were more believable than others.  You could count on Roy and Gary (another uncle) sitting in a corner at every family get together BS-ing about something or another, and usually fishing was involved at some point.  When Roy was young, he even helped out on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm when Mom’s folks would go up north for their own fishing trips.  Roy was just that kind of guy.

I don’t remember the exact year, but when I was pretty young, Roy and Mary Ann bought a small convenience store in a town about eight miles from the farm.  It was a great place to pick up odds and ends that you forgot to get on the regular grocery trips.  Plus they rented movies and even for awhile they rented out Super Nintendo systems.  My best memories of that place was when us kids talked Mom or Dad into letting us have a dollar to buy candy.  Seriously, if you want to teach your kids about frugality and math, only let them have a dollar and two minutes in a candy store.  We could stretch that dollar so far it filled a #4 bag.  We got very good and min/maxing quality and quantity in a time crunch, i.e. Mom or Dad standing over us telling us to hurry up.

Roy loved to throw in a Polish phrase or two randomly into a conversation.  Never understood a word he said.  I have a feeling that is part of why Roy kept doing it.  It was like his own personal joke.  Keeping with his playful nature, Roy also loved to give anyone a hard time about not being Polish.  Gary (a Swede) and Roy loved to throw jabs at each other about their respective ethnicities.  When I was in high school, we had an exchange student, David, from Spain (I think), that was staying with the extended family of one of the in-laws.  That Christmas, they came to the Czeck get-together and Roy was being nice and talking to him.  Of course one part of the conversation that I over heard was Roy asking David if he was Catholic.  I don’t remember what David’s answer was, but the next thing I know was that Roy was talking about how the Pope was Polish and how Roy was Polish, so the Pope was just like Roy.  Strange, I just realized the direction of the comparison.  Egotistical, yes; funny, hell yes; and just like Roy.

So this one is for you Roy: Na zdrowie!

A Taste of the Past.

While I was working and living in Decorah, Iowa, a couple of my friends and I would always be on the look out for new and interesting places to eat.  One place we found in a neighboring town was a Mexican grocery/restaurant called Sabor Latino, which translates as Latin Flavor.  Within a year after we had first visited this place they opened a restaurant in Decorah.  The new place was such a regular stop that the whole staff knew our names, our order, and what was going on in our life.  Plus, they would throw in some freebies on a regular basis.  Which, of course, just encouraged us to come back all the more often.  They closed their doors shortly after we stopped making it a regular stop.  Possibly a coincidence, possibly not.  The reason why we stopped going was that one our trio graduated from college and stopped coming into town on a regular basis.  Of course, the fact that they got raided for having illegal immigrants working there may have been a factor.  (Just for the record, we did not know that some of the workers were here illegally).

There were several things that I learned from our frequent visits.  I fell in love with their pico de gallo (fresh, uncooked salsa) as well as relished their guacamole.  In fact, when I make either of these items at home, it is their recipes that I try to emulate.  We also discovered a drink called horchata.  Horchata is a rice milk beverage made with cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes with almonds or vanilla.  It is a cool and very refreshing drink that I have surprisingly not attempted to make.  I’ll have to put that on my list to try.  I’m not sure if it’s the same one as in his cookbook that I have or if it’s a different recipe, but here is a link to Aarón Sanchez’s horchata recipe (Right now I’m too lazy to get up off the couch and look).  But, the most relevant thing to this post is that I discovered the method how Mexicans prepare their tacos.  Forget about what you normally see in the U.S., i.e. covered in lettuce, tomato, and all sorts of a salad, the way we were shown was to just put some diced onions and some cilantro on top of the meat.  I’m not sure what it is about that combination, but it helps to liven up the meat flavor as well as add its own dimension to each bite.  I much prefer “Mexican style,” as the boys at Sabor liked to say, as opposed to what normally passes in the U.S.

While flipping through the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a Tacos al Pastor (shepherd’s style taco) recipe.  I was even more surprised when they just called for cilantro and onions for a topping.  Given this gift of a recipe and the memories that I have connected with eating this dish, I couldn’t wait to cook it.  At this point in time, we had already made plans to go down and visit one of the people that I had spent so much time with at Sabor Latino.  It seemed almost sacrilegious not to cook it for him.  It was even more fitting in my brain to cook this for Narren because he has cooked for me countless times in the past.  Granted, it was often payment for helping him with something (hence him dubbing me a food-whore).  But the occasional payback is nice too.

I did end up making several modifications to the recipe because I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen.  As usual, I’ll put my notes in parenthesis.

Ingredients

  • 10 large dried guajillo chiles, wiped clean; can substitute New Mexican chiles (I used a Tbs of Crushed Red Peppers)
  • 1 1/2 C Water
  • 1 1/4 lbs plum tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 8 Garlic Cloves (I used 1 1/2 small bulbs)
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 3/4 tsp Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground Cumin
  • 1/8 tsp ground Cloves
  • 3 lbs boneless Pork Butt Roast (the one I got weighed 3.5 lbs and had a bone, but it dressed out to 3 lbs)
  • 1 Lime, cut into 8 wedges (I used 2)
  • 1/2 Pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick rings (did not use at all)
  • Veggie Oil
  • 18 Corn or Flour Tortillas, about 6″, warmed
  • 1 small Onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 C fresh Cilantro, coarsely chopped

Toast guajillos in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until softened and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes.  Transfer to large plate and when cool enough to handle, remove stems.  (Obviously, I completely skipped this step.)  Bring toasted guajillos, water, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, sugar, cumin, and cloves to simmer in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occassionally, until guajillos are softened and tomatoes mash easily, about 20 minutes (I only cooked it about 12 minutes).

That is a pan full of sauce potential.

While the sauce simmers, trim excess fat from exterior of pork, leaving 1/4″ thick fat cap.  Slice pork against grain into 1/2″ thick slabs.

The bone is the lower right piece. It was a lot trickier to remove than I would have guessed.

Transfer the pepper-tomato mixture to blender and process until smooth, about 1 minute (I pulled out the bay leaves).  Strain puree through fine-mesh strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Return puree to pot, submerge pork slices in liquid, and bring to simmer over medium heat.  Partially cover, reduce heat, and gently simmer until pork is tender but still holds together, 90 to 105 minutes, flipping and rearranging pork halfway through cooking.  Transfer pork to large plate, season both sides with salt, and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Whisk sauce to combine.  Transfer 1/2 cup to bowl for grilling.  Save another 1/2 cup for use later.  Squeeze 2 lime wedges into sauce in bowl and add spent wedges; season with salt to taste. (This is where I stopped with the recipe, I just used the bit of sauce to keep the pork moist for serving it.)

Sliced the slices and ready to serve!

Heat grill until hot.  Clean and oil cooking grate.  Brush one side of pork with 1/4 cup reserved sauce.  Place pork on one side of grill, sauce side down, and cook until well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.  Brush pork with remaining 1/4 cup of sauce, flip and continue to cook until the second side is well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes longer.  Transfer to cutting board.  Meanwhile, brush both sides of pineapple rings with vegetable oil and season with salt to taste.  Place on other half of grill and cook until pineapple is softened and caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes per side.  Transfer to cutting board.  Coarsely chop pineapple and transfer to serving bowl.  Using tongs to steady the pork, slice each piece crosswise into 1/8th inch pieces.  Bring remaining sauce to simmer, add sliced pork, remove pot from heat, and toss to coat pork well.  Season with salt to taste.  Spoon small amount of pork into each warm tortilla and serve, passing chopped pineapple, remaining 6 lime wedges, onion and cilantro separately.

The extras (from top down): flour and corn tortillas, limes, onions, cilantro, and guacamole (to be featured in a later post).

Normally, I try and stick pretty close to the recipe the first time I follow it.  I make notes and change it on the subsequent tries.  The reason I deviated so much on this one is because I was cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen (Narren’s) and using a grocery store that I was unfamiliar with, i.e. I would have picked up the peppers somewhere else had I known I couldn’t get anything close to them.  I’m going to go one of two ways the next time I do this recipe.  Either I will follow the recipe as intended and grill the meat and pineapple, or, more likely, I will do a slow roast in the oven instead of the stove top treatment.  Really the only critique that I had with the way I did it was that the meat ended up a bit tough.  But through some creative slicing, I was able to minimize it.  Which is why I’m thinking of doing a slow roast, and almost going for a pulled pork sort of effect.  Although I do like the idea of crisping up the pork.  Well, we’ll see where my whims take me.

A Cresco Weekend.

Last weekend, Lindz and I went to visit friends down in Iowa.  We stayed at our friend Narren’s place in Cresco, which is around twenty miles from Decorah (our adopted hometown).  On Saturday we spent the afternoon bumming around in Decorah and ate at one of my favorite places.  T-Bock’s sports bar has been a frequent haunt of mine.  It was a block from work plus they have good food at a cheap price.  Can’t lose with that combination.  The basket that I want to single out is the peanut butter cheeseburger.  I know it sounds really odd, but it is worth a try.  The nuttiness of the peanuts pairs really well with the beef patty.  It’s not that odd if you think about it.  Remember the last time that you had beef satay?  Basically the burger is a less spicy version of the same thing.  Funny, but I’ve been eating these burgers for years and have never made that connection till now.

Narren had the Feta Burger. A very good option.

I had they gyro. Completely pre-packaged, but tasty.

Lindz had the famous Peanut Butter Cheeseburger. A weird combo but the protein overload is worth it.

For supper that night I cooked a pork recipe out of the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated that will be the subject of my next post because it deserves its own write-up.  Sunday morning, for brunch, we went to a small Mom and Pop diner called Sue-Z-Q’s.  I’ve eaten there often with Narren and his kids when I’ve visited him, even when I was living in Decorah.  They have the standard fare for this type of eatery, but this time something different caught my eye.  There was a Reuben Haystack.  Essentially a haystack is the same as a hash anywhere else.  So besides the base of potatoes, there was fried corned beef, kraut, Swiss cheese, and a side of 1000 Island.  Of course I had to have a couple over-easy eggs to go with it.  It was a very good combination.  I may have to try and do this one at home sometime.

The only problem is that I didn’t order any toast to sop up everything at the end.