Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spicy Chicken

Let me start by saying that I do not recommend re-creating this dish. Seriously. Don't do it.

I was reading another food blog and came across an entry about a maniacally spicy Thai curry. The blogger mentioned how the dish was so spicy it created an altered state of mind. That got me thinking about my past experience with spicy food and I decided that I, too, wanted to get "high" through chilis.

So, this is an attempt to create my spiciest dish ever. However, I also wanted something that would taste good so I thought long and hard about chili-loving cuisines and how chili heat can be incorporated in a multitude of ways. I think I ended up striking a pretty good balance between flavor and raging, vengeful heat.

I came up with a blueprint for the dish. From Indian cuisine, I would start with an onion/ginger/chili puree and use that as a marinade for boneless chicken. The fresh chilis in the marinade would be roasted which is a very typical Mexican technique. A large handful of chopped garlic and Thai chile is how I usually make my Thai chicken stir-fry so I stole that from my SE Asian playbook. When I make Chinese mapo tofu, I usually toss in some powdered, dried chili and I thought that I could incorporate that idea in this dish so I came up with a special, proprietary blend of dried, powdered chilis. This addition gives the dish a rich, red color and fragrant aroma.

But what kind of chilis? There are a bewildering number of available choices...I rooted through my pantry and here is what I found:

See what I mean by a bewildering number of choices? Anyhow, the first step is to make the dried chili powder blend:
I started with a few Sichuanese chilis, a few Chinese dried chilis and some dried Thai chilis. To that I added Korean ground chilis, Mexican ancho chili powder, paprika and cayenne pepper. A good deal of heat, but, more important, an intriguing flavor. Don't ask for proportions because I just added a bit of this, a bit of that and constantly tasted until I came up with something that made me happy. Notice the cup of water...yep, I was already feeling the burn.
Roast some fresh chilis...I used two jalapeno and two serrano chilis. To roast them, just turn on the broiler and place the chilis under the broiler for a few minutes. Turn the chilis to roast the other're looking for somewhat blackened, blistered skin. The roasted chilis will be a little soft and mushy.
Stem the chilis:Chop up half of an onion and mince a one inch piece of ginger. Roughly chop a few cloves of garlic:
Place the ginger, onion, roasted chili, and garlic into a food processor and blend until smooth. If the mixture creeps up the side of the food processor, just scrape the sides down with a spatula and continue blending. Add a bit of water if it doesn't want to blend.
Taste for seasoning. I used fish sauce and vinegar. Vinegar because I wanted some tang, like an Indian vindaloo. Empty the blended mixture into a large bowl. At this point, I tossed in two tablespoons of my dried, ground chili powder mixture. I also tossed in 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black peppercorns. Stir to combine.Yes, it is pretty spicy.

Chop up some chicken into bite sized pieces. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Roughly 1.5 lbs. Combine with the marinade and mix well. Set aside to marinate for a few hours.
When you're read to eat, it's time to finish the rest of the prep work. Mince 15 cloves of garlic:

Chop 30 little Thai chilis. This is a significant number of peppers...I usually roll with 10-15 when I'm making a spicy stir-fry. And check out this multi-colored delight!Proof positive that a red chili is just a matured green chili!

Slice two fresno chilis:

Pick the leaves off of 1 bunch of Thai basil:
I also measured out some additional seasoning, 2 teaspoons of brown sugar and a fish sauce, soy sauce mixture...probably 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce.Gather all the ingredients:
This is in order of when they go into the pot...garlic/minced chilis, then some dried chili powder, then the meat/onion mixture, then the fresno chilis, soy/fish sauce/sugar and Thai basil to finish.

Hot wok, oil (use quite a bit...maybe 1/3 of a cup), toss in the garlic/minced chili:
Cook until fragrant. When the chili hits the oil, you'll probably start coughing/sneezing.

When fragrant, toss in a few tablespoons of the dried chili powder blend:
Cook the chili powder in the oil. Look for a rich red color.

Toss in the onion/chicken mixture. Mix well and cook for a minute or two. Toss in two cups of chicken broth:Bring to a boil and cook for a minute or two.

Toss in the sliced fresno chilis, brown sugar and the fish sauce/soy mixture. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Go fish sauce, salt, whatever you think it needs. It might be spicy. Chuck in the Thai basil and stir just so the basil leaves wilt.Done! Now that I think of it, some fresh squeezed lime juice would be a nice addition.

So, yah, this dish was pretty spicy. It wasn't AS spicy as I had hoped but I was nearly hyperventilating as I ate it. My stomach wanted to kill me. I was sweating profusely. It packed quite a punch. However, I think I can make something even spicier...we'll see if I get around to it anytime body is still punishing me for eating that much spice in one sitting. And like I said at the top of the post, please don't make this dish. I have a pretty high tolerance for spicy food. This dish might've killed a lesser man.

Final tally: 2 jalapenos, 2 serranos, 2 fresno chilis, 30 Thai chilis and approximately 4 tablespoons of chili powder. I also garnished my serving with extra chili powder and some bottled chili sauce.

Time- 30 minutes of chopping and all that. A few hours to marinate. Cooking time is around 10 minutes.

Food Cost-
Total- $4.75...probably serves 4-5...a little of this goes a long way. About $1.00 per serving.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Chile Rubbed Pot Roast

I kinda wanna speed through this post because the next post is one that I'm super excited about...let's just say it involves two jalapeno chiles, two serrano chiles, two fresno chiles, 30 thai chiles and 3-4 tablespoons of housemade chile powder. just a wee bit spicy.

I'm gonna get right into this one. The recipe is from Chef on a Shoestring. I have talked about this book in this post.

Everything you'll need:

Here's the meat. It doesn't have a lot of marbling so I was a bit worried that it would fall short in the succulence department. My fears were confirmed. While the end product wasn't dry, it lacked in beefy richness. Poop on the upscale butcher. If I pay $5.99 a pound for braising meat, it better turn out to be phenomenally delicious. It wasn't so, from now on, I'll stick with the Chinese dudes. This is a bit over 3 pounds of meat.In this step, I'm pre-salting the meat. I let it sit, salted, overnight. Just salt it, wrap it up and stick it back in the fridge. You're not looking for a ton of salt. I used maybe a teaspoon and a half per side. You can skip this step if you want.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spice rub: 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon of ground coriander, 1 tablespoon of ground chile, 1.5 teaspoons of cayenne, 1 tablespoon of ground black pepper. For the ground chile, I used guajillo chile powder. I also tossed in two teaspoons of ground chipotle chile powder. As always, I encourage you to freshly grind your own spices.Take the spice rub and rub it into the beef. If, like me, you the beef is completely seasoned but you have leftover seasoning, just sprinkle it into the pot at the tomato/beef broth stage.

Chop some vegetables. A few carrots, an onion and some celery. Because this dish is going to be cooked for a long time, leave the veggies in large chunks. If you cut them small, like a dice, they'll completely disintegrate. Also mince a bit of garlic. Here are some carrots:Heat up a large, ovenproof pot. Add oil and brown the meat:When the meat is browned on both sides, remove from the pot and toss in the onion and carrots. Cook until the onions have softened slightly. Then toss in the carrot and garlic and cook for a bit, say 30 seconds. Add around 1 cup of tomato puree or chopped tomatoes. Toss in a few cups of beef broth. Add the meat back to the pot. Sorta nestle it among the rest of the ingredients. You don't want to completely cover the meat in liquid. That isn't a braise....ummm, not sure what it then becomes....boiled meat? That's garlic on top of the meat...I forgot to add it with the celery. Cover the pot and place into the oven. Cook for an hour and 20 minutes and see if it's done. It probably won't be. When you take the pot out of the oven to check for doneness, taste the cooking liquid. Add salt and/or pepper. As for the doneness of the meat, I've made a video to help you out. I'm awesome like that.

Did that make sense? Anyhow, keep cooking it until it is tender. That's the only goal here. Meat so tender that you can eat it with a spoon. Spoon meat. Spoonable meat. Whatever, you get it.

Done! I recommend leaving this in the fridge for a day. The flavors will be better, and you can scoop off the rendered, hardened fat.

Time-Ridiculously low. Maybe 15 minutes of active cooking. Took me nearly 2 hours to cook the meat in the oven. Overnight pre-salting but VERY little active cooking time.

Food Cost-
Meat- $18.00 (I'm still pissed about this)
Veggies- $1.00
Tomato Sauce- $0.99
Total- $21.75. Probably got 6 servings out of this...22/6=$3.66 per serving. Not very Budget College Cook...sorry about that!

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

White Bean and Sausage Stew

Mmmmm, I just ate the most delicious grapefruit. George and I had a discussion where we debated whether of not grapefruits are underrated. After an informal survey of our IM friends, grapefruits ARE underrated. Just like I thought. I win, George. You lose.

So I've been the apartment cook for the past few days and this has given me the chance to cook fromChef On A Shoestring. As with the pizza recipe and an upcoming braised beef recipe, this recipe turned out really, really well. Absolutely no complaints.

I forgot to take the traditional picture of the collected ingredients. Oops. Please forgive me. But for this recipe it doesn't really matter 'cause it's so easy.

Start by soaking 1 pound of small, dry white beans overnight. Although there is debate over the necessity of soaking beans, I'm not going to get into it here. If you prefer other types of beans, feel free to use them. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time.

The next day, pick through the bloated, engorged beans. You're looking to get rid of any pebbles and things of that sort. Some people like to sort the beans before soaking them...this is fine. The important thing is to pick through the beans at some point.

After the beans are soaked and picked through, it's time to cook them. Add the beans to a large pot. Cover with water. ALOT of water. Toss in 5 or 6 Italian sausages (hot or sweet) and a bay leaf or two.
Bring to a boil and then drop to a simmer. Remove the sausages after 15 minutes of simmering and set aside.
Continue cooking the beans until smooth and creamy. This will probably take between 1-1.5 hours.

While the beans are cooking, dice some veggies. You're looking for a cup of carrots, a cup of celery and a cup of onion. If you want to use more veggies, feel free. If you feel like adding other veggies, feel free. It's your call. Also, mince some garlic until you have a few tablespoons worth. I made the mistake of pureeing mine with my Micro-plane. I say mistake because pureeing the garlic releases ALOT of garlic flavor. I felt it was a bit overpowering. Oh well, you live you learn. Slice the sausages into bite size pieces.
Once the beans are done cooking and have had a chance to cool for 1/2 an hour, drain them but reserve 4 cups of the bean cooking liquid. Take 1/2 of the cooked beans and blend them with 2 cups of the cooking liquid.

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to your large pot and saute the carrots and onion until the onions are soft and transluscent. Toss in the celery and garlic and saute for 30 seconds or so. Pour in 1/2 cup of dry white wine. Recipe calls for a full cup but I felt 1/2 cup was sufficient. Cook for 30 seconds. Toss in the drained beans, sliced sausage and blended/pureed beans. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover and chuck into your pre-heated oven. Cook for 30-45 minutes.

Remove from oven, re-taste for seasoning. If the stew is a bit thick, thin it down with the reserved bean cooking liquid.

Done! I like to drizzle each bowl with a nice glug of good quality olive oil.

And just a short video to show you the aftermath of pizza night and white bean stew...actually, our kitchen has been much, MUCH worse than this.

Time-Overnight to soak the beans, a few hours to simmer the beans but the rest of it takes no more than 30 minutes.

Food Cost-
Incidentals- $0.50
Total- About 6 bucks. Serves 4-5. $1.20-$1.50 per serving.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pizza Party!

This is my weekly baking project post. For all of you BCC noobs, one of my New Years resolutions is to become more comfortable with baking so I am trying to bake something on a weekly basis. So far, it's been pretty fun. I have had a few complete, unmitigated disasters but you live and you learn. Pizza dough is an important step for me because it is the first time in probably 4 years that I've used yeast. The first time was when I had just moved to California and was living at my ex-gf's mom's house. I tried to make bread using a James Beard cookbook but ended up with a stunted brick of flour and water. Happily, my second experience with yeast was far more successful.

I used the recipe from Chef On A Shoestring. The book is a few years old (originally printed in 2001) but the recipes still read really well. And the idea behind the book is right up my alley...some NYC television station went to a bunch of chefs and gave them a 20 dollar budget. With that 20 dollars, they were to design a three course meal for 4 people and the book is a compendium of what the chefs came up with. If you clicked the link, you'll notice the bargain basement price so don't buy the book expecting a bunch of glitzy pictures printed on glossy paper. As far as food porn goes, this book is a study in austerity. However, I've now made two recipes from the book and they've both turned out really, really well. It's a keeper.

Dough...salt, oil, yeast, flour and water:
1.75 cups of lukewarm water...lukewarm means between 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle two 1/4 ounce packages of yeast over the warm water. The recipe mentions that you should let the yeast and water stand until dissolved and foamy. I never got any foam but the dough still turned out great. So, if you don't get foamy water, don't freak out. I waited 15 minutes for foamy yeast water before I grew impatient and continued on. While the yeast/water is doing its thing, measure out your flour. 6 cups worth, or if you're using a scale, 134 grams per cup. Add the flour to the yeast/water a handful at a time...use your other hand to stir the flour into the water and create a dough. After a few handfuls of flour, it'll be pretty sticky but just keep working through it. Once you've incorporated all of the flour, pour the dough onto a prepared, lightly floured surface. I used a clean kitchen counter. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. This is a good chance to alleviate some latent aggression and you'll probably work up a good sweat after the first 5 minutes. Kneading dough is hard but rewarding work. I really enjoyed it! The cookbook says that you're looking for the dough to become "smooth and elastic." Mold the dough into a ball and place in a lightly olive oiled bowl. Tightly wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm area. Since I had been preheating the oven, I placed the bowl next to the warm oven. Let it rest/rise for approximately one hour.

Here's the dough progression. Baby bear:
Mama bear:Papa bear!:
I was amazed. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this result. I punched (*Ka-POW!!*) the dough down and poured it onto a floured surface. We'll continue with the dough after I show you the topping.

While the dough is rising, make the topping. This recipe called for caramelized onions, rosemary and gorgonzola. I purchased crumbled gorgonzola from Trader Joe's because it was affordable and I figured buying the good stuff would be a waste for pizza. For the onions, you'll need 4 onions, butter, oil and rosemary.
4 onions, thinly sliced. Pick two tablespoons of rosemary leaves off of the stems. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pan and 1/2 cup of olive oil. Toss in the onions and rosemary and cook very slowly. 30-40 want to see the onions go limp and translucent. Add salt. Allow to cool. You might notice that the recipe says caramelized onions and these onions are still pale...I figured that the onions will caramelize when placed in the 450 degree oven. We'll see that while this made sense in theory, it didn't quite work in practice. I also took the time to roast some garlic cloves. 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
At this point, you have prepared onion topping, maybe some roasted garlic, cheese and a ball of dough.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Get it good and hot. If you have a pizza stone, now is the time to use it!

George and I quartered the dough. The recipe calls for two pizzas but we decided to make four because a large pizza wouldn't fit on our pizza stone. Additionally, four pizzas allows you to vary the toppings and have a little more fun.

To roll out the dough, you can do it freeform by stretching and pulling or you can be a pansy (like me!) and use a rolling pin. I used my SilPin. It's a non-stick rolling pin. It's AMAZING. Here's what I ended up with:Underneath is a large cutting board. Because the dough has a tendency to stick, we used a bit of flour and cornmeal underneath. As George put it, "The cornmeal acts like tiny little ball bearings which allows the dough to slide off." Thank you, nerd.

Decorate your pizza with toppings of your choice. Here's pizza number one before it goes in:
A few observations. First, because we were using smaller pizzas, we baked them for only 10 minutes rather than the recipe's 20 minutes. I think the reduction in baking time inhibited any onion caramelization. Second, the dough underwent a second rising in the oven and, because of the larger volume of dough, it changed the ratio of dough to topping. Basically, more topping was needed. We fixed this with the next few pizzas. However, we were pretty happy with the dough and the fact that the pizza tasted pretty good.

Number two with heavy toppings and the addition of roast garlic:
One of George's pies:He used anchovies, some canned spaghetti sauce and some shredded cheese that we had sitting around the fridge. We decided to chuck an egg onto the pizza to see what happened:
Egg was a bit overcooked at 10 minutes in the oven. I like how George got a nice rim around his pizza. George spent a year in culinary school and has some experience with this sort of thing. He told me that the secret was hand tossing the dough and not putting topping all the way out to the pizza's edge. Because there's nothing to weigh the dough down, it can rise more.

Anyhow, I had an absolute BLAST making pizza. It was alot of fun...making the dough was a little bit stressful but sooooo worth it when I saw it in all its glory. Pizza night is definitely something we will do in the future. In fact, we're planning pizza night for guests where we make the dough and toppings and let people make their own pizzas. Sounds like a good time, right?

Time- Probably about 30 minutes of active work for the onions and kneading the dough. Remember that the dough needs to rise for an hour. This isn't something to just whip up for an impromptu dinner.

Food cost-
Dough...uhhhh, cheap? Flour is next to nothing, yeast is $1.60. Onions are 80 cents, a few sprigs of rosemary, $3.00 bucks in gorgonzola. You get the point...turning out 4 pizzas didn't cost very much. Chef On a Shoestring, indeed.

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