Sunday, February 24, 2008

Herbed Pork Roast

I've only made a pork roast a couple of times before, and I don't recall either being all that great. So when My wife came home from the grocery ( I was a bit under the weather, so she subbed for me that week) with a big ol' hunka pork, I coulnd't help but wonder what the heck she was thinking! I guess I'd impressed her enough with my recent culinary accomplishments that she figured I'd have no problems...
After a bit of 'net research, I came up with a recipe that I hoped would produce a half-decent outcome. From the family's reaction, I think I did. I found a few tips here and there. First was to not trim off the layer of fat that is usually on one side of the roast and to keep that side up while roasting. Oiling up the roast with the seaonings and putting it in a very hot oven for a short while before turning it down for a long while was another good tip, helping to "seal" the piece and keep it juicy
so here's what I did----

2 ½ pound pork loin roast
Olive oil, a tablespoon or two
1 Tablespoon of a combination of herbs:
-a mix of rosemary, thyme, marjoram leaves
¼ teaspoon rubbed sage
¼ teaspoon ground red Thai chili
½ teaspoon of salt (I used kosher salt)
¼ teaspoon of fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°
Put the olive oil in a small bowl.
Add the herbs, chili, salt and pepper, mix to blend.
Rub the mixture all over the roast (top, bottom, sides and all...).
Line a pan with foil and put the roasting rack in it.
Put the herbed roast on the rack with the fat side up and put the roast in the oven.

After 10 minutes, turn down the heat on the oven to 250° and continue to cook for 50 to 80 minutes, until a meat thermometer measures the internal temperature at150°. The cooking time will vary with the roast's shape - longer for a thicker piece, shorter for a more narrow piece.
When it is done, remove the roast to a cutting board. Cover it loosely with foil (I just loosely tented the roast) and let it sit for about 15 minutes to rest*.
Slice the roast about ¾" and serve.

I served mine with garlic-sour cream mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.
*Resting meat: there is some controversy as to whether one should cover/tent/wrap meat while resting (AKA complete carry-over cooking). It works for me, so I do it.

BTW, this is a bit of the "ground" Thai chili pepper I used. I made this from the peppers that Rosie brought me last fall (Thanks, Rosie!).


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tandoori Chicken Burgers

I was watching the PBS show Everyday Food last weekend - the show was called "The Best Burgers" (episode 405 according to their website). I love a good burger, but don't make them from scratch very often, so I thought it would be worth the time. After the show was over I had 2 things: a couple of interesting recipes to try and a big hunger. Good thing it was lunch time.

I didn't have any of the ingredients readily available for either of the recipes, so it was a couple of days before I could cook one up. The first (and as of 02/21/08, the only so far) was the Tandoori-style Chicken burger in pitas. There are so many interesting flavors going in, I was really looking forward to how they would turn out. I was also excited to get to use the cardamom pods I'd recently purchased from Penzey's. The original recipe called for a cumin-yogurt sauce, but I made the tahini mayonnaise from the veggie burger recipe.
The use of chicken thighs makes for great chicken flavor. The thighs are run through the food processed a bit to break them up, but not enough to make them mushy.
For the pitas, try to find the thin pitas, not the thick heavy ones. I'm not a big fan of one of the national brands, Father Sam's; they're just a bit too thick/bready for me, but are very popular and usually available near your grocer's deli department. If you live in an area that has an Aladdin's Eatery location (northern Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Antonio,Texas; western Pennsylvania, Chicago,Illinois; and 16 Ohio locations), I recommend that you stop in and buy a bag of pita from them. It's pretty cheap and perfect for almost anything, even (and especially) just snacking on. Oh, yeah, they're great for this dish, too.

1 1/2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs (4 to 5), cut into rough chunks.
4 scallions, sliced thin (both the white and the green parts)
2 Tablespoons of finely chopped fresh ginger (about a 2 inch piece, peeled)
2 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon of paprika
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom (I ground mine fresh in the old coffee mill!)
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons of Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
Whole wheat pitas
Cucumber, thin sliced on the bias
Fresh Cilantro leaves

Place the scallions, ginger, lemon juice, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.

Add the chicken and toss to combine all of the ingredients and set the bowl aside to marinate for up to 30 minutes (at least 10 minutes).

After no more than 30 minutes, transfer the chicken mixture to your food processor. Pulse the mixture just until it is roughly chopped, and not yet pasty (maybe a dozen pulses).

Heat a skillet to medium-high heat and spray it with vegetable oil spray (Pam or the equivalent)
Form small patties fromthe chicken mixture (about 3 Tablespoons each).
Season the patties with salt and pepper and place inthe skillet. Be sure not to crowd them.

Cook until they are opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes,then turn carefully and cook 2 to 3 minutes more.

Tahini Mayonnaise
1/2 cup of Mayonnaise (use the real stuff, not that nasty Kraft M.W.)
1 to 2 Tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 to 2 Tablespoons of tahini (I used "Ziyad" brand)

Whisk the above ingredients together and season with a bit of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Serve the burgers in the pitas - halve the pitas and place 2 cooked patties inside with some cucumber slices, cilantro leaves and some tahini mayo.

They turned out moist, tender and full of freshness. I need to cook from scratch a lot more.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Garlic Lemon Shrimp Pasta

Yeah, let's hit all the good stuff at once - garlic, shrimp, pasta, and lemon all living in perfect harmony and with one goal in life: to make me happy.
This recipe is based on one of those old recipe cards I got from First Magazine years ago (early 1990's?). I haven't made it in a while, but I pulled it out last week when I was pressed for time. I always have a pound of shrimp in the freezer for emergencies, and I'd just been to the store and found some nice lemons at a decent price (for February), so I was all set (garlic is, of course, a staple...).

I usually use a thin spaghetti, and until recently my preffered pasta was Barilla Linguini Rigate. I can't seem to find it anymore and it's no longer mentioned on their web site. I've had to settle for their Spaghetti Rigati, which works ok , but it's a bit heavier than I like for this dish, although I think angel hair would be too thin. Such a delicate balance..

It's a pretty simple and quick recipe, and tastes even better as leftovers.

½ pound spaghetti
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed, then minced
¼ cup of olive oil
2 Tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I used the zest from ½ large lemon)
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice (I used the juice from ½ large lemon, the same ½ that I got the zest from)
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Cook the pasta per package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan.
Add the minced garlic and cook for about a minute.
Add the shrimp and cook until pinked through; that should only take a couple of minutes.
Add the parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice and toss well.
Be sure to time the finshing of the shrimp with the finishing of the pasta.
Drain the pasta and toss the drained pasta into the sauté pan of shrimp and garlic sauce, blending it well with the shrimp/garlic sauce.
Serve with a finish of a bit fine salt and fresh ground pepper, garnish with some thin lemon slices if you're into that sort of thing.

Sorry, no photo this time - too hungry.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Toasted Chili Mayonaise

Eager to do something constructive with my new haul from Penzey's I cracked open the chili powder with a specific condiment in mind. Since I had 1/2 of a torta carnitas in the fridge from our trip to Cuco's Taquieria, I decided to make some toasted chili powder mayonaise. I've made this before and love how it makes an ordinary sandwich jump with flavor. I never have found a real recipe for it, so this is what I've been doing. It seems to turn out ok:

Toasted Chili Mayonaise
2 to 3 Tablespoons Penzey's Chili powder (whatever type you choose is fine)
Real Mayonaise (I always use Hellman's, NEVER EVER that nasty M.W. stuff - even if I believed in miracles, it would take more than a miracle to make that stuff any good...)

Get a heavy skillet nice and hot over medium heat. Add the chili powder and toast the chili powder, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.

Once the powder has cooled, it can be transfered to it's own jar for future use, or just use some of it right away like I did to make the mayo.

Put a couple of Tablespoons of mayo in a small bowl. Add some toasted chili powder to it and blend well. Taste it & tweak the flavor - does it need more chili powder? Add some more, then! Too much chili? Add a bit more mayo. You'll know when it's right.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. I used some on my leftover Cuco's torta. Very nice...


Thursday, February 14, 2008

My first trip to Penzey's

Penzey's Spices.

I know it's been sitting there in that little round building on Reed Road for a couple of years now, I just never seemed to get there - until last weekend. Finally, I'm not a Penzey's virgin anymore.

I was no stranger to this building, though - I'd actually been inside of it years before it was a Penzey's. Way back, this odd shaped building was a bank, the covered portion on it's south side was drive-through. After the bank closed, and after a while of being empty, the building became the home of the "Zacchaeus Short Man's Clothing store". Yes, I'm a bit vertically challenged, so I visited the store in search of some pants to wear to work. I quickly learned that the name of the store should have been "Zacchaeus Short *FAT* Man's Clothing store". I was looking for 29x29 - they had 26x45, 27x49, etc., with prices as large as the wiast sizes and in those fabulous golf prints everybody loves to wear to the office... Lovely. Would you believe I didn't buy anything?

But I digress.

We stepped in to Penzey's and I almost felt overwhelmed. I have been receiving their catalog, so I was somewhat familiar with their products,but I was completely unprepared for how nice the actual store would be. Boogie grabbed a basket and I immediately started fiding things to put in it. Of course, I did have a list to follow and quickly reverted to it in a desperate attempt to keep from spending too much. It was tough, but I managed to stick mostly to the list, spending a bit over $20 on: chili powder, garam masala, Fine ground white pepper, white cardamom pods (for Kheema), vanilla sugar, and some hot chocolate mix with mint:

Back at home, I decided that before I put my Penzey's bounty away, I would clean up/out my spice rack & cabinet and boy, oh, boy did they need cleaning. This turned into more of a project than I had anticipated, but I was still giddy from the shopping adventure in that little round store and had plenty of energy to burn off.

I wiped down all of the bottles & I found some really old and scary stuff hiding back there, along with some things I know I'll never use. Both categories included a few bottles of spice that originally came with the rack (we received it from my classmate Tracy as a wedding present in back 1987...). When the heck am *I* ever going to use pickling spice? I also found a 10 year old can of cinnamon hiding inthe back of the cabinet. I hate cinnamon. I emptied both of those (and a few others) into the trash and thoroughly washed and dried the bottles for re-use.

With a cleaned up space, I began to put my spices & herbs back into the rack. After a bit of organizing/alphabetizing/categorizing, I decided, being the nerd that I am, to make a list to blog, a list of my spices... I discovered that I had much more variety than I thought. Actually, I hadn't really thought at all about how many different herbs and spices I had. I've accumulated so many different ones over the past years that I lost track. Here's what I found in the rack and two shelves of the cabinet:

My Spices

AllspiceWhole Cumin Seed
Basil LeavesGround Cumin
Black PeppercornsMustard Seed
Ground White PepperGround Mustard
Caraway SeedMarjoram Leaves
Cavender's Greek SeasoningGround Marjoram
Celery SeedNutmeg
Chili PowderOld Bay Seasoning
Toasted Chili PowderOregano Leaves (Homegrown)
Chinese 5 SpicePaprika
Cilantro LeavesSmoked Paprika
CinnamonRosemary Leaves
Coriander PowderSesame Seed
Whole Coriander SeedTarragon Leaves (Homegrown)
DillThyme Leaves (Homegrown)
Onion PowderGround Thyme
Dried Onion FlakeWasabi Powder
Whole Sage, Dried (Homegrown)White Cardamom Pods
Rubbed SageWhole Fennel Seed
Garam MasalaBaliene Sea Salt
Garlic PowderCourse Sea Salt
Ground Cayenne pepperKosher Salt
Red Pepper FlakesLowery's Season Salt
Thai Chili PowderMorton's Iodized Salt
(made from Rosie's Homegrown peppers)

48 in all and I'll be buying more the next time I get to Penzey's, which hopefully won't be too far away.

Go, Shop, Enjoy,

A Cuco's Taqueria lunch - on the card of course.

This past weekend's lunch outing was a trip to Cuco's Taqueria up on Henderson Road. I've always loved going up to this area. There have always been so many great places to eat around there, with one of my all-time-but-long-gone places just a few storefronts away from Cuco's, the old Gloria Cafe, aka Harold's Cajun Glory. It's been a while since our first visit to Cuco's (last summer) and after our lunch we realized that we can't stay away that long again.

So we headed up to Henderson Road, Prestige Dining Club card in hand, at about 2 in the afternoon. There weren't many people in the place, so we were seated quickly and were served a basket of crisp fresh chips and a great fresh medium-mild salsa. They have a wonderful salsa bar to paretake of, but we were so happy withthe regular stuff they served us that we completely forgot about the salsa bar. After much deliberation (their menu offers great variety), we made our selections & our soft spoken very polite waiter took our order - A $6.99 combo of one beef enchilada, one crunchy beef taco, rice and beans fo my wife, torta carnitas ($5.95) for me, and the kids menu fish and chips ($3.95) for Boogie. I was very surprised that he went with a non-mexican style choice, but he's been on a real fish kick lately (must be all that Easter/Lent talk at school). We completely killed the bowl of chips along with 2 bowls of salsa while we waited for lunch to arrive.

When the plates arrived at the table, they were, of course, very hot and looked fab. The combos plate was steaming and very colorfully pleasing to the eye; my torta was enormous and smelled great (sorry, I haven't installed BlogSmell yet); and Boogies fish selection turned out to be an excellent choice - the fish used in his kids meal was the same fish Cuco's uses in their great fish tacos and burritos, lightly breaded golden brown strips of grouper.

We polished off another basket of chips and more salsa with our meal, and I wound up taking half the sandwich home. Of course, I forgot the camera again, so the olny photo I have is of my leftovers:

We got out with a check of $20 (including $4 tip) with the help of the Prestige card, plus a tasty lunch to make my coworkers jealous with on Monday's.

Go for lunch, go for dinner, go for a late breakfast...Just go. And be sure to print out the coupon for 1/2 off a second entree if you don't have or have already used your Prestige card there.

Cuco's Mexican Taqueria
2162 Henderson Road
Columbus, Ohio 43220