Monday, October 26, 2009

Brined Pork Tenderloin (p. 30) with Caramelized Onions (p. 23)

What the hell? I have a blog? Aw crap, I should probably write something here. Yeah, I know it's been over a week since I posted anything. It's not that I haven't been cooking, I just haven't been writing about it. Selzer & Smuckles has continued in the real world, I just need to play catchup with my writeups. So let's not waste anymore time. This is my second foray into brining, a technique I probably wouldn't have tried if not for this project. And, well, spoiler alert - it went really, really well. Brined Pork Tenderloin is brought to us by Teodor, and so my expectations were high going in. I had this one earmarked early on as something that might be a cut above the rest of the cookbook, partly because Teodor is a renowned foodie and partly because it sounded pretty delicious.

The procedure began pretty much the same as the Ruuude Chicken. Fill a pot with water, salt, sugar and spices and throw some meat in. Thankfully, a pork loin is significantly smaller than a whole chicken, and the recipe didn't call for quite as much brine. I had a container easily large enough to hold the solution: my slow cooker crock. The recipe called for the pork to sit in the brine for anywhere from overnight to 3 days. I opted for the longer time. More time for flavor to get in. That's science, right? Anyway, the pork loin is not an attractive cut of meat. It's a sad, cheap cut that sits in a roll amongst the other, more popular cuts of a pig. When you see it sitting in a bucket of saltwater, your first thought isn't really, "I bet that thing tastes great." It's usually something more like, "Who cut off this horse penis and why are they giving it a bath?" See for yourself:

That's basically the entire preparation for the meal. After the brining is complete, you throw it in the oven until it reads a safe temperature (160 degrees). The temperature is important with pork, unless of course you want to die. After that, it's up to the chef to make it look like something someone would willingly eat. Baking a moist meat log doesn't really give you any kind of crust, so even out of the oven you have a grayish, round hunk of pork. The Achewood Cookbook doesn't really go into presentation or serving most of its recipes, and this one basically ended with taking it out of the oven. I went with what I believe to be the standard option and cut it into medallions, about an inch thick. I stacked them in an attractive, fan-like pattern like I've seen on the TV (incidentally, I made this on "pork night" on Top Chef...yes, I'm that far behind...and I think this recipe would have fared pretty well compared to some of the losers). I must say, I'm rather proud of this one. I'm usually awful at presentation, and this at least looked decent:
But we aren't done yet! That's right, you wait this long, you get a two-fer! The recipe said it should be served with Caramelized Onions, also by Teodor. I think most of the time I've always considered sauteed or grilled onions to be caramelized, but I knew in my heart I was wrong. Caramelization, according to Wikipedia, refers to the "oxidation of sugar" as "a type of non-enzymatic browning." The Scribe and Mouse, now with research! Anyway, the caramelization essentially boiled down to (pun intended) making a balsamic vinegar reduction with a sliced onion. The result was that great, kind of slimy texture I've come to love from a caramelized onion. The flavor was maybe a little too vinegary for my tastes, but it wasn't overpowering by any stretch and it worked with the dish. I've seen other caramelized onion recipes that call for varies wines, and I may have to try them in the future. Anyway, I topped the pork with the onions, and was ready to serve:
You can see the side I made in the background - pan-fried red potatoes with garlic and thyme. I also put some applesauce on the plate, for tradition's sake. This was easily the best meal Achewood has provided thus far. The meat was succulent and flavorful and the onions provided a nice, contrasting sweetness and tang to the salty pork. I've always considered pork to be a salty meat, and was worried that the brine would be like overkill on the old sodium chloride. These fears were misguided. The dish was elegant and balanced, and honestly tasted like something I'd order in a restaurant. Melissa doesn't usually eat pork (not a religious thing, she just doesn't like it much) and she gobbled this up. She absolutely loved it (I may have turned a corner with her and pork; we'll see). I couldn't blame her. The ate every bite on my plate and still wanted more. This is the kind of thing I expect from Teodor - classy food that's a step above the "open can and heat" mentality of some of the rest of the Achewood Cookbook. It was a fantastic meal, the kind we don't always get at home. Our nightly dinners have a tendency to blend together as we consume foods that we consider "favorites" or "easy to prepare" or "not bad for cheap." And that's fine. If we didn't have mundane dinners, quality like this wouldn't stand out so much. It made a Wednesday night in front of the TV feel like a special occasion.

Ok, that's it for today. I'll be back soon (I promise) with more tales of the kitchen.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Chef Ray's No-Butter, No-Fry Hot Wings! (Insert)

Ok, this recipe isn't truly a part of the cookbook. I got this one for ordering the (now apparently defunct) cook's gift set from Achewood. It included the book, an apron, and the item that turned out to be the main ingredient for today's dish: Ray's Rad Chilies Hot Sauce:
So what is a rad chili, you may ask? Well, to put it bluntly, it is an invented slang word for a man (or cartoon cat)'s junk. In an alternate version of an early strip, Ray is being advised on how to treat a lady. Ray's question in this alternate version is "Can I still call my junk my rad chilies?" The phrase sort of took off from there. It's also the name of my fantasy football team. As an aside, in case I haven't explained who Ray is well enough, I think this picture on the side of the bottle sums him up rather succinctly.
If you can't read that, it says, "Every Weekday." This is how I like to picture Ray's weekdays (and any wealthy man of leisure, for that matter): Playing saxophone on the pier in a thong and a captains hat. Class.

Today's recipe is pretty much what its title implies: No butter, no fry hot wings. My family makes something similar to this; we call them Flood Wings. I'm not positive where the name comes from, but I've always assumed that they were first made during the big Iowa floods of 1993 and the name just stuck. I'm sure my parents will correct me in the comments if I'm wrong. I've never made them myself, but they're very popular at family gatherings. They bake in the oven and are a nice change from the deep fried treat guzzled at tailgating parties like potato chips. They have a nice, smoky teriyaki flavor without letting you forget that you're eating wings. As I start to cook more, I've been fascinated by the chicken wing. When you make a whole bird, you're usually told to throw it away. What entrepreneur had the rad chilies to say, "Don't throw them out, give them to me! I'll pretend they're desirable and sell them for millions!" ? Amazing.

Anyway, Ray's wings aren't entirely like flood wings. I have a feeling the method is similar, but the sauce is different. In this case, instead of whatever teriyaki my parents use, Ray uses his rad chilies sauce. You coat both sides and then coat them once or twice more during cooking. The real innovation here for me was what the recipe calls "lollipopping." The recipe only uses drumettes (and I agree that the other kind of wing is a pain in the ass), and you snip the meat at the thin end and push it towards the fat end. This creates a very convenient handle, virtually eliminating the mess. Observe:
I made these, grabbed a beer, and turned on football. It felt right. It felt natural. Ray's hot sauce is very flavorful. It may just be from one of those places that makes generic hot sauces and slaps labels on it, but it didn't really taste like it. Maybe I was distracted by the "Every Weekday" saxophone. It was a solid winner of a recipe that managed to be new while still reminding me both of my home and a favorite junk food. The only downside is that I ended up using about half of the bottle of hot sauce. The stuff isn't that cheap (including shipping), and you can only order it online. And now there's a recipe that uses most of the bottle? I smell a scam, Onstad. I want to make these in a larger batch for a party sometime, but I have to imagine I'll use a cheaper hot sauce that I can buy in bulk (as the recipe calls it, a "lesser-quality hot sauce"). It may not be exactly the same, but I doubt most people would even notice. They'd just be impressed that I turned on the oven instead of ordering wings from Pizza Hut. Most people are easily impressed. I'm rambling. Good night.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Omega Potato (p. 40)

This is another one of Achewood's incredibly basic recipes. Do you know how to bake a potato? Of course you do. You don't need a book to tell you how to do it. And yet, I have to remember the key demographic for this cookbook- grown men who still wear baseball caps backwards and have Al Pacino posters on their walls, unframed. I suppose even the best of us (not that I think of myself as "the best") could use a refresher. And Pat's Omega Potato method is a little different from what I normally do, so what the hell?

The recipe calls for a hotter oven than I usually use, and a longer cooking time. Naturally, I was concerned about burning after the "Perfect Oven Fries" incident, but that wasn't the case this time. The real concern for me was that I wasn't supposed to do anything to the potato before putting it in the oven (aside from scrubbing, of course). I normally coat with olive oil and salt before cooking, and I also poke holes in the sides to prevent explosions. And that's where I had to draw the line. Pat specifically states not to do ANYTHING, including poking ventilation holes. I did a little research while the oven was preheating. There were several stories and message board comments that read, "I've cooked potatoes in the oven without poking holes for years without incident." Of course, the next sentence was invariably, "Until last night when a potato exploded, killing my wife and children" (ok, maybe it just made a mess of the oven, whatever). So, I made an executive decision and poked holes in the potato anyway. My oven's crappy enough without being caked in potato bits. An hour and a half at 500 degrees later, I had my potato.
I should start out by saying that there's not nearly as much of the dill and sour cream sauce as it looks like there is on that plate. It's a very thin spread, I was trying to be creative. The potato had what could almost be described as two skins. There's the outer skin, which was like I've had on every potato (maybe a little crunchier), and then there was a tougher inner skin. When I cut into it, I was afraid it felt incredibly tough and dry. I was surprised and delighted to find myself wrong. The starch inside was light and fluffy. I normally like butter and sour cream in my BPs (that's what the kids on the street call baked potatoes), but Pat's recipe recommended a few glugs of olive oil, so that's what I did. The flavor was nice, though I did end up putting a little sour cream in there, too. The bigger issue was that the crunchy skin of the potato was also apparently quite porous on the bottom. Within 5 minutes, I had a large puddle of olive oil under the potato. It eventually seeped all over the plate, getting on my salmon and mixing into the dill sauce. It didn't detract from the potato, but the potato is just a side and it did detract from the dish. Live and learn. So, nothing too difficuly, but I suppose there are people who could use a refresher on where babies and baked potatoes come from. It doesn't have to be fancy to be fun.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Ruuude Chicken (p. 24)

Welcome to the wonderful world of brining! While I'm sure I've eaten brined food in the past (it seems like something my dad would do, and he's cooked a lot of awesome meals for me in the past), it's my first time doing it myself. It seems pretty easy on paper- 2 gallons of water, salt, sugar, and spices. In real life...well, it was pretty easy there, too. The only problem I had was that I didn't have a pot, bucket, or any kind of container that could hold 2 gallons of water. One of those things I probably should have checked before I went out shopping. Oh well, I made it work (yes, I just watched Project Runway. My wife likes it. Shut up). Anyway, I went to buy a free range, organic chicken like Ray's recipe told me to, but that business was, like, $13 for a 4 pound bird at Trader Joe's. I won't be getting paid from the new job for two weeks, so I decided I could do better at Ralph's. Now, for those of you not from California, Ralph's is a big supermarket. Think Kroger if you're in the South (same parent company) or Hy-Vee in the Midwest. I'm sure other parts of the country have supermarkets, too. Anyway, you would expect your supermarket to have more than 2 whole chickens for sale in the whole store. If you were me, you would be wrong. Ralph's had 2 three pound fryers in the produce section and not even anything frozen. I even asked a person if there was some place I wasn't looking (if you know me, you know this is a big deal for me). Nope. I settled for the 3 pounder, grumbling all the way (though for $5, it's hard to argue with the price). Just so Ralph's doesn't look terrible, I did save a fortune on cloves by buying them in the Mexican bagged spice aisle instead of the spice jar aisle. $10 for a jar, 69 cents for a bag with about the same amount. But I digress.

Using the smaller bird, I was content to make less brine. I filled my stock pot up with 1.75 gallons of water and cut the spices by the same ratio (maths!). Then I put the chicken in and watched even more water flow out of the pot. Oh well, at least the mixture was the right amounts. I covered it and put it in the fridge overnight, because, as the recipe says, "The greatest talent of a chicken is to unleash death if not kept at the proper low temperatures prior to cooking."
This is another hilariously written recipe. All of Ray's entries in the books are written in a very colorful stream of consciousness that can make it hard to actually follow the recipe, but makes it much more entertaining to read. I guess that's so if the recipes turn out terrible, you at least feel like you got your money's worth. Plus, if you're going to make a cookbook based on a webcomic, it makes sense to make it funny. Thankfully, this one didn't turn out terrible.
The meat was nice and moist and stayed that way for three days in the fridge. That's no small feat; chicken has a real tendency to dry out in the fridge and just be horrible a day or two later. I even enjoyed the skin, even if the recipe says it's, "hella bad for you," and, "might not be so rad." I wouldn't call it "rad," exactly, but it was certainly edible. Still, the dish suffered from one critical flaw- it was chicken. I mentioned it with the Beer Can Chicken, but I have yet to find a chicken recipe that ended up tasting like anything other than chicken. Not that that's a bad thing, really, it's just that you always know what to expect with chicken, you can't be surprised. Maybe that's ok for some people, but I like a little mystery on a menu. I like to taste something I've never tasted before, or at least something I have tasted presented in a way that catches me off guard. I can't imagine ordering chicken at a fancy restaurant because there's really no way it will blow my mind. I can't picture anything that Emerils or Batalis of the world could do with a chicken that would make it taste that different from what I do in my apartment. Maybe Wylie Dufresne and the molecular gastronomists could do something different, but to me, chicken is a "white bread" white meat. The difference between fried, grilled, and baked chicken is really just a matter of texture. Get past the outer layer and it's plain old poultry. I'd love for someone to prove me wrong. Consider that a challenge.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Five Dollar Chili (p.35)

I normally don't like to make chili during the summer. Melissa has no such scruples. She loves a spicy, meaty soup any time of the year. Still, I was glad that by the time I got around to making Roast Beef's Five Dollar Chili, the temperature had dropped into the 50s at night in LA. Cool enough for me. This is not to say I didn't have some trepidation about making this chili. When I bought the cookbook, Chris Onstad was still willing to personalize it with a sketch and signature. This is what mine looked like:
In case you can't read that, Roast Beef is telling me, "Don't make the chili" (by the way, I was thrilled that my personalized drawing was Roast Beef). My assumption is that this has something to do with the fact that chili makes you gassy. I support my assumption with the fact that my wife ordered this as a gift and the recipe starts with the line, "This recipe is basically for a man who is alone in his life." Well, I make my own chili quite a lot, so our apartment is no stranger to farting. We're cool with it. Melissa wasn't going to let a little gas stand in the way of a chili.

To start, despite what the recipe says, I wasn't not able to make this chili for five dollars. I spent more than that on the stew meat. Granted, I bought organic, free range beef instead of the cheap stuff, but I priced the plain-Jane beef cubes out at the regular store and I still doubt I could make the chili for five bucks. Beef just ain't that cheap. Still, it certainly didn't break the bank, especially since it made enough for two or three meals. I had never used stew meat cubes in making a chili before. My recipe calls for ground beef (I often use turkey- you can't taste a different, what you taste is the beans and spices). So really, this was a whole different animal.
But at the end of the day, chili is pretty much chili. It was very tasty, but not shockingly different from the stuff I regularly make. I usually cook in a slow cooker, but I could cook it in a put just as well. The real difference was in the texture. Even though the beef flaked easily (think a pulled pork barbecue sandwich), it was a little harder to eat with a spoon than ground beef. A large cube just takes up too much spoon real estate, whereas ground meat blends nicely into a soup. This chili also only used one can of beans, while my recipe uses at least three. The gravy that beans sit in inside the can almost certainly adds more liquid to the mix than what I found in my pot. As a result, the Achewood chili came out thicker than my usual fare. This wasn't a bad thing, it just reminded me of the kind of chili you can buy in a can (which I use to make chili dogs). I wonder if that's the intention of Roast Beef's chili- to use as a topping. He does list several meal possibilities at the end (eggs, rice, etc). I imagine it would me good on spaghetti in a classic Cincinnati chili. I guess I just expect a more soupy quality when I make chili. Like I said, this wasn't a knock on the recipe. It was delicious, and I enjoyed finishing it over the course of a couple of days.

And the farting? Well, no more than any other day in the Selzer Apartment. I apologize if that offends you; you shouldn't have asked. What's that? You didn't? Oh right, I just offered it freely. Sorry about that.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vegetables Delight (p. 16)

Almost every writeup I see of the Achewood Cookbook mentions that it includes a fake recipe. Chris Onstad's forward blatantly states that one of the recipes is impossible. I believe I have found that recipe in Ray's Vegetables Delight. See, the conceit of the book is that Chris is paying his characters to provide recipes for the project. Ray apparently was assigned something called Vegetables Delight. Why you wouldn't give this recipe to Pat, the Vegan, I don't know. Ray sure isn't happy about it. In fact, 95% of this "recipe" is Ray complaining about how terrible vegetables are. He's angry at the recipe, angry about Chinese restaurants that serve things called "Vegetables Delight," and mad at you, the reader, for having to explain what a vegetable is. I hope Mr. Onstad won't mind that I'm going to post the actual cooking portion of this recipe in its entirety, just so you get what I'm dealing with:
"Peel five carrots and microwave them for ten minutes OKAY I'M DONE GOODBYE"
Yep, I made it anyway. I'm that committed to this project. And that is what carrots look like after sitting in the microwave for ten minutes. They were a strange amalgam of moisture and dryness. The texture was downright disturbing. It kind of felt like a mushy potato with a very thick skin, but if feeling them blind you'd probably think it was some kind of eviscerated internal organ. The tough, dry exterior (after much chewing and gnawing) yielded to a molten mush of baby food-style carrot innards. I took one bite and was still trying to finish swallowing five minutes later. The rest went straight into the trash. I'm committed, but not that committed. These carrots cost me 67 cents. That's 67 cents I will never see again. If we come up 67 cents short of being able to afford rent this month, I expect Achewood to provide me with a new apartment.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Microwave Egg Muffin (p. 34)

Hello, and welcome back to Selzer and Smuckles! I'm back from vacation and ready to get back to cooking. We start off with a Microwave Egg Muffin. Since I'm out of work for the next couple of weeks (don't worry, the new job is lined up), I have more time to make breakfast in the morning. Thus, I don't always have to have cereal (though Target is selling Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo Berry for $1.99 so cereal's not so bad). This recipe comes to us from Lyle, his only contribution to the book aside from his forward. Lyle's kind of a dirtbag. He once puked so hard it made a football go three feet. He's never without a bottle of Jack, he's got that mustache that only other people with mustaches like, and he cares way more than a person (or cartoon tiger) should about cars. Every once in a while we get to see a more sensitive, thoughtful side of Lyle, but it never lasts; he'll be swearing and fighting again by the end of the strip. Still, as he mentions in his forward, he's worked in a ton of restaurants over the years (and don't kid yourself, this is pretty much exactly the kind of person that every restaurant has working in the kitchen, from Applebee's to a Michelin rated fancy pants hideout). His advice is sound (creating a mise-en-place, (ie. getting ingredients ready before you start), don't be afraid of heat, experiment, etc.) and you feel like you can trust him, even if he does seem like the kind of guy who is probably going to give you a recipe you can make with things you find on the floor.
The microwave egg muffin is clearly similar to the McDonald's Egg McMuffin (he said in the recipe that ham was optional, so I didn't use any. I won't get another paycheck for a while, you know). I've always been more off a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese biscuit guy at the fast food breakfast counter, but who doesn't like an egg muffin once in a while? And this really couldn't be easier. Put some egg whites in a bowl, season them, and microwave. Once they're set, throw on a slice of cheese and microwave a bit more. Slide on to an English muffin. Done. I could make this even on a busy morning, and I probably will. It was a nice change from the norm, and was more flavorful and fluffy than an egg cooked in a microwave really has a right to be. The only complaint I had was that it was hard to clean the ramekin I used to cook the egg. Maybe I'll spray it with a little olive oil before I start next time. Probably couldn't hurt. On a side note, it was nice to use my ramekins for something other than holding salsa for once. I probably bought them to make creme brulee, but never bought the blowtorch. I will say this: they do a fine job of holding salsa.

So, that's about it. A very nice recipe from Lyle, even if it feels a little low brow (microwave cooking, and all that). It just goes to show you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. That guy pissing into an empty beer bottle behind the alley might make the best tuna tartare you've ever tasted. Just hope he washes his hands first (even if he probably doesn't). I've got a couple more recipes all lined up and should be able to post tomorrow or Monday. Until then,