Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well pickled, well seasoned, not as well cooked. Chili and Steak.

My wife was enjoying a ladies weekend out with a friend as a sort of bachelorette party. I was left to rule the roost. I am so saturated by football and beer now that I'm good for another few weekends at least. Beer has always been a favorite topic of mine. I love beer. Hooray Beer. Friday evening I went to the closest local market and spent the obligatory 5 minutes contemplating my choices from the beer cooler. I can't just pick one before hand- you never know what strange and wondrous beverage they have in stock that you've never seen before. That night it was clear- a standard Budweiser and new to the market Budweiser Lager. I'd never seen the lager before (Sunday afternoon during the Saints game I did see a first commercial for the stuff) and I had to try it. Nice, reminded me of Killian's. Before I go much further I have to thank Joe P. for corrupting another young incorrigible mind before the date he became of legal drinking age. Joe introduced me to Guinness, Harp, Murphy's Pub on Clifton Avenue (I really miss being able to walk to a nice Irish pub for a pint- two of my apartments in college were strategically placed in relation to Murphy's), Patsy Cline, Bootsy Collins (J Erik Landrum may have had a hand in that as well) and steak rub. A fairly substantial bit of manhood there if you ask me. Beer in hand I proceeded to walk past the beef. I found a pair of lovely steaks, already seasoned (the steaks, not me), calling out to me. I posted earlier that I wanted to find thicker steaks for grilling, I found 2" thick steaks. Just right. I was set.

Saturday was spent watching Big 10 and SEC football. I found myself with a craving about midday. I was jonesing for Skyline Chili. Cincinnati style chili is like no other. This is not a Texas chili. It is not anywhere near the beans or no beans debate. Cincy Chili should technically be called a sauce. It is a topping for spaghetti or used on coneys. Originally created by Greek immigrants, the stuff has caught on in such a way that if one were to perform impromptu surgery upon anyone of means or sense living in the vicinity of the Queen City, one would find traces of chocolate, cinnamon, and oyster crackers in the subject's blood stream. No lie. I needed to fix my fix. To Google. To Cooks.com. A recipe that sounded close enough. Clove? Allspice? I knew about the other odd flavorants, but not these. Could it be? To SuperTarget. I needed pet food too. No jonesing there- my boys were low on kibble. Once back at the house I began. 1 quart of water and 2 lbs of beef. The texture made sense. Remember- sauce. The beef isn't browned first, it's boiled. If you have qualms about this- look away. Don't click on the link below. Scroll on to the next entry. Too bad. I love it. My wife even loves it- do you think I'd marry someone who didn't? Heckie Naw. The recipe calls out for a half hour of boiling. O.K. The recipe then calls out for the rest of the ingredients and 3 hours of boiling. Huh? Wha? Not nearly enough liquid to handle that. The bottom of the pot began to burn my precious Cincy Chili Crack. I added 12 ounces more- beer bottle's worth. I added another 12 ounces. I turned down the heat. Nomenclature and specificity folks are the issues here. The recipe calls out for 4 cloves of garlic. Fine- how do you want that prepared? I lopped them in half and let them cook down- don't do that- mince finely. Drop in 5 whole cloves, 5 whole allspice? Don't. Get one of those fancy cloth baggies to hold those whole spices along with the bay leaf for easier retrieval. You don't want your guests choking on a whole clove later on. Bad form. 8 ounce cans of tomato paste? Never seen them. How about 6 ounce cans? Whats four ounces between friends? The Missus and I gave it a shot Sunday evening for dinner. The recipe calls out for chilling overnight to make it easier to skim off fat. Besides chili is always better left for a day so the flavors have time to meld properly. I used 7% fat ground beef so that wasn't an issue. If you are completely unfamiliar with Cincinnati Style Chili please look at Skyline's website for serving suggestions. Use an incredibly generous portion of freshly shredded Cheddar cheese (don't use store bought pre-shredded- the texture is all wrong thanks to the anti-caking agents) Do use finely minced onion between the chili and cheese- do use drained beans. DO NOT USE Tabasco. This is one of only two times you'll see me insist that you don't. Use Frank's or Crystal, they are the closest I've found to what is served in any of the finer chili parlors. Franks, by the way, is also key to good chicken wings. There are other chili parlors out there that are just a nice but perhaps not as well known as Skyline. You'll find good chili at Gold Star, Empress Chili Parlor (the disputed origin), the classic Camp Washington Chili, Chili Time, and others. According to another Blogspot blog Cincinnati has more chili parlors per capita than any other city in the U.S. The final verdict: Close but not quite. It seems too thick somehow, perhaps too much chocolate. I've heard that cocoa powder is the way to go. I'm not throwing it away, in fact I plan on bringing it to lunch tomorrow. The recipe needs tweaking. I'll keep you posted as to my progress on this very important culinary front.

The steaks: Pre-seasoned. I know sacrilege. Consider though, that steaks I purchased from the previous tenant of the market were seasoned and cooked quite well. I grilled them over direct heat on both sides to sear. I placed them off to the side for medium heat to cook through. In the final stages I used a thermometer to check temps. I cooked to well done. Argh. I forgot what temperature medium rare is (140 F and I cooked to 160- way past done). They were still tasty and delicious. I enjoyed every freakin bite. Next time I will have my perfect steak. Potato- Waved a medium potato for a few minutes (don't forget to stab with a fork to help release steam). Buttered and seasoned with steak rub. Wrapped with foil and grilled. Can't beat that. Didn't even need sour cream or chives. Perhaps I was pickled enough that it didn't matter...

A helluva weekend. Beat that!

http://coconutlime.blogspot.com/2008/01/cincinnati-chili.html oddball recipe. not tried. let me know what you think.
http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1926,158181-246204,00.html recipe I tried. Needs work, but a good start.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wind, Beans, and Headcheese

Well, I sit here at work late this evening contemplating several things.

Hurricane food: Gustav and Ike passed through earlier this month. For a number of days we were without power so cooking became a little more exciting. I went through a ton of PB&J crackers. Not exactly gourmet, but easy and no worries about refrigeration. Two nights before Gustav I found a piece of what I thought was a large pork loin in the freezer. Once defrosted I liberally applied my BBQ rub and left it in the oven for about six hours at 280 F. I shredded it like butt or shoulder and put it into the fridge- then ice chest. It came out rather well. My wife was impressed with it. I can only imagine that if I had taken the time and effort to smoke it, that it would have been that much improved. I was surprised that I didn't do more grilling during our power outage. We prepared a decent amount of food before hand easing our work load.

Work food: As I write this I'm eating a ham sandwich. (I just realized that almost everything I write about has something to do with pork) Crackers, an apple, soda. Basic easy work food. I'm fortunate to be able to use a refrigerator here. I can store several items like condiments, bread, soda, lunch meat and cheese so that I can make a sandwich here instead of getting up earlier to pack a lunch. It seems to me that the more a man works with his hands on the job, the more likely it is that his wife has set aside left overs for his lunch the next day. I've noticed that a lot of the engineers I've worked with tend to bring frozen dinners, eat popcorn, or have a vendor buy them lunch as often as possible. We've been making more meals at work recently as well. Being the designated Yankee, am am being educated as to the ways of Southern Men and cooking. Lately it's been about dry beans and sausage:

1 bag of red beans
2 Onions
4 large links of green onion sausage, andouille
Tony Chachere's
in a decent sized slow cooker- over night
Rice- cooked separately.
Serve the beans and sausage on rice.
One of the guys in for the start-up from Alabama made a "stew":

1 head cabbage
1 16 oz bag of carrots
2 lbs of hard sausage like used above
1 Onion
4 Potatoes
Water to barely cover
Simmered until potatoes, cabbage, and carrots have softened.

Headcheese: We've also been into headcheese. I was first introduced to headcheese 7 years ago in Chalmette. Sliced thin served on a saltine cracker. The guys mentioned it last week. I made an attempt to hit a small hole in the wall place just north of town. No dice. I make a wrong turn and I didn't want to fight traffic more than I had to. That weekend I found headcheese made by Veron's at the grocery near the house. Hot and regular. Brought that along with some saltines. Not bad. One of the guys brought some in from a small town closer to the plant along with Tiger Sauce. Not bad combination. Tiger Sauce and captain's wafers isn't too bad either. Headcheese was supposed to have been originally made with muscle and organ meat from the hog's head. Gelatin would help hold it all together. Today it is more likely scraps. I'm not sure what legislation was passed, but supposedly it is illegal to make headcheese the old way anymore. As they say- they used to use everything but the oink. Now- is it good? If you let yourself forget exactly what it was made of and you don't mind the texture- not too bad. It can be seasoned differnent ways, so it will depend of course upon where it came from.

Enough for now. I have to decide if I'm going to stick around the plant until 3 AM or not.