Monday, October 26, 2009

Black Tea with Caramel Syrup

I'm still busy, so I still have to make short posts. I've made some wonderfully good stuff, but I have pretty much no time to talk about it. Let me talk about something I've been making a lot of that's quick and easy, though... something to get you through hard-workin' times when you've just had enough coffee: tea. According to my friend JB, who is Chinese and quite knowledgable, black tea is good in the fall to help the body warm up and adjust to the seasons, yet another reason to enjoy a couple or three cups of it a day as the leaves fall and the weather cools.
I drink a fair amount of tea, but it's sort of a seasonal thing. I'm also a tea snob (much like I'm a coffee snob). I recommend loose leaf, good quality tea, which can be a bit hard to find. A decent brand you might consider is Adagio. I usually try to stay away from tea bags (filled with "floor sweepings"), but if you're into that kind of thing, Newman's Own "Royal Tea" isn't terribly bad (and is pretty good for the price and being organic). They are quicker and easier, and we usually have them on hand (for the kids or making kombucha), so they get used quite often when I'm in a hurry. They also make a more "proper" British cup since I've noticed that many Brits seem to prefer "crap tea," a term courtesy of a dear Scottish friend of mine. My high-falutin' Assam from a single estate that I served him once was "nice, but a little too uppity" for him, which is really saying something if you know this guy.

The secret of my success in making a super-delicious, perfectly enjoyable cup of black tea around this time of the year is to flavor it a little: a splash of half and half, a half tablespoon of turbinado (hippy sugar) (I make my tea in 12oz. mugs), and a dash of Rieme caramel syrup: "for flavoring coffee." The trick is to use just a dash of the stuff, otherwise it becomes rapidly cloying and almost irritating, more like candy than a pleasant beverage. These, though, are definitely the best flavored syrups I've come across. Most, in fact, are pretty bad in my opinion, and this stuff is fantastic.

By the way, this stuff is fantastic in coffee too, so if you can get some, then you should.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Product Review: The Fresh Market's Double-Cream White Chocolate Milk

Behold the beauty of The Fresh Market's Double-Cream White Chocolate Milk, one of the greatest ideas to ever hit the market, if you ask me.
This stuff is naughty good. It's decadence in a glass. You'll probably want to have a seat before you have your first taste of it, and then you have to face the ultimate challenge of not downing it all in one go (which, I can tell you from experience, makes you feel very bad). It's delicious almost beyond words: like melted ice cream without the gross factor in a subtle, lovely, rich white chocolate flavor. This stuff is genius, perfect, and altogether bad for you in all ways except that it nourishes spots in your soul that you just love to nourish. How naughty good is it? Well...
...that naughty good. Observe the high sugar content (as high as soft drinks). Mmm.... Observe also the high fat content (higher than half and half... that must be what they mean by "double cream"). Calories, high. Fiber, low. Cholesterol, not good. All this goes together to make: perfect, in small doses. On the other hand, it is relatively high in protein, Vitamin A, and calcium, although I feel a little bit guilty for wanting to say that this is possibly the "ideal source for those nutrients," mostly because of all of the not-good-for-you filling that bottle with beautiful goodness.

So, in taste and experience, this stuff gets an 11 out of 10 on my meaningless scale of quality, but in healthiness, it scores a bit lower at about a -2. Then again, you could always drink lots of water and work out hard and regularly, and then it wouldn't matter so much....

If you haven't had this stuff and have access to a The Fresh Market that happens to be carrying it (they only seem to have it sometimes, though their good ol' fashioned (whole) chocolate milk is rather beautiful too), then you have to try it.

For what it's worth, it makes just about the best white chocolate mochaccino that I've ever had, as long as you're making it with decent espresso from a good coffee source. So rich... so delicious... so romantic with my wife in the mornings and sometimes afternoons.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Chinese Invention Dish: Steak and Eggs with Homemade Pasta

I'm almost sorry for posting yet another Chinese dish, but like I was doing earlier with the bread making, I'm completely into making these dishes again. I've made JB's beef and potatoes a couple of times, in fact, in the past two weeks, and that says nothing of these noodle-based dishes that are quite filling and excitingly delicious, particularly now that I'm feeling more adventurous. This installment's adventure is based on a favorite breakfast of a Scottish friend of mine: steak and eggs, but I made it for dinner and following the rough idea of JB's fried dishes.
This recipe used the other half of the beef roast that I used to make this yumminess, which by paying attention to the dates, you'll realize implies that I made this dish about a week ago. It incorporated a lot of noodles (because the last dish I made used too few), a recipe for which can be found here, scaled up to about three cups of flour and a cup of water (and still 11 gallons of elbow grease). Here's what all went into it other than the noodles:

  • Approximately a pound of beef shoulder roast, in half-inch cubes (steak could be used instead);
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed (first) and finely chopped;
  • 1/2 an inch of fresh ginger, finely chopped;
  • 1/2 a sweet onion, chopped;
  • 6-8 mushrooms, halved and chopped;
  • 3 eggs, salted, peppered lightly, and beaten in a bowl;
  • a healthy dash of red wine vinegar;
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce;
  • 2-3 tablespoons of canola oil for cooking.
After getting everything prepared and a pot of salted water boiling for the pasta, I started cooking the eggs first. I simply poured them into the hot wok and scrambled them until they were just short of being "dry." Once that was done, I transferred the eggs to a plate to await the completion of the dish. The onions and mushrooms were next, which I added to a re-oiled, re-heated wok and, once salted lightly, let cook until they were soft. Actually, I let them cook, stirring only occasionally, until I had shaved all of the pasta into the boiling water. Once the pasta was shaved, i.e. when the veggies were done, I transferred them to the plate with the eggs to await the meat. A little more oil in the wok, which I gave a quick chance to reheat a little, preceded the meat, garlic, and ginger along with a little salt and pepper for the meat. I stirred this around until the meat was browned on all sides, and then I added the soy sauce and vinegar. While that stewed, I drained the pasta and then immediately added the eggs and vegetables mixture to the wok and stirred everything together. When mixed, I let it cook for about a minute before adding the pasta, mixing, adjusting the seasoning. That was it. Done. Pretty much perfect.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monster Burritos for Fourteen!

One of my friends just turned 30, and so his wife and several of his friends decided it would be fitting to have a little birthday party for him (at an indoor water park, no less!) last Friday. My wife and I were invited and decided to go, and everything looked very promising for offering a great time. The only thing that wasn't settled at least a couple of weeks ahead of time was what we'd be doing about dinner. I suggested that we should make a roast or a huge amount of spaghetti (or both!) because it would be cheaper and more fun than everyone going out, and so in the process, my title "Untrained Gourmet" preceding me, I got hired to make something good. I decided on mega-sized, super-delicious pork burritos because of the overwhelming crowd-pleasing ability of burritos, particularly huge, sloppy, delicious ones. Here's mine, just before I tried to wrap it up and eat it, on a tortilla that easily measures fourteen or fifteen inches across (and that is flavored with chili!).
Apparently, folks raved about them. Some of the things I heard were about three or four variations on "That was seriously the best burrito I've ever had." and "Thanks for your gourmet expertise this weekend. Everyone raved about it after you left and all day Saturday. A great time was had by all." Well... that's what burritos are good for.

This was a bit of a monument for me, honestly, since I've never had to cook for more than 10 before in one go, so it was a little bit exciting and a little bit scary and a little bit trial, experiment, and error. There were three dishes: the meat filling for the burritos, some black beans (I say for the burritos, though I guess they could have been a side), and Spanish rice (again, I say for the burritos, though I originally intended them as a side). The entire undertaking was rather epic! Remember, this recipe feeds 12-15 hungry adults.

Meat filling and sauce:

  • A five pound pork (or beef) roast -- I used pork loin;
  • 2 1/2 sweet onions, halved and sliced thinly;
  • 8-10 medium-to-large cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • 1 large can of fire-roasted tomatoes;
  • 6 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped;
  • 2 thinly sliced fresh (red) cayenne peppers (more, optionally, for more heat);
  • 6 Nardello (or other sweet, red peppers), seeded and roughly chopped;
  • 2 tsp. whole (or freshly ground) cumin seeds;
  • Several sprigs each fresh thyme and (Mexican) oregano, finely chopped;
  • 4-6 bay leaves;
  • Zest and juice of half a lime, grated or very finely chopped;
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar or molasses;
  • 2-3 tbsp. red wine or apple cider vinegar;
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
As for the tortillas to serve it on, if you can get the giant, delicious ones that are available at EarthFare (sorry, I cannot recall the brand, but they come in a wide variety of flavors including chili and sun dried tomato), then get those. Otherwise, get other flour tortillas, as large as you like, or for a crowd, in a variety of sizes. We had three sizes, including the super-giants pictured above.

How to make it:
Start out by seasoning the meat with salt, pepper, and ground cumin, and then sear it in a relatively hot Dutch oven or other large pan. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside and add some oil and the onions and fresh sweet peppers (Nardellos for me). Cook them until the onions are translucent, and then add the bay leaves, cumin seeds, cayenne, garlic, tomatoes with their liquid, and the vinegar and deglaze the pot, scraping up as much of the gramines (delicious burned-on meat bits) as you can. Then add the lime zest and chipotles, stir well, and put the meat back in, wiggling it so that it is mostly covered with the liquid. Resist the temptation to add more water. It will be okay. Salt and pepper everything lightly and let it come to a boil; then reduce the heat to low, cover it most of the way, and let it cook until the pork is quite tender (probably three or four hours -- having access to an indoor water park is helpful for this stage, though keep things on the very low if you're leaving a cooking pot unattended). *Alternatively, skip the searing/sauteing parts and just put everything in a big-enough crockpot, set to high unti it boils and then to low until it's done.* Once the meat is to pulling-tender, remove it from the pan and add in the freshly chopped herbs, sugar/molasses, and adjust the seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to continue to cook, uncovered and preferably over somewhat higher heat so it reduces somewhat, while you let the meat rest and then pull and cut it apart. Once it is pulled, add the meat back into the sauce, mix thoroughly, and reduce the heat to low to await serving. Just before serving, add the lime juice.

For the black beans:
If you want to be a rockstar, use about two cups of dried beans and soak/cook them until tender according to the package instructions. Then set them aside and use as instructed below. Otherwise, use canned beans. We used six cans of black beans and had only a little left over.
  • 6 cans of beans, all black or with some pintos mixed in (at most 2 cans of pintos), thoroughly rinsed;
  • One sweet onion, chopped medium-fine;
  • Two bell peppers, chopped likewise;
  • A couple of tablespoons of your favorite not-crazy-hot hot sauce;
  • Salt and pepper to taste;
  • Half a stick of butter and a little oil for cooking.
Start out by preparing and then sauteing the onion and peppers in the oil and butter. Once they've softened considerably (and even caramelized on the edges somewhat), add everything else and stir. Cook over medium in this way for a few minutes until the beans are all warmed through, which takes roughly 5 minutes or so. Try to time this to finish around the same time as the meat, which is most easily accomplished by having someone else pull the meat apart. Assistants are great.

The rice, which we overdid, but if people are hungry or like Spanish rice on the side, then this will work great. I'll put up what I actually made for posterity's sake, but feel encouraged to half this recipe in practice since we ended up with plenty of left over rice (which is a fantastic ingredient, by the way, in scrambled eggs the next morning!). This is the proper pinkish-reddish-orangish "Spanish" (read: Mexican) rice made properly from scratch.
  • Four cups of white, long-grain rice;
  • Half a sweet onion, finely chopped;
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • 1 large can of crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes with liquid;
  • Half a stick of butter;
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds (or the equivalent, freshly ground);
  • 4 bay leaves;
  • A little finely chopped fresh (Mexican) oregano;
  • 3-4 tablespoons hot sauce;
  • A heavy dash of Worcestershire sauce;
  • Salt and pepper to taste;
  • Enough water to mix with the tomatoes and their juice so that the total quantity of liquid is as specified on the package cooking directions (usu. 8 cups, or generally, two cups of water per cup of dry rice). NOTE: If you missed it -- measure the water, tomatoes, and juice together or you're going to have some soggy, not good rice.
Doing this stuff right isn't hard, but it isn't a freebie. You have to start by toasting the rice in a hot pan (the pan you'll cook it in). This requires moving the rice around pretty much the whole time while it's on a fairly high temperature, and it takes several minutes that cannot be used for anything else. When the rice is getting nicely toasted (it gets all extra white and some of the grains get a little golden), add the cumin seeds and bay leaves and continue this dry-toasting for about thirty more seconds or perhaps a minute. Next, add the butter, onion, and garlic, and continue swirling the rice mixture around in the pan. It will start to sizzle, and that's what you want. This should continue until the butter more or less melts, which takes about 2-3 minutes. Then, add the water, tomatoes with juice, hot sauce, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and stir. Let the mixture come to a boil and cook on that relatively high heat for 2-3 minutes. Then reduce the heat immediately to low (on an electric burner that means you have to use two eyes or plan ahead knowing how your electric range works with heating and cooling times... kind of a pain) and cover the pot. Leave it this way until the time period stated on the package directions (probably 20 minutes) has elapsed. At that point, turn off the heat (remove it from the burner if electric) and leave it alone until you're ready to serve it. You can fluff and mix it just before serving. Again, plan ahead and try to time this to be finishing around the same time as everything else.

Once it's done, get out some tortillas and add some sides. The recommended list includes, but is not limited to:
  • Freshly grated lettuce (iceberg is popular);
  • Diced tomatoes (2 is probably enough);
  • Finely diced sweet and/or spring onions (1/2 of a medium onion is enough);
  • Some kind of Mexican blend, Monterrey Jack, Colby, cheddar, etc., cheese, freshly shredded if you have the time and manpower;
  • Sliced, pickled jalapenos;
  • Salsa, though not much will see action due to the sauce with the meat;
  • Hot sauce;
  • Sour cream or Mexican creme, optionally enhanced with some freshly grated lime zest;
  • Guacamole (preferably homemade);
  • Whatever else you like on burritos.
A good time will be had by all... guaranteed!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coffee Review: Vienna Coffee Company's Thunderhead Espresso

I haven't yet met Jaimie, the owner of Thunderhead Perk in Townsend, TN, but hopefully I will be meeting her this week. My wife adores her and claims her scones are the best. Vienna Coffee Company in Maryville, TN, came up with an espresso blend for Jaimie that they fittingly call Thunderhead Espresso (organic) that happens to be quite delicious regardless of whether it is served alongside one of Jaimie's apparently legendary, warmed scones.

Their website claims that the blend is rich, which I think is a bit of an understatement. The smell, in fact, carries the very definition of rich coffee, and the flavor is full, balanced, and mild, like a pleasant riff of smooth jazz on a double bass. Vienna recommends that this espresso is great almost any way you can serve it: straight shots or blended into a latte (or cappuccino), and I tend to agree. It's nice straight, but in my opinion, it stands out blended. That could be because I just came off their Espresso Bella, which is undeniably nice to have in a wide variety of ways.

If you're into espresso blends, however you like to take them (even brewed as coffee instead of as espresso), this one is a nice one that I have to recommend, particularly if you like them smooth and easy without ostentation or fuss.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

(Chinese) Beef Cubes and Mushrooms with Red Wine Sauce and Homemade Pasta

I think of this recipe as being a bit inspired since I had a picture in my head from the outset and then did two things differently from that grand vision.
I wanted to make a beef and mushroom stir-fry with noodles again, and when I saw a good deal on a nice oven roast at the grocery store the other night, I was almost giddy with excitement. Yesterday, I got the opportunity to start cooking it up. My original plan had been to make something nearly identical to a previous recipe, but variety, or at least variation, is really the spice of life, and inspiration hit me as I was making it.

With Asian cooking, it's a wonderful idea to get everything arranged before you start because the stir-frying process is fast an furious. That means, since I wanted to make noodles, that my first step was to salt some water and start it on its road toward boiling, and my second step was to get the ingredients cut up. Here's what went into this:

  • About a pound of beef roast, cut into half-inch cubes;
  • Eight or ten nice shiitake mushrooms, trimmed of their stems and sliced thinly;
  • Six large white mushrooms, halved and sliced thinly;
  • Four medium cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped finely (first);
  • About half an inch of ginger sliced across and then into thin matchsticks;
  • Six spring onions, cleaned and chopped cross-sectionally including much of the greens;
  • Most of one fresh, red cayenne pepper, sliced thinly;
  • About a tablespoon of soy sauce;
  • About two or three tablespoons of a rich, table-worthy red wine;
  • About a tablespoon of red wine vinegar;
  • Salt and black pepper to taste;
  • Two or three tablespoons of peanut or canola oil for cooking;
  • One small recipe (about two cups of flour worth) of homemade shaved pasta (a recipe is here).
Once the water was heating, I chopped up all of the veggies except the spring onions (sorry, no pictures -- I couldn't find the camera until after I finished cooking!) and put them on a plate. Then I cut the beef and and spring onions and let them wait on the cutting board while I made the pasta dough. By then, the water was boiling and I had put the oil in my wok over high heat and let it get very hot. The veggies went in first, with a little salt and pepper, and sizzled and fried until they were getting soft. Meanwhile, I shaved the pasta dough into the boiling water with my freshly sharpened chef's knife.

After stirring and tossing the veggies and letting the mushrooms reduce in volume rather dramatically (about 5 minutes, probably), I took them out of the pan and put them back on their plate to wait. Once I let the wok get properly hot again (about a minute), I put the beef and onions in with a little more salt and black pepper, freshly ground, of course. Just a little stirring of that happened before the noodles were done cooking, so I drained those.

When the beef was approximately 2/3 of the way to being done (probably just two or three minutes), I added the soy sauce, wine, and vinegar, stirring things through, waited about thirty or forty seconds for some of the alcohol to boil off and flavors to mingle, and then I added the mushrooms back in. Another minute or minute and a half later, the meat was just finished, so I turned off the heat to the wok and added the noodles to the pan (going strictly against the traditional way of enjoying noodle-based Chinese food and not worrying about it at all). After a little stir and a little rest for the dish, I took the above picture and then dug in. It was absolutely fantastic!

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vienna Coffee Company: Espresso Bella

Here's another review of a flavor of Vienna Coffee Company coffee, the one that I just finished enjoying several times in the mornings and afternoons: Espresso Bella.

When I visited the company a couple of weeks ago, I picked up this one along with the very delicious and yet interesting Organic Balinese Blue Krishna mentioned in that post (follow the link). I was told that "if I like pulling shots and just drinking them straight up, this was a great way to go." I don't exactly pull shots, as you all know, because I don't have a real espresso machine, but that didn't deter me from making it both in the Moka and in the Aeropress. My first experience, actually, came from the Moka, and my first impressions (which I'm glad I wrote down) were very pleasant: full, round flavors with a hint of toastiness and a little smokiness, properly understated. Even from the Moka, I recognized immediately the overwhelming smoothness of this espresso blend also.

In the Aeropress, which makes a slightly flatter, certainly less "cooked" tasting coffee than the moka, this coffee stood out as being very well balanced and wonderfully flavorful. It did a better job than many of the varietals and blends that I've tried at being equally pleasant (as cappuccino or "presso," what I call the concentrated coffee that comes out of the Aeropress) as a morning or afternoon cup, and so there were many days while I enjoyed this stuff that I enjoyed it twice a day. My wife was duly impressed by the flavorfulness of this coffee as well.

I think this is an outstanding espresso blend, actually, and I think I recommend it over the Espresso con Robusta, Little River Style that I also like a great deal, should buy again, and should review for you. At the moment, I'm lucky enough to be working on (and will write about soon!) some Organic Thunderhead Espresso, a blend worked out for my wife's friend Jaimie at Thunderhead Perk in Townsend, TN, a great coffee shop that my wife and step-daughters went to today while I was at work (though I'll find my way there sometime soon). Stay tuned for those reviews when I have time to talk about them: two more espressos and hopefully a coffee shop.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lamb and Barley Soup with a Parmesian Portabello Snack

First thing's first: I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of this wonderful stew when it was finished. Unfortunately, I can't show you the finished product, so we'll consider the cooking pictures to be teasers. I assure you, it looked like beef and barley soup is supposed to look only the beef was lamb, and it was spectacularly good.
The ingredient list is kind of long, so here's what all went into it:

  • About a quarter of a leg of lamb with bone (probably about a pound and a half of meat);
  • Three medium carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise and then into half-inch pieces;
  • Four small potatoes, cut into pieces of a similar size to the carrots;
  • One medium sweet onion, cut similarly;
  • Four cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped finely (and first);
  • Two red and one green Nardello pepper (mostly to use them, leave out or substitute any sweet pepper), chopped;
  • One red cayenne pepper, chopped finely;
  • Two stalks of celery, cut lengthwise four times and sliced rather thinly;
  • Eight white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered;
  • Half a cup of hulled barley (pearled is a fine substitute);
  • Two tablespoons Job's tears (optional);
  • Two tablespoons wild rice;
  • Two tablespoons brown rice (note: the rices are optional, but in Chinese medicine, mixing rice and barley is supposed to be very building to the system, so I usually include them in tandem when I can);
  • Four bay leaves;
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper, Worchestershire sauce, and red wine vinegar to taste;
  • A long sprig of fresh rosemary and a handful of chives, finely chopped;
  • One bottle of beer (preferably something heavy and malty);
  • Four and a half cups of water;
  • Two to three tablespoons canola oil.
Here are all of the veggies cut up and ready to go. It's very helpful to have all of your ingredients prepared well ahead of time, although with a stew, I suppose it's not so important. I'm just in the habit, I guess. Having them this way is very helpful, however, if you want to saute the veggies first and deglaze the pan, which I usually do but didn't for this dish.
As for preparing it, I started with the lamb going into the oil and browning a little on each side. Once that was achieved, I put all of these lovely veggies except the garlic into the pan and stirred it around so that as much of it as possible got some pan time, although I wasn't aiming for perfection. After a couple of minutes, I added the garlic, bay leaves, and the beer.
Once that was in, I added the water and the grain along with a healthy amount of red wine vinegar. When all of that was in the pot, I stirred, covered the pot, and left it alone for about twenty minutes. Then I lowered the temp and added the herbs, by which point it looked like this. Right about then is when I was really starting to get hungry, and so while this did its thing, covered over medium-low heat, I whipped up a snack on the side for my wife and I: portabello mushrooms with herbs and balsamic vinegar, finished with a little Parmesian cheese (freshly grated reggiano, of course).
We ate those, mmm, and other than coming back to stir the pot occasionally, that was done and out of mind. I considered making a hearty, whole-wheat flatbread but decided against it figuring I wasn't feeding an army. It would have went perfectly with the soup, though!

A couple of hours later, there was something else to do: get the meat out of the stew and cut it up into little bite-sized pieces. I opted to cut it, instead of pulling it, because that way I could choose to go across the grain and have much more tender little morsels in there. The pieces, actually, were on par with those from the carrots and potatoes in size. It looked like this, in fact, just before I put it back into the stew:

To finish, I let the little meat bits cook in the stew for a while and get nice and saturated with the liquid. That also gave the barley, potatoes, and rice enough time to start to disintegrate a little, offering their starch into the broth to make it into a more gravy-like consistency. Finally, of course, I adjusted the seasoning (salt, pepper, and vinegar) and the served it in bowls. If more people had been around, freshly made flatbreads or (better) some nice crusty sourdough would have made the meal absolutely perfect. The lamb really gives it a nice touch being just a tad on the gamey side of red meat flavors, though not nearly so strong as venison (which makes an awesome stew of this sort also, hunters!).

You should try it, especially as the weather starts to turn a bit cooler like this. It's really wonderful!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sweet Chile Colorado On Beef Fajitas Over Rice

Because JB came to my house the other day and basically made me pick all the peppers in my garden, I had a plethora of late-season peppers, mostly Nardello, though with several beautiful orange and green bells, and I had to do something with them. This was my almost inspired use of the little beauties.
Secretly, I'm not a big fan of fajitas, although I think essentially everyone else in the world loves them. Honestly, it's not that I don't like them as much as it's that there are a lot of other things in the Mexican restaurants that I'd rather eat than fajitas. If they did fajitas with chile colorado like I did last night, then I might be inclined to change my mind on that.

I started with a recipe for "New Mexico Chile" and made my plan from there, intending to use the Nardellos instead of the dried red New Mexico chiles that usually make up the dish. I cut up about fifteen of them and did a reasonable, though imperfect, job of seeding them. I also smashed two cloves of garlic and roughly chopped them into the pile, and for a little kick, I chopped up a single, rather small (red) cayenne pepper as well. With just a little chopped onion, a little freshly picked and chopped oregano, a heavy pinch of cumin seeds, and a little bit of chopped garlic chives, I was set to make the sauce.
With a little oil in the pan, I added all of those peppers, onions, garlic, and whatnot and started to let it sizzle for a while. After it did its thing for about ten minutes or so, stirring it occasionally, of course, I added a bit of water and some red wine vinegar along with some salt and pepper. After that bubbled for a bit, I added the herbs, and that's what this picture shows, steam-blur and all. It was starting to smell mighty nice in the kitchen right about then.

While the sauce cooked down, half covered over medium heat, I cleaned and sliced two green bell peppers and half an onion into some healthy-sized pieces. I also took two bottom-round steaks, which I got for a great price, and sliced them thinly across the grain, cutting them into approximately two-inch-long strips. Not shown in the photo is the lime that I cut into quarters.

After I got everything all cut up and decided that the peppers had stewed for long enough, I poured all of that mess into the blender and let it run for a while. When it came out, it was thick, almost like paste, so I had to add some water. Immediately, I put it back on the cook, and here's a photo of the smoothed-out version bubbling away.

Meanwhile, I started some oil in a large skillet, which I put over high heat and let get very hot. Not having made fajitas before, I screwed the next part up and put the meat in first. I should have done the veggies ahead of the steak so they'd kind of caramelize. In any case, I put in the steak and let it cook for a few minutes, stirring it around to cook it fairly evenly, added the onions and peppers, and let it all cook like that over vigorous heat until the meat was just short of done, which didn't take long. Once the meat was just barely short of being done, as in the picture, I added the red-pepper sauce to the pan and let it stew the meat and veggies the rest of the way. When I turned it off, I added the juice of half of that lime and stirred it through. It was brilliant.

As you can see in the picture at the top of the post, I served this delicious stuff over lightly cumin-scented brown rice, although it would have been absolutely incredible over wet polenta (meaning without doing the baking business) heavily loaded with colby-jack cheese. I also intended to add some black beans to the entire mix, adding them to the skillet with the sauce or serving them on the side, but as I wasn't feeding as many people as usual last night, I held off on those. They would have been great, though, as would have been a little dollop of sour cream off to the side.

Also, had I left out the cumin from the sauce recipe, replacing it instead with a pinch of fennel seeds and adding a bit of rosemary and basil (and perhaps a tomato or two for character), this sauce would have been mind-blowing over pasta (and easily vegetarian-friendly in that case). In fact, it would have been absolutely incredible with pasta, some sauteed veggies, and, if you're into getting some protein veg-style, dry, fluffy scrambled eggs. Peppers play very well with eggs. If we have another Nardello harvest still out there on our little bushes, then I'll try that soon and let you know. Otherwise, it will have to wait until next year!

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