Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Recipe

Not a week goes by that I don't find a recipe in a magazine, on a website or on TV that I am intrigued by and want to try. I, like many of you out there, have countless pages of recipes stashed for that "one day" I will finally get around to trying them.
The recipes I found in Food and Wine magazine for beef jerky last month were no exception. The difference here is I actually got around to making it.

The recipe for jerky is ridiculously easy. No special equipment or ingredients needed. Just an oven, some pans, eye of round and some basic marinade ingredients.

The result above is a traditional peppered jerky. Sliced to 1/4 inch, marinated in soy, worcesthire and pepper for about 8 hours. Throw it in the oven at 200 for about 3-4 hours and you have jerky.

Countless variations to try. Should be fun.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Revisiting An Old Friend- Curtido

A couple of weeks ago Leslie, Jack and I made our somewhat bi-weekly pilgrimage to Tony's Mexican Restaurant in Katy. We are well aware of the closer location on Ella near the North Loop, but that location can't hold a candle to the hospitality offered by Ray and Gloria(Tony's sister) out in Katy.

Our usual routine is to sit at the bar for an appetizer(chips and queso at Jack's request). Les and I sip on the best frozen margaritas in town and we just sit and chat. As is our custom, we get pickled jalapenos on the side. When our order came out, I was chatting with Gabriel(the other owner) about the difference in the jalapenos. They weren't your standard rings. Cut irregularly, with sliced onions throughout and a distinct note of cumin and oregano. These were wonderful. Ray and Gabriel told me the kitchen staff makes them to eat and they don't normally share them with the guests. I talked Ray into giving me a pint to take home. I ate them with everthing. Breakfast tacos, Fajitas, Hamburgers. I was in heaven.

Those jalapenos got me to thinking about some of the "relishes" served throughout Houston that I came to love and expect over the years.  Ninfa's on Navigation had a curtido that was heavy on the onions. El Rey's version is heavy on the jalapenos with nice big chunks of garlic. La Tapatia used to put chunks of cauliflower in their version. All were good. All were different.

I dug through my memory(and recipe archives) and came up with a curtido recipe that captures the best of all worlds.

The carrots in this recipe are al dente and the garlic has a nice bite to it. There are just enough onions and jalapenos to give it a nice kick, but not over power it. The reviews so far have been positive and I am looking forward to tweaking the recipe just in time for the Summer grilling season. Who knows, you may see this on your grocer's shelf in the near future.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Oysters- The Day After Dilemna

It's Saturday night, 1980- maybe '81. My dad and I are on the way to the Astrodome for the always fun destruction derby. I was so looking forward to the evening. Part of the excitement was the derby. Part was the anticipation of seeing stunt legend Spanky Spangler crash some cars or buses in some death defying stunt(look him up if you don't know who he is). But most of all, the anticipation was for the pre-derby meal at the original Captain Benny's off of Main by the Dome. Going there with my dad, starting off with oysters on the half-shell, then a cup of gumbo, splitting some fried shrimp and then some good old fried catfish. That meal made the entire night. I have always been a huge fan of oysters and Captain Benny's was the perfect place to satisfy that craving.

Fast forward 30 or so years and we are one day removed from our annual crawfish boil fundraiser. For the past two years we have had a raw oyster bar that has been a huge hit. The problem is what to do with the few dozen freshly shucked oysters that are left over.

Once again, my oyster craving needed to be satisfied.

Tonight I had an epiphany. Think oysters meet buffalo wings. Fresh oysters dusted with flour and fried. Toss with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Damn they were good. So good that Leslie even sucked down a 1/2 dozen of them.

These just may go on the menu for the gumbo cookoff in the Fall- right next to the Oysters Frankefeller.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Family Tradition- Annual Sausage Making

A bit behind on the posting, but late last year(just in time for the holidays) members of the Dragna family got together for a tradition that goes back as long as I can remember....home-made Italian sausage.

Once our mother(Frankie) passed away in May of 2000, our family lost the "hub" that kept us somewhat connected. With no central location to assemble for birthdays, holidays, and other familial events, we were in great danger of losing some special traditions. Leslie and I(with the help of family) decided to carry on two of them. The annual Christmas Eve gathering of family and friends and the topic of this post, Italian sausage making.

Italian sausage is so simple, from an ingredient standpoint, it is ridiculous. What it does for me emotionally, however, can not be calculated. The process of gathering ingredients, trimming the pork butt, grinding the meat(Jack has gotten very good at this), mixing the first batch and finally getting to the point of a test patty is borderline euphoric. Once the kitchen fills up with the aroma of the sausage frying and that hint of licorice from the fennel, I can vividly remember the times I shared this exact same experience with my mom.

I have no idea how old the above recipe is, but it is the same ratios we have used for more than a couple of generations. By the way "pebber" is black pepper and the (12) denoted under fennel is a guideline that you may need more than 8 ounces, up to 12 of fennel depending on how aromatic it is.

For me, the Christmas holidays have not truly arrived until our sausage is made.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Out of the cure and into the fire(frying pan)!

They say that patience is a virtue. I am not sure who "they" are, but I think "they" are idiots. There is no way they ever considered patience in relation to waiting for a pork belly to cure so we could enjoy some fresh bacon.

Anyway, Sunday I took the belly out of the cure and it looks great. After about 2 1/2 hours in a 200 degree oven, it came out perfect. Due to my slowly developing food photography skills, the picture above just does not do it justice. I fried up a bit and it tastes as good as it looks.

Also pretty excited about my first crop of Meyer lemons out of our citrus "orchard" in the backyard. If you have never tried a Meyer lemon, you are missing out. Kind of a cross between an orange and a lemon. Sweeter and less acidic than your standard lemon so they go great in sauces and salad dressings without being overpowering.

Stay hungry my friends.....

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's All About The Pig....

They say bacon is the gateway meat.  Let's face it, even crappy store bought bacon tastes pretty damn good. It is the one thing that even vegetarians say they miss or would want to try if they ate meat. If you think about it, the pig could very well be the most perfect and "magical animal"(thanks Homer Simpson) there is. Seriously. Ham, ribs, chops, pork rinds, endless sausage opportunities, and of course bacon all come from this one tasty animal.

After a successful mass tasting of my last batch of bacon at our Cub Scout campout last weekend, I decided to cure another pork belly and make some more bacon.

The blueprint is a 16 pound skin-on pork belly. After trimming and removing the ribs(bonus!), there was a yield of right at 13 pounds. After cutting it into three manageable chunks as seen in the picture above.
It currently sits in a curing solution consisting of kosher salt, pink salt(has a bit of nitrite to retard bacteria), dextrose(sugar), and brown sugar.

After 9 days in the cure, it will be ready for the
next step- the smoke process.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Peeve of the Month- Parking Valets

Nothing drives me crazier than pulling into a restaurant parking lot that is empty and seeing every parking space blocked off for the valet with a cone. The only thing that keeps me from a confrontation is the leer and pleading from my patient wife to say nothing.

It is borderline extortion to force you to use the valet. I thought the purpose of the valet was to make things convenient for the guest. When the lot is full, the valet takes your car and parks it so you don't have to walk far, right? Wrong. Too many restaurants allow their valets to set policy and it is unfair to the guests.

Restaurant owners. I beg you to give the parking lot back to your guests and send the valets running again. YOU HEAR ME COVA!