Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chile Verde

Pork butt. Oh, how I love you pork butt. It's also called pork shoulder (the meat does, in fact, come from the shoulder of the pig), but that's just silly. We here at Think Global Act Loco will strictly refer to this cut as pork butt. The first time I met a proper pork butt was in Tennessee, where they definitely know how to Q some butt. Smoked for hours, then on the grill for a bit, pulled apart, slapped on a bun and slathered with sauce. Hoooo-wee!

Today, however, we are cooking chile verde. Our friends Kelly, Raina, and Amalia were having a house-warming/bring-your-favorite-taco-filling party. I had some extra time and not much extra cash so chile verde sounded like a good idea. It requires some time, but it's really quite easy. This time around I actually took an already easy recipe and made it even easier! I started by cutting up my pork butt into 2-inch cubes and trimming off any excess fat. I seasoned it well, then browned it on all sides in a dutch oven. Once browned, I set the pork aside and drained all but a couple tablespoons of fat. In the fat I sauteed two diced onions until softened, then added 4-5 minced garlic cloves and 3 diced roasted jalapeños. I added the pork back into the dutch oven and poured in enough tomatillo puree to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 2-3 hours. That's all she wrote. When it's done you can use it as a filling for tacos (like we did) or burritos or serve it with rice and beans, or whatevers yous wants.

As for my jalapeños, I had simply char-roasted them directly on the burners, the reason being that I was not going to roast my tomatillos (because I bought canned tomatillo puree) but still wanted a rich smoky flavor. I also added a couple splashes of liquid smoke to give it a lil' extra somethin somethin.

Now, about this canned tomatillo puree... I like to frequent the local markets, and I like to buy natural (organic when possible) and whole foods, but that can sometimes make for some expensive grocery bills. Learning how to shop well is a skill, and I still have lots to learn, but this time I kicked ass. I bought my meat and veggies at the natural foods store (4 lbs of pork butt, 2 onions, a head of garlic, 3 jalapeños and a bunch of cilantro cost me about $15) and to save time and money went to one of the Mexican Markets in town, La Esperanza, for my tomatillo puree. $7 for a 6 POUND CAN OF TOMATILLO PUREE! I only ended up using half of it for the chile verde.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brasil Brasil Brasil

We have recently been cooking Brazilian-inspired meals. The inspiration for these meals started a while back when Lissa and I popped into Cafe Brasil for a late breakast/lunch (actually it started way back when I was first exposed to Brazilian culture, but that's another story). I wanted to buy a bag of cassava flour to have on hand at home. The bag, unfortunately, sat unopened in my cupboard for a couple of weeks. Then one day while I was wandering the aisles at the grocery store, I noticed a jar of dendê oil (red palm oil) and decided to buy that as well. The palm oil finally helped get my bunda into gear on hooking up some good food, Braza-style.

Before we get to the cooking, let's delve deeper into our ingredients. Cassava (also called yuca, manioc, or tapioca) is a woody shrub of the Euphorbia family native to South America. It is extensively cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical regions for it's edible, starchy, tuberous root. It can be eaten in a number of ways (see link for more details) but what we have here is the ground meal of the cassava root. I have used tapioca flour many times before as well, but this farinha de mandioca pictured here is more coarsely ground and has a golden color. In Brazil, as well as in West Africa, it is often toasted with smoked meat, salt and spices and called farofa, or gari, respectively. Brazilian farofa recipes typically call for raw manioc flour to be toasted with butter salt and bacon until golden brown. It is an essential accompaniment to feijoada. It is also used in a stuffing for poultry and other dishes, usually containing raisins, nuts and/or finely chopped sweet fruits like apples and bananas ( I have always had farofa served alongside the main course to be sprinkled on (particularly saucy) dishes, it both soaks up some of the liquid and adds a rich salty crunch.

On to the dendê oil... The first time I tried red palm oil was at Cafe Brasil in a dish called Muqueca Baiana, a slow-cooked seafood stew with onions, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro and of course, the dendê oil which renders the dish a brilliant deep orange color (here's a link to Cynthia Santos' blog Brazilian Cauldron for a recipe). My friend Karen warned me, "don't eat too much of this stuff, you'll get a heart attack." Simply judging by the looks of it I agreed but through a bit of research I have actually found that it's not so cut and dry. It is high in saturated and low in polyunsaturated fat, which can lead to cardiovascular disease in high doses, but it seems there is controversy surrounding the how palm oil affects cholesterol. On top of all that, red palm oil has many redeeming nutritional qualities.

Here's a bit on the nutritional value of red palm oil from the ubiquitous wikipedia:

Red palm oil not only supplies fatty acids essential for proper growth and development, but also it contains an assortment of vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients important for good health. Red palm oil gets its name from its characteristic dark red color, which comes from carotenes such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lycopene—the same nutrients that give tomatoes, carrots and other fruits and vegetables their rich red and orange colors. Red palm oil is the richest dietary source of provitamin A carotenes (beta-carotene and alpha-carotene). It has 15 times more provitamin A carotenes than carrots and 300 times more than tomatoes.

O.K., now let's talk about what to do with this stuff.

MEAL #1. I made a muqueca-style chicken dish, a pile of sauteed couve mineira (garlicky greens), a green salad with palmito (heart of palm), and farofa.

For the chicken, I started by dicing and seasoning two boneless, skinless chicken breasts and sauteing them in red palm oil. Once seared on all sides, I set the chicken aside and tossed in a diced onion. Once the onion had softened, I added some minced garlic and continued to sauteed until fragrant. Then the chicken was added back into the pan, along with 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of broth (chicken or veggie), another tablespoon of palm oil, some dried thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Now, because the farofa will soak up much of the liquid, I am not too concerned about it being to runny. If you did want to thicken it up, though, just toss in some cold diced butter or a slurry of corn starch (or tapioca flour for that matter!).

Making couve mineira is easy and it's fabulous way of preparing collards, kale, chard, or whatever other greens you may have on hand. Remove the rib from each leaf, then layer them to make a chiffonade. Sautee diced onion in olive oil until translucent, then minced garlic until fragrant, then add the thinly sliced greens. Toss greens to mix, (I add a tablespoon of water to prevent burning the garlic) and continue to stir for 3-5 minutes, until greens are wilted but still bright green. Serve immediately.

MEAL #2.

We decided to celebrate our friend Timerie's birthday by having her and her hubby Christian over for brunch. I made a beautiful fruit salad, a big pot of black beans, poached eggs, farofa, vinagrete (Carioca salsa), and açai mimosas.

Fruit salad: pineapple, banana, apple. A squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of sugar, a chiffonade of mint. That's it. It was sooooooo good. Lissa thought I laced it with ecstacy or something (I didn't though). Let sit covered in the fridge to allow the flavors to marry.

Beans: pancetta, onions, red bell pepper, garlic, bay leaf, oregano. I didn't have the foresight to start soaking dry beans the night before so I just used canned black beans and gave them some extra love. I diced the pancetta and crisped it up in my pot. Then I added diced onion, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, salt, black pepper and my beans. Let it simmer. Done-zo.

Farofa: cassava meal, butter, onions, parsley, salt. Pretty simple...melt the butter sautee the onions, add the parsley and sautee until crisp, add the cassava meal and toss until golden brown. Mmmmmmmm.

Vinagrete (pronouced vee-nah-GREH-chee): diced onion, tomato, bell pepper, and 1/2 jalapeño, olive oil and vinegar (I used coconut vinegar). Combine ingredients and let chill covered in fridge to allow flavors to marry. A word about this vinagrete stuff. Somewhere between a salsa and a vinaigrette, the first time I had Brazilian vinagrete was for a barbaque at my friend Eli's house. We had a pile of grilled beef, vinagrete, farofa, and beer. Instructions: take slice of meat, dip in farofa, spoon vinagrete on top, tilt head back, chew and moan with delight, drink beer, smile wide.

Eggs: poached. The classic trick is to put a tablespoon or so of vinegar in the poaching water to help the whites coagulate. Check if you want more detailed instructions on how to poach an egg.

Libations: açai and passion fruit mimosas. Cha! We needed something to wash down all that toasty farofa!! I bought a couple of Sambazon rainforest blends, which are VERY healthy by the way, and a bottle of prosecco. Oh yeah, I am kind of anal about things matching, and we only have two champagne glasses, so I had to serve the mimosas in wine glasses.

Accoutrements: mozzarella cheese, avocado, pepperoncini Calabrese.

Christian couldn't wait to dig in...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Caesar Salad with Prawns and Grilled Aparagus

The year is 1924. In Tijuana, México, Caesar Cardini is on the line in his restaurant. It is July 4th and the place is packed, so much so that they are running out of food! Caesar has to think quickly. Using the plentiful ingredients he does have on hand, he invents a new salad on the spot. He decides that he will even toss and serve it table-side to add some flare.

At the table, he tosses his croutons in garlic oil. In a large mixing bowl, he tosses leaves of romaine lettuce with olive oil, then sprinkles salt, 8 grinds of pepper, lemon juice and 6 drops of Worcestershire sauce. He then breaks in 2 coddled eggs, tosses again and adds parmesan cheese. A final toss and he then tops his new creation with the croutons. The whimsical chef-d'oeuvre would eventually be known world-wide as the Caesar Salad.

There are others who claim to have invented the salad, including Caesar's brother Alessandro, but most agree that the above story is the most authentic. Here is a link to the original recipe according to the encyclopedia of food history (notice that the original recipe does NOT contain anchovies). Well, by now we all know and love the Caesar Salad, whoever brought it into existence. I have a particular fondness for the salads as they were a beloved specialty of my late grandfather Russell Jensen (love you gramps). He was a perfectionist when it came to the Caesar, and in all of his years making it I can remember only a handful of times hearing him say, "I got it just right this time."

I am less of a stickler. I have never even measured out the ingredients when I made a Caesar dressing. Needless to say, I love eating a Caesar Salad, and I love making one. This night, we decided to grill some prawns to top it. I know, I know, the cheese overpowers the delicate flavor of the shrimp...but you know what? Sometimes you just gotta do whatchu feel. Do a cartwheel in a crowded mall! Drink a cabernet sauvingnon with Sole Meunier! ...Make a Caesar Salad with Prawns!! So I did, and it was great.

Often when I make Caesars, I omit the egg and simply make an emulsified vinaigrette, which is what I did here. My basic recipe is something along the lines of:

3 anchovy filets minced

1 garlic clove minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp sherry (or red wine) vinegar
coarsely ground pepper, to taste (I use plenty)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano (although this time I happened to have pecorino romano in the fridge, so I used that)
1/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients except the oil in a salad bowl, then slowly pour in the oil as you whisk vigorously.

For the shrimp, I tossed them in some olive oil, salt, black pepper, and chili flakes, and then grilled them on my cast-iron grill pan. Just a minute or so on each side is all they need, otherwise they become tough.

I also grilled up some beautiful asparagus that we got from our CSA. Finally, to make things purdy, I took a minute to make some veggie garnishes, carrot and radish flowers. Awww...


Sunday, March 7, 2010

A colorful meal

Ink purple gastrique, crimson and deep orange roasted roots, beautifully browned rib steak, lime green celery was a colorful meal. Tasty, too. We hadn't gotten through all of our CSA box from the previous week, so there were a few things I needed to cook: celery, beets, butternut squash, and carrots. The last three automatically spelled roast-done. As for the celery (I had two big heads), my first thought was to make a puree of celery soup. Lissa had a hankerin' for some steak, and even more so for a berry gastrique to go along with it. My vision for celery soup shifted towards a thicker potato-based puree upon which the steak could sit, and around which said gastrique would swim. So there. That's the menu in a nutshell. Let's get in to some more details.

The roots and squash. Preheat the oven to 350°. Coarsely chop butternut squash, carrots and beets. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed skillet and toss in a couple of peeled garlic cloves. Once the garlic starts to brown, add the roots (and the curcubite), two springs of rosemary and stir to coat in the oil. Cover with lid or foil, and put in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are fork tender. Season with salt and black pepper. I was recently fortunate enough to receive a birthday bag of French flacons de sel (thanks Dick!), so that was the salt I opted for to season my roasted veggies.

On to the puree...

Two potatoes, two big heads of celery. The papas get peeled and diced, then the celery gets sliced. Put the tubers in a pot of cold salted water and bring to a boil. If you work in a restaurant or like to do dishes more than I do, then boil a separate pot of water for the celery. I, however, simply removed the taters with a slotted spoon then plopped the cel-ry into the same water. Both will only need to cook for about 5 minutes. Once tender, drain in a colander then puree in a food processor with salt, pepper and some parsley. A touch of cayenne or a splash of hot sauce would also be a welcome addition.

For the gastrique, I used a bag of frozen mixed berries I had on hand. I emptied the bag (about 2 cups) into a saucepan along with 1 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 chopped onion, 1/4 cup of sugar, a tablespoon of black peppercorns, and a couple teaspoons of minced ginger. Let reduce by half and strain. If it's still not thick enough, whisk in a tablespoon of cold butter cut into chunks (this is referred to as mounting with butter, by the way).

As for the ribeyes, I seasoned them on both sides and then pan fried them over medium-high heat in a dry heavy-bottomed pan (not non-stick). 4-5 minutes on each side, taking care to not move the steaks as they cook, will should render a beautiful brown crust and a medium-rare temperature. If you prefer to measure the temp, take the steaks off at 120-125° and let them rest for 10 minutes. These gorgeous grass-fed beef steaks came from the fabulous Shopper's Corner in Santa Cruz, CA. Check out for the grass-fed farmer nearest, you know what I mean. is also a great source for information on the environmental and health benefits of grass-fed animals. Happy eating!