Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin

I'd bet good money that the pork tenderloin might be one of the most overlooked pieces of meat in the whole department.  Maybe because it's tiny and tucked away?  Maybe most folks don't know what to do with it?  If that's the case, it's high time to clear the air!  How "yummo" does this look to you?

If you've ever found yourself standing in your grocery store with the little Pork Tenderloin package in your hands wondering, "It looks good, but..." read on!

You Will Need:
  • 1 Twin-Pack of Pork Tenderloins
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • Dry Rub for tenderloin, Equal Amounts of:
    • Kosher Salt
    • Dried Minced Garlic 
    • Black Pepper
    • Cayenne Pepper
    • Dill Seed
    • Brown Sugar
    • Coriander
    • Paprika
  • Preheat your oven, grill, or smoker to 450 degrees 
First step?  Find your tenderloin!   You might be tempted to pick up a "pork loin."  While a pork loin is delicious, it's an entirely different cut of meat.  A pork loin is a couple of feet long and is cut from the shoulder to the hip of the animal.  The tenderloins (there are two) are found on each side of the spine, near the lower back.  Typically, a package of tenderloins is a foot long and there are two to a pack.
Lay the loins out on your board and look for any untrimmed ribbons of silver-skin or fat.  Simply "shave" them off with your knife.  This is tough stuff and will not break down or render like regular fat!
Give each of them an olive oil massage and a generous sprinkle of the dry rub!  Gently press it in so it sticks well.  You remembered to preheat your oven or grill, right?  (just checking)... Do NOT proceed with the next step until you reach 450, because things will happen quickly and you don't want to be caught unprepared!
Pour the 1/4 cup of olive oil into a cast-iron skillet, over medium high heat.  Let it get hot!  Lay the loins down in the pan and listen as they sizzle... Spin them around after 5-7 minutes so that all sides get a nice brown crust.
Once you've browned the outside, insert an oven-safe temperature probe and set the alarm to 145 degrees.  Pick up the pan while it's still sizzling (Do I really need to tell you to use an oven mitt?), and slide it into the hot oven/grill.  I know, I know, most of the things I write about are cooked slowly over low heat.  Why the change?  Well, tenderloins have very little fat in them.  They're super tender, not because of the fat and connective tissue, but because they're a muscle that is rarely used.  Ever see a pig doing lower-back raises at the gym?  Me neither.. Anyway, cooking them slowly can allow what little moisture there is inside to evaporate and the result will be too dry to contemplate so...

Observe!  The hotter environment of the oven or grill was able to put a final crust on the loins while quickly cooking the inside up to an FDA approve "Medium" 145 degrees!  Mine took about 15 minutes, so keep an eye on your temperature alarm!  Carefully remove them from the hot pan and wrap them in foil to rest for 10 minutes before slicing!
Slice the loins into little medallions and serve them over some "Dirty Rice" or mashed spuds.  I laid mine over a fresh batch of jalapeno coleslaw!


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Homemade Mac-n-Cheese (Baked or Smoked)

Sadly, my wife flat out refuses to eat Macaroni and Cheese casserole!  She will eat Kraft Mac-n-cheese out of the blue box, which amazes me.  Honestly, who refuses a pound of pasta, smothered with a pound and a half of cheese??

This recipe is in my personal recipe folder called, "Badass Mac-n-Cheese."  It's a super-decadent, uber-cheesy version of a straight up macaroni casserole.  Feel free to embellish by adding bacon, pulled pork, chopped jalapenos, chopped onion, or any other of your faves.  Just promise me that you won't add pineapples... those people are crazy!

You Will Need:
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) butter; plus 2 additional Tbs. butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste (yes, tomato paste)
  • 8oz package of Cream Cheese
  • 2 cups (8oz) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups (8oz) shredded smoked gouda cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 5 slices of sourdough bread, cut into tiny cubes
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked until al dente and drained 
Preheat either your oven to 375, or (preferably) your Smoker to 250 degrees

So, you need a pound of pasta.  Do you need macaroni?  No, but it's traditional.  You DO need a bite-sized form of pasta with some curls or a hollow core to grab onto the sauce.  I use a mix of small and large macaroni noodles.  Weigh out 16oz on your kitchen scale and boil them for 7-8 minutes or until al-dente.  Drain them, and re-submerge them in COLD water to stop the cooking process.  Leave them alone while you "Sauce Up!"
Let's get cheesy!  8oz of cheese will grate out to 2 cups.  I know, crazy!  I prefer to use a fresh 8oz block of cheese, over the pre-shredded variety.  When they put the pre-shredded stuff in the bag, they add cornstarch to keep it from clumping.  I don't want the cornstarch in my casserole, so I just grate all of the cheese with an old-school grater.
In a large pot, melt 4Tbsp of butter, over MEDIUM heat, then add the flour.  Use a paddle and stir, stir, stir until two thing happen.  1. It will no longer smell "buttery," but more "nutty."  2. It will eventually (7 minutes or so) smooth out and be less clumpy.  This is a Roux you're making, and it's magic!!  A Roux's sole purpose in life is to thicken liquids.  The longer you stir it over heat, the darker and more flavorful it becomes, BUT, the less "thickening" power it retains.  Since we're not making Gumbo today, we want a light blond Roux with maximum thickening power so as soon as the Roux smoothes out, add the milk.

Jack the heat up to Med-High and keep stirring!  You might want to switch to a whisk, to make sure the Roux doesn't clump.  Stir and watch for about 5 minutes.  When the mixture starts to "burble" and burp like primordial ooze or a forgotten tar pit, it's ready!  Congratulations, the French call this a "Bechamel" sauce and it serves as a base for hundreds of other sauces.  It's a culinary requirement for any cooking school, and you just mastered it!
No time for patting yourself on the back, however, because this sauce is fairly fragile.  Keep stirring and add the tomato paste, cayenne pepper, and the block of cream cheese.  Why cream cheese?  Well, besides being super creamy and delicious, it will help things come back together tomorrow, when you are reheating this lovely creation in your microwave.  Why the paste and pepper?  For "tang" and that hint of "something" special...
Stir until all of this has melted and runs smoothly off of your paddle.  Now, add most of the cheese that you grated earlier.  Add it a little bit at a time and stir after each "dump" to let it melt and incorporate.  Continue to stir and slowly build the cheese sauce, leaving about 1/2cup of the cheese for later.
Drain the pasta, and pour it into a clean bowl.  Pour over your finished cheese sauce and gently stir it together with your paddle.  Scrape the cheese goodness out of the pot and make sure it all makes it into the pasta bowl!  
Now, pour the whole mixture into a pre-greased 13x9" casserole pan and smooth it out.  Looking GOOD, right?  I know, I know, you could eat it right now... True, but it only gets better from here so, wait it out!  Sprinkle the last remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheese over the top, and then turn your attention to those "forgotten" bread cubes...
Dump your tiny cubes of bread into a bowl and pour over your 2Tbsp of melted butter.  Mix to evenly coat, then sprinkle them over the top of the grated cheese that was sprinkled over the top of the macaroni goodness!  Finally, sprinkle a generous helping of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano as a final topping.
Eureka!  You've assembled an amazing staple of American comfort food!  You could put it into a 375 degree oven until the bread cubes start to caramelize and turn golden brown (50 minutes to an hour).  OR...
You could add even more flavor and slide it into your smoker at 250 degrees for 60-70 minutes!  If you choose to smoke it, there are a couple of things to be aware of.  Make certain you've pre-heated your smoker and that you're burning clean embers (no bark, fresh charcoal, or anything that produces thick white smoke)!  You'll also want to check it every ten minutes or so and cover it when the bread takes on the color you want.  If you leave the bread in the smoker, uncovered, it could blacken with the color of the smoke and that's not good... Keep an eye on the temperature too, adjust the air-flow as necessary to keep the heat around 250.

When it comes out, let it stand (covered) for ten minutes to let things "settle" a bit.  If you did this correctly, your cheese sauce will firm up and you'll be able to cut out squares of hot and gooey mac-n-cheese blocks, and the rest of the casserole won't run all over the pan or your plate!

Enjoy!  As always, feel free to comment...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Steak Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

So; my wife is on a business trip to Mexico, leaving me completely unsupervised for a week.  For the first time in a very long time, I found myself in my kitchen with NOTHING to do and NOBODY to cook for.  I was hungry.  What to do....... 

"Why not cook up some of my favorite bacon wrapped stuffed chilis," I asked myself?  "OH, you've got those two beef tenderloin medallions that you need to cook today," I reminded myself.  What the heck?  Fire up the grill and cook them all!

You Will Need:
  • Chili Peppers (I like Anaheim peppers for this)
  • Melting Cheese (Cream Cheese, or Cheddar is fine but NOT "Whipped" Cream Cheese)
  • Bacon
  • Salt
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • 10oz Filet Mignon or Beef Tenderloin Medallion 
  • Preheat Oven to 375
  • Light up a chimney full of charcoal on your grill

I make "Jalapeno Poppers" a hundred different ways.  I've stuffed them with Blue Cheese, Cheddar, Cheese Curds, Cream Cheese, you name it.  I've also used a variety of different peppers, not always Jalapenos.  In this case I chose Anaheim peppers because they're bigger.  You could use two old fashioned Jalapeno peppers though, if you wanted.
Slice off the caps and remove as much of the white pithy membrane as you feel is "appropriate."  Remember, the heat in any chili is in the membrane, NOT the seeds!  This is always a balancing act because you want room for the cheese, but you also want to leave some heat so, prep accordingly.
Stuff your chili with cheese.  This time, I used some fresh cheese curds because, well, because I had some and because they melt like crazy, and because they're super delish... Use whatever you want, but do NOT use "Whipped" (or spreadable) cream cheese!  It expands under heat and will leak out of the chili and make a mess.  Plug the end of your chili with a wad of bacon because... bacon is delicious and it will keep the cheese from leaking out!
Finally, wrap the entire chili with a slice of bacon (or two, depending on how large your chili is), grease a pan, and slide them into the oven for 40 minutes at 375 degrees.
Now, turn your attention to the steak.  It almost seems "criminal" to take a beautiful 10oz filet like this one, and to pound the living crap out of it, but... great "omelets" involve broken eggs, so, take a deep breath and fortify yourself.  You'll need a layer of plastic and some water for lubrication.  Spritz some water on a plastic bag, place the plastic on top of the steak, and gently pound the steak with a mallet, starting i the center and working your way out toward the edges.  TAKE YOUR TIME!  If you pound your meat too aggressively, you'll tear the edges and NOBODY wants that!  Just keep things lubricated, take your time, be gentle, and pound away!  Your patience will be rewarded... :)

You should end up with a nice flat piece of steak that resembles a large flour tortilla.  Excellent!  Season it with a sprinkle of salt, and a shake of Cayenne pepper.
Remove your chili from the oven and place it (while it's still warm) at one end of your "tortilla."  Gently (but tightly) roll it up, and use a couple of wooden toothpicks to pin up the ends.
Place it on the counter to rest while you tend to your fire.  Did you remember to turn off the oven?  Good. This would also be a magnificent time to open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and to let it breathe.  You'll need it.  Later...
Dump your coals into half of your pit.  I used an old half-charred hunk of oak wood as a "fence."  The idea is to create an area of indirect heat, as well as a super-hot spot of direct heat.
Once everything is pre-heated (give your pit 15 minutes alone with the lid closed), lay your steak roll on the indirect side.  I know, I know, there is fire on both sides in the picture... but as soon as I closed the lid and dampered down the air supply, things settled down.  Close the lid and leave your roll in there, undisturbed for about 12 minutes.
When you lift the lid, use some long tongs to move the roll to the hot side!  Roll it around over there and give it two to three minutes on each side.  You want a nice char, but you don't want to incinerate it, so be careful!
Take the roll off the heat and wrap it in foil to rest while you get your plate ready.  Earlier, I simmered a small carton of mushrooms in half a stick of butter, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup of Burgundy I had leftover, for about an hour.  It's time these two met!  Pour a massive glass of the Cab-Sav and get ready, baby...
I dumped a scoop of the shrooms onto a plate and then unrolled and sliced the steak roll into two halves.  The cheese was gooey, the bacon was crispy, and the steak was perfect!  Being "unsupervised," I was tempted to just pick up the roll with my hand and eat it like a "Boss!"  I didn't... mostly because I didn't want greasy smudges all over my wine glass.

Sadly, it was at this moment that I kicked myself for foolishly not thinking about a sauce... Perhaps a Hollandaise?  Bearnaise?  White Queso? Maybe a Green-Chili sauce?  Oh well.  It was pretty damned delicious as it was!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

How to Smoke Baby-Back Ribs

Everyone has a special way to cook ribs.  Some methods are better than others, and some are just downright "odd!"  I was horrified to learn that in parts of the Midwest, they boil them in water before simmering them in cheap BBQ sauce in a crock pot for hours.  Some people grill them, others bake them, still others swear that a rotisserie is the trick.  Me?  I prefer to slow-smoke them!  It may not be the "universally correct" answer, necessarily, but it will certainly earn me an A+ on the rib test...

If you have a smoker, and you're ready for a "no short cuts" approach to slow smoked BBQ ribs, then read on!

You Will Need:
  • As many racks of Baby-Back ribs as you can fit on your smoker
  • Rib-Rub (more on this later)
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Honey
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Apple Cider
  • 1 Tbsp Adobo Sauce from a can of Chipotle Peppers 

First things first, go outside and start your smoker.  It needs to be fully pre-heated to 225 before you lay on the ribs, so... get that going!  Also, this is going to take 6 hours so get some beers on ice and find a comfortable chair.  Let's Prep!

Before you prep the ribs, you'll want to get your sauces ready.  Mix a generous glob of honey with a hefty squirt of yellow mustard.  Stir it and set it aside.  You just made honey-mustard for a fraction of the cost so pat yourself on the back and have a beer!  Mix a Tablespoon of honey with an equal amount of adobo sauce, stir it into 1 Cup of your favorite BBQ sauce.  Stir it and set it aside.  Mix about a Cup of Cider Vinegar with a Cup of Apple Cider and pour it into a squirt bottle for spritzing.  Set it aside.

You'll need about a cup of dry rub for three racks of ribs.  Personally, I don't like to buy store bought rubs.  They're expensive and even if you find one you like, it may not be on the shelf next time so... you might as well learn to make a rub that you like.  Here's mine, feel free to tweak it to match your own taste:
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Chipotle Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Cup Sea Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Coarse Ground Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Smoked Paprika
  • 1/4 Cup Onion Powder
Ok, NOW you can finally take the ribs out of the pack!  Rinse them and pat them dry.  There's a membrane on the back side of the ribs and debates rage about whether to remove it or not.  I consider three facts when it comes to the membrane: 
  1. It will not break down during the cooking process.
  2. It tastes just like paper.
  3. It will inhibit smoke and heat from penetrating the back side of your rack of ribs.

It is for these reasons that I choose to remove the membrane.  Use a sharp filet knife to flick this membrane loose on one side or the other, and grab it with a paper-towel.  Now, pull!  Pitch it in the garbage or give it to the dog, but rest easy and smile, knowing that it's no longer on your menu!

Slather both sides of your ribs with your honey mustard.  Make sure you have enough for the dry-rub to stick to.  Once you have both sides coated, and your dry-rub mixed, you can shake on the rub!  Be generous!

Once your ribs are rubbed, wrap your rubbed ribs in a layer of plastic wrap.  I roll mine up on top of each other, as shown here.  Get them wrapped up nice and tight, and leave them to rest on the counter for about an hour!
Don't skip this step!  The rub and the mustard are getting to know each other and they're making a marinade together.  The salt is waking up the meat a little and it's all starting to come together at this point.  Shhh.... let them be.
Ok, once your cooker is up to temperature, and you have a nice thin line of blue smoke puffing out of your stack, it's time to lay out the ribs.  Lump charcoal burns a bit cleaner than traditional charcoal, and the bark of many hardwoods can burn off with a bitter white smoke that can taint your meat.  I like to use good clean, well seasoned, pecan or oak for my ribs, with the bark peeled off.
Lay your ribs out on the smoker, close the lid, and LEAVE THEM ALONE for two hours.  No peeking!  Have another beer, take off your apron, sit down in a comfortable chair, put your feet up, set a timer, and take it easy... two hours.  GO!
When two hours is up, it's time for a spritz!  Spray them down well with your bottle of apple/vinegar.  Now, close the lid to your smoker and leave alone for another hour. 
During this hour, pour about two cups of apple cider into the bottom of a foil half-pan.  When this third hour is up, transfer the ribs to the pan, spritz them again, and put the lid on, or wrap the pan tightly with foil.
Return the pan to the smoker, ribs, lid, and all, for two hours.  Keep the temp at a steady 225.  Have another beer, things will get exciting soon...
After these last two hours are up, you should definitely see the rib bones starting to peek out!  Take the ribs out of the pan and lay them back onto the rack in your smoker.  Brush a nice layer of your honey-chipotle bbq sauce all over them and leave them in the smoker for a final (6th) hour.  During this hour, the sauce should "set" to a nice glaze.
At the end of this last hour, you should have some shiny sparkling amazing looking ribs!  It's all over but the slicin' !!
Slide the racks onto a cutting board and draw a sharp knife keenly, between the bones.  Delish!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Smoked Pheasant (Bacon Wrapped)

Pheasants are only one letter away from being a true working-class bird (Pheasant -> Peasant... get it?  See what I did there?).  Honestly, pheasants do work for a living.  They're wild, they typically eat swamp grass, seeds, and buds, and they don't have any fat on them, whatsoever.  They are a beautiful bird, however, and they do present quite a challenge to hunters so; many a home-cook has been presented with a clutch of these birds to "cook for the family meal." 

Since plucking the bird is rather time consuming, most hunters simply peel the skin off.  As the cook,  you're presented with a skinless, super-lean, fairly small bird, and you're expected to turn it into a moist and delicious "Family Dinner" masterpiece?  That's a challenge!

You Will Need:

  • 2 whole pheasants
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 8 cups water
  • 3 cups maple syrup
  • 8 whole strips of bacon, cut in half 

We'll start this process by brining the birds.  Brining is easy, but finding space in your refrigerator for a huge bucket of soaking birds is not.  So... Start by dissolving the salt, sugar, and syrup in the water, and then pour half of the liquid, each, into a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  Add one whole, skinned pheasant to the bag, squeeze all of the air out, and zip it up!

Now, empty out your vegetable crisper drawer (who needs vegetables, anyway?), and drop the bagged and brining birds into the drawer.  Why?  Because if one of those bags springs a leak, you don't want birdy brine juice leaking all over your fridge!  I did 6 pheasants at once, and this method worked very well for me.

Walk away, and leave the birds in there to soak for 24 hours.  This should tenderize and season the pheasants, and give their skinless bodies a fighting chance while they're in the smoker (or oven).

Once 24 hours has gone by, take the birds out and pat them dry.  Rub them down with olive oil and lay them out on a nice cutting board so you can wrap them with bacon!  Bacon will add fat, flavor, and moisture to these bare-muscled birds.

Wrap them however you like, as long as you achieve maximum coverage of the bare muscle with some good fatty bacon!  My method uses 8 1/2-slices of bacon, and it covers the legs, thighs, and breasts of the bird.  Get them all wrapped and then sprinkle some BBQ seasoning on the outside, if you like.

Preheat your smoker (or oven) to 250 degrees, and line up the birds.  Caution, when these birds hit the 160 degree mark, they're done!  Every second after that means time spent drying out so... use a probe and pull those birds as soon as they touch 160.  It took mine just 3 hours to get there.

In my case, the hunter who successfully nabbed these birds told me, "The best way to enjoy pheasant is with a cocktail in your hand, as you leisurely pick the meat from the bones and eat it."  I won't argue with the "cocktail" part of his method, but I'm not really a "picker" when it comes to birds.  I'd prefer to cut them into their respective parts... legs, breasts, etc.  So that's what I did.

They were quite flavorful, I must say.  The brine did its job... they were a little bit "chewier" than chicken (for example), but I don't think I could have tenderized them any further, without stewing or braising them, and I really wanted to try cooking them in the pit.  I'm anxious to hear your opinions!  My wife ate it... and she's picky!  So; I consider it a "thumbs up" success!