Tuesday, March 31

Tacos at Taco Chulo

I helped my friend Damon move today. Now, as an incredibly sedentary individual, I can attest to the suckitude of such a task, coupled with the fact that Damon a) has the heaviest freakin' furniture of all mankind, and b) keeps moving into freakin' walkups. Seriously. I think that bookcase is made of granite.

But the evening did have a pleasant ending. Williamsburg has some tasty tacos in the form of Taco Chulo.

And so, beaten and bloody (I took a nasty spill carrying one of his ancient speakers up the stone porch), we settled into our seats. His brother and his brother's friend had already ordered up some guac and pico.

Tasty enough, but I'm a little guacced out from all the experimenting we've been doing at the homestead. Both dips were a little on the acidic side for me. And I mean citrus acidic, not tomato acidic.

But we weren't here for the guac, we were here for the tacos. Sure enough, they arrived with all the mouthwatering appeal of the tacos I had in Puerto Vallarta. None of this tex-mex crap piled with deli lettuce and overloaded with cheddar. Damon's monstrosity, some fish thing called the Juicy, was particularly impressive.

It came with two tortillas, so the taco was free to perform meiosis. My plate was a little more humble, consisting of two simple, non-fancily named tacos.

The first was their carne asada. Tasty, to be certain, but not spectacular. Nothing really popped. The chorizo, though... damn. It made me wish my other taco had been chorizo rather than carne asada. It also made me wish the bowls of guacamole and pico de gallo were replaced by bowls of chorizo. Something about this oily, spicy Mexican sausage reaffirms all that is good and beautiful in life.

Like any good taco, it left my hand a mess.

But hey, that's the mark of good finger food. Sorry about the terrible photo quality today, folks - the lighting in the place was particularly bad. Until next time!

Sunday, March 29

Chili Verde

Something unusual happened today. I walked into the Key Foods across the street, strolled into their produce section, and came across some fine-looking jalapenos. I know to some of you, that doesn't sound all that impressive. But considering that the average pepper that comes out of that train wreck of a supermarket looks like a Martian's scrotum, I was pretty excited. I picked up a bunch of them and scurried home, post-haste.

But what to do with these things? I rolled around ideas while snagging all the layabout vegetation I had stocked up. All together, they painted a pretty picture.

As I disassembled them, my thoughts turned to my buddy Paul, and how he had made a chicken chili earlier in the week. Now, I've made chili. I've made a lot of chili in my day. But for some reason, I had never gotten around to making a chicken chili. In fact, I didn't really know how to make a chicken chili. Luckily, the old chili principle still held - throw a bunch of stuff into a pot and let it simmer. The veggies went on the stovetop:

And I popped across the street once more to snag a can of beans and some chicken broth. The thought had occurred to use beer instead of broth, but I figured I'd play it a little closer to the book the first time around. Non-veggie team, assemble!

The rest of the process really wasn't that complicated. I spiced the vegetation, stirred in the broth, and let it simmer for half an hour while I diced and browned the chicken. Once the veggies were nice and soft, a run in the blender with a wad of parsley left me with a lovely, vibrantly green and just-thick-enough chili base.

Then came the stir-ins.



Back to the stove for another half an hour, just to get the flavors to meld, and the chili was ready to eat.

Mmm. A wad of shredded Muenster and a couple of tortilla chips. That's how chili is done. Chalk another recipe up for mental storage; this one's a keeper. Maybe next time, a box of corn should get thrown in there, too...

Thursday, March 26

Dad's Chicken and Potato Salad

If you've been keeping up with this blog at all, then you are aware of two things: chicken is on sale at the moment, and I have too much mayo in the fridge. "Self," I asked myself. "What can I do with a lot of chicken and a lot of mayo?"

The answer, of course, is to make that tasty deli standard, (insert stuff here) salad!

Today, the part of Stuff will be played by chicken and potatoes.

Whenever I make a creamy salad, be it potato, chicken, tuna, cactus, or Advil, I always start with my dad's basic recipe. It's a time-honored tradition, and it has stood the test of time for a good reason. It's delicious. It starts off with a 4:2:1:1 of mayo, relish, cider vinegar and mustard.

This, of course, is backed up by a diced red onion, salt, and pepper. Here's where I start deviating from my dad's recipe, though. I like a little zing in my salad, so I throw in a healthy amount of chipotle Tabasco backed up with a couple of spoonfuls of briny, punchy capers.

Now that we've got the dressing down, it's time we move on to the bulk of the salad. The potato is diced fine:

And then, for no other reason than I have a deep fryer and I can, deep fried. In your face, convention.

Mmm. Fried. It'll be the death of me someday.

Now, sometime in between chopping and frying the potatoes, I came to the realization that I had completely forgotten the celery. I wasn't surprised, mind you - I have a tendency to forget vital ingredients when I'm cooking. I've made a mac and cheese without the cheese. Lucky for me, salads like this are forgiving when it comes to timing.

As for the chicken, I can't leave well enough alone there, either. Last weekend, my roommate's friend brought by an inordinate amount of what we now affectionately call Clamweiser. Yes, that's beer and Clamato in one can. So thoughtful of Anheuser-Busch to combine them for us so that we, the consumers, would not have to think to put them together. Because those there are two great tastes that taste great together.

We sure as hell aren't going to drink it, so I might as well poach the chicken in it.

Anything after that is somewhat less than exciting. Once all the ingredients were cooked, cut up (the chicken turns pink, but I was so overjoyed that it had finally finished cooking that I forgot to take a picture), and folded together with a mess of fresh-chopped parsley, they came together in a tasty amalgam that looked a lot like this.

Actually, it looked exactly like that. Into the fridge for an hour or two for the flavors to really meld, and we are hot to trot.

For the record, poaching the chicken in Clamweiser didn't really do anything for the taste. But it was a good excuse to get rid of a can of that putrid stuff. As for frying the potatoes, it added a wonderful crunch to the salad back before it went into the fridge, but afterwards, there was little textural difference between them and boiled potatoes. Neat side effect, though - they don't fall apart and turn into mush like boiled potatoes do in this sort of recipe.

Well, this should feed me for at least four or five days. Time to get some bread and make some sammiches. Onward!

Wednesday, March 25

I Have Too Much Mayonnaise


I have too much mayonnaise in my fridge.

It's shocking, but it's true. There's four pounds of mayonnaise sitting in the door of my fridge, right next to the ginger ale.

What does four pounds of mayonnaise look like? I'm glad you asked.

Hmm. It's not really that impressive sitting on the counter by itself. We'll need some reference photos.

Here is four pounds of mayonnaise next to a bottle of Tabasco brand hot sauce.

This is four pounds of mayonnaise wearing one of my hats, to keep the kitchen lights out of its... uh, label.

This is four pounds of mayonnaise chilling out and playing Rock Band with the hamster.

"Okay," you may say. "Raoul, I'll grant that that's a fair amount of mayonnaise. I'll even say that it's a lot of mayonnaise. But can you really say that you have too much mayonnaise?"

Yes. I certainly can. And I'll tell you why. It's a little thing I call the Mailbox Test. If I have a condiment, and I can fit it in my mailbox, then I do not have too much of it. For example:

I do not have too much sweet relish.

I do not have too much teriyaki sauce.

I have too much mayonnaise.

There you have it, folks. Until next time.

Tuesday, March 24

Pi Parmesan Crackers

Hi! This is Bayani, Raoul's middle brother. If he ever mentions a Diko, that's me. I'm working up to Raoul's level of ingredient quality. My specialities are desserts, experiments, being a nerd, and being a packrat. Yes, they're actually all relevant to my cooking style. But let's start off by looking at something I'm tinkering with for a party.

A little background: I've got a friend who every year throws a pie party. People bring pie, both sweet and savory. And then there's me. I bring objects shaped like pi. As in the Greek letter, the one you keep seeing around circles. Year one, it was cookies. Year two, donuts. Year three, puff pastry. (As an aside, I went to Copper Gifts, and asked them to make me a custom pi cookie cutter. Turns out it's a stock shape.)

This year, I'm going with something different. I saw St. Alton making parmesan crisps. Basically, if you spread a little parmesan cheese on a silpat and bake it at 300 degrees for 6 minutes and let it cool, it becomes a little savory cracker. Immediately, I figure I can shape these things.

You can probably do this with any metal cookie cutter. Just set it down on a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and spray the inside of the cutter with some non-stick spray. Pack a little shredded parmesan in there, and try to push it into the corners. Grind on a little pepper or shake on some paprika, if you're feeling sassy. Slide it all into a 300 degree oven, and go do something else for 5-6 minutes.

When it comes out, it might stick to the sides of the cutter. Just poke them out and let them hang out on a cooling rack.

So there it is. A pi-shaped appetizer to make any geek proud. Even the ones who only know pi to seven places.

Monday, March 23

Nubbins, Part 2

Just a quick update here, folks. This is what happens when the aforementioned nubbins are fried in seasoned bread crumbs instead of flour:

Note the darker color to the crust. Bread crumbs should only be used on fried things that are going in the oil for a short amount of time, and preferably at a lower temperature. Bread burns faster than raw flour does.

In cases like these, the crust comes out a bit crunchier, a texture I quite enjoy. Really, at this point, it's a matter of preference.

Now, if you'll pardon me... (nom)


Being ass-end-up broke does funny things to your lifestyle. For one thing, you almost immediately shed your social life. You go days at a time without breathing fresh air. And your diet tends to be dictated entirely by what's on sale that week. For example:

Looks like I'm eating chicken! Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. My love of chicken is longstanding and passionate, and while I'm typically a legs-and-thighs kind of man, I'm not going to take breasts for granted when they're so amicably available.

Now, I'd like to take a minute here to discuss my love affair with fried food. I don't remember when it started. Perhaps I always have loved the fried. But when I started cooking on a regular basis, fried chicken became one of the fastest dishes I mastered.

And when I say mastered, I don't mean my fried chicken is the greatest fried chicken on the face of the planet. Fried chicken is like philosophy, or God. The more you learn about it, the more you realize you know nothing at all; when I say that I have mastered fried chicken, I mean that fried chicken has mastered me. Over the years, I have studied, practiced, and developed more techniques for frying chicken than I've had girlfriends.

Now, with that said, it really should come as no surprise that my first instinct was to fry these chicken breasts. To me, that means a buttermilk soak.

And so, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces and soaking in buttermilk and hot sauce (measurements be damned, I shoot for a lusty pink color), my three pounds of chicken breasts went into the fridge. Now, they say an eight hour buttermilk soak lets some crazy enzymatic reaction happen that tenderizes the chicken. I'm in no mood to disagree, but I have noticed that the difference is really only noticeable on relatively small pieces of chicken. Larger pieces benefit more from a brine, in my opinion, and that allows for a dry-wet-dry crusting procedure that lets me season them more comprehensively.

But I digress. It's dinnertime. The nice thing about having a tub of buttermilk-soaked chicken is that you can pick out and cook whatever amount you want. Ten little nubbins get the roll-around in flour...

...And three minutes in 375 degree oil.

It's important to remember to hit these guys with salt and pepper when they're still hot - the seasonings will actually stick to the crust as the oil drains away.

And that, my friends, is the best chicken nugget you'll ever put in your mouth. Golden-crispy on the outside, juicy and gummably tender on the inside. McDonald's can go f#@k itself.

So the next time you've got a craving for something you'd ordinarily shell out $6 for, make it your damn self. Fry on, ladies and gentlemen. Fry on.

Friday, March 13

The Weekender

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to call your attention to a series of exhibits. First of all, I'd like you to take a look at this:

That's what a 9.21 lb. pork shoulder looks like after braising for 10 hours in a slow cooker with onions, garlic, apple, rosemary, sage, thyme, and beer. Pretty tasty-looking, huh? Well, take a look at that very same pork shoulder after it's been pulled and tossed with a little bit of barbecue sauce and the drippings from its long, delicious braise.

Now, if I could call your attention away from the pork. Don't worry, we'll get back to it in due time. But for now, I'd like to show you these.

They're exactly what they look like, ladies and gentlemen. They are, in fact, hot dogs warmly embraced by two strips of bacon each. And as anyone knows, the best way to cook hot dogs wrapped in bacon is to deep-fry them.

Here, for instance, is an example of one of those bacon-wrapped hot dogs resting gently on a bun with mustard, relish, and chopped pickled jalapenos. Looks good enough to eat, doesn't it? But we're not done with it yet. Oh no. We are not.

We're going to take that pulled pork we prepared earlier. And we're going to put it on that bacon-wrapped hot dog. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: The Weekender.

Why The Weekender? Damned if I know. The concept of a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with pulled pork blew out enough fuses in my brain to keep me from coming up with a good name. It's my disgusting creation, I'm allowed to name it.

Soak it in, folks. I've got another bad idea involving hot dogs, but you'll just have to wait and see...

Sunday, March 8

Baked Ziti

Growing up, baked ziti was one of the recipes that my brothers and I picked up pretty quickly. The principle was simple - a jar of tomato sauce, some meat, whatever veggies are on hand, some ricotta mixed in. Mix it all up with a pound of ziti, pour it out into a baking dish, and top with mozzarella. Throw it into the oven and bake until the cheese melts and the pasta gets all bubbly. Mmm.

Of course, the important part of baked ziti is waiting for a few minutes to let the pasta cool down and set. Traditionally, I have a history of being the guy that just crams hot food into my mouth with no regard for temperature, but this was enough to dissuade me:

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for baked pasta dishes. They were the stuff of family dinners growing up; just thinking about it conjures up memories of everyone shuffling into the kitchen, grabbing a bowlful of the stuff and sitting down to eat, chattering and laughing as we ate. So it was only appropriate this weekend, hanging out with Kuya and Angela, Paul and Andy and Tatay, all of us sitting around the kitchen table, laughing and goofing off with big ol' bowls of ziti.

You see that? That's what a bowl of family looks like.

Cheers, guys. Until next time.