Jul 31, 2012

In The Test Kitchen

There was no new episode this week as I am pike pole high into testing recipes for both an upcoming cooking competition (Good Eatin' Great Cause) and for future FHC episodes (many potential avenues to wander down as I have heirloom tomatoes, ears of corn, puff pastry and smoked salmon having found a home in my refrigerator). My kitchen has never looked so overwhelmed before. And it didn't help that my wife came home from the Buford Highway Farmer's Market with all sorts of fun products (we had a fun day with the family trying all sorts of exotic fruits: Rambutan, Mangosteen, Korean Melon, Mamey, Cherimoyas, Longan, Quenepa, June Plums, Cacus Pear, and Xoconostle). Between this and Your Dekalb Farmer's Market, there is no shortage of places to shop in the metro Atlanta area for the rarified ingredient. If you live in Atlanta, do yourself a favor and take your next day off and visit either one as you can easily lose 2-3 hours while soaking in all the amazing products.

On a side note, after many a request, I have plans to return to the home kitchen for filming of a future recipe or two so look for that. It will be fun to come home as it allows me a more leisurely pace (no calls) and comfort. Stay Hungry, My Friends!

Jul 24, 2012

Black Beans (Frijoles Negros)


Beans and rice are the classic side that supports many an enchilada, taco and/or quesadilla on most Mexican/Latin plates. South of the border, they are generally served very plain so as not to draw attention from the star of the meal and as, well, an inexpensive filler. This is not the rule but often the standard for feeding the uninitiated Americans Mexican cuisine. But let’s not use that as an excuse not to liven them up. These “side” dishes have many bold flavors to contend with and in turn should be bolstered with enough backbone to stand up to them (or stand on their own if the moment calls for it).

You’ll find many of the same ingredients that you’ve used to strengthen your main star of the meal can be utilized in this particular recipe.  Is it considered redundant when repeating flavors? Yes and no (there exists an argument for everything). Yes, a running theme should connect all things on the plate but they shouldn’t be so overbearing as to be the only thing you taste. Sometimes, as with this recipe, the theme of subtle heat, acid and spiciness associated with repeating flavors can support Mexican cuisine. However, sometimes the theme may be a play on opposites: hot versus cold, spicy versus sweet, acidic versus dull. Or they may be a play on a certain ingredient (chipotle, avocado, honey, etc.) but in different forms, temperatures, textures, etc. The point being, don’t be afraid to have fun with any theme nor feel chained to it. Consistency and balance are the only end goal no matter the theme and how you got there. So use your imagination and be creative.

This recipe should invoke a willingness to break through the borders (pun intended) that many have unwittingly been corralled by through ignorance of Mexican cuisine. Though I don’t protest to be an expert on the flavors of Mexico, I do feel I have enough culinary experience to know I don’t just want the regular fillers. 

*Note that in the video, I wanted a more refried bean consistency (to match the Enchiladas Verdes) so I smashed a few more beans then most would want to. Be mindful when making this recipe for the first time about how many beans you smash open as some of the beans from the can will already be open and lend their starch whether you wanted them to or not. Or simply drain the water entirely and serve them as is. 



Frijoles Negros (Black Beans) - The classic side (along with rice) to many an enchilada, taco and quesadilla, is standard fair on most Mexican/Latin plates. In this rendition, we build a black bean recipe to stand up to the bold flaovrs of our beloved Mexican cuisine or all on its own. In this episode we discuss starch and sugar, carry over heat and the HULK!

Formats available: MPEG-4 Video (.m4v)


Fuel

Black Beans (2 cans rinsed)
Onion (medium diced)
Jalapeno (minced)
Garlic (2 cloves minced)
Cilantro (1/4 Cup chopped)
Chipotle Sauce (2 Tbs.)
Lime Juice (2-3 Tbs.)
EVOO (1-2 Tbs.)
Pepper and Salt to taste

Tools

Medium Pot
Spatula or Wooden Spoon
Colander

Tactics

Place the pot over medium heat and add the EVOO. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup of water and stir. Allow the water to heat for a minute then slowly smash a select few beans to release their starch thus thickening the water, perhaps just a Tbs. worth. Add the jalapeno and chipotle and mix to combine. Allow the beans to heat completely through, another 3-5 minutes, and then remove from the heat. Add the cilantro and lime juice, season with pepper and salt and serve immediately. Indulge. 

Jul 21, 2012

Adventures in Catering

With an upcoming cooking competition (Great Eatin' Great Cause) and a recent catering venture, it's been fun to see where one's love for food can take them. Never did I imagine when I got talked into sharing my passion for food by my fellow firefighting brethren that I'd be doing what I am doing today. iTunes, YouTube, The Tasty Awards and now competitions and catering, what's next?

With that all said, some have asked how my first catering venture went. It has now been a few weeks removed from the event and I look back on it fondly but at the time, I was a lot of work. The event took place at a local church that was hosting a BBQ lunch for 200 people to honor our Veterans (current and past). The church had approached a local chef about catering the event with BBQ but at the last moment for unknown reasons, he had to cancel (with a only a week's notice before the event). My wife, upon hearing the discouraging news, volunteered me to her friend as a stand in for the event. I was admittedly apprehensive as I had never catered anything before, no less an event for 200 people. But how can you say no to such a worthy event?

Thankfully, they only asked that I prepare a BBQ protein (preferable Pork) and a BBQ sauce if I could. All the other side dishes and condiments would be provided by the church members. That relived me considerably as visions of cole slaw, potato salad and various desserts melted away. I now only had to focus on providing one course with a condiment. And here in the south, when someone asks for BBQ Pork, they undoubtedly mean Pulled Pork.

With a specific menu item chosen, the next task was how much pork to order for 200 people? After consulting the all mighty Google, I came up with a formula and had my wife pick up 80 lbs. of Pork Shoulder from my beloved Costco (as well as other ingredients for my homemade BBQ sauce). Recipe in my head, my only issue was time. As this catering request came only a week before the event (which also blew up any chance to smoke the pork), I was scheduled to work the evening before which meant that I had to transport, prep, cook and clean all in the wee hours before the event.

Arriving at the church at 1:30 am the day of the event (straight after work no less), I arrived to find a substantially sized kitchen awaiting me with all the kitchen space that is needed to prepare food for 200+ people. Dual ovens, 6 burner stove top and even a industrial size grill top. I realized that the bulk of the cooking could take place without my presence, so I set about prepping the pork shoulder. Removing the excess fat and sinew then slicing the pork into workable sizes suitable for browning was a chore when dealing with 80 lbs. This was the bulk of the nights work for me but I knew that the devil is in the details when it comes to cooking. Next I went about preparing a spice rub and applying it to all the cut pork (it was a tremendous amount). Thankfully this facility had the grill top or I'd still be browning the pork. Caramelizing the pork was a necessary step (at least to me) for producing a rich, complex pork flavor but roughy 75 lbs. of pork was daunting (I lost about 5 lbs. during the butchering). I am still sweating standing over that grill top (my compliments to anyone who has ever worked over one of those before) but am I ever thankful it was there. Lastly, I placed all the browned pork into some aluminum baking sheets and barely fit them into the pre-heated ovens to cook for the next 6 hours. Fingers crossed that it would be enough time before they had to be pulled out by 10:30 that morning to be eaten.

Next came the BBQ sauce. I knew I had to produce a BBQ sauce that would be universally liked by all. Not to spicy, tangy, or sweet but right down the middle. But I wanted it to stand out and be memorable. So I turned to a firehouse favorite, Balsamic Vinegar Barbecue Sauce. It hits all the right notes while having that distinct flavor people love but can't put their finger on why. Also challenging was making enough BBQ sauce for 200 people. How much to make? The short answer, as much as I could. Satisfied with my sauce and watching the clock tick around the 4:30 am mark, I set about cleaning up my mess. Another hour later, I stumbled out of the kitchen confident that I have made a solid product and set up the church for hopefully, a successful event.

I have to give credit where it is due. Though my wife happily (and quickly) volunteered my name for the event I had no experience in doing, she put her money where her mouth is and catered the event and the BBQ that I had made. Her, along with my two children, came in early that day and shredded the pork (she said it was beautiful looking and shredded perfectly), dispensed the BBQ sauce into squeeze bottles and then served the entirety of the event all the while praising her absent (exhausted and sleeping) husband to anyone that would ask. She reported that the pork was hands down the star of the event and that the BBQ sauce especially was commented on repeatedly (there was none left and bottles were fought over).

Quick side story on the BBQ sauce... While catering, an elderly gentlemen visited with my wife to inquire about the pork and especially the sauce. He was a retired firefighter and a semi-professional BBQ contestant who travels around the south entering BBQ contests with a team of barbecue enthusiasts. He could not stop raving about the sauce I made, repeatedly returning to my wife to comment on the sauce explaining that I need to seriously consider entering that recipe into some contests and that I had a future in the BBQ world, and this and that. I was funny but very flattering.

All in all, I look back on my first catering event with pride and satisfaction that when push came to shove, I was able to come through and produce what I believed was a very successful event. With the help of my family (I am nothing without you) we came together and provided when there was a need. Now I know that I can cater (even large events) and successfully. Perhaps this will be the first step to catering more events on the future. But for now, I'll still be asking, what's next?

BTW, if you made it this far in the post, live in the local Atlanta area and are interested in letting The Fire House Chef cater an event for you, contact me via the link below and we can discuss it.

thefirehousechef@gmail.com


Jul 16, 2012

Peach Cobbler


Stone fruits make their debut in the summer and here in Georgia, they couldn't come soon enough. Here in the Peach State, they are fashioned into many a delicious concoction, from pies to tarts, highlighting their natural sweetness, but nothing sings to me like the cobbler.

Relying on noting but the fruit’s naturally sweet, juicy goodness, the peach is the backbone of this dessert. In fact, all the other ingredients are all staple items, which makes for an inexpensive delight. The cobbler though, calls my name because of the buttery topping. Oatmeal, nuts and other crunchy ingredients are often added to provide that texture needed to balance all that smooth, luscious fruit. But I turn to a not so often used ingredient to do the trick, Panko Bread Crumbs. They hold up rather well to all the moisture, retaining their structure and giving the dessert that much needed crunch. Trust me...

Being a home grown Californian, taking on the famed Peach in the state that made it famous may be a fool’s errand but I am not scared (the crew will eat it none the less). But I believe I’m not setting and you up for failure. I mean, how can you fail with a fruit that makes you want to sing? 



Peach Cobbler - Georgia's crowning jewel, is universally loved for it's tart skin and sweet, juicy flesh. Thinking of a way to capture that and deliver it in a compact, inexpensive way to the local firehouse brought me to the cobbler. In this episode we discuss crumbs, flying debris and gummy bears. Stay Hungry, My Friends!


Formats available: MPEG-4 Video (.m4v)



Fuel

Peaches (Cubed, 4-5 or 1 per person)
AP Flour (½ cup)
Panko Breadcrumbs (½ cup or more...)
Unsalted Butter (Cold and Cubed, 3 Tbs.)
Corn Starch (3 Tbs.)
Lemon Juice (1 Tbs.)
Cinnamon (1 tsp.)
Sugar (3 Tbs.)
Vanilla (1 tsp)
Salt (pinch)

Tools

Ramekins (4-5 or 1 per person)
*Alternately, 9” x 9” baking dish will work
Bowls (various)
Whisk

Tactics

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Place the peaches, sugar (1 Tbs.), corn starch (1 Tbs.), lemon juice and vanilla into a bowl and mix to combine. In the other bowl, add the flour, remaining corn starch, remaining sugar, Panko breadcrumbs, cinnamon, salt and butter and using hands, mix till the ingredients resemble wet sand. Place the peaches equally into the ramekins and then top with the crumble (generously!). Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble is slightly browned. Allow to cool, 10-15 minutes, then top with a scoop of vanilla. Indulge!


Jul 7, 2012

Enchiladas Verdes with Chicken


When frequenting many a Mexican restaurant as a youth growing up in Southern California, it was a given that my Dad would peruse their offerings, lock on their rendition of Enchilada and promptly close the menu. It was like the sun rising from the east, it was a given. Was it boring on his part not to venture out and try new things? Yes. Could I argue with his seemingly pedestrian decision though? No. How could I when Enchiladas have ensconced themselves as one of Mexican cuisine’s pillars along the likes of the taco, burrito and quesadilla?

Enchiladas have been well established as a Firehouse staple routinely getting a night dedicated all to themselves. Inexpensive, non-arduous and satisfying with all it’s loaded cheese and spicy sauces; this former Mexican street food has won the hearts and minds of everyone. But experiencing them through the years at many a firehouse, I’ve found that often they are made with canned sauces, overcooked chicken breast and little to no spice.

So in this incarnation of the Firehouse Enchilada, I have decided to make Enchiladas Verdes. I choose this version as I have already covered how to make a version of tomatillo sauce (Verde/Green sauce) Salsa (and included another version down below), it is one of the recognized authentic Mexican versions (I mean, they even have a Swiss adaptation now, Enchiladas Suizas) and I avoid frying the tortillas. Not to worry though, there is plenty of flavor from the cheddar and cream cheese, sour cream, chipotles, etc…

A few notes, I purchased a Costco rotisserie chicken to save time and stripped it of all its meat for inclusion into this recipe. I love the combination of both light and dark meat, all the advantages it offers and it is the perfect amount of chicken. Also, I decided to use flour tortillas here if only due to the fact that larger sized corn tortillas (over 8”) are difficult to find at most grocery stores but would be preferred if available (or just make your own Chips and Tortillas). Lastly, I went with ½ Cup of the enchilada mixture to fill the tortillas. That is designed for large hungry men and women. Reduce by half for most (especially children who will love these).  Indulge!



Let me take you to the rich, luscious world of the Enchilada. Topped with many a sauce, filled with many an ingredient, this Mexican tradition has found a home in many a firehouse and now your's. In this episode we discuss the color Verde, freezing block cheese and that female firefighters are hungry too.


Formats available: MPEG-4 Video (.m4v)



Fuel

Enchiladas

Chicken (2 Cups of pre-cooked equal parts light and dark meat chopped or shredded)
Cheddar Cheese (1 Cup grated)
Light Cream Cheese (8 ounce package at room temperature)
Sour Cream (16 ounce container)
Red Onion (1 Medium diced)
Green Onion (4-5 thinly sliced)
Garlic (2 Cloves minced)
Chipotles in Adobo Sauce (3-4+ Tbs.)
Ground Cumin (1-2 Tbs.)
Flour Tortillas (10 8”-Diameter)
Cilantro (1 Bunch chopped)
Pepper and Salt to taste

Fresh Tomatillo (Verde) Sauce

Tomatillos (8-10 small sized ones, rinsed)
Onion (Yellow or White cut into 8ths)
Jalapeno (1)
Garlic (2 cloves)
Cilantro (½ a Bunch chopped)
Lime (1 Juiced)
Vegetable Oil (2 Tbs.)
Pepper and Salt


Tools

9’ x 13’ x 2’ Baking Dish
*Baking dish of a smaller scale (7” x 7” is what we had) *for those that didn’t fit.
Baking Sheet
Blender
Various Bowls
Whisk
Spatula


Tactics

Enchiladas

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F°. In a large bowl, add 1 cup (8 ounces) of the sour cream and the Chipotles with Adobo sauce and whisk to combine. Add the red onion, garlic, chicken, cumin, cilantro (½ if the bunch), cheddar cheese (½ Cup) and pepper and salt to taste. Mix to combine and reserve for later.

Meanwhile, place a small layer of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Lay out one of the tortillas on a flat surface, divide the cream cheese by 1/10th and using a spoon, smear it liberally across the tortilla to create a equal layer. Then add roughly ½ cup of the enchilada mixture onto the tortilla and carefully roll the tortilla and place seam side down into the prepared baking dish. Repeat until the baking dish is full (about 7 at ½ a cup, more with the reduced portions). Repeat the same procedure with the remaining ingredients and place in the other prepared baking dish. Spoon the tomatillo sauce over to lather all of the exposed tortilla (in between them as well) and reserve the rest for later tableside serving. Cover both baking dishes with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven discard the foil, sprinkle the tops of the enchiladas with the remaining cheddar cheese and heat for an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese had melted. Allow the dinners to plate with any additional tomatillo sauce, sour cream, *pickled radishes, *sliced avocado and cilantro (*Optional but recommended).


Fresh Tomatillo (Verde) Sauce

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place the tomatillos, jalapeno and onion on the baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes (rotate pan at the 15 minute mark). Remove and allow it to cool. Place the tomatillos, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic and lime juice into the blender and blend to combine. With the blender running, slowly add the vegetable oil, pepper and salt. Carefully and slowly add water if too thick for your liking. Reserve. 


Jul 3, 2012

4th of July



From my family to yours, we wish you a very Happy 4th of July! I wanted very much to put out a special episode for this weekend but as the holidays come around, so does the call volume at the firehouse. Alas, I was too busy to show you the perfect holiday grilling recipe so I'm gonna save it for Labor Day. But I have included below some great recipes that will be a sure fire hit for everything from the cul-de-sac party to the firehouse get-together. I have given you both American and Latin cuisines to choose from. Not enough, click on the link above for FHC Episodes to explore my entire library of archived recipes:

American Cuisine

Backyard Burgers

Smoked Brisket

Steak Fries

Chicken Pesto Panini

Strawberry Cream Puffs


Latin Cuisine

Chips and Tortillas

Salsa

Avocado

Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salad

Lemon Churros


The holidays also make me give pause and reflect on all I have to be thankful for and your support in this adventure called The Fire House Chef has been overwhelming. I discover new people everyday who share my love for food and respect it's power to bring people together. So to all you who have been there for me since the beginning, thank you! To all the people who have only recently discovered this "culinary tool", welcome! Your love of food and family (and hopefully the Fire Service) has found a home here. And to all my Firefighting Brethren, stay low, stay safe, and above all else, stay hungry!

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