Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sunday #13: Fiiiiish

A couple of weeks ago me and my friends (they live on the Internet - it's where the best people live) were talking about street tacos.

Mmm. Time to head back to Oregon.

I got so excited that I made a version of them the next day. I made pico de gallo and tomatillo salsa too. I made a ridiculous amount and ended up taking it to work so I wouldn't die a bloated salsa related death.

Everyone like it. They were even telling me the next day how great it was and had that "you made that" surprised look on their face. While it was nice to hear how great I was, what I really wanted was more salsa. I'm a glutton.
So later when  the Internet started talking about fish tacos I thought those would be the perfect thing to make for Sunday Dinner. Well, it was as good an excuse as any to make more salsas.

I used cod for the filling. The Internet told me that maybe tuna or mahi mahi would be good, but those were expensive at the Safeway and also frozen and hiding in plastic.

Which reminds me, I really need to find a decent fish monger. I used to go to Johnny's in Lakewood but they developed the nasty habit of breaking down their cases about before it was time to close (one time they still had an hour and a half to close.) It's possible that's just how they roll, and maybe they would have been happy to get me something out of the back if I'd told them what I wanted. Well, maybe not since the only one of the 3 that even bothered to look at me was suggesting, with her face, that I was ruining her whole life. So screw them.

So yes, cod. I "marinated" it in olive oil and lime, along with a little chili powder and garlic salt. There was hardly enough to coat all the fish so I don't know that what I did qualifies as a marinade. This is what I get for not using a recipe.

I don't cook fish very often so it's one of those things that I'm paranoid about under cooking. In my mind I was going to cook the fish in such a way that the chunks were still intact. Wrong. They flaked all over the place and kinda got mushy.

The last time the pieces were whole:
And then I turned them some more and poked them.
And then I pried all the layers apart making
sure it was cooked through.

So that's fish. Who cares about fish!

I made an avocado lime sauce.
1 whole avocado
blob of sour cream
smaller blob of mayo
clove or so of garlic
lime squeeze.

Smoosh it all up and taste a bit here and there, adding in flavor as you see fit. I don't know what else I added. Maybe some vinegar? Maybe not. I don't remember.

I put this all into a zip lock bag so it didn't get gross, the way avocado does.
It's all about presentation.

Hmmm, what else?

Green sauce:

I roasted about two pounds of tomatillos and a few Serrano peppers. You do this by washing them all well and then putting them under the broiler. I go for the second slot from the top because when you put them right under it things start to explode.
The tomatillos took about twice as long as the peppers. The instructions I've read didn't tell me to, but I cored the tomatillos because they felt pretty knobby. The Serrano I peeled because the skin felt like it would be icky. I also seeded them be slicing down one side of the pepper and then scraping everything out. Then I washed my hands really good.

It didn't matter. My stupid ass still smeared the same hand that had been peeling and seeding peppers against more than one mucus membrane. I'm a winner like that.

After those items cool I dumped them and any of their juices into the blender along with half of a finely chopped onion. Once that looked smooth enough it all went into a bowl with a big cereal spoon scoop of chopped garlic, some lime juice, some cider vinegar and enough cilantro to choke a mule. You might want to use less, I really like cilantro.

I may have done other things to this, I can't really remember. Garlic salt? Maybe! I certainly have no handle on how much lime juice (one fresh lime definitely, but no idea how much squeezy plastic lime I used) or cider vinegar I used. I just kept adding it a tablespoon or so at a time until it tasted right.

This plan isn't the best though, because the flavors build in your mouth the more you eat. Also, the flavors develop over time, so what you taste during preparation isn't what you'll end up with after it chills in the refrigerator for a while. I think this might be the sort of thing I'll be tweaking throughout my lifetime.

By the time I have old-people tongue it'll be all salt and vinegar.

I want to mention here that a lot of the recipes I looked over talked about adding water or chicken stock. I didn't do either, but I could see how the chicken stock would be a flavor enhancer in this situation. It's something I'll consider if I make this for cooking pork in or something, but since I mostly planned on shoveling it in with chips it helped that I kept it thicker.

Moving on.

My Pico de Gallo was pretty basic. The roma tomatoes at the Safeway were looking okay. I cored and quartered them and then scraped out there insides into a mesh colander that was set over a bowl. Once I'd done that with 8-10 of them I cut each quarter into thirds and then diced those up fairly small. The tomatoes went into the bowl and then I stirred the colander slurry around with the back of a spoon, getting all of the tasty tomato I could into the bowl, but leaving the seeds behind.

To this I added 3/4 of a red onion. Well, probably less than that because what I actually put in there was three quarters of a red onion that I'd had to peel a couple of moldy layers off of. These are important things for you to know.

Garlic - 5/6 cloves? Sure!

A couple serrano peppers - you could also use jalepenos (or any pepper you like, really) but the ones at the store were ugly.

And then I put in some cilantro.

How much?


How much is enough?


Though Mark disagreed with this. I feel sorry for him that he doesn't properly love and enjoy cilantro as much as he should. He said about half as much would have been good. I did use an entire bunch in there, minus the stems, so I guess he could have been right(See what I did there? I'm considering his feelings on the subject. I'm a good wife, yes I am!)  even though he wasn't (ahh well, couldn't keep it up forever.)

I added avocado chunks to the green sauce too. I think it tastes good enough on it's own, but the avocado added a creaminess that helped with the building heat from the peppers. Also, it's just tasty.

This all went on the table. I served it with shredded cabbage, lime wedges, sour cream, and some chips to shovel in extra salsa.

Mark made fish-sticks for Max because he's an enabler too!

Let me say something about the idea of fish tacos.
For a long the only place I saw selling them was Taco Time. It was just a big piece of fried fish folded inside a tortilla. They sound gross. I really don't get the point of wrapping a fried piece of fish in a tortilla. Just eat the fish and whatever other fillings with a fork.

But then I started seeing fresher looking versions with non-battered fish. I warmed to the idea. They are throwing a lot of flavors into a tortilla and calling it a wrap, not a taco. I felt the same way about this "fish taco" idea - it'd be more like a wrap. 

Anyway, maybe it was just the cod, but I won't make anything like this again. This meal was just sorta meh. Skirt steak would have made it all better.  Skirt steak makes lots of things better. Not everything - it's not bacon - but lots of things. Things like these tacos.

I guess that's all I have to say about that. Oh, I meant to enjoy left over salsa today, but while I've been slaving in the virtual file mines Mark was hogging down the last of the corn chips. Bastard.

At least Max is wearing pants?
He was also pleased that there were no vegetables we could reasonably expect him to try since they were all wrapped up in the salsas.

Hey look! He managed to find a shirt for his close up:

He wants you all to know that he very much enjoyed the fish sticks that DAD made for him. Careful Maxwell, next time I'll have DAD deep fry a carrot.

So there ya go, fish dinner.

There was no dessert.

Well, at least not for the children.

HAHAHAHAHA. In your face, Max!

Okay, so I was gonna make an apple crisp because we wanted an excuse to buy a decent vanilla ice-cream. But by the time Sunday rolled around I'd forgotten about it. When the day was practically over Mark reminded me in a very "but you saaaaaaaid you were gonna make apple crisp!" kind of way.

So I half-assed it. It's what I do.

Two peeled apples, cut into small chunks.
Sugar - preferably brown, but I was out so I used white.
Walnuts (or pecans, if you have them, those would be better)

Pan goes on medium, butter goes into pan, butter gets bubble, apples go into pan.

Shove the apples around until you're bored (and also until they've juiced up a bit) and then dump on some sugar and cinnamon.

I think the addition of some old fashioned oats would have helped, but Mark didn't think so. Would have made it a little more like a crisp at least.

Once the sugar gets good and caramelly you splash in a little vanilla, stir, and then dump it over ice-cream.

Like so:

It was really good and the kids didn't even get out of bed to complain about being cheated out of it.

So there.

Sunday #12: Fried Chicken

Let's just get this out of the way:

I set my stove on fire.

If you look under that back burner you can see the flames.

So anyway

Sunday # 12: The Menu

Fried Chicken (I did it Alton Style)
Bacon Balsamic Asparagus
Whipped Red Potatoes
Buttermilk Biscuits

Fried Chicken: 
Alton tells you to cut up a fryer/boiler chicken and drown it in buttermilk for a few hours or a day or something. Whatever, I only read the recipe once.

I didn't want to buy a whole chicken just to take it apart. Plus, they had a package of bone-in chicken breasts with a 30% off sticker on it at the Safeway. I bought that and drowned it in buttermilk.

That's a lot of wasted buttermilk.
What I poured off I saved for
biscuits. I'm a 'waste not
want not' type of girl.

So, after the buttermilk waller the chicken is supposed to drain, except that never really happens. The buttermilk just stays stuck on. This is, apparently, one of the fantastic things about the buttermilk soak because it makes a foundation for the coating. 

So then I sprinkled it with Alton Shake and then dredged it in flour.

Before I got started on handling the chicken I put a pot full of red potatoes to boil on the back burner, and had a castiron pan with an inch or so of Canola oil heating on the burner in front of it. Alton says to use crisco, but I didn't have any. Eff you Alton! 

So anyway, the breasts were so large (how large were they!) I was only able to cook two at a time in my 14 inch castiron skillet. I set the burner behind my chicken pan on fire when oil sloshed out as I added the second piece of chicken.

I kept expecting it to go out, but it just got larger. I was getting ready to take a picture when it occurred to me that I should MOVE THE GIANT PAN FULL OF OIL AWAY FROM THE FIRE. As seen above, I did take pics once everything was safe. You can see the pan of chicken (rapidly losing heat) on the burner behind the blackened pot.

Once the fire alert was over and I got the oil temp back up (thanks the awesome retention process of the castiron, it didn't cool down too much) I started timing the chicken. Alton's directions said to cook these 10-12 minutes per side. I did that and then some given the size of the chicken.

Looks good, right? Yeah, we'll get to that.
It took over an hour to get all of the chicken cooked since I had five pieces and could only cook two at a time. The oil got so gross by the end that the last piece looked like this:


Let's move on.

I scrubbed down some red potatoes and, as mentioned before, set them in a pot to boil. Once they were falling apart I drained them and smooshed them up with the smoosher. Then I added a stick of butter, milk and a blob of sour cream before taking the electric mixer to them.

That's all there is to say about potatoes. I didn't take any pictures because by then I was concentrating on burning the shit out of that last piece of chicken.

Bacon Balsamic Asparagus:
I've made this asparagus so many times. It's one of my favorite ways to have it and has made an asparagus fan out of Mark (next: making him love brussel sprouts.)

I started by cooking 3 pieces of bacon in my skillet. Once those were crisp I moved them to drain on a paper towel and added in prepped asparagus (prepping consisted of rinsing and chopping off the woody ends.) I tossed the spears until they were coated in the grease and then covered until they were a little soft. The asparagus was especially thin and whippy, so that didn't take very long.

Once the asparagus was done I splashed in some balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of lemon. When that was heated through I turned the spears out onto a plate and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan and the crumbled bacon.

I know I've made this same dish before, but as vegetables go it's one of my favorites. Besides, since I never make things exactly the same, this is like a whole new dish!

No pics!

I don't even remember what I did for this beyond adding mayonnaise, cider vinegar, lemon and celery seed to a bag of shredded cabbage. I didn't like it, Mark didn't like it. It sat in the fridge until I decided to toss it. The really sad thing is that as I was dumping it I could smell it and it smelled really good!

No pics!

While I was cooking Mark was out doing something important. I told him to pick up some brown gravy packets because we were going to go all out and be just like KFC. I guess could have had milk gravy, but that goes with breakfast sausage. I don't like sullying it up good breakfast gravy with dinner flavors.

Mark failed and brought home turkey gravy. Gross.

No pics!

Buttermilk Biscuits:
So, if you were paying attention during the chicken part of this you'll remember that I said I'd save the buttermilk that the chicken soaked in.

Seriously? Who would do that? That'd be like saving the dredging flour that you used for the chicken to make biscuits too.

Which I did. Really, any risk of food borne illness is gone once you bake things, so it's not as gross as it sounds.

Mmmm, buttery biscuits.

Oh calm down, I didn't even make biscuits. I was going to (though not with gross chicken bloodied buttermilk.  Hahaha, did you see your face? You were all "what! gross!" neeeeeener) but things got stupid what with the fire and all, and I didn't remember until we were setting the table. Ah well.

How was it?

It looks pretty good, right?

But look closer. Look at the hoarkin size of that chicken. I put it all on the table for pretty picture time, but the plan was for each of use to share one, and save the rest for lunches and what have you.

I forked one, and started to cut the breast away from the bone. 

It was raw. Not just a little raw either, like - completely still cool and raw in the about an inch down. Even the one that was completely blackened was still raw.


So I moved it all from the table and got the meat cut away from the bone. All four pieces were added to the asparagus skillet and we sat there, eating potatoes and what-have-you until they were cooked through.

It was pretty good after that.

If I had to do it over again I suppose I would use a smaller bird. The directions were to use a 5-6 lb chicken but I have no idea what size a chicken the monstrosity these came from were. They were probably crippled chickens scuffling around in their own litter (that's poo to you) due to the size of their giant breasts. And really,  that's how we like them.

I don't even know that getting the broiler chicken that Alton rambles on about would have helped. It still would have had giant boobs and not much in the way of tasty thighs and legs because we that's how the factory grows them.

I could buy a free-ranged nonfreak bird but it runs about double the price. That I could handle, but it's also out of my way to buy free-range chicken because the accessible grocers in the little Walmartified corner of my world don't tend to carry that sort of stuff. Even my Safeway has stopped carrying whole chickens for their Open Nature line, and the quality of those birds was questionable to begin with.

But you know who'd be willing to deliver one along with a box full of organic fruit and veggies?

So that's something I may need to consider adding sometime soon, maybe there will be a taste test!
Better than that though, I need to find a butcher that I'm comfortable with. I keep researching,but I worry that everyone is lying to me to get me to buy their product. Surely someone out in my area has to be telling the truth.


Anyway, that was dinner. It would have been awesome, except for it wasn't.

No, Simon, thumbs down.

Next week: Not nearly as much talk about large breasts

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday #11: The Away Game

Sunday number 11 was hosted at Mark's mother's house. She was making corned beef and cabbage because that's how we feign tradition in these here parts.

A facebook friend posted some article that ended up getting a reply from an "IRISH Irish" friend that basically said "corned beef, wtf?" This prompted me to take a gander at what all the hubub was for having corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's Day.

According to Wikipedia - and who knows more than Wiki!? Not you, so don't even question it! - corned beef was something the English grew in Ireland but hogged up for themselves while the Irish subsisted on potatoes. Corned beef didn't become so popular with the Irish until they came to the America's and said "Wow! Corned beef be cheap here!" and proceeded to favor it over pork because it was perceived as being so darned fancy.  

So yes, corned beef is really more of an Irish American thing, and from there it's really just an American thing because way too many Americans fancy themselves as Irish than actually are (though not quite as many who seem to think their great great grandmother was some sort of Indian Princess. )

So we borrowed us some faked-out culture and ate us some faked-out traditional food. That's about as American as you can get!

Oh - and I brought those glazed beets and carrots. I was going to at least take some pictures of that process but the camera was all "batteries, waah" so that didn't happen.

Anyway, here're the final result of Mark's mother's meal preparation plus the beets.

There was also Macaroni and Cheese. I bet that's because we're part Italian.

Eh, that's enough nagging on my culture for borrowing culture. Heh.

Oh wait, no it's not!

See, I like eating different foods from different places, or trying my hand at preparing things in different ways that vary from how I was brought up. It just bugs me when people try to apply some sort of sacred traditional reason for doing whatever they do at a particular time and place. There's nothing wrong with doing something because you want to give it a try or because you really happen to like the flavor you get when mixing cinnamon in your red meat (weirdos) but it's not because your great-great second-cousin's aunt from her grandmother's first marriage was Moroccan.  

So when I pop off about stuff like us feigning tradition, that's all I'm talking about. That's not what Cheryl (Mark's mom) was actually doing. She was serving it because it's cheap this time of year and tasty, that's all. And she doesn't claim it's for any other reason either.

The Review:

I happen to like corned beef, but even more than that I like the veggies you float in the beefy salt water. We didn't have much of this because the potatoes were boiled separately and the cabbage and carrots were semi-steamed in an electric skillet with a little bit of pot dripplings thrown in.

I'm not sure what Cheryl did beyond cooking the beef forever, but it turned out really well. The 2-3 times I've made it myself it's always turned out poorly. Either it's too tough, no matter how thin I slice it (I think because I pulled it too soon?) or I screw it up in other profoundly awful ways.

One time - we lived in the duplex next to a crazy lady so that'd make it 6-7 years ago - I made my second ever Corned beef and Cabbage. I was going to do so much better than that time before when it had turned out sort of tough.

Once I decided the beef was cooked enough I put in the potatoes and carrots and a half an hour or so later I put in the cabbage. Anyone who's worked with cabbage knows it doesn't take that long to cook. I was going to give it ten minutes.

I never time anything because I can count to ten, dammit. This is why I end up burning shit to death or making charred cookie pucks.

Naturally, I fell asleep on the couch after I put the cabbage in. When I woke up it smelled like we were under a chemical attack. I'm gagging a little now just thinking about it. Man.

So, given my prior experience with this dish, and even without being boiled in salty goodness, Cheryl's dinner was nothing but win.  

My beets and carrots were okay, but not as good as I'd hoped. I choose to believe it was because I used end-of-winter root veggies that had been in storage for months, and not because I'm not awesome. They were good enough that Cheryl kept a couple cups worth for her own lunches, so there's that at least.

No thumbs up, no vegetable contemplating scowl - these are kids on good behavior. Max ate mostly mac&cheese and had about a squared centimeter of corned beef. He wanted to spit it out, said it was too salty. I don't understand how a kid with such a strong love for processed food couldn't take it. He did not eat any vegetables. Even grandma knows not to even try.

Simon had some of everything and even choked down some beets.

It was a pretty good dinner and, best of all, neither me or Mark had dishes to do. Woohoo!

On the way home we got ice cream. Probably because of a little weight-centric post-dinner discussion we had. We'll show you, parental figure!

It wasn't that great. 

Next week (which happens to be tonight) we're doing Fried Chicken. Hooray for fried!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have science to do.