Friday, February 25, 2011

Portuguese Garbanzo and Chorizo Soup







     This Portuguese style soup is one of the best tasting bean soups that there is!  The flavor of the chorizo sausage is thoroughly infused in the broth and beans.  Dried or canned garbanzo beans can be used to make this soup.  Canned garbanzo beans still need quite a bit of simmering time to make them soft enough to become part of the broth.  The longer this soup simmers, the thicker the broth gets.
     This same soup is made in Spain.  There are many sausage and garbanzo soup versions in Spain and  Portugal.   I learned this soup a long time ago while working at a Florida bayside Swiss restaurant.  The chef was from Switzerland and the owner was from Portugal.  The owner of the restaurant was quite good at cooking traditional food from his home country.  When we ran this soup as a soup du jour, the owner cooked this soup.  The Swiss chef would laugh and say that he could not cook this soup any better than the owner could.  I watched this soup being cooked a few times and remembered how simply the soup was made.  Some soups do not require any special techniques.
      I later served this fine soup in cafes and pubs.  Customers love this soup!  One taste of this mildly spiced garbanzo bean soup and you will see why!
    
     Portuguese Garbanzo and Chorizo Soup Recipe:
     This recipe makes 1 large serving or 2 small servings!
     Simmer 10 ounces of cooked dried garbanzo beans or canned garbanzo beans in water over low heat, till they just start to become very tender.
     Drain off half of the water.
     Add enough pork broth to cover the beans with 2" of extra liquid.
     Add 2 tablespoons of chopped smoked bacon.  (The smoked bacon acts as a fat and it does not need to be cooked first.)
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Cover the pot.
     Continue to simmer the soup till the beans become very tender.
     Mash at least half of the garbanzo beans in the pot with a potato masher.
     Add 1/3 cup of diced carrot.
     Add 1/4 cup of diced celery.
     Add 1/3 cup of diced onion.
     Add 1/3 cup of diced bell pepper.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Cover the pot and continue to simmer the soup, till the vegetables become tender.
     Add 1 peeled and seeded diced plum tomato.
     Add 4 to 6 ounces of thick sliced cooked chorizo sausage.
     Add 2 pinches of thyme.
     Add 2 pinches of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of paprika.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Gently simmer the soup, till the flavors meld and till the crushed garbanzo beans become smooth and till they thicken the broth.
     Stir the soup occasionally.
     Add 1/2 of a minced green onion.
     Simmer for 5 more minutes.
     Remove the bay leaf.
     Ladle the soup into a bowl.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley sprig.
    
     The aroma of this soup is warm and comforting!  The herbs, spices and vegetables add a very nice flavor to the garbanzo beans.  The spicy chorizo sausage is perfectly suited for the flavor of the garbanzo beans.  This is a great chilly weather soup!  Yum!  ...  Shawna  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Algerian Kefta with Harissa Chickpeas







No shortage of great flavor here!
  
     Algerian and North African cuisine shares many Arabic cuisine influences.  Algerian Kefta is nearly the same as Arabic Kafta or Armenian Kufta.  India and several nearby places call these meatballs kofta or kofte.  There are many different spellings and variations of kefta in Persian, Farci and Hebrew languages.
     Many kafta recipes are made with the meatball mixture pressed onto a wooden skewer.  Some kafta recipes are formed into some very exotic looking shapes.  Lamb or beef is usually the choice for making kefta.  The meat mixture can be very plain or very spicy.  Rice or bulgar wheat is sometimes added to the meat mixture.
     The kaftah spice mixture can be bought pre-made at a Persian or Arabic market.  I like the pre-made kaftah spice mix because it has the correct proportions of spices.  By purchasing the individual spices to make kefta spice mix, a person can end up paying ten times as much for an equal volume of kefta spice mix.  The same can be said about za'atar spice mix.  Spices that are bought at an Arabic market are always very fresh and that include pre-mixed blends.
     Harissa is a very popular North African mild paprika pepper paste that is not difficult to make.  The mixture can be dark brick red in color or bright orangish red.  Harissa can be made from fresh paprika peppers, roasted peppers and or dried ground peppers.  Harissa can be made with a combination of these peppers.  Many older Bedouin recipes do not use caned or pre-made harissa.  Cans of harissa are added weight for the back of a camel.  To avoid the straw that broke the camel's back, dried ground paprika peppers were carried instead.  Many North African chefs still prefer harissa that is made with dried ground peppers, like the one in this recipe.
     Hummus is the word for chickpeas or garbanzo beans as well as a casual reference to many different kinds of beans and lentils.  I originally used the word hummus instead of chickpeas in this recipe title, but everybody in the western world thinks of hummus being a smooth bean dip.  I ended up changing the name of this recipe to avoid confusion.
  
     Dried Pepper Harissa Recipe:
     This recipe makes enough harissa for 3 or 4 servings!
     Place these spices in a mixing bowl:
     - 2 tablespoons of Spanish paprika
     - 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
     - 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
     - 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
     - 1/2 teaspoon of coriander
     - 1/2 teaspoon of ground caraway seed.
     Mix the spices together.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add just a little bit of olive at a time, while stirring, till a medium thick paste is formed.  About 2 to 3 tablespoons is plenty.
     This olive oil harissa paste can be kept in a refrigerator for several months.
  
     Kaftah Spice Mixture Recipe: 
      It is much cheaper to buy kaftah spice mix pre-made and it is a very accurate spice mixture.  My kaftah spice mix recipe is very basic.  Kafta spice mix can have many more spices in the recipe.
     Here is the basic proportions for a kaftah spice mix:
     - 2 parts cinnamon
     - 1 part allspice
     - 1 part cumin
     - 1 part coriander
     - 1 part mild red chile powder
     - 1/2 part black pepper.
     A small portion of finely ground toasted sesame seed is optional.
     Sea salt is sometimes added, but the salt is traditionally used as a separate seasoning and it is not part of a kaftah spice mix.
     Simply mix the dry kaftah spice mix ingredients together.
  
     Harissa Chickpeas:  
     Place 1/2 cup of cooked chickpeas or rinsed canned chickpeas in a sauce pot.
     Add just enough water to cover the chickpeas.
     Add 1 tablespoon of dried pepper harissa paste.
     Simmer the chickpea mixture over medium heat till the liquid is reduced to a thin red sauce.
     Keep the harissa chickpeas warm over very low heat.
  
     Algerian Kefta Recipe:
     Place 6 ounces of ground lamb or ground beef in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 finely minced garlic clove.
     Add some very finely minced onion.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely minced onion.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of very finely chopped mint leaves.
     Add 1 tablespoon of the keftah spice mixture.
     Add sea salt.
     Mix the ingredients thoroughly together.
     Divide the meat mixture into 3 equal sized meatball portions.
     Wet your hands with water before rolling the meatballs.
     Roll each meat portion, by hand, into a smooth round meatball shape.
     Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Place the meatballs in the hot pan.
     Pan fry the meatballs, till they become fully cooked and till they become browned.
  
     Algerian Kefta with Harissa Chickpeas:
     Spoon the harissa chickpeas into a shallow serving bowl or casserole dish.
     Set the meatballs on the harissa hummus.
     Garnish with a parsley sprig.
     Serve with some Arabic breads of your choice on the side.
  
     Delicious, aromatic and so very nicely seasoned!  The contrasting flavors in this entree are very exotic and very complex.  The flavor of the chickpeas and harissa is so nice with the interesting flavor of the kefta.  Algerian kefta are some of the best tasting meatballs that there is!  Yummy!  ...  Shawna  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Huitres Gratinee au Champignon Creme








     My best days of restaurant cooking were spent in small formal French cafes and small French restaurants.  I liked cooking classic French food!  It seems that today, most of the American top chef French food is far removed from the old classic French cuisine.  There is such a thing as being too uncomfortable and too eccentric when cooking cutting edge French cuisine.  "Hit or miss" overpriced French fusion recipes can leave customers in dismay.  Especially during an economic depression.
     The recent movement in cutting edge fusion French cuisine has been over priced tapas style portions and pre fixe menus of trendy, but uncomfortable menu items that do not satisfy customers needs.  The reaction most of the French tapas food gets is comments like "It was a nice plate of food, but I would not return to order that item again."  Hit or miss!
     Why not fall back on the affordable, well crafted, French food that made French cuisine so famous?  That tactic worked for a few other chefs and myself at a great AAA 5 Diamond rated resort's 3 Star Michelin rated French Restaurant during the economic recession after the events of 9/11/2001.  The executive sous chef fired the fusion cuisine chef, because the restaurant was losing money everyday.  The sous chef was a Greenbriar chef and he took over as the chef de cuisine of the French restaurant.  The menu was changed to classic and modern French comfort food with a few American wild game entrees.  The portion size of each entree was also changed from petite artistic size portions to standard old time classic portion size.
     After the menu changes were made, the French restaurant broke all sales records by serving traditional French comfort food with a modern presentation style.  The menu prices were not cheap either.  The average entree price was $120.  Our success came from giving people what they wanted to eat and by offering food that was easily recognized.  The French restaurant grossed between $45,000 and $98,000 per night during that recession!  A portion of the income was from our extensive wine list.  We served great comfortable classic French food and customers returned to our restaurant to have the comfort food again and again!  The restaurant ended up being rated as the 7th best out of 35,000 restaurants in that state.  That was far better than being rated in the bottom of the top 100, like the previous chef's food was.
     Oysters gratinee is a classic French comfort recipe.  It can be baked plain or with a mornay sauce.  I have seen oysters gratinee baked with a mushroom cream in the past.  I liked the mushroom sauce version of oysters gratinee.  Huitres Gratinee is a very comfortable classic French appetizer.
  
     Huitres Gratinee au Champignon Recipe:
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 ounce of unsalted butter.
     Add 2 teaspoons of finely chopped shallot.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Saute till the shallots turn clear in color.
     Add 1 thin sliced shiitake mushroom.
     Add 4 thin sliced button cave mushrooms.
     Saute till the mushrooms become tender.
     Add 4 large shucked oysters.  (Reserve the oyster liquor.)
     Saute till the oysters become half way cooked.
     Remove the oysters from the sauce and set them in a small casserole dish.
     Add a very light sprinkle of flour, while gently stirring, to absorb the excess butter in the pan and to form a simple pan roux.
     Add the reserved oyster liquor.
     Add 1/4 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 1/2 cup of fumet.  (White fish stock)
     Add 1 ounce of Pernod.  (optional)
     Stir the sauce.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of thyme.
     Add 2 pinches of tarragon.
     Add 1 cup of cream.
     Stir the sauce.
     Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a medium thin consistency.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Spoon the mushroom slices between the oysters in the casserole dish.
     Pour the sauce over the oysters.
     Sprinkle a little bit of finely grated parmesan cheese over the oysters and sauce.
     Sprinkle a little bit of plain fine French bread crumbs over the oysters and sauce.
     Sprinkle a little bit of finely chopped parsley over the casserole.
     Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.
     Bake the casserole in a 375º oven.
     When the sauce starts bubbling and some light brown highlights appear on the oysters, then the casserole is finished baking.  (About 7-10 minutes.)
     Set the casserole dish on a serving plate.
  
     Simple and delicious!  The oysters and mushrooms are well matched with the thyme and tarragon flavors of the light cream sauce.  Only a little bit of cheese and bread crumbs are required for oysters gratinee.  The oysters do not have to be smothered in cheese!  The cheese is only used like a seasoning.  This is a very nice French oyster appetizer that is elegant and easy to prepare.  Yum!  ...  Shawna      

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Philadelphia's Texas Tommy







     If you are into health food, then just skip over this recipe!  The Texas Tommy is a Philadelphia hot dog specialty.  A Texas Tommy is a cheddar cheese stuffed all beef Vienna style thick hot dog that is bacon wrapped.  A Texas Tommy can be deep fried or baked.  The bacon must be lightly blanched before wrapping the hot dog.
     I was working as an expeditor and garde manger cook at a very popular Philadelphia restaurant and night club the first time that I was asked to prepare Texas Tommys for the evening sandwich special.  I asked the chef, "What is a Texas Tommy?"  He couldn't believe that I did not know what it was.  I was not a Philadelphia native, so I had never heard of a Texas Tommy before.
     I made about 50 Texas Tommys a night, till the Texas Tommy was no longer popular with our clientele.  The Texas Tommy was a good selling sandwich special for a few weeks.  Texas Tommys appealed to the late night crowd at the night club that was located on the first floor of the restaurant building.  The late night bar crowd liked eating snack food while drinking and dancing.
     We were located just outside the city of Philadelphia at the end of the Schuylkill Expressway.  Our clientele consisted of famous Philadelphia professional athletes, local customers and downtown businessmen who were fooling around with their secretaries.  It was a strange mix of people that dined and danced at that restaurant and club.
     The chef wrote a dinner menu that featured many heavily bastardized classic entrees.  The Philadelphia clientele that we had could care less about gourmet food.  They just wanted a lot of food on the plate to be happy.  Average quality food that was served in big portions seemed to be the theme of Philadelphia food back in those days.  Our customers could care less if food was healthy or not.  They just wanted a lot of food on the plate.  I was payed well to cook some very mediocre food at that restaurant.
     I earned a week of paid vacation and I went to Florida.  I came back to find out that I had been laid off from work!  I asked the manager "Why was I laid off when we were so busy?"  I still laugh when looking back on what the manager said.  He told me that the restaurant owner's 25 year old delinquent son, was just let out of prison and the owner wanted to put him to work.  That hit me like a lead brick!
     I talked to one of the cooks a few months after I was laid off about how things were going at the restaurant.  He said the restaurant was falling apart!  The owner's ex con son had no cooking experience and served a lot of bad food to customers.  Word got around that they were serving bad food.  The chef "blew a fuse" while yelling at the owner's delinquent son one night and got fired after the son complained to his dad.  Its funny how a few bad decisions can turn a successful restaurant into a catastrophe.  A year later, that restaurant went out of business.  The gossip of bad food at a restaurant travels fast.  Bad word of mouth travels thirty times faster than good word of mouth in the restaurant industry.  A bad food reputation is a "sure fire" way to go out of business.
     I soon left Philadelphia to start my chef's apprenticeship in Florida.  I did run Texas Tommy hot dogs as a successful lunch special at a few Florida French Cafes.  There is something about a bacon wrapped cheese stuffed hot dog that makes customers forget about maintaining a healthy diet.  Even the French chefs liked the Texas Tommy.  The Texas Tommy is a sinfully delicious temptation!
  
     Texas Tommy Recipe:
     Heat a saute pan over medium low heat.
     Place 3 or 4 strips of smoked bacon in the pan.
     Slowly render some of the grease out of the bacon and only blanch the bacon.  Do not cook the bacon crispy!  The bacon should still be "white" with no brown color.
     Set the blanched bacon aside.
     Cut a slit from almost end to end on a thick all beef Vienna style hot dog.
     Cut some cheddar cheese to a size that can be stuffed into the slit on the hot dog.  (Refer to the picture above.)
     Place 1 strip of bacon lengthwise over the cheese stuffing.
     Wrap 1 strip of bacon around one end of the hot dog and fasten it with toothpicks to keep it in place.  It may take 2 to 3 strips of blanched bacon to completely wrap the hot dog.  Overlap the bacon as you wrap the hot dog.  Use as many toothpicks as necessary to hold the bacon strips in place.
     Note:  It is very important to be sure that the bacon completely covers the cheese stuffing and that the bacon is wrapped tightly around the hot dog or all the cheese will leak out, when the hot dog is cooked.
     Place the hot dog on a baking pan.  Try to set the Texas Tommy on the pan so the side with the cheese stuffing faces upward.
     Bake the Texas Tommy in a 350º oven till the bacon becomes crispy and it is fully cooked.
     Warm 1 hot dog bun in the oven.
     Remove the Texas Tommy from the oven.
     Hold the Texas Tommy with a dry towel and Carefully pull out all of the toothpicks.
     Mix equal parts of mustard and sweet pickle relish together in a bowl.  (Mustard relish is popular in Philadelphia.  Dijon mustard adds a nice touch!)
     Spread the mustard relish on the hot dog bun.
     Place the Texas Tommy on the bun.
     Set the Texas Tommy on a plate.
     Garnish with pickles and a parsley sprig.
  
     Delicious!  This is the original authentic way to make a Texas Tommy.  Most modern Philadelphia restaurants have bastardized the Texas Tommy recipe and they simply put bacon strips on a hot dog bun with the hot dog.  Then they pour warm cheese wiz over the hot dog.  That is not a good Texas Tommy!
     Bacon wrapped and cheese stuffed is the original recipe.  I am sure that you can imagine what this hot dog tastes like.  It is the warm melted cheese in the middle of the Texas Tommy that makes this hot dog so appealing.  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spinaci e Tre Formaggi Manicotti








     These manicotti are made the old fashioned way with crespelli instead of pre-made manicotti pasta shell.  Cannelloni is made with pasta and not crepelli.  A classic tre formaggi is used in this recipe.  The spinach should be wilted by dipping in boiling water and not olive oil.  Oily spinach would ruin the texture of the 3 cheese mixture.
     An award winning NY Italian chef from Sicily showed me how to make the tre formaggi for manicotti.  The cheese mixture should never be seasoned with salt or pepper.  Those seasonings would ruin the delicate flavor and texture of the cheese.  Only fresh chopped parsley or fresh chopped basil is added.  For spinach manicotti, chopped wilted spinach is added instead.
     You can bake the manicotti in a large casserole dish and serve the manicotti in the same casserole dish.  This is the best way to cook and serve manicotti.
     The method that I used for this recipe is to bake the manicotti till they are almost fully cooked, then the manicotti were transferred to a serving plate.  The manicotti were then topped with sauce and cheese.  The manicotti finishes baking on the serving plate.  It is very easy for disasters to happen, when transferring manicotti to a plate.  Things like a manicotti splitting open or the cheese filling falling out.  If you do use this method, then carefully slide the manicotti from the flat baking pan onto the plate that the manicotti will be finished baking on.  Never try to pick the manicotti up with a short spatula!   Use an extra long spatula.
  
     Salsa di Pomodoro Recipe:  
     This recipe makes about 4 or 5 portions of sauce!
     Heat a pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add about 5 to 6 ounces of olive oil.  (The olive oil proportion should be about 1/10 of the volume of the tomatoes.) 
     Add 8 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
     Add 1/2 cup of finely minced onion.
     Saute till the onions turn clear in color, but do not let the onions brown.
     Add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.
     Add a 28 ounce can of good quality imported Italian crushed plum tomatoes.
     Place a 28 ounce can of imported whole Italian plum tomatoes or San Marzano tomatoes that are packed in their own juices into a mixing bowl.  
     Hand squeeze and crush the tomatoes, till no big chunks remain.
     Add the hand squeezed tomatoes and juices to the pot.  
     Add 4 pinches of oregano.
     Add sea salt and ground black pepper.
     Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh basil.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced Italian parsley.  
     Add 1 cup of Italian dry red wine.  
     Heat the sauce and stir, till it starts to gently boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Leave the pot uncovered.  (Never cover a pot of Italian tomato sauce with a lid, or the sauce will become stewed tomatoes!)  
     Slowly simmer the sauce and stir the sauce once every 5-7 minutes for 4 hours.  
     The sauce should be simmering gently and there should be very little bubbling on the surface.  Scrape the sides of the inside of the pot back into the sauce too.  That stuff is full of flavor!  
     After 4 hours, the flavors will meld and the tomato sauce will become a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.  The excess tomato juices should be reduced into the sauce at this point.  The olive oil should be well combined with the tomatoes, because the sauce was stirred often.
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat or reheat the sauce to order.
     Note:  For a very smooth salsa di pomodoro, allow the sauce to cool, then run the sauce through a hand turned food mill into a container.  Some people like a smooth Italian tomato sauce! 
   
     Crespelli Recipe:
     This recipe makes several cespelli!
     Place 2 eggs in a mixing bowl.
     Add 5 ounces of milk.
     Add enough flour while whisking to form a thin crepe batter.  The batter should evenly coat the back of a spoon.
     Add sea salt.
     Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil while whisking.  (No sugar and no butter is needed!  For manicotti the crespelli should not taste sweet.)
     Heat a non-stick saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Brush the pan with olive oil.
     Pour enough crespelli batter into the pan, to make a thin crepe.  (About 1 1/2 to 2 ounces.)
     Tilt the pan to even the edges of the crepe.
     Flip the crepe.  (Do not brown the crepes for manicotti.  The crepelli should look like a pale pasta color.
     Set the crespelli aside on a counter top.
  
     Tre Formaggi:
     This recipe is enough for about 4 manicotti!  Never add salt or pepper to tre formaggi or the delicate "sweet" flavor of the cheese will be lost! 
     Place 15 ounces of ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl.
     Add 3 ounces of finely grated parmesan cheese.
     Add 5 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian parsley.
     Add 1 whisked egg.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Chill the tre formaggi mixture in a refrigerator.  
  
     Spinach:
     Heat 1/2 cup of water in a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of baby spinach leaves.
     Stir the spinach till it wilts.
     Use tongs to place the wilted spinach on a cutting board.
     Use a dry towel to blot any excess water off of the spinach.
     Finely chop the wilted spinach.
     Add the chopped spinach into the quattro formaggi mixture.
  
     Spinaci e Quattro Formaggi Manicotti Recipe:
     Place 2 crespelli side by side on a counter top.
     Place equal amounts of the spinach cheese mixture across the middle of the crepelli.  (About 4 to 5 ounces of cheese mixture per manicotti.)
     Roll the crepelli into a tube shape.
     You can use either a casserole dish or baking pan to bake the manicotti.
     Brush a baking pan with olive oil.
     Place a small amount of the tomato sauce on the baking pan.
     Place the manicotti on top of the tomato sauce with the seam of the crespelli shells facing down.
     Trim the ends of the manicotti with a knife, so they are even.
     Bake the manicotti in a 350º oven, till the cheese mixture just starts to puff up and become firm.  (Do not let the manicotti turn brown!)
     Remove the pan from the oven.
     Slide and transfer the manicotti onto a serving plate.  (If you used a casserole dish, then just leave the manicotti in the casserole dish.)
     Spoon a generous amount of the tomato sauce over the middle of the manicotti.
     Sprinkle some grated mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese over the tomato sauce.
     Return the manicotti to the 350º oven.
     Bake until the cheese melts.  (Do not let the cheese brown!  Burnt cheese has a very bitter flavor.)
     Remove the manicotti from the oven.
     Let the manicotti cool for 2 minutes before serving.
     Sprinkle some finely chopped Italian parsley on the manicotti.
  
     Deliciously Italian!  Manicotti is one of the most popular classic Italian baked pasta entrees.  The spinach flavor combines with the cheese flavors in a very nice way.  The classic salsa pomodoro is the best sauce for manicotti.  Marinara is a good manicotti sauce, but the extra oil will separate.  This is a nice baked pasta to share with guests.  Yum!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna    

Saturday, February 5, 2011

BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Peppers






This is a busy restaurant cook's "eat while standing on the feet" style sandwich!
  
     I once worked in a very busy barbecue restaurant for one year.  I was only in it for the money at that time.  All of the cooks got 80 to 105 hours per week at that BBQ restaurant.  The restaurant paid us overtime rate for anything over 40 hours per week and double time for hours over 80 per week.  I was making nearly $60,000 a year by just cooking barbecue.  For BBQ cooking, that was good money.  If you think that sounds great, then think again!
     We had a 2 hour waiting line of customers that started at 10:00AM in the morning and the waiting line lasted till almost 10:00PM at night.  We also cooked for the BBQ catering trucks, BBQ delivery and the BBQ to-go business at the restaurant.  That BBQ restaurant was a gold mine!  We smoked beef, pork, chicken and ribs 24 hours a day.  We did much of the kitchen prep work in the midnight hours.  This sounds like a great BBQ restaurant for a money making cook to work in.  
     Now the flip side of the story!  The restaurant was located in south Florida by the Everglades.  The kitchen had no air conditioning.  Florida humidity ranges between 85% to 97% indoors during the summertime.  Florida summer temperatures range between 88º and 105º.  The BBQ restaurant kitchen was filled with smoke and heat from open flame gas grills, char grills, ovens, a huge open pit with a chimney and smoke from the gigantic wood burning meat smokers.  The temperature was 125º to 140º degrees on the main cooking line.  Uscooks had to drink a pitcher of water once every 30 minutes or we would pass out from heat exhaustion!
     With that much humidity in the air, the human body's sweat never evaporates and the body never cools down.  It was like cooking in a very hot smokey sauna!  Actually, it was more like cooking BBQ in hell!  All of us cooks developed incredible stamina and none of us had any body fat after working in those conditions.  
     Honestly, the restaurant should have been closed down for many health code and employee workplace violations.  We never had a restaurant inspector enter the building in that BBQ restaurant.  The Florida restaurant inspection system was very corrupt at that time.  You might say that the old saying "The best health code inspection system that money can buy" applied to this restaurant.  That business kept on serving tons of BBQ everyday and the working conditions were slaving in hell.  
     The cooks were limited to what they could eat as employees.  There was nothing but BBQ to chose from.  Some of us started getting creative with what we had.  That was when one of the cooks made this BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  When asked how I wanted mine to be cooked,  I responded by saying "I want my grilled cheese and BBQ pork sandwich with grilled bell peppers!"  We never sold this grilled sandwich to the customers in the dining room.  It was a very nice sandwich that a cook created for the other cooks in the restaurant kitchen!  
     The house BBQ sauce was a Chicago style sweet BBQ sauce.  The chopped pork was made from the leftover slow smoked pork shoulder meat scraps.  Smoked pork shoulder is hard to duplicate in a home kitchen, so I made this recipe blog version with roasted boneless country style rib meat.  Country style ribs are an American cut of pork shoulder from just ahead of the rib cage.  Country style ribs have very little fat and the meat shreds very easily after smoking or roasting.  That is the perfect cut of pork for a BBQ pork sandwich!  
  
     Chicago Style Sweet BBQ Sauce:
     This recipe makes about 3/4 cup of sweet Chicago style BBQ sauce!  The proportions of the ingredients do change slightly for making larger batches of this sauce!  Small adjustments must be made, so tasting is important.  Start small, before you go big, when it comes to making a BBQ sauce for the first time.  There is nothing worse than having a large amount of BBQ sauce in the refrigerator that you may not like.  I personally do not like sweet Chicago style BBQ sauces, but I make them the way they are supposed to taste.  That is called BBQ integrity!
     Heat 1 cup of water over medium low heat in a sauce pot.
     Add 1/3 cup of brown sugar.
     Add 3 ounces of rice vinegar.
     Add 1 teaspoon of worcestershire sauce.  
     When the sauce starts to gently simmer, taste it with a spoon.  It should taste sweet with a tiny amount of tangy flavor for the finish.  (Adjust the flavor if necessary)
     This is just the thin base of the sauce!  
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.  
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of dijon mustard.
     Add 1/3 cup of tomato puree.
     Add 1/4 cup of ketchup.
     Add 1 teaspoon of garlic powder.
     Add 1 tablespoon of onion powder.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of ancho chili powder.
     Add 1 teaspoon of cumin.
     Add 2 teaspoons of coriander.
     Add 3 tablespoons of paprika.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  (Do not add too much cayenne.  This is supposed to be a sweet BBQ sauce.)
     Add a little bit of sea salt and black pepper.  
     Simmer and reduce the sauce gently over low heat, till it becomes a medium thin BBQ sauce consistency.  The sauce should be a rich looking rusty brown color with a slightly reddish tint.  The sauce should easily coat the back of a spoon.  The sauce should be sweet, with no hot chile flavor and a minimum of tangy flavor.  
     Set the sauce aside. 
   
     Sandwich Style BBQ Pork:
     This recipe makes enough pork for 2 sandwiches!
     Roasted pork or slow smoked pork scraps are good for this recipe.
     If no roasted pork scraps are available, then very slow roast 10 ounces of boneless pork country ribs in a 275º oven.
     Baste the meat occasionally with this mixture:
     - 1 ounce of the Chicago style sweet BBQ sauce
     - 5 ounces of water
     When the pork becomes fully cooked, remove it from the oven and let it cool.
     Shred small chunks of the roasted pork by hand.
     Coarsely chop the shredded pork meat.  
     Place the chopped shredded pork into a small sauce pot.
     Add just enough of the Chicago Style BBQ sauce to minimally coat the pork with sauce.
     Place the pot over low heat.
     Stir the BBQ pork occasionally as it heats up to a serving temperature.
     Keep the BBQ pork warm over very low heat.  
  
     BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Peppers:
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 3 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 small handful of wide green bell pepper strips.
     Saute till the peppers become tender.
     Keep the grilled peppers warm on a stove top.  
     Brush 2 slices of bread with melted unsalted butter.
     Heat a griddle or saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Brush the hot pan with a little bit of unsalted butter.
     Place the bread slices in the pan.
     Place some thin sliced cheese on the bread.  (I used swiss cheese for the sandwich in the pictures.  Cheddar, muenster or provolone cheese are also good choices.)
     Grill the sandwich halves, till they become toasted golden brown and the cheese has melted.
     Set the two sandwich halves on a cutting board.
     Place about 4 ounces of the BBQ pork on one half of the sandwich.
     Place the grilled peppers on the other half sandwich.  
     Set the grilled pepper half of the sandwich on top of the BBQ half.
     Cut the sandwich in half.
     Place the sandwich on a plate.
     Garnish with parsley sprigs and pickles.  
  
     This sandwich really is a pleasure to eat.  The sweet Chicago style BBQ pork is such a comfortable flavor.  The melted cheese on the sandwich is such a simple pleasure.  The grilled bell peppers give this sandwich a nice flavor and a lighter feel.  This is a nice change from the typical standard BBQ pork on a hamburger bun style sandwich.
     Now for my take on Chicago style BBQ sauce!  I really do not like sweet BBQ sauces.  I am from the south and southerners like tangy and spicy flavors!  To me, Chicago style sweet BBQ sauce is just as appealing as mixing ketchup and grape jelly together and calling it BBQ sauce!
     The reason that the BBQ restaurant down by the Everglades chose Chicago style sweet  BBQ sauce, was because the clientele was mostly snowbirds from the midwest.  That BBQ restaurant sure did empty a lot of midwestern tourist wallets with that expensive sweet tasting BBQ!  Money is the name of the BBQ game!  Yum!  ...  Shawna                    

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rustic Finocchio and Spinach Torta








Florence fennel and spinach pie!

     Tortas are a very popular Italian entree.  Italian tortas can be very simple and rustic or they can be very fancy.  Many Americans and europeans enjoy simple rustic style food for a home cooked meal.  Rustic style food is not pretentious at all.  Rustic style food spells out simple old style comfort!
     There are many different recipes for making a torta crust.  Some are like a pate brisee and some are like a puff pastry dough.  I used some puff pastry dough to make a savory entree a few days ago and the puff pastry dough scraps were saved.  The puff pastry dough sheet was a quality pre-made frozen puff pastry dough that is stocked at common grocery stores.  Once puff pastry scraps are rolled out as a sheet for the second time, much of the original puffing ability of the pastry dough is lost.  "Flat" re-rolled puff pastry dough is perfect for making a torta crust!
  
     Rustic Puff Pastry Torta Shell:
     Lightly dust a counter top surface with flour.
     Gently press some puff pastry dough trimmings and scraps together.
     Use a rolling pin to roll the puff pastry dough into a thin pastry dough sheet that is about 11" in diameter.
     Brush a small 4 1/2" to 5" pop-ring mold lightly with melted unsalted butter.
     Place the pastry sheet over the pop-ring mold and gently press the pastry against the insides of the mold.
     Gently press any folds of dough flat and even.
     Drape the excess puff pastry dough over the outside of the ring mold.
     Run a rolling pin over the rim of the ring mold to trim off the excess pastry dough.
     Brush the top edge of the pie crust with egg wash.
     Pinch a thin strip of the excess puff pastry dough onto the top of the pie crust in the ring mold, to create a rustic looking crust.
     Score marks on the crust with a knife.
     Fill the pastry cup with dried beans, so the pastry dough stays in place while baking.
     Place the ring mold and pastry on a baking pan.
     Bake the pastry crust in a 375º, till it becomes firm and till it becomes a light golden color.  The pastry shell is only par baked and halfway cooked at this point.
     Let the pastry completely cool.
     Pour and scrape the dried beans out of the pastry shell.  Pop the ring mold and remove the pop-ring.
     Gently slide the pastry shell off of the ring mold base.
     Brush a piece of parchment paper with melted butter.
     Place the parchment paper on a baking pan.
     Place the par baked rustic torta pastry cup on the parchment paper.
     Set the pastry crust aside.
  
     Finocchio and Spinach Preparation:
     Cut 1 cup of small chopped fennel bulb.
     Heat a saute pan over medium low heat.
     Add 2 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced onion.
     Add the sliced fennel bulb.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Saute till the fennel bulb starts to become tender.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Simmer till the fennel becomes tender and till the liquid is almost evaporated.
     Add 1/2 cup of chopped baby spinach leaves.
     Saute the mixture, till the spinach becomes wilted.
     Set the mixture aside and let it cool.
  
     Rustic Finocchio and Spinach Torta:
     Place the fennel and spinach mixture into a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 egg.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream.
     Add 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese.
     Whisk the ingredients together the ingredients together.
     Pour the finocchio and spinach filling into the pastry shell, till it becomes full to the top.
     Place the torta in a 350º oven.
     Bake till the torta filling becomes fully cooked and firm.
     Note:  Stick a toothpick into the filling.  If the toothpick pulls out clean, then the filling is done baking.
     Use a spatula to place the rustic finocchio and spinach torta on a plate.
     No garnish is necessary.
  
     The delicate anise flavor of finocchio combines with the spinach to create a nice aroma and flavor.  This is a very light lunch style torta.  Yum!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna