Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cheetos Challenge Comments Answered

There were so many questions and inquiring comments on the Pewter Chef Cheetos Challenge that I decided to make a post just to answer them.

  • Was it delicious?

Yes the food turned our very good. I would say from a standpoint of integrating the key ingredient that the fish was clearly the top dish. The chicken was very good but I think I could have put in even more Cheetos into the butter (who knew they would melt when baked?). The Count and Contessa liked the salad but I was unhappy that the Cheetos fell to the bottom of the bowl. I would have mixed the salad and the dressing first then added the Cheetos croutons if I were to do it again.

  • The Count doing a better job than Gaius Derf

Well it would have been hard not to have. But if it weren't for the Contessa constantly reminding him it would have been about the same. As I said, I blame Wife for being so distracting to the designated photographers.

  • Use of egg wash

The egg wash (eggs beat with a little cream, milk, or water) is one of the three elements to the classic breading technique. The flour is the first step. You lightly powder the item to be breaded in flour. Then you dip it into the egg dip. This creates a kind of adhesive for the breading which is the last step. They actually teach you to use one hand for doing the flour and putting into the egg wash and then the other hand for taking it out and breading it since that second had gets totally covered with breading.

  • Where to get silver pigs

Not a clue. Count, where do you get them?

  • Someone must love Cheetos or not like you

Well I do love Cheetos. Like Terri said, once I start I can barely stop. Wife and I limit our Cheetos eating to when we take road trips. The challenge was originally given in jest but it just seemed like a cool thing to pull off so I really wanted to do it. Actually when I invite people to do this I remind them that they are going to have to eat the food which has a tendency to instill realism to the selections.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Battle Cheetos - Continued

On to the fish course!

Seasoning the fish with salt, pepper and cumin

On to the breading line
We have our classic three stations
flour, egg wash, and breading - in this case our Cheetos crust

And then into the frying pan

Let me tell you those Cheetos end up giving you a great color on your crust!

On to the Chicken with Cheetos Butter Sauce!

Our chicken has come out of the oven

The butter under the skin melted out leaving this lovely clear orange melted butter
I added flour to make a roux
Then the chicken stock and a shot of salt, pepper, and more pimenton.

Carving the chicken
(Don't you just love the way Count P got Wife in the mirror!)

Cheetos Chicken Sauce

Our main course served

Good job Pewter Chef

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Return of The Pewter Chef - Battle Cheetos

Our friends in travel and culinary adventure Count and Contessa P after a past Pewter Chef meal had come up with a diabolical challenge - one they were convinced would stump PC. The challenge?


The Count was convinced that The Pewter Chef would cop out and just throw a few perfunctory
Cheetos to meet the requirement. Pah! When one is a chef of metallic proportions (even pewter), you would never stoop so low. So instead we had:

  • Spring Mix Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing and Cheetos Croutons
  • Cheetos Encrusted Tilapia Fillets
  • Chicken Roasted with Cheetos Pimenton Butter with Cheetos Pimenton Sauce
Note on pictures - The Count P promised...promised that he would not pull a Gaius Derf and forget about his photo journalistic responsibilities. Well he was somewhat better but in all honesty had be be reminded numerous times. I'm beginning to think it is Wife's beguiling conversation that is keeping them from fulfilling their duties. Also the pictures were taken on the Count's phone.

First things first - need to inventory what I've got to work with

Breaking down the Cheetos was a critical element. We started by using the food processor on site but had problems getting it to work.

Ahh. Good think I had the foresight to bring my own Cuisinart!

For the chicken, I made a flavored butter with ground up Cheetos, garlic powder, pepper, and pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)

There is a technique where you put flavored butter under the skin of a chicken before you roast it and I used it for this.

Making the Salad

After making lardons (batons) of crispy bacon, I took the bacon fat and used it to make a vinegrette with aged 25 year-old sherry vinegar.

In the meantime, the Contessa cut Original Cheetos into croutons.

Salads assembled and presented

The Count and I have had some transmission issues with the remainder of the pictures so hopefully we will get the rest of them up tomorrow :)

Note to Frito-Lay - I am ready to be commissioned to produce the "Cheetos Cookbook" and have already come up with numerous additional recipes)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chip Off The Ole Block

Mom block that is.

Let's just say that it takes me a while to get going. I get up, meditate or do yoga for about an hour, shower, get dressed, make breakfast, and then I'm ready for the day. On a typical work day I'll get up at 5:30 and be ready to see the world around 8.

My Mom was this way when I was growing up. I was the only one allowed to come down and have breakfast with her because I was the only one who would be happy sitting in silence with her.

It's never been much of a problem with Wife because I've always gotten up much earlier than she has (at least now that our children are long out of the house). But today for some reason she was up and coming to breakfast at around the same time I was.

She immediately starts talking about this dream she had (Wife has long and detailed dreams), and about plans for redoing a portion of our back yard, etc. I am mostly eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, and occasionally glancing at her to give her as much reinforcement as I'm able to at that time in the morning that I know I'm supposed to be listening.

She stops, looks at me. "I'm talking to much aren't I." "I think I'll go up and get my computer started". I smile.

See. The joys of old love :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Miracle in the Southwest

Since you religiously memorize each of my posts you will remember the horrible weather we had in December when we felt the cold had pretty much wiped out our chances of a peach crop this year.

But we were not accounting for the power of faith. But as committed Born Again Aztecs, we persisted in our faith...executing raiding parties to adjoining neighborhoods...performing the human sacrifices of our faith.

(BTW do you have any idea of how much money you have to spend on legal expenses to defend the practice of human sacrifice by reason of Freedom of Religion?)

We were out this afternoon doing more garden work when I looked at our peach tree.

Behold. There was a light bathing it. There were small buds on the tree.

Yea verily these are not young leaves.
No these are small flowers
That will lead to peaches this summer
Glory to Quetzalcoatl

Maybe I should check around town for another appropriate sacrifice? Maybe not. I'm behind on my legal bills.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Better Cooking Post

This last weekend I was filled with the spirit...the need to cook. I had an idea that was oddly enough born from one of my low calorie dinners. I had used a particular flavor combination to season our veggie based dinner. But my creative mind was saying, "if you used a lot more of this, it would be a great base for a pasta sauce."

We had been wanting to get together with Gaius Derf and Agent W for some time as our mutual travel schedules had not allowed it. It was our turn to go to Derfsholm but I wanted to cook. So I pretty much said, we would come over but I was going to cook dinner.

Agent W is a lady of strong values and in her world you don't have someone over to your house and not cook for THEM. But then again she does know her in knows the kind of mess is going to result in her kitchen if I come and cook

What does this face say to you?
To me it says,
"Cook in my house? OMG that means I have to clean his @&$#%$ mess up!"
I want to point out this is a very simple meal. It is something anyone can do. We had:
  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Pasta with (I don't know what to call it) Sauce
Shrimp Cocktail

OK grasshoppers, it you want to really shine understand that you have to make things yourself. Don't buy pre-cooked shrimp. Make your own. By the way the "fresh shrimp" in the stores is 90% of the time shrimp that has been defrosted because shrimp is raised or caught way to far from where you live. So just use a bag of frozen shrimp. Bring A LOT of water to a full boil. Put your shrimp in and cook for two minutes EXACTLY. Then drain and IMMEDIATELY put into a bath of ice water.

Now make your cocktail sauce. That's right I said make it. You have much more control over the end product and it is too simple. Use ketchup (you don't have to make that), horseradish (you can buy that too), some lemon juice, lime juice or both. I like to add some chile powder or Tabasco sauce as well. Because you are putting in the hot and sour elements you can vary the sauce to taste which you can't do with a prepared sauce. I like to use a lot of horseradish. People have a tendency to think it is too hot but inevitably they heat tons of it.

By the way, I wanted to make sure that I was going to have pictures all the way through this process for a proper post. So I delegated the picture taking to Gaius Derf. I was well into the shrimp making process when I realized Senator Derf was talking to Wife and drinking wine with not pictures being taken! So I had to take over the task myself.

"What. Take Pictures"
The Sauce

The key to this sauce is the flavor base. But first I prepped some meat for it. I was using boneless chicken thighs.

Brown the chicken first and set it aside.
Now on to our flavor base. You want:
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil
  • 3/4 of a can of anchovies with their oil (eat the rest or give them to your cat)
  • 2/3 of a small can of tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves sliced
  • 3 tablespoons of harissa (Moroccan chile paste) or a tablespoon of crushed red peppers
  • One medium onion
  • One can chicken stock or beef stock if you are using beef or pork
  • Your meat (you can use any kind you like)
I know. I know. You're saying, "Anchovies, ewwwww, I hate anchovies." Grasshoppers, trust me, you never, never taste or even see them. They dissolve and just provide this depth and richness that you can't describe or explain.

The technique is simplicity itself. Put the olive oil in the pan. Add all the ingredients other than the onions, stock, and meat. Turn the heat on and let everything saute for about five minutes.

Sorry about the blurry shot.

"What. I'm supposed to be taking pictures?"
Then add the onions and saute until soft.
Add the stock and the chicken. Salt to taste. Cook for about fifteen minutes while making the pasta. Add more stock if necessary.
Finish by cooking the pasta in the sauce for the last couple of minutes.

Beautiful shrimp cocktail awaiting the sauce

Our wonderful pasta with the flavors having soaked into both pasta and meat.
Hey, that plate has already been partially eaten!
"What! Was I supposed to be taking pictures?"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Let The Gardening Begin

It is that time of year. After snow just a week ago, it has been up in the 70's and we have trees blooming and leaves coming out all over the place. As part of my personal long-term transition plan, I'm trying to work less and have more time to do other things like enlist in Wife's Foothills Gardening Regiment. As private in the Regiment, that means mostly that I do a lot of menial stuff. But that's OK because if feeds the produce factory which in turn feeds my culinary fantasies.-

Field Marshal Wife-issimo
Planning the Early Spring Vegetable Offensive
On Saturday we planted:

  • Collard Greens
  • Turnip Greens
  • Kale
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Mustard Greens
And a crap load of onions.

Then on Sunday the weather turned. The winds came up as they do so often and the temperature is going to drop around 40+ degrees. So we were out again in the wind putting on frost coverings, securing them with every heavy object (stones, pavers, bricks) in our yard.

This is when I miss us having grandchildren living close by.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Can You Have Negative Humidity?

I was listening to our local weather today and they announced that our humidity for the day was 5%. I know we live in a desert but that seems pretty low. Just how low can humidity get? Can it get to a point where when you walk out all your moisture is automatically sucked out of you????

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Half of a Great Cooking Post

With the extreme time required on the East Coast for Dad for the moment not required, I've been able to get back to something close to a normal schedule again. This means plenty of work but also getting into entertaining like we love to.

Our friends B and M who spend most of their time in Mexico were in town. B I may have mentioned in the past was a soldier in Europe about the same time that I was studying there so we share a love of French food (especially cheese!) and wine. Wife and I decided to do a real classic old school French meal. The traditional old school meal has five course. These are:

First course - usually a soup, a non-lettuce/greens salad or charcutrie (cured meat)
Main course - meat or fish with side
Salad - salad in this case is simple greens only (think a palette cleanser)
Cheese - always have to have cheese

My plan was to do the full photo journalism blog post with pictures covering each step from beginning to end. And I started real well. Unfortunately sometime around the time of the midpoint of making the main course, I totally stop taking pictures! Can you believe that. I say fire the bum. Accept who else could I get to take pictures of me for free :(

So I'll put out what I have. Our first course we as a warm cream of potato and leek soup. Potato leek soup is one of the easiest...I mean easiest...dishes to make. It is the backbone of the French potage which is the plain old soup that I use to get one I was a student way back when. But with a little effort it becomes Cinderella at the ball.

Our stars - Leeks (grown by none other than Wife and harvested the day of cooking them - they stay in the ground during the winter) and potatoes

Clean the leeks well.
Put them and the potatoes in chicken stock (you can use water actually but the stock adds richness)
Cook for around 45 minutes at a medium simmer.
It is important to cook the leeks well if you are gussying this dish up or they might be stringy.
Flavor with salt and pepper to taste (I used white pepper to avoid black specks).

When done get out the trusty immersion blender and puree it.

Now the part that takes this to another level (Bwahahahahaha)
Strain it through a fine sieve.
This is a bit of labor because you need to force the solids through with rubber spatula.
The blender never gets the soup super smooth and it is that silky texture that takes if from everyday to high class.
Add a little cream at the end and finish with some fresh chives or as I did the finely chopped tops of onions wintering over in the garden.

Sorry no picture of end result :(
(You're fired de-I!!)
The next dish that I got pretty well is Wife's fabulous Schaum Torte. This is a lemon curd in a meringue shell. This is another of these dishes that is so incredibly simple yet fantastic.

First make meringue shells
That is done by whipping egg whites with cream of tartar until they are stiff peaks then cooking in a low oven until they get cooked through and are crisp and firm.
(Tell your husband that this may take hours ahead of time so he doesn't freak out when he can't get at the oven!)

Now make a simple egg lemon custard with the yolks from the eggs, the juice of three lemons and the zest from the lemons and sugar.
Let the custard cool.

Put custard in shells.

Put on dollop of fresh whipped cream (no canned stuff slackers!)
True story - We had a guest once who on being served this dessert took one bite, stood up, went over to Wife and planted a big ole kiss on her proclaiming it the best dish he'd ever eaten.
I kid you not.

The great Carbonade a la Flamande pictorial that never came to be :(

B was stationed in Brussels so this particular dish is a French Belgian specialty - a beef braised in beer. You would never know beer was used if you just tasted it. I got this recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking I by Julia Child. Please, if there is one book you are going to get that will take your cooking to whole new plane, this is it. It dates back to the 1960's. I still go to it again and again and again whenever I want to do something nice. It is the book that shows beyond all doubt that it is not the number of ingredients you thrown in, it is the technique you use. That's why I'm so pissed I failed with the last series of pictures.

This dish literally only has beef, onions, fat, garlic, stock, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, beer, vinegar, and a thickening agent (corn starch). But the method that is used is what takes it over the top.

Beef, chuck, boneless, cut into chunks.
Do not...I repeat DO NOT... use very lean meat for a braise. There is a chemical reaction that takes place when the fat and connective tissue breakdown via a long slow cooking that results in very tender meat with a great mouth feel. The fat all renders out and you can skim it off.

Tie your flavorings (just the parsley, thyme and bay leaf) in cheese cloth - a bouquet garni it's called if you want to impress your friends.

Brown your meat well in batches

Next take a good amount of onions ( about 1/2 pound per pound of meat)

(Sorry end of pictures)

Slice them and brown them in the pan the meat was cooked in for about 10 minutes. Take them out, add salt and pepper and crushed garlic (notice no sauteing of the garlic - one of those little technical things)

Put your stock in the pan and scrape off the browned stuff on the bottom from the meat and onions (its called the fond). Put that aside. Now layer half the meat, half the onions and repeat, salting and peppering between the layers. Add the stock. Add beer until the meat is just covered. Add a little bit of brown sugar to offset the bitterness of the beer.

Bring to a simmer. Cook in a 325 degree oven until fork tender about 2.5 hours at sea level, a good hour more for where I live at 6000 feet. Remove the meat from the broth, skim the fat off, thicken with corn starch dissolved in a little vinegar (for a slightly sharp note). Simmer the sauce for 4 minutes. Add the meat again. The whole thing can be made in advance at this point and warmed up just before serving - great so you're not away from your guests. I served it with buttered egg noodles.

This is comfort food taken to a different level just by some relatively simple techniques. B & M raved.