Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cajun Cornbread Stuffing

I've been making this recipe for around ten years and I always get requests for the recipe after thanksgiving. It isn't very complicated or fancy but it hits the spot

One Box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
One Egg
Milk
One Can Niblet Corn
Cayenne Pepper
Chopped Onions
Chopped Celery
Chopped Sweet Bell Pepper
Chopped Jalapeno
Diced and Fried Andouille Sausage
Chicken Stock
Cajun Seasoning

Directions

Follow the directions on the box of the Jiffy Mix and bake your corn bread using the egg and the milk. Add some cayenne pepper to the mixture to spice it up.

Dice and fry the andouille sausage. Dice and saute the trinity of onions, peppers, and celery along with the andouille till they are translucent. If you like it a little hotter add a diced jalapeno to the mix.

Break up the cooled cornbread and mix with onion, pepper, celery, andouille ,corn, and chicken broth. Season with Cajun seasoning to taste.

Toss it in the oven and bake approximately 40 minutes at 375.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Art of Making Mostarda

Mostarda is an ancient Italian condiment that probably had its start as a way of preserving fresh fruit throughout the year. It is is very tough to find in the United States outside of a few specialty stores which import it directly from Italy.

I tried it for the first time in Chicago at a restaurant called Folia in the West Loop. The owner imports it directly from the town he was born in on Amalfi Coast. I tried it with cheese and salumi and was blown away by the way it complimented the cheeses and meats. The essence of the mustard and the sweetness of the fruit gives this condiment the definition of agrodolce.

Mostarda can be made many ways but it typically has the same base which consists of fresh, or dried fruit, sugar, and either mustard essence, or powdered mustard diluted in white wine, or white wine vinegar.

Mustard essence is difficult to obtain in the United States but it can be purchased while in Italy from a chemist/pharmacist. Mustard essence or the essential oil of mustard is a volatile irritant which can be highly toxic if used incorrectly. It is sold in small vials and measured out precisely with an eye dropper when used as a flavoring.

A little of this stuff goes a long way. You can also achieve great flavor with powdered mustard which is safer to use and easier to obtain but the advantage of mustard essence is it is a clear concentrated liquid which won't cloud the simple syrup the fruit is steeped in over a three day period of time.

What do I use this stuff on?

Traditionally Italians used it as a way to spice up boiled meats. It goes very well with a braised or boiled meats such as beef brisket. It also works well with roasted pork loin and porchetta.

Mostarda makes an impressive and easy appetizer when served drizzled over various cheeses which was the way it was originally introduced to me. Your guests have never had anything like it before and they are either going to love it or hate it.

Ingredients

10 lb Fresh Fruit
5 lb Sugar
Powdered Mustard or Mustard Essence
Fresh Orange Juice

Step One - Select and prepare the fruit

The most magnificent Mostardo is made using whole pieces of fruit. So I usually look for fruit that would look good suspended in the jar by the syrup. Apples, pears, peaches, apricots, kiwi's, tangerines, oranges, mandarins, limes, cherries, quinces, cranberries, strawberries, mangoes, are a few of the choices you can use to make great Mostardo.

I also sometimes add walnuts or hazelnuts to the mixture to add a crunch texture to contrast with the soft fruit. Don't be afraid to experiment with different types of combination's. I often add thinly sliced jalapeno's to the mixture to kick up a little heat. Some folks might be inclined to add some red chili pepper flakes too.

The first step is to peel and core the fresh fruit. Apples and pears are favorite ingredients which can be sliced in halves or quarters. Berries can be added whole.

When I do limes and oranges I leave the peels on but select varieties with a very thin skin and slice them extremely thin using a mandolin. I like to use mandarin oranges whole because they are visually pleasing and easy to peel.

Step Two - Steeping the Fruit

Once you have your fruit prepared and loaded into a bowl you then add 1/2 pound of sugar per pound of of fresh fruit to the top of the mixture. You then pour four cups of fresh orange juice over the top. You then let it sit uncovered for 24 hours giving it a turn or two to mix the ingredients along the way.

Step Three -
Concentrating the Syrup

After 24 hours the juice in the fruit begins to be replaced by the sugar it is absorbing. All the sugar should now be dissolved. Empty the mixture into a colander to drain it into a sauce pan. Return the fruit mixture to its bowl. Heat the syrup until it starts to boil and reduce for five minutes. Once that is done return the syrup to the bowl where the fruit is residing. Let the mixture sit for another 24 hours once again giving it a turn or two.

Step Four - Concentrate the Syrup again

Repeat step three and let rest for another 24 hours. You should be noticing that your fruit is beginning to shrink which is natural because the sugar is leaching the liquid from the fruit.

Step Five - Concentrate the Syrup one last time

Once again repeat step three but this time we are going to prepare to season and can the mixture.

Step Six - Sterilize and Pack the jars

Sterilize your jars and lids in boiling water for ten minutes. I prefer to use pint jars when making Mostarda. Add the fruit pieces to your jars and fill to the top. Try to be artful in how you arrange and divvy up the fruit. Mostardo just isn't a condiment in Italy it is a work of art.

Step Seven (A) - Season with Mustard Essence

Remove four ounces of the reserved syrup and add approximately 20-30 drops. Be careful to avoid contact any skin contact with this stuff and make sure that you don't get a sniff of it. After adding the fruit pour it in, and then add hot concentrated syrup to cover, tapping the jar repeatedly to dislodge air bubbles as you fill.

Step Seven (B) -
Season with Coleman's Powdered Mustard

Take four ounces of mustard and dissolve it into they syrup. It doesn't have to be four ounces...you can add and whisk in by taste.

Step Eight - Canning and Storing

Cover the jars, wipe them clean, and put them on a cool dark shelf in your pantry. The Mostarda will be ready in 2 week's time. It is not necessary to heat seal the jars. The sugar content is high enough to prohibit the formation of bacteria.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rebuilding the Weber Gas Grill

I bought my Weber Genesis Silver B Gas Grill back in 2001 and it has served me well over the past decade. I purchased the triple burner grill at Home Depot for around $500 so you could say that after a decade that it has payed enough dividends to be worthy of replacement with a new shiny stainless steel version. The cost for purchasing what I would like to buy in a new Weber would be around $900 plus tax.

If I went a different direction and did a Kalamazoo or something in that category the cost can be as much as $4000. You would definitely have the coolest grill on the block but that was more expensive than my first new car back in 1976!

To be honest I really hadn't taken really good care of the grill over the years. I never bought a cover for it so it was exposed to the elements constantly. The simple act of buying a cover probably would have extended the life of the grill at least another five years but I just never got around to parting with the extra fifty bucks to make that happen.

When the original cast iron cooking grates needed to be replaced I replaced them with porcelain cast iron cooking grates which also rusted out after around four years. Same thing with the flavorizer bars which were replaced at the same time.

This winter during a snow storm I went out on the deck and lifted the lid of the venerable old relic and the hinge broke off of the cast aluminum cooking box signaling the end of its useful life. When the first warm day came around I went out to examine the grill and came to the conclusion that everything except the cart was pretty much rusted out and needed to be replaced.

I went to the Weber website soon after that looking for a new grill when I noticed that the cooking box and the lid had a lifetime guarantee and that got me thinking. Sure there are fancier grills out there but this unit had always worked perfectly for me around 99.9% of the time. It cooked steaks extremely well and it was big enough to handle most of the gatherings at our home. If I was going to buy a new grill it was going to be approximately the same size so why not see what it would cost to rebuild the existing grill since most of the cart and the thermoplastic trim pieces were in decent shape.

I called Weber and they sent me a new lid and cooking box out to me at no cost under the guarantee. I then ordered new stainless steel burner tubes, slide-out bottom tray, catch pan holder, warming rack, warm up basket, stainless cooking grates, stainless flavorizer bars, control panel, burner control knobs, and a new left frame to replace a part of the cart which had rusted out pretty good.

The amazing thing about Weber is you can buy a grill from them a decade or more ago and they still have the part you need in stock to keep your grill running and looking like new. Weber is very loyal to their customer base and when you give them a call they treat you extremely well.

The total cost for all the parts to restore the grill was slightly under $300 and I now have a gas grill that looks just like new and is actually better than it was when I bought it a decade ago because of all the stainless steel parts on the inside.

There are a lot of fancy grills on the market these days. One of the more interesting innovations are infrared ceramic burners. Since the patent rights have expired on this innovation almost every company out there has come out with some version of it for their grills.

The advantage of the ceramic burner is the heat that it can put out. You can definitely achieve a Ruth Chris or Morton's type of char on your steaks with one of these units. You don't have a lot of warm up time with these burners either. Your turn them on and you are pretty much ready to go.

I have friends that have them and the problem is they burn way too hot for my liking. If all you do is steaks maybe that is OK...but if you like to do other things lower and slower on your gas grill and it has a 100% ceramic burner configuration it can be real problem.

I think that if you go that direction you should purchase a hybrid so you have a charring station powered by the ceramic burner and old fashioned burner tubes for more controllable temperature in the majority of the grill.

Weber for some reason hasn't jumped on the ceramic bandwagon. They do have some higher priced models with a high temp char station but they haven't bought in yet as far as ceramic burners go.

My steaks on my Weber Gas Grill just happen to be fantastically charged anyway without the use of a ceramic burner...so I didn't really feel the need to take it to the next level by going that direction.

Getting back to rebuilding the grill. First of all it is a bit of a messy job. Make sure you buy some WD-40 and spray all the bolts, screws, washers, and nuts the night before you attempt to take the old grill apart. You will find the job will go a lot quicker if you follow that one simple step.

Taking it all apart took around an hour and putting it all back together was a little quicker. Weber has manuals online for all their grills no matter how old they are so if you just follow the directions you should have no problem. Another thing that they do which is neat is that they send directions which each replacement part that you order.

The bottom line on all this is there are a lot of different directions you can go when it comes to purchasing a new gas grill. I endorse Weber for the simple fact that twenty years from now they are still going to be around with the parts and advise you need to keep your grill working like new.

Weber is the most popular brand of grills and barbecues in the world and there is a reason for that. They are a family owned American company located in the suburbs of Chicago that treats their employees and customers like family. They build quality products and they stand behind them. I guess that is why I will always have a Weber on my deck or patio.

I plan to also purchase a Green Egg in few weeks. If you haven't been to a demonstration of what this type of grill can do you really need to check it out. We considered buying a pizza oven this year but the rep over at the BBQ store swore that the Green Egg would do just as good a job with Pizza and bread plus we could smoke and grill in it too!

He said he hated to talk himself out of selling a wood fired pizza oven that runs around $3500 but he said the Green Egg for around $1000 with all the bells and whistles was a much better investment. The money I saved by simply rebuilding the Weber will go toward the purchase of the Green Egg.

I do smoke a lot of ribs and brisket during the summer. I have always used a cheap Brinkman bullet type water smoker with very good results. The one thing I don't like about the unit is it is messy. I have had both the charcoal and electric versions. I prefer the electric because you are just burning wood chips and not charcoal which cuts down on the creosote plus keeps a more even temperature.

Switching to the Green Egg for my smoking needs will represent a change in technique because it does not require water or restocking the unit with wood chips. You pretty much set it up once, leave it alone, and open it up ater a set time. I have tasted ribs and brisket done on the Green Egg and they are just as good as ones done in the little water smoker. Once we get the hang of it I will report back on how it is working.