My Sister’s Tuna Salad, or Why I Hate Mayonnaise

November 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Greetings.

I’ve neglected my blog for the past few months.  I apologize.  But I’ve been relatively productive in the “real life” section of the human experience, so please do forgive me.

On to today’s topic: tuna salad.  Normally, I do not eat tuna salad.  I find it smelly, squishy, and all together unpleasant.  The most basic example of tuna salad is a can of tuna and several large dollops of mayonnaise.  Ew.

I do actually like canned tuna.  I put in mac and cheese for an easy dinner.  I like it in Galician style empanada.  Tuna casserole?  Bring it on.  I think my real aversion to typical tuna salad has always been linked to the amount of mayo that holds it together.

The mayonnaise I am talking about is the store bought stuff.  The slightly off-white jars that dominate large sections of the condiment aisle.  One look inside such a jar elicits a reaction of pure terror.  I honestly do not know why some folks have such deep attachment to the strange, white substance that has a consistency somewhere between jell-o and slime.  And it smells funky, too.

I’m grossing myself out just writing about it.

Homemade mayonnaise, however, is a completely different (and delicious) beast.  But that’s a topic for another time.

But this tuna salad, friends, is quite unique among the tuna salads I’ve seen.  It is tangy, with a little crunch, and just the right hint of unexpected sweetness.

My sister, Liz, introduced me to it this past summer.  I’ve since renounced my tuna salad hatred.  But only in regards to this particular recipe.  All others are on notice.

Here comes the airplane!

Liz’s Tangy Tuna Salad

1 can tuna, preferably water packed and chunk light

1/2 apple, diced; I used a Jazz, but other crispy varieties would work as well

1 hard boiled egg, diced

2 – 4 Tbsp of mustard;  that’s right, kids, mustard.  I used a mix of spicy brown and traditional yellow

1 medium sized pickle, diced (I didn’t have this on hand today when I mixed up my tuna salad; we are currently out; but you should definitely include it)

salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything except the salt and pepper in a small to medium sized bowl.  Add salt and pepper if you feel it to be needed.  Eat straight from the container.  Or, if you like, serve open faced on multigrain toast with a slice of cheese of your choice.

Serves 2, as heaped up on toast

Lemon Party! (Part 1)

June 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

Oh lemons.  You are the most perfect of all citrus.  You can be oh so sweet, face squinchingly tart, and perfectly savory.  So many facets to lemons, all of them delicious.  But the most perfect of all lemons, the epitome of lemony goodness, is the Meyer lemon.

Smaller, smoother, and more delicate than the traditional knobbly lemons usually seen in the market, the Meyer is perfect for all of your lemon needs.  Candied peel?  Oh yeah.  Lemon curd?  Why not?  Stuffing inside roast chicken?  Duh.  Straight up eating slices to wow your friends?  Only when intoxicated.  Meyers are sill lemons, after all.

However, the destiny of this particular bag of Meyers fulfilled only the first two of that short list.

Have y’all ever candied anything?  It can be difficult and scary.  And hot.  Very, very hot.  Over boiling point hot.  Do be careful.  But do not be afraid!  It is my belief that candying citrus peel is an easy (and fairly tasty) way to dip one’s toe into the world of candy making.

The recipe I use to candy citrus peel is simple.  You only need three ingredients.  Citrus, water, and sugar.  It is the proportions that matter.  And to that end, I have turned to one Alice Waters, and her book The Art of Simple Food.

Candied Meyer Lemon Peel

8 lemons*, washed, halved, and juiced**

4 C sugar + 1 1/2 C for tossing

2 C water + more for boiling the peel

Put your juiced lemon halves in a large saucepan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Once, the water is at a rapid boil, reduce the heat, and keep the water just simmering until the lemon peel is tender to a paring knife.  Drain off the boiling water, and allow the lemons to cool slightly, until you can’t burn your hands while holding them.

Pre-scooped lemons

Mmmm, Meyer lemons…

Scoop out as much of the white pithy part as possible.  It’s bitter.  You do not want to eat it.  Trust me.

Slice the remaining peel into thin strips of even width.  Return them to the saucepan.  Add in the 4 C sugar and 2 C water, put the stove back to medium (I hope you turned it off while you were slicing.  Nobody likes an unnecessary kitchen fire) and stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves into a thick syrup.  Get it simmering.  Also, if you have a candy/deep fry thermometer, the time to find it would be now.  Simmer the syrup until the peel looks translucent.  Crank up the heat, and continue cooking until the syrup is at the “thread stage” (it’ll form a thread when dripping off the spoon) and at 230 F.

Let it cool down some.  Seriously.  You do not want to be touching that lemon peel right now.

Fish the peel out of its syrupy bath and spread the strips out on cooling racks that are situated above baking sheets that have been covered in parchment paper or foil.  Do not be lazy with this.  Y’all do not want to be scraping lemon syrup off every flat surface of your home.

"Dry" candied peel

Let it dry overnight.  I know, I know, I should’ve said at the outset that this is a two day project.  But I have done it in a span of 24 hours.  I do not recommend it, unless you like getting up early, have nothing else to do that day, or actually enjoy doing dishes.

Once the peel is dry (meaning that it’s not dripping syrup, and is only rather sticky, as opposed to oh-my-sweet-jesus-there-is-lemon-syrup-all-up-in-my-hair sticky) get out a large, wide bowl.  Put about 1 1/2 C sugar in it.  Add in some of the lemon peel.  Not all of it at once.  About a quarter of it.  Toss the bits of peel around in the sugar until they are entirely coated, and make sure that every piece is an individual and there’s no Siamese Twin action going on.  Repeat until all the lemon peel is coated in sugar.

It is finished.  Put it in a fancy container.  Wow your friends with your candy-making exploits.  Also, do eat some yourself.

Or you can put it in a plastic bag to give to your friends. Just keep it classy.

*Y’all are going to want to be using organic lemons for this.  You will be eating the peel.  Which is where all the pesticides and chemicals like to hang out.  If you can’t find organic, scrub the lemons well with a veggie brush, like the kind you use to scrub potatoes and mushrooms.

**Do not, for the love of all things sacred, throw out the juice.  The possibilities are endless: salad dressing, lemonade, marinade, ceviche, and of course lemon curd, which will be discussed at a later date.

Side note:  Y’all can use these proportions for other citrus as well.  Do it with orange rind, dip the finished product in chocolate, let it harden, and you have orangettes.  Which are quite fancy.  Do feel snooty if you show up to a party with them.  Tell folks that it’s French.

Cinnamon Mocha Ice Cream

March 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

Something y’all may not realize about me: I love making ice cream.  Last summer, I went out and bought an ice cream maker.  I have not regretted this decision.  I like making wacky flavors, using herbs, and experimenting with technique.  Having an ice cream maker also eliminates all the weird looks one gets from cashiers when one buys pint after pint of Ben & Jerry’s.  Not that I buy multiple pints of Ben & Jerry’s at a time.  It gets expensive.  Also, my waist starts protesting.

Another thing I am slightly obsessed with: mochas with cinnamon.  And chocolate with cinnamon.  Basically, anything chocolate must also have cinnamon.  This is the rule.  However, not all cinnamon-y things require chocolate.  I’ll get a math person to figure out the equation.

But the cinnamon mocha, friends, is one of the most delicious coffee beverages ever.  Take a simple mocha, preferably one made by your favorite local coffee shop, and add a shot of cinnamon syrup.  The end product is close to perfection.

As much as I love both of these things, they are not the reason I decided to make ice cream this week.  For the past month, I’ve had three Mexican vanilla beans quietly sitting in my spice cabinet.  I’ve never used vanilla beans; I’ve only ever used extract.  So, I’ve been thinking about the best way to experiment with the strength of beans versus extract.  Ice cream, duh.

Then I just started throwing stuff in a pot.  This is how most of my experiments go.  Though they do not often turn out quite this tasty.

Bask in the creamy deliciousness

Cinnamon Mocha Ice Cream

1 C heavy cream

2 C half and half or whole milk

2/3 C sugar

2 tsp instant espresso powder

1/2 tsp coffee extract

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped out

3/4 disk of Abuelita Mexican hot cocoa

Make sure your ice cream maker is completely frozen.

On very low heat, in a large saucepan, whisk together everything but the cocoa sections.  Add in the cocoa sections, stirring slowly so the chocolate melts completely.  Once everything is incorporated, turn off the heat, remove the vanilla bean,* and chill the mixture in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Is your ice cream maker still frozen?  Yes?  Good.  Make the ice cream according to the directions on your machine.  Mine takes 20 minutes, from liquid to soft serve.

This recipe makes around a quart of ice cream, and since there are not really any preservatives in it, it’s not going to last as long as store bought.  If it even sticks around that long.  I mean, come on, it’s cinnamon mocha ice cream.

*If you let it dry out a touch, you can pop it in your sugar canister and have vanilla sugar.  It’s delicious.

Roast Duck with Blood Orange Ginger Glaze

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of my first food memories is about duck.  I was probably eight or nine years old, and my aunt was throwing a shower of some kind.  I don’t remember if it was a baby shower or a bridal shower.  It was the kind of party that took place on a Saturday afternoon, with sherbet punch and tiny napkins.

Back to the duck.  It was in the center of the dining table/buffet area, on a large platter, smelling sweetly.  I think it had a maple glaze.  It was tender, moist, and like nothing I had tasted before.  I recall asking my mom what it was, and she replied, “It’s duck.  I don’t like it that much.  It gets slimy.”  I remember the comment about it being slimy.  It has stuck with me throughout the years.  But from that day until last weekend, I had not tasted duck again.

So three weeks ago, I found a frozen duck at Wegman’s.  I broke down and bought it.  It lurked in my freezer, while I tried to work out the best way to cook and serve the waterfowl.  Several recipes suggested breaking it down, like cutting out the spine and splitting the bird in half.  As into cooking as I am, I retain a few butterflies when it comes to breaking down whole birds.  Other recipes only featured the duck breast or the duck legs.  I finally just decided to wing it.  (With some knowledgeable help.)

I used Ina Garten’s roasting method, which meant poaching the duck for a while to render off most of the fat, and then roasting it at a high temperature to get the skin to a pretty brown color.

I love simple food.  So I feel like the duck would be fine with just a little salt and pepper, but there were blood oranges at the store.  When Tex-Pat sees blood oranges, Tex-Pat buys blood oranges.  The insides are a wonderful ruby color, and the juice is tart enough to make your mouth pucker in the best way.

INSTANT FLAVOR IDEA!

Do a “duck l’orange” with blood oranges and a touch of fresh ginger.  I just glazed the duck in the last few minutes of roasting, let it rest for  20 minutes, carved it, and served. Oh, and I stuffed the cavity with blood orange slices, and slices of ginger.  And there was a touch of glaze left over, which was perfect for individually saucing each person’s portion of duck.

Duck stuffed with blood orange slices...so tasty!

Roast Duck with Blood-Orange Ginger Glaze (adapted from Ina Garten)

1 4 to 5 lb duck, completely thawed and with innards (neck, guts, etc.) removed

3 Blood Oranges

3 inch knob of fresh ginger, divided

2 Tbsp sugar

salt

pepper

Get out a pot big enough to hold the duck.  Completely.  Like, so it can be submerged in water.  Fill up the pot with water, or with chicken stock if you’ve got it.  Get it boiling.  While the water boils, rinse out the duck, and also check for pinfeathers.  Pull out the pinfeathers.  You do not want to eat the pinfeathers.  Take a fork and poke some holes in the skin of the duck, all over.  This allows the fat to render out into the water.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, carefully slip the duck into the stove-top jacuzzi.  Keep the water at a simmer, and keep the duck completely submerged in the water.  Use a heat safe plate or bowl to weigh it down.  Simmer the duck for around 45 minutes.   Skim off some duck fat from the top of the pot, using it to grease the roasting pan or cast iron skillet.  With the help of a friend, take the duck out of the hot pot and drain it (I burned myself trying to do this alone, so bring a friend to avoid the burn unit.)  Pat the duck dry and let it hang out in the greased skillet for half an hour.  This is to allow the skin to dry out a touch, so it gets nice and crispy in the oven.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees!

While the duck is drying and the oven preheating, prepare the the glaze and stuffing.  Zest and juice 2 of the blood oranges into a  small saucepan.  Peel and grate 2 inches of the fresh ginger into the saucepan as well.  Add two tablespoons of sugar to the orange juice/ginger liquid and stir.  Heat on low til it thickens slightly.  It’s done.  Take the other blood orange and cut it into 8 wedges.  Peel and slice the last of the ginger.  Stuff the orange slices and ginger into the cavity of the duck.

Stick the duck in the oven.  Set the timer for 20 minutes.  Halfway through the cooking time, start glazing the duck.  The duck is finished when the juices run clear.  If you have leftover glaze, I highly recommend having your guests sauce their own adventure.

This serves 3 or 4 people, with heavy sides.  2 or 3 if you want to go heavy on the meat portion.

Cake and Sympathy

February 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

This past week, the father of a friend of mine had to undergo open heart surgery.  It was a rather unexpected development, and has shaken the family.  Though he came through the surgery with flying colors, his recovery will take some time, and his health will be priority number one for some time.

To take some stress away from the family, I decided to send up some food.  This is a natural instinct for me, and for many southerners as well.  Food is comfort.  By giving a meal, you take some stress off that family.

Since this family resides up in New Jersey, I was at a loss as to how I could give them my food/comfort.  Luckily, my friend and his wife are heading up there to assist in the recovery effort.  Huzzah!

I tried to think of something that would travel well and also last a decent amount of time.  The idea came to me almost instantly: Smitten Kitchen’s blood orange olive oil cake!  Olive oil is very heart healthy, and blood oranges are beautiful (and currently in season.)  Plus, I feel that cake is particularly well suited for recovery.  You can’t be sad while eating cake.  Cake is happy food.  Happiness is always needed and appreciated for a speedy recovery.

I got this recipe (exactly) from SmittenKitchen, so I don’t feel the need to include the recipe.

However, I would like to know what y’all like to make (or eat) when you or someone you know is feeling ill.

Please do leave comments.

Shepherd’s Pie, a la Tex-Pat

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ah, shepherd’s pie.  Simple ingredients.  Simple prep.  Simple tasting.

Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious.  Traditional shepherd’s pie is comfort food 101.  Meat, a little veg, and a pile of mashed potatoes.  I love all of these things.  However, last week, I wanted to jazz up the traditional meat and potatoes mainstay.

As y’all may have gathered, I enjoy cooking.  However, living alone is not the best thing to do when all you want to do is feed people.  So, using this urge to my advantage, I often call up friends that live in the area and foist my food upon them.  I’m lucky to have friends that let me do this.  I also borrow their kitchens, knives, free labor, and (most importantly) dishwashers.  I think it’s a win-win.

Last week went a little different in the cooking department.  I had some sweet potatoes that were about to go off, delicious ground beef from the local butcher, and various frozen vegetables taking up valuable real estate in my freezer.

So, that late morning/early afternoon, I browned the ground beef with various spices, tossed some fresh/frozen veg in the pan too, and added a little red wine just for good measure.  That hung out while I prepared the sweet potatoes in the same manner as one would with the basic mashed method.  I assembled in my round casserole dish (with lid), and stuck it in the fridge.

What could I do now but call people?  Luckily, some folks were available for dinner, or else I’d’ve had to eat the whole thing myself.  Over the course of a week.  Alone.  With the cats.

These was some of the best leftover lunch ever. Promise.

Without further ado, I give to y’all:

Shepherd’s Pie a la Tex-Pat

3 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 lb lean ground beef (I used a 90/10 ratio)

salt

freshly ground pepper

1/8 tsp cinnamom

1/2 Tbsp ancho chile powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1 tsp chipotle chile powder

1 tsp smoked hot paprika

small pinch freshly ground nutmeg

3/4 lb fresh carrots, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 medium sized onion, diced

1 C frozen corn

1 C frozen green beans

1/2 to 3/4 C red wine (I used a zinfandel b/c that’s what I had.  I imagine a burgundy could be awesome here too.)

1/4 to 3/4 C milk, depending on how liquidy you like your sweet potato topping

Get out the big saucepan.  Put all the sweet potatoes in it.  Add cold water, enough to cover everything completely.  Set it over medium-high heat.  Let it come to a steady, low boil.  Drain the water when the potatoes are fork tender.  Let the sweet potatoes hang out in a mixing bowl until ready to assemble.

While the sweet potatoes are hanging out in the jacuzzi, get out your big skillet.  Put the stove on medium.  Toss in the ground beef and start browning it.  Break it up into little pieces with your wooden spoon.  Add in the onion, carrots, and all of the spices.  Once the meat is just brown, add in the red wine.  Let it simmer and hang out for a little, maybe letting the wine get to second base with the meat.  Add in the frozen corn and green beans, and heat through.

Turn off the heat.  Dump the meaty mixture into the casserole dish.

Turn to the sweet potatoes, getting out your hand mixer.  Add in the desired amount of milk and slowly mix/beat the potatoes into a smooth consistency.  Maybe add a little salt and pepper.  Empty this out over the meat mixture, smoothing out the top with a spatula or wooden spoon.

You can choose to stick this in the oven now, at 350 for around 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes start showing a little toasty brown color.

However.

If you let this hang out (covered) in the fridge all afternoon, and then heat it at the same temp for around 30 minutes, it’ll taste even better.

However.

If you can’t finish it all for dinner, then by all means eat it the next day.  The flavor will have enhanced even more.

So basically, the longer you let this hang out and mingle with its delicious self, the better it’s going to taste.  That is, until it starts growing bacteria.  Then it might not taste so good anymore.

And you may want to call some friends, because this’ll serve around 6 people.

An Introduction to Braising

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

For me, braising begins with ox-tail.*  Specifically, my Easy Ox-Tail Stew.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

To braise food, you need a heavy pot (with a lid), liquids, aromatics, and some cheap meat.  Why cheap?  Cheap means low quality.  I don’t want people to know that I’m cheap!  Lies.  By “cheap” I mean affordable.  Have y’all seen the prices of various cuts of beef?  It’s getting ridiculous.

Some affordable cuts include skirt steak, short ribs, brisket, and ox-tail.  These cuts are cheaper because they contain a lot of connective tissue.  As the meat is braised, the connective tissue breaks down and tenderizes the meat, making it quite flavorful. Yes, there is a bit more work needed to make the meat fork tender.  It’s worth it.  And yes, the total cooking time can seem a bit daunting.  It’s worth it.  Trust me.

The braising process is simple: sear off the meat, remove from the pan, add in the aromatics, deglaze the pan, put the meat back in the pan, add more liquids, simmer, cover, leave for 3 hours, eat.

Simple.  Easy.  Delicious.  True story.

Nom!

Don't knock it til you rock it.

Easy Ox-Tail Stew

4 large ox-tail sections

1 Tbsp butter

1 large onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 15 oz can diced tomatoes

red wine

water or beef stock

salt & pepper

Get out your Dutch oven.  Heat to medium.  Toss in the butter.  Add the ox-tail.  Sear each side, making sure to achieve a crusty brownulation.  Remove the meat to a plate.  Toss the onion into the Dutch oven.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Cook til translucent.  Add in the garlic.  Cook for a minute.  Add in the red wine (I usually use a normal size glass, but you could add more or less.)  It’ll be steamy.  And smell like alcohol.  Scrape up all the crustiness on the bottom of the pan.  It’s flavor.  Add in the diced tomatoes.  Nestle the ox-tail into this mixture.  Add in the stock (or water) until the meat is nearly covered.  Bring to a low simmer.  Keep the stove heat on medium-low or low.  Do not turn it to high heat.  Put the lid on.  Let it hang out for 3 or 4 hours, until you can pull the meat from the bone with only a little pressure from a fork.  Serve one ox-tail section per person, with an equal amount of the tomato gravy.  This goes well with steamed rice or egg noodles.

*Don’t be frightened of ox-tail.  I know it looks a little strange.  Some people can get a little squeamish when they see bones in the meat.  Bones are flavor goldmines.  Also, I know it’s called ox-tail, but it’s really cow tail.  And the best part about eating ox-tail is getting to suck out the bone marrow.  I swear on my French Press.  It’s meatalicious.  If this fact grosses you out, man up.  Or just use boneless short ribs.  Those work fine here too.

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