Taco El Pastor

If you haven’t had Taco El Pastor yet, you must try it. It consists of pork marinated in a blend of mexican spices , vinegar, and pineapple juice which you eat in a taco with fresh salsa and pineapple.  It is absolutely delicious and sure to be a hit with everyone.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 10-12
5-6 pounds boneless pork shoulder (boston butt)
3 tablespoons achiote paste
2 tablespoons guajillo chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder (1/8 garlic powder = 1 garlic clove)
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
¾ cup white vinegar
1 cup canned pineapple juice
1 pineapple, skinned and sliced into 1-inch rounds
10-12 small corn tortillas
1 white onion, chopped finely
1 cup cilantro, chopped finely
1 cup salsa of your choice
The traditional recipes call for adding achiote paste, but I skip this step as it’s basically used to add color to the pork, but doesn’t add any flavor,  and most of the pre-made achiote paste available contain a bunch of preservatives.  I haven’t found it worth the time to prepare achiote from scratch.

PREPARATION

Slice the pork shoulder into about 1-2 centimeter slices, then transfer to a large dish or bowl.

 

In a bowl, combine chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, vinegar, and pineapple juice (and an ounce of achiote paste if you have some).

Next, pour the marinade over the pork, then toss the pork slices to make sure that they are coated on all sides.
Wrap the dish/bowl in cling film, and let the pork marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (marinating overnight will give more flavor to the pork).

You have several options on how to cook the pork:
The optimal way to cook Taco El Pastor is on a skewer standing up, with a couple of slices of pineapple on the top, to allow the juices to run down on the pork while cooking.
However, cooking the pork horizontally on a rotisserie works very well also, giving the meat a wonderful crisp charred appearance.
You can also cook the pork in a skillet, or on the grill.

On the rotisserie or oven, cook at 350F for about an hour and a half, until slightly charred on the outside and deep red.
Alternatively, cook small batches of the pork slices on the grill or skillet until charred and cooked through.

Rest the meat for about 10 minutes, then carve off thin slices of the pork and cut the roasted pineapple into small slices or cubes.
To assemble your taco, place some pork on the tortillas, followed by a few pieces of pineapple, a spoonful of the salsa and fresh guacamole, and top off with a pinch of fresh cilantro.  Best enjoyed with a margarita or a quality beer.
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Stinkbug salsa for Cinqo de Mayo!

It is Spring time and the stink bugs have been coming out of their hiding spots. Just in the past few days I must have killed a dozen already.   As they meet their demise under my shoes or down the toilet, I noticed that they smell very similar to cilantro.  This made me wonder if anyone ever made salsa with stinkbugs (a common question I am sure).

A quick internet search revealed that stink bugs can indeed be eaten safely* and they are indeed a good salsa ingredient.  Apparently cooking them significantly improves their fragrance and taste.  So in honor of Cinco de Mayo, and the stinkbug, I thought I would post this salsa recipe made with stinkbugs, just in case any of you are adventurous enough to try it out.   If this becomes trendy, it may help reduce the overpopulation of stinkbugs.

Ingredients:
20 stinkbugs (give or take a few)
4 small tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

You can collect stinkbugs in your home or neighborhood, but these may be contaminated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals so I recommend going out in the woods, away from farms or neighborhoods to collect them.   If you aren’t up for stinkbug foraging, they can be purchased online.   Of course, you can find them on Amazon , but they are also available elsewhere, such as bizzarefood.com which sells the Korean variety of stinkbugs. 

 

Recipe:
Roast the tomatoes, garlic, and jalapeño in a hot oven or a skillet until they’re charred and softened. While they cool, toast the stinkbugs briefly in the skillet.

Add the stink bugs in a food processor and grind to a fine consistency, then add the peeled garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, and tomatoes. Mix to a chunky consistency. If you do not have a food processor, a mortar and pesle will work perfectly fine. Add salt to taste and enjoy with your favorite corn chips or add to your taco.

 

* Apparently eating “too many” of them may cause upset stomach and abdominal pain but I could not find any evidence that they are poisonous.  In fact they are considered a delicacy in some Asian countries, where the stinkbug originate.  I am not responsible for any illness you may derive from eating stinkbugs – this is all done at your own risk and enjoyment.

 

Chicago Deep Crust Pizza

My wife introduced me to Chicago deep crust pizza during our first trip to her hometown to meet her family.   Needless to say,  I was immediately hooked by that delicious buttery crispy crust and sweet tomato sauce.    In the time span of living in six states, plus the UK, we have yet to find a comparable pizza.  When we ran across a recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction web site, we immediately gave it a try; and what better way to try it than on my new toy, the Kamado Joe?

We were both very pleased with the end result and think this recipe is as good as any deep dish pizza we’ve had in Chicago.

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Ingredients:

(recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Pizza Crust (makes about two 9 inches  pizzas):
3  1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
1  1/4 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 standard packet)
1 1/4 cups slightly warm water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, divided (1/4 cup melted, 1/4 cup softened)
olive oil

Tomato sauce:
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 garlic cloves
one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
Toppings (for 2 Pizzas)
4 cups shredded low moisture mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
optional toppings, add to suit your taste: peperoni, cooked sausage,  sliced green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and so on

You will also need a 9×2 , or larger, deep dish round cake pan or cast iron skillet

Directions for the crust:

Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in a bowl.  Give those ingredients a quick toss with your mixer on low or with a large wooden spoon. Add the warm water (about 90F) and 1/4 cup of melted butter (make sure the water and butter aren’t too  hot as this would will kill the yeast) .

On low speed,  mix the ingredients until everything begins to be moistened. Continuing on low speed (or knead by hand if you do not own a mixer),  until it is soft and supple and gently pulls away from the sides of the bowl and falls off of the dough hook- about 4-5 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl and form into a ball. Lightly grease a large mixing bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside, turning it around so that all sides of the dough are coated in the oil. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm environment for 1-2 hours or until double in size.

Once the dough is ready, place it on a lightly flour a large work surface. Gently punch down the dough to remove any air bubbles and roll the dough into a large 15×12 rectangle. Spread 1/4 cup of softened butter on top of the dough then roll the dough lengthwise.

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Cut the dough log in half. Form the two pieces of dough into balls and place back into your greased bowl.

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Cut the dough log in half. Form the two pieces of dough into balls and place back into your greased bowl. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to rise in the refrigerator  for 1 hour.   This is the perfect time to make the sauce and enjoy a glass of wine or beer!

Note: you can also keep the dough in the refrigerator overnight, or freeze the dough for 1-2 months, and let it thaw for about 1 hour on the counter when ready to use.

For the sauce:

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Place butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and allow it to melt, lightly brown the garlic, then add tomatoes, and sugar.   Optional: you can also add a small cut up onion with the garlic.

Turn the heat down to low-medium and allow it to simmer until it’s hearty and thick. You want to make sure that the sauce is nice and thick (not runny like traditional pizza or pastas sauce).

Remove from heat and set aside until ready to be used.
Preheat the oven or Kamado to 425F degrees.
Assemble the pizzas:

After the dough balls have risen in the refrigerator, they should be puffy. Keep one ball of dough in the refrigerator while you work with the first one.

Roll the ball on a lightly floured work surface, working it into a 12-inch circle then place over your deep dish pan or cast iron pan.   Using your fingers, press the dough all the way around so that it is nice and tight against the dish, without any air pockets. Trim any excess dough off the edges with a small knife.  Brush the top edges of the dough with a little olive oil to give the crust a beautiful sheen.

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Fill each pizza with 2 cups of low moisture mozzarella, then add your toppings, followed by the tomato sauce (about 1 and 1/4 cups of sauce per pizza).

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You can sprinkle the pizza with 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese now, or immediately after it’s finished cooking.

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Bake , or  grill at 425-450F in your Kamado (on indirect heat) for 25-40 minutes /until the crust is golden brown. Remove the pizzas from heat allow to cool in the pans for 5- 10 minutes, then slice it up and enjoy!

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Place any leftover pizza in the refrigerate for up to 5 days.  Reheat  in a 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until hot.  You can also partially cook the pizza, then re-heat the whole thing at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

 

 

Making French baguette using the “No-knead Recipe”

In one of my earlier post, I talked about how to make bread using the “No-knead Recipe”  It’s a great way to make bread, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you should.  It’s so easy and versatile.  I make bread nearly every weekend (the kids beg me).  This weekend, I made French baguettes.

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The bread was just amazing.   Perfect with the crunchy crust and moist airy inside you expect with the French Baguette.

To make baguettes, use the no-knead recipe mentioned previously.   After mixing all the ingredients, let the dough rise for 12-24 hours and then take it out and place it on a floured surface, just as if you were going to make a loaf.  However, this is where things change a bit.   Once out,  don’t fold it a couple of times like mentioned for the loaf recipe.  You need to minimize the handling of the dough in order to keep it light and airy, so that when it bakes you’ll get the light airy inside and a crusty outside you expect from a baguette.  What you should do instead is cut the dough ball in half with a large knife, then softly separate and stretch each half into loaf shapes.  Be careful, do not manhandle the dough too much!  Next,  gently place them on baguette baking pans, cover with a towel, and let rise another 2 hours.

baguette pan

Make sure to spray the pan with a little bit of cooking spray and place some corn flour on the bottom in order to prevent the dough from sticking to it.   After the 2 hour rise, preheat your oven to 475 degrees and place on the bottom rack a large pan filled with water.  Once the over is hot, place your loaves into the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes.  The water in the pan will keep the humidity high in your oven, to help form the crusty crust you need.   And voila, you have freshly baked delicious baguettes!    Serve with your favorite meat, cheese, or dipping oil and enjoy!

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A tasting of Free Will Brewery

I found some beer from a brewery called Free Will on my last trip to the beer store.  I never heard of this brewery before, but checking out their website, I discovered that it was founded by 2 guys in 2010.  They started out making beer as a hobby and it has now grown into a fairly large operation in Perkasie, PA, brewing 11 types of beer.     The three beers I sampled were:  Destiny’s Wit, Techno IPA, and Uppercase IPA.

Destiny Wit

Destiny’s Wit is described as a Belgian White.  The website claims it has flavors of orange and lemon peel, coriander and white pepper.  I thought it lacked any character or flavor – to me it tasted like a generic ale with slight wheat in the background.  Very disappointing.

Techo IPA glass and bottle  Techo IPA

IPA’s are some of my most favorite beers so I was anxious to try out the Techno IPA and Uppercase IPA.  To give you a an idea of where I’m coming from, a couple of my favorite IPA’s at the moment are the Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery and the Southern Tier IPA.   Oh, was I disappointed.  Both the Techno and Uppercase IPA lack any flavor at all.  Imagine drinking a like a low end ale with no character at all and that’s what you get here. yes, there is a bitter bite at the end to remind you that it’s an IPA, but it’s weak and nondescript.

Upper case bottle glass  Uppercase bottle

So all in all, I was very disappointed with these three beers from Free Will Brewery.  I tried each of them several different times, as I really wanted to like them (I purchased a 6 pack of each),  but every time, I ended up junking half the glass in the sink – that’s how bad I feel they are.  There’s just no  flavor or depth at all.  I do not recommend them.

Thank goodness I still have some Southern Tier IPA in the fridge to save the day.

Souther IPA glass bottle  Southern IPA

Have you tried these beers before?  What did you think?

A tasting of Georg Schneider’s Eisbock, TAP 5, TAP 7

Since my last post, I’ve been able to sample several other beers from Georg Schneider’s brewery.   Here are my thoughts on each of them:

 

The Aventinus Eisbock is a dark,  rich and full of flavor wheat beer.  There’s a dark fruity essence to the beer that goes well with meat based meals.  You’ll taste some flavors of plums, banana as well as almonds.  It’s smooth,  with a hint of bitterness – overall well balanced I though.   I enjoyed it very much.  It has an alcohol content of 12% so it may not suit the light drinkers out there.

 

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The TAP 5, I liked the least.  It had the most “wheat” flavor of all the ones I tried.   It’s supposed to have a flavor of tropical fruit, but to me it lacked flavor and was very dry.  I did not find it refreshing at all.  It has an alcohol content of 8.2%

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The TAP 7 is an amber colored wheat beer.  I found it to be a very good, refreshing beer.  Light and flavorful – a little bit heavier than the TAP4 but not too heavy of a beer for a summer day. Very well balanced.  There’s some flavor of nuts, nutmeg and banana.  It has an alcohol content of 5.4%

 

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All in all, I was very pleased with Georg Schneider’s beers.  I particularly enjoyed the TAP5 and TAP4 which I think are good summer beers.  I also enjoyed the Aventinus Eisbock.   Even my wife enjoyed these and she’s not a big beer drinker.  We both found them to be full of flavors and well balanced.  Neither of us particularly like Hopfenweisse (TAP5) because it has such a dry finish.

 

Have you had a Georg Schneider beer?  What did you think?  Which is your favorite?

Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse – a perfect beer for a hot day.

This evening, I was in a German mood and poured myself a glass of Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse TAP4. Why did I wait so long to try it?  Probably because it’s a wheat beer, and I haven’t really liked those in the past. I’ve been missing out…

The TAP4 comes from a brewery in Bavaria called Schneider & Sohn.  It was founded in 1872 by…you guessed it, Georg Schneider I and his son Georg Schneider II.  They have a whole variety of beer with one thing in common –  they all are top-fermented wheat beers (fermented at warmer temperatures with air contact — vs bottom-fermented beers which are fermented at colder temperature and with little air exposure).

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The Wiesen Edel-Weisse TAP4 is an organic beer with an alcohol content of 6.2%.   It has a hint of citrus and no bitterness. It’s an easy to drink, very refreshing beer with excellent flavor and character.  Perfect for a hot summer day (Corona drinkers…you are missing out).   I haven’t been particularly found of wheat beers in the past,  but I must say that this one, along with a few others which I recently tasted during a trip to Belgium, are starting to make me realize I’ve been missing out.

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Grit & Grace

This past week, my wife and I checked out a new restaurant in Pittsburgh called Grit & Grace. It’s located on Liberty Avenue, steps from the Theater District and PNC Park. The chef is Brian Pekarcik (from Spoon). The stated goal is to “push opposites to the extreme to bring a unique and balanced dining experience”, hence the name Grit & Grace. The food has an Asian background, and sharing between everyone at the table is encouraged, especially at dinner time.

The restaurant has only been opened a couple of weeks, but already the place is buzzing with action. We went there for lunch on a Friday afternoon and would not have gotten a table had we not made reservations. The place is immediately welcoming and has a nice feel to it. It reminded me of a bistro, but with a modern vibrant, Asian style.

The staff was very friendly and had us at our table quickly. The lunch menu consists of salads and sandwiches, such as the spicy prawn salad with green papaya, kaykon, carrot, mint, cilantro, basil, garlic, ginger and cashews. There are also noodle dishes such as braised beef short ribs with flat rice noodles, bean sprouts, broccolini, mushrooms, onion and garlic. These dishes range from $6-15 for lunch, and up to $20 for dinner. Not to be forgotten, is a variety of Dim Sum which the staff carries around the restaurant with an option to sample anytime during your meal, for $5 a piece. There is a small, but good, selection of wine (by the bottle or glass), beer, and cocktails.

We first tried a Dim Sum – the Pork Belly bite with orange, chili, garlic and ginger to start our meal. Pork belly might not be healthy with all that fat, but who cares – the pork was perfectly cooked, and every bite a wonderful treat.

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Next we went for the crispy tempura eggplant with vegan mayo, smashed chickpea spread, arugula, and smoked cipollini onions. It came on a wonderful toasted foccacia that had my wife’s mouth watering. The flavors of the eggplant with the chickpea spread, mayo, and smoked onions was flavorful. Her only criticism was that the thick bread overpowered the eggplant. She felt that there needed to be more of the other ingredients between the buns to balance the sandwich.

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We also had the smoked brisket with kohlrabi kraut, thousand island sabayon, pickled red onions, corned beef tongue, and horseradish cream on a baguette. Simply put, it was delicious. The baguette was toasted perfectly and there was just the right balance between all the ingredients in every bite for a very satisfying sandwich.

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We weren’t planning to go for dessert, but when our waiter described the first one, we had to try it. I do not recall what he called it exactly, but it consisted of several chocolate truffles layered on ginger flavored Mochi (a Japanese rice cake) sitting on a bath of crème Anglaise and crunched fruity pebble cereal. Let me tell you, this was a perfect way to end the meal. It’s not uncommon for me to have a wonderful meal at a restaurant ruined by a poorly conceived dessert, but this was not the case as it was one of the best dessert I’ve had at a restaurant in a long time. The ginger, combined with the chocolate truffle, the crème, and the crunch of the pebbles was amazing. The only negative was that we had opted to share it between the both of us – big mistake, and next time we’re each getting our own.

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Grit and Grace is a wonderful addition to the Pittsburgh restaurant scene. Chef Pekarcik has created an innovative menu that takes common food out of the box. Everything is made with fresh ingredients and is well prepared. It’s a perfect place to meet colleagues and friends for lunch, after work or for dinner. I highly recommend it. Reservations are a must (opentable.com). To check out their menu, go to http://www.gritandgracepgh.com

La Chouffe Ale

For the holidays, I loaded up with various beers to try out and I thought La Chouffe’s golden ale would be a good one to get. I guess I thought the little gnome on the bottle reminded me of Christmas.

La Chouffe bottle

The Achouffe brewery is located in Belgium. While most breweries there have been around hundreds of years, Achouffe is quite young, having been founded in the late 1970’s. This is when two beer loving brother in laws got together to make beer as a hobby. Eventually the word got out that they were making some good stuff, and they were taken over by the Duvel Moortgat Brewery in 2006.

The Chouffe is a golden ale which contains a little bit of coriander. It is 8% alcohol.

La chouffe in a glass

As you can see, it has a beautiful color, but I was a little disappointed whith how it tasted. Perhaps it’s because I drank it shortly after Samuel Adams’ New World, but to me La Chouffe almost felt watery, with very little complexity and right now I’m not sure I’d purchase another bottle. Have you had this beer? What did you think of it?

Samuel Adams’ New World

I recently found several bottles of Samuel Adams’ craft beer, and of course, I had to try them out. The first one I sampled is called “New World”

Sam Adams New World

It is a Belgian style Triple. It has an amber color, and is 10% alcohol. I must say that I was very impressed with this beer. It has a wonderful balanced beer with a fruity aroma (due to the type of Belgian yeast used), a hint of sourness (just enough), and is very refreshing. I highly recommend it. Have you had it yet? If so, what do you think of it?

Sam Adams in the glass