Friday, November 9, 2012

Chili Today, Hot Tamale

The Friggin' Gourmet
photo by Phil Soriano
I was in a chili cook-off today at work. Skipping the suspense and avoiding a setup and punchline, I won.

Ego trip aside, it was a little odd. I've never cooked competitively. (I've eaten competitively — a sushi-eating contest at the Morakami Museum — and it was disgusting.)

But this was a lot of fun and for a good cause; abandoned doggies. The event raised $900 which was great!

My big regret (aside from not being able to have my chili for lunch since it sold out pretty quickly) was not tasting the seven other entries. (I tried one.)

But it was very flattering, of course, to have people come up to me and tell me how much they liked my chili, that I should open a restaurant and sell chili dogs (yeah, right) or ask for my "secret ingredient."

Secret ingredient? Ha! I'm Mr. Transparent when it comes to food, so I'm happy to share.

But I didn't use a recipe, so I'm just going to list the ingredients and encourage experimentation. And other than a few items, no amounts are specified since I didn't keep track. This isn't science but craft.

Oh, and while this chili isn't hot, hot, hot (a/k/a Three-Mile Island Chili), it has depth and presence. I went for a bit of complexity and succeeded but it's not mild or bland, so if that's what you prefer, this is not for you. And despite the photo, actual cooking (and reheating the next morning) was done in a pot on top of the stove; the slow cooker was used only for serving.

Have at it!

approx. 3 lbs. ground chuck
approx 1 lb. loose Italian sausage
canola oil
4 15-oz. cans chili beans
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 diced onions
onion powder
garlic cloves
garlic powder
Kosher salt
soy sauce
2 roasted red bell peppers
fresh ground black pepper
white pepper
Louisiana hot sauce

thinly sliced green onions
sliced jalapeño peppers
(Optional: shredded cheddar, sour cream)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Spell It Barbeque, Barbecue, BBQ or Bar-B-Q, South Florida Has the Real Thing

For purists, barbecue is a process and not a product. No disrespect to the school of low and slow cuisine, but we’re going to focus here on what’s on the plate.

Though some claim that in Florida, the further south you travel, the further north it seems, South Florida is a mecca for southern-style barbecue.

But what exactly is barbecue?

To many, the term “barbecue” (or BBQ, Bar-B-Q or barbeque) is unquestionably synonymous with all manner of grilled foods: Hot dogs, hamburgers, turkey burgers, veggie patties, baby back ribs, chicken wings and any other fire-roasted, grilled edibles. That’s barbecue. Or is it?

To devotees, “barbecue” means pork spareribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket, sausage, chicken and turkey, rubbed with spices and cooked slowly over low dry heat, flavored with the smoke of hardwood — preferably hickory — with sauce optional.

For purists, barbecue is a process and not a product. It’s strict, and its qualities are defined by experts, many of whom cook and compete based on a rigorous set of standards.

No disrespect to ardent followers of this venerable school of low and slow cuisine, but we’re going to focus here on what’s on the plate and not in the kitchen (or in the pit).

Like most of the country, South Florida has a plethora of popular national chains, serving steaming heaps of sauce-slathered, moist-cooked ribs and chicken finished in a hot oven or on a grill. They call it “barbecue” and that will suffice for most of their customers, who blissfully believe they’re eating the genuine article (or haven’t really given it much thought either way).

But for those who crave a bit more authenticity on their plate and in their mouth, South Florida offers a number of tasty options.

Here’s a look at some favorite SoFla stops for ’que.

Scruby’s has three locations in Broward (Davie, Pembroke Pines and Tamarac). They brag that their baby back ribs dish is their top seller, but pork spare ribs here are consistently meaty, smoky and very satisfying. They also serve beef brisket and chicken wings, and a rich and tasty Brunswick stew. Even nachos (!) are on the menu. Smoked chicken is quite good, and the usual retinue of side dishes is also top-notch. Sweet Corn Nuggets, a fried and breaded starter served with butter and honey, is a popular offering.

Shorty’s began their rib reign in South Miami circa 1951. The original building burned down in 1972, was rebuilt on the same spot and later heavily damaged during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. After rebuilding yet again, the crew also expanded north and west to Davie, Deerfield Beach, Doral and West Miami. The solid menu of ribs, pork, pork steaks and chicken is supplanted with burgers and a local south Florida favorite, churrasco (grilled skirt steak). The side dishes are all very good, but the tangy cole slaw is exceptional. Tip: Be sure to check their website for printable discount coupons before visiting.

Sonny’s is a regional chain, founded in 1968, with 127 locations dotted throughout Florida and the Southeast. Based in Maitland, near Orlando, their log-cabin-esque locations were formerly ubiquitous in South Florida, but they’re now down to single spots in Broward (Davie) and Miami-Dade (Florida City, south of Homestead). In addition to their popular spare ribs, the menu includes reliable favorites like baby backs, brisket, chicken, turkey, sliced and pulled pork, and Brunswick stew. There’s also a (gasp!) salad bar with a good selection of greens and accompaniments.

For some SoFla barbecue aficionados, Tom Jenkins’ homey downtown Fort Lauderdale eatery is the gold standard for the area. Their menu of pit-smoked pork, ribs, brisket and chicken offers consistently excellent barbecue every day (except Sunday). They also serve fried catfish and stellar sides, including collard greens, corn on the cob, coleslaw, baked beans and macaroni and cheese. The single location is country-casual and takes no reservations, but the barbecue is as good as it gets – anywhere. If you’re picking up or dropping off at the nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, this is well worth a side trip.

There are a number of other single locations dotted throughout south Florida. (Wish we could cover them all. Maybe we’ll continue this tour down the road.)

One example, Dixie Pig (no website; here's the Yelp listing) – an unassuming little stand on Dixie Highway just south of Commercial Boulevard in a mixed business area of Oakland Park – states unambiguously that they serve “Real North Carolina ‘Vinegar Base’ BBQ,” and so they do – outside, no less. There’s no interior seating here, though the tables are all under cover, in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. Pulled pork, chicken and beef are the stars, but the ribs are excellent, too. Breakfast is served as well, with omelets that include their barbecued meats, along with the usual fillings. They offer a surprisingly diverse menu with meatloaf, hoagies, fried chicken and more, but their terrific barbecue is the best reason to visit.

If You Go

Dixie Pig
4495 North Dixie Highway
Oakland Park, Fl 33334

Scruby’s BBQ
8990 W State Road 84
Davie, FL 33324-4457

Shorty’s Bar-B-Q (5 locations)
South Miami (#1)
9200 South Dixie Hwy
Miami, FL 33156

Sonny’s Bar-B-Q
(various locations)
2699 S. University Drive
Davie, FL 33328

Tom Jenkins’ Bar-B-Q
1236 South Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

Originally posted at 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Butternut Squash Ravioli

This isn't as much a recipe as it is a plan. The amounts here are far from exact but the process is pretty idiot-proof, so no worries!
What you need
About a cup of cooked butternut squash.
I usually slice 'em, scrape out (and discard) the seeds and fibers, sprinkle a little salt and pepper, turn upside down on a plate and nuke for about ten minutes. Allow to cool, then scoop out the cooked squash.

Wonton Skins.
The ones I used are 3.5 inches square.
They're available in the produce section of your supermarket or you can get 'em here.

Salt and pepper to taste (as they say)
2 cloves of garlic
Butter and olive oil
1 egg, separated (yolk and white)
Sage leaves (or dried sage).
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Nutmeg and allspice (optional).

What you do

Mash up the cooked butternut squash in a mixing bowl. Taste it. If it's sweet, just put in a little salt and pepper. Sometimes, the squash is a bit bland, so you might need to add a little allspice and nutmeg (about a half teaspoon of each) to bump up the flavor. You can also add a teaspoon of honey, if you like it to be even sweeter.
Add the egg yolk to the squash and mix thoroughly. Let stand.

The wraps
Open your package of wonton skins and take out a stack. You should be able to make about 20-24 with the squash. The wonton skins can dry out pretty quickly, so cover them with a wet paper towel.
Beat the egg white and keep it near the stack of skins.
You don't need this —and I was prepared to make this by hand — but I remembered that I had this dumpling press (pictured below) stashed away in a drawer. 
What do you know! It was the perfect size for the wonton skins. (If you want to purchase one, click on the image or here.)
The procedure is to take a wonton skin, lay it on a flat surface (or within the dumpling press). Put about half a teaspoonful of the squash in the middle of the wrapper. With your finger (or a brush, if you're prissy), spread some egg white around the edge of the skin. Close the press (or fold the filled wonton skin with your fingers), sealing the edges together. You should have a tight, filled package with as little air as possible and no squash seeping through.

Lay each filled and sealed wonton skin on a flat surface to dry.
You'll have about 20 or so with about a cup of squash. If you have wonton skins left over, reseal and use soon. They will dry out, so use 'em or lose 'em.
Fill a pot with water, add salt and boil your (ta da!) ravioli.
You don't need a violent, rapid boil, just a bit of bubbling.
Use a wooden spoon (or whatever) to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
The ravioli will be done in about 5 minutes or less, so don't overcook.

In the meantime, heat a large, flat pan; low-medium heat, and add  2 tbs. butter.
You don't want the butter to sputter and crackle, just melt and slowly brown. 
Smash your 2 garlic cloves against the flat blade of a large knife on a cutting board. Add to the melting butter. 
Keep the heat low; you don't want to burn the garlic.

When the ravioli are done, remove from water and drain.
By this time, the butter should be starting to darken. Turn heat down to low. 
Drizzle in about a tablespoon of olive oil and blend with the butter. 
Add the ravioli and gently mix. Add more olive oil, if needed.
If you have sage leaves, add them now or sprinkle just a bit or ground sage. Salt and pepper to taste. 
Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Slow-Roasted Beef Brisket

1 beef brisket approx 4-5 lbs
1 tsp each kosher or sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika (pref. smoked)
1 tbs liquid smoke (optional)
1 tbs olive oil
1 large onion.

Remove brisket from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 200° F.
Drizzle and spread olive oil on the bottom of a roasting pan, just enough to cover surface of the pan. Use as little oil as necessary to cover surface.
Wipe brisket with a paper towel.
Place brisket fat-side down on roasting pan (in the olive oil). (It's not necessary to trim fat but if it seems excessive, feel free.)
Combine dry ingredients and use half to rub on top of brisket, then turn over (fat-side up) and rub remainder on.
Drizzle a bit of the liquid smoke on top (optional).
Cut onion into thick slices and place flat on brisket.

Roast for 8 hours at 200° F., remove from oven, place on cutting board and slice thinly across grain. Top with your favorite barbecue sauce (optional).
Serve with Cole slaw, beans, mashed potatoes and the onion slices.

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