Mmmm,Tasso!

 

 

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If you’ve never had Tasso ham before, it probably means that you don’t live anywhere near the south. Before visiting New Orleans and moving to Texas, I had only heard about it in Emeril recipes, always to be followed by the obligatory asterisk – “*if Tasso is unavailable, substitute with bacon or ham”. I suppose it’s a little true – if Tasso is totally unavailable, bacon is better than nothing – but I surely wouldn’t call it a substitute. Tasso is it’s own beautiful, wonderful, glorious beast that allows no substitution.

It is important to note that while it’s called “Tasso Ham”, it is not actually “ham”. Ham is made from the hind leg of the pig, while Tasso is traditionally made from the shoulder. As many of the best southern traditions have been, it was created out of necessity – a way to use up the left over scraps of the least used cut of the whole pig.

A good way to get a better perspective on how any traditional dish is supposed to be made is to think about that – how it started, where it came from. Then, grab Michael Ruhlman’s “Charcuterie” as a great reference and read as many additional recipes as possible. Everyone does it a little bit different.

Here is my way:

First, make sure you have a large enough pan (or pans) to hold all of the meat comfortably without overlapping. Cut up the big pork butt into large, thick pieces, leaving on all the fat and cutting against the grain.

Next, give the meat a good salt cure:
2 parts kosher salt to 1 part white granulated sugar. (Enough to fully cover the meat in a thick, even coating.) Pour the salt cure as evenly as possible and massage into the pork, leaving a fairly thick coating. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.IMG_1873

Third, while the meat is curing, mix up your dry rub with the following ingredients to your preferred taste:

  • Ground white pepper
  • Ground black pepper
  • Ground cayenne pepper
  • Ground allspice
  • Ground paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried oregano

Then, after 3-4 hours refrigerated, rinse the cure off of the meat, dry with paper towel and and cover with a nice hefty coating of the dry rub; cover and refrigerate to cure overnight.

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Finally, while the shoulder is sitting in the fridge, find access to an awesome smoker.

If you don’t have access to a smoker, you can use your oven. In order to get an imitation of the rich smokey flavor that is so important, try wrapping smoking chips in tin foil and putting on the bottom of your oven, on the rack beneath the meat. Heat the oven to 220 degrees, make sure the heat is nice and steady, and put the pork in for 4 or so hours. Try your best not to open the door to look at it so you can maintain that good steady heat.

If you do have access to a smoker, I suggest using pecan chips and if you can control the heat, try to keep it at 220. Cram the meat in there with excitement and don’t open the smoker for 3 hours. IMG_1882

To check the done-ness of the pork (smoker or oven) use a meat thermometer, which should read somewhere between 150 – 180 degrees. Poke the meat a little as its finishing to see how done it is: is it solid but tender? Then it’s good to go.

Once done, here are some ideas on what to do with it:

Pizza:

  • Remoulade sauce (mayo based, heavy on the mustard)
  • Medium Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Very thinly sliced and quartered green tomatoes
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Tasso, sliced long and thin (like pastrami)

Layer pizza with all ingredients (Tasso on top) and bake at 500 on a thin crust, until crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes.

Also try it:

  • cubed in jumbalaya, gumbo or sauteed greens like spinach or chard
  • use the same pizza ingredients as a po’boy sandwich
  • use anywhere in place of normal ham for a little extra pizzazz.

Have any more great ideas? Let me know! And enjoy!

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Red Beans & Rice!

Austin has a surprisingly strong NOLA prominence. Saints t-shirts everywhere, plenty of transplants, the famous muffelatta and po’ boy sandwiches. It’s not exactly the same (I have yet to find a roast beef po’ boy) but love it just as much! I suppose the influence shouldn’t be so surprising considering we are only 7-ish hours away and we’re close enough to the coast for the most dominant New Orleans ingredients: fresh gulf oysters, gulf shrimp and even crawfish just about anytime in the season.

Red beans and rice is no exception. I see it commonly, all over menus from a range of establishments from New Orleans-themed dive bars to classy cajun restaurants. The only problem is, I find it difficult to pay for a meal that was historically created to use the cheapest, easiest ingredients. Using the bones from Sunday ham day, the ladies of the house could put on a pot of beans Monday morning and get started on their chores without having to tend to the stove.

I guess we mostly work out of the home at this point, and Monday is no longer washday, so give it a try any day of the week. You can use any kind of scrap ham bones from your local butcher, meat market, or even grocery store but I strongly prefer the smoked hocks with a bit of meat left on. They’re usually something like $1/lb.IMG_1772

So, with that, here is my recipe for red beans and rice, complete with the quintessential “holy trinity” of celery, onion, and green bell peppers. I’m sure many would argue it’s not Creole food without this combination.IMG_1779

For One Pound of Beans:

      3 cloves garlic, minced
      green bell peppers, diced
      1 medium yellow onion, diced
      3 stalks celery, diced, top leaves roughly chopped and reserved
      2 jalapenos, finely diced
      3 Bay leaves
      1T granulated garlic
      2-3T butter
      48oz. chicken stock

      2 smoked ham hocks (app. 1.5lbs, combined)
      1/2 cup chopped ham, Tasso ham, thick cut bacon, or combination, diced

      A few shakes of a good, southern, vinegary hot sauce such as Texas Pete or Crystal
      48oz. chicken stock (sub: veggie stock if you like)
      1lb red beans (duh)

      1 bunch green onion, sliced

      Kosher salt & ground black pepperIMG_1778

      In a medium stock pot, quickly brown bacon and/or ham on medium-high heat, then add butter slowly to heat but not brown. Add garlic, onion, bell peppers, celery and jalapeno, cooking until just soft and fragrant. Add beans, bay leaves and ham hocks and cover with chicken stock, stir, cover pot with lid. Once liquid is boiling, stir and continue adding stock or water a little at a time to keep the beans completely covered. Add hot sauce and granulated garlic, turn heat down to slow simmer and replace pot lid. Check and stir often until beans are softened.IMG_1774

      Taste the cooking liquid often to test flavor before the beans are softened and add salt & pepper appropriately throughout cooking.

      Serve with cooked white rice (see note), and top with chopped green onion and reserved celery leaves.
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      (feel free to serve it with some Andouille sausage, too….)

    *Note: Instead of dull, bland white rice, I prefer to give it just a tiny pizzaz by cooking the grains in a liquid of half stock, half water, throw in a few bay leaves and some black pepper.

    Enjoy!

My New Life with Texas BBQ (or:) Why My Pants Are A Little Tighter Now

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My new city is filled to the brim with food and (luckily) almost all I’ve had so far is crazy good. Most of it rides the perfect, delicate line that traverses the worlds of creativity and tradition. And fried stuff. Lots of fried stuff.

Such as fried deviled eggs.

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 Or, fried rocky mountain oysters. (AKA calf fries). (If you don’t know what those are, look it up. And I’ll let you know ahead of time, they’re actually super delicious and surprisingly very common here.)IMG_1491

One of the many other glorious Austin foods that mixes traditions to create its own tradition: the breakfast taco:

IMG_1579Although every taco shanty has it’s own twist on the ubiquitous breakfast taco, the standard base is what you’d expect – a traditional Mexican tortilla filled with traditional American breakfast items: eggs, cheese, potatoes. Sometimes bacon, chorizo – or my favorite, last night’s left over brisket chopped into taco sized bits. Sometimes even sausage. You’re free to hold the potatoes, hold the meat, hold the cheese or add a few extra toppings. Anything you desire, just don’t hold the chiles – lest you be shunned from Texas forever. IMG_1580

Now for the big one: Central Texas Barbeque.

Article after article, book after book, guide after guide have all been written about Texas BBQ. And for a good reason – it’s awesome and there’s a lot of it. Plenty of instructions and guidelines to BBQ etiquette abound and I have tried to follow them, but it seems that just as everyone has their own idea of how to smoke the best brisket, so do they have their own ideas of how to eat it.

Some places go by hard and stringent Texas tradition of no sauce, not even hot sauce. No forks. No plates. (ok, maybe a little hot sauce….just a little.)IMG_1720IMG_1569Kreuz Market has been around since 1900, so their sign says. It’s a brother-sister turned in-law rivalry with Smitty’s Market just down the street. One does the long cooked, low and slow brisket and the other does the quick (still 6-8 hours) higher heat. The ultimate in BBQ debate.

No matter the preference for smoking length, the smokers are beautiful, with brick walls and doors covered in a century of black smoke.IMG_1721Other places, such as Blacks, are just as old, just as family owned, and a little more lenient on the rules: sauce OK served on the side at the table, a few more options for your meat-and-three style plate.

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A few standards always prevail, though: pickles and onions on the side, potato salad, cole slaw, and sliced bread. IMG_1608

And, eating with your hands.IMG_1546

In the end, the only proper etiquette you really need is to enjoy it!

You can follow Kitchen Eclectic and my journey through the world of Texas food on instagram: @kitcheneclectic

*Visit the historic Blacks BBQ, Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. Go as early as possible to get the best cuts, and to give yourself time to digest before the next plate of meat.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

dry ingredients

I used to hate chicken, but not too long ago I realized the true beauty of perfectly roasted, moist dark meat with an oven crisped skin. I think I got used to going out and having dry, dull, under seasoned, boneless, skinless chicken breast. I know there are reasons for eating white meat – and congrats to all of those out there who put up with it for the sake of health. But I can’t do it. It’s sooooo boring! So, I go for the dark meat only –  always bone-in, skin-on thighs. The best part of the bird.

I also love hearty, chunky, herbacious comdiments for any meat – chimichurri, gremolata, variations of persillade – so on and so forth. Lucky for this recipe, chicken just happens to lend itself very well to all of these.

It’s important to note that when added before cooking, the flavor of your condiment will mellow out pretty significantly in the cooking process. In this particular recipe, that’s exactly what you want.

Barely a Gremolata

  • 1/2 bunch parsley (preferably flat leaf)
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 3-4 medium sized garlic cloves
  • 3.5 Tablespoons capers
  • 1.5 Tablespoons chopped green olives, or prepared tapenade
  • 2 anchovy fillet, very small dice
  • 1 teaspoon chili flake
  • pinch of dried thyme (app. tiny palmful)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • splash of white wine
  • dried oregano, reserved
  • extra pinch dried red chili flakes, reserved
  • salt and pepper

Pulse all the items, except olive oil, reserved oregano, chili and the salt and pepper together in a food processor. Once all the ingredients have been coarsely chopped and fairly well mixed, (about 5 pulses) slowly add extra virgin olive oil and continue pulsing to blend. The consistency should be fairly coarse and oily, similar to a chimichurri or Italian salsa verde. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Next, pack a ceramic or glass baking dish with a well buttered bottom tightly with 4 skin-on chicken thighs and 3-4 quartered red potatoes. Be sure to very lightly salt and pepper both sides of the chicken, salt and pepper the potatoes. Lightly sprinkle everything with the reserved pinch of dried oregano and chili flakes. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Next, pour the contents of the food processor over the top of the chicken and potatoes, distributing evenly and making sure it covers everything. Let marinate for up to 2 hours.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Once marinated, add 5 or so small pats of room temperature butter directly on top of the potatoes and chicken, cover baking dish with tin foil and slide into a pre-heated 400 degree oven.

Check every 10 minutes or so and, using a baster or large spoon, redistribute the melted butter and juices that will accumulate on the bottom of the dish. After 20-25 minutes, remove the foil and replace the uncovered dish in the oven to start browning the skin.

Check their doneness with a meat thermometer, or just cut a small slit into one thigh to check. If using a thermometer, it should be around 165. The higher the temp, the dryer the meat will be.

While you’re waiting for your chicken to cook, make a quick salad that will compliment the flavors of the chicken.

Super Simple Dressing

  • Fresh lemon juice (use the lemons you just zested)
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grain brown mustard
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Use an basic ratio of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part mustard, 1/2 part lemon juice, adjusting to taste. Add oregano, salt and pepper to taste and whisk if mixing in a bowl or shake furiously if mixing in a jar or bottle (my preference).

(Note: If you’re not doing it already, save your small jars from jam and whatnot or your small glass bottles with a top from products like Strauss Family Creamery heavy cream. They make fantastic dressing bottles to mix and store. Also, places like Big Lots and 99cent stores are great. I got a package of picnic ketchup and mustard bottles for $1 and I use them all the time for homemade condiments of all kinds.)

Toss together a mix of torn lettuces, any mixed salad greens you have around. Thinly slice some carrots and radishes. Toss together with the greens and have ready to dress when chicken is done.

Plate the juicy chicken with the potatoes and a side salad and enjoy!

(oh, ps: Use any leftovers for a fantastic chicken sandwich! Mayo, mustard, salt, pepper, some greens and left over salad veggies for a crunch. Pull the chicken and skin right off the bone and mix it all up together. Serve between 2 slices of buttered, mayo-ed toasted bread and left over potatoes on the side.)

Gluten-Free (Flourless!) Salted Choloclate Peanut Butter Cookies!

If someone tells you “you get used to being gluten free” they’re either lying or they’re so hungry they’re delusional. Sure, it gets easier and you get used to learning how to eat – but you never really stop wanting that chewy, crunchy, crusty, crispy, doughy texture of true gluten filled products. Sandwiches, pizza, bagels, pasta; I want it all! There are some decent gluten free breads out there (Mariposa Bakery, I thank you) , but left untoasted, the majority of them are just so dry it’s not even worth it.

And dessert? Well that’s the worst! It didn’t matter to much until recently when I developed a sweet tooth. I always prefer ice cream to anything else, but if that’s not available I want something lovely, fresh, and beautiful to share with my other half. Too bad, forget about it. Summer berry tart? No way. Mmmm blackberry pie? I don’t think so. A cookie from one of those gorgeous new bakeries that keeps opening? They’re beautiful, but never ever, ever. Fairly often, here in the Bay Area, there will be a wacky cupcake shop or dessert bar that will offer gluten free options – but it’s usually grainy, chalky, pasty and just not worth it at all.

Finally, though – I think I figured it out!

donecookies

And, coming from one who is not a super baker – they’re so simple!

I use half almond butter/half peanut butter in this recipe, but it’s a fairly flexible recipe. You can use all almond butter, all peanut butter….heck — you can probably use half cashew and half macadamia nut butters if you really want. Or all of one. Or a mix. Get crazy if you want – just stick to nut butters, and keep the ratios the same.

Gluten-Free Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • handful of chocolate chips (app. 30 or so)
  • Super coarse sea salt or a lovely finishing salt for sprinkling (suggested: cypress black salt for great texture and it’s so pretty!)cypress salt

Mix it all (except salt and chocolate chips) togetherdough

Spoon small amounts onto a Silpat or waxpaper lined baking sheet, and sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of salt and press 2-3 chocolate chips into the center.editedcookies

Bake at 350 for approximately 10 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the center is just set, making sure to turn the tray half way through.

Tips

❧ You MUST let these guys cool well before taking them off the tray.

❧ I strongly recommend using a silpat for these cookies; because they are flourless,       they can tend to be a little delicate and any stickiness can tear them apart.

Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to enjoy them! (Ice cream on top, anyone????)