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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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.

Summer Berry Jam, Quick

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Mmmm! It’s summertime, and that means berries! Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, golden raspberries, blueberries – even plums and cherries are gettin’ their business done. So what does this mean? Either stains on your shirt from eating them while sitting in the  sun, juice lusciously dripping down – or jam!

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Traditionally we think of jam as this long, outrageous process that our grandmothers  spent all of Sunday doing while darning their husbands socks and making fudge. The truth is, it doesn’t really have to be that way. You can do it with really minimal ingredients, no pectin and in about an hour.

You don’t have to properly can this (or “put it up” as they say) if you will use it within 3 weeks or so. Instead, just let the jam cool completely after boiling it, put it in a container (glass is best) and refrigerate it.

If you are canning it make sure to have your jars, lids and rings prepared and ready, and get your water bath going so it’s all ready when the jam is done; it will make the whole process move much more quickly.

For approximately 2 pints of jam, you will need:

  • 2.5 lbs of fruit (whatever mix or single variety you desire; first time, I recommend strawberry for greatest simplicity)
  • app. 3 cups of sugar, added 1/4 cup at a time, tasting along the way
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • jars, lids and bands (or some preferably glass holder, if not canning) to hold the finished product
  • a ladle
  • a spoon in the freezer (trust me, you’ll see why)

 

  1. Start by washing your fruit well and hulling you strawberries, stemming your grapes, etc.
  2. Any larger fruits (the size of a small strawberry) cut into quarters, smaller, cut into halves, anything as small as a blueberry or raspberry leave whole. Feel free to use a food processor for this, unless you are using grapes (it messes with the skin). Cut all grapes into halves and quarters.
  3. Plop the fruit into a heavy bottomed pot – preferably a dutch oven, or at least something short and stout – at turn the heat on medium-high. I like to smash the fruit immediately with a potato masher or fork, just a little bit, to help get the juices flowing.
  4. Once the fruit gets juicy and starts to heat, start adding the sugar and stir often to make sure the sugar and fruit doesn’t burn.  cookingjam
  5. Add the lemon once the fruit is nice and juicy and begins to boil, and still continue to stir often.
  6. Continue to stir, letting it boil and reduce for 15-20 minutes (some fruits take longer, some take less). To check to see when it’s done, you can do the spoon test:

Use the cold spoon that you have in the freezer and put a tiny dollop of jam on               the spoon and stick it back in the freezer for a minute until the jam cools a bit and then use your finger to wipe a stripe down the middle. If it doesn’t run, it’s good to go. Take it off the heat and get ready to can it up. If runs, continue to boil and reduce, and try the spoon test again in 5 minutes or so.

 Though I don’t strongly recommend it, if you do have any troubles with getting it thick and gooey enough, you can use:

  • cream of tartar
  • arrowroot
  • cornstarch

*note: if you use any of these, use very little and dissolve in water first (make a “slurry”), otherwise you will have lumps and it won’t do it’s job, it’ll just be a weird mess.

Once it’s thick to your liking, it’s ready to jar. If you’re not going to can it, let it cool and put it away in the fridge. If you are going to can it, make sure you have your water bath boiling, your jars, lids and rings hot. Fill the hot jars with the hot jam, wipe the rims clean with a paper towel, secure the lids and rings and get them in that water bath, lid side up, fully submerged.boilingjars

Once the water is back up to a serious rolling boil, process for 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the jar, remove, and leave to cool on a towel for 12 hours.

And you’re ready to enjoy! (I like mine on toast with peanut butter…mmmmmm…..)

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Snacks! Veggie, Cheesy, Pickled, Salty. Snacks!

I love snacks! And I think most of us out there do, too. The great thing about a well designed snack is you can use it as an appetizer, amuse bouche, small plate etc. for guests or a dinner party. This is a great example of one of those eat-at-home-alone or dress-it-up-for-guests snacks.

Ricotta and Radish on Crackers

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I can’t stop eating it, no joke. This little bite makes me want to put ricotta on everything, and everything on top of ricotta. I’ve gone through pints of the mild, creamy cheese in the last week just in order to combine it with anything I can find hoping to make it as unbelievable as it is with cracker, radish, salt and pepper.

It’s crazy easy, but it will blow your mind – and the mind of anyone you share it with. All you need to have is a thin, crisp but sturdy cracker, fresh creamy ricotta, and some thinly sliced radishes and a little salt and pepper, too, of course.

Or, for a little extra pizazz, omit the salt and sub the fresh radishes for some delish pickled ones:

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Shameless plug coming…… (contact me at KitchenEclectic@gmail.com    for pickle orders)

It’s a tasty trick for left overs, too. Last night’s salad of spinach, walnut, and cucumbers last was out of this world on top of ricotta crackers this afternoon.

And don’t forget to try your hand at your own ricotta – takes no time at all. A few minutes of work, 2 hours of sitting around doing nothing. Courtesy of me: Homemade Ricotta.

What else can you top ricotta and crackers with? Salted carrots? Beets? Enjoy a snack and let me know!

 

Tacos, Tacos, TACOS! (and how to make tortillas)

Well, another Mexican vacation is behind me and another reassurance that my heart and soul belong south of the border is under my belt.

Until this trip, all of my adult time in Mexico had been spent Guadalajara and south – I’ve experienced Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacan, Morelos, Oaxaca, Chiapas. As a child, I grew up in southern California though, so I saw Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada. I don’t remember too much of it, except for a few very specific memories: the best beans I’ve ever had (still to this day), half-way finished cinder block housing (I assume taken over for hotels, resorts and timeshares at this point), and even then knowing that there was something special about that place….

 A few years beyond a 12 year old now, southern Mexico has been “real Mexico” to me – whatever that means. You hear it everywhere, but something about it seems true. Many parts of Baja cater to the American tourist; most everyone speaks English and don’t have the slightest expectation of you even giving Spanish a try, it’s easier to find a restaurant dedicated to fried chicken than to tacos, and most things are charged in US Dollars. That being said – Baja Sur is still wonderful. Cabo San Lucas I could take or leave, but the surrounding area on the coast and inland is filled with exactly what the bumper stickers say: “No Dias Malas” (no bad days) – bare, sandy feet all day, distractions from driving because you see a whale off the coast, a general relaxed attitude of “whatever, it’s fine” and once you make your way along the highway out of the tourist towns – all the tacos you and me are looking for.

What do you want? Extremely fresh shrimp tacos with pico de gallo?

Some of those good ole fashioned fish tacos with salsa and crema?

Whatever taco you desire, it’s there, fresh and most delicious! Of course, ceviche is everywhere and it’s heavenly. Some places think it’s fancy for the gringos, and will charge you an arm and a leg – but just wait it out and you’ll find a great place like I did that will give you a ceviche tostada for 20 pesos (that’s less than $2USD).

And with more hot sauce than will fit in the frame of an instagram photo, to boot.

It’s magical.

In other taco news around the southern coast, there’s also machaca:

Machaca is a traditional regional dish of northern Mexico and Baja. I thought it was only beef – and I bet all of you did, too. But it’s not! In and around the coast of Baja Sur (both west and east sides) there is Machaca de Pescado (usually Tilapia) or even Machaca de Rey (yep – manta ray!). Machaca de Marlin is most common and sooo good. It’s Marlin that has been dried, pulled, and then rehydrated and really lightly smoked. Oh and those tacos are out of control.

 (I like a lot of toppings….) (The little red bits you see underneath there is the machaca.)

Of course, Baja is still Mexico, so don’t forget those non-seafood more traditional tacos.

Baja Sur’s favorite breakfast (and mine now, too) is birria tacos. These corn tortillas were dipped in the birria juice first, then grilled on a greasy, steaming, side of the road flat top. Great flavor, piled high with hot sauce at 10 in the morning on the way to the beach. Try to beat that. I bet you can’t.

Or, topped with cabbage, a mix of cilantro and onion and a spicy salsa verde. Don’t forget the jamaica juice!

Alas, sadly (and against my will), I eventually had to come home. Upon my return to the sun and sand deprived bay area, I still couldn’t get enough tacos and so decided to do a little taco party of my own. I’ve lived in or near latin neighborhoods for a long time, so I see the masa in markets all the time and have always wanted to make my own tortillas.

Luckily it’s also crab season here in San Francisco – so tortillas, fresh crab…. I think you know where this is going….

It’s easier than it seems, but making tacos does necessitate some attention to nuances.

Tortillas

For first (and I suspect – 2nd, 3rd and probably 6th, 7th and 8th) time tortilla makers, get the pre-made masa – that’s the masa pre-mixed with water and a bit of lime. Depending on where you go, sometimes lard. The lard does help to hold it together, but that’s more essential for tamales. For tortillas – just get the masa (usually in a plastic bag) who’s ingredients are: masa, water, lime. That’s it.

You must have a tortilla press, too. Some instructions I’ve read have said you can do it with a rolling pin – and more power to you if you wanna try – but unless you’re an old mexican grandma with 40 years of tortilla making experience, I wouldn’t do it. And even then, they don’t use rolling pins. It was hard enough to get it going with pre-made masa and a tortilla press.

With pre-mixed masa, a tortilla press and a nice, hot, lightly oiled skillet (preferably cast iron) you’re as set as you’re gonna be to make some great tortillas.

So get the rest of your basics together and get pressing:

  • If you don’t have a tortilla warmer, set your oven on the lowest temperature (usually 250) and you can keep them warm in there, or wrap them in a fairly thick kitchen towel.

 

  • Make sure you have a few pieces of wax paper (or plastic grocery bags will do) pre-cut to coat both sides of the tortilla press (absolutely essential!)


  • Start with a small ball of masa, about 3/4 the size of a ping pong ball, roll it between your palms like play-dough, stick it the middle of the tortilla press, and squish away. Open up the tortilla press and here’s your tortilla:

  •  After pressing the masa, get them in the hot skillet as soon as possible; keep them warm after grilled and they should be ready to go.

 

  • Re-heat in the skillet or oven when ready, if needed.

Tortilla hints:

*If it starts getting sticky and the tortillas start tearing after a while, try coating your hands in just a little bit of olive oil, or dusting them with coarse cornmeal before rolling them and before taking them off the tortilla press.

*Pressing the tortillas twice can help them from being doughy inside. It depends on the size of your tortillas and the wetness of your masa.

 But you can’t have just tacos without salsa, can you?

 Citrus Salsa

  • Oranges, peeled with no pith, seeded and diced (Cara Cara, Satsuma, Mandarin – the sweeter the better, and a mix is fun)
  • English cucumber finely diced (or, substitue regular, peeled)
  • 1 habanero pepper, seeded and very very finely minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and very very finely minced
  • zest of 1 lime
  • heavy handed sprinkle of coarse sea salt
  • (feel free to add a small splash of tequila right to the salsa, if you like – try it on a spon first to see….it’s quite tasty)

Start the party with the salsa served on a chip and a shot of tequila beside it! Then follow up as taco toppings.

 Another great taco topping, inspired by an almost ubiquitous spicy cream salsa Baja uses for many of its seafood tacos seen here:

Chipotle Cream Salsa

  • sour cream
  • a couple canned chipotles in adobo, seeded
  • half a lime
  • splash of olive oil
  • coarse sea salt, to taste

 

  1. combine in food processor
  2. glop lovingly on tacos

*you have to do this one a little to taste, because the chipotle can be very flavorful, but can also be craaazy hot, so it depends on your spice tolerance; it’s also essential that you seed the peppers out of the can. Adding more sour cream/crema will help to cool it if it’s too hot.

 

And, of course, enjoy!