Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chipotle Style Beef

I have been developing a love for spicy food, in particular I like adding hot sauce to pretty much anything that is not a dessert. I thought that hot sauces would be useful in the cooking process as well. I had used hot sauce successfully in a pork recipe , so I figured it would work just as well with beef. I used a chipotle style hot sauce called pick-a-pepper, which has a more smoky flavor. I'm also proud to say that I kept this recipe to four ingredients. Particularly when you are busy, the less prep and ingredients involved, the better. Save the really complicated recipes for the weekend.
1 lb beef stew meat
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of "pick-a-pepper" sauce
2 tablespoons of Chipotle style BBQ rub (I got Northwoods Fire from Penzey's Spices)

Obviously you can substitute in your own sauce or spice rub. I really recommend these though. They are delicious and very inexpensive.

Put the meat in a bowl and add in the vinegar and pick-a-pepper sauce. Stir until evenly coated and sprinkle the rub on top, stirring again until all the meat is evenly coated.
Add in to your crockpot and cook on low for 8-9 hours (if you are making more than 2 lbs, I would adjust this 10-12 hours)

Remove the meat from the crockpot and shred using two forks. Add back in the remaining juices from the crockpot to return some moisture to the meat.

I served my meat with some Old Cape Cod Chipotle BBQ Sauce. Couldn't find a link for it, but most grocery stores carry it. You could also use some more pick-a-pepper sauce or your hot sauce will work great too.

Final Thoughts:
I thought my meat came out a little drier than usual. I think that was related to making a small amount of meat in a large crockpot, which prevent the juices from collecting and keeping the meat moist throughout the cooking process. I also think that I would have been better off with a a fattier cut of meat. The stew meat I used was pretty lean. That said, I definitely enjoyed my results and would make this recipe again in the future.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What the heck is Angus beef anyway?

I've heard the term Angus beef thrown around a lot, particular by fast food chains attempting to entice customers to by their burgers there. But is Angus beef really better than "regular" beef or is it just a bunch of smoke and mirrors? Sure it sounds pretty good and makes you feel like "man's man (or woman)" when you order it or just say it's name, but does this translate into superior quality or flavor?

As usual, my go to for information such as this is Wikipedia. Angus is derived from Aberdeen-Angus, which was the name of Scottish breed of cattle. Angus (or Blank Angus) is the most popular breed of beef cattle in America. Interestingly, Angus cattle are used strictly for meat, due to their natural marbling (fat located within the meat), but are also used for cross breeding purposes with other types of cattle in order to improve both marbling and milking ability. Why Angus cattle are not used for milk is not elaborated on unfortunately.

During 2003 and 2004, Fast food restaurants created a PR campaign for the purposes of promoting the supposed superior quality of beef from Angus cattle. In fact, there is a American Angus Association who's primary purpose is to promote the idea that Angus beef is better than all other beef. I won't get into the 10 characteristics that must be met to be considered Angus cattle, but you can check it for yourself at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angus_cattle if you are interested.

I think the main thing that can be taken from this is that there is not significant evidence that Angus beef is any better or worse that other beef. There is certainly a lot more marketing and PR muscle behind it, but not a whole lot of definitive statistics to to back it up. I say buy beef that looks fresh and has good marbling. If it happens to be Angus, that is fine, but I would not choose one over the other solely based on the name.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Double Almond Apricot Clusters

I apologize for taking so long to get this recipe out. It has been a hectic week for me with work and friends coming into town. I finally had a chance last night to put these together after thinking about them for nearly a week. I have to say I think these came out far better than the cranberry walnut clusters. Not that they were bad, but just that these came out so well.

25 oz (five 5 ounce bars) of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate
1 9oz can of smoked almonds
1 9oz can of roasted/salted almonds
1 16oz of dried apricots

Open both cans of almonds and pour them into the crockpot (I can't stress enough how easy this recipe is). Cut the dried apricots into halves. Add to the crockpot and mix the almonds and apricots together until they are evenly distributed.

Chop up the chocolate into small pieces (about 1/2 or 1/3 or an individual square. This is more work that just pouring a bag of chocolate chips, but I promise it is worth it because chocolate that is meant for eating on it's own is ideal for this recipe. Add the broken up chocolate on top of your other ingredients. Do not mix the ingredients together. You will want to have the chocolate on top so it melts slowly and doesn't burn.

Cook on low for about 1.5-2 hrs. Emphasis on the low here. Cooking on high for the half the time is not a good idea as I mentioned when I made the cran-walnut clusters. Chocolate likes to take it's time to melt, but your patience will pay off with some great tasting candy.

After about 2 hours turn off the crockpot, remove the lid and stir all of the ingredients together with a big spoon or spatula. Spoon the mixture onto a wax paper-lined pan and put in the fridge overnight. You can take it out sooner, but I recommend waiting so the chocolate can fully re-harden.

The next day take out that pan and break apart the block of candy. I put a cutting board on top of the candy and gave it a few good whacks with a hammer, but it will come apart pretty easily so you can even break apart with you hands if that is easier. You could also make it into bars if you prefer that over smaller pieces.

Wrap up: Using an eating chocolate such as Hershey's really made a huge difference for me. It melted down a lot more than semi-sweet chocolate chips I used in previous recipes and also tasted a little better as well. Using flavor almonds (smoked etc) also gives your candy a nice flavor in addition to a great crunch factor. Definitely room to grow in this area. I think you can go pretty much any direction you want when you think about how many kinds of nuts, dried fruits and chocolates there are. You can also use other snack foods such as pretzels and graham crackers instead of nuts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Indian Style?

Has anyone ever made Indian food in their Crockpot? It seems like it would really lend itself well to crockpot cooking. I have been thinking about this in part because I ate Indian food the last few days and thought that the texture is remarkably similar to how meats and vegetables come out of a slow cooker. I can't say I know too much about the different spices, but I would definitely like to give it a try. If anyone has any thoughts or recipes please share. I know I still I need to make the Almond apricot chocolate clusters. I do have all the ingredients, but haven't had time this week to make them yet. Hopefully tomorrow.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The endless possibilities of desserts

Seeing the success of my dark chocolate cranberry walnut clusters has inspired me to do some more dried fruit and nut pairings. The possibilities are seemingly endless. I really like working with dark chocolate. It has such a nice rich flavor that is not too sweet. I know that many people enjoy milk and white chocolate as well, but for me dark chocolate is the stuff. I'm thinking almonds and apricots with dark chocolate would be a great combo of texture and flavor. I think I may need to build up some sort of listing of all the different types of nuts and dried fruits and just start experimenting with different combinations.

As far as chocolate goes I think I'm going to spring for some of the fancier dark chocolate. I think the semi-sweet chips are pretty good, but don't have quite enough of the cocoa flavor that I really enjoy. If anyone has any suggestions of good brands of dark chocolate please let me know. I'll do a thorough investigation tomorrow at the grocery store. I find that writing down my ideas in my blog is much easier that keeping stuff on paper. I tend to make my notes on little scraps of paper or on the back of an opened envelope and then inadvertently throw them away, losing the idea in the process. One of these days I'll get around to getting a notebook and start keeping things a little more organized.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spring Chicken Stew

Well I didn't quite end up making the Brunswick stew I had envisioned in previous posts. I just couldn't pull the trigger when I saw the Okra at the grocery store. It looked like it had been out there for awhile and while I don't mind having a meal not turn out as I planned, I will not use something that I don't believe is fresh or safe to eat.

1 28 oz can of whole tomatoes
1 11 oz can of corn
1 lb of white chicken tenders
40 baby carrots (not pictured)
30 pearl onions
20 small red potatoes
1 can of chicken broth (I used a envelope of instant chicken soup, but more on that later)
2 teaspoons of BBQ rub
Salt and Pepper to taste

Sprinkle some BBQ rub (or use your own spices if you prefer) evenly only the chicken tenders, turning them over a few times until they are evenly coated. Cook them over medium heat in a skillet with a little Pam or oil. Once the chicken has been cooked through, chop it up into bite size pieces and set aside.

Chop the onions in half and remove the skin. Rinse the potatoes and slice into thirds.
Drain the tomatoes and chop and half. I wasn't going to put this picture in but I thought it looked pretty grisly so I thought I would throw it in there.

Here is a layout of all of the ingredients. As you can see I am operating in somewhat limited quarters. Hopefully one day I'll actually have a kitchen where I can spread out.

Mix all of your ingredients together in your crockpot. Now, regarding the chicken broth. I opened up my can of broth and was overpowered by the odor that came from it. I checked the expiration date and it wasn't until 2009, but I just had a bad feeling about it so I improvised a little.

In a pinch I used an envelope of cup-a-soup. I boiled some water and made an 8oz serving and poured it over over my chicken and veggies. Salt and pepper to taste. I recommend adding in a few shakes of bbq rub or whatever your favorite spices are as well. Use a big spoon to to mix the ingredients together so that they are evenly distributed. Cook on low for 9 hours.

Here are the results. I've been working a little bit at my plating. A few blackberries and a toast English muffin are a great compliment. You may want to add some hot sauce as well. It gives the stew a nice spicy flavor.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What the heck is Okra anyway?

Have to say I'm enjoying interjecting my recipe and cooking posts with brief descriptions of various foods that I had no idea what they really were beforehand. In order to make great food it is important to build your knowledge base by looking into things you have never cooked with before. I'm still on the fence about whether to add Okra to my upcoming Brunswick stew. It looks kinda funny and nobody has really had anything good to say about so far. I have seen it featured on the food network for it's thickening properties which sounds ideal for a stew.

Consulting Wikipedia Okra, also know as "lady's finger" (pretty funny looking finger if you ask me) originated West African and is widely used in thick stews of meat and vegetables. It also one of the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable species in the world. More recently, it has become popular at Japanese restaurants where it can be found fried up tempura style. The seeds themselves can even be roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute.

This all sounds good and well, but it appears do to the "mucilaginous" nature of the plant, that a goo of sorts is released when cooking, making it ideal for stir frying or pair with acidic fruits and vegetables (citrus, tomatoes etc.). Have to say I'm kinda undecided here. I like the idea of a good hearty stew, but anything described as having mucilaginous properties doesn't sound so great either. I will make this call when I'm the grocery, but I can't it's looking too promising.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Brunswick Stew

This weekend I'm going to endeavor to make a Brunswick Stew. It is basically a hearty tomato based stew with different vegetables (corn, butterbeans, okra etc) and at least one type of meat. I like the idea of incorporating a couple different meats in there. According to Wikipedia, most authentic recipes use squirrel or rabbit meat. I think I will stick to either beef, pork or chicken. Not too sure where to get fresh rabbit and squirrel just doesn't sound too appealing. Always something new to try I suppose.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dark Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Clusters

Not feeling that great today, but I wanted to catch up on some recipes that I made over the weekend. Building off the success of my peanut bombs, I thought I would make a more adult version with dark chocolate, walnuts and cranberries.

I have to admit I have become quite comfortable with how the crockpots cook and believe that I have a pretty good feel for it. However, I made the error of trying to melt down the chocolate on the high setting rather than low because I wanted to get it to melt faster. I have always been a believer that you never can really mess up a recipe, you just might wind up making something different that you had intended. This is the perfect case of that.

Dark Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Clusters


2 12 ounce bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 16 oz bag of walnut pieces
10 oz of dried cranberries

Pour the walnuts and cranberries into the bottom of the crockpot and use your hands to mix them together. Top with the chocolate chips and set your crockpot to low for 1-2 hours. I am bolding this because I did not follow this advice and while my results were good, I think they would have been better if I had been a little more patient.

Once the chocolate has melted (note even though the chips might not completely melt the will quickly break apart when stirred so don't expect them to fully melt). Spoon the mixture out onto waxed paper and spread out to form a thin layer (about 1/3 inch or so) in the pan. Put into the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours (I recommend overnight to allow it to fully harden).

Break apart your sheet of chocolate walnuts and cranberries with you hands and put into a bowl or Tupperware.

I am please to say that my office once again enjoyed my results even more than my peanut bombs which surprised me because I thought I had ruined these initially. I also brought a small batch over for some friends of mine who had just gotten a new dog. A "dog warming" gift of sorts. Just goes to show that you can't give on a recipe just because it's not turning out the way you had originally visioned. If you roll with the punches you will do just fine.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spicing Things Up

In an effort to broaden my horizons a little bit (in retrospect Crockpot BBQ is a bit of a confining name so I may diverge into other areas now and then) I decided to make something spicy. While I was at the butcher I noticed that there was a great looking cut of meat called pork tenderloin. It is a lot leaner than the pork butt (top of the shoulder), so despite concerns that it would dry out while cooking, I went ahead and bought it anyway. I also only bought 1 lb instead of my usual 3 lbs. I like to make new things often and rather than have the food go to waste or get suck eating leftovers for a week I figure I will make smaller batches unless I'm expecting more company.

I had two customers for tonight so 1 lb was perfect . The whole lot of it got eaten so I won't be having any leftovers this time around.

Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Onions and Mushrooms

1 lb of pork tenderloin
2 teaspoons of hot sauce
2 tablespoons of BBQ rub (I use a blend I got at Penzey's Spices)
2 tablespoons of BBQ sauce (I think Old Cape Cod Chipotle goes great)
1 Large Texas sweet onion
1 8 oz box of mushrooms (I used baby bellas, but any will do just fine)

In a small container or bowl pour the hot sauce over the meat and give it a couple turns to evenly coat it. Add in the BBQ seasonings and turn a few more times to evenly coat. Repeat the same process for with BBQ sauce.

Peel the onion and cut into 5 or 6 thick slices and put them at the bottom of the crockpot. Rinse and pull out the stems of the mushrooms. Cut the caps in half and toss on top of the onions. Lay the pork loin on top of the bed of onion and mushrooms.

Set your crockpot on low for 9 hours. Once 9 hours is up, remove the pork tenderloin and shred it using two forks (it should come apart easily). Using a fork or tongs to pull out the onions and mushrooms. There will be a little bit of liquid left at the bottom. Use a baster or just pour it over the meat. This adds back some flavor and returns some of the moistens the meat as well.

I like having the meat on some bread ( I used English muffins in this case), but it'll be just fine on it's own as well. I recommend topping your meat with some extra hot sauce and BBQ sauce as well.

I think my food presentation skills are starting to improve a little bit.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sharing the Wealth

I never thought I would be so excited and nervous about bringing in some of my "peanut bombs" into the office. I would probably still be in some sort of food coma had I kept them around the house and ate them all. I chopped them in halves and put them in a plastic container. On the way to work I schemed about when to put them out. I figured right around 11 would be perfect because most people are starting to think about lunch around then. However, when I came in, my group descended on me so I wound up putting them out at about 9:30 instead. Around 10:45 I put what was left (about half) back in the fridge and then put them back out a 12:30. Sure enough, they were all gone by about 2 pm.

It's much more satisfying to know that other people have enjoyed what you have prepared than if you just eat it yourself. Given that you have already invested some time and money into your meal you will probably eat anyway even if it isn't your best because of the effort you put into it. When other people eat, and enjoy what you have prepared it really means you made something good that an unbiased party deemed worthy of eating. It seems like lunch time makes the most sense for putting things out though. Or at least wait until 11. Some people may be ready to eat at 9, but I usually don't start thinking about my next meal until 1130 or so.