Cook Today, Chili Tamale

Originally published in the Herald Sun 1/4/2012

I’m not a chili fan. Never sat in front of a bowl of red with anticipation. Wendy’s chili moves me not. Keep that mess away from my dog, I’m a sauerkraut girl. The Kid feels pretty much the same way, except for the sauerkraut (loathes it).
But, we love, adore, and relish a big bowl of a homemade favorite; green pork chili.
It is a pot of many wonders. It’s cheap. It’s easy (not quick-but easy). It can be made on a Saturday afternoon, and will taste even better heated up on a busy Wednesday night. It freezes like a dream, so you can make gallons at a time. If you play your cards right, you can get an extra hunk of slow-cooked pork to use for another meal.
And it’s so very yummy. It’s rich and hearty, without being heavy or greasy. It is jammed full of fresh, healthy veggies, that have cooked down into a rich, roasted nirvana. It’s mellow and comforting, but has a little zip from fresh chiles, lime and cilantro.
It all starts with my old friend, a pork shoulder, or Boston butt (tee hee). Look for it on sale, and buy as big a piece as you have a pot for. You’ll need at least 2-3 pounds for a nice big batch of green. The amounts of the vegetables can also vary, according to taste.

Chili For Folks Who Don’t Like Chili
2-3 pound pork butt (or larger)
1/2-3/4 pounds fresh poblano peppers (for more heat, swap in hotter varieties as desired)
1/2-3/4 pound fresh tomatillos
1 very large white onion
1 head garlic
1 cup white wine or pale beer
6 cups chicken stock
1 large can hominy or posole
2 fresh limes
1 bunch cilantro
Goya Adobo powder with bitter orange (the one with the orange lid)
1/4-1/2 cup white masa (fine corn meal)
*Corn meal can go rancid, quickly. I keep mine indefinitely, in a labled zip-lock bag in the freezer.

The makings of a kick-ass bowl of green chili.

The makings of a kick-ass bowl of green chili.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Liberally coat and massage adobo into pig. Salt, pepper, dry thyme, cumin, and a dash of dry oregano will make a barely passable substitute for the powder, but the adobo is so much more flavorful and complex. In your biggest, heaviest, lidded pot, sear the meat on all sides in a tablespoon of olive oil. Start with the fat side down, which will add to, and flavor the fat already in the pot. Done right, this will take a good twenty to thirty minutes, so meanwhile, prep your veg.

Slice off the tops of the poblanos, and cut lengthwise in half (If you aren’t an experienced chili head, wearing rubber gloves now will make your life much easier later. The relatively mild poblano’s oils can stay on your skin, even after washing, and burn any tender body parts subsequently touched; yours or anyone else’s). Remove any ribs and all the seeds. Peel off the papery outer skin and rinse the tomatillos (take care: their sap is the stickiest substance known to man). If they’re small (plum-size) halve them, if they are the size of tomatoes, quarter them. Peel onion and roughly cut into five or six big hunks. Peel garlic, and cut off dried ends. Grab a handful of cilantro tops, to taste (I’m not a fan, so I don’t use much, maybe four tablespoons here, with another couple of chopped tablespoons at the end). Slice first lime in half and juice.

When the pork is browned all over, remove and add in the wine or beer. When it has almost all reduced, turn off the stove top, it’s veggie time (not unlike Hammer or Miller). Put about one-quarter of the veg on the bottom of the pot, set in the piggy, fat side up, and put in the rest of the prepped green stuff. Just tuck everything in; around and on top of the meat. Pour in about 2 1/2 cups of the chicken stock and the juice of the first lime. Cover and place in oven.
Check after two hours and then every thirty minutes until the meat is literally falling apart tender. This will probably take at least three hours, please don’t try to rush it, disaster will ensue.
When it’s done, remove the meat to cool some, and put the pot of roasted veg on the stove. Puree vegetables; you can either use a regular blender or an immersion blender (the wand type). Add a few cups of chicken stock, and then with the chili at a low simmer, sprinkle in the masa, a tablespoon at a time until it has tightened up to your taste. Add in drained, rinsed hominy.
Chop or shred three or four cups of the pork, discarding any pieces of fat, and stir it back into the pot with the lime juice from the second lime, and chopped cilantro.
Green Chili!

We serve this over rice. We spoon on some Mexican crema (like sour cream, which can be substituted), and sprinkle on cotija or queso fresco (both are white, salty, crumbly, Latin cheeses).
Rice, such a simple food, can cause acute stress when cooked at home. I promise, my method will eliminate the drama and produce evenly cooked, fluffy separate grains every time. And once you get this method down, you can flavor it to your liking, or even make pilaf this way. The secret is–don’t mess around with it, and it just about takes care of itself.

Basic White Rice
2 cups regular white rice (long grain, jasmine, basmati, all will work, but not the arborio type)
2 3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Stir rice, salt, and water into a heavy pot with a lid (this is the last time you will stir the rice). Heat on medium-high, and let come to a boil. The second it starts to boil, reduce to medium-low, cover, and set timer for thirteen minutes.
When the time is up, carefully lift the lid, and peek; mindfully–there’s steam. If the water is all gone (you’ll hear hissing, but no bubbling sounds), replace the lid, and take it off the heat. If not, put it back and check every couple of minutes until it is gone.
Leave covered and unmolested for twenty full minutes. At 20, remove the lid, and with a big fork, fluff, don’t stir the rice, to separate the grains. Transfer to a serving dish and serve.
Makes about four cups.

If you have more pork than you need for the chili, bag and freeze. Last time I pulled out a bag, I served it on grilled Texas toast with mashed potatoes and German-scented mushroom gravy. The only limit to what you can do with the bonus meat is the potency of your spirit of adventure.
There’s tons of great things about green pork chili. But one of the best things is the way it makes your house smell all day while it’s cooking. And the way it makes your insides feel when you’re eating it.
Thanks for your time.

A very special episode

Petey's plate

The finished dish.

Originally published in the Herald Sun 10/19/2011

October 11, 1:15PM-Okay, here’s the deal. You guys are on a real-time journey with me. Right now, in my oven, is the object and subject of this column. Last night I took a package of meat from the freezer that I wasn’t sure I would ever use. Hog jowls.
Ever heard of guanciale (gwon-choll-ay), a trendy Italian ingrediant? That’s hog jowls. Seen pork cheeks on Iron Chef? Hog Jowls.
It’s a traditional country food. The muscle is tough and fatty, with lots of collagen. Cooked correctly, it’s supposed to be a rich, unctuous meat, like ox tales, brisket, or NC Barbecue.
But yes, it does come from the face of the pig.
The meat I had looked like really thick, meaty slices of bacon, with a strip of skin on one side. They were smoked for flavor, but not cooked at all.
I decided I would slow cook them into carnitas (slow cooked spiced, shreddy pork) from the Mexican flavors I had in my pantry. That’s the other part of the challenge. I will be making this dish with only items that are already in my house.
First I browned the meat in Old Blue. I seasoned the slices, trimmed off the skin and threw the scraps back. When the slices were crusty and brown, I pulled them and put sliced onions and halved garlic cloves into the fat. From there I made a very mock mole sauce for a braise
I put them in the oven covered at 275 degrees. That’s where they are right now.
More to come.
2:00PM-I just checked it. It’s been in about an hour and feels very tender. It went back in for thirty more minutes.
Experimenting here, folks.
More soon.
2:45PM– I took the meat from the braise. It was falling apart tender. I chopped it up, crisped it in the same pot, and then put in the cooked rice, chicken stock, some chopped green olives, and the cheese. When the mixture had cooled and firmed up a little, I folded in three stiffly beaten egg whites to lighten the filling.
5:00PM-I put together the burritos and set them in the fridge to chill, so they hold their shape better while cooking.
6:15 PM-I will wrap this up after we eat. But I have an update. Petey picked up some salad greens for dinner. It will be a nice fresh compliment to the substantial and hearty puerco pocket.
I’ll let y’all know how it all turned out soon.
7:30PM-I succumbed to temptation and fried them chimi-style, drizzled a little sauce on them sprinkled a little grated colby-jack, and put them under a low broiler. I will photograph the results-good or bad.
8:45PM-Dinner’s over. Two words-O.M.G.
Thanks for your time.


Fresh out of the oven from the cheese melting portion of the program.

My Pantry Very, Very Mock Mole for Hog Jowls
Your pantry and mole may differ greatly
3/4 cup La Victoria mild Green salsa (mole traditionally has tons of chiles, this sauce replaced fresh and/or dried chiles)
1 tablespoons Bitter Orange Adobo
2 packets Safron Sazon
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
juice and zest of two limes
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup small pimento stuffed olives
1 tablespoon olive brine
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
tiny pinch of both cayenne and red pepper flakes
1 cup sherry
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
small yellow onion rough slice
5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
After browning meat, remove and add onion and garlic. When the onion starts to soften, add all the ingredients up to the sherry. Lower heat and stir. When the mixture gets tight and caramelized, pour in sherry and scrape all the stuff stuck to the bottom. When the sherry has almost completely reduced, add chicken stock. Return meat to pot, cover and bake low and slow.

Ode To An Onyx Lodge

Originally published in the Herald Sun 3/7/2012

I just wiped oil off one of my best friends. I toasted coconut, and we got a little sticky.
The name of my anointed friend? It’s characteristically simple and straightforward, just; “Cast Iron”. It’s big, handled, and has the heft to be a lethal weapon. It’s my Lodge skillet.
On the 1999 premiere of “Good Eats”, Alton Brown perfectly cooked steak in his cast iron. He extolled their many virtues. I decided to procure one.
I grew up ignorant of them. I remember, as a child, briefly seeing one at a friend’s house, in a sink full of cold, dirty, water. It haunts me, like someone who years ago witnessed a murder, and only now realizes the true horror of what they saw. Those things are indestructible, but they can be criminally disrespected.
Non-users may feel there’s a lot of work involved in the care and feeding. True, it’s easy to toss a pan in the dishwasher for five or ten years, and then get a new one. But do you know how I usually clean Cast Iron? I wipe it out with a paper towel. That’s the whole deal. And that is but one facet of the beauty that is my forged-by-fire friend.
Curiously, there is only one factory in the whole country that makes cast iron cookware. Lodge Ironworks, in the Appalachian mountains, has been around since 1896. And they still do it the same way.
I once bought a piece that was not Lodge; therfore, not made to US safety standards. When heated, it replaced the house’s oxygen with greasy fumes that smelled of outsourcing and death.
Don’t mess around. For something that can honestly outlast you (and not by murdering you), pay the extra few dollars.
I got mine off the dusty shelf of a sleepy hardware store, unseasoned. Let me repeat that: un…seasoned.
Ask anybody to describe granny’s skillet, and they’ll speak of something the color of the burnished, unfathomable black of (insert name of hated politician or celebrity here)’s heart.
Brand new, and unseasoned, they are closer to the depressing, gunmetal gray of Mitt Romney’s bachelor weekend in Altoona. Also when new, they’re whatever the complete opposite of non-stick is.
To get it as black as a licorice whip and slick as a cruise ship Lothario, the surface must be seasoned. Over time, the heated metal and fat forms a bond, that as it darkens, will become naturally non-stick.
*Microscopic gaps in the smooth, bonded, surface of cookware will shrink when hot (it all has gaps, even well seasoned, long-time possesions). So preheat before using, every time.
If it’s scrubbed after every use, or chunked into the Maytag, that marriage will wash away.
So how to clean?
The key is to, carefully, wipe it when it’s still a little hot. That’s when you deal with any gunk. When the surface is smooth and dry, you’re done. If that doesn’t work, pour some kosher salt in and gently rub. It’s easier with fat, so if needed, splash a little cooking oil into the warm pan. This method can also be used to reclaim neglected pans with an entirely rusted-over surface (like Aunt Eugenia’s set in the attic, maybe?).
What if it’s really messed up, and the salt ain’t gonna cut it?
This next tactic works, but can be dangerous, so at least wear some gloves, and think about maybe renting a haz-mat suit.
Take the pan, as hot as you trust yourself, and pour in some warm water; you’re deglazing the stuck. If the pan is molten, and the water icy, you’ll crack the metal–irreversibly fatal. So, ginger.
Sometimes it’s gloppy and dirty (like for my Skillet Taters). It’s then time for hot, soapy water. It will lubricate and cleanse. If all else fails, use a very soft scrubby sponge (I really dig the hourglass O-Cel-O). Go slowly and lightly, and stop as soon as you feel surface. Give it the same bomb-squad reverence you would a non-stick piece of All-Clad from Williams-Sonoma.

Skillet Taters
If you make these, your skillet will see some warm, soapy water later. Just be gentle.

3 cups unpeeled cubed into 3/4 inch approx. You want them similar size and shape. If you have fingerlings, slice into 1/2 coins. Baby potatoes, quarter or halve, just make sure there is cut are on each potato.
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 tbls each butter and oil (You can substitue bacon drippings, and sprinkle the finished dish with crumbled bacon, but I am not coming with you on your next doctor’s appt)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
pinch sugar
1/2 tsp favorite seasoning blend (I like Goya Adobo with bitter orange)bacon
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 tbls chopped fresh flat leaf parsey
squeeze of citrus, if you’re out, substitute splash of you favorite vinegar
pinch cayenne

In a pot of heavily salted water (it should taste like the ocean any time you boil anything), cook potatoes until just barely tender, a paring knife goes in, but with a little resistance.
Drain, and allow them to dry on the outside. This cuts down on popping and spitting later.
Get your skillet hot. Not quite smoking, because of the fats involved, but really hot.
Tumble in spuds and toss in the pan to coat with fat. Season potatoes with everything, except for onion, parsley, and juice.
When the taters are evenly coated arrange them in one layer. Then take your spatula and give them all little smoosh. Not quite a smash, something gentler. You want be able to recognize a slightly battered cube after smooshing it. Then leave them alone.
Reduce heat to medium, cook until the crustiness that has appeared is browned to your liking. Add chopped onions, toss everything around a bit and then put them in a single layer and smoosh. Don’t get too wrapped up in making sure each potato is perfectly golden, you want some amber colored crust, some blond crispiness, and even some black peeking out here and there. They are home fries, not NASA fries.
Cook until they and nice and crispy, maybe another 6-7 minutes. Stir in parsley.
Just before serving, spritz with citrus, and check for salt.
I like mine topped with a poached egg. Petey likes his with scrambled, and a steak.

If you’re forced to wash it, dry it immediately. Oxidation can happen quickly. Store it like a freshly showered body builder–very lightly oiled. It’s not just sexy, it provides a barrier against moisture.
After especially vigorous cleaning, give your faithful companion a spa treatment. Pour in about a quarter cup of cooking oil, wipe it all around, and let it meditate in a 250-300 degree oven for about an hour. Wipe out the excess while warm, and when it’s cool, put it away, so the saucepans can tell it how rested it looks.
One of the most classic things made in it, and an honest test of your cast iron stewardship, is corn bread.
My favorite is Mildred “Mama Dip” Council’s, “Sunday Cornbread”. It’s moist like it should be, and crispy where it oughta.
Clean-up after baking cornbread?
My seasoned, loyal comrade now wipes completely clean with one dry Viva. The first time it happened, I almost wept. The memory still touches me deeply.
Thanks for your time.