Unexpectedly Delicious Salsas

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin 

Dude,

So with #weddingweek craziness upon us, I thought it would be nice to have my brother, sister-in-law, and parents over for dinner right when they got to town. I had intended to get a locally-sourced brisket for my smoker, but the lady at the buying club dropped the ball somehow.

Anyway, so I decided to make tri-tip tacos. I smoked carne asada-style tri-tip, premarinated from Trader Joe’s. I wanted to have some vegetables for the tacos, but thought maybe going fajita style with them would be a nice touch. So I sliced up jalapenos, cherry peppers, several colors of bell peppers, yellow and red onion, cloves of garlic, and tomatoes, placing them in a bread pan. I poured a generous amount of Italian dressing over the top, and let it marinate for a couple of hours. Then I put the pan in the smoker for a couple of hours. Honestly, it could have used more time, or I should have just done it in the oven. But they came out great. Oh, and when I was done, I threw the veggies in a colander to get the excess dressing off. In the end, the tacos were a smash hit.

Now, let me digress. I made guacamole and fresh salsa to go with the tacos. My regular “staple” salsa is simple: tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, salt and pepper. Never measured, all to taste. But that night, it was perhaps the best it has ever been. My secret? The juiciest, deepest red, large heirloom tomato. Oh my gosh, that salsa was like candy.

Needless to say, while I was running around the kitchen finishing up the tacos, my giant bowl of homemade chips were being used to devour my salsa. By the time I sat down for dinner there wasn’t much salsa left.

Since then, I’ve been craving salsa, and #weddingweek has made it impossible for me to get back out to the store for another gorgeous heirloom tomato.

So this morning, I scooped a bunch of my leftover marinated and cooked veggies into my food processor, grabbed and rinsed a handful of cilantro, added salt and pepper, and blended until nice and chunky. It is really damn good. The Italian dressing adds a nice subtle vinegar tang and the olive oil gives it a good mouth feel. It’s heavier on sweet peppers and lighter on tomatoes, but the sweetness of the roasted vegetables makes it difficult to stop eating.

I think I may have just stumbled onto something awesome.

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Fresh Red Sauce

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey10:39 AM

I know I’ve told you about my rustic marinara with carrots, onion, celery, rosemary, thyme, oregano and Cabernet Sauvignon; a recipe I learned/adapted while working at Cafe Nonna in Nashville.  I use this for lasagna and other hearty dishes.

But I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about my simple red sauce.  It’s nothing I learned at a job or from some aged family member.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit I learned it from Anthony Bourdain’s “Skills” episode of No Reservations.  (Most other things on that episode were stupid basics I already knew, but the sauce stood out so much to me that I made it the next day.)

I’ve made this recipe using both fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes, and as long as you use San Marzano canned tomatoes, there’s almost no discernible difference.  I’ll probably still make it fresh every now and then just because I enjoy the process.  The recipe calls for Roma tomatoes, but I’ll bet you can use any tomato variety, so long as it’s been vine ripened and has a good sweet flavor.

To make it with fresh tomatoes

  • Blanche a few pounds of Roma tomatoes until the skins break, and then transfer them to a bowl of ice water.  This should only take a few minutes, and it’s more efficient to only do a few tomatoes at a time – that way you don’t drop the temperature of the boiling water too much, and you can keep a closer eye on the tomatoes.
  • Once the tomatoes have cooled, peel the skin off.  (this is actually very easy, since the skins have separated during the blanching process)  Over a bowl, run your fingers through the tomato cavities and take out as many seeds as possible.  Don’t worry about getting them all, I think that’s impossible.  You can reserve the liquid and seed mix to strain and add later if you think the sauce needs it.
  • Toss the tomato flesh into a heavy-bottomed pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil, some salt and a few shakes of red pepper flakes.  Cook this all on low for about 45 minutes, mashing it with a potato masher every few minutes.  The goal is to get a semi-smooth consistency without having to use a blender.

Or, you can use two 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes.  Toss them in a pot with the oil, salt and pepper – skip the potato masher – and cooking for about 30 minutes.

Here’s the secret to this recipe, and where the fresh and canned tomato recipes converge.  In a separate small pan (I use one of those tiny single-egg pans) toss between five and ten cloves of garlic cut in half.  Obviously, the more garlic you use, the more you’ll taste it, so plan accordingly.

Next, throw in a handful of fresh basil leaves on top of that; again, using as much as you think you would like, but at least a good handful.  Sprinkle on a few more red pepper flakes, and douse it all with enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the garlic.  (I use the one-egg pan because I can easily cover the garlic with less than a cup of oil.)  Warm this mixture on low heat until the basil has wilted into the oil, and keep it on low while the tomatoes simmer. The point here is to infuse the oil with the garlic and basil flavors.

When your tomatoes are at the right consistency, pour in the oil – through a strainer, leaving the garlic and basil behind – and whip vigorously to incorporate the oil into the tomato mix.  (In the picture below, I’ve separated the oil into another container, because I was dehydrating the tomato mixture for a hiking trip.  You can’t dehydrate fat, so I packed the oil separately an incorporated it at camp.)  

Anyway, now take a deep whiff!!  Hot damn!

This is great served just with noodles. Throw 4 ounces of al dente noodles and a splash of noodle water and about 6 ounces of sauce into a shallow pan.  Let it simmer until the noodles are done, and then drop in about a tbs of butter (yum) and some chopped fresh basil.  Toss it all in the pan for a bit – try to look like a celebrity chef.  Plate it up and eat.

It’s a super simple sauce, and you can’t beat the freshness of it all.  The sweet acidic tomatoes and the rich garlic and fresh basil.  Man, it’s great.

OR!!!! This stuff makes fantastic pizza sauce!  The flavors are so fresh and bright, that they just sing on a plain cheese pie.

Agave Lemon Beer Butt Chicken – with BACON

Every year, if we’re all together, my (Jamey) family has a beer butt chicken cook-off around Christmas or New Years. This is what I did in 2010, and it was awesome. Daniel asked what I did…and here’s my response.

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

Okay, here it is.

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 beer butt stand (you can get these at Walmart or online)
  • 1/2 beer in a can (you can use a soda can & fill it up with homebrew or whatever)
  • Lemon pepper seasoning (the one I used was fancy, and included a lot of goodies like garlic powder and salt and such – in other words, just find one that sounds awesome)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • Agave nectar (you can get this in the honey section)
  • 1 pack of bacon (12 oz or 16 oz, you choose)
  • 2 lemons
  • Toothpicks

Thaw the chicken, separate the skin from the front and the back of the chicken carefully. There may be sections that will be difficult to separate, so I just took a knife and made little slits in the skin, and put my finger in their to separate it a bit.

Squeeze bits of the butter in between the skin and the meat all over the chicken. I didn’t quite use the whole stick, but pretty close.

At this point, it may be a good time to put the chicken on the stand for decoration purposes, but don’t put the beer in yet. Sprinkle the outside with the lemon pepper, and load your hand up with lemon pepper and work it into the meat, between the meat and skin.

Cut one of the lemons and squeeze the juice all over the bird, and even inside if you wish.

Use the agave nectar and squeeze it between the meat and skin, and then do a few circles on the outside of the bird (it will slowly run down your chicken.

Now wrap that shit in bacon, and use toothpicks where necessary to keep the bacon in place. Glaze the bacon with the agave. Now let it sit for awhile for the flavors to soak in.

Pull the stand out, put the beer can in the stand, then stick it back in. I threw a few bits of red onion inside the can, as well as some lemon peel, but I have no way of knowing if this did anything. Sounded good to me, though. Oh and I put a bit of soy sauce in the beer too, but that was an impulse. Also, I used a Bavarian-style hefeweizen in keeping with the lemon fruitiness theme. But I bet even Coors would make a mean bird.

Slice into the other lemon a bit so that the meat of it is exposed and shove it into the top of the bird where the neck used to be. This will keep the beer goodness locked inside the bird, and will hopefully allow lemon juice to drip into your bird, making it moist and delicious.

Grill or bake upright (thanks to the stand). We grilled for about an hour. It pretty much requires your attention the whole time (keeping the grill shut as much as possible), but especially because of the butter and bacon – you will have flare ups.

Use a meat thermometer and pull off when it’s 170-180 in the thigh. Remove it from the stand (this is tricky and may require several tools and people), remove the lemon, get the toothpicks out of it, carve, and enjoy.

This kicks ass. I’d like to figure out how to make it a little more lemony if possible. Oh, and drink a few beers when you cook it. I almost forgot that.

Laterz,
Jamey

from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett

Oh shit.  I think I just peed a little bit reading that.  You know its a quality recipe when it has the three-B’s of awesomeness – bacon, butter and beer.  I’ve never heard of a beer-butt can cooker, but that looks genius.  I will definitely have to try this.  Thanks!

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

They are awesome.

Here’s a standard type: http://amzn.com/B000XE63M2

And here is a fancy one, looks like no BPA. http://amzn.com/B0007ZGUK2

German Pork Ribs!

from Daniel Larkin
to Jamey Bennett

I’m sure I’ve told you about the Octoberfest party Jenny and I are planning for this Fall.  We’ll have two 5-gallon kegs – the Octoberfest, which I entered into the TN Valley Competition (it took silver!), and the Bohemian Pilsner.  We’ll also be grilling all day. This is actually what inspired my recent crack at making sauerkraut (results still unknown).

Anyway, I’ve never used kraut for anything other than dousing a sausage, and I figured if I’m going to be making it I should find other ways to eat it.  I don’t think I can eat enough hot dogs to make it through two liters of sauerkraut.

So here’s what I did as a test.  This was just an amalgamation of other recipes and ingredients I found online.

I bought a 24 oz can of GOOD German sauerkraut and 2 pounds of country style pork ribs.  These aren’t the rack ribs you think of when someone says ribs.  They’re much larger and come sliced individually.

I salted the ribs and browned them in olive oil in a heavy duty pot.  Set ‘em aside.Tossed in a whole onion sliced and two green apples sliced and sauteed them in the oil and pork remnants.

Once the onions were translucent, I added all of the kraut (strained and drained) I also stirred in some caraway seed, a few Juniper berries and a heaping scoop of Grey Poupon Harvest Ground Mustard.

I sauteed this mix for another minute then removed half of it.  I set the ribs on top of the mixture and covered it with the remaining half of the kraut, apple and onion mix. Then I just dumped a full 12 oz bottle of Octoberfest beer, covered it with foil and the lid and baked it for 5 hours on 275º.  In all, prep time was almost nil.  It was less than 20 minutes between opening the ribs and closing the oven door behind them.

I didn’t take any pictures because it ain’t a pretty meal to look at, but the pork melts in your mouth and the kraut/onion/apple mix is ridiculous.  I served it all with mashed red potatoes with butter, cream, rosemary and thyme. I’m thinking this is what I might make for the Octoberfest party.

TwoDudes exclusive update.  Put the leftovers spread on a hoagie roll with a generous slathering of course mustard, and you’ll be in pig heaven!