White trash enchiladas

pbeerI’ve been known to cook fancy, and I’ve been known to cook trashy. This “recipe” is decidedly in the “trashy” column, but it’s so tasty that you might want to try it for yourself. Enchiladas aren’t exactly considered high-brow fare in even the best of times — and these little bundles of joy really take the cake for white-trash glory. They’re quick, they’re cheap, and they hit the sort of guilty spot that I just love.

White Trash Enchiladas

  • 2 cans chicken. Yes, cans. Canned chicken is found in the supermarket with all those other great white trash items — tuna fish, Vienna sausages, potted meat, and Spam.
  • 8 (or so) flour tortillas. Because you aren’t going to use traditional corn tortillas in a dish like this.
  • 1 block cream cheese.
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce. Old El Paso makes a fine version for this dish.
  • Shredded cheese
  • 1 lime, juiced (optional)
  • Chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, red pepper

photo 2(9)Open your cans of chicken, drain one of them. Glop them into a skillet and heat until the juice starts to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the lime juice and as much seasoning as you want, going heaviest on the chili powder. Simmer this concoction until the liquid is almost gone, stirring frequently — you’ll want to kind of mush the chicken around with a spatula to get it nice and chopped.

Once the liquid has almost all boiled off, add the block of cream cheese and stir the dickens out of everything until you’re left with a mass of goo that doesn’t look all that great but tastes pretty good. Divide the goo onto the tortillas and roll them up. Place rolled tortillas into a baking dish, splash on the green sauce, then top with shredded cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and the edges of the tortillas begin to crisp. Serve on a paper plate. Enjoy!

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Pork belly steamed buns

IMG_0820 (587x640)The steamed bun with pork belly is the signature dish of David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurant group, Beard award winner, and all-around culinary badass. Chang didn’t invent the steamed bun, of course, but his take on the dish has certainly become one of the more famous dishes around the country in recent years.

Here in Little Rock, we’ve got our own steamed bun master, Justin Patterson of Southern Gourmasian. Justin’s steamed buns come with shredded pork shoulder, Balinese chicken, or braised beef short rib, and while I’ve never eaten the Momofuku buns, I’ve packed away enough of Justin’s to know that they’re something pretty incredible. So it takes chutzpah on my part to come along with a steamed bun post, doesn’t it?

Well, I didn’t do my pork belly exactly like David Chang, and I used store-bought buns, so I won’t try to say that what we did here is superior to anything. But they were pretty good, so I figured I’d share them with you.

Braised Pork Belly

  • IMG_08101-2 pounds pork belly. I’ve been getting mine from Mr. Chen’s on South University, but Hillcrest Artisan Meats also sells it. Belly is just a big slab of uncured bacon, and if you get yours with the rind still on, be sure to remove it.
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup white sugar

Mix your cup of salt with your cup of white sugar. Score your pork belly in a crosshatch pattern on the meaty side, then rub the salt/sugar mixture all over it. Discard the excess rub, and let the belly cure overnight in the fridge.

After the belly has cured, discard any juice that has accumulated, rinse the belly, and pat it dry. Brown the belly on all sides in a skillet until it has a nice golden color. Place the belly in a baking pan. Mix the red wine, soy sauce, and vinegar with the brown sugar and pepper flakes, then pour the mixture over the belly. Add enough water to the mix to just cover the belly (or if you have stock handy, use that). Heat your oven to around 400 degrees, cover the belly, and let it cook. Check the belly every half hour or so to make sure that there’s enough braising liquid to keep the belly almost covered. After a couple of hours, you can decrease your heat to around 350 and let the belly rock on until it’s fork tender.

Remove the belly from the pan, saving the braising liquid for another use (it makes a great addition to beans or soup). Slice the pork belly thin, and serve on steamed buns with hoisin sauce and simple pickles — just slice some cucumbers thin, sprinkle them with salt and sugar, and let them sit for an hour or so in the fridge. Enjoy!

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Mulled wine

IMG_0491The cold weather holidays are our favorite time of the year — mostly because of all the fun ways there are to keep warm. Perhaps the greatest of all these methods is a large pot of mulled wine, a spicy, fragrant beverage that’s great for sipping on those days when heavy clothes and a hot fire just aren’t cutting it. Spiced wine takes all those great aromatic ingredients we love about the holidays like cinnamon, anise, and clove and combines them into a something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

We’ve made mulled wine in a number of ways, but our favorite recipe is adapted from the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. This recipe is full of great flavor, and it isn’t so strong that you need worry about indulging yourself in a cup or two — because after the first taste, I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

Mulled wine

  • photo 2(8)1 bottle of red wine. Use something like a Cabernet Sauvignon here, and don’t break the bank buying it. Because of all the tasty stuff you’re going to add to the pot, the drink won’t suffer due to cheaper wine.
  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 honey or simple syrup
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced

Mix all ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring the pot to a light boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour into a mug through a tea strainer and garnish with a twist of orange or a cinnamon stick. This recipe is more like a list of suggestions, so adjust your spices to include whatever it is you like — a little allspice, nutmeg, or cardamom can all be good additions to the pot. Enjoy responsibly — which means making sure not a drop is wasted. Happy cooking!

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Savory onion soup

photo 1(4)I hesitate to call the soup I made tonight “French onion” because while it A) is a soup that B) contains onions, it deviates from true, honest-to-Voltaire “French” onion soup in a couple of ways that make me just refer to this soup as a savory onion soup. And if you make it, you won’t really care what I call it because you’ll call it one thing only: delicious.

Traditional French onion soup uses clarified beef stock as a base, but seeing as though I happened to have some really dank, dark chicken stock made from a large hen we roasted this weekend…I decided that we could go the chicken route. Stock made from a roasted bird is always darker and richer than stock made from raw chicken, and if reduced, it’s very close to beef stock in the depth of flavor (and even better in this case, since it was homemade). I did squirt one of those beef “flavor booster” packets into the pot just to add some beef flavoring to the mix, but that was more as a shortcut to add some quick and dirty umami flavor to my pot of soup. Also of note: for traditional French onion soup, I usually reduce my stock with red wine. Of course, this isn’t traditional soup, so in this case, I reduced my stock with a bottle of Goose Island Honker’s Ale — which did just fine.

Savory onion soup

  • photo 2(6)1 quart chicken (or beef) stock. In this case, I was poaching a leftover roasted chicken to make stock and get the remaining meat ready for a chicken salad. If you want to use the store-bought stuff, buy a couple of boxes of it, add some carrots, celery, onions, and garlic to it along with a cup of red wine and simmer for half an hour. You’ll be fine.
  • 2-3 large onions. Cut these from stem to root.
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Fresh black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Bouquet garni — bundle up some thyme, parsley, and bay leaves in a cheese cloth or coffee filter.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Sourdough bread (VERY important)
  • Gruyere, Swiss, or other delicious nutty cheese

In the same cast iron skillet I tell you to use for nearly everything I post, heat three tablespoons of oil. I like to use olive oil for this, because I think it gives the onions a nice flavor, but canola or any other neutral oil is fine. Throw your onions in the skillet and get alarmed by how high they are piled up. Now stop worrying, because these bad boys are going to reduce down quite a bit. Cook the onions on medium-high heat for 30-45 minutes, stirring every few minutes so that the onions get brown but not burned. If you want to add a tablespoon of sugar to this process, feel free — it adds some nice flavor.

Once you’ve caramelized your onions, toss them in the stock with a little salt, pepper, the vinegar, and the bouquet garni and simmer for 20 minutes. Don’t go crazy with the salt — the soup will reduce some, concentrating whatever salt is present. Cream the flour and butter together to make a beurre manié, stir into the pot. Simmer for another few minutes, mostly until the butter/flour mixture dissolves to thicken your soup and add a luscious level of flavor to the proceedings.

Make some toast with the bread and cheese; put it under the broiler and cook the hell out of it. Float a piece of the toast in the soup, and enjoy your not-quite-French onion soup. Happy cooking!

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Prosciutto stuffed chicken

photo(28)Anybody who tells you that they don’t like prosciutto has either never tried it or is insane. Of all the foods that exist on this planet, prosciutto might be the most perfect: salty, slightly sweet, unctuous, and perfectly balanced in fat-to-meat ratio. It’s a lovely, wonderful thing to eat, and our admitted favorite way is to just cram the stuff into our faces by the fistful — but sometimes it’s nice to sit down to a meal that’s eaten with a fork and a knife. You know, civilized. To that end, we decided to take some prosciutto, wrap it up with some cheese and basil inside a piece of chicken, then bake the lot into a gooey pile of fragrant deliciousness.

When it comes to prosciutto, we’re big fans of La Quercia, an Iowa meat producer known worldwide for their quality pork. “But Michael,” you say. “Isn’t prosciutto supposed to come from Italy?!” Well, yes, it’s a style that originated in Italy…but I promise you that the folks at La Quercia know their business.

Prosciutto stuffed chicken

  • IMG_07942 boneless chicken breasts, or 4 boneless chicken thighs
  • 6-8 slices of prosciutto. Seriously, go to a meat market or deli and buy the good stuff. The six pieces I bought tonight was only $3.50, and it was so much better than the pre-packaged stuff from the grocery store. Buy extra if you’re a snacker.
  • 4 pieces provolone cheese
  • 12 basil leaves
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Pound your pieces of chicken until they’re around 1/4 inch thick. Lay the prosciutto on the underside of the chicken, then the provolone, then a few leaves of the basil (according to how much basil you like to taste). Roll each piece of chicken up and place in a baking dish. Slop a generous dash of vinegar onto the chicken, then hit the dish with healthy glug of the olive oil. Finish with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper, then bake at 375 until the chicken is done. Serve.

Now go find a pig and thank it for being so delicious. Happy cooking!

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In praise of teres major (and chimichurri)

photo 2(4) (480x640)It pays to listen to people who love good food. Case in point, teres major, a cut of beef that most folks (me included) haven’t heard of. I’d seen it for sale at the butcher’s, but it wasn’t until a friend, Steve Shuler, mentioned that this bit of steak from the shoulder was as tender as filet but had a lot more taste that I decided that I had to try it. Steve’s an avid cook and barbecue expert, so I knew he could make a better-than-educated statement about the beef — he’s a smart guy, even if he’s a South Carolina Gamecocks fan (nobody’s perfect).

So I headed down to H.A.M. to grab a slab of teres major, slapped some salt and fresh-cracked pepper on it, and hit it with a hot cast-iron skillet. The pieces are long, like a tenderloin, and slice into perfect medallions. The result? Meltingly tender beef bursting with flavor. It’s like a ribeye and a filet had a wonderful secret baby that only a few people knew about. Apparently this little bit of beef is a pain in the neck to harvest from the animal, so it isn’t common. Lucky for Little Rock, we have an uncommon meat market at our disposal — uncommonly good.

To pair with the steak, I made a quick chimichurri sauce, something that one of our other butchers, Travis McConnell of Butcher and Public, got me hooked on. This is a simple, fresh sauce that goes well with any sort of meat and adds a light burst of wonderful flavor and color to any dish.

Chimichurri

  • IMG_07181 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 small onion (sliced)
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Juice of one lemon (or lime)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Pulse the onion and garlic in a food processor until they are roughly chopped (not pureed). Add the parsley, cilantro, and spices, then pulse again until they have been roughly chopped and incorporated. Dump everything in a bowl and add the olive oil, stirring to mix thoroughly. Taste, then adjust the salt, pepper, and acid to your liking. Serve.

I love discovering new things to cook, and this cut of beef is one of the best discoveries yet. I’ll have to echo Steve’s recommendation, and I urge you all to try it if you haven’t. It’s relatively cheap, and the flavor is beyond fantastic. Happy cooking!

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Vino’s muffuletta pizza

photo 3(2)I’ve written about Vino’s Brew Pub quite a lot over the years, but usually I’m talking about their beer. There’s a good reason for it, too: the beer they make down on 7th and Chester is some of the best around, and continues to improve every year.

Vino’s does more than just make great beer, though — they also make a pretty mean pizza. Whether by the slice or by the pie, Vino’s makes pizza that’s some of the best in town. I’ve always been partial to the Margherita or just plain pepperoni, but today we tried the muffuletta pizza, and I think I’ve found a new favorite.

I’ve always liked Vino’s version of the muffuletta sandwich, so it wasn’t surprising that I enjoyed the pizza version. All the expected toppings were there: olive salad, cheese, ham, and sliced pepperoni, which the restaurant uses in place of the more traditional salami. A little bit of olive oil serves for sauce and the result is a savory, gooey mess of toppings on top of a buttery crust. It’s a filling pie and one that I hate took me this long to try. And of course there are plenty of tasty house brews on tap to help you wash it all down.

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