Friday, February 23, 2018

Grilled chicken tacos


Earlier this week I wrote about my love for tacos. 'Round the Chuckbox featured tacos al pastor on Monday. I cooked the shepherd style tacos on a cast iron grill pan. These tacos mimic the well known Mexico street food.

With a package of chicken thighs thawing in the fridge, I thought tacos de pollo were in order. This morning I quickly assembled a marinade from orange juice, lime juice, white vinegar, olive oil and spices. I let the chicken soak all day in the fridge.

As the chicken marinated, I prepared salsa verde from tomatillos, fresh chili peppers, onion and garlic. The vegetables were cooked over high heat in the grill pan. The char added extra flavor.

At dinner time, the chicken was cooked in the grill pan, condiments prepared and tacos assembled. Although it's not included in the recipe, I shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese because my wife likes cheese on tacos. The homemade hot sauce and salsa verde compliment the tacos well.

Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate 4 hours or over night to impart flavors. Chicken and marinade can be placed in a  large zipper lock bag if desired. Discard marinate.
To prepare the salsa verde: In a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat, char 8 small to medium tomatillos, 1 seeded poblano chili pepper, 1 seeded jalapeƱo chili pepper, 1/4 medium onion and 3 garlic cloves.  Place in food processor bowl with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, squeeze of lime, some chopped cilantro and salt to taste. Pulse to desired consistency. Leave chunky. If desired, remove some of the char on the chili peppers before placing in the food processor.
Grill the chicken thighs, skin-side down, until browned, about 5 minutes. After turning, dial the heat down to medium and continue cooking until done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Covering the chicken at this point will help cook them a little quicker.
For each soft taco, quickly heat two corn tortillas. Each taco gets chicken, diced red onion, chopped cilantro and salsa verde. Avocado and sliced radish add color to the tacos (not pictured). Homemade hot sauce adds extra spice to the tacos (recipe coming soon).
GRILLED CHICKEN TACOS

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs can be used for these tacos if desired. Add additional dried chili peppers to the marinade for additional spice. Ground chipotle chili pepper or smoked paprika can be added to marinade to add a smokey flavor.

8 chicken thighs, excess fat trimmed

Marinade:
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 chilies de arbol, stem removed and broken into pieces
1 teaspoon dried oregano, rubbed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

 Condiments:
Corn tortillas

Salsa verde
Diced red onion
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Place in bowl or other suitable container. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Turn chicken every couple hours to ensure coverage.

Pre-heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade and discard. Brush grill pan ribs with oil. Grill chicken skin-side down until skin is browned, about 5 minutes. Turn and continue cooking until done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Do not crowd pan. Grill in batches.

Remove chicken to platter. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Rest 5 minutes, then shred chicken. Serve with corn tortillas, salsa verde, diced red onion, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Serves 4 to 8.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tacos al pastor

Tacos and hamburgers are two things that I can't get enough of. I've taken to ordering a hamburger and French fries at our local Mexican restaurant. It's not that I don't enjoy their food. I do, especially the chili verde. I simply want hamburgers.

And there are no shortage of tacos near our home. They abound on Taco Tuesday. Debbie and I frequent the local take and bake pizza joint, where -- on Tuesday -- ground beef tacos are the special of the day.

This pleases my wife. She only orders three things at any Mexican eatery -- one, two or three tacos, crunchy shell, no tomato with lettuce of the side. In nearly 37 years, I've never seen her deviate.

This brings us to tacos al pastor. Cooked "shepherd style," traditional tacos al pastor are prepared by stacking marinated pork slices on a spit and roasting on a vertical rotisserie, much like Greek gyros. The meat is slowly roasted as the spit turns. Each time a taco is ordered, the cook shaves the crisp out layer off onto a handheld tortilla.

Yet, tacos al pastor can be made without a spit. A cast iron grill pan stands in for the rotisserie. After grilling the onion and pineapple over intense heat, marinated pork slices quickly caramelize on the ribs of the grill pan. The result is a wonderfully charred taco filling.

The marinade is prepared with garlic, spices, achiote paste and guajillo chilies. The achiote adds color and a "earthy, peppery flavor with a hint of bitterness" to the marinade. When combined with guajillo chilies, the deep red hue imparts an amazing bit of eye appeal, to say nothing of the rich level of spiciness. Stir in pineapple juice and vinegar and the flavor of the tacos are out of this world.

This is my new favorite taco.

Serve tacos al pastor with Mexican rice, lime wedges and a spritz of chopped cilantro. This may not be authentic, but I enjoy a side of grilled onion with the tacos.

TACOS AL PASTOR

This recipe is attributed to the Food and Wine website. I have adapted the directions to cast iron grill pan or skillet. Purchase guajillo chilies and achiote at well-stocked supermarkets or your local Mexican market.

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for brushing
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 guajillo chilies, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons achiote paste
Sea salt
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium red onion, sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
Warm corn tortillas, chopped cilantro and lime wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the oregano, cumin, pepper and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the chilies and cook, stirring, until blistered in spots, about 30 seconds. Add the pineapple juice, vinegar and achiote paste and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and steep for 5 minutes.

Transfer the chili mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt. Place the pork in a large covered dish or storage container. Pour the marinade over the pork and turn to coat. Set the dish in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat a cast iron grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the pineapple and onion with oil. Grill over high heat, turning once, until lightly charred and softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.

Remove the pork from the marinade. Grill over high heat until lightly charred and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the plate and let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the pineapple, onion and pork into thin strips and transfer to a bowl. Season with salt. Serve with corn tortillas, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Makes 8 to 12 tacos.

Monday, December 04, 2017

SeabeeCook's playlists on YouTube

As I posted last year, I have several playlists on my YouTube channel. Playlists are a popular way to collect videos in a single location to share with the public. With some exceptions, these videos were created by others. Here are my current playlists:

Bread bakers -- I lead off my bread baker's playlist with a series by Ken Forkist, author of Flour Water Salt Yeast and owner of Ken's Artisan Bread & Pizza in Portland, Oregon. Ken walks you through his process for baking bread, from autolese to baking, in eight videos

Scones -- Scones fascinate me. I enjoy a good scone. They come together much like a biscuit and can be prepared in the afternoon for baking in the morning. Both videos currently in the scone playlist are imports from "across the pond." Included are the metric formula for basic scones.

Techniques for the Professional Baker -- This is a series of baking videos by King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont. Bakery director Jeffery Hamelman leads viewers through the professional bread baking process with head baker Martin Philip. Interesting watching for anyone that would like to see how the pros do it.

Filipino cooking -- My fascination with Filipino cooking grew out traveling in and out of the Philippine Islands back in the 1970s. It’s been said that Filipino cuisine was fusion long before the term was fashionable. Filipino food is a “melting pot” of food and foodways from throughout Asia, the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas. It’s a blending of wide-ranging cultural influences over many centuries.

Feather River Camp -- I've been know to shoot a video or two at Oakland Feather River Camp, where I am the executive chef each summer. Watch a Union Pacific freight train slide past the camp or view (almost) humorous videos from the kitchen.

Check back frequently as the lineup changes. From time to time, I add (and occasionally remove) videos from my playlists. I plan to add more baking videos and to develop a playlist on cast iron cooking. Enjoy ...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Scrambling eggs in a cast iron skillet

Cast iron cookware has been an American icon of cookery for centuries. When given reasonable care, it will outlast the cook. And it's often passed on to the next generation.

Readily available at a modest cost, millions of cooks rely on its properties to cook good food, which include the ability to generate a good crust or sear, maintain even heat over a low to medium flame and clean up with little fuss. And it's easily placed in the oven to finish a dish as most cast iron cookware is ovenproof.

I frequently use a Lodge cast iron skillet to cook scrambled eggs at home and in camp. At home, my skillet of choice is a 10-inch cast iron chef skillet (model LC3S) with sloped sides. This is the ideal for two to six eggs.

When feeding larger groups, I scale up to the 13.25-inch skillet (model L12SK3), the larger 17-inch skillet with loop handles (model L17SK3) or the massive 20-inch skillet (model 20SK). (The 20-inch skillet is no longer produced by Lodge. It does show on eBay.com from time to time; however, be aware it comes with a hefty price tag!)

I find the Lodge 13.25-inch skillet ideal for cooking one to three
dozen scrambled eggs in a single batch.

IRON SKILLET SCRAMBLED EGGS

Cooking scrambled eggs in a cast iron skillet is straight-forward, so let practice guide you. Practice will teach the right heat setting when preheating, how much butter to use and the right setting for cooking the eggs. These basic steps will ensure perfectly scrambled eggs:
  • Select the right size skillet for the job. A six- to ten-inch diameter skillet is best for a family, while the larger skillets (see my notes above) work best for large groups. I find it's best to stick with a familiar skillet, one you frequently use. The advantage is that you know what heat setting to use as it preheats, when to turn the heat down and its capacity.
  • Preheat the dry cast iron skillet (without oil or butter). Medium-low to medium heat is best for scrambled eggs. Any higher than medium and you run the risk of scorching the eggs and creating a burned-on mess that's difficult to clean.
  • Crack two to three eggs per person into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then vigorously whisk to combine.
  • Add butter to the skillet and let it melt. The fat adds flavor to the eggs and helps ensure a non-stick surface (when pared with a properly seasoned skillet). Olive oil can be used in place of butter. Use one tablespoon butter or oil per serving.
  • Pour the eggs into the skillet. You should hear a slight sizzle. Any louder means that the skillet is too hot. Immediately turn the heat down a notch or two.
  • Using a spatula, slowly move the curd from the edge of the skillet toward the center. Continue until the egg is set, but still a bit runny. Take care not to overcook. I always remove scrambled eggs from the skillet when they reach the soft-set stage. The eggs will continue to cook for several minutes as they cool. If desired , top eggs with cheese. Serve immediately.

A typical breakfast at Star Valley Outfitters in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Western Wyoming. This meal included scrambled eggs with cheese, pork breakfast sausage and cottage fried potatoes.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cooking in a hunting camp

Dining tent and kitchen trailer
Now that I'm in my retirement years, I work when I want to and relax with the grand kids the rest of the time. This year, I took a seasonal job as the cook for an outfitter in Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Alpine, Wyo. The job ran for six weeks last September and October. It was a great gig; in fact, it was more than a job! It was a rewarding venture that I hope to repeat in the coming years.

I enjoyed interacting with the guides and hunters. And after cooking for thousands, preparing meals for 20 to 25 was a refreshing change from my full-time career (US Navy, hospitals and state prisons). I've adapted many old Navy standards, like Yankee pot roast and baking powder and yeast biscuits for the camp menu. These dishes, a long with many others, were well accepted and loved by the hunters.

Sliced challah bread for French Toast
My day began at 3 a.m., when I walked into the kitchen, a converted 40-foot trailer. My first task was to light two lanterns, fire the coffee, light the griddle and oven, stoke the fire in the dining tent and set out lunch fixin's. Breakfast was on the stove and griddle by ten minutes after the hour. I turned the generator on at 3:30 to wake up the guides and hunters. Breakfast began at four o'clock (or earlier when I was ready).

To make breakfast easier, I prepared everything the afternoon prior. That included baking (biscuits, cinnamon rolls and challah bread for French toast), panning breakfast meats (mainly ham, bacon or sausage), filling the coffee pot and setting eggs out.

Biscuits and gravy
I also par cooked red potatoes for hash browns three to four days each week. I found, with the nearly seven-thousand-food elevation of the camp, that I had to carefully to cook the potatoes all the way through without overcooking them. Nearly everything required extra cooking time at that elevation.

While some wait until morning to prepare breakfast, I've found over my career that the meal flows smoothly when I prepare components of the meals the afternoon before. As mentioned, the potatoes are pre-cooked and cooled in the refrigerator in the afternoon. For omelets, I crack and whisk the eggs and cut the filling ingredients. Hot cake wet and dry ingredients are prepared, as well as French toast batter.

My home in camp
After dishes and cleanup, it was off to bed for a two-hour nap. (I had to discipline myself to get up by 9 or 10 a.m.; otherwise, I'd sleep all morning!) Since there are only three or four in camp (myself, my wife, the outfitter's wife and the camp jack/wrangler) at that time, I usually had free access to the shower when I arose. Leftovers or a sandwich normally made up my lunch around noon.

Baking, breakfast prep and dinner prep began in early afternoon. I made a prep list for both meals and any lunch prep so I didn't forget anything. This time was also used to prepare syrup, salsa and a variety of other sauces.

I usually lumped baking together. That way I saved steps by weighing out the ingredients for the two or three products at the same time. I did have to time proofing and oven time carefully so the bread didn't over-proof. I baked all the bread except sandwich breads.

Brothers enjoying pork chops
The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing dinner, which was served at 8 p.m. Sometimes dinner was served as early as 7 o'clock, but the hunters often had to change out of their wet clothing and enjoy a beer around the campfire before filing into the dining tent. I fell into bed around 9:30. for five hours of sleep before it all starting over again.

The owners gave me a wide berth on the menu. The only complaints that I received were related to a very spicy breakfast. (It seems the guides and hunters don't enjoy relieving themselves on the trail in the dark!) Since this a big meat and potatoes crowd, most of my meals are based on comfort food. The photos show the setting and meals I've cooked.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Open face breakfast sandwiches

Last week at the Star Valley Outfitters' camp, I was faced with an abundant supply of buttermilk biscuits. My initial thought was to use the biscuits to make bread pudding, but a shortage of eggs kept me from following through.

That's when I thought of preparing breakfast sliders. Since breakfast comes early (at 4 a.m.), I prepared the sandwiches on the afternoon before. After slicing enough ham and cheese for the open face sandwiches, I slivered an onion on the meat slicer and sliced six medium tomatoes by hand. I also prepared a batch of cilantro sauce for garnish. Everything was placed under refrigeration until morning.

In the morning, I placed ham and cheese on each biscuit half, then heated the sandwiches in the over to melt the cheese. As the hunters and guides filtered into the dining tent for breakfast, I placed cottage fried red potatoes on the place along with two open face sandwiches, two tomatoes, some onion and three dill pickle chips. The sandwiches were garnished with cilantro sauce.

Toasting the biscuits on the flat-top.

OPEN FACE BREAKFAST SANDWICHES

Use this recipe to use an oversupply of biscuits. You may use any flavor of cheese desired. I used pepper jack cheese.I didn't add fried eggs because of a shortage in camp.

24 buttermilk biscuits, cut in half
4 ounces butter, melted
24 (1 ounce) slices ham, cut in half
24 (2/3 ounce) slices cheese, cut in half
48 fried eggs (optional)
48 slices tomato
1 medium onion, shaved or sliced thin
72 dill pickle chips
2 to 3 cups cilantro sauce (recipe follows)

Brush melted butter on each half biscuit. Toast in a skillet over medium heat. Alternatively, you can toast the biscuits on a flat-top griddle. When toasted, remove biscuit halves and arrange on a sheet pan. Keep the bottom and top half of each biscuit together. If preparing ahead, place the ham, cheese, tomatoes, onions, pickles and cilantro sauce in the refrigerator.

In the morning, arrange a half-slice of both ham and cheese on top of each biscuit half. Heat the sandwiches in a 350-degree oven until the ham is warm and the cheese melts. Remove from the oven and place a fried egg (if used) on each sandwich.

To serve, place two open-face sandwiches on each plate. Arrange two tomato slices, some onion and three dill pickle chips on each plate. Spoon a tablespoon cilantro sauce over the sandwiches on each plate. If desired, the sauce can be served on the side. Serve with cottage fried red potatoes.

Makes 24 servings.

CILANTRO SAUCE

I serve serve cilantro sauce with grilled pork chops, roasted pork loin, sauteed chicken breasts and breakfast eggs.

6 cloves garlic
3alapeno chile peppers
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley
1-1/2 cups cilantro

In a food processor or blender, process garlic, jalapeno, cumin, salt, oregano, parsley and cilantro to form a smooth paste. With food processor running, drizzle in olive oil. Add small amount of water until sauce is thick. Drizzle in vinegar until smooth. Adjust seasoning.

Makes about 2-1/4 cup sauce.