Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chuck, Charlie®, Charles.

Tuna croquette with plum salsa and jalapeño honey mustard. © Ryan Schierling
In food circles I will never run in, there are Chihuly-blown glass jars of Japanese-auction-sold, million-dollar Pacific bluefin tuna scraps, packed in the oil of olives so extra-virgin they’ve been immaculately conceived and harvested by eunuchs. This tuna detritus – the least of the leftovers of the left-overs from the best of the biggest of the big-bucks maguro – will find their way to children of the nouveau riche for tuna salad sandwiches with the crusts cut off by a butler, or governess or au pair. These children will still turn up their noses. Or so I imagine.

I grew up with tinned tuna that on the good days might have been StarKist® spokes-fish Charlie®. On bad days, it might have been down-on-his-luck Chuck – generic label, definitely not dolphin-safe, extra-mercury-packed, probably not even actual tuna canned tuna. My beloved childhood tuna salad sandwiches always tasted predictably perfect – smashed, flaked fish, heavily-laden with mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish, served on Roman Meal wheat bread (crusts on) by mom.

You can buy whatever tuna you want for this recipe. Maybe you went sporting in the Sea of Japan and got big, fresh and lucky. Perhaps some spendy Italian tonno in oil or just cheap chunky albacore in spring water? Maybe some of that new-fangled tuna in packets. Don't care. We do this recipe fast and cheap, so use whatever you want or feel morally, socially or financially inclined to.

What you will get is a surprisingly bright, nuanced plate. The jalapeño honey mustard is an anti-tartar sauce – sweet, spicy and with a tang that when paired with the plum salsa is a left-right combination punch. The tuna never knew what was coming. We've made this dish so many times with just the mustard sauce, and it's still wonderful. Visually, the now in-season plums suggest a pretty tuna crudo preparation, and paired with Texas sweet onion, jalapeño, cilantro and lemon juice, they'll take you from Chuck to Charles in no time.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Pesto. Do it with collards.

Collard green pesto flatbreads with boudin, peppers and tomato. © Ryan Schierling
Before I become a victim to my own verbosity, let me to cut to the chase – please try this pesto. It’s delicious. It’s nutritious. It’s economical. And, if not more versatile than traditional basil pesto, it certainly is more accessible

We’re comfortable with greens, but those most used in our repertoire have traditionally been spinach, kale, mustard and beet. Collards are more regional to our home here in Texas and until now we have been unremarkably straightforward in our use of them. You know… chopped, cooked greens with some onion, a splash of lemon or vinegar and seasoning.

Compared to other greens, collards have a thick and sturdy, almost leathery leaf on a hearty stalk. They take longer to cook than other greens and have a robust flavor to match. Quite frankly, they have been a bit of trick to incorporate into our menu plans. We’ve struggled awkwardly with new regional produce in the past. Last Fall we finally realized the delicious miracle that is roasted okra, and a vegetable I have had a disastrous relationship with previously is now one I’m looking forward to coming back into season. Breakthroughs such as these are defining moments in our personal food story, and this Spring we had that surprising moment with collard greens.

It started with a Saturday morning perusal of my Instagram feed. An artful image of large collard leaves and some thick-sliced ham scrolled onto my screen. Not exactly my thing, so far, but the maker of that image was Maggie Perkins and I always enjoy the “in-progress” photos of her impromptu creations as a farmer’s market demonstration chef each weekend. The caption that day is what caught my eye, “Good morning from the market! I’m whipping up a collard green pesto to top flatbread pizzas…”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Baking a pot of beans.

Baked beans. © Ryan Schierling
Family recipes were the hook that reeled us in to blogging about food. We are nostalgic ones at heart, and were just looking for a way to give all those tenuously-preserved, barely-written-down mealtime staples a place to live on with some degree of veracity.

The funny thing I've learned along the way is that the recipes from my family share several things in common: they are typically minimal in ingredients, the recipes are virtually never deviated from, and even in light of these first two facts, they are universally the most nebulously documented recipes I've ever encountered. The sauces are “to taste." The quantities are sometimes not even estimated because the cook is presumed to “just know." These are the kind of recipes where, if you haven't had the privilege of standing at the cook's side carefully observing the nuances, and tasting along the way when a dish has been prepared, you have to call upon a family member who has been in that place a time or two and taken very good notes.

My family's recipe for baked beans is exactly this kind of recipe. It is a five-ingredient wonder that came by way of my great-great-grandmother (my father's mother's father's mother) who immigrated from England via Canada. I have no way of knowing how much it has, in fact, evolved over the years. Judging by my family's dogged recipe loyalty – not a single iota. But, judging by the inclusion of molasses – there was, almost certainly, a touch of New England (Boston-style) influence somewhere along the way.

Best I can tell, it's been a recipe more akin to an oral tradition than a secret formula. I have been given this recipe three ways, all with the same ingredients. One simply described verbally in the tradition of a “to taste” formula, and two which vary mostly on the amounts of sugar (noting that one didn't even offer the quantities for the beans or tomato juice). So, I've stitched the pieces together and offer this detailed recipe which I present only as a benevolent guideline for successfully making my great-great-grandma Scott's baked beans.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ice, de-ice, baby.

(L) Arapahoe Basin, Colorado. (R) Denver International Airport. © Ryan Schierling
We haven’t been on a proper vacation in eight years, which is longer than this Foie Gras Hot Dog thing has existed and longer than we’ve been in Austin. The last time we hopped on a plane for some adventuring was 2006 when we took a week away in Hawaii – sunning, snorkeling, and sampling plate lunch and proper poke every chance we got. It’s been far too long since we travelled for play, with a side of relaxing, dining and drinking.

Back in November, we thought it might be nice to see some snow and planned ahead for a Colorado trip. I’ve got history there, and though it’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve set foot on and strapped in at Arapahoe Basin, mountain topography does not change. They’ve added a lift on the back bowl that I used to hike, there are a few new beers on tap and lift ticket prices are about $70 (!!!) more than what I remember, but The Legend is, and will always be, my absolute favorite place to ride. 

I spent the better part of the early 1990s faithfully snowboarding A-Basin two or three times a week. What is now called the “Early Riser Lot” was church at 7 a.m. Bad Religion at volume, changing into snow gear and finishing off a travel mug of black coffee before nodding at ski patrol and catching first chair behind them. From mid-mountain, it was just a hard left down to the Lenawee lift and 13,000 feet was minutes away. From there, it was a cruise to the right and a drop off Cornice Run, or left and as far as you could get traversing the East Wall before turning in and churning through powder in Land of the Giants. I rode a Burton Craig Kelly Extreme and that board, on that prominence, made a mountain man of me. Twenty years is too long to have been away.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Mexico-style green chile stew.

Green chile stew with pork and potatoes. © Ryan Schierling
I am not from New Mexico, and I am not from Texas. I am originally from Kansas, but I understand the reverence held for their respective chile and chili. 

There is no question as to the permanence of Texas red chili being the Lone Star State's one and only. It was declared to be the state dish of Texas in 1977 by House Concurrent Resolution No. 18, with President Lyndon Johnson brazenly declaring that "chili concocted outside of Texas is a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing."

I wouldn't go so far as to call chili in New Mexico weak or apologetic, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it chili, either. It's chile stew.

Technically, there is no state dish of New Mexico. They do have an official state question which is directly related, and that is "Red or green?" If you can't decide, you just say "Christmas," and whatever plate you've ordered will get smothered in a little bit of both red and green chile sauce. 

The green version of this stew is my favorite, and it's fairly easy to make. My recipe is not "authentic," as I use poblano and jalapeño peppers in addition to the Hatch green chiles, but like I said, I'm not from New Mexico. This is my Old Mexico recipe for New Mexico green chile stew – by way of Washington state, Virginia, Colorado and Kansas – which is a little closer to a caldillo

It is as far away from the Midwestern red chili of my youth as can be, which was a thickly-tomato sauce-based, ground beef and kidney bean-filled bowl, heavily-spiced with ground chili powder and cumin. This green chile stew is thinner, tangier and focuses the flavors of the roasted chiles themselves. The tender pork adds a hearty sweetness and complimentary texture to the stew. It is a fantastic winter meal.

FGHD editor's aside/note/distraction: I spent my formative years in Kansas, and just so you know, there's no official state dish of Kansas either, but The Kansas Historical Society has a recipe for Mr. White's Famous Tossed Lettuce Salad, which legendary, storied newspaperman William Allen White – who was born and died in my hometown of Emporia – apparently prepared at the table "in a rite he stood up to perform." Now, no matter how much pomp and circumstance you're bringing, the tossing of a head of lettuce, a bowl of minced onion, vinegar, oil, salt and curry powder seems a bit unlikely for a state dish contender. State Dish of Kansas – Tossed Salad? No. I will defer to Joe from Oklahoma, and his pork ribs and fries on the Kansas state line side of Kansas City. Now, that's a state dish.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

2015 AFBA City Guide – our Top 10 chilaquiles in Austin and so much more...

We like compendiums. Who doesn’t, really? They give you a vantage point from which to make your own best judgements and begin your own adventures.

The Austin Food Blogger Alliance puts out an annual “City Guide” which draws from the rich resources of its food-obsessed members, and the 2015 AFBA City Guide is bigger and better than ever. Its mission is to highlight the best places to eat and drink in Austin, with categories by cuisine, by dish, for drinks and a wide range of other social situations.

Our particular obsession with the traditional Mexican breakfast chilaquiles led to our contribution to this year's guide.
Chilaquiles are a simple dish, with fried corn tortilla pieces (totopos) that are simmered in red or green chile sauce and generally served with a bit of cheese, fried eggs and a side of refried beans. Our first post about this dish was in 2012, but this year we updated our most recent offering (from 2013) on the topic. This 2015 update for the AFBA City Guide 2015 includes an additional 15 plates of chilaquiles (and our current Top 10 recommendations) along with photos and descriptions for a total of 65 establishments in the Austin metropolitan area.
The best of the best chilaquiles in Austin. © Ryan Schierling

So, whether you are just visiting Austin or a long-time resident looking to explore a new cuisine in town, the AFBA City Guide is a great place to start your search.

The complete compendium:  AFBA City Guide 2015

Our chilaquiles recommendations here: The "NEW" State of Chilaquiles in Austin, Texas

Don't forget to join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #ATXBestEats

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Smoked salmon chowder with salmon bacon.

Smoked salmon chowder with salmon bacon. © Ryan Schierling
There are so many brilliant smoked meats in Texas it's a shame that no one really pays much attention to the fishes.

Granted, this is bovine country and the nearest salmon, be it Pacific or (heaven forbid) Atlantic, is an ocean away. Wherever you hail from, there’s always something sacred about cooking with smoke. Brisket is the gold standard by which barbecue joints are judged in the Great Republic, and if you've got a line out the door for beef, then pork ribs and chicken are pretty much a gimme.

Geographically, barbecue in this part of the country has never had a reason to be about the fish. Southern barbecue is beef and pig and yard bird. About the only ocean-sourced thing you’re likely to see on the grates of a Texas smoker are gulf oysters.

Salmon has a little less real estate to work with than most things that end up in the smoke. If someone could engineer and farm a salmon the size of a cow, you'd have cheap sides of salmon cluttering up everyone's offset, and apple trees would be shaking in their boots, err... at their roots. But salmon are not the size of cows and they're a little harder to catch than cows, pigs and chickens, so their most delicious parts are at a premium. 

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