Are you a Cook or a Chef?

WP_20140313_008

It seems like a very simple distinction but it is  a vital one in my opinion.  Chefs, admittedly my definition, are those individuals that go to culinary school and rigorously follow a recipe for the most basic things.  Cooks are those that learned from a loved one or are self-taught and that know that the best tasting food isn’t necessarily going to grace the cover of Bon Appetit anytime soon.

I’m a cook and I’m bloody proud of that fact.  I’m not afraid to open the pantry and the freezer and experiment with foods and spices.  Sometimes those experiments are horrible and the dogs thank me, but most of the time the experiments are successful and tasty.  I admit when I glance at recipes it is more for inspiration  than directions.  I don’t follow recipes.  The picture is one such lovely experiment that resulted in the best pot roast we’ve ever had.  I will share the recipe this week, I’ve been meaning to but I’ve been caught up in finishing writing my novel.

Chefs follow recipes and try to make food as intimidating and scary a possible.  All of those cooking shows are trying to sell cookware or cookbooks more than they are about getting people to try and cook for themselves.  They make it sound like making a loaf of bread or a batch of cookie dough is clinical science.  Sure, there’s science behind cooking but there were excellent cooks and amazing food long before it was reduced to cold, clinical measure that and measure this science.

Be bold, be adventurous.  Stop using so much salt that the “professionals” use in their recipes and experiment with other spices and ingredients instead.  Get the basics down and know what flavors and spices taste good to you and yours.  Once you know the basic recipe, then you will be free to experiment in changing up the basics.  Experimentation leads to the tasty goodness that is hiding in your cabinet waiting to bust out.

Advertisements

Spicy Carrots

WP_20140118_024

Cooked carrots are not a hugely popular or frequent dinner choice of vegetable but sometimes you just have to suck it up and make cooked carrots.  We hosted New Year’s and still had a lot of leftover baby carrots that I needed to utilize before they went wonky and the next thing you know, there are delicious cooked carrots sitting alongside grilled flank steak and baked potatoes.

Spicy Carrots

Leftover carrots, cut into various shapes and sizes

Honey

One, or more, dried chili peppers

Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe is really that simple.  I combined enough honey to cover the bottom of a small sauce pan and added the chili.  I then allowed the honey to melt slowly and the pepper to soften and infuse the honey with the spice.  I then added the cut carrots and allowed to be warmed through and thoroughly coated in the spiced honey.  The intent wasn’t to cook the carrots to mush, but rather to warm and be coated in the glaze.  The carrots did cook down some but were still firm and crunchy when eaten.  The amount of spice and honey will vary depending on the amount of people sitting down to dinner, these won’t hold up very well to reheating.

Versatile Ranch Beans

WP_20140113_005

Those simple raw ingredients pictured above when combined with liquid slow transform themselves into a wonderful concoction that feeds us for weeks.  Best thing about making your own beans?  They are easily transformed into flavors that suit your palette or the meal you have planned.  Yesterday we had taken out pork ribs for dinner and fish tacos are on the menu as well this week.

For this batch of beans I used the following:

1 1/2 cups of pinto beans

2 small red onion, quartered

1 tablespoon of beef bouillon

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 dried red peppers

Liquid to cover

2 Roasted  and diced Poblano chilies

I placed mine in my four quart crock pot and cooked on low all day.  Seasoning changes based on mood, these beans weren’t meant to be terribly spicy so the spices were mild. 

WP_20140113_007

I didn’t use stock this time because it definitely flavors the beans intensely and I was going for subtle, same reason I didn’t use smashed garlic cloves.  There is no salt or pepper called for in the base recipe because the bouillon is salty and over salting the beans will cause them to be tough.   Pepper is also omitted from the base recipe based on how potentially spicy the dried peppers utilized are.  I happen to know the dried peppers I use are on the spicy side.   The beans cooked slowly all day, the aroma was intoxicating, and I stirred the pot a couple of times during the day.  It helped break up the onion chunks and evenly distribute the spices as the beans cooked. 

When completely softened the beans are ready to be served.  Be sure to taste and check for seasoning.  Salt may be needed based on how salty the bullion used was and your personal preference. 

WP_20140114_003

At this point, I divided the beans in half.  I reserved one half of the cooked beans in my two quart crock pot and creamed the other half of the beans.  To the reserved half of the beans I added one roughly chopped roasted Poblano Chili and returned to warm until dinner was ready.  The remaining half of the ranch beans I subjected to the immersion blender and creamed.  Be sure to include enough cooking liquid but not so much liquid the final mixture will be too loose and runny.  It is easier to add liquid from the reserved beans if necessary. 

IN a small frying pan, I added the rough chop of one roasted Poblano Chili to a pat of butter.  Once the butter was melted and the chili heated through, I then transferred the creamed beans into a frying pan to heat through.

WP_20140114_005

The beans were a little looser than my personal preference but luckily, like all bean recipes this one is very forgiving.  Continue to heat gently until the beans are hot and the consistently you like.  Just be careful to avoid being burned by bubbling beans when stirring. 

I admit, I love ranch beans both ways.  My husband does too, although he would prefer the onion chopped a little finer next time. 

WP_20140114_006

Technorati Tags: ,,,

What to do with slightly dry smoked meat?

This weekend my husband smoked two large pork roasts and two beef tri-tips. The meat turned out beautifully and believe me, dinner Saturday evening was incredibly good with homemade BBQ sauce.

One of the tri-tips was a little over smoked, still tasty but a little dry. We solved that with BBQ sauce which made incredibly tasty sandwiches. Tonight, I shredded the other tri-tip and decided to make Smoked Beef Santa Fe Enchiladas. They were amazing and luckily they are incredibly simple to assemble and a great way to use up leftovers.

Smoked Beef Santa Fe Enchiladas

Corn tortillas

Enchilada sauce

Shredded Cheese

Smoked beef (any meat can be substituted simply)

 

Pre-heat oven to 350° and spray an 8×8 pan with cooking spray. Take four corn tortillas and individually coat in enchilada sauce and place in pan. Place a layer of smoked beef, shredded into bit size pieces, and then cover with shredded cheese.

Assemble three layers and then place one single layer of coated corn tortillas on the top of the third layer. Drizzle the remaining enchilada sauce over the enchiladas and cover with aluminum foil. Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and add one last handful of shredded cheese, return to the oven until melted.

Serve warm with a side salad and Ranchero Beans.

Chili

WP_20130204_006

A couple of days late in posting this, but the chili took longer to cook than I expected.  After a lat start to Sunday morning, I grabbed the beans, the crackpot, and spices and set about making chili.  My plan was to put half of each 16oz bag of beans into the mix but hubby wanted me to use them all.  So, dumped three kinds of beans into the pot, spices, liquid, and turned on the crackpot.  Hours crept by, beans being stirred, and liquid added as required.  Around 2 or so, I realized that the beans would NOT be done in time for the big game. 

So I decided to order pizza and let the bean finish until they were at a point I could separate half of them out for chili some time later this year.  WP_20130204_001 I will admit the beans looked great.  Plump, rich, and still having texture.  Beans separated, cooled, and stored we went to bed.  Monday morning I started the beans again, fried the meat, and added the remainder of chili ingredients needed for dinner that night.  Here my culinary skills let me down after a bout of torturous heartburn last week.  Although I spiced the meat, the beans, and re-spiced the beans I couldn’t bring myself to actually taste the chili.  I know makes no sense right?  After all, I was going to eat it for dinner that night and was looking forward to it the night before and yet, I never managed to dip a spoon and check the seasonings. 

WP_20130204_003 It looked right, smelled wonderful and so I foolish thought it would be alright.  It wasn’t.  It was BLAND.  And by BLAND, I mean it tasted like my spices had been locked away and sent to the moon.  It was fixable but it was bland.  That bowl of from-scratch chili wouldn’t give even the most sensitive stomach heartburn sadly. 

But there is an upside, all cooks need to be reminded sometimes that there is truly no substitute for tasting to check for spices – even if you’ve made the dish a thousand times before.  I’m lucky, it was chili that reminded me and chili is easily one of the most forgiving and easily fixed dishes around.