Monday, January 15, 2007

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most important leaders in our country's history. He was also one of our most eloquent and inspirational orators. If you have not seen his speeches before, watch his "I Have a Dream" speech: It is truly amazing. They say he started off with a scripted speech, but about halfway through, started improvising.

What boggles my mind today, on Martin Luther King's birthday, a national holidy, is the lack of television content regarding Dr. King. I thought BET might have something going on today, but actually no, they don't have one solitary program dedicated to the man on his birthday! Just the regular Monday lineup! So, then I thought well if BET doen't have anything, surely CoLours would... wrong again! Zilch. Nada. The Biography Channel? Nope, but there's two hours dedicated to Burt Reynolds at 9am and 3pm. The Documentary Channel? No, no, no.

Am I really such a couch potato that even the networks think that since everyone will be out of their houses honoring the late civil rights leader at local events, there's no point in even putting on any programs? I kind of doubt it.

I did find a couple assassination documentaries on The History Channel, as well as a documentary that talks about his life and times. Also, PBS is going to run a major film tonight called "Citizen King," so I'm looking forward to that.

It is completely absurd that of the 200 channels I get, there will only be two programs today that I could find that will talk about Dr. King's life and worldview. The two assassination documentaries only get partial credit, although they are interesting. BET is the biggest dissappointment. I am completely floored that a channel dedicated to African-American audiences will not make room for one solitary hour in its schedule to remember one of Black America's brightest, most ardent, and beloved leaders, on a national holiday dedicated to the man.

Well, BET has been criticized by many highly regarded African-American institutions, so I guess it shouldn't suprise me that much... but it just seems wrong. Same goes for CoLours.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Traditional Irish

There's a new Irish restaurant here in St. Louis called The Dubliner. Before my office was moved out to soul-crushing suburbs this month, we ate lunch there a few times. I quickly became a huge fan of the boiled bacon with parsley sauce, and I think I'm finally approaching a quality reproduction at home. To begin with, it's not actually boiled bacon, like you're thinking. This was actually pulled pork loin, I'm pretty sure.

So I bought a pork tenderloin today, and went home and made a vegetable stock. I had to get rid of some old veggies anyway. I used baby portabella mushrooms, zuchinni, boston lettuce, a bunch of parsley, some celery, about 4 carrots, and three bay leaves. Covered it all with water, and then simmered it for about an hour. Then I strained, and threw away the vegetables.

Next, I put the tenderloin in with the stock and about a tablespoon of kosher salt, and started that on a boil for 30 minutes, covered.

I wanted some potatoes to go with this, so I peeled four russetts, and started cooking them like I talked about a couple posts ago.

With about 5 minutes left on the tenderloin, I got out my sauce pan, and started making a roux by melting about 1.5 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a tablespoon of canola oil. I brought that up to medium high heat, and started adding flour until it looked pretty thick (but not too thick). I'm still learning the whole roux thing. It takes practice. Anyway, here's where the magic happened... when the roux was ready for liquid, I took about three ladles full of the broth that the loin had cooked in, and put it in with the roux, stirring furiously to break up the ensuing lumps, and then added about three or four cups of milk, continuing to stir and stir to get those damn lumps out.

Once I had the sauce pretty well blended, I brought the heat up to bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, I washed off a bunch of fresh parsley and chopped it. Use a lot of fresh parsley here. After chopping it, it filled both of my cupped hands. About that time the milk came to a boil. I backed the heat off, and put the parsley in. Then I stirred and stirred and stirred until the sauce evaporated enough that I could turn off the heat to let it thicken by standing.

I pulled the pork by combing it with two dinner forks (one to hold it, one to comb it). Everything turned out really well, but I think the tenderloin would've been more flavorful if I had let it sit overnight in that stock before cooking it. I'll try that next time. Or, maybe an herb marinade with a dash of salt overnight would be better. It seems to be a dry meat, and needs some kind of flavor infusion beyond just boiling it in stock.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Venison Tamales

Making tamales is fun, and the results are delicious. I found an instant masa flour in Schnucks called Maseca Instant Corn Masa Mix, and next to it a bag of corn husks called Palenque Corn Husks, so I figured I'd give it a try.

After attempting to make tamales for the first time a few days ago, I have learned a few things. There are some tricks to rolling tamales. The dough, or masa, can be difficult to work with, and folding up tamales in corn husks, and having them stay that way, a bit of a challenge. I don't claim to know much, but I'll share what I have learned.

First thing I've learned is that the tamale filling doesn't have to be anything remotely Mexican. Sure, if you want to make traditional tamales, you should probobly stick to the recipes you find online, but really a tamale can be stuffed with anything meaty, or maybe even some kind of vegetarian filling using tofu, and it will be good. The key thing to think about is if the flavor of the filling will go well with the strong corn flavor of the masa.

The second thing I learned is that folding the corn husks like the Maseca package suggests is not as tractable as tying the ends with strips of corn husk. This is a trick I picked up from a Mexican co-worker. It solves the problem of the husks wanting to lay flat after you're finished packaging the tamale.

Next, I figured out that it's much easier to pick out a good, smooth corn husk, get it nice and damp (not dripping), and use it to press the masa into the candidate corn husk that you're rolling in. That's because the masa will not stick to it. Pressing the masa with your hands is too messy. You could probobly use many things for this, but that's what I came to.

Also, I've found that you can pick out another nice, smooth corn husk, and use it to roll every tamale, then transfer the perfectly rolled tamale to a lesser husk for packaging. So, you have your husk you use for pressing, and the one you use for rolling, and the one you'll use to actually roll the tamale up in.

So, the process goes like this... You have your bowl of meat mixture, and a bowl of masa, and a stack of cleaned, dampened corn husks, and your two really nice big, smooth, damp corn husks, which I'll call your working husks. You put a portion of masa in the one of the working husks, then press it down flat with the other working husk, then put the meat in there, and roll the tamale up like a cigarette. The working husk acts just like a manual cigarette roller, if you've ever used one. Hard to explain in writing. Anyway, you then transfer the tamale to a husk for packaging, roll it up, and tie the ends with nice, sturdy, thin strips of corn husk, and put it in the steamer, then repeat until the steamer is full, or you run out of some resource.

Now, for the recipe...

3 cloves of garlic
1/2 large Vadalia onion
2 stalks of celery
1 tsp of olive oil
1 tsp of unsalted butter
1 jar of pressure cooked venison
2 cups water
1 tsp of kosher salt
1 handful of fresh oregano
3 fresh bay leaves

I chopped three cloves of garlic, half of a large vadalia onion, and two stalks of celery, then lightly sauteed (it was an aggressive sweat, really) that in a medium sized pot with a teaspoon each of olive oil and unsalted butter. Then I put in a jar of canned venison which was pressure cooked in its own juices (thanks Katie and Tim!). Added water until it was barely covered, threw in some kosher salt, and brought to a boil, then reduced to a simmer until it was nearly cooked down. Then added three fresh bay leaves and a handful of chopped fresh oregano, and let that simmer until there was very little juice left. Then removed it from the heat, removed the bay leaves, and strained it to remove any fluid that the meat couldn't hold. I wanted it moist, but not messy.

Now, get to rollin' those tamales! It takes a few to get into the rhythm. I use a bamboo steamer, so once it's filled, I've rolled all I can. Steam them for an hour, refrigerate (or eat) the finished product, and refill those steamers until all the masa is gone.

Good and yummy for lunch, dinner, or snack. My tamales were a bit dry the first time I made them, so I used the parsley sauce I mentioned in my last blog, and that worked pretty well (they were made with ground beef and green serrano peppers). I did make the masa with less broth (chicken) than the recipe called for, because I thought the dough was not supposed to be so soft, but this time I used the whole two cups it calls for, so they're nice and moist. Anyway, a tamale with sauce is better than one without. I think for the venison tamales, a robust wine sauce would be nice, but I don't have any wine, so I'll have to come up with something. OK, timer just went off, time to eat!

Update: These are seriously good tamales. Even without a sauce.