Monday, April 25, 2005

Beef Tamales

In anticipation of Cinco de Mayo, I’m declaring the next four weeks our official Unofficial Mexican Food Month here at the Redneck Gourmet. I can do this because 1) its my blog and 2) I really like Mexican cuisine.

When I was a kid, I had the opportunity to visit Mexico a couple of times with my parents on vacation. As a result, I learned to like Mexican food at an early age. Oddly enough, there was a pretty good Mexican restaurant in our little town in south Alabama in a time prior to the modern invasion of Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal. Now you can’t turn a corner in most cities without finding a Mexican restaurant, but back then they were few and far between in the southeastern US.

One item was published on the menu at our local El Palacio Restaurant which was hardly ever available…


For some reason their kitchen had trouble making tamales or they couldn’t get all of the ingredients or something—but for whatever reason they were only able to serve them about one out of ten times we dined there.

Maybe it was the psychological effect of being a scarce commodity or something else in addition to their wonderful texture and flavor, but for whatever reason, in my mind…

I absolutely love tamales.

I recently decided to learn how to make them, and it isn’t easy. But let me tell you, IT’S MOST DEFINITELY WORTH THE EFFORT!

This guy’s Website is the primary basis of my efforts this afternoon. To be fair, I also have to give this web site credit for explaining the process and linking me to other sites.

Having said all of that, as usual I’m going to change things to suit my own tastes and to make enough food for two people with a reasonable amount of leftovers (most published recipes make a zillion tamales.)

Tamales consist of a precooked meat filling, surrounded by a soft, ground corn shell made from something called Masa, which is traditionally steamed in a corn husk wrapper. The corn husks are a bit of a pain to work with and cost a little extra, but I found a good substitute—parchment paper. According to my reading, you can also use waxed paper, aluminum foil, or even paper coffee filters. The key is to wrap the assembled tamales in something to keep them together during the steaming process.

I have to admit that at first glance at the label on the bag of Masa is a little frightening. “Ground corn and lime” it says. Lime? Not limes like the green fruit called limes…I mean lime like the caustic chemical lime. I’m thinking to myself that I’m making tamales, not fertilizing the yard here, so what’s with the lime--you know?

Well, I’ll have to take their word for it. Apparently the lime is common in processing corn products like hominy corn and making mesa. Tastes OK to me, by the way.

Go figure.

So here is what you need to make eight large tamales:

(2) Cups masa
(2) Tbsp corn oil
1-1/8 cup water
(1) Tsp baking powder
(1) Tsp salt

For the filling:

¾ lb beef brisket or London broil
1/8 cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Fresh-ground black pepper

(2) Tbsp lard
½ medium onion sliced thin
(4) Cloves garlic, pealed and smashed flat
(10) Black peppercorns
(1) Can of beef stock
(2) Cups of water

½ tbsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
(1) 7oz can Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce

First things first. Rinse off your piece of beef and pat dry with a clean dishtowel or paper towels. Take a large meat fork and stab the beef on both sides about twenty or thirty times to make room for the marinade to soak in.

Don’t hurt yourself in the process.

Slice the slab into 1” wide strips, toss the strips into a large zip lock bag, and pour the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper inside. Press the air out of the bag and zip it closed, then massage the liquid to mix with and saturate your beef. Toss it on the kitchen counter and get the rest of your tools and ingredients ready to work with. The meat needs to marinade for at least a half hour. I let mine go a full hour. Pick up the bag every fifteen minutes and squeeze everything around to ensure that the beef and marinade is mixed real good.

To make your tamales, you are going to need a 6 quart boiler with lid, a four quart boiler with steamer basket and lid, and a large cast iron skillet.

After the meat has been marinated, place the 6 quart boiler over medium heat and toss in the beef to sear and brown on the outside. Once browned, melt the lard, then add the can of beef stock, two cups of water, the onions, garlic, peppercorns, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Bring everything to a low boil, add the cover, and cook for a couple of hours until the meat is tender and starts to fall apart. By now the liquid should have reduced by about 1/3rd. Turn off the heat and let things cool a bit.

Once the meat has cooked, pick out the larger chunks and reserve in a bowl on the side. Pour the contents of the boiler through a colander, reserving the liquid. Pick through the colander for chunks of meat you missed, and then discard the onions and garlic.

Heat the cast iron skillet over medium heat. Shred your beef into the skillet and combine with the cumin and cayenne pepper. Add the Chipotle peppers is you like (be very careful because they are spicy HOT!) As the meat starts to sizzle, pour in a little of the reserved liquid (I used about a cup.) Cook while stirring until you have a mixture about the consistency of “sloppy Joes.” Now turn off the heat again.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the Masa with the baking powder and salt and stir well. Now add the corn oil and start adding the water a little at a time as you stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. You want to make a very stiff mixture that is slightly moist but still holds together when you press it out flat in your hand.

Put about an inch of water in your boiler and set it with the steamer basket on the stove over medium heat.

Now cut your parchment paper (mine was 12”x16” sheets) into 6”x8” rectangles. Spoon out enough of your Masa mixture to cover 4”x6” of that area. I pressed my mixture out with my hand onto the parchment, then covered it with another sheet of parchment and pressed until I got a slab about 3/16” thick. To make it a proper rectangle, tear off pieces as you work and press them where you need them, then take a knife and cut the edges nice and smooth.

This isn’t geometry class, so fool with your Masa until you are happy, then spoon out about three big teaspoons full of your meat mixture in the center. Roll the finished tamale up across in the narrow direction of the paper and then fold the two ends over once. Believe it or not, I STAPLED the paper wrappers on my tamales closed like Steve did over at Hog On Ice.

You’re in the home stretch now so stay with me here. Place your finished tamales in the steamer basket standing upright. If your basket isn’t tall enough (like mine was,) place them at least at a 45 degree angle, supported by a small juice glass or other support. Place the lid on the steamer basket, tilted slightly open to let steam escape.

Now let the tamales steam for at least 45 minutes. Step away from the stove and give yourself a nice round of applause. Mix yourself a margarita if you like. I actually made beef enchaladas, spicy mexican corn, and stuffed colored bell peppers along with my tamales, so look for more recipes later this month as I work out the details.

Serve your tamales by placing them on the plate and unwrapping them, watching out that you don't burn your fingers if they just came out of the steamer basket. Place a little salsa or adobo sauce on the side, pour a fresh margarita, and EAT!

Enjoy Y'all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Funky Southwestern Chicken & Beef a la Europe

(OK you make up a name if you can do better)

Today was another lazy day on St. Simons. Beautiful weather, but with a high in the mid sixty degree range and a moderate breeze it was too cool for the pool or beach. I didn’t set foot near a grocery store, for a change, so I worked out of the fridge and the pantry to prepare dinner tonight.

This recipe is entirely of my own making so I take total responsibility if you don’t like the outcome. I call it Funky Southwestern Chicken and Beef because the presentation on the plate looks like a dish from the southwest with the cornhusks lying under the portions, but the seasoning is definitely not Tex-Mex. Pat and I were impressed with the results.

Here is what you will need to make dinner for two:

One small beef tenderloin
One boneless, skinless chicken breast

Two ears of fresh yellow corn in the husk

Three medium Yukon gold potatoes

One package Knorr Chicken gravy

Worcestershire sauce
Dried Thyme
Dried Rosemary
Cayenne pepper
Fresh ground black pepper
¼ stick of butter
¼ slab of cream cheese
Half & half

The preparation:

Peal the outer leaves of the corn husk off of each ear of corn, leaving three or four layers of husk intact and wrap the corn in aluminum foil. Place the corn in a 350 degree oven for about one hour.

Rinse off your chicken and beef and pat dry. (You can use all chicken or all beef if you wish for the recipe.) Place the pieces of meat in a bowl and pour about a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce over each piece. Now sprinkle each with a little Thyme, Rosemary, Paprika, and Cayenne Pepper. Let everything marinade for 20 minutes or so.

Scrub your potatoes and cut them into even pieces about 1” thick. The reason you cut them evenly is to ensure that everything cooks and gets done together. Place them on the stove in a medium boiler with enough cold water to cover, plus about ½”. Wait until you place your meat in the oven before you kick on the heat on the potatoes.

After the corn has cooked for about forty minutes, spray a medium baking dish with Pam spray and place the meat in the dish in the oven beside the pieces of corn.

Turn on the eye on the stovetop under the potatoes to medium and bring them to a low boil.

Prepare your gravy according to the package instructions, except add a few sprinkles of Thyme and Rosemary, then keep it warm on the side.

After the corn has cooked for an hour, remove it from the oven and leave it in the foil to stay warm on the side. Turn the broiler on to 450 degrees and ensure that your dish containing the meat is in the center of the rack. Let it keep cooking for another ten minutes or so.

Check your potatoes and when they are “fork tender,” turn off the heat and let them coast.

Now take the meat out of the oven and turn off your broiler. Toss your plates (oven proof, of course) into the oven to pre-heat.

Strain up your potatoes in a colander and place the drained chunks, skin and all, into a medium mixing bowl. Add the butter, the cream cheese, a few splashes of half and half, and a few twists of pepper and mash everything up with a wooden spoon. Leave the potatoes a little chunky if you like.

Unwrap the corn and peal the husk off the ears, reserving three or four sections of husk from each ear for garnish on your plates. Cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife and toss the kernels in a bowl with a little olive oil and butter. Add a few twists of pepper.

Slice the meat into thin slices, then remove the plates from the oven and place them on chargers. Arrange the corn husks on each plate in a “fan” shape, then spoon half of the mashed potatoes into a nice pile at the base of the fan on each plate. Spoon the corn around the edge of the potatoes and arrange the sliced meat around the outside edge of the fan.

Drizzle hot gravy over the potatoes and meat, toss the plates on the table, and EAT!

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Pasta Machine

If you are considering buying one--Don't.

If you already have one, buy a rope or chain, take it to the lake or ocean, and use it for a boat anchor...

More later


I love good pizza. Not just any pizza, I want good pizza.

Truly good pizza is hard to find. You have to drive to New York City, Chicago, or obscure places like Sidestreet Pizza in Tryon, North Carolina if you want to eat a good pizza pie. There is also a place in the Atlanta suburbs called New York Pizza Exchange that makes an excellent pizza and saved us a few round trips on Delta Airlines to get pizza when we lived in nearby Vinings, Georgia.

If you have never had what I consider to be good pizza, you are missing a real culinary treat. This means that if you eat pizza you are probably happy having Pizza Hut, Dominoes, or Pappa John’s deliver some mishy-mash of cheese stuffed crust with cinnamon sticks and a large bottle of flat soda to your door for $13.98 (such a deal) with a coupon. Every time I try this approach, I swear to myself that I’ll never do it again.

My other home pizza solution has been to modify a store bought frozen pizza like those produced by the DiGiorno division of Kraft Foods. You may have done this drill yourself—take a basic three meat thick crust pizza, toss on some extra mozzarella cheese, black olives, sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and feta cheese, and pop it in the oven.

The result? OK Pizza. Not good…just OK.

I’ve recently solved my pizza cravings because I’ve learned how to make my own pizza crust. While the crust takes a while, the toppings are a no-brainer. The guys and gals over at The gave me all I needed to know about making pizza dough and I’ve done it twice in the past week and believe me when I tell you that this recipe works.

It’s not something that you can do in thirty minutes after you get home from work and the kids are screaming, but you can do it on a Saturday afternoon when you have the time to let the dough rise.

I said LET THE DOUGH RISE. The first time I made the recipe I was hard headed and rushed the process, didn’t let the dough rise fully, and used all of the dough to make one really fat, 2” thick crust 14” pizza. The dough tasted fine, but it was way too much crust for a single pizza.

This afternoon I took my time, let the dough rise properly, and made two thick crust 13” pizzas. Mama Mia…It Worked—I can hardly believe that I made these pizzas.

Here is what I did:

For the Dough Starter—

¾ cup plain flour (not self rising)
¼ cup warm water
1 pack of fast acting yeast

For the main dough—

2-1/4 cups plain flour
1 cup room temperature water
1 tsp salt

For the Tomato Sauce (enough for two pizzas)—

(1) 8 oz can Hunts No Salt Tomato Sauce
(1) 6 oz can tomato paste
½ can Beef broth
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried turmeric
A couple twists of fresh ground black pepper

Toppings—Take your pick, you know what you like…I used

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sliced pepperoni
Spicy Italian Saussage
Sliced black olives
Sliced button mushrooms
Marinated artichoke hearts, sliced
Sun dried tomatoes
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Crumbled Feta cheese

Making the dough—

Just like the web site I referenced says, making the dough is a two part process.

First you make the starter by combining the warm water and the yeast in a small glass measuring cup. Stir the mixture up and let it set for ten minutes. This activates the little yeast beasties and gives them a chance to stretch their legs and get ready to do some work for you.

Once you have a ¼ cup of hungry yeast, howling for something to eat, pour your water yeast mixture into a small mixing bowl containing ¾ cup of flour. Take a wooden spoon and stir everything up until the dough starts to pull away from the walls of the bowl. Knead the dough a little with your fingers, shape into a ball, and then cover the dough with a clean dishtowel and let it rise for thirty to forty-five minutes. Fix yourself a drink and get the rest of your ingredients ready. Watch a little TV if you want.

When you starter has risen, add your 1 cup of water into your starter and stir it all up to dilute. In a large mixing bowl combine the 2-1/4 cups of flour and the 1 tsp salt and mix thoroughly. Now add your starter/water mixture to your flour/salt mixture and mix it all together with a wooden spoon or, if you’re brave like me, with your bare hands.

Redneck Tip: Wash your hands, then dry them and pour a teaspoon of olive oil into one hand and oil your hands before working with the flour. This will cause the dough to not stick as badly.

Keep working your dough until it starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Lightly dust the clean countertop or a large cutting board with flour, then turn out your blob of dough and knead it for a few minutes. I’m not going to try to tell you exactly how to knead dough here, it’s not rocket science, but it is important to work your dough to mix the ingredients but not over work it—else it will be tough. As I’ve said earlier, practice makes perfect.

Now divide your dough into two even balls, cover them with clean dishtowels, and allow them to rise from 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should double in size, so you can adjust your “rise” time based on what your eyeballs tell you.

While you are waiting, make your sauce by combining the tomato sauce, tomato paste, beef broth, and spices in a small boiler over low heat. Heat until you want to use some, but don’t boil.

When you are close to having the dough ready, kick the heat on your oven up to 500 degrees F. The web site says use a pizza stone. Sorry folks, but I don’t have one…YET. I’m going to get one, but in the mean time I use a vented aluminum pizza pan. The idea here is to allow the bottom of the crust to cook well and become crispy. The pan works pretty well in my opinion, but I am going to go buy a pizza stone shortly.

When your dough has adequately risen, uncover it, move it to the side, and re-flour your work surface. Now place your dough in the center of the work area and fold the dough back onto itself from four directions, trying to maintain a round shape. Now kneed the dough gently and work it out with your hands (or use a rolling pin) into a 13” or 14” round shape, maintaining a thicker rim and a thin middle section.

I actually picked my crust up and worked it with my knuckles in the air like the pizza guys do on TV. If you tear a little hole in it, just place it back on the work surface and pinch the hole closed. When you are happy with your crust or afraid to mess with it further, place it on your pan (or stone.)

Now this step is important. Drizzle a little olive oil over the center of the crust, omitting the outside edges if you want them crispy. Smear the oil around with a spoon or your fingers to evenly coat the crust. This oil is important in order to keep the tomato sauce and other juices from soaking into your crust while it cooks.

Now smear four or five tablespoons of tomato sauce over the center of your crust. Use a large wooden spoon to evenly spread the sauce over the area—not too thick. I like to cook my pizza with a thin coating of sauce and place extra sauce on the side on the table.

Sprinkle a layer of Mozzarella cheese over the sauce, add your other ingredients, and another layer of cheese if you want.

Now you are on the downhill stretch. Toss your pizza in the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine, and do a few dishes while it cooks. My oven takes about 20 minutes at 500 degrees.

Pull the pizza out and place on a cutting board, place your extra sauce in a bowl on the table, slice your pizza, toss it on plates, top of the wine glasses, and EAT!

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Pork Pasta Primavera

(with vegetables)

I love being able to toss things together on the spur of the moment. Pat’s heading back to Chicago this morning and we have a fridge full of extra “stuff” I’ve bought as a result of having her working from home the past few weeks.

Before we wandered out to the pool yesterday afternoon (yes—we’re already working on our sun tans in April here on St. Simons,) I browsed through the freezer and the pantry and here is what I came up with for dinner for two.

The ingredients:

1 medium pork tenderloin (1/3 to 1/2 lb?)

1 cup of frozen English peas
1 crown of broccoli
1 chunk of cauliflower
1 medium carrot, sliced
8 oz colored Rotini pasta

For the Primavera Sauce

¼ stick semi sweat unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 clove garlic, crushed and diced very, very fine
A few twists of fresh ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped fine
¾ cup grated fresh Pecorino Romano Locatelli Cheese (Parmesan will also do)

The process:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Redneck Tip: Be very careful with your use of salt in everything as the cheese is VERY salty in the Primavera Sauce.

Rinse the pork tenderloin and pat dry with a dishtowel or paper towel. Marinade the pork in a little balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce or whatever, seasoning with pepper (no salt.)

While your pork is swimming, chop the broccoli and cauliflower into small pieces and toss the pieces along with the peas into your steamer basket over an inch of water in a boiler on the stovetop. Kick the heat up to medium.

Place a four quart boiler with two quarts of water for the pasta on the stovetop over medium heat, adding a DASH of salt and a little butter or olive oil.

When your oven is up to temperature, place the pork tenderloin in a greased dish in the oven and cook until the meat is 160 degrees F.

Redneck Tip: Use a meat thermometer, not your finger or tongue, to determine the temperature of the Pork….Duuuhhh.

Melt half the butter for the Primavera Sauce in a two quart boiler over medium low heat.

When your Pork reaches 140 degrees F and your water is boiling, put your Rotini pasta in the boiler and cook about 8 minutes or until al dente.

Redneck Tip: Al Dente is Italian for “how you like it”—no actually it means “to the tooth” i.e. firm, not soft or mushy.

Meanwhile, back with the sauce, after the butter has melted, stir in the cream and egg yolk, and whisk for another minute. Now add the garlic and cheese and keep stirring until the cheese melts.

Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter and parsley and add a few twists of fresh pepper. Take the boiler off of the eye and keep stirring so that it doesn’t overheat.

Turn off the heat on the pasta and vegetables and pull your pork out of the oven and let it rest. Put a couple of pasta bowls into the oven to preheat

Strain up the pasta and toss with a little olive oil. Now add the vegetables to the pasta and toss with your Primavera sauce.

Slice the pork tenderloin into thin slices and serve on top of the pasta vegetable mixture.

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Sunday, April 10, 2005


(More fun with the food processor)

I love salsa, but in my opinion, it is not worth the price you pay for it in the grocery store. I break down and buy some every now and then, but I find that making my own Salsa is easy, fun, and very cost effective—especially since I got my food processor.

I’ve made three kinds of salsa in the past two weeks. Actually, two kinds—I just left the garlic out of part of one to satisfy my girl Pat’s taste buds.

Basically, salsa consists of a variety of things found on the fruit and vegetable isle of the grocery store, all ground up and seasoned with some spices and a little vinegar. For instance, there is…

Plain Salsa:

Into the food processor toss the following:

Two medium tomatoes, cut into large cubes (seeded if you want to)
One seeded jalapeno pepper (or leave the seeds in if you want more “heat”)
One quarter medium onion, cubed.
As much garlic as you can stand—at least one clove (I like two or three)
A few sprigs of fresh Cilantro
Two or three table spoons of white vinegar
Salt to taste
A couple of twists on the old pepper mill.

Start out with the seasonings and the onion and garlic so that it will spread out and not end up as a few large mind blowing chunks in someone’s mouth. Place the garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar, and jalapeno pepper in the basin of your food processor and grind on high speed until you get a fine paste. Now scrape down the walls of the basin.

Now throw in the tomatoes and cilantro and press the “Pulse button” on the food processor until everything is cut up to the consistency you want.

If you want chunky salsa for use on tacos, burritos, or as a side on a plate of Mexican food, then make it chunky by going easy on the pulse button.

If, however, you prefer that thin, watery stuff that they throw in front of you with tortilla chips when you sit down at the local “Casa de Pedro Cantina” or wherever you go to get your fix of Mexican food, then turn the food processor on high and go take a shower.

When you get back you’ll have thin, watery salsa that tastes exactly the same but has no texture and character. I happen to like texture in my salsa.

A trick I’ve learned is to put part (two thirds or so) of your major ingredients including all of the spices and seasonings into the basin of the food processor, chop it all up fairly fine, then throw in the rest of the tomatoes, peppers, or whatever you are using and then carefully hit the pulse button a few more times. This way you get a variable consistency including a flavorful base of flavor to please your taste buds and tongue, with larger chunks included to give your molars something to do. I like to get my entire mouth involved with my cooking.

Next we have Tomatillo Salsa:

Tomatillos look like a small green tomato in a brown paper wrapper. They are a relative of the tomato, but have a tart flavor with a little ‘bite” like a mild pepper.

The local grocer has a Tomatillo salsa that they sell for about four dollars. I love it, but I think that I can figure out how to make it myself. Here is what I did…

Six two inch Tomatillos, with the brown wrapper removed
One quarter of a medium onion
One or Two seeded jalapeno peppers (or leave the seeds in if you want more “heat”)
As much garlic as you can stand—at least one clove (I like two or three)
A few sprigs of fresh Cilantro
Two or three table spoons of white vinegar
Salt to taste
A couple of twists on the old pepper mill.

Again, put the onion, garlic, vinegar, and spices into your basin and puree to a paste. Scrape down the sides of the basin, then add four or five of the Tomatillos (and some more onion if you want) and pulse the food processor to you get the consistency you want.

Now do another cycle by adding the last Tomatillo(s) (and yet more onion—ummm, ummm, good) and pulse until it looks right.

As always, I suggest that you TASTE WHAT YOU JUST MADE. So, TASTE YOUR SALSA.

Does it need anything? More salt? A little more vinegar?

Then add it, then place your salsa in a bowl and toss it in the fridge for an hour or so.

When you get ready to watch “the big game” or the NASCAR race, grab yourself some chips and then EAT!

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet