Saturday, August 29, 2009

Recipe: Cowboy Eggs (aka "One Eyes")

This simple, self-contained bread and egg recipe could very well be the finest non-bacon-containing breakfast out there for the working man.

I have fond memories of my dad making these things on weekends (and school mornings in the winter). We had a special bread cutter just for the purpose.

When I lived in Alaska for a few years, Cowboy Eggs and pancakes made up my diet—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—for a whole year.

For me, this is a little taste of home.

Heat a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat. As the skillet is heating up, cut the holes in your bread. Ideally, the holes are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. If you have a thin-walled glass, you can make beautiful round holes... or you can just cut the holes with a butter knife.

When the pan is hot (just beginning to smoke slightly, probably after 3-4 minutes), slap down a few large pats of butter, and put the "holes" in to let them soak up the butter. Turn the holes over to get both sides, and then put in the bread pieces and again swish them around a bit and flip them over. I usually add a couple of "helper" pats of butter to the middle spots where the eggs will go just before adding the eggs.

Break the eggs into the holes, and let them cook for a few minutes. Once the bottom of the eggs are cooked enough to flip without having things fall apart, flip them. It usually helps to work at the bottom a bit to unstick any stubborn spots before attempting the flip. A very thin spatula works best.

Once flipped, monitor your Cowboy Eggs closely. If you like your eggs runny, you'll pull them off in just another minute of two. If you like them well done, you've got another 3-4 minutes to go.

Serve immediately.

As a variation, you can add hot sauce, melted cheddar cheese, and chopped cilantro.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Recipe: Grilled Chicken Fajitas

This is, in my unbiased opinion, the finest fajita recipe known to mankind. I wish I could claim the credit for it, but I can't. I learned how to make fajitas while working for a tour company in Alaska.

A little strange, I know.

My boss in Alaska was a guy who grew up running restaurants in Mississippi, and he knew his stuff. Especially when it came to grilling meat.

Which brings up a good point. Strictly speaking, this recipe is not prepared using cast iron cookware. You can, of course, make this recipe with a cast iron grill pan, and I recommend carmelizing onions (and peppers) in a cast iron skillet. While my barbeque grill is extruded steel instead of cast iron, it is still a safe, non-stick cooking method... so I'm stretching the rules.

I highly recommend serving these with shredded cheese, caramelized onions, chopped scallions, chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream, guacamole, and a side dish like spanish rice. Of course, you'll want some warm tortillas to put everything in.

You can use this marinade on dang near anything. We typically use chicken breasts or beef top round. Buffalo is great, too. Pork wouldn't be out of place.

  • 1/2 cup tamari (or soy sauce if you don't care about gluten)
  • 1 cup worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Canadian steak seasoning (or Italian dressing mix)
  • 1 cup oil
  • 5 large chicken breasts
  • 20 corn tortillas

Mix tamari, worcestershire, chili powder, cumin, and Canadian steak seasoning together in a blender. While blender is still running, slowly add the oil until it is well incorporated. (Note: If you put the oil in too fast, or just mix it all together... you'll never get the marinade to make an emulsion, and you have to start over).

Marinate the meat for 6-8 hours in the refrigerator.

Light a charcoal fire. I strongly recommend natural hardwood charcoal (actual chunks of charred wood, as opposed to briquets), and a grill chimney (shown at right) so you don't flavor your meal with petroleum distillates and coal dust. When the coals are ready, spread 'em around and place the grill over them. Once the grill has heated for 5 minutes or so over the coals, clean it with a wire brush, and then spray or wipe it with oil.

If you're using a cast iron grill pan for this recipe, prepare the pan by placing it on the second-highest rack in the oven, and then heat it up for 10 minutes (until smoking) under the broiler.

Place the marinated chicken on the grill, and cook until done, flipping often enough not to burn it. This will probably take 15-20 minutes (with either method). Internal temperature should be about 160 degrees F when you pull it. Once off the grill, rest the meat on a cutting board loosley tented with foil for about 10 minutes (Note to the FDA: the chicken will warm to 165 degrees F as it rests).

Slice the chicken into 1/8-inch thick slices, against the grain if possible, and serve immediately with warm tortillas and whatever toppings and side dishes you may have concocted.

Recipe: Caramelized Onions

Onions caramelized in a cast iron skillet

Cast iron's highest and best use may well be to caramelize onions. You get even heat, near-perfect blackbody radiation, a nonstick surface, good looks, charming personality, the list goes on...

Caramelized onions are a mainstay of proper fajitas; as well as a strong supporting cast member in many other tasty dishes like quesadillas, pizza, breakfast potatoes, tacos, enchiladas, and marinara sauce.

I like to include butter when I caramelize onions, as the browning of the butter helps add a nice nutty flavor. There's also salt in butter, which combines with the sweetness of the onions to further develop the flavor.

Here's how to make perfect caramelized onions in your cast iron skillet:

  • sliced onions (6 large yellow onions are pictured here)
  • oil (About 2 tablespoons are used here)
  • butter (about 1/4 stick is used here, use more oil if you're leaving the butter out.)

Onions being properly sliced
Slice the onions by cutting off the tops and bottoms. Then, cut the onions in half from what was formerly the top to the bottom, making two semi-spherical halves.

Remove the outer skin layers. Place each onion half flat side down on your cutting board. Slice the onions evenly at about 1/8 inch thickness—from one "pole" to the other.

This produces even, crescent-shaped pieces of onion that are easy to manage on the fork (see picture at right).

To begin caramelizing the onions, heat a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat until hot (just barely starting to smoke).

Add the oil and toss in the sliced onions. Stir the onions around the skillet every 4 minutes or so, gradually lowering the heat by a few ticks with each stirring to end up around medium low heat after about 15 minutes.

If you are including butter, toss in about 1/4 stick somewhere near the 10-minute mark. Turn off the heat when the onions are a deep golden brown. This will take about 20 minutes.

Serve caramelized onions right away, if appropriate according to your dinner or lunch plan.

Caramelized onions are resilient... so feel free to leave them on the stove in the cast iron skillet (covered, no heat) for up to 4 hours, and simply re-heat for 5-10 minutes on medium heat to serve with the rest of the meal when everything is ready.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Recipe: Oven Roasted Beet Salvation

Having grown up in the Midwest, I was taught at an early age to revere beets.

As a child, I attended Fourth of July picnics, family reunions, graduations, and other assorted events. More often than not, these events included beets. There were beet salads. Pickled beets. Boiled beets. Beet borscht. Beet relish. Beet soup. There were even candied beets with marshmallows for dessert.

Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure what to make of beets. Sure they had a beautiful bloody color, and were easy enough to grow. But I had hardly ever tasted a beet recipe that I liked. As a grown man who had mastered changing diapers, marketing websites, and framing out buildings; the prospect of preparing, cooking, and serving beets had me spooked.

This summer, we decided to give our local CSA a try... and low and behold, along with entirely too many scallions and fennel, up showed a steady influx of beets.

As luck would have it, my beet salvation arrived shortly thereafter.

We were up at Chatauqua poaching some Beethoven through the open doors and having some wine and sandwiches when it happened. Our friends Leslie and Ryan had joined us, and after a strenuous uphill battle on bikes, we spread out on the lawn for the drinks and grub. Leslie opened a tupperware containing a dark, chunky, vaguely salady concoction, and my wife asked for a bite.

"That's good. Those are beets?" she asked, somewhat incredulously.

"Yeah, I just roast them with salt, pepper and herbs, and they can kind of go anywhere," Leslie replied.

My beet salvation had arrived.

When we got home (after a few bottles of wine and a really "interesting" bike ride down the hill), I dove into the vegetable drawer in search of beets. I was not disappointed.

The next morning, here's what I did:

  • Beets, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • Canola oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Granulated garlic

Preheat oven at 350 degrees F.

Wash the beets, cut off the tops and bottoms, peel, and then cube them. Toss the beet cubes with oil, and spices. Place seasoned beets in an appropriately-sized cast iron skillet to avoid crowding.

Place in the oven, and roast until they're done. Keep turning them every 10 minutes or so to avoid burning... and after 30 minutes be sure to eat a larger-sized chunk each time you stir to test doneness.

Once they're tender, caramelized, and tasty; serve hot immediately as a side dish to any savory poultry, beef, or pork dish.

As my beet salvation suggests, you can also refrigerate the roasted beets and add to salads, soups, or casseroles. If you're really feeling randy, mash the roasted beet cubes into a paste and use on sandwich bread in place of mayo or mustard.