Iron Chef: “No Animal Left Behind” (feat. Cabrito Sliders)

The goat head cheese was just a first course at the annual JP Super Bowl party.  The decision to make it, plus an overflowing freezer of random meats, led to our 2012 Super Bowl food theme: No Animal Left Behind.  Every couple/team of attendees was responsible for a different animal, and we had goat, pork, venison, chicken, and lamb covered (with a nod to cow in the form of baked brie).  And THAT theme was apparently the equivalent of putting out a “not welcome” mat for our vegetarian friends (sorry Taylor).

After missing too much of a few Super Bowls in a row due to cooking, my goal for this one was to cook and serve my dishes before the game.  The head cheese was ready to serve out of the fridge, but my other planned item required a little bit more prep: cabrito sliders.  For those who don’t spend their evenings groaning about how good the food looks on a few consecutive hours of food shows, cabrito is young goat meat.

Got this at the Fitler Square farmers market in Philly. I really miss the food in Philly, the farmers markets were about half as expensive as the Stillman farms circus that rolls through JP

There’s not a ton to do with ground goat, I’ve been trying to figure out a use for almost a year, but I’d heard that they make burgers with it in Texas, so that’s what I went with.  Due to the similarity to the flavor of lamb, I wanted to add some flavors that would cut the richness.

First thought was to pickle some onions, something I’d wanted to learn how to do for a while.  I got started a few hours before people arrived by throwing two sliced red onions into boiling water.

Not much of a blanching or par boiling guy, so this was a first for me. Boiled onions sound like something from a You Can't Do That On Television sketch about eating dinner at your grandparents. That reference makes no sense to anyone under 30 or anyone who grew up without cable

I blanched the onion for a minute, strained it, then put the slices back in the pot.  A cup of apple cider vinegar, a spoonful of sugar, and just enough water to cover went back onto high heat.

Already starting to have that bright color I associate with every awesome pickled red onion that I have used as a condiment

Once it started boiling, I timed off a minute and poured the whole pot into a large mason jar.

This part terrified me due to once watching Brother John pour hot coffee into a glass with an iced cube (because he missed out on the pitcher of iced coffee) and having the heavy glass he was using explode in his hand. He was fine (and quickly attempted the same thing with a plastic cup) but I wanted to avoid shards of glass and pickle stank all over my kitchen

Lid went on the jar and it headed into the fridge where I was instructed that the onions would crisp and brighten as they cooled.  Big surprise, a recipe was correct and not subject to the same wild variances as my guesswork.

As game time approached and I was within 20 minutes of cooking my sliders, I pulled and rinsed a couple handfuls of cilantro leaves and a handful of mint leaves.  Once finely chopped, they headed into a bowl with the ground goat meat, 8 cloves of roasted garlic, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.

I know it looks like a ton of garlic, but roasted garlic is much more mild and blends in fully without running into a strong tasting chunk. Also, I knew the goat would be pretty strong and gamey

After a trademark Pete Ryan hands-on ground meat blending, including the requisite disgusted looks from party guests when they see me up to my wrists in their food, the slider meat was ready.

About how I wanted it to look. At this point I was surprised by how much fat had been ground into the meat since I expected something 93%+ lean, but I also knew that fat would probably be heavily lamb-y in flavor

After tasting a quick test batch and getting a sense for the size that would be perfect for two bites, I had an idea of the sauce that would match.  I wanted something with a Greek or Morrocan-type flavor that also replaced the need for cheese on a slider.

With that in mind I went with a non-fat Greek yogurt (since I am so health conscious) blended with paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, and a little lemon juice.

Unfortunately, the same spices are used in Old El Paso taco seasoning and always make me think of that flavor when I taste them individually or together. Also, Old El Paso taco seasoning is the bawmb

With my sauce and toppings made, it was time to throw a full round of sliders onto the griddle.  Since I was making them thin and small, the griddle was over high heat with the plan to only cook for a couple minutes on each side.

Size-wise my goal was for each to be about 1/16th of a pound. Annoys the crap out of me when I order sliders at a restaurant that are basically a half full-sized burger. Sliders should be two awesome bites and, like the rest of my thoughts on burgers, I will argue this passionately and support with violence where necessary

The other secret weapon I had in my kitchen waiting for these were the old standbys, Martin’s Potato (Dinner) Rolls.  They really never fail; everything you put in them looks and tastes twice as good.  Plus, they fit Pete’s two-bite doctrine.

After about five minutes, the sliders were ready for construction.

They look just like little Jimmy Dean sausage patties. Mmmm, Jimmy Dean sausage. Yeah, the 2012 diet hasn't gone so well, thanks for inquiring

Each slider got a small dollop of the yogurt sauce and a couple slices of the crunchy pickled red onions.

Yes, we went from 8 in the last one to 7 in this shot. Different batches. My blog readers are such jerks with their nitpicking of details. Not really, actually. I'm not even sure anyone is reading this thing aside from the boner pill and Russian free music site bots that fill up the comments spam folder

Close ’em up and serve.

Back to 8, but a totally unnecessary shot. I wanted to show a picture between the 1st and 2nd bite but the Increasingly Awful Point and Shoot (legal name now) refused to focus on the slider due to its fascination with my cracked mid-winter knuckles

The burgers were pretty dece in my opinion.  The meat was a good mix of crisp and tender with the roasted garlic and herbs adding a lot of flavor.  The sweet acidic crunch of the onion was exactly what I wanted; the flavor of dill pickles and raw onions in one flavorful compact package.  I over-spiced the yogurt sauce and although it gave the cheese-like flavor I wanted, it made the slider “have a lot going on” as Trisha said.  That Trisha shout-out is intended as a mea culpa for not telling her she was eating goat brains and eyes in the head cheese.

Now for the rest of the Iron Chef entries.

The app(s):

Nate and Emyo's Buffalo Chicken Dip. I love this stuff; sharp cheesy/buffalo-y chicken mess scooped up with tortilla chips. Falls under the category of "once a year" foods for me only because I am unable to contain myself and ate approximately half the tray

Not pictured: Chet’s venison sausage from his family’s game ranch outside of Austin, TX.  I am positive I took a picture of these but I think I.A.P.n.S. has now added randomly deleting photos from the memory card to it’s repetoire.  Delicious and spicy, I was psyched that there were leftovers that I could use in a pasta dish later in the week.

The entrees:

Con's Moroccan lamb meatball dish, served with warm pita for scooping and eating. Really good, and the spices he used reminded me of every bite of food that I loved in Morocco. The texture of the meatballs was the best; not dense but held together great

The Booshzels Pulled Pork sliders. Buschy was nervous I'd be mad at him for making competing sliders. In reality I was mad at him for showing that pulled pork is so easy to make that even he can make a delicious batch of it. You know, with his unrefined palate and all

Dessert(s):

Chrissy's bacon and French toast cupcakes. The real dish that blew everyone else's out of the water. Salty bacon on top of a maple cream cheese frosting and French toast flavored cupcake. Delicious meat dessert!

Not pictured: Julie’s vegetarian chocolate chip oatmeal cookies which gave anyone experiencing the meat sweats a break in cookie form.

Gonna give the 1st place ribbon to Chrissy for the creativity with everyone else tied for second since everyone was a winner in this competition.  Overall, a solid theme for a party, would love to give it a shot again with a larger group and more animals.  Always could handle a few more animals, we didn’t even cover beef, rabbit, turkey/duck/other fowl, or any fish or shellfish.

A few options for next week.  We’re down in Naples right now where we discovered a solid butcher shop with lot’s of interesting cuts.  Nothing beats surf and turf where the “turf” is lamb kidneys and alligator.

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Iron Chef: Sausage (feat. Scotch Eggs)

This past Friday, my friends Marshall, Buschy, and Leonard made the trip to Philly so that we could attend game 5 of the Flyers vs. Sabres.  Buschy grew up in Buffalo and we have made multiple pilgrimages to the birthplace of the buffalo wing over the past few years.  I was excited to have them all in town to visit some of my favorite bars and food spots.

Between their arrival at 5PM on Friday and going to sleep way past my bedtime, we consumed wings from Tangier, miscellaneous hot dogs and pretzels at the game, an assortment of bar snacks at Bob and Barbaras, cheesesteaks from Pats and Genos, and far too many domestic beers.  Made for a pleasant morning.

This was some hostile territory. We kept our jackets on over our Sabres shirts every time we left the seats and only celebrated audibly for the Sabres' overtime goal that ended it. Calling Philly fans intimidating is the nicest thing ever said about them

In the AM while everyone was preparing to head back to their respective cities and families, Marshall and I made plans to cook food together at his house in New Jersey.  We settled on an Iron Chef format and, despite the bloated stomachs and intestinal distress from the previous 16 hours, Marshall chose sausage as the secret ingredient.  Not his finest decision but it definitely had the makings of an A DB blog entry.

On the drive up I settled on making Scotch eggs, something I had never done before and only had once in a restaurant.  Will give more details on those later.  Kristi decided on serving mini bruscetta with a mixture of sausage, apple, onion, and a little crumbled cheddar.  Brother Tim’s entry was a mystery, but I knew he would be gunning to big time everyone with something elaborate.  Marshall likely chose the ingredient so he could do something with the sausages we brought him from the Italian Market a few weeks ago.

Kristi started her entry first since we arrived at around 5 PM hungry for an appetizer.  She started out by carmelizing some onions in a hot sautee pan before adding sage flavored Jimmy Dean.

Kristi used to hide from this blog, but she's started to enjoy the opportunity to be creative with these competitions. She got mad at me for stirring this when I took the picture because she wanted to do it all on her own

After the sausage browned a bit, she added a few chopped green apples, a little salt, and let the mixture cook down.

Hated the sausage and sweet combination when I was younger, but its grown on me in recent years due to Vermont maple sausage and Sue Perine's apple and sausage quiche

Once fully cooked, Kristi plated them on thin pieces of baguette with a little crumble of sharp cheddar on top of each.

Cabot, 'course. The only time Kristi has ever bought cheddar that wasn't from Vermont was the infamous "$65 block of DiBruno Bros cheese" story. Not sure she will ever buy non-Vermont cheddar again

These were good, the apple added a touch of tart sweetness that cut the richness of the sausage and made for a good opener to our night.

Shortly after we finished the majority of that platter, Tim strode confidently into the house smelling faintly of hickory smoke and carrying a tin foil covered dish containing this:

They looked disgusting and smelled delicious. I knew that the elaborateness of my scotch eggs had been one upped. Freakin' jerk

Apparently, these things are nicknamed “dragon turds” or “armadillo eggs”.  I had never heard of them, but it consists of a jalapeno, stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in spicy sausage, and cooked in a smoker.  Well then.

Tim arrived with these fully cooked but was nice enough to take a few pictures during the process.  He apparently visited a few Latin supermarkets Saturday morning and ended up with some fresh jalapenos, chorizo and Honduran sausage.  From there, he cored the jalapenos and stuffed with seasoned cream cheese.

The Honduran sausage is the lighter one. Overall this is a very appetizing picture, but for the obligatory Tim insult... sweet indoor composting bin and bamboo cutting boards you freakin' hippie!

From there, each jalapeno was wrapped completely with sausage and put into Tim’s smoker for an hour and a half over hickory and mesquite chips.

Not mixing the sausage meats was a good call since they had distinctly different flavors. Did I mention Tim is a jerk?

Back to Marshall’s house.  Tim reheated the fully cooked dragon turds in the oven and sliced them up for everyone to eat.  Really hate how unappetizing the previous sentence sounds because they were actually pretty good.

Looks like a horribly fattening sushi roll. Sounds right up my alley

Marshall called these one of the more delicious things he’d ever eaten, but like everything else served that night, we hit our limit very quickly.  After your 3rd or 4th slice, the flavors got to be almost too much, particularly for the ones wrapped in Honduran sausage.

The best ones were the chorizo since the hickory flavor didn’t make them overpoweringly smokey, the combined spice of the sausage and the peppers wasn’t too strong, and you could taste the sweetness of the pepper.  Overall, very cool food item to try for the first time.

Now, onto the Scotch eggs.  A Scotch egg is an egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried.  I had to do a little research in advance, primarily on how to hard boil the eggs to the texture I wanted.  Specifically, I wanted a hard boiled white that would stay together through peeling while keeping the yolk runny.  I ended up putting them into a pot of boiling water for exactly 8 minutes and completely cooling them in ice water before peeling.

So far, so good. The shell came off easily and you could tell by the lack of firmness that the egg hadn't cooked completely inside

I put the peeled eggs in the fridge for an hour to make sure they were completely cooled and wouldn’t cook through in the next stage.

After an hour watching the Blazers 4th quarter comeback, having some Shiner Bocks, and eating some cheese, it was time to start cooking.  I turned the heat on a pot of vegetable oil for frying and started wrapping each egg in sausage.

Went with Hatfield country sausage. My goal was to make these taste like an awesome breakfast sammich

The wrapping was easier than I thought it would be, which Tim concurred with from his dish.  I thought it would stick to my fingers more than the egg, but that wasn’t the case.

I learned a good tip online for how to test if oil is ready for frying since I never have a thermometer and always jump the gun.  If you throw a scrap of bread in and it turns brown in about a minute, its ready.  On the second test, it appeared our oil was ready so I started final prep.

I had this set up for about 20 minutes before the oil was ready

On the left is an egg beaten with some worcestershire sauce for binding and flavor; on the right is a bowl of plain breadcrumbs mixed with a good amount of salt and black pepper.  The sausage wrapped eggs were rolled in the beaten egg and covered completely in the breadcrumbs.

Kristi and I had a funny heated discussion regarding these photos on Sunday. I pointed out that they are rarely in focus and she pointed out that I move too quickly when she tries to take them. Food blog disagreements weren't covered in our Pre-Canaa class

Then into the fryer.

I always make sure I am at other people's houses when I deep fry due to the smell and disposing of the oil. It's amazing I still have friends

After five minutes of frying, I ended up with this:

These looked pretty much how I was hoping, knew a light golden brown fry wasn't going to be possible

I was extremely anxious at this point.  I had a plan in place to cut each egg in half and devil the yolks if they had cooked all the way through.  But when I cut into the eggs, it was a miracle.  A chubby person miracle.

Fully cooked sausage and egg white, slightly runny yolk

I was very, very happy with how these came out.  As Tim said, it was like a condensed version of breakfast.

Will need to make these again for a brunch sometime soon. Preferably a brunch hosted at someone else's house

The crunchiness of the sausage and breadcrumb coating was a nice texture contrast for the soft egg.  Plus, the salt and pepper from the outside was the right amount for the unseasoned egg.  Really good.

And with a few more lamb sausages that Marshall cooked, we were all sausaged out.  Luckily he paired that with salad and roasted cauliflower, two of the most welcomed dishes of the night.  After eating, we sat around stuffed watching hockey and playing with Marshall and Kim’s two week old daughter Cameron.  We also watched jealously as Marshall burped her and wished we could resolve our horrifying indigestion in the same manner.

This always looks funny to me, but you can't argue with effectiveness, and my man Mooman gets the burps OUT. Also, how cute is this kid?!?

And there you have it, very fun night and enough saturated fats to last a few lifetimes.  No idea what will be up next for this blog but will come up with something.

Iron Chef: Clams

Every once in a while instead of a traditional potluck, we like to gather a group of friends and have a potluck dinner that highlights a particular ingredient.  We always plan on judging but are usually too polite to actually crown a winner (doesn’t matter, I always believe my dish is the winner).  Despite that fact, we refer to these parties as “Iron Chef” nights.

Past Iron Chef nights have included Iron Chef Corn (my shrimp, avocado and corn salad was dominant) and Iron Chef Mushrooms (my warm mixed mushroom bruschetta made everyone feel worse about themselves).  With over 100 clams traveling back to Boston with us from the Jersey Shore, last Monday night was perfectly primed for Iron Chef Clams.

(quick disclaimer: this didn’t work the same as a normal Iron Chef because Kristi and I had time to make three dishes and other couples only had time to make one or no time to make any.  So its an Iron Chef in title/categorization only)

Most of the clams gathered were medium or large which made them much chewier when cooked.  Due to the size, and that they were a couple days old, the best way to use them was to steam first then chop for use in multiple dishes.  The full batch of clams was rinsed, scrubbed, and steamed in three separate waves due to how many we had.  Two dozen of the smallest and best clams were reserved for Buschy’s grilled clams.

This pot was the best $20 that I have spent in the last two years. It's survived three camping trips and hundreds of mixed crustaceans

We steamed the full pot of clams for about 15 minutes in lightly salted water until all of the clams on top were fully opened.

Such a pretty sight; clams are my favorite shellfish behind lobster and I would guess I ingested 150 of them in the past week

The clams that don’t appear to be open are just being held closed by the number of clams in the pot.  Once they are moved, they spring open.

Kristi introduced me to the super-zoom on our camera recently and I am getting pretty into it

From there we took each pot of clams and harvested the meat.  We threw away all of the shells but over the previous weekend we reserved the largest ones for use in stuffed clams.  That dish evolved into a dish we made for Iron Chef night (more on that later).

Kristi got me a culinary school class to work on my knife skills last year. Hasn't stopped me from always being an eighth of an inch away from losing a finger tip

We filled up 4 of these 3-cup tupperware containers with clams

When the clams open they release a very salty and clammy liquid which filled the bottom of the steaming pot and was reserved for use in various dishes. Also pictured, the pitcher that was used to make an extremely dangerous white sangria that made Buschy act like Bubs from The Wire

For our first dish, we made clam cakes which evolved from the stuffed clams we had made over the previous weekend.  The cakes were one part chopped clams, one part mixture of minced garlic and parsley, diced yellow onion, red and green pepper, breadcrumbs, corn, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  We added two eggs to bind the mixture, formed them into miniature patties and put them in a hot pan with olive oil.

I don't make pretty food, but you definitely knew these would be delicious even before they were cooked

These didn't brown and hold together as cleanly as the test batch we made over the previous weekend, likely due to using a teflon coated pan this time around, but they tasted just as good. The best parts were the crispy bits of chewy sweet clam

The second dish for Iron Chef Clam was made by our friends Conor and Trisha.  It was a traditional Lithuanian clam dip as seen in various cooking magazines that immediately went out of business and an obscure episode of Sanford and Son. You know, clam dip?  Its served with Fritos and made with cream cheese? Nothing?

This best-selling New England Patriots Chips and Salsa dish was initially marketed as a Frito and Clam Dip dish before the marketing manager was fired

Con and Trish have been making this dip for years and that’s pretty much how the conversation goes every time they introduce someone new to it.  It’s not exactly sitting atop the food pyramid, but it also happens to be completely delicious.  They mix in hot sauce, black pepper, and the clam liquid to thin it out then let it set before serving.  The fresh clams made it even better than usual with the dip tasting almost sweet.

Best served with a delicious glass of Rippo or slathered on a fat free hot dog using a finger due to a lack of utensils

The next dish was equally unusual sounding.  For years I made fun of a friend of mine at my old job who used to bring in homemade clam pizza to work.  Now, she deserved it since the whole thing appeared undercooked, was heated in the microwave on a paper towel, and generally looked like partially cooked dough with paper stuck to it.  However, I thought the idea was promising.

With clam pizza in mind, we purchased dough from a local pizza parlor.  I know, its a cop-out.  I used to make my own pizza dough often but what I learned was that I never thought far enough in advance to let the dough fully mature.  This was best captured by the time I returned home from a midday corporate booze cruise and wanted pizza so I decided to wait 3+ hours for a homemade pesto pizza dough to rise, be punched down, and rise again.  So now I buy it for a couple of dollars from the people who do have the proper amount of forethought.

This large pizza dough costs $1.50. It represents years of pizza making by Rizzos in Jamaica Plain and a continuously refined dough supply from the same starter. Why would I make my own?

I cut the dough in half and stretched it into two pizzetta sized pieces by hand.  I brushed each with a little olive oil, a little clam liquid, crushed red pepper, fresh minced garlic and parsley.  I then sprinkled a little shredded parmesan and layered a healthy handful of the chopped clams on top before covering the entire area with mozzarella.  After brushing the outer crust with olive oil, salt and pepper it headed into a 450 degree oven on the back of a baking sheet.  I prefer that method over a pizza stone.

After 12 minutes we pulled the pizzetta, let it rest for a few and sliced it up.

The first batch went quick but I pressed my luck and put out the second batch during dessert. Didn't sell as well

Once again, the fresh clams made it work.

Four bites of deliciousness

After the pizza came out, Buschy dropped his two dozen grilled clams and drawn butter on the table.  Once again Buschy proved that simplicity is the best approach when cooking fresh ingredients.  The clams were gone in under a minute and I considered drinking the butter they had been dipped in to savor any final bits of deliciousness.  I wish I had a picture, but it all happened so fast that I completely blew it.

The final dish was a pretty traditional linguine with white clam sauce.  I sauteed garlic for a bit in a couple tablespoons of butter, then added the chopped clams and a lot of white wine, lemon juice and clam liquid.  After reducing for 10-15 minutes I tossed in the mostly-cooked linguine and a handful of fresh parsley.

The sauce to linguine ratio was a little lower than I usually like because I was getting cheered on as I added massive handfuls of linguine to the pan and got carried away

All in all, a really delicious assortment of food and a very enjoyable dinner.

Tragically, nothing on the table survived. Conor even ate that spoon

Not sure what my next post will be, but I am guessing it involves a trip to the meat section at my local Latin/Caribbean grocer and winging it from there.  I will try to start posting a couple times a week.