Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Me and my stovetop smoker

I can be stubborn. And when a notion gets a hold of my imagination, it doesn’t matter if the experts and authorities wag their fingers and say, “It ain’t ever gonna happen,” I just keep on trying until I’ve decided for myself that it isn’t meant to be.

Take my stovetop smoker. I live in what can be called the barbecue district of Manhattan. RUB is right around the corner, Hill Country is a few blocks up, and Blue Smoke and Wildwood are both a quick stroll over to the east side. There is no shortage of smoked-meat options for whenever I get that itch, so why have I become obsessed with smoking my own meat in my own kitchen? There is no need for this, not to mention the results I get with a stovetop smoker will never be as good if I just leave my apartment and walk a few steps. But inexplicably, I’ve spent a good chunk of my time the past few months trying to make barbecue at home.

Now my stovetop smoker has done a commendable job on certain tasks: vegetables, poultry and fish all taste incredible when subjected to this type of cooking, all turning out moist with a subtle hint of alder, mesquite or oak. But that’s not Texas barbecue, now is it? I want to make brisket, sausage and ribs! And yet, while I keep trying, I still haven’t gotten anywhere closer to the real thing.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Something to chew on

Have you seen the June issue of Texas Monthly yet? It's their BBQ08 issue, and while the usual suspects make an appearance, there's a new king (or rather queen) of Texas barbecue. Readers—meet Tootsie.

Curious how the editors rate the restaurants? Assistant editor David Courtney reveals his secrets on how to eat at nine barbecue places in just one day. Makes my stomach sigh just thinking about it. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

For those of us in New York, Hill Country gets a shout out. (Did you know that they are now serving an amazing weekend brunch with house-smoked bacon, migas, chicken-fried steak, cheese enchiladas, breakfast tacos and biscuits?). And The Big Apple BBQ is coming up in two weeks; I highly recommend the Fast Pass. Sadly, Southside Market isn't returning this year, but Salt Lick and Baker's Ribs will be setting up their pits to represent the home state.

Happy Memorial Day!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to render lard

Lard. I have to admit that for most of my life that I’ve been terrified of the stuff. Be it schoolyard taunts that used the word, or the absence of it at both the grocery store and in my childhood home—I believed that it was bad news and something to be avoided.

A few years ago, I embarked on a quest to teach myself how to make flour tortillas. The first recipe I found listed lard as a key ingredient. I was scared at first, but I sought out a pound of it as my love for flour tortillas triumphed over my fear of pig fat. And while that initial foray into flour tortillas proved futile, I did discover that lard isn’t so bad, in fact, often it’s my preferred fat of choice.

People think that cooking with lard will make everything taste of pork, but this is not true; its flavor is neutral. What it does, however, is create incredible texture and structure. With lard, you’ll fry chicken that is both moist and crisp. With lard, you’ll make a tender pie crust that flakes. With lard, you’ll make airy French fries that crunch. With lard, you’ll cook refried beans that caress your mouth like velvet. With lard, you’ll steam tamales that are soft and fluffy. And with lard, you’ll bake ginger cookies that snap.

But the best thing about lard is that it’s not bad for you. It has less saturated fat (the bad fat) than butter, while it also has more than twice as much monosaturated fat (the good fat) than butter. And it has none of those pesky trans fats—that is, if it hasn’t been hydrogenated to prolong its shelf life.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Migas in the morning

“Austin is long on music, migas and markets”—Molly Ivins

If you’ve ever had breakfast in Austin, chances are you’ve had a plate of migas. This dish of eggs scrambled with fried corn tortilla strips, salsa and cheese is ubiquitous in some of the Texas capital city’s most popular breakfast spots, including Las Manitas where it’s almost a crime not to order their marvelous migas. I have fond memories of spending lazy mornings in this bustling Congress Avenue diner, scooping spoonfuls of the crunchy, cheesy eggs and bacon-laced refried beans into fluffy flour tortillas. There’s no better way to start the day.

I took a holiday from my office last week and subsequently decided to take a holiday from the Internet as well. Do you remember what life was like before we became beholden to the Interweb machine? I had forgotten, and it was satisfying spending most of my time in the real world. Though I have to admit that not only did I upset my mom when I didn’t respond to an e-mail from her within 24 hours but I am also now woefully behind on correspondence with others. No matter, I haven’t felt this recharged in years!

One of the things I insisted on doing every morning was starting my day with a satisfying meal, the kind of food that normally I just don’t have the time to either make at home or linger over in a breakfast spot. One of the things I craved was migas. You won’t find migas on menus here in New York City but there is something a bit similar, chilaquiles, which someone I know insists is just a fancy-pants way of saying migas. But I have to disagree.

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