The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 12, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Cooking Time: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Filed under: Cooking, Food — Brian Lutz @ 9:03 pm

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write here for quite a while now, but haven’t really found the opportunity to do so until now.  I’ve dabbled with food blogging on this site a few times with my recent food truck project and a scattered recipe or two (in fact the chili recipe I posted on this site way back in March of 2008 has been viewed nearly 6,000 times since I posted it, and I presume that at least one or two of those people might have actually tried making it at some point,) and I’ve meant to do more of it, but the main problem I have with recipe blogging is that I just don’t have a whole lot of interesting recipes to work with, and even though I find myself the principal homemaker in my household of one, sometimes it can be hard to find the time and/or the motivation to do as much cooking as I would like to.  As a result of a general lack of time during the rest of the week, most of the “big” cooking that I do tends to happen on Sunday afternoons.  Even then, it’s rare that I will end up doing something as elaborate as this.

Even though chicken enchiladas are one of my favorite dishes to make and eat, I tend to make them only rarely.  This is partially because this is one of the more labor-intensive dishes in my repertoire, and partially because the ingredient I consider to be the most vital (the Hatch green chiles from New Mexico) are so hard to come by around here.  Although me and my family have now lived here in Washington for longer than we ever lived in New Mexico where I grew up, the green chile is one of the few things we all miss about living there.  Fortunately, in recent years a number of local stores have begun to carry Hatch chiles when they are in season (roughly mid August through September,) and the Whole Foods Market in Bellevue even roasts the chiles on site, having set up a proper chile roaster in front of the store like you find in front of many stores in New Mexico during chile season. 

In addition to stockpiling some chiles for future use during their relatively short window of availability, I decided to use this opportunity to make my green chile chicken enchiladas as well, and document the process as I go along.  To be honest, I can’t really take a whole lot of credit for this one as my sister is really the one who came up with the basic recipe, but I have made a few changes here and there, mostly in the procedure.  That little disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to get cooking.  You’ll find the recipe after the jump.

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October 19, 2009

An Evening With Alton Brown

Filed under: Cooking — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:48 pm

In general, I have never been big on celebrities.  Part of this is because I very rarely watch Hollywood movies or TV shows these days, and part of it is that I just haven’t ever really gotten the whole celebrity thing in the first place.  Someone gets paid big bucks to be in movies, so that means we’re supposed to idolize them?  As a result of this, there are very few celebrities out there who I would have any interest in meeting period, much less going out of my way to meet.  Of course, with my somewhat out-of-the-ordinary tastes in television, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that one of the very few people on that short list is the host of a cooking show on cable TV.  But this wasn’t  just any random cooking show host.  This was Alton Brown, the somewhat nerdy and sarcastic host of Good Eats on Food Network, and he was in town on Friday to promote his new book Good Eats: The Early Years. Of course, I had to be there.

This actually wasn’t my first time meeting Alton Brown.  Several years ago, he came to town to do a book signing at the Issaquah Costco for one of his I’m Just Here for the Food books, and even then I ended up spending nearly three hours in the autograph line (and if you thought the cookware and cleaning supply aisles at Costco were boring enough already, try standing in them for 45 minutes apiece.)  From that, I got autographed copies of two of his books, and some semi-heplful advice on figuring out the proper ingredient ratios for cooking rice (it turns out he uses a cheat sheet to remember this stuff, so I don’t feel so bad about messing it up so badly for years before I got a rice cooker.)  Over the years, I made extensive use of the first I’m Just Here for the Food book, to the point that I’ve actually managed to wear out the binding on my autographed copy.  The second one I haven’t used nearly as extensively (mostly because it covers baking, and I don’t do a whole lot of that) but it does still manage to come off the shelf on occasion.  Alton’s latest book is a compilation of all the topics from the first eighty episodes of Good Eats boiled down into book form, complete with additions and modifications as needed.  It does tend to cut back on the details a bit when compared to the shows it is based on, but then again as Alton himself pointed out, the book already weighs in at more than 3 1/2 pounds, so there should be plenty in there. 

The event took place at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, a place which I had heard of before , but had never actually been to until recently.  I’ll have to go into more detail about it later on (it actually fits well with the whole Malls project I’ve been badly neglecting for the last six months or so) but in a nutshell, the place is something of a miniature Crossroads.  The center that the store is located in was once a small mall (a two-story enclosed space of a roughly similar size to Totem Lake) that fell on hard times, and in an effort to revitalize the property the second story was transformed into Third Place Books and the Third Place Commons, a gathering space with a stage and  a number of local food vendors (a couple of which are also found at Crossroads.) On the first story, a number of businesses (mostly smaller local ones) remain in a remnant of the former mall, as does a King County Library branch.  The remainder of the shopping center outside of the mall is occupied by more conventional businesses, headed up by Albertsons, Rite Aid and an LA Fitness club.  The place seems to be doing quite well, and is the type of place I could see heading for on a Friday night when I’m bored.

Having met Alton once previously, I had a pretty good idea to expect a packed house for this one.  Admission to the event was by ticket only (purchasing a copy of the book from the bookstore was good for two tickets) and by the time it rolled around, tickets were sold out.  Fortunately, I was able to get tickets well in advance, and had no problem getting in.  Prior to the autograph session, Alton spent roughly an hour on stage discussing the book and taking questions from the audience.  If you think Alton Brown is funny on his shows, he’s downright hilarious in person and off the cuff.  He also turned out to be surprisingly snarky at times, taking a couple of good jabs at Food Network and advocating some rather unorthodox approaches to teaching cooking, such as chaining kids to iron bars installed in the kitchen to make them learn to cook.   He also wondered out loud why we never seem to bother eating pandas.  After all, wouldn’t they have both white and dark meat?  I’m sure it’s all meant to be pretty tongue in cheek, but I suspect a few of the thinner skinned audience members might not have been so appreciative (particularly on some of his comments about vegans.)  The vast majority of the audience seemed to enjoy it as much as I did though.  Even my friend who hadn’t even heard of Alton Brown before this seemed to enjoy it.

Following the Q&A session, Alton signed autographs for the rather significant number of fans in attendance.  As could be expected with the number of people in attendance, it took quite a while to get through the crowd, but it was well organized, and only required a short period of line waiting.  On each of the tickets there was a letter indicating when you would line up for an autograph.  I had the letter H, and even though it took nearly two hours to get that far into the line, it wasn’t necessary to line up until that letter was called, and from there it only took about 15-20 minutes to get through the line (including a perfectly reasonable request by Alton to allow people with children under the age of 7 into the line ahead of us so they could get home at a reasonable time.) 

 

In the end, I came away with an autographed copy of Alton’s latest book to join the autographed (and in some cases badly worn) copies of two of his other books, a couple of awkward badly lit photos (yeah, my teeth are pretty horrible, I suspect I’ll be sending some dentist’s kid to college one of these days.)  And no, I have no idea why he needed a can of whipped cream up there.  All in all, it was a pretty nice way to spend a Friday evening, and if I can manage to wade through all 3 1/2 pounds of the book, I’m sure I’ll enjoy that as well.

January 20, 2009

Can a Piece of Cutlery Jump the Shark?

Filed under: Cooking, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:24 pm

Anyone who has seen me cook knows that sometimes I can be just a bit of a knife snob.  Trying to cut things with dull knives is something of a pet peeve of mine, and over the years I’ve dealt with my fair share of them.  Sure, you might run into a knife somewhere along the line that might be too dull to cut through an onion without excessive amounts of brute force, but unless for some odd reason you somehow accidentally found yourself trying to julienne something with the honing steel, there’s a good chance the knife will be sharp enough to slice, pierce, cut, rip, mangle or otherwise maim perfectly good fingers, most often the ones on your own hand.  I have found out from painful experience that this happens a lot more often than I would like it to.  Granted, I’ve managed to accidentally cut myself more times than I would care to admit even while using reasonable sharp knives , but usually I can (grudgingly) blame my own carelessness for those incidents.  If the knife is dull, it makes it a whole heck of a lot easier to just blame the equipment and call it good.

For the vast majority of my several culinary misadventures, my tools of choice have been the two knives pictured above.  These two chef’s knives are part of a block set of Faberware Pro Forged knives that I think I paid all of $25 for at Ross back when I was moving into my first apartment.  In total, the set came with five knives, a pair of kitchen shears, a honing steel and a block, although out of all those I rarely make much use of anything besides the two big knives in the set.  Although they could definitely use a good sharpening about now (it’s on the big to-do list I never seem to get around to actually doing anything on,) with proper honing after use and keeping them out of the dishwasher these knives have held their edges quite well over the years.  I have had far more expensive knives come out of the box much duller than these two, and I’ve seen other knives fall apart after much less use than I’ve gotten out of these.

Of course, in some circles, the old-fashioned chef’s knife has fallen out of favor, and for some time now, the Santoku knife seems to have replaced it in many kitchens.  In traditional Santoku knives, the design of the blade (which is designed to be flat, in contrast to the more rounded edges of the typical chef’s knife) is intended to allow for thinner blades to be used for more precise cuts, but the typical Western version of the Santoku knife borrows little but the blade shap, adds indentations in the side of the blade that aren’t present on traditional versions, and has to use thicker blades to make up for softer steel than that used on the typically very hard traditional Japanese versions.  Each different type of blade has its own merits, but I can’t help but think that most of the recent popularity of Santoku knives is more a result of their frequent use by various celebrity chefs than it is by any particular merit of the knife type over similar chef’s knives.   After all, if Rachel, Giada or Ina is using it, it must be good, right?  We’re talking about people here who practically sprint to the nearest mall and buy whatever Oprah tells them to, so  there’s a good chance they’re not going to be doing much comparison shopping for their cutlery needs.

Another part of the problem is that it seems like you can get away with calling anything a Santoku knife these days.  Case in point:

It would seem that someone here is trying to pass off that questionably useful piece of green plastic in the center of the picture as a Santoku knife.  Aside from the fact that I’m trying to figure out exactly who is was that decided you’re supposed to use a great big plastic knife to cut lettuce with in the first place (I guess you’ll maim yourself 18% less with one of those if you happen to be clumsy, careless, inebriated or otherwise incapable of wielding such a dangerous object while preparing food,) it is becoming increasingly clear that they’ll try to pass off just about anything as a Santoku knife these days if it means someone will buy the things.  Even a lot of “real” Santoku knives don’t seem to have much to do with the originals, and seem to be primarily cash-in attempts on the whole trend.  If they’ve reached the point where they’re making the things out of plastic and expecting people to actually buy the things, I think we can safely say that the whole Santoku knife trend has officially jumped the shark, hacked it to bits, sliced it to ribbons, chopped  the pile into an unrecognizable pulp and sold the stuff off as fish sticks in the frozen food aisle at your local grocery store.  You heard me, Santoku knives are officially done for.  You may all now go back to using real knives, except for those of you who shouldn’t be trusted with sharp pointy objects in the first place, in which case you should just order pizza delivery from now on.  Oh, and by the way, watch where you’re pointing those things…

March 26, 2008

My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets

Filed under: Cooking, Food — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:45 am

If you believe everything you see on random shows on Food Network, practically everyone out there has some sort of top secret chili recipe in their head, which they keep a closely guarded secret: a pot full of meats, veggies, herbs, spices and quite possibly just a little voodoo.  I don’t think I’m doing anything quite that complex when I make chili, but I do have a recipe that I tend to follow.  Last night for Family Home Evening in the singles ward I attend, we were doing a chili cook-off for the activity.  I knew going into this that I was likely to be facing some stiff competition, so I was going to need to be on my game. 

There was just one minor issue with this: I was short on time.  Where I usually allow several hours for my chili to simmer before serving, I had about an hour and a half (give or take a few minutes) between the time that I got off work and the time that I would need to be serving this stuff to a discerning audience, which meant that I would have to take a couple of shortcuts from my usual recipe to ensure that I would actually have something to serve here.  I also have this innate tendency to tinker with the recipe at inopportune times as well, which may have manifest itself a time or two here.  Nonetheless, since I have not yet heard any reports of anyone getting sick after eating the stuff last night, it’s probably safe to go ahead and share the recipe that I used to make this.  After the jump, see what I do to make chili in a blind panic to feed a hungry crowd, complete with gratuitous photos that my siblings can use to nag me about the cleanliness of my kitchen.

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December 27, 2007

How to Tell When Your Holiday Has Overstayed its Welcome

Filed under: Cooking, Culture, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:33 pm

(Note:  This is a crosspost of an item I wrote over at buzz.mn.)

As you might have noticed if you did any shopping yesterday, it’s after-Christmas markdown time at your friendly neighborhood Target store, or whatever other “great big box full of stuff” store you’ve got nearby.  On the shelves, all the various baubles and trinkets shine and sparkle just as brightly as ever, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’ve literally gone out of style overnight. In spite of this, the great big “50% OFF” signs tell the tale. The Valentine’s Day stuff is moving in a week from now, and it’s time for the Christmas stuff to hit the road (or the closet as the case may be) for the next nine months. Next door at the recently opened Kohl’s store (which, oddly enough, replaced a Mervyn’s that closed about a year ago,) they’re even more emphatic: 70% off.

In theory, this would be the best time to stock up on assorted paraphanelia in anticipation of Christmases yet to come, but that leaves the problem of storage. Are those tremendous savings really worth filling up the closet for? Sure, if you’ve got a large crawlspace to put the stuff in (as my parents have) this isn’t a big deal, but since I live in an apartment that accumulates an ever increasing amount of clutter over time, this becomes an issue. Besides, it’s not like they won’t make more of the stuff when the next Holiday season rolls around, right? Right? Um…  Better go ahead and stock up, just to make sure.

 

On the other hand, it’s not just the Christmas decorations taking a quick trip to the bargain bin. As you wander the aisles, it seems like anything even remotely festive is getting the big markdown. This is most visible in the candy aisle, where it seems like everyone’s been wrapping their stuff in festive Holiday packaging since roughly five minutes after Dia de los Muertos ended. In many cases (such as the package of chocolate shown above) a few sprigs of holly printed on the package will save you a couple of bucks over the same product in the standard packaging, even though the individually wrapped squares inside are 100% identical. I stocked up on these, but I don’t know why, since I still have these left over from last year’s after-Christmas clearance sale. If I was a food snob I’d call it “vintage” and claim that 2006 was a good year for chocolate, but I’m pretty sure most food snobs wouldn’t bother with this stuff anyway.

 

Finally, we see shelves and shelves of these red “gift” boxes full of generic Chinese merchandise (Now with 50% more lead than the leading brand!) all with the obligatory markdown. Granted, none of this stuff is particularly expensive in the first place, but if you ever wondered if giving this stuff as gifts would make you look cheap when they were at “full” price, seeing all the prices slashed in half a day after Christmas wouldn’t do much to reassure you. Still, there might be a couple of useful items here and there, so it’s worth looking through the pile. You’d probably feel ripped off if someone gave you one of these as a gift (or vice versa,) but buy it yourself and it’s a bargain.

December 13, 2007

How to Become a Food Snob in Five Easy Steps

Filed under: Cooking, Culture, Food — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:44 am

As you can see over in my Blogroll, one of the message boards I have listed is chowhound.com.  Although that particular site can be a valuable source of information cooking and food, there’s just one slight problem:  The place is absolutely crawling with food snobs.  To the sites credit, of the websites I read and participate at on a regular basis, the discussion at Chowhound is usually kept far more civil than that found virtually anywhere else I read.  I haven’t ever been able to figure out whether this was the product of dilligent moderation, or the fact that most of the troublemakers on the Internet haven’t ever managed to advance their cooking skills beyond the microwave and the speed dial button on the phone for pizza delivery.  Nonetheless, on a fair number of threads at Chowhound, the snobbery gets so thick there that you’re not sure why you bother with reading the boards there in the first place.  Maybe it’s just because you haven’t got the refined tastes of the usual crowd there, but more often than not, you just haven’t taken the proper steps necessary to fit in.  After the jump, a handy guide to joining the elite ranks of the food snobs in five easy steps.

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June 7, 2007

Stuff for the Bachelor’s Kitchen

Filed under: Cooking — Brian Lutz @ 1:48 am

Note:  One of the things I intend to do with this blog is to collect some of the posts I make to the assorted message boards I read into one place.  This is one of those posts, which comes from a post made on the Chowhound.com boards.  I will make a post that describes what you’ll find here in a little more detail later on, but I do make something of a hobby out of cooking, and intend to include a fair bit of material related to that on here.

 This thread on chowhound.com asks what cookware a bachelor should equip their kitchen with to prevent starvation, and to possibly impress a lady who might come along.  Since I have a bit of experience with the subject (the cooking part, not the lady impressing part,) I came up with the following list of items that my own kitchen is equipped with.   Note that most of my pans came from a Wolfgang Puck stainless steel set I got for about $100 at Sam’s Club that has thus far served me well. 

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