This Guy

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Native son to the American Deep South - now living in Portland, OR. Lover of people, sustainability, justice, culture, writing, history, cuisine and coffee.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The State of Hospitality

I believe, as a born and raised son of Mississippi, that we have in us the innate responsibility of hospitality.

I know, I know. Your state is hospitable too. Kind folks...welcoming homes...but come on, Mississippi IS the hospitality state. (Go ahead, Google it.)

Now, what does being hospitable have to do with food?
I think it has everything to do with food.

My mom, for example, is a shining beacon of hospitality. She raised me in the same philosophy. If you have friends and family cook good for them. You make them feel feed them their favorite things.
Now, I didn't have people over too often. Generally, someone bleeds or gets hurt or ends up inviting way too many people over and it calls for a late night and an aggravated parent.

But we did have people over when we could afford it.
If it was my friends: pizza. fried chicken. dorritos. fudge brownies. cookies. mountain dew. coke. You know, the usual barrage of fat, caffeine and sugar filled goodness. No wonder we never fell asleep before 2am...

This is simple food. Granted, it's junk food, but it is food and we ate it up.
My friends would send compliments to the chef, being my mom and I believe she always liked doing it. Sometimes to the point where she would ask why I wouldn't have people over more often. [Mostly because, when I'm tired, I can go home...not have to somehow kick everyone out...ha!]

I know it's the responsibility of the parents to always have food on hand, but I can remember my sister's friend group never seemed to catch on to the idea of feeding your guests...that is, unless they came to our house in which my mom would bring out the goods again. [Yeah, my mom is quite the hospitable ass-kicker extraordinaire]

I say all this, to paint a picture on how it all rubbed off on me.
This is why cooking and food have become such a joy to my life.
Being an introvert, I'd much rather feed people with love from a distance at times...and cooking is great excuse for this.
When people come over...I feel the need to impress, or at least satisfy their bellies and palates.
I'm not comfortable unless people are snackin' on bits or sippin' on somethin' good.

Sometimes, conversation feels empty without food and drink. Like communion at the holy table -- I think these things are spirit filled -- important to our communion with each other.

And I think that's what it's all about. We correlate food with something that makes us least if doesn't for you, it does for me. I would never want to take food for granted -- it should always be something celebrated.
This is why being hospitable is important to me.
It's about going out of your way to care for your guest.
It's love in the form of taste and experience and conversation.

It's love for another.
Hospitality is in my blood and I dare not take it for granted.

My G.G. always had a pot of coffee going for her visitors and relatives - a brown bag full of whole pecans and something sweet on the table. [And if you were really special, maybe some fried okra.]

It runs deep down like a river.
So next time you come over...let me put on a pot of coffee and we'll catch up.

[and if you just so happen to bring mountain dew or fudge brownies, I would hardly complain...]

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cooking Techniques with Bourdain

I've watched this episode several times over and found it to be incredibly useful. I don't recommend watching when you're hungry as it will only deepen your sense of hunger pangs. :P

So many of these things are simple, yet easy to mess up. Bourdain and some of his chef-buddies let us in on their techniques and I found it all to be very enjoyable.

(I'll hopefully update with a real post tomorrow. And by real, I mean with words. And...maybe pictures. :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Taco

I grew up, like most in the US, eating hard shelled tacos made from taco seasoning mixes and with those kits you can buy at the grocery store.

That is all I knew of the taco.

I knew it was hard to eat once you hit the top ridge - and they were completely unstable, especially if you cooked the shells for too long.
Generally it was filled with ground beef. You cook a pound or so of ground 80/20 beef - drain the fat, add a little water and the "seasoning" packet and Voila! You have homemade Taco Bell in 15 minutes!
And God, I did love these things.
I still do.

Until...I moved to Portland.

It wasn't until I dived into my first "legit" taco that I became a fan of one my all-time favorite meals.
The taco-truck style taco.

I was unfamiliar and nervous.
A food truck...generally in the parking lot of some other random business with a few picnic tables and various bottles of hot sauce and condiments.

And cheap.
$1.75 for an asada taco or pollo or lengua or carnitas or anything braised and falling off the bone.
I found salvation in this food.
So simple. So good. It found a home in my heart.

They generally stuff your meat of choice in between two layers of white corn tortillas [never flour] and topped off with a few pinches of chopped white onion and cilantro.
On the side generally comes a few wedges of lime and some sliced radishes...(Usually depending on the season).

There's something about that combination of crunchy white onion, cilantro and lime that infuse all layers of your palate.
The best part is, I've learned to make this dish at home, and I think you should try it.

First, you gotta figure out what kind of meat you need.
For me, it's always pork. Pork has this delicious salty fat that I think brings out a better braising situation. It's also a meat that tends to be a bit more moist in the final product.

I generally buy a 1-2lb pork roast. (Depending on how many people you're feeding) If you can, buy it with the bone. I think it tends to be a more flavorful cut of meat.
1 - Yellow Onion (for braising with the pork)
1 - White Onion (for garnishing your taco)
2-3 tbsp chili powder
2 cups beef broth (if you don't have broth, water works fine.)
A tiny bunch of cilantro (depending on how much you'll use to garnish)
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1-2 tbsp pepper
3-4 cloves of garlic
The juice of two lemons & a few limes for garnish later on.
A bag of white corn tortillas

I use our 4-quart dutch oven, but any big pot with a good tight lid should work fine.
I cut up the pork into 2-inch pieces and drop them into the pre-heated pot with a little olive oil for browning.
I go ahead and throw in the yellow onion, medium chopped.

After the onions have browned a bit, I add the two cups of beef stock and fill the rest of the pot up with water until you barely submerge all of the pork in liquid.
This is also when you add your dry seasonings; salt, pepper and chili powder.
You can also, at this point, add the lemon juice and the cloves of garlic.

The rest just takes time.
I put on the lid of the dutch oven and let it cook for a good 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Check every now and then to make sure the meat isn't sizzling to the bottom of the pan.
After a couple of hours, the liquid will start to reduce, leaving the meat tender enough to pull apart with a fork. And you'll actually want to pull it all apart with a fork and give it a good stir to pick up all those bits from the bottom of the pot.

After the meat is done, I just warm the tortillas up in a pan by sprinkling them with a little water and heating each side for 15 seconds or so. (It's easier if your pan is pretty warm...)

Prepping is pretty straight forward. Place your meat in the tortilla - top with cilantro, onion and squeeze a couple of slices of lime (to taste) and indulge your palate in a wonderful barrage of simplicity and culture.

You should have an end product that looks something like this:

I'm not good at writing recipes, so bear with me if they are super confusing. It's definitely harder than it looks to explain to someone how to cook without actually being there to show them.
There are tons of recipes on the internet and youtube, so don't be intimidated.

Bon Appetit! [...hence my lack of spanish -- which would seem more appropriate than French... :P ]

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Cappuccino

Since working with coffee, I have fallen in love.

The traditional 5.5oz cappuccino.
An obsession. An art form. A badge of honor.
The perfect ratio of espresso, steamed milk and foam.

And by foam, I'm not talking about globs upon globs of airy frothed milk, but a velvety and creamy crema layer that is in perfect harmony with the other two parts.

While we're on the topic of milk, your cappuccino should not be hot enough to burn your tongue. The pros generally drink it just when it becomes warm to the touch...and that's just the way I like it.
The hotter you steam the milk (or have your preference of steamed milk) the less sweet it becomes.
So every time you order your 24oz Startbucks cappuccino extra hot, a barista looses their tattoos...(and we don't want that to happen!)

Any barista competition has you making the following: two shots of espresso, a cappuccino and a "specialty" espresso beverage.
Therefore, the cappuccino is an important drink to make right if you're any sort of serious barista. I know people who spend 3-4 hours a day practicing the double cappuccino...because there is a very fine line. You're always one second away from either making it too foamy, or two hot. The variables are quite timely.

Here in lies, my obsession.
But I'm not the only one.

This trailer seemingly tells the story of what America's "fast food" culture is doing to this beloved beverage -- and why it's important to stay away from damaging coffee culture.

Another video, showing Kyle Glanville. He was the 2008 US Barista Champion and all around coffee nerd turned rock star. He knows what's up and does it well.

And though, it is only coffee, it IS a livelihood for so many of us.

Ultimately, it's about the farmers.
There is justice in good coffee.
There is justice in good coffee buying.
It's when farmers are able to afford healthcare for their babies.
It's when they can put food on their table and be treated with dignity by being paid fairly.

To me, this is what making good coffee is about. The things we do only take away from the product they pick with their weathered hands.

There is respect in making their products with dignity.

So, after all, I do not feel ridiculous for loving this drink and striving to make it better for others. It is a product that comes full circle and we give thanks to all who are involved in the process...

[except for those gas station cappuccino machines...what are those anyways??]