Cowboy Caviar, or, How the bastardization of an archetype has led to a stupid name for a simple salsa recipe

Cue the rant:

I’m going to be honest, I don’t like making things with “Cowboy” in the title. I have deep-seeded issues with what I consider the cultural bastardization of the traditional cowboy archetype. It confounds me that the rugged individualism borne of Westward expansion has spawned a generation of reduced-talent (like the margarine of the music world) pandering musicians who espouse patriotism – or an interpretation thereof – for personal gain. Moreover, they’ve created legions of followers who have corrupted (subconsciously or otherwise) the very notion of the cowboy – the “archetypal, still finely individualized character, which [D.H.] Lawrence identifies as ‘the essential American soul…an isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man’.” (taken from this wonderful article by Jennifer Moskowitz) – in an effort to conform to a loosely-interpreted ideal incoherently represented by leather boots and shitty music.

And then there’s the dumb-ass name for this salsa: “Cowboy Caviar”

Not only does the use of the term “cowboy” perpetuate the fundamental misunderstanding of the heroic archetypal figure, it also directly infers the gustational simplicity of said individuals. Given the well-known connotation of caviar as an elitist delicacy, we can be led to infer that cowboys, since they now have their OWN caviar made of simple ingredients like corn and beans, could never be expected to enjoy real, high-class, high-priced caviar. They’re too simple for that.

Which brings us back to the corruption of “the Cowboy”. The cowboy is no longer the rugged, selfless, individualistic stoic of myth, or the hard-worker of reality, but rather a loosely interpreted farce that undermines the defining aspects of both.

But it’s okay, cowboys… the same can be said of ninjas (blame the Turtles), pirates (this one’s on Johnny Depp) and knights (I want to say Johnny Depp again, but it’s just because he seems easy to blame).

Rant over: stick with me, the recipe is good.

The first time I tried cowboy caviar it was because my wife had picked up a container of the pre-made version from Trader Joe’s, and I ended up devouring the whole bottle (not the glass, that would hurt) in one sitting. I also resolved to attempt to create my own version, which I have documented for you here.

The combination of a variety of different flavors and textures proved pleasing, and satisfied my desire to create a snack that combined the savory, spicy and hearty flavors and textures that I love in a rich salsa. The nice thing about this recipe, and all similar recipes, is that it can be freely modified by adding or subtracting ingredients to serve your tastes and suit the contents of your cabinet!

After writing this post, I realized that I didn't have a photo, so I've borrowed this one (listed as free to use) from the one ingredient chef (http://www.oneingredientchef.com/)

After writing this post, I realized that I didn’t have a photo, so I’ve borrowed this one (listed as free to use) from the one ingredient chef (http://www.oneingredientchef.com/)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of black beans – drained
  • 1 fresh tomato – diced
  • 1 cup corn kernels – drained
  • ¼ cup cilantro – chopped
  • 1 lime (juice)
  • 1 ½ cups light red kidney beans
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo – minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic – minced
  • 1 jalapeno – diced
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • ⅓ cup white onion – diced
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

 

Dice, chop, slice, juice and otherwise make small and mixable all of that stuff in the appropriate listed manner, and then fold it all together in a big bowl.

Eat it with chips… or a spoon, like me… but my wife tells me that’s weird.

Plus, I love chips.

Guacamole BLT’s

Given that I’m prone to adding a layer of fresh avocado onto my BLT’s, this little ditty was only a matter of time. Actually, as tonight’s dinner began coming together in my brain, bouncing around amidst thematic elements of All the Pretty Horses and artifacts of the Indus River civilization, it began as a version of the rockfish BLT’s that I made a while ago. Given that I hadn’t defrosted the fish, or even gone shopping, my original idea morphed into this tasty little mini-masterpiece.

wpid-img_20141007_182940.jpgIt’s pretty simple really, but in case you need the specifics, here’s the shopping list:

  • My simple guacamole
  • 1 loaf of fresh como – 1/2 inch slices on the diagonal
  • 1/2 pound of Hempler’s pepper bacon
  • 3 fresh tomatoes – sliced thin
  • mixed greens
  • mayo

Prep the guac, toast the slices of bread, and cook up the bacon.

Layer the good stuff on the bread.

Need a breakdown?

  1. Toast
  2. Guacamole
  3. Bacon
  4. Greens
  5. Tomatoes
  6.  Mayo
  7. Toast

Consume

Enjoy

Awesome Chicken-Mushroom Enchiladas… Reloaded

Considering the allusion to the heavy-handed Matrix sequel, that may be a bad title for this post. Unlike that CGI-laden slog, this recipe is simple, delicious, and – really – not that bad for you. I originally posted these two recipes (Awesome Enchilada Sauce & Awesome Enchiladas) back in April, but I’ve modified a few things this time around.

Enjoy!

wpid-img_20141001_191858.jpg

Awesome Enchilada Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo
  • 1 tbsp adobo sauce (from peppers)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp oregano
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

In blender or food processor, combine tomatoes, garlic, pepper, sauce, salt, cumin, oregano and cinnamon, and puree.

Heat oil in a small saucepan over med-high heat.

Add flour, and whisk the mixture to make a simple roux.

Whisk in tomato mixture and chicken stock, and stir constantly over medium heat to remove any lumps.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the sauce reduces and thickens.

Awesome Enchiladas:

  • Awesome Enchilada Sauce
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 (15.5 oz.) can refried beans
  • 2 cups of shredded whole roaster chicken
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chiles
  • 8 oz. chopped mushrooms
  • 2 cups pepper jack cheese
  • flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.

In small saute pan on the side, heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Add diced onion, green chiles and mushrooms. Saute until onions are cooked and translucent. Turn off heat and add chicken to mixture.

To assemble the enchiladas: Lay out a tortilla, and spread a spoonful of sauce in a line down the center, and add beans on top of the sauce. Top with some chicken mixture, and cheese. Roll up tortilla and place seam-side down in baking dish. Once all enchiladas are made, pour extra sauce over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then remove dish and sprinkle extra cheese on top, and bake for 5-10 minutes more until tortillas begin to brown slightly around the edges. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Menu Week: “Let’s try to be healthy this week.”

While it may seem unreasonable, my wife made this simple request following a week that included slow-cooker pulled pork, homemade cupcakes and a comforting but HEAVY sweet-potato hash. So, as I dove into menu-planning, I tried to think of foods that would be light(er), but still delicious and satisfying.
This was, of course, completely undermined by her NEXT request, which was for a dinner of tater tots and grilled cheese.
Oh well, the rest of the week should be better for us… You be the judge.
Planned meals:
1. Grilled cheese and tots
2. Handmade whole wheat pasta with turkey sausage and asparagus
3. (Lighter) chicken posole
4. Awesome enchiladas (with my awesome homemade sauce)
5. Open-faced salmon burgers with cucumber-dill salad

image

Oh my god, it looks soooo good

Bacon DOESN’T Make Everything Better

Ok, that title is a little misleading. Please don’t get me wrong, I fucking love bacon. I love bacon as much as Elise Andrew fucking loves science. My love for bacon is the main (and only) reason that I think I’d get along famously with Jim Gaffigan, who spends a few minutes during his “King Baby” stand-up special waxing poetic on the virtues and magic of the food.

Oh my god, it looks soooo good

Oh my god, it looks soooo good

But there’s a line in his bit that irks me. A line that tugs at the logical coattails of my Literature-teacher brain (my brain is very formally dressed in this metaphor), and insists that I share my position with the world. That line is as follows:

“Do you want to know how good bacon is? To improve other food, they wrap it in bacon.”

I know it sounds stupid, but I have a problem with that statement. Mind you, not the practical execution of it – I love a good bacon-wrapped fillet – but rather the logical fallacy inherent therein.

Gaffigan proceeds: “If it weren’t for bacon, we wouldn’t know what a water-chestnut is.”

Fair point, really. No one has ever ordered a stir-fry and wished for more of those weird little crunchy bits. I mean, even the title of this article I found about them seems to be mocking their very existence.

But more to the point, his line reminds me of a conversation that I had with one of my students not too long ago. See, as a teacher, I try to get to know my students interests, and every so often theirs happen to overlap (albeit slightly) with my own. A few weeks ago I struck up a conversation with a student whom I knew shared my interest in cooking. When asked about his favorite recent culinary creation, he began talking about Brussels sprouts, much to my revulsion.

Given that I’m terrible at hiding my emotions, especially when it comes to food, he read my expression, and immediately launched into a all-out defense of his newly-discovered recipe, which involved sprouts cooked in bacon fat, and served with bacon crumbles. I admitted that the bacon part of the recipe sounded good, and seeing no need to defend himself any further he concluded with the simple cliche “bacon makes everything better.”

There it is.

You’ve seen the commercials (thanks, Denny’s), the t-shirts (triple XL will cost you an extra 2 bucks) and (hopefully) have felt the wave of the bacon-borne cultural phenomenon. I have. And I love it. Again, bacon is fucking awesome. But that’s my food-brain talking.

My teacher brain get’s pissed when it sees things like this:

Pretty sure you can find this on etsy

Pretty sure you can find this on etsy

I hate this for the simple fact that it’s a mass-produced and disseminated logical fallacy. More specifically it’s a hasty generalization.

Allow me to explain.

A hasty generalization is a logical fallacy in which a conclusion is reached without considering all variables. In this case, the generalization is as follows: Bacon is delicious, and it can go with other foods, therefor bacon makes everything better.

Besides the fact that the nerds over at NPR proved that this statement is scientifically unfounded, it’s just a blatant lie.

Let’s try a few scenarios.

Say I put a piece of bacon on a pile of my springer spaniel’s shit. Did I make that shit better? Nope. It’s still shit, and I ruined a good piece of bacon.

Not enough proof?

I put a piece of bacon on Hitler. Did I make Hitler better? Of course not. AND, since he was a vegetarian, he would probably be angry that I put a slab of pig fat on him. There goes my day.

I googled "bacon hitler" after writing this, and this is what I found. The internet is weird.

I googled “bacon hitler” after writing this, and this is what I found. The internet is weird.

Hopefully you just realized that I’m using a logical fallacy to argue my point. Frustrating, isn’t it? Do you see what I’m dealing with?

So – in an attempt at clarity – let’s return to the case of the Brussels Sprouts (also the name of the worst Sherlock Holmes case ever written).

When my student argued that bacon made the vegetable better, what he really meant – and what the “bacon makes EVERYTHING better” cliche means – is that the bacon is good, and the other thing seemed good BECAUSE OF the bacon. Remove the bacon, and the other things is still the other thing. The Brussels Sprouts are still just brussels sprouts, Hitler is still Hitler, and dog shit is still dog shit.

Bacon has no magic flavor amplification powers. Sure, it’s salty, but if nothing else, the addition of bacon to most foods serves to overwhelm rather than amplify the other flavors.

Not that overwhelming other flavors is a bad thing. In the case of the Brussels sprouts, the natural flavor of the sprouts NEEDS to be overwhelmed to make them palatable. Which is where the bacon comes in. But does that make the sprouts themselves better?

No.

blech...

blech…

Given two plates, one of Brussel sprouts, water chestnusts or any other such bacon-added food, and the second of simple, sizzling, griddled bacon, I’d – personally – take the bacon off the second plate any day. After all, that’s what I really wanted in the first place.

Let’s not forget the other aspect of the argument; the inference that everyone agrees with the cliche. There are legions of people (let’s say, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, vegertarians, vegans, people who care about their health, people with pork or nitrite allergies, and my sister in law) for whom the addition of bacon would ruin any meal. To them, the assumption that “bacon makes everything (or anything for that matter) better” would be wholly untrue, and – in many cases – altogether offensive.

So rather than disseminating the fallacy any further, let’s do away with “bacon makes everythign better” and go with something more accurate. Here are some options:

  • “bacon is good”
  • “I enjoy bacon”
  • “the addition of bacon to other foods enhances my enjoyment of the dish as a whole”
  • “bacon: yum”
  • “bacon: no offense, but I like it”

Fuck it. I’m going to go make some bacon.

Boat Food – Simple snacks to eat on the go

One of the many benefits of living the in wonderful Pacific Northwest is the  scarcity of summer days marred by the unbearable heat characteristic to other areas of the country. I  spend the majority of my school break in shorts and a t-shirt, enjoying pleasant sunshine and temperatures in the mid-80’s. But every so often, the temperatures will spike, forcing the unprepared denizens of the greater Seattle area to awkwardly remove their shirts (while still wearing jeans, for some reason), switch to iced-lattes, buy COSTCO out of all of their otherwise untouched window-mounted AC units, and (ultimately) get tangentially invited to spend an afternoon on their brother-in-law’s friend’s super-nice boat.

Note: That last one might not apply to the entire population of the area, but the first three are universal certainties.

While many a King-County denizen might accept such an invitation, they would do so ironically, wear their Ray-Bans (the ugliest fucking sunglasses ever invented) and skinny-jeans on the boat and refuse to swim, my wife and I did so wholeheartedly, and – of course – offered to bring snacks.

My first inclination was to bring chips. I LOVE chips. But that seemed… pedestrian.

We were – after all – being given a special treat. So I felt that I had to reciprocate.

Boats present their own special set of problems when it comes to snacking. The food needs to be portable, and individually portioned. It needs to be easy to consume without utensils or plates, and it needs to be crowd-pleasing. Of course, as per my own standards, it also needs to taste good, and be a unique experience for the audience. In our particular case, it also needed to be hearty enough to be considered dinner.

So I set to work planning a menu.

Normal sandwiches? BORING

Pasta salad? TOO MESSY

Veggies? AM I A GODDAMN RABBIT?

Chips? PEDES…. yeah, I’ll buy some chips to bring along. I love chips.

Food on a stick? THERE WE GO!

After concluding that toothpick-borne bites would be my best option, I landed on the following three snacks:

  • Caprese bites
  • Deli wraps
  • Smoked-salmon cucumber rolls

After a stint in the kitchen skewering marinated mushrooms, layering deli-meats, and peeling cucumbers, we headed down to the lake and shared the afternoon, and my snacks, with great success!

Caprese Bites:

  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella – cubed
  • 25 (or so) fresh basil leaves – wrapped around the mozzarella cubes
  • 1 Columbus peppered salami – cubed
  • 1 package cherry tomatoes
  • 8 oz. Italian-marinated mushrooms
  • Toothpicks

To make the bites, skewer three of the above-listed ingredients onto each toothpick in various, alternating configurations. The random variations allow people to pick through and finds the ones they want, and with so many options there’s bound to be something for everyone.

Meat, cheese, etc.

Meat, cheese, etc.

Deli-Wraps:

  • Sun-Dried Tomato and Spinach-flavored sandwich wraps
  • 1/2 lb deli roast beef
  • 1/2 lb deli bbq chicken
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 lb sliced smoked gouda
  • 1/4 lb sliced horseradish cheddar
  • mixed greens
  • mayo
  • hummus
Sliced and ready to travel

Sliced and ready to travel

I made two wraps, one with a tomato wrap, chicken, gouda, avocado, greens and hummus, and a second with a spinach wrap, beef, cheddar, mayo, avocado and greens. I rolled them up, pinned them every two inches with toothpicks, and sliced them into finger-sized bites.

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Smoked-salmon cucumber rolls:

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 tub (6 oz.) whipped cream cheese
  • 3 green onions – chopped fine
  • 1 small bunch of chives – chopped fine
  • 5 0z. smoked salmon

DSC_0049

To make the filling, chop the green onions and chives, and flake the fish into a medium bowl. Fold the cream cheese together with these ingredients, until the mixture is uniformly blended.

Slice thin strips of cucumber (I used a mandolin) with the peel on.

Spoon a dab of the salmon mixture onto the end of each strip of cuke, and gently roll it until you can pin it into a tube with a toothpick.

Delicate little morsels

Delicate little morsels

These three treats were a hit all-around, were portable and clean enough so as not to leave the boat (or ourselves) a mess, and hearty enough to serve as dinner!

Enjoy… and happy boating! :)

See? Told ya.

Imperial IPA Pulled Chicken

In mid July, I finally purchased a slow-cooker. I don’t mean to imply that there was some sort of build-up to this decision, that I had been painstakingly putting away my extra change in anticipation of this moment, or even that there had been a lot of research involved. I happened to be perusing amazon, saw that slow-cookers were relatively inexpensive, looked up some of the wonderful things I could make if I owned one, returned to amazon, and the rest is history.

Granted, a crock pot may not have been the most effective way to spend money mid-summer, but it’s in the past. Move on.

Never mind, you’ll get past it when you see the results of this recipe.

See? Told ya.

See? Told ya.

Slow-cooker recipes that are still summertime appropriate live firmly in the world of pulled meats. So as to avoid going directly for the 4-lb. pork shoulder, I decided on a recipe for pulled-chicken sandwiches, though in my ongoing effort to slowly subvert my own attempts at health and fitness, I opted for an Imperial IPA as the main braising liquid.

This recipe was initially inspired by a pulled chicken slider recipe from the Beeroness.

My Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 5 chicken thighs
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp  brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1.5 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1.5 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 12 oz Imperial IPA – I used Jet Star Imperial IPA by No-Li Brewhouse out of Spokane, WA

The wonderful thing about this process is the slow-cooker mantra: “set it and forget it”. After only a modicum of prep-work, the meal simply simmers for a few hours before you can pull the chicken and serve it up.

Simmered, beery goodness

Simmered, beery goodness

To prepare: whisk together – in a medium bowl – all of the ingredients except the chicken breasts and thighs. For the beer, I chose to use 12 oz. of Jet Star Imperial IPA by No-Li Brewhouse. While not as heavily malted as some Imperial IPA’s, Jet Star’s pleasant sweetness is balanced surprisingly well with a double-dose of hops that showcase notes of floral and citrus, all while clocking in at 8.1% ABV. Since this beauty comes in a 22 oz. bottle, I made sure to cork the leftovers, which paired very nicely with the deep flavors of the final product.

Place the chicken pieces and the sauce in the crock-pot.

Cook on “low” setting for four hours, or until the chicken pulls apart easily.

Shred the breasts and thighs with two forks, and combine back into the sauce.

Serve on buns, slider rolls, in a tortilla, atop a baked potato, or in any other delicious way you choose to consume this sweet, smoky, deeply flavorful dish.

Enjoy!