Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carne Picada at H&H

The most famous of all the hole-in-the-wall restaurants in El Paso is H&H Carwash.   I, myself, have been talking about it since, oh, 1958.  Yes, since then!
Well, I was a toddler, and the reason was that I could mimic the KHEY radio announcer saying, "H&H Carwash, right across the street from the Tasty-Pastry Bakery!"  And for some reason my Dad thought that was real funny and clever of me.

Anyway, they serve a dish there called "Carne Picada."  Which means, basically, chopped up meat.  What it really means is that you will be served incredibly delicious diced beef, tomato, onion, and jalapeno that has been seasoned and seared perfectly on a very hot griddle.  It will be served either as a burrito with a dollop of guacamole (the diet version) or as The Plate, which is with refried beans and rice and grill-warmed flour tortillas.
Both Kenny Haddad and his cook told me how to make it, and I can present a pretty good approximation;  but for some reason, the plate that you are served in H&H is, ... well, just more perfectly Carne Picada.  There is some special magic in the old gas stove or the hands of the hard-working woman who stands over it all day that makes it wonderful.  
So, even though this will not be exactly the same, here's the recipe:
1. Mix granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and a Mexican tomato/chicken broth powder called Consomate in more or less equal amounts.  This is the seasoning that will get sprinkled over the beef and vegetables as they are searing, and it's key to the flavor of the dish.   They go pretty heavy on the black pepper at H&H, but I will use a little less.

2.  Dice up some Tri-tip.  This is a cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin that is flavorful and tender and is what they use.  Dice it into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.  This is supposed to cook fast!

3.  Chop some tomato, white onion, and jalapeno.  Chop the jalapeno really fine, but the tomato and onion small to medium dice.  I prepare equal amounts of tomato and onion, less of the chile, for obvious reasons.

4.  Get ready to cook.   You need to prepare this in small portions because the griddle needs to stay hot, so maybe enough for 2 servings at a time.  If in doubt, do one at a time.  I'd use about a heaping tablespoonful of each vegetable with each portion of meat. Crank up your griddle or pan until it's screaming hot, and add just a little oil.  Peanut is good for hot frying.  I have found that I love using these iron pans to brown meat.  They get hotter faster than the cast iron,  are easier to move around, and are exceptional browners.

5.  Put the meat in first and leave it alone!  Let it sear for a few minutes on the pan.  Then stir to turn it over and add the veggies.  Sprinkle liberally with the seasoning mixture.  Get it good and brown and the onions "caramelized".  (I don't know why but I hate that word.)
6.  Serve it.  Be sure your tortillas are  warm and toasted.  Add some guacamole.

Now, close your eyes.  Listen for the voices of the politicians, the students, the cops,  the school friends,  the compadres, the UTEP coaches and players,  the sons and daughters and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of the Arab fruit vendors and Jewish refugees, the TB sufferers, the ranchers and miners who were chased out of Mexico by Pancho Villa, the braceros, they are all here.  Hey! Your car is ready!  Ahh, ... yes, this is almost, but not quite,  perfect.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chickens and Answers to Common Questions

Why do I have chickens?  I was a farm girl.   My Nana (my grandmother, the only grandparent I knew) had chickens.  My family also had chickens.  And I have a treasured memories of gathering eggs as a young child.
I remember selecting a bird for that evening's dinner, and the head being chopped off and the bird running in circles sans head!  This didn't traumatize me as a child, it was just presented in a very matter-of-fact manner.  Later, I remember Nana cutting the bird open and showing me the internal parts.  That was fascinating! (I dare you to show me a kid who isn't interested in internal organs.)  I seem to remember the parts being different colors.   She showed me some things that she said were going to be eggs.  This has to be when I was about 3 years old.  It's an important memory for me, since I lost my Nana when I was 8.
Then there is also the story about the mean rooster that jumped up and scratched my face with his talons.  He didn't have those talons very long after that.  My Daddy fixed him.

So, it's all wrapped up in my childhood.   It's in my brain.  It's in my genes.  Just like having a larder (pantry) with enough food to survive a disaster,  I got it in the gene pool.

Some of my friends have asked me questions about keeping chickens, so here's what I know:  (and the following is my opinion only)
1.  Where do you get chickens?
You buy them as baby chicks at a feed store, in the Spring, beginning in March.  Then you need to keep them in a big box, inside,  with paper and pine shavings on the bottom, and with a clamp -on light above, for about 6 weeks.  In the garage is fine.
Blanche and Isabe
2.  Do you have to have rooster?
No, you don't have to have one.  I don't have one.  You only need a rooster if you want to raise chicks, or have fertilized eggs.  Otherwise, your hen will lay eggs anyway.
3.  Any advice about a coop?
Yes.  Keep the floor off the ground.  When it gets wet it gets stinky and we have more flies.  I have my coop up on pallets.  Put vinyl flooring down on the floor to make cleaning up easy.  Throw sawdust down on the flooring and sprinkle it with diatomaceous earth.   You only need to sweep it out and put down more sawdust and DE every couple of months.

4.  You said"flies".
Yes, I did.  Once or twice a summer I spray around the ground and in the coop with a permethrin solution and that takes care of the flies, for the most part.
5.  What do the chickens eat?
Of course they need chicken feed.  They get sunflower seeds and scratch feed as a special treat.  And kitchen scraps!  Anything fruit or vegetable is a great, but they will eat almost any leftovers.  I buy them corn on the cob when it's cheap.  They love cheese and pasta, bread and tortillas; I just don't give them meat.  And in the early spring, when the wild mustard weeds are all over the place, they loved, loved, loved that.  Whenever I went for a walk I brought back wild mustard and their egg yolks were so beautiful and dark golden.
Harriet plotting a way into the tomatoes
6.  Are they pets?
Yes, they run to me (it's very funny!) when I call them and they are very amenable to being picked up and petted, as long as you start when they are young.   They won't like it at first, but after a while they will squat down in front of you and want to be picked up.  It's pretty clear mine think it's special treatment.
7.  Are they  stupid?
Gertrude looking for bugs
No.  Not at all.  They pick up really quickly on a routine.  I "herd" mind back into the coop every evening and let them out in the morning, and they know all about it and expect it.  I take a broom with me and sort of "shoo" them into the pen and after the first few times, and they totally get it.  If I don't get outside in the afternoon, they know to get into their coop at nighttime.  When I'm at home I  like to protect them from neighborhood cats and varmints by making sure they are in the coop.  

8.  What are the other negatives?
Well, I paid $450 to have my coop made, which was a bargain.  Feed is about $12 every couple of months.  I buy 40 pound sacks at Walmart.   If the chickens get into my garden area, they dig up the ground and displace all the mulch, and they like to eat tomato plants, as well as tomatoes. I keep their wings clipped so they can't fly up really high.
9.  In the winter, are they cold out there?
My coop has an "enclosed" area with a  perch where they can get inside if the wind is cold.  I threw them in there a couple of times when the temps got really cold last winter, but they seemed to want to roost outside (in the coop) even in the coldest times.  Of course, we rarely get temps below freezing here, just a few times a year and only into the 20's a few weeks.  Chickens are very hardy and those feathers do a good job of insulating them. 
10.  How many eggs do you get?
Last fall I had 3 mature hens and I got 3 a day until this spring when they started to moult.  Then production dropped.  When it's really hot they don't lay every day, and I get about 2, sometimes 1, sometimes 3 a day.  When my three young hens start laying and the weather cools down I expect to get 5 or 6 a day.
11.Do they need a nesting box to lay eggs?
Yes, but a cat box (the kind with a top part) with straw in it will work.   You might need to get a wooden egg (Hobby Lobby) and put it in there to show them what to do. You need a nesting box for  every 3 hens.
12.  Do the dogs bother them?
Shady,  our big dog did kill some chicks.  I have to keep them separated until the chicks are a decent size, and then for some reason, she leaves them alone.   She was a farm dog and often killed dove and grackles on the farm, and didn't understand that she needed to differentiate birdies.
13.  Are you ever going to eat your hens?
Not unless we get into a situation that's really, really
dire.  Then yes, I probably would.  But that level of hungry seems awfully remote.
14.  Anything else?
Yes.  You can get tons of information from this website including some inspiring pictures of great coops.  It's lots of fun and just not that hard to do.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fried Okra; from the garden, to the freezer, to the table.

Since I've got such a lovely bunch of okra plants in the garden,  I'm going to be putting bags of okra in the freezer for later this year.  That's a good thing, because I love okra.  And I won't qualify that in any way.  I like stewed okra, pickled okra, fried, ...any way you can serve it, I like it.  However, my favorite of all is fried okra, and I've tried many different recipes over the years and have come to this as the nadir of fried okra perfection.
So without further ado...
Because I'm going to put this bunch in the freezer for demonstrative purposes today, I blanched this freshly picked mess of okra.  That just means that I  dunked it into some boiling water for a few seconds, then into a bowl of cold water.  It's important to do that if you're going to freeze it. 
Then I'm going to chop it into rounds of approximately 1/4 inch.
Next, I'm going to put the chopped okra into a bowl of buttermilk, and stir it up to make sure it's coated well.

Then pour the whole mess of okra and buttermilk into a big strainer and shake it up to get as much excess buttermilk as you can drained out of there.

Put 2 cups of cornmeal into a cake pan.  Then put 1 cup of self-rising flour in.  Add salt (1tsp.) and mix it up, fingers will do.
Throw the okra into the cake pan with the cornmeal/flour/salt mixture and really shake it around, and keep doing it until all the okra is coated and dry.  "Shakeum, shakeum, shakeum, ..."  (remember that playground game?),  then let it sit for a while to bond.

Next pour that whole mess into a colander with large holes and shake  the excess cornmeal out.
Spread the okra on a sheet pan,  I lined mine with parchment paper, but you don't have to.

Pop it into the freezer, and in an hour or two it should be frozen enough to put into a zip-loc bag.

When you are ready to cook the frozen okra, pour about an inch of peanut oil into a fry pan and get it hot, cook okras about 5 minutes, stiring once to turn.
Don't over-crowd the pan.  Sprinkle more salt on the cooked okra.  This is a great side for barbeque or pork chops, or as an appetizer.  You can't do much better than this, if you love okra.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Raised-bed Garden Update

Well, my vegetable garden has been a mixed success.  Some things never came up, some plants (melons, cucumbers, and most of the squash) got eaten by bugs (nasty, ugly, stinky, fuchi squash bugs, eeeuu).

The Evil Squash Bug

But a few things came up and thrived.
Okra.  I have a great okra crop.  And there are so many pods coming on right now,  I'm having to freeze it.  More on that later.

The only thing I don't like about okra is how sneaky it is.  It's very hard, somehow, to find all the okra that is ready to be picked.  It really tries to hide.

Okra pretending to be a stem.
And succeeds!  I'll look and look and look, and swear they are all picked.  Then two days later I'll find one that is about 8 inches long and that's just too darn big!  However, the chickens will eat it if I cut it open.

I have a couple of lovely eggplant... plants.
Then I have a lot of black-eyed peas coming on.  They have been slow so far but I think I'm going to have an explosion of peas pretty soon.

Mystery Bean
This bean plant is either a rattlesnake bean or a red ripper.  I don't remember what I planted there, I just got so excited about putting seeds in the ground, I went a little nuts.  And this particular one has just grown and grown and never produced bean one, yet when it does, the mystery will be over.

My tomatoes started out fine but then got blight and pfffft.  Luckily I planted reserve tomatoes in other places. The rule is:  One can NEVER PLANT TOO MANY TOMATOES!

This zucchini is clearly trying to make up for the rest of his team getting offed by the DSB's. (the last two words are squash bugs).  By the time I got control of that situation, this plant was the only survivor left.
I learned my lesson;  get after the squash bugs earlier.  Next spring I will be on the look-out for those little red eggs on the underside of the leaves and get busy eradicating those destructive animalitos, con prisa!
Speaking of insects, I happened to see this drama on one of the picket stakes today.  The spider is definitely winning.  Go, Spidey!