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Friday, May 25, 2007

Slick Pig Wings

I was just reminded that way back when I'd promised more details about Mr. Chalmers's version of the smoked chicken wings he had at the Slick Pig in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He was told how to do this by the pit master himself a few years ago.

Here's Mr. Chalmers's recipe, verbatim, and I hope he doesn't mind me posting it here:
Chicken wings [Cut the tips off and cut each wing into two parts—ed.]
5 parts cheap soy sauce
1 part molasses
A couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce

Soak wings at least three hours [I think he usually tries to marinate them overnight—ed.]. Smoke wings at about 175° for 3–4 hours, until the meat slides easily off the bone. I use about 8 parts charcoal to 1 part hickory.
That's it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Yesterday Mr. Chalmers called from work and asked if he could bring a rooster home. Of course I said of course. We'd told a coworker of his a while back that we'd take one off her hands (she had about half a dozen too many, especially since she lives right in town), figuring we'd feed it for a while and then make coq au vin or something, and to my surprise she remembered. So the bug and I got started setting up a little place for the bird that will remain nameless. Amazingly, it was still there this morning when I went out to check on it. It can sort of flop-fly out of the enclosure—which I plan to move around the yard a bit if I can figure out an easy way to raise the crate up off the ground with each move—but I think it'll basically stick close to the food and water.

I'd sort of been picturing a full-grown rooster, but this is still just a little chick. I honestly don't know if I'll have the heart to kill it. Maybe if it's crowing a lot in the mornings—although it's not like it could possibly wake us up any earlier than the bug does . . . In fact I think I woke it up when I went out there this morning in the dark. But what kind of (law-abiding) person keeps just a rooster around? I suppose if it survives the chopping block we'll have to get a couple of hens, too. Mr. Chalmers is the best. He brings home animals for us.

The set-up is hard to see in this picture (taken from the dining room through a dog-nose-smudged window), but it's just a dog crate with some straw in the bottom and a smaller cardboard box inside, set up on a thick block of granite, with a piece of wood for a roof/roost, a ramp, and a part-circle of 1-by-1 wire fencing. The fencing is attached to the ground with long, sturdy steel staples. I'll be surprised if our bird manages to stay out of reach of hawks, neighbor dogs (ours, of course, are fenced in themselves, away from the coop), and racoons. If it does, it's sure to be tough and flavorful.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cajeta et Cetera

I made the chocolate-Kaluha flans from the Rick Bayless book the other day, and while the flavor was nice (of course I made an extra one for tasting) the texture was a little gritty and the caramel that kind of makes flan flan didn't soften and come out of the mold. And I didn't like how the top—the bottom when it's unmolded—stiffened, like an extreme verison of pudding film (which Mr. Chalmers loves, cutely but inexplicably). So this gave me the excuse I didn't really need to make cajeta, goat's milk caramel, which I've been wanting to do forever. I used about half goat's milk (the evaporated canned stuff you can find in grocery stores, diluted 1:1 with water) and half whole cow's milk. (My mom said she made cajeta a week or so ago using nonfat dry milk powder, which is clearly a sign of insanity.) The following is basically the recipe from the Bayless book, which is basically the recipe you'd find in three dozen places online, but here it is anyway:
Cajeta: Combine 1 quart goat's milk or cow's milk or a combination, 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, and a 1 1/2-inch length of canela (the crumbly Mexican "cinnamon") in a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, then move the pot from the heat and stir in 1/4 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon water; the mixture will bubble up a lot: stir it down, then return the pot to medium-high heat. Cook at a low boil, stirring more frequently as the mixture thickens, until the caramel is caramel-colored (natch) and the consistency of maple syrup—this'll take about an hour, not the 25 minutes RB claims. Pour through a sieve into a bowl, discarding the bits of canela, and let cool. Cover and refrigerate. It thickens quite a bit after it's been in the fridge awhile. I microwaved it for a few seconds before drizzling it over the tarts.

Yes, I've had more than one spoonful of it straight in the last twenty-four hours.

I happened to have a bunch of apples, so I made little individual rustic tarts to go under drizzles of cajeta. To sweeten the apple filling, I used mostly regular sugar, plus some grated piloncillo, the Mexican unrefined brown sugar that comes in cones—this gave it a deep, kind of subtropical rummy flavor. And I topped the tarts with some chopped pecans mixed with butter and a little more grated piloncillo.

Here they are before they went in the oven and got even more rustic-looking.

Since the debate started later than the Democratic one last week, and because the bug's bedtime comes early these days (let's not talk about her wakeup times right now), we and our guests were able to sit down at the new dining room table at dusk and have a regular supper, with candles and everything. It felt very adult—that is, pre-kid adult.

These are the stuffed anchos in escabeche (I could eat the latter straight too). I used fresh bay leaves from the bush in the front yard.

Here's the picadillo taco filling as it simmers and thickens. This was pretty easy to make over the course of several days, and I hope to do it again someday after the bug's in kindergarten.

Not that she wasn't a big help in the kitchen. She kept grabbing onto the bowl when I was cutting in butter and shortening for the tart dough and pulling it to her to look closer. She got to taste everything, and she seemed to like the escabeche best, which makes sense given her love of all things pickled and sour. Cajeta made her smile. Fork-smashed rice and black beans for lunch made her pretty happy too.

And we took lots of breaks to play outside—or in my case sit and read the Atlantic while the dogs watched over her.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Carlton Henry Days

Last Saturday was the much-anticipated (in the Chalmers household) annual Carlton Spring Festival or, as we referred to it, Carlton Days. It was fun! Locals should definitely come out here for it next spring. (Carlton's the third C-town on highway 72, after Colbert and Comer.) The town fathers set up tents in a big field, and there were people selling the usual junk—potholders and church-shaped birdhouses and such—but also two beautiful, delicate alpacas and their yarn (I didn't buy any, but I probably should have), a full-scale bluegrass band, and lots of summery foods. We all went on a wagon ride behind an enormous steer named Buck and listened to this old farmer tell us about what I assume were country things. The bug had more chance of knowing what he was saying than I did; I'll never crack Southern.

We had two meals in a row: first a couple of homemade tamales, which were good because they were tamales, but really rubbery and bland when considered objectively; then some barbecued pork ribs, beans, and a great potato salad.

Ever since she was very small the bug has enjoyed a good pork bone. Her other hand is buried in the potato salad, of course.

Later that afternoon, Mr. Chalmers took the bug to the grocery store and they came home with watermelon! I weeded the asparagus rows while they were gone, and it was a perfect spring Saturday.

She likes to stand on the window seat in the kitchen and try to reach whatever's on the counter. (Often there are knives and cutting boards piled with raw meat, but we usually manage to scoot them out of the way just in time.) She very quickly figured out how to eat watermelon—she ate a fair amount of rind on her first slice, but her second through—what, eighth?—went better.

In case you're wondering where the bug's bib is, this is why I don't bother much anymore unless she's eating strawberries or something else that stains and is wearing good clothes that haven't already been hopelessly stained:

While we're here, I'd like to express my love for the Safety 1st booster chair, the cheapest booster chair available and probably the best, too. I almost immediately hated the fancy and expensive Chicco Energy Polly high chair I ordered online, for so many reasons: basically it's just a ridiculously complicated design that was hard to get the bug in and out of and impossible to clean—truly impossible. As soon as the dining room table arrived and we got some normal chairs, we switched to this booster chair. If you're shopping for something like this, there's one thing to consider that will help you decide which way to go: the fewer parts there are, the fewer spaces for gunk to accumulate and the fewer things that can break; also, the fewer parts there are, the cheaper it will be. So just buy the cheapest.

I'm getting excited about making a big Mexican supper on Thursday for the Republican debate. Right now it's looking like there'll be chocolate-Kaluha flan (using some of the luscious-smelling homemade liqueur that Courtney gave us for Christmas and that I've been saving for a special occasion—um, the debate?), preceded by shredded pork picadillo tacos (featuring raisins and almonds and a roasted tomato and chipotle sauce) and black beans (with epazote) and rice, preceded by one of my all-time favorite foods, ancho chiles stuffed with chorizo and potato in escabeche.

Good times here in Carlton.