Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Paella and Doctor Nod

We've had such a good run I guess it was inevitable that we would cook something that was just terrible. I love Spanish flavors and I own a paella could we make the world's most flavorless paella? And we have SO MUCH OF IT. Usually I'm excited about leftovers (them carnitas served me well for many days) but heaps and heaps of bland rice doesn't really beg to be re-heated and re-eaten repeatedly. I did use a dumbed down recipe but increased the seasoning, added saffron, added red bell peppers, even added some Clamato and still a total flavor dud. I looked at some other recipes (more "authentic" ones) didn't seem all that different so I'm still a little baffled.

But it looks beautiful, doesn't it? But there is darkness lurking down below. Apparently, there is a learning curve on using a paella pan on a stove burner. Did you know that the middle will just get hot as fuck and burn the fuck up? I added the shrimp at the end of cooking and realized that I needed to move the pan around the burner to get all the shrimp cooked which is what I should have been doing all along. I smelled burning but erroneously took this to be the smell of the storied crunchy socarrat forming on the underside of the rice. But alas, that was just regular ol' burning flavorless rice smell.

We still had frozen shrimp leftover from the shrimp cocktail we made a few weeks ago so at least that was convenient but I do think that the paella somehow leached out all the usual flavor you would find in shrimp. Same with the usually-perfectly-fine-tasting Trader Joe's sausage we used. You might ask "Why does such an epic paella ruiner even own a paella pan?" Well, 4ish years ago when we got married, I got carried away registering for all manner of things we didn't actually need (including this puppy; it barks when the hot dogs are done!) or know how to use (I had to watch multiple how-to videos to use this can opener, Matt still can't use it!) A paella pan sounded like a perfectly reasonable thing to register for and it only took us 4 years to use it. My Great Aunt Pat bought it for us which is notable because she passed away not too long after we got married and our wedding was the last time she was is good health and having a good time. So it's bittersweet- I'm glad we finally used it because it reminds me of her but also sad that I used it so ineffectively!

We luckily had much better luck on the music choice. It is also the return of Cassettes and Recipes because this is actually a tape - Top Tips by Doctor Nod out of Fayetteville, Arkansas. And this is not just any tape; it is the first release on Matt's brand new cassette label Clean Nice Quiet! I could be biased because we have a box of tapes to move but actually, it's really fucking good. Not usually my kind of music; not because I dislike psych-y garagey-y stuff like this but because so much of it is either derivative to the point of being pointless or just dull/repetitive/noodle-y. I'm impatient, as I've expressed before, and believe most songs are 30 seconds too long.  But this album does not suffer from any of those pitfalls. It sounds legit groovy but has enough melody and variety that it still sounds modern. What if the recipe AND the music had been bad? I think we'd just have to call the thing off. But luckily, the day was saved by Doctor Nod! While we were listening to it I kept having to ask Matt "is this still that tape?" because I was fully convinced he switched it over to some band that is already well-known and beloved. So listen to it! And if you're really feeling the fantasy, you can buy the tape April 1st!

I mentioned previously that until Matt bought a cassette adapter thing that our only tape listening aparatus was my old Cricket doll. Here's a video of her playing my old Dolly Parton "Straight Talk" soundtrack tape. Yeah, those are her eyes creepily going back and forth. And no, those are not the standard issue Cricket duds. My grandmother made her a dress which is really nice but it also kind of makes the doll look like a child bride. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Carnitas Nachos and Total Abuse

I was taking a gamble when I decided to try out this untested recipe for carnitas since there's only so many hours in a weeknight and if the meat didn't cook in the listed time, we'd have no meat for our nachos! We actually have nachos for dinner pretty often but for R&R we were going to try making them like they do at Mexican restaurants where someone takes the time to put the beans/meat/cheese on each individual chip instead of just piling everything on there like we usually do. BUT luck would have it that we had enough ingredients to make both so we could have a side-by-side comparison. First came the meat which is billed as "beer braised carnitas" in the recipe but would not qualify as authentic carnitas which I believe are usually cooked in a shit ton of lard. Authenticity wasn't my goal so much as tatiness. These were braised with beer, garlic, some dried chilies, for about an hour and then once the liquid has cooked up, the meat starts to brown as you shred it, giving it a very carnitas-esque texture and flavor. The pork shoulder did have lots of fat so it wasn't like this became some kind of diet dish or anything.

We also made a somewhat sloppy version of refried beans, using canned black beans cooked with onions and garlic and some pork fat. My attempts to smash them int he pan with a meat tenderizer was not great but ultimately, they tasted great. We also grated some Tillamook Colby Jack instead of the usual bagged, grated cheese which, yeah, I gotta admit melts a little better. Not so much so that  I'm never going to buy pre-shredded cheese sometimes because I'm still lazy the other 6 days out of the week.

Pile nachos are clearly less time consuming to make and I do think maybe I tasted the meat more since, as is the nature of pile-style nachos, you get disparate amounts of toppings in different bites so some bites were meatier than others. But other than that, the uneven distribution of toppings is a negative and the chips don't stay crisp in the middle and while they are totally fine, they are not great. The individual nachos are a perfect little bite of everything and the chips get delightfully crisp. If ever we live our dream of opening up a bar/music venue/restaurant/fro yo establishment (the concept changes daily) we will definitely put individual nachos on the menu. "Carnitas" recipe: A, Pile nachos: B, Individual nachos: A+

We listened to this album Matt ordered by Total Abuse called "Excluded." We listened to the first song on the wrong speed somehow and I was like "okay, this is going to be kind of drone-y and boring, nbd" but on the right speed, it's pretty brutal punk that I enjoyed right off the bat. The guy sounds fucked up, especially in the standout track The New Man. It stood out because the line "I know that sex/I know that sex is worse than death" really makes you go "hmmmm what happened to do this dude?" I read a little about the lead guy, Rusty Kelly (which is an awesome name) had some serious issues with drugs and their previous music was even more self-loathing which is accomplishment because this album is already very much on that tip. As I've stated, I like punk music where I can understand the lyrics but I also am here for the guttural scream at the beginning of the track, too. B

I mean, the lyrics printed on the record label pretty much sum up the vibe of this album. I've had those, too, Rusty, you aren't alone! But nachos can help.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail and Clifford Brown and Max Roach

I asked Matt to choose a record that wouldn't necessarily be "my shit" just because everything we've listened to so far has been firmly planted in my wheelhouse. So he picked an instrumental jazz album, "Jordu" by Clifford Brown and Max Roach. He didn't have the cover so that's why it's just a picture of the record itself. Definitely the farthest from "my shit" as possible. And while we were listening to it I did my usual whining that it's boring and why is no one singing? From some very cursory research, it appears this is "hard bop" but to me it sounds neither particularly "hard" nor like Ice Cube's Bop Gun which I would have much preferred. If some jazz bro wants to mansplain to me that this album is not technically "hard bop" but rather "semi-rigid borp," save your breath. In my limited jazz vocabulary, I can only describe this as "jazzy." At the time of cooking, I was relieved that the record was skipping really badly and I got a reprieve. But upon re-listen just a moment ago, I really did start to groove on that horn and developed a mild appreciation for it. It didn't get me hyped to cook but it makes for good writing music. But let's be real, I'm listening to Bop Gun now and gettin' down just for the funk of it. C+

For our recipe, we chose Mexican-style shrimp cocktail. It is kind of a summery meal but since the weather where we live totally skipped winter this year, it started feeling summery in late February. I was originally going to follow yet another Serious Eats recipe but then I started looking at other recipes for comparison's sake and was inspired to do some mixing and matching. Instead of just using the tomato puree and ketchup, I incorporated some Clamato. I've always thought Clamato sounded repulsive but I was willing to give it a go since adding some more seafood flavor couldn't hurt. I also added cucumber which was such a nice fresh taste that I couldn't imagine it without. I totally failed in my grocery shopping and somehow didn't have an onion so Matt kindly ran to the store to grab one while I prepped the remaining stuff. I made the shrimp by doing the ol' dry brine again and attempted to poach the shrimp. The instructions in the Serious Eats recipe involved checking the internal temp of the shrimp and that just seemed fussy to me so followed some other instructions to boil 'em until they are pink and look appropriately curled up which seemed to work fine.
We halved the recipe so we wouldn't have leftovers as we were going out of town the next day but we still used 3 avocados and really, we could have used even more because I love avocados. When I bought them they were not quite ripe enough so I put them in a paper bag full of flour overnight and it really did ripen them up. Serving suggestions in all the recipes usually include tortilla chips and/or saltines so I tried both (I'd always ignored that saltines when I had this at a restaurant and ate it with broken off tostada shards or nothing at all) and the saltines were the winner by a long shot. It's also possible I just really love saltines and never have them around the house because I would just mindlessly inhale them by the sleeve-ful. If you have more self-control than me (most people do) and can buy a box of saltines, I am brand loyal to Zesta for some reason although I've never done a side by side comparison. According to this Real Simple piece, Back to Nature makes the best saltine but I'll be the judge of that...eventually, I have a lot of Zestas to eat.  A+

Monday, March 7, 2016

Chicken Tikka Masala and Bummers Eve, Broken Prayer, Sleater-Kinney, and Andrew Thomson

I got this recipe from Epicurious and it turned out really great! What IS Chicken Tikka Masala? Its history is foggy. There's a legend that it was invented in Scotland and involved Campbell's Tomato Soup. Or it evolved from Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken). Either way, it was created in the UK but has Indian origins, in so far as the spices involved. All I know is I wanted to make something like the CTM I've had at Indian restaurants in the U.S. and this definitely fit the bill. I have had supposedly "English-style" CTM at a British restaurant and it was gross but I can't speak to what it's actually like in London.

I hope the cardamom added a lot of flavor because not only did I have trouble finding it at the store, I don't have a mortar and pestle for crushing them so I just did my best using the back of a knife. I'm not used to working that hard for such tiny little seeds!  All the other spices were easy to find and I'm sure I'll use them again. Oh and I used ghee for the first time; what took me so long? Something that will make everything buttery without burning up in the pan? Sign me up! Also, fatty style, I think the creamier the CTM, the better so we putt he full amount of cream while some of the recipe reviews cut the cream in half. No thanks! With all the cream it came out the perfect shade of orange I desired! A+

We went in hard this week; it was a two day affair and we were able to listen to a lot of music over the course of making our CTM. The first day we made the marinade for the chicken and listened to the Bummers Eve. Before I even heard the music, I was pretty much on board because their name and album art are great. The music itself is upbeat, fun and a silly which is also up my alley. The vibe reminds me of Tweens (previously featured in the Shrimp and Grits post) and it turns out they are both from Cincinnati so I guess there's a cool scene going on there. I've always dismissed Cincinnati for the very dumb reason that they are known for chili and I have an irrational need as a Texan to hold our chili above all others. I'm an idiot! B+            

The second day of Records and Recipes was actually Tapes and Recipes because we have finally broken down and started buying cassettes. Tapes are making a comeback because they are cheap to make a novel to the youth who did not grow up having to deal with them. We didn't have a tape player but I recently found my old Cricket doll and she has a a tape player built into her back; the sound is not great and her eyes very creepily go back and forth while she plays. So Matt bought a cheapie cassette adapter to save the music to his computer.

Sleater-Kinney is one of my all-time favorite bands and they released a cassette with 2 live tracks on one side and 2 songs that I thought were unreleased but it appears they were bonus tracks on the No Cities to Love vinyl (which I have but I honestly only listened to it once and then went back to Spotify and hadn't realized I was missing out on two songs!) "Heavy When I Need It" is a really cool song; doesn't sound like a traditional S-K song to me because it's all Carrie vocals but it's groovy all the same."The Fog and the Filthy Air" is a little more classic S-K both structurally and more Corin-focused. A

Making his second appearance on R&R, the other tape we heard was "Honesty is a Confidence Problem" by Drew Thomson (the guy from Single Mothers I gushed about before in the Meatloaf post.) It was released in 2013 but only recently discovered by me. It's 4 acoustic songs, all of which feature that lyrical specificity I love about his music. It sounds to me that Bad Catholics is about an abortion (or maybe a miscarriage) and could really give Ben Folds' Brick a run for its money for "pretty songs by guys about not having a baby." All 4 songs are great - "Bus Pass" gives me that very Canadian geography I love, "Wrong Girls" gives me that asshole vibe he has perfected with Single Mothers, and "Shore" delivers on the thing where he's always using his own name in songs: "Drew, It's time to sober up, man, or we're all gonna leave." A

We also listened to a record Matt had ordered by Broken Prayer. I liked it a lot; very angry punk but with synths and the guy's voice is excellent in its desperate-sounding-ness. Also, personally, I like punk with lyrics that a)I can hear/understand b)are thoughtful or funny. Broken Prayer seems to be going for thoughtful and I dig it. Also, the songs are short with only one clocking in at 3 minutes. Beautiful. Also, they are from Chicago, much like Mystique Summers Madison from RuPaul's Drag Race; pictured below, in her most famous scene.  A