Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sauteed Chili Peppers

Put some spice on your plate with The 99 Cent Chef's Sauteed Chili Peppers. You can use any small chili peppers, I used mild ones. I've also run across sweet mini-bell peppers and chili peppers -- these are good substitutions if you are heat averse.

I simply saute small whole chili peppers in a teaspoon of oil and finish with a sprinkle of chili powder or paprika. This gives the peppers an extra smoky kick. They soften and slightly sweeten but still have a spicy heat.

It all depends what kind of chili pepper you use and how much heat you can take. This recipe came about after a trip to East LA for 99 cent fish tacos at Tacos Baja. This is a great cheap$kate deal sold on Wednesdays only (other days their fish taco is $1.69, still a bargain.) After I got my fish taco I headed to the salsa bar and noticed a tray of yellow small Chili Peppers dusted with dark red powder.

The first bite had a spicy kick that was a great contrast to crunch fried fish topped with cool cabbage, pico de gallo and sweet creme. I was hooked. And be sure to check back, I have a Cheap$kate Dining video on the Wednesday Special 99 cent Fish Taco from Tacos Baja coming up.

I ate a couple more Chili Peppers, trying to analyze how they did it. The lady who took my order said they didn't roast them, all they have is a fryer and a grill. Then I noticed a fry basket loaded with the peppers being dunked in the fryer - probably cooked for a minute or so to soften them up. As for the powder on the chili peppers, I figured it was either chili powder or paprika. Both are similar in flavor, so you can use whichever one you have on hand.

If you are looking for a spicy accompaniment to one of my Latin recipes (especially my homemade Fish Tacos - recipe coming soon) be sure to add some Sauteed Chili Peppers.

  • Small package of Chili Peppers - about 6-12 small peppers. Okay to use any favorite sweet, mild or spicy peppers, including mini-bell peppers.
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder or paprika

Heat frying pan over medium heat. Add oil, coat pan and add Chili Peppers. Saute Chili Peppers, for a couple of minutes.

Cover pan and reduce heat to low/medium. Cook about 5-7 minutes. Rotate chili peppers every couple of minutes to heat through on all sides. Saute chili peppers all at once or in batches.

You don't need to char the chili peppers, just lightly brown them, enough to slightly soften.

Remove Chili Peppers and place in a bowl. Sprinkle on teaspoon of chili powder on all sides. Serve with your favorite Latin dish, backyard BBQ or spice up a party with these appetizers.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fried Fish Tacos (Baja, Mexico style)

Originating along coastal Baja, Mexico and spreading into San Diego's, California surf culture, Fish Tacos are ready to go mainstream.

If you like deep fried British Fish & Chips (my video recipe is here,) or Japanese Tempura (my recipe is here, too) -- Fish Tacos are a handheld sidewalk version.

Locally (here in L.A.) you find them at Mexican seafood Taco Trucks; made by street vendors with a portable deep fryer (Ricky's Tacos are a fine example;) and many mom and pop taquerias. Some have no batter and are grilled to suit the local skinny-jeans wearing types, but I prefer mine coated and deep fried. (I don't eat them that often so I go for this belt-loosening version.)

And if you were here last week then you saw my Cheap$kate Dining video of Tacos Baja 99c Wednesday Fish Taco special. They do them perfectly. Just scroll down to the next blogpost to read all about it. (Even The Wall Street Journal has weighed in on fish tacos, read it here.)

Fish Tacos are a perfect combination of contrasting flavors, usually consisting of: crisp shredded cabbage, cool crema, crunchy coated deep fried fish filets and a dash of spicy chile, all on a soft warm corn tortilla.

You can use any cheap firm fish, like rockfish, tilapia and cod. I get my frozen fish filets at local Latin markets and 99c only stores. The veggie topping is inexpensive, just cabbage (sometimes a pico de gallo of tomato, onion, cilantro and lime juice is added.) Of course, corn tortillas are always a bargain.

And a Fish Taco is topped with a Mexican Crema sauce, which is Mexican sour cream with a little milk and mayo. But you can substitute with any type of sour cream - it's close enough.

You don't have to tote a surfboard to enjoy The 99 Cent Chef's savory Fried Fish Tacos, but bring a hearty appetite -- along with an ice cold cerveza or two.

Ingredients (about 8 fish tacos)
  • 1 pound fish - use a firm flaky fish like: halibut, cod, tilapia or sea bass. Cut into  2-4 inch pieces. Okay to use smaller prepackaged frozen fillets, just cut ingredients by half.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water - or beer. Add a little chicken bouillon (a teaspoon amount) to water for extra flavor.
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder.
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano - or 1/2 teaspoon dried.
  • 1 teaspoon garlic - fresh crushed, finely chopped, or dried (granulated.)
  • Enough oil for frying fish - at least a couple inches deep in a pan or pot.
  • Package of small corn tortillas.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Veggie Toppings
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage - okay to use packaged pre-shredded coleslaw.
  • Salsa - from jar or fresh (for my Pico de Gallo recipe click here.)

Crema Topping
  • 1/2 cup Mexican Crema or regular sour cream.
  • 1/4 cup mayo - optional
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions for Toppings
You can make cabbage and Crema Topping first or while the fish fries.

For the cabbage, just shred it or fine chop it. Set aside on a plate or bowl.

In another bowl make the Crema Topping by adding sour cream or Mexican crema, mayo and milk. Mix well. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

My Pico de Gallo salsa recipe (here) is a good addition, or just use your favorite jar of salsa and hot sauce.

Fried Fish Directions
Start the oil heating in a pan or pot over a medium heat.

For the fried fish, first make a dipping batter. Mix in a bowl: flour, baking powder, garlic, oregano, and water (or beer.) Season with salt and pepper.

Mix batter well. It should be the consistency of pancake batter.

Cut fish into 2 to 4 inch pieces (so they will fit snugly into a corn tortilla.) When oil is hot enough, coat each fish piece in batter and add one at a time to the hot oil (350 degrees.)

Be careful as oil may splatter some at first. Oil should bubble around fish pieces right away. Allow each fish piece a few seconds of cooking before adding another one to the oil.

Watch the edges of the fish to check when the coating turns brown. Turn each fish fillet to brown on each side. Should only take around 5 minutes total, depending on oil heat. As each piece is done set aside on a paper towel or metal rack to drain. Okay to store in low heated oven while you cook all the fish. Or hand them out as they are done.

You can microwave the corn tortillas, heat them up in the oven or on a frying pan. They just need a minute of heating to soften them.

Layer on fish, cabbage and crema. Extra toppings include salsa,  avocado and hot sauce. You could also mix salsa or pico de gallo (recipe here) into the shredded cabbage.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

99 Cent Fish Taco from Tacos Baja - Cheap$kate Dining Video

Forever on lists of best taco joints in Los Angeles, Tacos Baja makes one of the most delicious Fish Tacos in town. These battered deep fried filets of perfection are also one of the best deals around, especially on Wednesdays, when they are sold for only 99 cents!

In The 99 Cent Chef's latest Cheap$kate Dining video review, you are taken inside and up close to one of Baja, Mexico's popular street cart favorites. (And be sure to come back here next week when I post my own cheap$kate recipe for a Fish Taco.)

Only 5 minutes east of downtown LA, this Whittier Boulevard seafood taqueria has half a dozen small seats inside, but has plenty of outdoor patio seating.

I showed up about 2 pm after the lunch rush and had 6 people ahead of me. The line moved fast and I placed my order in just a few minutes.

As expected, this is the busiest day of the week, but the cooks of Tacos Baja are efficient (they fry up a basket full of fish filets to stay ahead) and my taco was ready in no time.

The deep fried batter is well-seasoned and cooked to perfection. The fillet has a thick seasoned crust and the bass fish filet is flaky and moist.

I would have preferred one meatier fillet over two thin ones, so the fish flavor is more pronounced. But this is a very minor complaint. (I've been here a few times, and sometimes I do get one large filet per taco.)

 The Fish Taco is loaded down with a Mexican-style chopped tomato/cabbage slaw that is topped with cream and chile sauce. When you try to pick up the taco half of the slaw is left on the plate, so be sure to get a fork to finish it off with.

The chopped veggie topping has just the right amount of chile heat -- not too much. The combination of chopped red onion, tomato, cabbage and cilantro is a good contrast to deep fried battered fish.

This is a substantial Fish Taco for 99 cents. An order of two is plenty for most appetites, but if you are unsure, then order an extra one so you don't have to wait in line again. And you will definitely want more than one -- they are that tasty.

While you are waiting for your order make sure to visit the condiments cart. There is a tray of grilled light green "bell peppers" that are dusted in salty chile powder. They are brought out warm and are absolutely delicious. But be warned, the first bite is a spicy one, but stay with it as your taste buds settle in. The second one you taste will be even better. (And make sure to have a bit of water on hand to smooth the way.) The other condiments are sliced radishes and lime (to squeeze on your tacos.)

I haven't tried other seafood menu items, but I noticed a few of my neighbors enjoying large bowls of tomato and chile Caldos (broths or soups) loaded with pescado (fish,) camarone (shrimp,) and a mixo (seafood combination.) While the most expensive item on the menu ($8.99 - $12.99,) it's still a decent deal. There are also a large selection of chilled seafood cocteles or cocktails. And of course they carry typical grilled meat-filled tacos, tortas, burritos, plus rice and bean combo plates.

Make sure to visit Tacos Baja for their Wednesday 99 cent Fish Taco, or any day really, since they normally cost just $1.69. And watch my Cheap$kate Dining 99 Cent Fish Taco video for my 1 to 9 rating, 9 being best. I know it's a foregone conclusion, but you will enjoy the bustling scene and tasty food footage. Finally make sure to check back for The 99 Cent Chef's Fish Taco recipe.

  99 Cent Fish Taco from Tacos Baja - Cheap$kate Dining VIDEO
Play it here, video runs 3 minutes, 48 seconds.

Tacos Baja
16032 Whittier Blvd.
Whittier, CA 90603
ph: (323) 887-1980For Tacos Baja website, click here.

99 thanks to Bob McGuinness for shooting The Chef. (Click here to see him in action, in last shot of video.)
To view Cheap$kate Dining Video on YouTube, click here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Garlic Parmesan Cauliflower Mash

Now that's a mouthful to say, but a delicious mouthful to taste. Cut out the carbs and try The 99 Cent Chef's mashed potato recipe riff: Garlic Parmesan Cauliflower Mash.

It's as easy to make as classic mashed potatoes, but not as heavy. This lighter side dish is loaded with flavor with the addition of milk (or cream,) dried parmesan and pungent garlic. Cauliflower has an earthy smell and taste, and pairs well with cheese -- just check out my Baked Pasta with Cauliflower video recipe to see what I mean (click here.)

I got all the ingredients at my local 99c only Store, so the price is right. While cauliflower is not the cheapest vegetable, I often see it on sale at regular markets.

The preparation couldn't be easier: just seam the whole cauliflower for half an hour; roughly chop; add milk, parmesan and garlic; then mash.

Next time you see whole cauliflower (or packaged florets) on sale, do try out the Chintzy Chef's Garlic Parmesan Cauliflower Mash -- it would even make a palate pleasing side dish addition to your upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner table feasts.

Ingredients (3-4 servings)
  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup milk - or cream, sour cream. Okay to use your favorite milk substitute.
  • 1 tablespoon dried parmasan - and add as much as you like to taste. Okay to use any favorite cheese really; just add when cauliflower is hot so it melts.
  • 1 teaspoon garlic - raw crushed, dried or granulated.
  • 3 cups of water to seam cauliflower.
  • No salt as dried parmesan is salty enough for me.

Add cauliflower to a large enough pot to cover. Add about 2-3 cups of water and cover pot. High heat until water boils, then reduce heat to low and steam half an hour. If you are using packaged cauliflower florets, you only need to steam 15 minutes (best to cook florets on a steamer rack.)

Done when cauliflower is easily pierced all over with a knife. Remove stem and leaves, if necessary. (You can season the stem and leaves and eat them or add to a salad.)

Place cooked cauliflower in a large bowl. Roughly chop with a knife.

Add half a cup of milk (or cream, sour cream, or dairy substitute.) Sprinkle in dried parmesan and garlic.

Use a potato masher to break down cooked cauliflower for a couple of minutes. It should be tender enough to mash like boiled potatoes.

I wouldn't use a blender or you'll get soup...hmmm that's another tasty sounding recipe. I think a food processor could work, just pulse to mashed potato consistency. You could also fine-chop the florets and mash with a large fork.

*Since cauliflower does not absorb liquid like a potato, the cream or milk will separate when sitting for a minute. So best to stir Cauliflower Mash just before serving (or drain some liquid off.) You can store in the refrigerator; and it heats up easily in the microwave.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

BBQ Pulled Pork

How special is this recipe? Well, my wife and I served Pulled Pork at our wedding reception in Santa Barbara, California. We both spent our early years in the South -- Amy went to high school in Alabama and I grew up in Texas and Louisiana, so we both know BBQ. And my wife said this recipe makes the best BBQ Pulled Pork she has ever had! Scroll halfway down this post to view my second Pork Butt Trilogy video, BBQ Pulled Pork.

Well, I don't know if it will be your favorite Pulled Pork recipe but do give it a try sometime and let me know in the comments. It's certainly an easy recipe to do, and the pork shoulder cut of meat when on sale, is almost as cheap as chicken. It's funny how some cheap ingredients can taste so good -- I guess it's really all about how you cook it.

And this is part two of my Pork Butt Trilogy of stop motion videos. The first was Mexican Carnitas (click here to see it.) I have one more stop motion video coming up that uses a swines hind quarters called Italian Porchetta.

These days pork purveyors have rechristened pork butt by the more polite moniker "pork shoulder picnic roast." A good description of the name usage is a click away, here.

The main flavoring for this recipe is a simple Dry Rub using spices stocked in almost any cupboard. Mainly I use brown sugar, garlic, and chili powder, plus salt and pepper.

(Recipes are meant to be tweaked. I've made this BBQ Pulled Pork recipe 3 times over the summer and I keep cooking it longer each time. I started at 3 1/2  hours, but now low simmer pork shoulder for 5 hours to tenderize the meat all the way through.)

The recipe is not complicated just mix a few dried spices together then simmer and smoke the Pork Butt. You don't have to hang around once the heat is lowered and the pot is covered. The only tricky part is smoking it. I have a gas grill with 2 burners. On one side I have a tray of wood chips and on the other side of the grill is the boiled Pork Butt. Only the wood tray side has the fire, the Pork Butt side remains unheated. Once the wood chips start smoldering, you smoke the Pork Butt for about an hour, . Under Hindsight at the end of this post, I have an easier oven method for you as well.

The price is right when you use this cut of pork. I get it on sale at my local Latin market for way below a dollar per pound, anywhere from 77 cents to 99 cents a pound. (Normally it runs in the $1.50 to $2 range, that's still cheap.)

I have a cupboard full of spices I've purchased at my local 99c only Store. You do need a deep pot for this recipe, large enough to hold a 5-pound hunk of meat. You could cut the whole Pork Butt into smaller pieces of meat -- just reduce the cooking time by an hour - when the meat is fall-apart tender it's ready.

The addition of brown sugar brings my Pulled Pork over the top. It adds just the right amount of sweetness while the other spices give this recipe a complex flavor. And the final stage of smoking creates a charred crust to die for.

If you ever visited a BBQ joint and had a Pulled Pork Sandwich, you know what I'm talking about. And with my chintzy recipe, you can fill up the feed bag with more than a dozen large Pulled Pork Sandwiches. So get busy and throw a BBQ party -- I've done it with this recipe a few times already and everyone has loved it!

You could do better by smoking the pork butt overnight, but as an easier and quicker recipe, I bet my BBQ Pork Butt is good enough to make it in your Top Ten recipe list.

Play it here, video runs 3 minutes, 7 seconds.

My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here

Ingredients (12 large sandwiches or more, depending on the size of pork butt.)
  • 5-8 pound pork butt or shoulder - I got bone-in. Sometimes called a "whole picnic shoulder." It usually has some skin attached and a large center bone.
  • 1 onion - optional.
  • 4-8 cups of wood chips for smoking - amount may vary depending on how hot the grill fire is. You want to smoke boiled pork for about an hour.
  • Water to cover simmering pork shoulder.
  • 1 large pot, big enough to cover pork butt with water. Okay to cut down pork butt, discard bone, and use a smaller pot (reduce simmering time by an hour.)

Dry Rub Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar - Okay to use regular sugar or a favorite sweetener. You can use less brown sugar/sweetener if you like.
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder - since paprika and chili powder are similar in taste you can leave one of these out.
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder - or flakes, granulated.
  • 2 teaspoons salt - Okay to use garlic salt (cut garlic powder by about half.)
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper  - optional, Okay to leave it out if you don't like it a little spicy.

Place pork butt in a large pot with a cover. Fill the pot with water until it covers the pork butt. (Pork butt will float, so you don't have to add more water than needed.) Start with high heat until it starts to boil, then reduce heat.

Add one roughly chopped onion to the pot (optional - I've done recipe with and without a chopped onion; it's mainly about the dry rub.)

Mix all the dry rub ingredients. Separate in half. You will use half during the meat boiling stage, then use the other half as a dry rub when you smoke the Pork Butt.

Click on any photo to see larger.

Add half of the dry rub to the Pork Butt in water. Roughly chop one whole onion and add it (optional.)

(For a leaner Pulled Pork it's okay to slice off the outer layer of skin and the largest hunks of fat. Some pieces of meat may separate during the boiling stage, but that's okay.)

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Low boil for about 5 hours. Check every hour or so to make sure the water doesn't simmer away. The Pork Butt will reduce in size as some of the water evaporates; so as long as the pot is covered you shouldn't need to add any more liquid. (If uncovered, then add water as needed.)

Remove meat from the liquid when meat is done low boiling. Let meat rest and cool down 10-15 minutes. (Reserve a couple cups of broth.) Place meat on a rack with a shallow pan. It's okay to place meat without a rack, it just helps to get smoke all around.

Sometimes hunks of meat will break off during boiling and that's okay. You could even break the pork butt into 4 or 5 big pieces so the smoke will soak into more meat surface. 

Drizzle some of the pot liquor (boiled liquid) over the Pork Butt to moisten. Gently press on the other half of the Dry Rub all over the meat. (You can remove the outer layer of fatty skin if you like, so more meat comes in contact with smoke.)

As the meat is cooling enough for you to apply the Dry Rub, you can get the grill going. I have a 2 burner gas grill. I use one side for the tray of wood chips and the other side to smoke the Pork Butt. The object is to keep the spice-crusted meat on the unheated side and the wood chips on the flame side.

If you have a regular charcoal grill then build the fire on one side for the tray of wood chips. (The tray will keep the wood from catching fire and burning too fast.)

Add the Pork Butt in a shallow tray on the non-fire side (with or without a rack - I use one to get smoke on the meat underside.) Add 1/2 cup of boiled liquid to the tray. If hunks of Pork Butt separate, just add it to the tray too -- it's extra smokey pieces. Cover the grill. Smoke the Pork Butt for about 1 hour.

Depending on how hot the fire is, you should get smoke from the wood tray in 5-10 minutes. The wood will smoke and blacken. Check every 5-10 minutes. Have an extra tray handy to remove the blackened wood chips as they cook down, and add more wood chips as needed. (Towards the end of cooking, if you still have smoldering wood chips, turn off the fire and just let them slowly burn out and keep on smoking - if you have the time.

I let the dry rub coated pork cook without turning it so you get a crunchy skin -- but the center will still be moist. I like to have crunchy bits mixed in for the final chopping and pulling apart stage.

Remove Pork Butt after an hour of smoking. While the pork is still hot (but cool enough to handle) peel off pieces and separate with a couple of forks or just chop it up -- whichever you prefer.

Most of the outer meat will break apart easily, while the center may have more texture, but it will still be quite tender -- so the middle may need some rough chopping. (If a few center pieces are too tough, it's easy enough to boil them in the reserved broth for an hour until tender.)

Before serving, drizzle on a little broth and make Pulled Pork sandwiches, or just make a Pulled Pork Plate. I like my sandwich plain: just a hamburger bun, pickle, and a favorite bbq sauce. Some like coleslaw on theirs -- for my coleslaw recipe, just click here.

Low boiling time may vary depending on how large the pork shoulder is - mine was just under 6 pounds and was fork-tender after 5 hours of simmering (pork should be tender all the way to the bone.) By saving the broth, you can low boil any tough meat pieces for another hour to completely tenderize.

Chile powder and paprika are similar enough to leave one of them out. Okay to leave out onion and hot cayenne.

If you don't have an outdoor grill here is an easy oven method. The only additional ingredient is Liquid Smoke in a bottle. Follow the above directions and add a teaspoon of liquid smoke during the low boiling stage. Instead of the grill, add the boiled pork shoulder on a tray to the oven at 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for one hour, to crisp up the outside.

I also saw a video on smoking indoors. Mainly add some small wood chips in a corner of a baking pan. Put meat on a rack in the same pan, on the opposite side. Place the corner with chips over your stovetop burner. Finally, cover the pan and boiled pork butt with foil and seal it, then turn on the heat to medium until smoke starts, then reduce heat to low. Add chips as needed, and be sure to open window...just in case.

If your crockpot is big enough, then do a version with it using the same Dry Rub. Break down meat into large pieces if it won't fit whole in a pot. Add half of the Dry Rub to crockpot and fill it 1/4 full with water. For a crunchy skin remove meat from the crockpot when tender and pile it on an oven tray. Sprinkle on other half of  Dry Rub and bake in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes.

The quickest way to tenderize pork shoulder is to use a pressure cooker. I can fit a smaller (about 6 pound) pork shoulder in mine. I still have to slice into the whole shoulder at the ball joint to fold pork into a smaller shape. Once it fits, then add 2 cups of water to the pot along with the whole pork shoulder. 

Finally, sprinkle on half of the Dry Rub. Cover and follow pressure cooking directions, mainly get the cooker up to temperature and cook for about 2 hours until meat is fall-apart tender. If you breakdown pork shoulder into large pieces of meat, then it will cook even quicker, in about an hour. Finish off cooked pork following my smoke BBQ grill or oven method.
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