Thursday, January 12, 2012

CB Cooks: Frijoles Borrachos (Drunk Beans)

Beans + bacon + tequila = awesome
This is not a "receta auténtico" by any means, it's more of a CB recipe based on some Mexican recipes and Rick Bayless' one by the same name. As I understand it, the general idea behind any type of frijoles borrachos (drunk beans) is to cook beans, then right before serving splash some tequila in them. Sometimes "borrachos" refers to cooking the beans in beer. Either way, sounds great, right? I've found cooking beans in beer makes them taste a little better, but adding some tequila right before serving makes them taste A LOT better.

As things get colder and we finally start making our way into winter, I thought this would be a great dish after a long day out on the cold water.

Mayacoba aka peruano beans
they cook up big, yellow, and very creamy
- Beans - I used yellowish mayacoba beans; also known as peruano beans in some places. No matter what they're called, they cook up big and soft, much creamier than pintos or black beans.
- Onion - about half a white onion
- Garlic - 4-6 cloves
- Bacon - I used 3 long strips
- Green chiles - the name "green chile" really refers to any chile (aka "pepper" for us gringos) that is in it's green stage of ripeness. Although that's true, normally "green chile" refers to a mild green chile like anaheim or new mexico. I used a combination of poblano (the green fresh version of ancho) and jalapeño
-  Tomatos - I used a can of diced tomatoes, the ones at the store didn't look so nice (which is often the case)
- Salt, pepper, cumin
- Tequila (optional..?)
- Water

- Crock pot (or dutch over, or a pan or something)

1) Fry the bacon, get it crispy, remove from pan, cut up, and add to crock pot

2) Add diced onions and green chiles to bacon fat, get them nice and golden

Mmmmmmm smells so good
3) Add minced garlic for 2-3 minutes, but don't burn it!

4) Add contents of pan to the crock pot

5) Add dry beans to crock pot (Some people swear by soaking beans overnight- I almost never do that, and they always turn out just fine. It may take longer to cook them, but if you're using a crockpot, who cares?)

6) Add the tomatoes and seasonings (salt, pepper, cumin, whatever else) and fill with water (or stock, or beer) generously

7) Crockpot: cook on low for a long time (8 hours?)
     Stovetop: bring to a boil, then simmer for a long time (2-3 hours?)

8) Once the beans are cooked (pick one out with a spoon and blow on it- if the skin wrinkles and peels back, it's done!) add a splash (a tablespoon or more) of tequila (or mezcal if you're daring)

9) Top with minced raw white onion, chopped cilantro and serve! Even better the next day, like most long-cooked dishes. The combination of bacon/cilantro/onion/tequila is pretty awesome- it's hard to imagine until you try it- it's delicious!

- Almost anything! This is barely even a recipe...
- Substitute any smoked pork product for the bacon
- Use dried chiles instead of or in addition to fresh green chiles
- Use any other kind of bean (pinto, negro, great northern, etc.)
- Don't use tomatoes, or use tomatillos, or just splash with some vinegar, or lime juice
- More seasonings (like bay leaf, oregano, smoked paprika, anything good!)
- Cook the beans in beer (light beer like Corona or even dark beer like Negro Modelo)
- Cook the beans in stock (like chicken stock, beef stock, pork stock, veggie stock, whatever)
- Add more veggies like carrots, celery, etc.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CB Cooks: Pan fried trout with baconed mustard greens

Although at the beginning one of the main appeals of fishing was catching food to eat, I haven't done that so much. I rarely keep any fish I catch, mostly because the places I'm fishing are somewhat polluted, or because I don't have any way to get my catch home (especially if I'm fishing downtown before work). I'd like to combine my fishing skills and cooking skills more... To that end, I've been practicing some fish-cooking techniques so when I catch some fish worthy for the plate, I'll be ready!

I'm a total newbie at cooking fish, but I thought this turned out so great I wanted to share it with you. I'm sure many of you anglers have better recipes, if you have any tips leave them in the comments!

Full disclosure: I got the whole idea from the always great Serious Eats and this recipe

- Some fish (filet). I caught mine at Meijer, using a credit card
- Corn meal
- Butter/olive oil/stuff like that
- Greens
- Bacon
- Onion
- Garlic
- Salt, pepper, crushed red pepper
- Cast iron skillet - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

For the fish:

1) Cover the fish with corn meal, covering as much as possible

2) Plop the filet(s), flesh-side down, into a hot cast iron skillet that has hot oil/butter/whatever in it

3) Leave it for about 5 minutes (don't move it)

4) Flip, then cook for a couple more

For the greens:
1) Put the bacon in a pan, get some of that bacon fat happening

2) Dump in some minced onions and get them nice

3) Throw in some garlic, and while you're at it remove the bacon, chop it up, and return it to the pan

4) When all that stuff is real nice, add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and the greens (torn into bigger than bite-sized pieces)

5) Cook for a couple minutes- the greens will turn super bright green and shrink a lot

Monday, January 9, 2012

Salt Creek at Sunset

Salt Creek at sunset
Had a little bit of time to get out today, so I took the opportunity to hit up some water! Once again, due to it's distance from my house, the Fox was out of the question... I decided to visit a place I'd been wanting to fish. I headed to Salt Creek at Arlington Heights Road, which is at the southern tip of Busse woods. I've fished Busse a whole lot, and once even fished the pool there on the south side in a kayak, but never on foot.

Long story short, didn't get a thing. There was another guy fishing at the pool who also didn't catch anything. I "hiked" up the creek to the dam, where nobody else was catching anything. I didn't stay for long; I headed back to the car, then drove to my sure-fire creek spot.

The sun was out and bright, on it's way to setting; the wind was pretty fierce. Even though the air temperature wasn't too bad (45°F I think) I quickly got cold due to the wind. Good thing I had all my layers and my fancy L.L. Bean fuzzy-lined flannel underneath my vest. I busted out my new rod - my one and only ultra-light - and really enjoyed the feel of the small jig on the small rod. I can't wait to land a good-sized fish on it. I'm sure it will feel like a whale!

Within a few minutes, I had a fish! Not a good-sized fish, not a whale.

Very small, but bigger than the shiner yesterday
The fish at this spot, seemingly any time of the year, want nothing to do with artificial lures of any kind (except jigs, as long as there's nightcrawler on them). Nobody wanted my hair jigs, which only slightly offended me. I thought they looked pretty nice. The one above was caught on a nightcrawler on a tiny (1/16oz?) jighead. So was second and last fish I caught today.

So there you have it, catch #2 and #3 of 2012. And each one is bigger than the last! At this rate, by December 2012 I should be landing 60 pound catfish from the retention pond.

Fish #3 of 2012

First fish of 2012

I hear hair jigs are good in the winter, so I made some
(They aren't perfect, but I'm learning!)

Saturday I made some hair jigs (thanks again to Mark for letting me borrow his fly tying kit) with the intention of hitting the Fox Sunday morning/afternoon. I consulted with the good folks at, and got some tips (thanks Ken!) I was excited to hit the water, especially to return to the Fox. Although each place I've fished has it's own appeal and everything, I think fishing the Fox River is my favorite- the smallies there are so fiesty, the scenery is so beautiful, and traveling out there is like taking a mini-vacation. As much as I enjoy fishing Lake Michigan 10 minutes from my job in downtown Chicago, there's something to be said for "getting out of town."

Anyway, I had my tacklebox full of my new hair jigs, some of my crankbaits, spinners; my goal was to just catch a fish- any fish. It would be great to catch a smallie, but even better to land a walleye! As far as I know I've never even hooked into a walleye or pike; to that end, they are my main goals for 2012! Of course I'd really like to catch some salmon or trout from Lake Michigan, but that almost seems like a completely different sport.

So Sunday morning I packed up the car, loaded my gear, put on long underwear and many layers of flannel, but couldn't find my wallet. Long story short, Claire I spent about two hours looking for my dumb wallet; I checked the movie theater we'd been to the night before, as well as the pizza place, and nothing. My wallet was gone.

That put a big dent in my fishing plans, and really messed everything up! I had a lot of things in that wallet, most importantly my credit cards, driver's license, Metra and CTA cards... and my fishing license!!!

As it turns out, a few months ago I upgraded my license to include a trout stamp- but I still have my non-trout stamped one! I think that still works, of course I can't fish for salmon or trout.

After a few hours of searching, we concluded it was GONE.  I quickly jumped in the car and drove to the retention pond with hopes of catching something today. There wasn't enough time for the Fox- it would be dark by the time I got there!

Frozen everywhere except the MIDDLE...
When I got to the retention pond, my hopes sank... In the 24 hours since I last checked it, the pond had mostly frozen over. There was still open water in the middle, but I couldn't reach it! There was a tiny bit of open water by the pipe, but it was completely dead. Nobody wanted my offerrings, even my brand new homemade hair jigs.

I glanced at my watch (the new awesome one I got for Christmas that tells me the moon's phase as well as sunrise and sunset - very helpful) and make a quick decision to hit one more place that might yield some fish. Hopped in the car, headed about 2 miles away, and about 10 minutes later I was at my spot on Salt Creek.

Looks cold! It was actually quite pleasant, around 45°F and no wind
I'd caught tons of little fish here, mostly bluegill and sunfish, a few crappie and one tiny largemouth. This time I had the good sense to bring some nightcrawlers with me- I was on a mission to CATCH A FISH!

I don't normally fish with a bobber- I like to work my lures through the water - but I had limited time and thought that might be the most successful. I had two rods- one I rigged with a bobber, the other with a hair jig.

First "cast" (more like a plop into the water) the bobber started jumping around like crazy. Fish! For the next 15 minutes I tried to hook one of the many tiny fish terrorizing my crawler, to no avail. I caught glimpses of them through the water, little sparks of silver that immediately disappeared into the dark but clear water.

Finally, after letting my bobber sit there for a while, I managed to land my first fish of 2012!

What a lunker!
I'd never caught a fish like this, and had no idea what it was... I think it's some kind of minnow, maybe a creek chub? Edit: thanks to Dan the Impractical Fisherman  this fish has been identified as a shiner. And yes, I know it's tiny... But they can't all be huge! That also means my catches of 2012 can only get bigger from this point on.

A while later, while fishing a (not homemade) panfish marabou jig (I think that's what it's called, in bright chartreuse and black) I got a BIG hit from something, but I couldn't entice it to chomp down again. The sun was setting, the wind was picking up and it was getting colder; time to head home.

Great start to 2012. I wonder how many times I'll be able to get out before it gets real nasty out there... Maybe winter will only last a month, and I can start kayaking in March. That would be awesome....

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fishing in January

It looks a lot colder than it was
Although I've been keeping busy with music making (recently released a new album), lure making, cooking, watching awesome shows like "The Walking Dead," and of course work, I've had a pretty strong urge to get out there and do some fishing. I really thought by now we'd be covered in two feet of snow, every body of water would be covered in ice, and the only way to fish would be through a little hole with a little tiny rod. As it turns out, there's still plenty of water that is open and fishable!

I've been hearing about perch action along the lakefront (well, last week) and some reports of brown trout and steelhead around... That was enough to get me to the lake. I probably should have gotten some live bait, or at least some fish eggs to put on a hook, but instead I just brought along my new tackle box filled with homemade inline spinners, some jig'n'twisters, and a few wooden crankbaits.

In preparation for extreme wind and icy conditions, I wore my only pair of long underwear (I need more!) thick socks, a thermal long sleeve shirt, my new L.L. Bean super warm flannel/fleece shirt, and my big a** thick winter jacket. On my head I wore my trapper hat, and as soon as I put it on my head began to sweat.

I walked out to the water, expecting to be overwhelmed with cold; instead, I immediately took off my jacket. And hat, and scarf, and gloves. What I saw around me didn't match up with the temperature- the cement piers were all covered in frozen waves, the sky had a lead-grey hue to it, and there were literally little icebergs floating in the harbor. All around me the sun melted ice on the piers, which occasionally fell into the water with a huge splash, joining the other little icebergs.

At one point I hooked into an iceberg with a spinner, and got stuck! As the ice floated out toward the lake, my drag complained and I worried about being dragged into the water! I got some new line for Christmas, and I had just put some of this fancy fireline on my reel... This stuff is super strong and thin- but I was worried I wouldn't be able to cut it if necessary..!

Thankfully I was able to unhook myself, and my spinner came whizzing back very close to my head. Whew! Never thought I'd get hung up on ICE!

Marinas look strange without all the boats...
Although I do really like being the only one fishing!
I fished for about 2 hours, throwing mostly everything I had in my box. As I fished I regretted not getting live bait, maybe that would have been more successful. Then again, the whole trip was incredibly awesome- it was extremely nice out (51°F!! In January!) and it was very nice to be outside wetting a line. It was also nice to see how some new homemade inline spinners worked in the water. I made a few earlier in the week that had propellors and little jingle bells on them; combined with a bucktail-dressed hook, they looked pretty awesome in the water! I also learned that spray-painted colorado blades do not last when bumped against underground rocks- I'll stick with the "Hard as nails" nail polish thank you very much.

At one point I thought I had a small hit on a homemade hair jig, but it didn't happen again. I probably was fishing too quickly for lethargic winter fish...

I watched the sun go down, and I knew it was about time for me to leave. I wasn't too upset to go home empty-handed, as realistically I knew I probably wouldn't catch any fish. This was a good start to the year, and I have to say I'm very happy to have fished open water in January! On the other hand, I'm worried about what this weather will do to the whole ecosystem- I know almost nothing about biology, but it seems like extremely warm weather like this during winter could potentially mess a bunch of animals up. Hopefully they all do ok, and are ready to be caught and released by me in large numbers come this Spring...!

Sunset at Diversey Harbor

Thursday, January 5, 2012

CB Cooks: Falafel and pita bread

Falafel sammie with onions, poblanos, carrots, and tahini
One of my all time favorite foods is falafel, which is basically fried balls of some combination of chickpeas and/or fava beans. You might know I love anything involving beans, and the combination of beans and frying is a total winner. I'm pretty sure the healthiness of the beans and veggies totally outweighs any downside of frying stuff in oil. I tried for YEARS - literally - to make them at home, but they failed every time, falling apart in the oil, turning into fried hummus.

I think it was about a year ago I found another way, a method somehow I'd missed in my research. Don't use cooked beans! I found some recipe somewhere that suggested soaking the beans overnight, then grinding up the RAW beans for use in falafel. For whatever reason, this makes it much easier to keep the bean balls in one piece, and makes for a deliciously textured falafel.

I've also dabbled in bread baking (I love the book Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day) and tried making some pita bread for my falafel. It didn't really turn out like the super thin pita "pockets" found in many Lebanese restaurants, but it was still pretty awesome. It's more like normal soft bread, without a hard crust, kind of like hamburger buns or torta bread. 

There aren't too many things better than freshly baked homemade bread.

For the CB falafel:
A bunch of chickpeas and/or fava beans, soaked in water overnight (I think I used 1 pound of beans, which yielded 11-12 big falafels)
Tahini (sesame paste- it's like a more liquidy peanut butter, but made out of sesame seeds)
1/2 big white onion
5-6 cloves garlic
Handful cilantro
Cumin, salt, pepper, any other seasonings you like
A little bit of flour

For the bread:
1.5 cups flour
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal for dusting (optional, but helpful)

The bread:
1) Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a big bowl

2) Add about 1 cup water, mix

3) With your hands, divide up the dough ball into 4 little balls, then hand-roll them out into little circles

4) Put them on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal (so they don't stick as much) and preheat the oven to as close to 500°F you can get. If you don't want to bake them immediately, cover them with a clean kitchen towel so they don't dry out

Ready for the oven
5) Bake for ~3-10 minutes- but watch closely! Once they puff up, they're pretty much done!

Doesn't that just look magical!?
The falafel:
1) In a food processor, process the beans, onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeño (you might have to do it in batches)

2) In a big bowl, add about a tablespoon of tahini, a tablespoon of flour, and your seasonings. Mix well!

3) Grab a clump of the mixture, smush it together in your hand- if it seems like it will stay together, you're good to go! If not, add some more flour.

4) Form little balls in your hands, pressing them to make sure they won't fall apart. Place on a cookie sheet or something. I've found it helps to put the balls in the fridge for a while before frying.

Ready for the fridge, or the oil
5) Get 1-2 inches of oil hot in a pan, then fry the balls. Because it's not deep frying, they turn out to be more like patties instead of balls... But I think that's better for sandwiches anyway.

6) As soon as both sides of the patties are nice and brown, remove from oil and place on some paper towel to absorb residual oil. Immediately sprinkle with salt; repeat for remaining patties.

When you first drop the falafel in the pan, DON'T MOVE IT for at least a minute! You want to form a nice crust, which will help the ball stay together. Don't worry about it sticking to the pan- once the crust forms, it will become unstuck.

WARNING: Don't crowd the pan! You want to fry these guys, not steam them. 
SUGGESTION: If you have any cast iron cookware, this is an ideal time to use it! It will thank you later.

Mmmmm so crispy, salty, and chickpea-y
7) Serve immediately in your fresh "pita" bread!

- I like my falafel in bread, with lots of toppings. This time I used sliced onions, raw poblano strips, and thin carrot strips I cut with a peeler. If I had any, cucumbers and tomato are great additions.
- Tahini alone makes a great sauce- I tried making a lime-garlic-tahini sauce for this, but it tasted like messed up candy...
- Falafel burger!

Apparently in Egypt or Lebanon (or both?) McDonald's has a McFalafel
I wonder if this tastes better than that...