Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mike's Super Garlicky Pita Chip Bonanza

Since I have been attempting to lose weight these past few weeks, I often find myself at a loss during meal times. Trying to find something that is healthy, tasty and balanced enough not to make me hungry again five minutes after I eat, has been a challenge. Until now.

A while back my wife introduced me to Joseph’s Pita Bread, as an alternative to regular bread. At one time you could only find this at BJ's Wholesale, but since then I have actually seen it at Wal*Mart for two dollars and change. As you can see on the package its “Heart Friendly” with “CardioAid plant sterols”. Whatever, does it taste good? It’s not bad as far as pitas go but in all reality it’s just a pita. A flat bread used to hold something that actually tastes good. I suppose at 60 calories per pita I cannot complain very much, but I do think I can spice things up a bit.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I eat I usually like to have something with a crunch in my mouth. It satisfies me on some level. So if I can take something that is 60 calories and turn it into something that tastes good and is crunchy then I guess that’s a win situation.

 Homemade pita chips seemed like the natural choice. They seemed to be gaining in popularity in a linear progression alongside hummus and they seem to naturally go together. A decent amount of carbohydrate with something packed with protein, and polyunsaturated fats. Sounds like a complete meal if you toss a piece of fruit in there.

 Now that I decided on what to make I searched the kitchen for ingredients. Just a few spices should be all that I need. Salt, Pepper, and some form of garlic. Oh yes and some type of oil to enhance the crunch factor!

A Word on Garlic:
If it were up to me I would put fresh garlic on everything. It’s a deliciously potent bulb related to the onion. The problem I have with fresh garlic is that if you are in a hurry it's tough to get at. You have to separate a clove from the bulb by peeling layers away. Then you have to crack the clove and peel even more layers away. While you are doing this you are also stinking up your fingers for the next 100 years. Fresh garlic is delicious but it is simply not in my pita chip equation. If for some reason you find that you need it, use it.  HOWEVER when fresh garlic is cooked it loses some of its potency and you get more of a roasted garlic flavor, which by itself is not unpleasant, it’s just not as potent.

Over the years I have used many different types of garlic to get the correct balance of potency over flavor. I have tried pickled garlic, garlic powder, granulated garlic, and minced garlic in water. None of which ever provided me with what I craved, until recently.

One night while shopping at BJ’s wholesale my wife picked up a glass bottle of minced garlic with a cork in the top of it. It looked like some sort of fancy upper crust “show” garlic that you put in your kitchen to make people think you cook with it but in reality you never touch it. I kind of scoffed. I did however noticed that it was minced garlic that was dry. It looked like it was dehydrated or something. Of course the name ”Olde Thompson” at the top had a certain appeal to me as well. I figured, “what the hell!” and tossed it in the cart. Let me tell you, I have not had a better garlic that wasn’t fresh. I will actively seek this garlic out when this bottle is finished. I believe it is truly dehydrated. Every bit of the fresh potency is there in this garlic. It is the shining star on my spice rack.

 Moving on to the cooking, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Next grease up a decent sized cookie sheet with some cooking spray or a decent high smoke point oil like canola or something. Place two pitas back to back on a flat surface (I used a paper plate), and using a pizza cutter cut the pitas into eight pieces as shown.

 Lay the pieces of pita out on the greased cookie sheet and lightly spritz them with olive oil. I use a small spray bottle for this but you can just as easily brush the olive oil on. Once everything is lubed up apply salt and pepper. I like to use fresh ground pepper, it seems to give it the extra “POP” I need. Once coated, apply a liberal amount of the minced garlic. Be careful the garlic is very flavorful. You’ll even smell it while it’s cooking.

Place the cookie sheet in the pre-heated oven for about ten minutes or until the chips are golden brown and appear to be crispy.

Once done I like to let mine cool off for about 5 minutes so they are no longer soft.  Serve them up with your favorite dip. I like garlic hummus. If you really want a flavor explosion, when you are done with all of the chips collect up all the garlic that fell off of them and all the garlic from the cookie sheet and dump that into your mouth and start chewing. If THAT doesn’t clear your sinuses I don’t know what will.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Re-seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

About a week or so ago I made cheese steaks for the family, and they did not turn out as well I had hoped. The problem was not the cut of meat, the cheese, or even the roll. It was the equipment I was using to cook everything. Making cheese steaks was more of a spur of the moment, wild hair, type of situation. So there was little time to prepare and insure that all the necessary tools were assembled. My main mistake was using a frying pan on a crappy gas stove. This does not allow a person to chop the steak finely and the heat distribution is all wrong. Despite all of this I ate it all the same.

As the improperly prepared grease bomb of a sandwich slowly started to unfold and stir within my gastro intestinal tract, I pondered on what I could do to make the process better. More heat and more cooking surface would be a sure fire way of making things easier if not better. I immediately remembered an old cast iron skillet I had laying around. I bet if I could get that up and running I could make a decent cheese steak. Last I seen of the skillet it was out near the grill in the back yard.

 Ok, eww, I’m not sure I’ll be able to cook anything on this. It’s pretty rusted. I suppose I will have to go through the process of re-seasoning it.

Re-seasoning cast iron cookware is not that hard, but it is time consuming and definitely a smoky process, so if you have the opportunity to do this outside, I strongly suggest it.

Now there are a variety of ways to start the process. Most, instruct you to heat up the cast iron to some insane temperature to burn everything off. This is not a bad idea, and I advise doing it, if there is left over food and seasoning on the cast iron that needs to come off. In my situation, the only thing that needed to come off of the skillet was rust, so I was able to forego the burn cleaning method.

If you do need to clean the cast iron using heat, I suggest lighting your gas grill and setting it on high, and then baking the cast iron for forty minutes to an hour.  You can also do this in your oven, setting it on clean, but again you will be generating a lot of smoke so I advise you do this outside on a grill.

Anyway, back to my skillet. There was quite a bit of rust on it and I needed a way to remove it. Because I did not want to sit around all day rubbing my skillet with steel wool I opted to use a steel brush attachment for my drill. Trust me, this made things A LOT quicker and A LOT easier. If you do not have this equipment, find a friend that does, it will save you time and a sore arm.

 After only about ten minutes of hitting both sides of the skillet with the steel brush, I had a result that I was happy to live with.
 I was now ready to wash off all of the powdered rust and baked on crap from a thousand past breakfast sausages, that merrily sizzled upon its surface at one time or another.

A simple light scrubbing with some soap and water is all that is require. However, take note that you want to be sure you wash off all of the soap. It’s a bit caustic and will ultimately add to the cast iron rusting in the future. So make sure you rinse it well.
 Before you start the seasoning process you want to be absolutely certain that the cast iron is dry. Although it might look dry there are pores and crevasses that could contain moisture and you do not want to apply any seasoning on top of this. Take heed, MOISTURE WILL SCREW THINGS UP.  So to make sure the cast iron is nice and dry. Place it on the grill set on medium heat for ten to twenty minutes.

Next you have to decide what you want to season your cast iron with. I choose some old Wal*Mart corn oil because it was sitting in my cabinet. Nobody uses it and the smoke point is a little higher than most.  You can use almost any type of oil for this. Some folks use lard, others use butter, and still others Canola oil. It’s really just matter of opinion. Just keep in mind that certain oils have lower smoke points than others. So if you decide you want to use Extra Virgin Olive oil, just know that there will be a ton of smoke involved.

Using a brush or a rag, apply the oil to every part of the cast iron, and be sure to sop up any excess. You only want a coating of oil, not pools of it. Otherwise you will end up with seasoning bubbles, and that’s no good.

When everything is finally coated, turn the heat on high, close the grill and walk away for an hour. When you come back, turn the heat off and let the cast iron cool. Once cool, you can then reapply oil and repeat the process for as many times as you see fit. For my skillet I did this twice and it seemed to create a decent layer of seasoning.
 Now that the weather is nice and cool I imagine cooking breakfast and maybe lunch on this thing, sipping coffee, beer, or whatever other beverage of choice that might fancy me. LETS GET COOKING!