Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~ CK Chesterton

Howdy Yall! It's time to lick your lips and drool as we discuss yummy vittles and Texas testaments to taste!

I hope you enjoy your time with us. Please be sure to drop by and leave a message or a hello. We want to know how to better serve you!

~Blue Zebra

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Backstage With Julia

I just finished reading a very fun book about a woman who influenced my love and respect for fresh ingredients and cooking, Julia Child. Backstage With Julia, was written by her longtime Executive Chef, Nancy Verde Barr. Yes, even a Southern cook can love a California transplant to New England. I'm happy to say Julia was responsible for teaching me many techniques.

I was asked to review this book by my friends over at the very cool,
Cheftalk Cooking Forum and was eager to dive into the read and was amazed at how quickly I turned the pages. A quick reading, page turner describes my weekend with Julia. Barr's writing is engaging and really allows you to feel the complex personality that made up Julia Child, America's First Lady of Cooking.

You can read the entire review at the
Cookbook Review Forum at ChefTalk. You can also buy the book by clicking on their Amazon link. Bon Appetit.
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Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's Nice To Be Nice To The Nice!

My friend Tanna over at My Kitchen In Half Cups just gave us an incredible compliment. She gave the zebras the Nice Matters award and I am thrilled, shocked and surprised! The blue zebras are so new to the blogosphere. Each day is a learning experience on blog etiquette and blogging in general.

I can understand Tanna receiving the award. Her site is enormously popular and yet she goes out of her way to welcome new bloggers and visitors to her site and to the blog world. It’s been said before of her but bears repeating, she doesn’t only visit the “big bloggers”. Instead, she visits and encourages the small guys and new guys or like me the small and the new! :D I’m sure her time could theoretically
be so much better spent with posting to the large volume bloggers because that would inevitably send new readers to her site. But she doesn’t “roll” that way and I for one am glad she doesn’t! I feel fortunate in this short amount of time to be able to count her as a friend and fellow Texan!!! :D

I think it boils down to the words my Mom gave me long ago. She said, “Treat each person you meet as you would like to be treated.” Now I realize that Mom did not dream up this basic life value. It came from someone much bigger than Mom (ahem, Jesus) and ultimately the big guy upstairs so although I am incredibly human and screw up every day, I still try hard to live up to this one. Feel free to remind me of this if I go forgettin’, ok?

Mom also taught me that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Fiddle dee dee, now that is a true Southern sayin’ and I do believe every momma this side of the Mason Dixon line teaches their little ones growin’ up. Hear me now, it works! :D But maybe my most favorite “Nice-ism” in existence was said by Frank Burns on M*A*S*H, the television show. He said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice…”

Indeed it is nice to be nice to the nice. It’s also remarkably easy as well! In the short time Mulligan Stew Me has been up and runnin’ in the zebra pen, we have had the good fortune to meet the nicest people! Everyone is helpful and cheerful and the blog friends I’ve made never fail to make me smile. I will try to live up to this award and not let you down Tanna!

And to all my other friends both known and unknown it’s nice to see your smilin’ faces visitin’ and settin’ a spell! Hugs all around!

It is my honor to get to pass along this award to seven nice friends. It’s very tough to choose because my cup truly runneth over. How do you measure a cup run amok? :D So, part of the criteria I used to sift through was: Who goes out of their way to reply to visitors to their site and who has helped me as a newcomer when I was sooooo wet behind the ears? I barely managed to narrow it down. It was incredibly difficult!

I hope you enjoy visiting these Nice Bloggers sites. I wish I could give this award to everyone! Please be sure to congratulate them. Also please don't forget to go see what's happenin' in Tanna's kitchen at My Kitchen In Half Cups. She's so talented both as a writer/photographer and as a cook!

Congratulations you Nice Bloggers! Nice Matters! :D

Sue at Coffee and Cornbread
Lynn at Cookie Baker Lynn
Kristen at Dine and Dish
Lisa at Champaigne Taste
Sandi at Whistlestop Café Cooking
Jen at Milk and Cookies
Gattina at Kitchen Unplugged

Blue Zebra NOTE:
It's funny the way God speaks sometimes. Seemingly coincidental incidents link together into cosmic understanding! Tanna was gracious enough to extend this award and here I am days later getting a lightbulb moment when seeing an ad for a book that is gaining popularity. "The Power Of Nice".

Now, I haven't read it, but you can bet that I will be ordering it shortly! It's all about the success of an advertising company who grew their business based on the power of extending kindness to others and advising their clients to adopt this philosophy in their advertising and business culture.

Apparently the movement is growing by leaps and bounds. Not a moment too soon, wouldn't you agree? Here is the website for The Power Of Nice. (By the way, clicking on the Buy Now Link will not take you to their website. That is simply a button still attached to their book image. To buy the book you must visit their website.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Oh Tostada Of Mine, How You Tempt Me

Oh tostada of mine, I love you so, you towering pillow of TexMex joy. Your piles of deliciously fresh ingredients layer perfectly. Each separate, but giving up a little of yourselves to the next. A testimony to team work, striated excellence, crunches on my fork with each delicate bite. Could you be any more sublime, tostada of mine?

By now you may be tired of hearing my “growing up” stories. If so, please drop me a note and I promise I will take your objections seriously! But growing up, Mom must have spent many hours dreaming in her head about ingenious ways to include TexMex meals into our weekly menus so that it felt like we ate what we called
“Mexican Food” at least twice a week. So much was her love that we had meals of tacos one night, tostadas another and occasionally she would break down and make enchiladas.

We all loved TexMex, even our dachsunds! Green gobs of guacamole frequently left a taste here or there for one of them to enjoy. I seem to remember eating beans a lot as well; as borracho beans but also as refried beans and even remember chili rellenos a time or two. Chili was of course a staple and you know my feelings about that! We had nachos, then a very sophisticated and unique dish, and her very favorite, tamales at every turn. And when she could scrape up a couple of pennies we would eat at Monterrey House or Loma Linda on the southwest side of a very young suburban Houston. Back then you could get the deluxe meal at Monterrey House for $3.00. It included a chili con queso, taco, tostada, guacamole, cheese enchilada in chili sauce, tamale, rice, beans and a piece of Mexican candy for dessert.

I don’t have to think too hard to include TexMex in our weekly menu and indeed, there are many weeks we eat it two or three times! I’m blatant about it. Lucky for me B enjoys it just as much as I do. One of my favorite things to make are homemade tostadas. You can make them full fat with mounds of ground beef and fried corn tortillas, or choose to make a slightly lighter version as I have here, made with ground turkey, oven baked corn tortillas and light sour cream (you could even use yogurt if you really wanted to go low fat.) Although low fat and TexMex sounds an awful lot like an oxymoron, don’t you think?

Anyway, please enjoy these tostadas of mine, these lovely towering pillows of TexMex joy!

TexMex Tostadas
By Blue Zebra
Yield 8 tostadas


For ground meat mixture:
1 lb ground turkey (ground beef may be substituted)
1 onion, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 jalapeno, fresh, stemmed and chopped finely with seeds
1/4 cup cilantro, stems and leaves, chopped coarsely
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp ancho chile powder*
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup water

For tostadas:
8 corn tortillas (ready made tostada shells may be substituted)
1 - 1/2 cup refried beans, heated and spiced correctly
4 cups shredded lettuce (I use Romaine)
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cup Longhorn cheese, shredded
1/2 cup sour cream (light sour cream may be used)
1 large avocado, ripe, seeded, and cubed (guacamole may be substituted)
Olive oil spray for tostadas
1/2 cup salsa
salt and pepper to taste


For ground meat mixture:
Crumble ground meat into large sauté pan and combine with all ingredients except water. Cook over high heat, stirring every now and again to allow all the meat to brown and the onions to cook. When meat is browned and onions are translucent, add water and reduce heat to medium low. Allow to cook at a slow simmer for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Adjust seasonings as necessary.

For tostada shells:
If using ready made tostada shells, follow package instructions to heat the shells. If making your own shells from corn tortillas you can choose to either fry them in a shallow sauté pan using a small amount of vegetable oil or lard, or you can mist the tortillas on one side and place them directly on the rack of your oven. Cook at 400 degrees until the top side starts to get golden. Flip them and mist lightly with a bit more oil then let them complete the toasting process. Remove and allow tocool a bit. The tostada shells will continue to crisp as they cool.

For tostadas:
Place tostada shell on plate. If using beans, spread a small layer of beans on shell. Top with a spoon of meat mixture. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, guacamole, salsa and top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
Eat immediately! Yummmm! Then write your own salute to the TexMex Tower of Treats, the tostada! Arrrrrrribbbbbaaaaa!!!

Blue Zebra Cooking Tip:

Homemade Chile Powder
So let's pretend you hate prepared chile powder as badly as I do, ok? If so, then go out and choose what flavor of chile you prefer. Do you want a pure powder of ancho chile? How about a blend of Ancho and Pasilla? All you need to do is grab a handful of your favorite dried chiles and a cast iron pan and go to work!

Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high to high heat. Place your hand about two inches above the bottom of the pan and if you can let it stay there to the count of nine, your pan is hot enough. Be careful not to actually touch the bottom of the pan! Add your dried chiles (I wash mine and let them dry the night before). Let the pods toast in the pan, this is called dry roasting. Flip the pods after a minute or two. You will start to smell them toast. If necessary, adjust heat in pan so they toast and don't burn.

Be sure to turn your vent on over your stove! One toasted, remove stems and empty out all the seeds from inside the dried chili pods. Place chilis in blender or tear them into pieces and place in your spice/coffee grinder. Grind to a fine powder.

Place powder in air tight jar or canister. Use in place of commercial chile powders in all your favorite recipes. Just know that you will need to adjust for salt in your recipes since your chile powder is pure and has no additives or salt added, unlike commercial blends.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Texas Chili Dogs, The National Sandwich of Texas

We’ve talked about the perfect buns and you have the secrets to Authentic Texas Chili. What could possibly come next? Of course, it’s the Texas Chili Dog, the ubiquitous sandwich of Texas. The chili dog shares versions in various regions throughout the U.S. but it’s the national dish of Texas, the chili, that really highlights the difference between a Texas Chili Dog and a chili dog from any other state.

Not only is this incredibly comforting chili dog the national sandwich of the great state of Texas but it also happens to be my submission for the best sandwich contest called, Show Us Your Sarnie, being sponsored by my friend Marie, at her wonderful website showcasing English Country Manor Life. Her blog, A Year From Oak Cottage, is a charming account of genteel country life, almost old worldly in feel. Each day, I eagerly visit to read about what is happening in Marie's English paradise and what has happened over at "the big house"! Don't forget to go visit and vote for my Texas Chili Dog!

In Houston, we have a famous hot dog chain, James Coney Island. Our mom lurrrrrved those chili dogs from James Coney Island and Dad loved their chili. You could even buy bricks of their chili, frozen at the restaurant. Now I could “tolerate” this chili, being made from a hamburger type meat and being mostly gravy, but I still
wasn’t real wild about them. I think part of their mystique is that James Coney Island was part of “early Houston” history. Their first store was downtown, not very far away from our granddad’s saloon, The Inter-Urban Buffet, which was right across the street from the Rice Hotel.

To say chili dogs are a big thing in our family is an understatement. To this day, my brother, who lives in Austin, has to hit James Coney Island for chili dogs when he is in Houston. One of my nephews, G’s treats, as a little boy was to go grab a chili dog with Mimi and Pa, as Dad was called by the Houston grandkids. The Dallas part of the family, my oldest sissy, C, and my brother-in-law, F, along with their kiddos and grandkids and F’s mom, dad and siblings have a tradition of eating their big Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve after Mass on Christmas Eve, then having homemade chili dogs for Christmas dinner.

So chili and hot dogs run deep in our veins and I dare say, through the veins of many Houstonians and Texans. I have actually become a convert in my later years, due mostly to making our homemade chili. There’s not much to the sandwich once you arrive at the perfect bun and chili. I will make a batch of chili then freeze it in portions for use in later chili dogs. I have even gotten to where I make the hot dog buns and freeze them as well.

The last variable in the quality of the chili dog is the dog itself. Houstonian’s and most Southerners were raised with dogs that are not in casings. They are made and cooked in synthetic casings, then released from the casing and packaged. The dog does not have a “snap” or crispness when you bite them. I am also pretty certain Oscar Mayer and Bryans’ meats had a big portion of the Texas market.

I personally go with the Northeast and love the crisp bite of a Sabrettes hot dog, the kind of dog you get at the Papaya King in Manhatten on E. 86th street. I also like Nathan’s in the natural casings. One of the easiest dogs to come by with natural casing is made by Boar’s Head meats. They are readily available in Houston. That’s what we use, the natural casing all beef frankfurters by Boar’s Head. Delicious! So without further ado, I give you the heartbreakingly wonderful Texas Chili Dog, the national sandwich of Texas!

Authentic Texas Chili Dogs
By Blue Zebra
Yield 8 Chili Dogs

8 Hot Dog Bun
8 Texas Chili
8 Boar’s Head All Beef Frankfurters
Mustard - French’s
1/2 Large Onion
3/4 cup Longhorn Cheese (preferably red rind cheddar), shredded
Relish, Sweet or Dill (optional)

Preheat oven to 450° F
Split hot dog buns but do not separate the top and bottom of the bun.

Apply mustard to both sides of the bun.

Place hot dog into bun and top with chili, cheese and onions. If you use relish, apply relish to bun after the mustard and before the hot dog is inserted.

Bake on foil lined baking sheet for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and chili dogs are piping hot! Serve immediately.

Blue Zebra NOTES:
This is a great dish for chilly Fall evening. We like to serve them with oven fries and corn fresh cut off the cob, topped with a dab of butter. Not a high brow dinner by any means! Just a good old song-of-the-South!
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chili, The National Dish of Texas

Chili almost qualifies for an entire food group for the majority of Texans. We’ve eaten it as a stand alone spicy stew and as a garnish or gravy that completes many Tex Mex specialties. We have chili cook-offs and chili teams and Pace for goodness sake, the creators of the home chili kit, Wick Fowler’s Two-Alarm Chili. We Texans eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack.

Imagine how odd and out of place I sometimes felt. I spent most of my life thinking I hated chili. I’m from Texas so you can imagine that was almost unheard of…it was sacrilege! I could deal with small amounts of the “gravy” portion but could not handle the meat that went with it.

There used to be a commercial on television as I was growing up. A complete campaign for the Wolf Brand Chili company and it asked the viewer, “When was the last time you had a great big steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili?”

And I would always race to answer, “Not nearly long enough!” Of course, their answer was, “Well that’s too long!” In one entire can of chili, if there was one piece of gristle or tripe or tendon lurking in its brick red depths, it was destined to end up in my bowl, on my spoon and in my mouth. Uggh. Dinner over!

I hated canned chili and until Wick Fowler came out with 2-Alarm Chili where you could add you own hamburger, you could threaten me with just about anything and I would still decline to eat it. Not even Wick could save the day if Mom announced she intended to use “chili grind” meat. You see, “chili grind” is a coarse setting for grinding meats and it results in chunks of gristle landing in your bowl, on your spoon and in…déjà vu. So chili grind was just not allowable in my book!

It wasn’t until I was grown and gone and Mom “discovered” an incredible recipe for chili-red as Dad liked to call it. The recipe called for using pork shoulder, cubed and browned in oil with re-hydrated chile peppers and onions, cooked until meltingly tender. I fell in love with that chili but boy howdeeeee! She and Dad sure made it look like a bunch of hard work to make. So I deferred learning to make it.

Dad died almost 15 years ago and it wasn’t until about two years ago that I first took a stab at this dish, but I had to do it my way and that meant using good old Texas beef in place of the pork. After all, the American cowboys didn’t cook chili on pig drives, no, they were cattle drives! So I really doubted that they used pork unless they ran across a very unfortunate javelina (which was a real possibility)! I also found it was much less trouble to make than it had first appeared to my inexperienced eyes.

My authentic Texas Chili is sheer perfection in a bowl. This isn’t Wolf Brand Chili. It’s not Midwestern Chili. This is real Texas chili like the old trail bosses or Chili Queens of San Antonio used to make over a hundred years ago. It’s a purist concoction of meat, dried and fresh chiles and spices that will leave tears of gratitude rolling down your face. And nary a piece of gristle or tendon in sight!

Historically, chili was a method of wet cooking tough cuts of meat out on the trail. The spices and chili peppers helped kill the bad or “off” tastes of spoiling meat or meat on the edge of turning and also helped kill any bad bacteria. The wet stewing method helped tenderize the toughest saddle leather and worked great with many sides like tortillas, biscuits, rice, beans (never in the chili, please - that’s a hanging offense in Texas) and also with Tex Mex dishes such as chili rellenos, chili and eggs, cheese enchiladas with chili gravy, tacos and more.

Beans have no place in real Texas chili! The old fashioned, purist chili of the old timers won’t even have tomatoes. So in the true spirit of the dish, I took Mom and Dad’s Chili recipe and adapted it to the most extreme purist form. What you get is a spicy stew so thick with delicious, rich red sauce it doesn’t even need to be thickened with the masa harina (ground corn flour) typical of Texas chili. But you add it anyway to get the taste of the dish so familiar to us all.

The next time you get a hankerin’ for real, old fashioned, authentic Red. Give the national dish of Texas a try. I guarantee you will sit up and sing The Eyes of Texas by the time you scrape and lick the last morsel of brick red goodness from your bowl.

Authentic Texas Chili
By Blue Zebra
Yield 10-12 bowls of chili

2 Large Onions, peeled and chopped
8 Cloves Garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup Olive Oil, Lard, or Bacon Grease
7 Dried Red Ancho Chiles, washed, stemmed, seeded
5 Dried Red New Mexican Chiles, washed, stemmed, seeded
3 Dried Red Guajillo Chiles, washed, stemmed, seeded
2 Jalapeno Peppers, stemmed, chopped with seeds (fresh)
4 # Beef Chuck Roast, trimmed, boned, and 1” cubes or Ground Chuck
2 tsp granulated garlic powder
2 Tbsp Cumin, ground (preferably from toasted cumin seeds)
1 Tbsp Oregano, leaves (preferably Mexican oregano)
1 Tbsp Coriander, ground (preferably from toasted coriander seeds)
2 Tbsp Dried Onion Flakes
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
Water to cover meat
1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
1/4 cup Masa Harina


In medium sized saucepan over medium heat, place stemmed, seeded, dried chiles. Cover pods with water. Bring chiles to a slow simmer and reduce heat. Stir occasionally to redistribute chile peppers under the water. Simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.

Trim and cube the chuck roast into 1” dice or alternately, you can use ground chuck hamburger grind (or chili grind if you are fearless and don’t mind a bit of gristle here or there).

In small saute pan, toast the cumin and coriander seeds until you can smell the oils of the seeds. Be careful not to burn them. I stir constantly, use a dry pan and cook over medium heat. Once toasted, pour into a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices. Alternately, you can use a morter and pestle or molcahete to grind the seeds into spice.

Using paper towels, blot moisture from the meat. Season the meat with a little of the salt, black pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander and garlic powder.

Heat skillet or cast iron dutch oven over high heat and add 1/3 of the grease being used. Add 1/3 of the seasoned meat and quickly sear and lightly brown the meat. Remove from pan and add the next portion of oil. Let the pan heat up again and add the next 1/3 of the meat. Continue with this method until all the meat is browned and set aside. (Note: Each stove is different. You will have to get a feel for how hot your stove cooks. You want just enough heat to brown the meat, instead of boiling or sweating it in juices. This means you need a hot enough pan that the juices emitted from the meat evaporate from the heat in the pan as quickly as they are released, allowing the meat to brown on the outside. Check to make sure you are browning the meat and not burning the bottom of the pan. The meat will still be raw in the center. Remove beef to a Dutch oven and hold until vegetables are cooked. Be sure to add all of the drippings from the beef.

Add chopped onion and garlic to the skillet used to cook your meat and sauté over medium heat until vegetables are tender and the onion has begun to turn translucent.

Add the vegetables to the meat in the Dutch oven. Deglaze the skillet with a ladle of chile cooking water and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. These browned bits are called fond. They add flavor to the dish.

Remove the now cooling peppers from the chile water and drain them in a colander. Reserve the cooking water that is being drained off and any chile water left in the sauce pan. This liquid will be added back to the meat mixture when you cook the chili.

Place chile pods into the bowl of your food processor fitted with the knife blade or place them into your blender. Add a couple of ladles of the chile water and blend or pulse processor until chiles form a loose paste. At this point it’s up to you. I like to strain my chile mixture through wire mesh strainer. This keeps the course skin separate from the smooth paste of the flesh and the liquid from the chiles. The skin can be tough and sometimes bitter. But straining is not strictly necessary, if you are trying to save time.

Add the chile puree to the meat mixture. Add remaining chile water to the point where the meat and vegetables are covered. Turn heat to medium and bring up to a slow simmer. Adjust heat to maintain slow simmer. Do not boil. (This should be about low to medium low to maintain a simmer.)

Mix all seasonings except salt in a small bowl. Add 1/2 of the seasoning at the beginning of cooking the chili. As the chili cooks, taste and add more seasoning if you like. Add salt about 3/4 of the way to done. Chili will cook about 2-3 hours over low to medium low heat or until chuck is tender and falling apart and all portions of the “broth” are a cohesive red color. Adjust salt as necessary at end of cooking.

As the chili cooks, the moisture will evaporate. Keep adding a little of the chili water or plain tap water to the mixture to keep it from evaporating too much. The object is to condense the “stew” but still leave enough moisture to make a thick, liquid broth.

Combine the masa harina with 1/2 cup water and shake in covered jar. Shake until well combined and smooth, no lumps. While chili is at a gentle simmer, add masa slurry, stirring continually until well combined. Masa will thicken the chili slightly and add the distinctive flavor associated with Texas red chili.

Serving suggestions:
Chili with oyster crackers
Chili with cheese and onions and saltine crackers
Chili over rice
Chili and eggs
Chili spaghetti
Chili cheese enchiladas
Chili relleno
Taco Salad
Chili Dogs
Chili Burgers
Chili Mac

Blue Zebra NOTE:
I usually cook my chili out on my propane grill or in my oven. I set the temperature to about 300 degrees and allow it to cook with the lid on for about 3 hours. I stir it and check the liquid level about every 20 minutes or so. This keeps it from sticking on the bottom of the pan and allows enough long, slow cooking time for the meat to tenderize and fall apart. You want the meat to be “fork tender” and the broth to be rich and thick on its own.

Stay tuned for the Ultimate Chili Dog, The National Sandwich of Texas!

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