My AFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Houston vs Buffalo

In celebration of the NFL playoffs this year, I have decided to pay homage for foods well known in the participating cities. Even if I haven’t been to some of the cities, it’s not hard to find a few culinary gems one can recreate in the comfort of their own kitchen.

After watching the game itself, I can draw a few conclusions:

  1. Buffalo is cursed. Josh Allen does appear to have the tools necessary to win a few games but he’s gotta learn how to use them. At 6’5″, he pitches the ball versus throws it which certainly isn’t helped by the fact, as an announcer put it, his receiving core are “smurfs”. His naivety was clear in the 4th quarter where he literally pulled his team out of field goal range and handed Houston the win.
  2. American announcers have a hard-on for JJ Watt. It became nauseating listening to those clowns suggest that JJ’s sack was the turning point in the game and that anybody who could even dream of returning from pectoral surgery so quickly is nothing short of a god. The man love was truly nauseating and a reminder of why I mute sports events at times, especially given the fact they mic’d him up and we all got to hear his Tony Robbins’ motivational crap all game.
  3. Watching DeShaun Watson it like watching a roulette wheel spin and you have the house on red. Events like his Houdini move in this game remind us he’s far from a sure thing and that JJ Watt probably had something to do with it anyway.

The food showdown involved a menu of items representative of the two cities. This one was a bit easy…ribs vs wings. In order to up the ante a bit I added a few other dishes; Texas Caviar and Western New York’s famed sandwich… the beef on weck. I haven’t been to Houston but it’s culinary scene seems to be improving. I also have a good friend there so it’s on my list for 2020. I have been to Buffalo numerous times (the last time to watch the Bills beat the Flaccoless Broncos) and have had the privilege of indulging in a Charlie the Butcher’s beef on weck. I have also dropped by the original Anchor bar to pig out on a platter of wings.

It started with making some Texas BBQ sauce. Although there are no shortage of online renditions of Lone Star sauces, there are a few commonalities which include a good amount of sugar and lots of apple cider vinegar. In the end, I opted for Aaron Franklin’s Masterclass recipe which in the end was a perky and more biting version of many of the sauces sold on store shelves. The back ribs were slowly cooked (275 degrees)for a few hours and the sauces was added for the last 30 and the temp upped a few degrees which resulted in a slight caramelization but a maintenance of the strong vinegar flavour.

Texas caviar is a side dish open to creative interpretation as well. Usually it consists of some combination of the following ingredients: black-eyed peas and/or black beans, peppers, jalapeno, tomato, onion and avocado. Then it is usually dressed with some kind of vinaigrette ranging from Italian dressing to an olive oil with red or white wine vinegar. I used all the above ingredients to maximize taste and texture and finished it with aforementioned olive oil/red wine vinegar combination. The subtle acid nicely cut the fattiness of the other dishes and provided a bit of refreshment similar to smart Josh Allen play in the second half if you happen to be a Bills’ fan.

Texas Caviar

I cook wings all the time and opted for a straight forward oven-baked version sauced with hot sauce and butter in typical buffalo style. When it comes to wings, there are no fancy sides necessary…celery and carrots with a tub of blue cheese works every time. I often go full out deep fry but I was kind of drunk and lazy by this point.

Wings…Carrots and Celery Missing..I was a little sauced myself.

Since wings are pretty easy I tackled the famed beef on weck as well. I seasoned up an outside round and threw in the oven for a few hours (at the same temperature as the ribs) until it was medium. After a rest, I sliced it up and through on some homemade Weck buns (ensuring to leave the polarizing caraway seeds off half the batch). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this recipe which called for almost 25 minutes of bake time at 425 which would have turned them into footballs even Tom Brady couldn’t deflate. They were a little dense for my liking but gives me something to work on for next year..just like Josh. In the end, it was no Charlie the butcher but made for a great pigskin snack.

For dessert I went with a dish from the eventual game winner; Texas bread pudding with a Whisky butter sauce. It was a pretty standard pudding using some old buns and brioche I had kicking around (I wouldn’t recommend the weck buns given the caraway!). I threw in some raisins and pecans for good measure. The whisky sauce called for 1/3 cup of bourbon which retrospectively was a bit much reminding that everything (including the risk of getting drunk off dessert) is in fact bigger in Texas.

Texas Bread Pudding with Whisky Butter Sauce

My Take

Although not a game for the Super Bowl, “wide right” may be tempered somewhat by “don’t get sacked when you’re in field goal range in overtime” or “I don’t give a shit if he’s Houdini…tackle him”. As for the food, both regions represent great party foods. The BBQ sauce was tangier than I’m used to buying and would almost pass as a good wing sauce as well. The Texas caviar would shut the pie holes of any vegan viewers (or you could just slap down some carrots and celery and keep the extra blue cheese for your wings). For dessert, I suspect many Bills fans would have ignored the pudding and lapped up the Whisky sauce as a new way to drown this decade’s new football sorrow.

Nuts for Canada Cranberry Walnut Slaw

Canada Day is a great BBQ and slaw day!  If you are going to have the salads outside for a long period of time, avoid the heavy mayo slaws and use an oil and vinegar base instead.

I decided to try my own slaw as a tribute to Canada Day. I wanted to create a bit of the red and white colour and stay true to Canadian ingredients whenever I could.  Cranberries, maple syrup, apple cider and even walnuts are essential Canadian ingredients. The walnuts add a good mix of healthy fatty acids (omega-3), a breadth of vitamins and minerals (thiamin, folate, B6, manganese) and the cranberries add dietary fibre.

I suggest using any kind of cabbage but in the fall green cabbage will be in season and very flavourful.  If you don’t have walnut oil, substitute the oil you normally use for salads (olive, canola).

Ingredients:

Salad

1/2 small-medium cabbage (about 4 cups)- Use fresh Ontario green cabbage if you can.  Napa cabbage will also work

3/4 cup of dried cranberries

3/4 cup of chopped walnuts

Dressing:

1 tbsp of maple syrup

2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp of walnut oil (or your favorite salad oil)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Mix cabbage, cranberries and walnuts in a medium bowl.

2.  In small bowl, whisk vingear, oil and maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3.  Add dressing to cabbage mixture. 

Chill for at least an hour if possible and enjoy with any BBQ food.

 

Napa Cabbage Slaw

Napa cabbage is a mild, subtle cabbage that works great in a slaw.  It has a bit of Calcium, Potassium and Vitamin A as well as some trace minerals. This slaw is light, so pairing with a heavy steak is ideal.  The dressing is the same used to season sushi rice, so it has a bit of an Asian flare.

This recipe comes from Epicurious (originally from Bon Appetite). I modified it slightly since I did not have red jalapenos so I used green jalapenos and added some sweet red bell peppers for colour and texture.

Ingredients

2 tsp of ginger

I clove of garlic, pressed

3 tbsp of seasoned rice vinegar

3 tbsp of sugar

1-2 jalapenos (depending on taste)

5 cups of napa cabbage (shredded or chopped)

1/2 medium red bell pepper (julienned)

3/4 cup of chopped green onions

Preparation

Stir sugar and vinegar in a small sauce pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.Add jalapenos and ginger to the dressing and let sit.

In a medium bowl, mix cabbage,1/2 cup of onions and peppers.

Pour vinegar mixture over cabbage, mix and let stand for at least 30 min. Use remaining onions as a garnish.

 

 

Fennel Slaw

Image

Fennel is quite common and has a great texture.  It has a strong licorice flavour that can be dulled down a bit with a good dressing.  It is low in calories and has a bit of fibre, folate, vitamin C and potassium. 

It’s a tame slaw which complimented the spicy sausage I paired it with.  

I took the recipe from the website “Simply Recipes” since I had some mint in my fridge I needed to use:

Ingredients
1 large fennel bulb (or 2 medium bulbs)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons minced shallot or onion
Method
1 Make the vinaigrette. Put the lemon juice, shallot, mustard, salt, sugar and mint in a blender and pulse briefly to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until it is well combined.

2 Using a mandoline, shave the fennel into 1/8 inch slices starting from the bottom of the bulb. Don’t worry about coring the fennel bulb, it’s unnecessary. If you don’t have a mandoline, slice the bulb as thin as you can. Chop some of the fennel fronds as well to toss in with the salad.

 My Suggestions:

  • If pairing with something less spicy, add a little cayenne or jalapeno to the dressing.
  • Don’t be shy with the mint.
  • Cut back on the oil a bit to reduce the calories.  I used less than the 1/4 cup and it was fine.

I Came, I Slaw, I Conquered

I love slaw.  I have ordered dishes in restaurants just to get the slaw.  It is cross-cultural, appearing in Asian, Mexican, Spanish, German, British and North American cuisine.  Most of us have grown up being fed some kind of cole slaw during a family dinner or neighbourhood bar-b-que. For the most part, it was a combination of green cabbage, miracle whip and perhaps and a few raisins or a shrivelled apple.

Slaw can add a freshness to an otherwise rich dish (eg. English fish and chips), add texture to a dish (eg.scallops) or allow the incorporation of contrasting flavors (eg.a sweet, creamy slaw to a spicy dish).  It is versatile and is a perfect way to incorporate fresh, local, in-season ingredients onto a plate.  On the other hand, it can be a means of using root vegetables such as cabbage and celery root during the off-season. You can open the fridge and make a good slaw out of whatever you see. Finally, it’s a great way to encourage fresh ingredients in your children’s diets.

This part of the blog is explore the art of slaw.  I intend to explore different techniques, ingredients and dressings to identify the best slaws. I will post pictures and recipes when I can. 

Enjoy!