Italian Beef Birthday Surprise

Michelle is the perfect bartender for Monday Night at Donn's Depot.

Michelle is the perfect bartender for Monday Night at Donn’s Depot.

For 18 years I’ve had what musicians call a “residency” gig, a weekly show that happens at the same place and builds up a loyal following over time. Mine is every Monday night from 9 to 1 at the old Yamaha grand piano at a place called Donn’s Depot in Austin, Texas. It’s built out of a real depot and a handful of railroad cars, including a red caboose that serves as the coolest ladies room on the planet with it’s shag carpeting and private stalls.

The Monday bartender is our great friend Michelle, who has childhood ties to Chicago, and a great affinity for the food that comes from there. She knows her deep dish pizza and her Italian Beef sandwiches. Being the generous soul that she is, for my birthday she had a full Italian Beef sandwich kit sent from Portillo’s in Chicago via a website called “Tastes of Chicago” that was created by our favorite pizza place, Lou Malnati’s.

Portillo's Italian Beef Kit

Portillo’s Italian Beef Kit

A big box arrived on the front porch…I’m glad I noticed it as I was pulling out of the driveway. It said on the side “Somebody must really like you!” and “Refrigerate as soon as possible”. Wow. Inside the box I found 2 pounds of thinly sliced beef, 8 bake at home rolls, 2 quarts of gravy, a bag of sweet roasted peppers and a jar of spicy Hot Giardiniera, the pickly peppers and carrots that “tie the room together”.

Of course we had to invite Michelle and her family (new baby Revé and our grandson Brody had a fine time on their first meeting) over to share the Chicago bounty. We baked the rolls, heated the gravy, soaked the beef in the gravy and built our incredible sandwiches with the beef, a strip of sweet pepper and a pile of spicy Giardiniera. Michelle’s generosity had turned into one of the finest lunches we’ve ever had at the MoonHouse. She’s figured out a way to replicate these using local items, but we all agreed that the kit from Portillo’s was the real deal.

My sandwich in Chicago.  Mmmmmmm good.

My sandwich in Chicago. Mmmmmmm good.

Oddly enough, I had a Jerry Jeff concert scheduled in St. Paul the next weekend, and ended up flying through Chicago’s Midway Airport and discovered the Gold Coast Hot Dog and Italian Beef Stand down the hall from our gate. I sampled the Italian Beef, loved it, but preferred the ones we made at home. More soul, I think.

Ciao for now. Check out Tastes of Chicago! CG

Chile Verde Pork in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The author at a friend's stove.

The author at a friend’s stove.

Being a professional musician has kept me on the road a good deal of my 59 years (yesterday was my birthday), and I have to say…I’m a “Hotel Guy”.  Not a “Bed and Breakfast” guy, not usually a “Stay With Friends” guy, not a “Pitch a Tent” guy, a “Hotel Guy”.  So it’s rare that I’m in staying in someone’s home with several friends.  This last week, however, we accepted an invitation to stay at an old pal’s beautiful home nestled in the pine trees of the Black Hills of South Dakota, just outside of Rapid City.  It was a very special time spent with great friends.  We’ve all played music together since the 70’s, were members of South Dakota’s Red Willow Band, and Kenny and I were on Hee Haw together over 100 times in the 80’s as members of Roy Clark’s Band. (Got an extra 3 minutes? Here’s us in 1987 with me singing “Rocky Top“.) The Sturgis motorcycle rally was in full swing 30 miles from us and there were Harley riders everywhere.

Our hosts had to work the first day we were there, and a couple other friends were driving across the state to meet us for dinner, so I offered to cook the first night.  They’d just remodeled their huge kitchen, and the soapstone counter tops were begging to get messed up, and I’m just the guy to do it.  I asked Kenny if he had any requests and his only suggestion was fresh salsa.  Okay, I’ve got a theme and I’m gonna run with it.  I remembered an amazing Chile Verde pork dish I had learned to make by watching Guy Fieri on the Food Network.  We had watched Guy win his own show “Guy’s Big Bite” on TV and I was taping a few of his early shows.  I’m glad I did.

So….will a grocery store in South Dakota have the same ingredients I can find at a dozen stores in my Austin, Texas neighborhood?  I was going to need Hispanic items like Queso Fresco, Masa Harina, cilantro and fresh chiles.  I was pleasantly surprised to find everything I needed at one Safeway store, including tequila for margaritas!

Roasted tomatillos and peppers

Roasted tomatillos and peppers

A quick stop at a meat market had me loaded up with a five pound hunk of pork shoulder.  This gets cut into one inch cubes and browned in a big pan.  Meanwhile I covered a cookie sheet with foil and spread out 8 tomatillos with their husks removed (I can’t believe I found tomatillos in SoDak), 4 jalapenos and 4 Anaheim peppers.  Let the skin on the peppers turn partly black and blistered, peel what you can and chop the whole works up.  Take the pork out of the big pan and add a couple chopped onions and some garlic to the pork drippings and sauté till translucent.  Deglaze the pan with a little white vinegar, then add the meat and veggies back to the pan.  Add a healthy dose of cumin and oregano, salt and pepper, and the magic begins.  In 60-90 minutes this pot is filled with tender and delicious Chile Verde.

Mexican food comes with all kinds of corn and flour delivery systems, tortillas, taco shells, gorditas, tamales and one of our new favorites, sopes.  These have to be cooked twice, but it’s worth the effort.  Mix 1 ½ cups of Masa Harina with about a cup of water and a pinch of salt until you can roll a ball about the size of a pool table cue ball.  I used a couple sheets of wax paper and a heavy pot to smash these down till about a half inch thick.  Cook these corn patties for about a minute on each side on a hot cast iron skillet just to harden and slightly brown both sides. Remove and let cool a bit.  While still warm, with a spoon or your (clean) fingers scoop out the center of one side of each sope till you have a little cup with a half inch rim around the edge.  To me, as a piano player, they’re almost exactly the shape of the little saucers that sit under the legs of a grand piano.  The next step is to fry these little saucers in canola oil till they’re golden brown and crispy.  Remove to dry on a paper towel.

Home pickled carrots and jalapenos

Home pickled carrots and jalapenos

The perfect garnish for this dish is pickled carrots and jalapenos.  This is so easy to make, and our dinner guests were amazed at what it added.  Take about a cup of white vinegar and a quarter cup of sugar and dissolve in a pan over low heat.  Add about 3 thinly sliced carrots and half dozen thinly sliced jalapenos along with some sliced red onion and simmer over the low heat for about an hour.  Remove and cool in the fridge for later.

In the end the Chile Verde gets ladled into the sopes, naturally cascading over the sides onto the plate and topped with cilantro, Queso Fresco (wonderful Mexican cheese that crumbles and is slightly salty), a little sour cream and our homemade pickled carrots and jalapenos. I served a side salad with a fresh lime vinaigrette to round out the plate.

Chile Verde Pork over homemade sope.

Chile Verde Pork over homemade sope.

Someone at the table remarked “I’ve never tasted anything like this!”.  It’s so very delicious.  This is the third time I’ve made it.  Once was for a theme dinner while Ms. A was out of town…a Gentleman’s Dinner with all my guy buddies.  We chowed down on Chile Verde and margaritas and then passed a guitar around the table as an impromptu song circle.

Try it you’ll like it!  Guy Fieri’s original recipe is HERE, but feel free to mangle it to your taste.  I do.  (He only used two jalapenos…not enough for heat).  Ciao for now.  CG

Closing Time At Donn’s Depot

I'll have the usual...a warm cognac at the end of the night.

I’ll have the usual…a warm cognac at the end of the night.

Here I am in my corner of the world at the end of a Monday night. I play the piano, I sing, and on a good Monday night awesome guests come by and perform little mini-sets with me. Tonight was slow but special. Jon Emery (The King of Hillbilly Rock and Roll) played “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave”, my lovely wife sang a song she wrote for my mom and Marcia Ball took hold of the piano (I switch to guitar) and did a sweltering version of “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”. Even the slow nights are memorable to say the least. My nightcap awaits. Ciao for now. CG

An Austin musician who cooks starts a blog…it could happen!

The author with his trusty Yoda

The author with his trusty Yoda

I’m proud to launch my musicianfoodie blog from beautiful south Austin, Texas, where the rain has cooled the yard from 100 degrees down to about 85, the cats are inside sleeping and the lovely Ms. A has gone off to play her weekly show at El Mercado. As she’s finishing up I’ll jump in the shower and head over to my weekly show at Donn’s Depot, where I’ve sat at an old Yamaha grand piano for the last 18 years singing my heart out. I hope to be interesting at the very least, and share photos and videos from Donn’s Depot, MoonHouse Studio, Albert and Gage shows, backstage with Jerry Jeff Walker….oh, and I’m a darn good cook and a hobby photographer. Recipes and photos will be be a part of the experience. Ciao for now. CG