Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Turkey Chili

While there are many foods that are appropriate for winter, i.e. casseroles, soups, Christmas cookies, etc, the quintessential cold-weather dish is chili. Chili can be prepared a hundred different ways, but there are some rules. First, don't be in a hurry. This isn't a 30-minute meal, to quote someone who I absolutely cannot stand. Don't get me and Bourdain started on that one. You must simmer chili for at least 60 minutes to fully permeate the entire residence in which it is being prepared. Secondly, it must be manufactured in large quantities. If you're gonna make chili, either do so for a crowd or break out the tupperware for leftovers.

An enameled cast-iron pot is preferred, or stainless steel. You never want to use non-anodized aluminum cookware for acidic foods, unless you like that dissolved aluminum taste.

December 21st brings the astronomical start of winter, when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun. So while it might not feel like it, from now until June 21st, the days are getting longer. Bring it on old man winter, me and my chili can take it.

Turkey Chili
8 servings

3 medium yellow onions, diced (2.5 C)
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced
2 lbs. ground turkey
4 TB tomato paste
1/4 C dry red wine
29 oz. kidney beans
29 oz. pinto beans
29 oz. canned diced tomato, juice included
1 TB cumin, powdered
2 ts. chili flakes
3 TB chili powder (I used medium heat)
1 TB ancho chili powder-UPDATE-a bit of this is good stuff!
2 ts oregano, dried
S&P, to taste

Coat a large pot with EVOO over medium heat, add the onions and cook for a few minutes until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and stir for a minute, then add the turkey and cook until browned, drain all but 1 TB of fat. Add the tomato paste to the middle of the pot, stir for a couple minutes to develop flavor. Deglaze the pan with the wine, add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, uncovered, for 60-90 minutes. Stir occasionally, and if not spicy enough to your liking, add some cayenne pepper or a dash or two of your favorite hot sauce.

My favorite way to dress a bowl of chili? Some raw onion, fresh jalapeno, freshly shredded extra sharp Wisco cheddar, a dollop of sour cream. Where else can you use the word dollop?

A good pairing would be Ravenswood Zinfandel, Vitner's Blend. And don't forget the cornbread, saltines, or oyster crackers.

Please do enjoy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pork Tenderloin, Onion Apple Bacos Relish, Parmesan Shallot Mash Taters

The pan-seared, oven-roasted pork tenderloin is a great canvas for the current season's flavors. This recipe was the result of pretty much just throwing whatever was left in the cupboard/freezer together and hoping for the best.

From Soupe a l'oignon, http://bltlobster.blogspot.com/2009/10/soupe-loignon.html we know a good way to caramelize onions. After making my last batch of chicken stock overnight in the slow cooker, of which I am now depleted due to Thanksgiving, I thought onions might become divine in the same manner, about 8-10 hours on low. I started mine on high for an hour, then down to low for about 9 hrs. And just like the chicken stock, I was waking up on the hour wondering what the hell was going on. My favorite application for these slowly caramelized onions is as follows: take a high quality sandwich roll, slather on some horseradish-black pepper mayo, pile on some thinly sliced roast beef, thinly sliced red onion, the very extra sharpest you can find aged Wisconsin cheddar, maybe lettuce and tomato if you wanna get crazy, and a solid hunk of caramelized onion. The Earl of Sandwich would approve. And then keep gambling without having to touch his meat.

Pork Tenderloin, Onion Apple Bacos Relish
two servings w/scant leftovers

1 C caramelized onion
1/2 ts garlic, minced
1 red delicious apple, cored, 1/2" slices
3 TB quality balsamic vinegar, divided
1 TB light brown sugar
1/3 ts cassia cinnamon
freshly cracked black pepper
3/4-1 lb. pork tenderloin, silverskin removed
2 ts crumbled bacon, about 3 small pieces rendered

Contains no real bacos. Freshly cooked bacon, crumbled. God's candle, that's what that is. Throw in some onion, them's angels singin.

The slow-cooker onions, once cooled overnight. Sweet, sweet onions, what would I ever eat without you. I agree it might resemble dog food, but that where the similarity ends. That's if you've ever eaten dog food. I have. And a dog treat. The treat was better, which is probably why I get along with dogs.

Fire up the hotbox to four honey. Get a skillet over medium-high heat for bout 4 minutes, then coat with evoo. Sear the loin on all sides, two minutes on each larger surface, and one minute on each side. Place into a baking dish and place in oven for 12-15 minutes or until about 145 F at the thickest.

In the same skillet, toss in the onion, apple and garlic over medium-low heat, deglaze with 2 TB balsamic vinegar and stir for a minute. Add in the brown sugar, cinnamon, S&P. Cook the apple mixture, breaking up the apples into dice size, for about 8-10 minutes. Add the last TB of balsamic near the end of the cooking time.

Remove pork from oven, cover loosely with foil an rest 5 minutes. Pour any escaping jus into the apple mixture.

Slice the pork, place the apple onion mixture on top, sprinkle with bacon, and please do enjoy.

Serve with Parmesan Shallot Mash Taters, which will be posted soon.

Gravy Lake, a favorite vacation spot for all ages!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Italian Sausage and Peppers, Rosemary-Thyme Romano Bread

One year for the Holidays I was given a gift cert from work for $75. For the Olive Garden. Even with the never-ending salad and breadstick bullshit, it's bad. Just bad. Like suburban New Jersery bad. In an attempt to turn a lemon into lemonade I tried to buy a bottle of gin from the bar for $75, hoping to find the bar manager realizing my predicament and wanting to turn a buck. No deal, however, so we actually ate there. I had nightmares for a solid month.
Sausage and Peppers Rustica is a classic on their menu. This recipe tastes nothing like it. Which is to say, it doesn't suck.

Sausage and Peppers Rustica
four servings

2-3 links hot or sweet Italian sausage, sliced about 1"
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
4 cups pasta sauce
1 lb. pasta
parmigiano reggiano

Rosemary-Thyme Romano Bread

1 TB Penzeys Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle
1/2 ts fresh rosemary or 1/4 ts dry
1/2 ts fresh thyme or 1/4 ts dry
black pepper
6 slices French bread

Saute the sausage in a generous pour of evoo over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side or until well browned. A splatter screen is about 80% effective against grease splatter, and 80% better than zero is a wise choice. I mean, you do fry bacon, right? Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from heat onto something lined with paper towel.

Toss in the peppers and onions. stirring well for 30 seconds, then turn down the heat to medium. Cook the veg for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure the peppers are not cooked to become soft. Add the pasta sauce and stir, then simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes while the pasta cooks.

Cook pasta according to directions, then add to the sauce mixture with a little bit of the cooking water, about 1/4 cup. Stir over medium-low heat for a couple minutes to incorporate.

Serve with parm reg shaved on top and the herb cheese bread, once broiled. A Californian merlot or a Zinfandel would pair well.

Olive Garden. YGBFKM. What's next? Red Lobster? Applebee's? Chili's? Do you really think Guy Fieri eats at TGI Friday's? I don't think so.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Sliders

With your typical Thanksgiving meal, there is usually way too much culinary landscape to traverse and savor it all properly. My favorite part, outside of time with fam and the James Bond marathon, is the leftover turkey sammich. There's no recipe for this, it must be assembled with whatever you have leftover. Multi-grain roll, cold turkey, cold stuffing, warm gravy, fresh black pepper. That is what I am talking about. Roger Moore is classic, but Daniel Craig is badass. And no, George Lazenby doesn't get any votes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Turkey and Spinach Stuffed Cannelloi

Do you have a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of merlot or zinfandel that doesn't know what to do with themselves?

Turkey Spinach Stuffed Cannelloni

16 large cannelloni or manicotti
1 LB. ground turkey
8 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and sans liquid
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, minced
8 oz. mozzarella, shredded
8 oz. ricotta
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 TB fresh basil, minced finely, or 2 ts dried basil
1 ts dried oregano
3 C pasta sauce
1/2 C parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated

Fire up the hotbox to 375 F. Brown the turkey over medium heat on the stovetop, set aside to cool slightly. Cook the pasta shells until al dente, toss with EVOO so they don't stick together. Ensure the spinach has most of the liquid removed, chop finely and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the turkey, garlic, onion, ricotta, mozzarella, egg, basil, oregano, and S&P to taste and mix well.

Place a few spoonfuls of pasta sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish. Stuff the shells with the mixture using a spoon, or place mixture in a plastic bag and snip the corner to pipe the shells, which is way easier than using the spoon method. And why did I just think of that now?

Top the shells with more pasta sauce and then the parmigiano-reggiano, reserving a little.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese has browned. Top with remaining parm cheese and let cool for 5 minutes. Grab that crusty bread and a glass of Ravenswood California Zinfandel, get yourself a couple shells, and enjoy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Peppered Pork Tenderloin Crostini with Mango-Red Onion Marmalade

Recipes for party appetizers that can be prepared ahead of time are great for spending time with your guests instead of spending time with your stove. Yes, I did cut and paste that directly from Martha Stewart's website. The variations to something-on-a-crostini are endless of course, this version can be modified however you like. The contrast of the peppery bite to the sweet tang of the mango-red onion marmalade is quite tasty. There will be leftover marmalade, and that will be a good thing. The taste of the end result is a contradiction to how easy these guys are to make.

Pork Tenderloin Crostini with Mango-Red Onion Marmalade-
makes twenty pieces

Mango-Red Onion Marmalade-
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 cup dry red wine
3 TB red wine vinegar
1/2 ts salt
1/2 C mango, finely diced
1 ts fresh cilantro, chopped

In a large saucepan, sweat the onion in EVOO over medium-low heat until softened, about 20 minutes. Add the sugar and stir until incorporated. Next, add the red wine vinegar and then the red wine, stirring while adding. Add a pinch of salt and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, until the onions are dark and caramelized. Remove from heat and add the mango once cool. Can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Pork Tenderloin-
1 tenderloin, about 1 lb, silver skin removed
2 TB freshly-cracked black pepper
1 TB kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 F, place rack in lower third of oven. The tenderloin should be at room temperature, out of the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Spread the pepper on a sheet pan and roll the tenderloin to coat evenly. Sprinkle on all sides with salt. If using a thermometer, insert into thickest part of loin. Bake until the internal temp is 145 F, remove from oven and tent lightly with foil for 15 minutes. Transfer to fridge and cool for about 2-3 hours. Once cool, slice about 1/3" thick.

1 large French baguette, sliced about 1/2" thick on the bias

Toast the baguette slices on a grill pan or under the broiler on each side. Place a slice of the pork tenderloin on each slice, then top with the marmalade. A small sprig of cilantro on top of that and you have pretty food. I skipped that step, as they looked tasty enough for me at that point.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Soupe a l'Oignon

Ahh french onion soup. Did you know they just call it onion soup in France? Amazing. I bet in China they don't call it Chinese food, it's probably just called food.

After numerous attempts and multiple tweaks, I've finally found the proper ingredients and method, as even my good friend Mr. Alton Brown's version is too apple-cidery for me. The key is to give the onions plenty of time to caramelize...and I'm talking hours. Yes, 20-30 minutes will caramelize onions, but if Julia Child and Shirley Corriher insist on doing it a certain way, and you want to eat properly, you'd better listen. There's not much hands-on time in those hours anyway, something to do on days meant for this kind of thing, usually they're called Sundays.

The bouquet garni is optional, however since it's french, I thought it appropriate. One garlic clove, smashed, sprinkled with a TB of herbs-oregano, rosemary, thyme, wrapped up in cheesecloth and tied shut. This little gift will impart nice fresh flavor and then you toss it out, nice and easy. Whatever herbs you have will work.

Interesting Tom Skilling fact that proves 2009's weather is completely F'd- For the first October since 1883, Chicago experienced 19 days of rain. Oh the joy.

Soupe a l'Oignon
4 servings

5-6 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 TB unsalted butter
2 TB evoo
3 C beef stock
2 C chicken stock, homemade preferred
4 TB brandy
1/3 C dry white wine
sliced french baguette bread, toasted on one side, cubed if desired, or large croutons
2/3 C Gruyere, shredded

Melt the butter in a large saute pan with the olive oil over low heat and toss in the onions. Did you know sauter is french for 'jump'? That technique should not be used here, just thought you'd like to know. You don't want your onions jumping. After 30-40 minutes, deglaze the pan with your liquid of choice- I like to use brandy, dry white wine, and water, in that order. First, 4-5 TBS of brandy, scraping up the fond well. The second time, after another 30 minutes or so, use about 1/3 C of dry white wine. Continue to caramelize for another 60 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes and adding a little bit of water every 20 minutes or so. You want to do this over low heat, ensuring the onions are not burning. The onions should be very dark-

Add the stocks and bouquet garni, if using, and bring to a bare simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Toss the garni and ladle the onion soup into ovenproof crocks. Add the bread, toasted side up and then dump a generous amount of Gruyere on top. Place under a preheated broiler on full whack for about 3-5 minutes, rotating to toast evenly. Let sit for a couple minutes and then get a spoon. Tout le plaisir est pour moi.

The real deal in its native country, a nice treat after climbing 674 stairs of the Eiffel Tower-

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Turkey Mushroom Loaf

When it comes to meatloaf, the standard is made with the usual trio of meats- ground chuck, ground veal, and ground pork. I was pretty skeptical about this one, especially since I'm not a huge fan of the fungus. I played sous chef for this one, thanks Kate for one of the best meatloafs I've ever had. This version is a little lighter in calories than the usual and plenty tasty. Sometimes the best part of making meatloaf is having leftovers for sandwiches. I prefer mine cold with a little extra glaze. The glaze is absolutely necessary, and reminds me of the loaf I know the most, with the ketchup and parmesan. A loaf without glaze? Be like the Gladys Knight without the Pips.

Turkey Mushroom Loaf

1 C low-sodium chicken broth
2 C cubed day old crustless french bread, or fresh slightly toasted to dry out a little
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 TB evoo
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 shallots, minced (about 1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TB fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 TB fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 ts kosher salt
1 ts fresh black pepper
1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb. ground turkey breast


1 TB evoo
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
1/4 C ketchup
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB dijon or brown mustard

Fire up the hotbox to treefitty. In a a large mixing bowl combine the bread and broth, turning to coat, and let sit 5-10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix lightly. Meatballs, meatloafs, burgers, etc. should always be mixed by hand with a minimal amount of pressure and time, until just combined thoroughly.

Gently shape the mixture into a meatloaf pan that is lightly greased with your fat of choice. Mine is olive oil Pam, which works great on the grill and everywhere else. Form a mound in the middle of the loaf so the fat will run off the sloped sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment for easy cleanup. Cover with the glaze, there should be a bit left to reserve.

The cooking time will depend on the size of your meatloaf pan. Mine is 9L X 5W X 3 H and the cooking time was about 70 minutes, or bake until the internal temp is 165 F. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Enjoy that.

With the earthy flavor of the shroom and herbs in this loaf I'd go with a Pinot Noir here, my favorite of which come from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. More day-to day affordable options would be from the Russian River Valley in Cali. Or drink what you like, the best wine advice you'll ever get.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cheddar Ale Soup

If you like hot weather and you live in the Midwest, 2009 was pretty crappy. A chilly summer, and so far one of the coolest openings to October on record. You gotta love Tom Skilling and his ability to always rank something. There is a reason he has reached cult status.

I guess the two weeks with no rain in September was our summer. Sweet. Good thing I am not a super fan of hot weather. 2009's September? 5th driest on record. (data from Midway airport since 1928)

Today is 53 F and rainy, the perfect background to cook up a big batch of Fat Tire Cheddar Soup. I'll actually embrace the shitty weather if I can eat things like this. Comfort food? Everything you eat should be of comfort in some fashion. If not, why are you eating it?

I like to double or even triple the recipe. The texture will not be as smooth when reheating, as the cheese gets a little stringy, but I'm okay with that. Having a little hidden away in the freezer for a quick snack or hearty lunch is not a bad thing.

This recipe is definitely starting in the right direction with two of my favorite things-

If you have a food pro, shredding your own cheese is much more flavorful than pre-shredded. Plus making salsa would be a pain in the ass, so get a food pro if you don't have one. But only if you have a dishwasher too.

Fat Cheddar Soup

serves 4-6

4 TB unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
1/3 C AP flour
1 3/4 C milk (1% for me)
1 3/4 C chicken stock (homemade preferred, or you can Sandra Lee that shit and go semi-homemade by flavoring some store-bought, see the chicken wing post.
12 ounces Fat Tire beer
1 TB Worcestershire
1 ts mustard powder
1 1/4 lb. sharp cheddar
S&P, to taste
1/4 ts cayenne powder

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter and sweat the mirepoix until very soft, about 10-12 minutes stirring occasionally. Mirepoix is frenchy for 2 part onion to one part celery and one part carrot, cut to 2 mm pieces. I like to add a little S&P to flavor things at this point. Not too much salt though, or there will be too much liquid drawn out and it will become soupy. Which is ironic, but not what you want yet, you don't want to boil your mirepoix.

Add the flour and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes, making sure all the flour is incorporated. Turn the heat up to medium-high and whisk in the milk and stock. You can keep the milk and stock slightly warm on a back burner to speed up the process of bringing this mixture to a boil.

Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer, stir often for about 10 minutes, until thickened a bit.
Puree with a stick blender until smooth. Or, make a huge mess while using your blender. Curse and go buy a stick blender. Strain through two fine colanders or cheesecloth. I find cheesecloth way too intense, doubling up a few fine-mesh colanders is easier. (Straining is optional, but does improve texture) We're not trying to make baby food here, although if you did you'd have one damn happy baby. Jack? Lauren? Oh you guys can't read yet...
Return the soup mixture to the stove over medium heat. Add the ale, Worcestershire, mustard, and a little S&P. Simmer for a about 5 minutes, then turn down heat to low.

Add the shredded cheddar about a handful at a time, stirring to melt thoroughly after each addition. Check seasoning and adjust with more S&P if necessary. Ladle soup into bowls and dust with cayenne. Serve with some crusty bread and a cold beer. Enjoy the next 6 months of slippers and blankets! (there's a rumor this winter I can't keep my thermostat at 63 F, so the blanket might be optional)

Monday, October 5, 2009


It's Oktoberfest time. Nothing like a beer-centric festival that lasts not just one or two days, but for a week or more. Those crazy Germans. So grab your supplies-sausages, potatoes, and plenty of beer, and let's bid adieu to shorts and caprese salads in favor of sweaters and Fat Cheddar Soup.

This version of potato salad uses a little bit more vinegar and mustard than most, it can be served hot or cold, I prefer the latter. Oh, and I fried up the bacon in a little bacon fat, not only to be a little ridiculous but also to bring in a deeper, smokier flavor. You do have some bacon fat in the fridge, right?

What does Hot Doug say about encased meats?

Beer-Simmered Brats-

1 yellow onion, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
10-12 ounces beer per 2 bratwurst, (usually MLite, High Life, or Old-Style, yet this time with some Leine's Oktoberfest-3 of those and two MLites)
Pinch of peppercorns
1 ts whole mustard seeds
10 uncooked brats

Pierce brats with a fork. In a large pot layer the bottom with onion and garlic, place the brats on top and then cover with the beer. Toss in the peppercorns and mustard seeds and bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring every few minutes for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes or so. Grill over medium-direct heat for 8-10 minutes, or until slightly charred, turning often. The proper condiments- sauerkraut, the onions from simmering, and brown spicy mustard. Prosit.


What smells better than onions and bacon frying in a skillet? A bacon-scented candle just made it to my Christmas list.

German Potato Salad
serves 6-8

2 lbs. baking potatoes, peeled, medium dice
1/3 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C whole grain mustard
1/4 C white sugar
1 C yellow onion, finely diced
1/4 C green onion, finely diced
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
4-6 hard boiled eggs, optional

Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and cover by one inch with cold water. Add a few pinches of salt and simmer until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Rinse immediately with cold water once tender until cool to the touch. Over medium heat render the bacon until crisp in a saute pan, add the yellow onion and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the vinegar to the pan and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the fond, or the browned bits of bacony goodness. Add the sugar and stir to combine, then remove from heat. Combine the rest of the ingredients and fold until mixed thoroughly, don't mix too much or too rough, otherwise you'll have baby food.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Campfire Beef Stew

I've cooked a lot of meals while camping, mostly using my trusty green Coleman campstove that has 15- yr. old blueberry pancake batter still clinging to it. The grate over the fire is an easy way to sear steaks and veggies and anything you like to grill, yet even that becomes quite the mess to clean up. The best method requires the simplest cleanup, which is foil packets placed directly on hot coals.

One of my most memorable meals was during a spring break in college, camping with some buddies in the Appalachians. We were fortunate enough to hook some rainbow trout out of the very stream which kept our beers cold. You've never used skate laces to tether a few thirty-packs of Busch Light together? That's way better than spring break at Myrtle Beach or Panama City or wherever the else the Chads and Trixies like to flock. Anyway, back to the trout. Once cleaned up, they were double-wrapped in foil with just butter. No garlic, no lemon, no seasonings, we had nothing but butter. And that was the best damn trout I've had, and will most likely not be topped. I do think one of man's most important accomplishments is our position at the top of the food chain. As long as you make sure the entrails and other discarded parts are far away from your campsite, that is. Otherwise those bears will move you down the chain a little.

Campfire Beef Stew

2-3 servings
1-1.5 lbs chuck stew beef, cubed into 1" pieces
2 small red potato, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 can Campbell's Cream of Mushroom + 1 can water
1/2 can Campbell's Cream of Celery + 1/2 can water
Parsley, rosemary springs
Herbes de Provence, pinch or two

Lay out about a foot piece of heavy duty foil and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Place the meat and veggies on the foil, then the soups and then herbs and seasoning. Fold the ends and sides of the foil to seal. Tear off another piece and wrap again, seam placed down. Seal the ends tightly, however make sure there is some room in the foil for steam. Keep cold until ready to eat, make sure to place in a plastic bag if throwing in the cooler.

Once you have some white-hot coals glowing, move some over to the side of the campfire and spread out in an even layer. Place each packet on coals for about 12 minutes, then turn for another 10-12 minutes. Open carefully, then dump into a serving bowl and if you'd like, as we do, top with shredded cheddar. Reach into the cooler, grab yourself a nice cold Miller High Life, and enjoy being outside of four walls and a roof.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBQ Chicken Pizza

This is one of my favorites only because it might be Kate's favorite. It's a great variance from the usual tomato sauce-based pizza.

There are plenty of recipes for homemade pizza dough out there on that world wide web, in books and magazines, they run the gamut from simple to 2-day projects. Yes, overnight fermentation does develop more yeasty flavor. Sometimes there just isn't enough time for that, however at least allow yourself a couple hours for the simple method, much more rewarding than those store-bought crusts.

The key to replicating a thin, crispy crust is heat. You know those Italian wood-fired brick ovens can reach 800° F, and the fancy commercial ones can get even hotter. There’s been a recent influx of artisan pizza joints in Chicago- Spacca Napoli, Great Lake, Coalfire. Piece in Wicker Park was one of the first, specializing in New Haven-style pizza, and brewing their own award-winning beer certainly helps. If you want to actually sit down (Great Lake) and don't want to drop $20 or more on a pie, then DIY. You just need to crank up that oven and use a pizza stone. Unglazed stone quarry tiles work too, just don't get the super-thin cheap stones as they tend to crack after a few uses. Trust me, you need a stone for baking any pizzas or breads. And you’ll need a pizza peel too. It might take a pie or two to get the hang of it, I certainly started out with an ugly pie from not using enough cornmeal, which results in your dough sticking to the peel, not something you want to experience.

Lots of recipes call for straight AP flour. I prefer to use bread flour, the higher amount of gluten is important for the crispy texture. And instead of AP flour, I like to use whole-wheat, to make it a little healthier. Refined white flour is the devil, you know. That and high-fructose corn syrup. After experimenting with different ratios I like a 50/50 mix of bread flour to whole-wheat flour.

The time-consuming method-




The easier method-

1 packet dry active yeast

1 C warm water, 105-110 F

1 ts honey

1.25 C bread flour, King Arthur preferred

1.25 C whole-wheat flour

1 ts oregano

1ts red chili flakes

1 ts salt

For the pizza-

1 C BBQ sauce, Sweet Baby Ray’s preferred

1.5-2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced

1/3 red onion, thinly sliced

2 C mozzarella, shredded

2 TB cilantro, roughly chopped


Black pepper

Stir the yeast, honey, and water in a small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes until foamy. Combine the flours, oregano, chili flakes, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer or other large bowl and stir with a whisk attachment to mix thoroughly. Add the yeast mixture and stir until incorporated. Mix for about 5 minutes using a dough hook on speed 2, until the dough forms a ball and clears the sides of the bowl. The dough should climb up the hook and be smooth and elastic. You know the dough is ready when it passes the transparency test-you pinch off a small piece and if it will stretch out to the point where light passes through without it breaking, you’re good to go. If you don’t have a stand mixer, once all the ingredients are incorporated knead for 10 minutes on a lightly-floured surface.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly-oiled bowl, rolling it around to cover the ball with oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a somewhat warm, draft free area. Let proof until doubled in size, about 1.5 hrs.

Preheat your oven to 500° F with the stone on a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Punch down dough and let rest for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out into something that resembles a round shape, perfection is not important. Your dough should be about a 12” round and about ½” thick. Transfer to a pizza peel that has been dusted with cornmeal, keeping the shape as best as possible. If the dough springs back too much, let rest for 10 minutes and try again.

Once shaped, cover dough with BBQ sauce, stopping about 1” from the edge. Use a spoon to spread the sauce evenly, don’t over do it here. You might need a little more or less than 1 C, eyeball it. Spread the chicken over, then some of the red onion, then the mozzarella. Add the rest of the onion on top of the cheese. Slide the pizza onto the stone and bake for a total of 6-8 minutes, until cheese is all bubbly goodness. After 4 minutes you might have to rotate the pizza 180° if your oven is not browning evenly.

Top with the cilantro, some parmegiano-reggiano and black pepper. Let rest 3-5 minutes, then slice it up and enjoy.

Finally- Never wash your stone with soap and water! You will have some black spots from baking things, burnt cornmeal, etc. That is okay, just scrape off as best you can once cool enough to handle. If you wash with soap and water, anything you bake on that will taste like Palmolive. That’s not tasty.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Annual Bacon Party

The First Annual Bacon Party was a fantastic occasion to salute the pork belly.

I think I do need 365 days between annual events. Given more time to prepare, there certainly could have been bacon overload, given all the recipes out there. Some are novelty, i.e. the bacon-infused vodka, some are practical, i.e. the bacon bloody Mary. The bacon cupcakes, bacon brownies, bacon jello, and bacon mousse fall somewhere in there too. Maybe for the second edition.

Nueske's Bacon is some of the best bacon around. The smoke flavor is prominent, mostly applewood mixed with some other hardwoods. And it's not expensive at $5.99/lb. And you'll experience much less shrinkage with this good stuff. Thanks for another culinary treasure, Wisconsin.

The cooking got going early, and soon the aroma was so fantastic it was only 10AM, yet seemingly out of nowhere I had a BLT already half-eaten. No worries though, all the cooked bacon was rested on and patted with paper towel, thus rendering (pun intended) the entire menu low-calorie and thus healthy.

At this point I'm wondering how often I should change my oven fan filter. Unless you have a proper oven fan, those microwave fans don't do shit. Except vaporize bacon grease all over my cabinets.

Once everyone signed the release form, we were ready to go. Thanks to the hosts for adding Caesar salad and grilled blackened chicken to bring some sanity to the affair.

Let the bacon degustation begin-

Bacon-wrapped Chicago dogs
Bacon-wrapped spicy shrimp
Bacon candy


The BLT dip was modified from a Paula Deen recipe. I just added a couple ingredients and omitted the two sticks of butter. Actually there was no butter in this recipe, shocking y'all. The salt and pepper amounts are subject to your taste, I prefer a lot of freshly cracked black tellicherry peppercorns. And salt is on the moderate side as in most recipes, and always kosher unless specified otherwise. I added an extra pinch than specified below, as usual taste until your sodium quotient is met.

1 C mayonnaise
1 C sour cream
2 TB plus 1 ts green onion, sliced thin
1/2 ts garlic powder
1 ts kosher salt
1 ts black pepper
1 C iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 lb. bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
Sea salt bagel chips

Combine the mayo and sour cream into a small bowl and refrigerate for about an hour, allowing the flavors to mingle. Once chilled add 2 TB of the green onion, the garlic powder, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Layer into a square serving dish about 9x9". I just used a Pyrex baking dish and it worked out, you can also layer the ingredients in a more compact dish. Evenly distribute the lettuce over the mayo mixture, then the tomato, the bacon, and finally sprinkle the remaining green onion over the top. Serve immediately with sea salt bagel chips, toasted mini rye bread, wheat crackers, or just find a spoon. If you want to go to the top with this one toss some small chunks of blue cheese and diced caramelized onions.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicago Dogs

Much love to a hockey player with some 'Sconie in him for bringing these. That being said, I can only guess how they were made. I do know they were par-grilled and finished on the grill as well. Bacon, all-beef hot dogs stuffed with jack cheese, a pickle, a little celery salt, topped with caramelized onion. No tomato, sport peppers, mustard, or other Chicago dog ingredients. The bacon makes up for that and the pickle was enough for the moniker. This is some tasty encased meat. Just don't eat the blue toothpicks.

Bacon-wrapped Spicy Shrimp

There are an unlimited number of ways you could spice these, I thought a little smoked paprika and lemon would play nice on the grill. I used a mix of hot and sweet smoked paprika, something I do often. The shrimp I used were exactly 20 size, that is 20 per lb. Simple, easy, and delicious. The best way to cook and dine.

1/4 C white sugar
1/4 C lemon juice, about two medium lemons worth
1 ts lemon zest
2 TB olive oil
4 ts paprika
1 ts pepper
1 ts ground cumin
1 ts cayenne pepper
1 lb. uncooked 16/20 size shrimp, peeled and deveined
8-10 bacon strips, halved lengthwise

In a small bowl combine the sugar, lemon juice, oil and seasonings. Pour 1/4 cup marinade into a large plastic bag add the shrimp. Seal the bag while squeezing out most of the air, mix it up a bit and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Mix the shrimp up again and then roll up the bag and stick in the fridge for another 15-30 minutes. Just don't leave it in there for hours, this is not a ceviche. Throw the reserve marinade in a small bowl for basting later. Cook the bacon about half-way, until some fat is rendered but not crisp, still pliable. Wrap each shrimp with a piece of bacon and slide onto a flat metal skewer. You can use picks too, or long wooden pre-soaked skewers. I like the metal ones cause they are ready to go at all times. Coat grill rack with cooking spray and then grill over medium-high direct heat. After three minutes, baste with reserve marinade, and then turn after about two more, basting then also. Cook on the flip side for about 4 minutes, basting a couple times again, until the shrimp is pink and the bacon is crisp. Now that is tasty.

Bacon Candy

Bacon candy? AYFKM? Nope, I'm not FKY. Lots of recipes out there for this, some of which refer to this as the Devil's Delight...as it could only be made by Beezlebub himself. Or Bacon Lettuce Tomato.

12 strips bacon, chilled
3/4 C light brown sugar
1 TB medium chili powder
1/2 ts cayenne

Fire up the hotbox to 375 F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment, if you don't have parchment or wax paper you'll be buying another pan. Place a cooling rack over the pan to cook the bacon on. Mix the sugar and spices together and place on another rimmed sheet pan. Pat the bacon dry and dredge into the sugar spice mix, ensuring they are covered on both sides. Place onto the rack and bake for about 17-20 minutes, until the sugar is bubbly goodness. Let cool on the rack and then use a butter knife or metal pie knife to remove them whole. Cut them in half for smaller pieces. And enjoy the experience of umami.


I'm never making this again. Seriously. It's not that it didn't taste good, it just shouldn't be done. All yours.

Cooked, crisp bacon slices, halved
2/3 lb. milk chocolate morsels, Ghirardelli preferred

Melt chocolate over double boiler, dip bacon in and spoon over each side, covering completely but leaving a bacon handle. Place onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and cool, refrigerate after cooled to harden. If you are going to further decorate you should do that while the chocopork is still hot.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

International Bacon Day

One of the best Holidays of the year, International Bacon Day. The swine is so fine it is rejoiced around the world. This year the time to praise the pork belly is September 5th.


Years ago I went to this bacon party with a couple friends. This guy procured about 20 lbs. of Wisconsin applewood smoked bacon from Nueskes. He spent all day and half the evening frying and baking bacon...his apartment probably smelled like bacon for days. It was about this time of year, so the local heirloom tomatoes were in abundance and begging for the highest calling-BLT's. Combine those BLT's with a party ball of Bell's Oberon, grab some friends, and you've got yourself good times.

I think it's time to inaugurate the annual BaconParty-

September 7th.
Location- Probably where Hockey Night in Cabrini is held.
Menu- Bacon, bacon, and bacon. Bacon explosion will make its debut.
Theme-Most people will just call it a Labor Day BBQ, but we all understand the real reason to be festive.

Bacon Fest Chicago is October 25th. See you there?


Friday, August 28, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken- it's certainly not pushing any culinary boundaries. But as a carrier of each chromosome I feel it must be done. The result was fantastic, even better than the juiciest oven-roasted chicken.

I tried to use Miller High Life as I do like the taste of the Champagne of Beers, yet I could not find a tallboy in my nearest mega-grocer's beer aisle. That is correct, you should use a 16 oz. beer can for increased stability. So Old Style was a good substitute here. And most recipes will tell you to pour off about 1/4 of the beer. Pour off? You mean pour into my beer mug?

You can certainly modify the rub to what you have and your preferred spice level. An easy way here was to use half smoked hot paprika and half smoked mild paprika, as my dinner companion prefers a moderate amount of heat. There might be a little rub leftover for future use, so I like to put a little aside that my raw-chickeny fingers haven't touched.

This size of the protein and thus cooking time necessitates indirect grilling for this recipe. Indirect grilling depends on your setup- with charcoal the food is placed in the middle with the briquettes to the side, a three-burner gas grill is used with the middle burner off. Most people, including myself, have a two-burner gas grill, indirect grilling is done using only one side.

Just to get more mileage out of my new grilling gadget, the smoker chip box, I employed that guy here also, throwing it onto the direct side of the grill with about 50 minutes left, so it smoked for about 35 minutes of the cooking time.

Beer Can Chicken

1 broiler/fryer chicken, about 4-5 lbs.
Canola oil
1 16 oz. beer can, about 3/4 full

1/2 TB smoked hot paprika
1/2 TB smoked mild paprika
1 TB kosher salt
1 TB onion powder
1/2 TB cayenne pepper
1/2 TB ground cumin
1 ts dried thyme
1 ts dried oregano
1 ts black pepper
1 ts garlic powder

Combine all rub ingredients into a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Separate about 1/4 of the rub, depending on the size of the bird.

Remove chicken from fridge about 20-30 minutes before you plan on grilling. Rinse chicken thoroughly and remove neck and giblets, then pat dry and place on a cookie sheet. Open your tallboy and take a few sips, removing about 4 oz. Make another hole in the beer can top with a church-key style opener. If you don't have one stab with something sharp and try not to injure thyself. Cover the chicken with canola oil, ensuring to get all up in those legs and wings and the cavity. Slowly work your fingers between the skin and breast so you can cover the entire breast with the rub. Work the rub over the entire chicken and the cavity as well. Toss about a teaspoon or two of the rub into the beer can...this will foam a little, so do this in the sink. You can spray or rub some oil onto the outside of the beer can too, this will ease the beer can extraction later.

Place the beer can onto the cookie sheet and work the chicken onto it. Using kitchen twine or silicone bands, tie up the ends of the legs and tuck the wings behind so they don't burn.

Fire up both sides of the grill for about 10 minutes. Once ready to grill, turn off one side and turn one side down to about medium-high, depending on the temperature. You want about 325-350 F with the lid closed. Throw an oven thermometer in there to be sure. You do have an oven thermometer, right?

Place beer can chicken onto indirect side of grill and close lid. You might want to get another one of those tallboys and stay close for the first bit, ensuring your bird isn't going to fall over. Use the two legs and can as a tripod, sort of like my friend's 3-legged dog. Okay, 3.5 legs to be fair.

After about 40 minutes, rotate the chicken so the other side faces the flame. Total cooking time will be about 75-90 minutes, depending on the size of bird and temperature of the grill.

Your dinner will be ready when the middle of the leg reaches 180 F, so removing from the grill at about 175 F will do, as the temp will increase a little once removed from the heat, covered with foil resting about 10 minutes.

Once rested for a bit, fold up that foil to hold the base of the beer can. Using another piece of foil backed with gloves or kitchen towels, pull the bird off the chicken. I forgot to oil the beer can, so I had to pull a little. Try not to disturb the skin too much, as we all know you eat first with the eyes. Don't forget about the juice that accumulated while the chicken was resting-pour that over the plated chicken.

Carve up and enjoy. Some couscous and grilled garlic bread served as perfect accompaniments for this easy weeknight dinner.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Corn and Tomato Salad

It's taken a while for the local tomatoes and sweet corn to ripen due to the cold summer here in Chicago. Once they are here, it's one of the best times of the year to enjoy fresh local produce. If you can get to a farmer's market to find heirloom tomatoes, I highly encourage their use in many ways. Well, of course a BLT. For 10 months of the year we are relegated to those store-bought tomatoes from CaliMexico. These varieties are bred for shelf life- the transport across the country and such. Have you ever tasted a tomato right off the vine? Sweet corn so fresh you could eat it raw? That is summer time. Fire up the grill, tune your radio to AM720, and listen to Pat and Ron discuss the futility of the boys in blue.

This salad has unlimited variations, and I in fact rarely serve it the same way twice. One ingredient not mentioned in the list, but may be recognized in the photo is blue cheese. You could put blue cheese on dog sh*t and I might eat it. Wait you can't say that.

Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Dressing
makes 6 servings

6 ears of sweet corn
5 medium tomato, heirloom preferred, seeded and chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2/3 C red onion, sliced or diced

1/4 C good EVOO
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
2 Tb fresh mint, chopped (optional)
2 TB white wine vinegar
1 TB lime juice
2 ts brown sugar, packed
1 medium garlic clove, minced

Grill the ears of corn over medium-high direct heat, turning every 4-6 minutes or so for a total of about 20-25 minutes. They should be moderately charred on all sides. The easiest way to slice corn off the cob is by placing on a bundt cake pan. Thanks Alton, but I still don't have a bundt pan. But you might.

Immersion blender sticks are great for making salad dressings, flavored oils, etc. No need to whisk oil in slowly to ensure the emulsion, you can take the lazier route if available. Much handier than a bundt pan.

Combine all dressing ingredients into cup and blend until smooth, or whisk in small bowl until incorporated.

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and toss it up. Serve immediately and enjoy your summer while it lasts.

Grilled Cedar-Planked Salmon

Even though it feels like fall, the calendar still reads August. So that means the grill is still in full use and the Cubs are out of the division race. Oh well, there's always next year.

Salmon is something I wished I ate more because it's damn tasty and it is good for you. Omega 3's are good for the heart, you know. I also wish that my budget could afford wild caught salmon instead of farm raised, I mostly buy the latter. The taste and price difference is prevalent! Almost every time I eat salmon at home, it is from grilling on a cedar plank. I bought these planks a few years ago and love them, especially for fish. Just be sure to soak them for at least 2 hours, preferably longer. Once I soaked a plank for only an hour, it ended up on fire. Good thing I bought four. Next time I'll try soaking in wine to see if that imparts more flavor.

Grilled Cedar-Planked Salmon

Salmon Filets
Vegetable Oil
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Lemon Slices

Depending on the size of your plank/filets, soak one or two planks in water for 2-3 hrs. Pat dry once ready and coat each side with vegetable oil.

Pre-heat grill to about 450 F for about 10 minutes. Place planks over direct medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.

As with all meat, allow some time between fridge and grill/oven/stovetop/campfire/engine block/whatever.

Coat salmon with olive oil and place on plank skin side down. Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Grill for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, then for about 5-8 minutes over medium-low heat, depending on the thickness and how you like your salmon. I like mine firm, somewhat well done. Keep the lid closed to prevent flare-ups, and keep that spray water bottle handy.

Once done, plate it up and throw a couple lemon slices over the salmon, squeeze a little lemon juice over that and enjoy.

Oh you need a condiment? Dill and salmon are good friends.

This time I just went with risotto that sports a Caitlin-style topping of parmeggiano reggiano. You don't still use that stuff in the round, green plastic container for parmesan cheese, do you? Find yourself a microplane and a hunk of parm-reg. Email me for where to send the thank you card.

Dill Sauce-

1/4 C mayo
1 TB fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 ts garlic, minced
1/4 ts shallot, minced
dash of lemon juice

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BLT bites

These little guys are fantastic party appetizers.

1/2 C mayo
6 0z. cream cheese, softened
1 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled.
1/4 C finely chopped green onion
2 TB finely chopped fresh parsley, reserved
1 ts fresh basil, chiffonade
20-24 cherry tomato
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 TB plain bread crumbs

Combine mayo, cream cheese, bacon, onion and 1.5 TB parsley into electric mixer bowl. Using the beater attachment, stir on speed 1 to combine.

Using a paring knife, core out each tomato as well as possible. I like to turn the tomato and keep the knife stationary, it seems easier that way. Stuff each tomato with a teaspoon or similar device.

In a small pan over medium heat, lightly toast bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of each stuffed tomato, then sprinkle with basil and parsley. Refrigerate for a couple hours. I have learned the hard way that if you keep them in the fridge overnight, it would be better to save the bread crumb topping for next day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Brined, Grilled Pork Chops

Brining pork chops is well worth the effort. So easy, so much flavor. These don't stand a chance once plated and you have silver in hand.

Brined Grilled Pork Chops

8 C cold water
1/2 C + 2 TB kosher salt
1/2 C light brown sugar
1 C orange juice
small handful of black peppercorns
fresh aromatics- a branch of rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, use what you have.
2 ~2" center cut pork chops

Combine first 4 ingredients into medium pot, heat until salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool completely. Add corns and herbs, stir to mix. Add chops, ensure they are submerged completely

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, up to 8 hours. Some people (Alton Brown) would say to turn the chops halfway through the process. I only do if possible.

Remove chops from brine and rinse well, then pat dry with paper towels. Prepare grill to medium high direct heat for 10 minutes, about 450 F. Rub some olive oil on all sides of chops, lightly cover with freshly cracked black pepper and a touch of kosher salt. Grill over medium direct heat for 7 minutes, rotating 45 degrees halfway. Turn heat down a little for the other side, grill 5-7 minutes or until internal temp reaches 145 degrees F at the thickest part. Let rest about 5 minutes before devouring.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mesquite-Smoked Chicken Wings

City living certainly constrains the outdoor cook. I would love to have room for a gas grill, charcoal grill, smoker, deep fryer, etc, however I could flip burgers on my balcony grill from indoors, that's about how much room I have. Looking for ways to impart more flavor to grilled items, I finally bought one of those smoker boxes and some mesquite wood chips. I thought for the first attempt I would keep things simple, no rubs, brines, or marinades. I wanted pure smoke. Holy sh*t was my grill smoking! The aroma of the chips smoking was amazing. I felt bad for my neighbors, but certainly not for long. Can't wait to try some ribs with this gadget.

I encourage you to buy things as whole and as close to what it actually looks like in nature as possible. Those prepackaged boneless, skinless chicken breasts? Might as well eat paper. If you're gonna buy a chicken, buy it whole and cut it up yourself. You save money and you get better quality. Homemade chicken stock? Yes please. That being said, buy the whole chicken wings so you have some wing tips to throw in next time you make stock. Or, a favorite shortcut of mine is to take low-sodium broth and add the tips and the usual veg and herbage, this will add tremendous flavor to store-bought stock. And if you don't have 8 hours on a lazy Sunday to make stock, use your crockpot. Just be ready to wake up at 3AM hungry and wondering where that delicious aroma is coming from!

Mesquite-Smoked Chicken Wings

Whole chicken wings or drummettes
olive oil
salt and pepper

Spicy Garlic BBQ sauce-

3-4 garlic cloves, slivered
1 ts chili pepper flakes
1 C Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce

No homemade BBQ sauce this time. In a small sauce pan, heat some olive oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and chili flakes, stir constantly for 30 seconds. Add BBQ sauce, reduce heat to low and barely simmer for 10-20 minutes, keeping warm.

Soak chips in water for 30 minutes.
Separate wings into 3 pieces, save tips for stock. Best way to do this is dislocate the joint, bend the joint over your forefinger by using your thumb and middle finger. Feel for where the joint is dislocated, make a small slice with a sharp knife. Place on cutting board (I hope you are not using your good wooden board for raw chicken) before cutting completely. Don't try to slice through completely while holding. Trust me. Once you slice a few, it's like riding a bike.

Add wings to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Coat evenly with salt and pepper.

Drain the chips and place into a metal box or use heavy-duty foil poked with a few holes. Fire up the grill to about 450°F after coating the grill with non-stick spray or oil. Grill over medium direct heat for about 16 minutes, turning twice. That spray water bottle you always keep near the grill for flare-ups? Yep, keep that handy. If the little guys get a little charred, no worries, the sauce will cover em anyway.

Toss cooked wings in a bowl with the sauce. Top with a little chopped green onion, serve with a blue cheese dip if you wish, but definitely a nice cold beer with these.