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 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?