Thursday, December 30, 2010

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

You've been anticipating it all day. You hope the time goes quick, because you can't focus on any tasks that require serious thinking, you can't give any other subject your undivided attention because of what's on your counter. The crock pot. You left it hours ago, probably in the early hours of the dark winter morning, not looking at all like a tasty dinner. But you know there's some delicious hiding behind an 8-1o hr cooking time. It greets you at the door, welcoming you home to become immediately immersed in porky delicious aromas. The chances of me speeding home on slow cooker meal night? Very good.

I don't really like to say crock pot, it just doesn't sound like it would taste good. So I shall refer to it as the slow cooker.

Winter time is prime time for the slow cooker. You know it's also great for parties to keep your balls warm. No one likes cold balls.

Most slow cooker recipes will have you put a good sear on your meat first, to develop a bit of flavor and texture. You can skip that step here, there's no need for searing since we're shredding the meat later, making this super easy.

You need an extra hour to stop off and see your parole officer? For recipes that say 8 hours and you need 9, bust out the timer and set it appropriately. You can have meat that was in the fridge sit out in a slow cooker, covered, for about an hour before you want to start cooking it. Anything longer than that you might be looking at a scene from Into the Wild.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
10-12 servings

1 large onion, chopped
1/2 C ketchup
1/3 C cider vinegar
1/4 brown sugar (packed, of course)
1/4 C tomato paste
2 TB smoked sweet paprika
1 TB smoked hot paprika
2 TB Worcestershire
2 TB dijon or yellow mustard
1.5 ts kosher
1.5 ts black pepper
5 whole cloves garlic, peeled
4 lb boneless pork shoulder roast, aka butt

sandwich buns
prepared BBQ sauce

Get out your big ass slow cooker and set to low (not warm). Add the chopped onion thru the garlic cloves, stir well to combine. Add the pork roast, turn to coat well. Depending on your model, you can expect to have pork ready to shred in 7-9 hrs. Damn easy that is.

When you are ready to shred, transfer the pork to a large bowl. Turn up the cooker to high and cover to bring the sauce to a slight boil. During this time, shred the pork with two forks. Add back to the sauce once it has thickened up a bit and cover. You can always add a squirt or two of your favorite BBQ sauce too, if needed. Once warmed through completely, time to build your slow cooker pulled pork BBQ sammiches.

I have exactly 5 bottles of this brand of BBQ sauce in my fridge right now. I'm a condiment whore. One shelf is just for mustard.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies

I'm sorry. I was supposed to give you this before Christmas, but I just couldn't get to it by then. On the bright side, if you didn't get anything as a gift this year, or you got socks and some lame tie or World's #1 Dad coffee mug, then you can think of this as a special, extra-inning prize. After all, you can still bake them for New Year's Eve festivities.

I've got a plan this year. All the holiday cookies, bars, cakes, muffins, pies, etc become breakfast. Give up that well-balanced nutritional breakfast and replace with the calories of sugars and fats in dessert form! Brilliant!

You do have to plan one day in advance, to freeze the logs for slicing into rounds. That's it. The rest is super duper easy. Don't like pecans? You can sub any other nut you like- walnuts, cashews, pistachios.

Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies
makes about 4.5 dozen

4 C AP flour
1.5 ts kosher salt
4 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
6 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1.25 C sugar
2 TB vanilla extract
2.5 C whole pecans

Fire up the hotbox to 350F. Coarsely chop 1 1/2 cups of the pecans and spread them on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or so, until the nuts are fragrant. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt, whisk to combine. Beat together the butter and cream cheese in your stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat for another minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the toasted pecans.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide the dough in half. Roughly shape each half into a 8-inch log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and place in the freezer until firm, about 4 hours, but overnight is best (can sit in the freezer for up to two weeks and about a month if wrapped and then placed in an airtight container). Preheat the oven to 350F with racks on the upper and lower thirds. Finely chop the remaining 1 cups of pecans. Unwrap one of the logs of dough and roll in the pecans. You're gonna hafta press them nuts real good to get em to stick to the log. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Space 1-inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake cookies for 18-20 minutes or until the edges are a lightly golden. Rotate the cookies halfway through, switch the sheets to the other rack and rotate them front to back as well. Let cool on the sheets for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining cookie dough. You can store these at room temp or in the fridge for a couple days, or freeze them for a few months. See you next year!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beer Coffee Chili

All I really want for Christmas is an internet connection. BLT has been on the shelf during a brief but frustrating diagnostical process. How does a network interface card just 'go bad' anyway? Sorry Santa, I had to get to Best Buy before you this year. Maybe you could bring me this instead?

Beer and coffee chili? Yes- this is Four Loko style! You have heard of this shit right? That's some nasty nasty crap in a can. I bet it tastes like a purple highlighter. And I bet there's a few college kids gettin fuckered up on it tonight. 4 beers in one can? That's convenient.

Don't be too cautious because of the coffee- it adds just a bit of depth, it's not coffee-flavored. I know you're not concerned about adding the beer.

Want to impress your date or got the boss coming over for dinner? (does anyone do that anymore?) Use better meat. Instead of ground beef, which is just fine in my book, you could get some nice (and cheap, still) blade steak, about 3/4" thick and cut into 3/4" cubes. Dry, season, and brown on all sides in hot oil, then toss in the chili using a slotted spoon.

Please ensure that you are using fresh, high-quality chili powder. Has yours been sitting in the cupboard for 9 months? That's not gonna be tasty. Replace your spices every six months, and go to a real store! That shit in the glass jar with the red top is shit. If you want to eat shit, then you can ignore this advice.

I have found a new love lately- a life-changer. Those resealable tomato paste tubes, in lieu of tiny little cans (where you might waste a good portion if not frozen away) that are a pain in the ass to open, are fantastic. Paste in a tube. Good work.

Gotta take Sparky for a walk? Worried about an unattended flame? No, not Clay Aiken. Instead of simmering on the cook top, you can park this in a low oven, bout 300F or so, for about 90 minutes. The gentle oven heat will not burn the chili while it is unstirred.

Oh yeah- almost forgot- remove the bay leaves before serving! That ain't gonna impress yo date.

Beer Coffee Chili
6-8 servings

1 TB butter
2 C onion, large dice (about 1 large, 2-3 med)
2 ts brown sugar
freshly cracked black pepper
2 bell peppers
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. 80% ground beef or sirloin
12 oz lager beer (High Life preferred)
1/4 C chili powder, medium
2 ts ancho chili powder
1 ts cayenne pepper
2 ts smoked sweet paprika
1/2 C black coffee
2 bay leaves
15 oz crushed tomatoes
40-50 oz mixed beans (I like pinto and kidneys)
1/4 C Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (optional)
Your favorite toppings

Get out that big ass cast iron skillet. Make sure you gots some tupperwares ready to go too, as one rule of making chili is to go large format. Over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the oil, cook the onions for a couple minutes stirring a couple times. Add the brown sugar and continue to cook, stirring occasioinaly, for about 7 minutes, until the sugars have caramelized a bit. Add the bell peppers in a layer, then the garlic. Season with S&P and let sit for a couple minutes, then turn the heat down to low and stir well, cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned, stirring often. Once the meat has browned, add the beer and scrape any fond on the bottom of the pot. Add the rest of the ingredients- seasonings, coffee, tomatoes, bay leaves, beans. Season again with salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered (barely a simmer) over low heat for at least 30 minutes, 60 minutes preferred. Stir occassionaly. When you is ready, spoon into servings bowls and then top with the good stuff- freshly shredded cheddar cheese, finely diced raw red onion, finely diced jalapeno (or habanero!) pepper, sour cream, oyster crackers, saltines, you can put herring on there if you like. And some of this would pair nicely.


Dressed up-

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pesto Baked Potato

Some people have a passion to hate the winter season, yet they live in it anyway with a constant stream of epithets towards the cold weather. Some of those people get smart and move to a warmer year round clime, or at least escape the East or Midwest during the chilly months. Some people don't mind the season that much, they know some days will be super ass cold and they deal with it, convincing themselves that it makes those 85F summer days so much appreciated. And then there's those that find winter their favorite time of year. I'm somewhere in-between.

Hunkered down for some some northerly flow the past few days, we've been enjoying some tasty meals that complement the season- of course chili and cornbread, this lovely sauced pasta, a good soup here with bacon and a very dear old friend in this savory soup, fat cheddar.

Sure, it's cold. Pitchers and catchers report in 6 weeks, and the days start getting longer in a mere 2. You'll be fine.

If you grew and harvested some basil this year, I pretty much forecasted your happiness here, which is the reason why we are here. You could have even made this in the meantime and you'd still not have exhausted your supply.

This method (without foil) will yield a nicely crispy skin with fluffy tater inside. You eat the skins, right?

Pesto Baked Potato
2 servings

2 large baking potatoes, rinsed and scrubbed
4 TB pesto
2 TB sour cream
freshly cracked black pepper
*2 large porterhouse steaks (optional, but highly recommended)

Fire up the hotbox to four hundo. With a small fork, poke some tiny holes all over the tubers, about 1/4" deep. Give em a nice oil rubdown, then sprinkle with S&P. Must use kosher or another large format like sea salt, you need the particle size for texture and taste. Place on a sheet pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until fork tender, turning after 20 minutes.

If you want to continue your relationship with the roof of your mouth, let sit for about 5-7 minutes. Split lengthwise with a sharp knife, then give it a good squeeze to scrunch up from the ends and mash up a bit. Add about 2 TB pesto per tater, top with 1 TB sour cream, a few julienned basil leaves, freshly cracked black pepper.

What's your opinion of dibs? Think it trashy? Necessary, after your efforts digging out your car? Not sure of the Chicago tradition?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Butternut Squash, Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Pizza

It's December 1st. Welcome to official Meteorological winter! And I'm officially tired of eating turkey soup, turkey hash/casserole, turkey anything at this point. Well, I didn't tire of those cold turkey sammiches during the first couple days right after Thanksgiving. And pumpkin pie or cheesecake for breakfast is almost a necessity, pairs well with some hot coffee. Next year there will be more time devoted to the game plan for the leftovers, which really are the reason for the season.

After re purposing the leftover turkey meat, it is time to get back to a much-loved staple. Another day, another pie. What to put on your tombstone this time? We've already done this and this and this. Perhaps a seasonal approach? Find some stuff that tastes good and throw it on top, you can't really go wrong there. There's cheese on it too, so you know it's gonna be good. If you make this pizza, you will like it. It is delish. And that's easy.

So it's winter time, cold air does not hold as much moisture as warmer air, your doughs might need an extra ts or so of water. If you weigh your flour, good for you. I know this guy would be proud.

Oh, and buy some good cheese for this too- freshly shredded, of course. Buy some cheap shit and you'll taste it. You can't polish a turd, you know.

Butternut Squash, Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Pizza

1 butternut squash, halved, seeded
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 TB butter, divided
1.5 C Gruyere
1/2 C mozzarella
1/4 C parmigiano reggiano
1/4 C EVOO
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 ts red chili flakes
black pepper
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
handful of cremini or button mushrooms, about 1 C, sliced

pizza dough, the quick method-
2.5 C bread flour
1 C warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 ts honey
1 ts dried thyme
1/2 ts kosher salt

Measure out 1 C of warm water, add 1 ts honey and stir to incorporate. Add the yeast and give it a stir, let sit until foamy, about 5-7 minutes. During this time, add the flour, salt and thyme to the bowl of your stand mixer. Whisk to combine, then add yeast water mixture and give that a stir. Then with the dough hook attachment, stir on speed 2 (or low) for 5 minutes. Once the dough is nice and shiny and the gluten has developed, turn out onto your board and knead with your hands for a couple of minutes. You always want to give your pizza doughs a couple minutes by hand. It's for both practical reasons and just because. I like to speed up the process (a full 10 min) using the stand mixer but finish it off with a personal touch. Form a nice tight ball with the dough, place into a lightly-oiled bowl and roll it around to oil it up, then cover with a clean kitchen towel and place into a somewhat warm, draft free area until doubled in size, about 1.5 hrs. Punch down to release the gas and then let sit until needed. Can be parked in the fridge for a few hours, just bring back to room temp before rolling out.

In a small dish, add the EVOO, sliced garlic, and hot chili flakes. Stir it up and then set aside.

Fire up the hotbox to four hundred. Get the bottom rack and pizza stone set up, and a rack in the middle. Rub some oil all over the squash halves, then sprinkle with S&P. Roast on a sheet pan for about 40-45 minutes, until nicely softened and browned. Let cool, then slice off the skin like you would a watermelon. Chop into large chunks and set aside. Increase the heat to 500F.

While baking the squash, melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions and stir to coat with the butter, then sprinkle with a tad of freshly cracked black pepper. Leave it alone for 15-20 minutes, let it do its thang. Then you may stir, and again let it sit for bit, to get some browning action and start caramelizing the onion. Cook for about 30-40 minutes on low heat until deeply browned, stirring occasionally. Let cool and set aside.

Melt a TB of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shrooms in a single layer. You never want to crowd the fungi so it will saute, not steam in it's own liquid. That liquid needs room to evaporate, and you need room to flip them after a couple minutes. Once nicely browned on both sides, turn down to low and cook for another five minutes or so until they are done, stirring occasionally. Want to impart some tastiness? You can add in a ts or so of sliced shallot, a little fresh thyme, a minced clove of garlic, a couple shakes from the pepper mill. You can also toss in the garlic and chili flakes from the EVOO for the dough.

Roll out your dough into something that resembles a 12X14" shape. Ain't gots to be perfect. Move the dough to your pizza peel that has been covered with cornmeal, which will assist to slide your pie easily to the hot stone. Coat with the EVOO up to an inch from the edge, reserving the garlic and chili flakes, if you didn't add that to the shrooms. Top with as much of the caramelized onions as you wish, you may have some leftover, and that will be a good thing. Combine the 3 cheeses into a medium bowl. Add 1/2 of this mixture to the pie, then add the squash and lay the shrooms out evenly. Slide the pie onto your stone, which should be on the lowest possible spot in the oven. Bake until well browned and extremely delicious looking, about 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, sprinkle with some fresh thyme, then slice up and enjoy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thyme Pickled Peppers

The basil harvest was easy. Make a shit ton of pesto, pack into tiny salad dressing-size containers, top with olive oil, and stash in the freezer. What to do with all those peppers once the ground (or much quicker, the dirt in my containers) has frozen? Pickle them!

Now there isn't a reason to panic. You don't need canning jars and hot water baths and all that get up. We're not talking about actually canning, or preserving them. Much more simple than that, this is a quick refrigerator pickle, the method of which is also employed here.

These little guys are a perfect addition to the familiar cheese, cracker, salumi and mustard platter that is often the weekend lunch format. They would also be good friends with a turkey sandwich as well, the mayo nicely cooling inflamed taste buds.

The weather conditions during the 2010 growing season in Chicago were ideal for a variety of chili peppers- hot and humid. In increasing heat level- bell pepper, anaheim, jalapeno, orange habanero, red sevina habanero, and scotch bonnet peppers. You might want to handle those last couple very carefully, as in with respect to quantity and the use of latex gloves.

A lot of boring vegetables can be turned into tasty items through pickling- think radish, carrot, cauliflower, string beans, hard boiled eggs (technically not a vegetable). My favorite is a quick pickle of very thinly sliced red onion for roast beef and cheddar sandwiches on kaiser rolls with a generous spread of horseradish mayo seasoned with a couple cranks of the pepper mill.

The amounts here will make a few jars worth, perhaps some could be gifts? If you only have a handful of peppers, just keep the ratio of water and vinegar even, and scale down the salt and sugar accordingly. If you are just using bell peppers, you can slice them into rings too. Multiple colors would be pretty.

Thyme Pickled Peppers

1 lb fresh peppers, washed
2.5 C water
2.5 C distilled white vinegar
3 TB sugar
3 TB kosher
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 TB whole coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 TB whole black peppercorns

Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat. Evenly distribute the remaining ingredients among your tupperware, mason jars, or other appropriate containers. Pack with the peppers and then pour in the liquid, covering the peppers completely. Your containers should be full, with a minimal amount of headspace. Let sit for a minimum of 5 days, turning over a few times during that period. Will last for a month at least, refrigerated of course.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jalapeno Cheddar Skillet Cornbread

It's the end of November already??? Blame it on the warmer than normal fall temps for this year's eleventh month rapidly about to become a memory.

It's Thanksgiving already??? I almost forgot about that...

Thanksgiving. What does that mean to you? Time with family? Time with friends the night before (biggest bar night of the year, dude!! ha ha)? Time to make that annual pumpkin flan or green bean casserole dish with the French Fried onions on top? Time to hear that not-so-appetizing sound of the cranberry as it shakes and quivers its way out of the can? Complete with ring impressions from the can interior!! That's about as real a shape as this impostor. Which dish do you look forward to the most each year? The big guy? The mashed? Stuffing? You put some marshmallow on sweet potatoes or some other weird shit? My favorite part is the leftovers, you may call them leftovers, but that's a misnomer of sorts. Cold turkey sammiches with a heaping of mayonnaise and black pepper, that gets me feeling like a kid on Christmas. Damn! It's almost Christmas???

For the foodie, what else could you ask for? It's an American Holiday that revolves around eating. Throw in some football and a few thoughts of what to be thankful for, and you've got a pretty sweet deal going. Maybe one year you should serve deer and ducks, to stay true to the original feast? Alternatively, you could do this.

In anticipation of the snow and winter that isn't here yet- time to make some chili. You know your freezer is more efficient when it's full of frozen stuff, right? Might as well pack it full of tasty stuff. The perfect accompaniment to chili? That would be some cornbread.

Don't be scared of the jalapeno, there isn't a large amount used and thus will not set your buds on fire. If I had a can of creamed corn, I woulda tossed that in the batter too. Don't have a cast iron skillet? You should get one, these are easy to find, cheap, and they do work on tasty things like bacon, pork chops, fried chicken, and can sear the balls off a bear if necessary.

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbead with Chili-Lime Butter
6 servings

Chili-Lime Butter-
3 TB unsalted butter
2 ts fresh lime juice
pinch black pepper
1/2 ts medium chili powder
sea salt
See below for compound butter method.

Jalapeno Cheddar Skillet Cornbread-
1 C AP flour
1 C yellow corn meal
3 TB white sugar
1 ts baking soda
1 ts kosher
1/3 ts black pepper
1.5 C low fat buttermilk
2 large eggs
1.5 C sharp cheddar, freshly grated
1 TB diced jalapeno, about 1/2 a large jala
2 TB butter

Fire up the heater to 425F, place the rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat a large cast iron skillet in the oven, about a 9" pan or so. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, salt, baking soda, and pepper. Whisk to combine and then make a well in the center. Add the eggs and the milk, whisking just enough to break up the eggs. Stir in the jala and cheese.

With your ove glove, remove the hot skillet from the heatbox and throw 2 TB of butter in. Once all the butter has melted, turn to coat and pour in the batter evenly. Bake for about 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes until cutting into. It will still be warm and you should serve immediately, passing the butter.

Here's an easy way to make a compound butter- throw a few TB's in a heat proof bowl and set on the working stovetop. Add in your flavorings, whisk a bit once warmed up to combine, then remove from heat and let harden. Yummy.

As with most Thanksgivings, it's a great time to be thankful for all the food that we are fortunate enough to have. Not just good food either, I'm not going to list foie gras or truffles or pork belly or anything like that, just food. Any food, all food. We're pretty damn lucky to have access to so much food and so many choices in this country, where we spend trillions of dollars a year to offset overeating. So thank a farmer, thank your butcher, say thanks to your fishmonger, thank the dude who bakes your bread. And then enjoy the feast! Need help with a wine pairing?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Herb and Cheese Onion Gratin

Already? I thought I just went to the store? You've been there many times, that familiar situation where you think there can't possibly be anything in the house to eat. No fresh veggies, greens or leftovers in the fridge, nothing but a freezer full of various animal parts and frozen meals, beer mugs and ice cubes. That's not the quick nibble you were hunting for.

Just like this dish and this pie, this gratin is assembled from pantry items that are always happy to be tossed together at one end and come out as a meal at the other.

Like most recipes, you can substitute dried herbs for fresh, although you should try for the latter as often as you can. You can find them cheap at places like this. You can't really overbuy, as you can dry any unused fresh herb to replenish your stash. Or you can grow your own- the rosemary in the garden is always the last to succumb to these increasingly cold fall nights, at least for my garden in the Midwest. The basil was the first to bow out to the cold, the resulting harvest has produced a hibernating bear's worth of pesto, which is pretty damn exciting.

In true ode to the scouring-the-cupboards-for-ingredients fashion, use whatever herbs and cheeses you have, it's like Gumby, which is to say very flexible.

This makes a tasty snack on its own or will go nicely with a grilled steak or roasted chicken.

Herb and Cheese Onion Gratin
four servings

3 large vidalia onions, sliced 1/3" thick
2 TB EVOO or veggie, canola
1 TB chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 ts dry)
2 ts fresh thyme, minced (1/2 ts dry)
3 TB mayo
2 ts fresh lemon juice
1/2 ts dijon mustard
1/2 C mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 TB blue cheese, crumbled
2 TB Parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino-romano (not that nasty shit in the green can that was grated in 2007)
Black pepper
Hot Sauce, optional

Fire up the hotbox to four fitty. Coat a large sheet pan with spray or oil it up. Lay the onion slices out evenly, rub with oil. Sprinkle the herbs over, then a bit of S&P. Roast the onions for about 15 minutes, they will have become nicely softened. While doing that, make the topping-

In a small bowl combine the mayo, lemon juice, mustard, cheeses and black pepper. Stir until combined, it will be lumpy and that's okay. Coat a large glass casserole dish with spray or oil/butter. Lay out the onion slices into the casserole and then top with the cheese mixture, spreading sort of evenly with a spatula, it doesn't have to be perfect. You will probably bake for about 25 minutes, but check on the browning after about 20. Bake until top is golden brown and all delicious. Serve immediately. Enjoy very much.

Slice and toast a baguette, rub one side with a split clove of garlic while hot, then top with the gratin. A glass of pinot noir or cotes du rhone would pair nicely, don't you think? And you thought there's wasn't anything in the house to eat....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Classic Meatloaf, updated technique

It shouldn't be like this. I want my seasons, dammit. Eating is so centered around them, if you live in an area to appreciate seasonal change. Sometimes Chicago has four seasons, but most years you get three. You're bound to have at least one chilly spring or a warm fall, negating those shoulder seasons that shift into the big ones. Of course it was 25 a couple days ago and now there's a string of days at bout 70F. That's to be expected.

Why would I want it to be cold, gloomy and possibly rainy outside? Because I want to have meatloaf. Classic meatloaf, with a mix of protein for varying taste and texture, complete with the well-known ketchup-based glaze on top. You can make it with any blend of meats, I do prefer the common meatball/meatloaf ratio of half 90-93% lean ground beef and half ground pork. Some stores package their own a mix, some include ground veal as well.

What was your version as Ma used to make it? Mine was covered in ketchup and sprinkled with Kraft parmesan cheese. Here we have this much loved and familiar flavor, tweaked with some updated techniques- don't even bother digging out a loaf pan, that just holds the fat in and it inhibits tasty browning with the extended surface area. And to adhere the glaze better you should broil the loaf before baking.

Classic Meatloaf, updated technique
6-8 servings

1 C ketchup
1/4 C brown sugar, packed of course
2.5 TB cider vinegar
couple dashes your favorite hot sauce

EVOO or veggie oil
1 medium onion, fine dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 C crushed saltine crackers (bout 15 crackers)
2/3 C milk (high fat good)
1 lb. lean ground chuck or sirloin
1 lb. ground pork
2 large eggs plus one 1 yolk
2 ts good Dijon mustard
2 ts Worcestershire sauce
1/2 ts dried thyme, or a couple springs fresh
1/2 C fresh parsley, finely chopped

For the glaaaaaaze-
Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and whisk over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove a 1/4 C and reserve. Turn the heat down to low and simmer until slightly thickened, bout tree fo minutes. Then cover and keep in a warm area on the stovetop.

For the loaf-
Place a few turns of oil in a skillet over medium heat, then add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine, cook for 1 minute and then remove from heat. Transfer to a small bowl to let cool.

Pour the milk in a small bowl and then add the crushed saltines. Mix well and let sit for 5 minutes. During this rest, add the meat, onion, eggs, yolk, mustard, Worcestershire, thyme, parsley, and bout 1 ts kosher, 1/2 ts freshly cracked black pepper to the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the milk/cracker mixture. With the mixing blade, stir on 1 or 2, low, until just combined. Alternatively you can do this by hand, I just think it's easier this way if you process until just combined and don't kill the damn thing by mixing the hell out of it.

Place your top rack about 4" from the broiler, turn on high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, coat with spray, butter, or a touch of oil. Transfer the meat onto the sheet and shape by hand into a 9X5" loaf. Broil for 5 minutes, turning a few times to adjust to your broiler's temperance. You haven't mapped your broiler's hotspots? Brush 2 TB of the of the reserved glaze onto the loaf, then return to the broiler for 2 more minutes. The glaze should be nice and shiny brown, caramelizing them sugars.

Switch the oven to baking mode, set at tree fifty. It will probably be higher than that from broiling, which is fine for a bit. Brush with the remaining reserved glaze. Place the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for about 40-45 minutes. The internal temp should be 160 degrees. Let rest, covered with foil, for at least 10 minutes. Slice and then serve with some of the cooked glaze.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Beer-Braised Cabbage

This post should have been in October. Nevertheless, it's still Fall and that's a season you should, at least twice, have a plate of various sausages with a dab of really good mustard, some pickles or cornichons, and some beer-braised cabbage. Oh, and a stein of lager to go with that too please.

You know how Hot Doug feels about sausages. Beer brats are the ol' stand by, however I encourage you to try and procure some real wursts- I'm lucky enough to have this place.

And all this talk about sausage reminds me of a personal favorite... It's worth the 30 second intro add, trust me!

This recipe braises the cabbage just right, not to the death and just enough so you don't have a pile of stink on your plate. Not tasty. Add a touch of herb and mustard, and now you're eating your vegetables happily.

Beer-Braised Cabbage
four servings

2 TB unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 C light lager or pilsner
1 TB good dijon or stone ground mustard
1/4 ts dried thyme (or 1/2 fresh)
1 small to medium size green cabbage, halved, cored, thinly sliced
2 TS cider vinegar (ww vin can sub)

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened up a bit, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the beer, mustard, and thyme. Simmer until this mixture thickens slightly, a couple minutes or so. Add the cabbage and vinegar, then stir to mix. Cook covered, stirring two or tree times, until nicely tender, bout 7-9 minutes. Finish with a touch of S&P.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

The fall flavors are humming along, with Halloween here to (once again) make food a highlight of a holiday. Food is prominent in Halloween celebrations, you can make scary stuff to emulate guts and eyeballs, make cool punches with dry ice, you could even freeze blocks of ice shaped like severed body parts to keep said punch cool. I mean, we have our youth dress in costumes and walk door to door asking neighbors and strangers to put candy in a pillowcase? And why, do we do this again?

It's too soon for the heavy winter stuff to come out like chili and casseroles, but I'm sure by now you've had plenty of butternut squash soup, (thanks MB) perhaps a simple, warm pasta, maybe some late harvest roasted pears with tasty chunks of blue cheese and toasted pine nuts.

There aren't too many desserts on BLT for a reason. Cheesecake, though, is in the top 6 most-liked desserts. And this recipe is super easy, it tastes like Halloween and good times.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

1 C AP flour
1/3 C brown sugar, packed
5 TB butter, diced
1 C pecans, chopped
8 oz cream cheese
3/4 C white sugar
1/2 C canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 ts vanilla extract
1.5 ts cinnamon
1 ts allspice

In a bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in pecans; set aside 3/4 cup for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture into a greased 8-in. square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. In the bowl of your stand mixer or a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar. Beat in the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice. Pour over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and all delicious. Cool on a wire rack, then cut into bars. Stash leftovers in the fridge.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Apple Cheddar Scones

Are you tired of bagels and muffins? Grown weary of omelets and scrambles? Then these scones are for you!! They are not just relegated to breakfast either, you can enjoy them all day long. I bet they are best within a few hours of baking, though I've never had them last that long to find out.

If you don't have a stand mixer, you could make these by hand- roughly chop the half-baked apples and then stir well with a wooden spoon into the butter, add the rest of the wet, then the dry ingredients. It'll take some elbow grease to mix up, but it should be fine. At some point though, you gotta ask yourself, why don't I have a stand mixer? Hells no.

Apple Cheddar Scones
makes 6 large scones

2 firm, tart apples, such as granny smith
1.5 C AP flour (195 grams)
1/4 C + 1 TB white sugar
1/2 TB baking powder
1/2 ts kosher
6 TB unsalted butter, very cold, 1/2" dice
3/4 C white cheddar cheese (or yellow, if you don't mind the aesthetics)
1/4 C heavy whipping cream
2 large eggs

Fire up the hotbox to three seven five. Place a rack dead center.

Peel the apples and then cut each into sixteenths. That's dividing by half four times, you can cut the last into chunks or slices. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lay out the apple pieces. Bake for about 20 minutes, they will soften and look dry on the surface. Let cool completely by stashing in the freezer while making the dough.

In a large bowl, add the AP flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Sift or whisk together well, then set aside. In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the butter, cooled apple pieces, cream, cheese, and one of the eggs. Sprinkle the flour mixture over while mixing on low, mix until just formed. Do not over mix. Turn out on a surface dusted with flour, and using your hands, shape into a 6" circle, about 1.25" high. A rolling pin can be of assistance if needed, just don't crush the damn thing or press it too much. Handle lightly, and it will love you back. Cut into 6 wedges, then place on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Leave at least 3" between the scones.

Crack the remaining egg in a small bowl and whisk with a pinch of salt. Brush this egg wash on top of each scone, then sprinkle with about a TB of sugar. Bake for 30 minutes or until nicely golden brown and all delicious looking, then cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Well, 8 minutes might be all you can wait.

You gotta be excited with those chunks of apples and butter....

If you have some apple or pumpkin butter handy, you're feeling pretty good about now.

This is a good start to an October weekend morning. Fall isn't so bad after all.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

THE Steak Sandwich

Sandwich. That's my favorite word in the entire world. Seriously, they are sofa king good. What else would this blog be named after? This version is super quick, cheap, and tasty, with savory elements abound. It is, after all, THE steak sandwich. The only way you could add more umami would be to sprinkle with some MSG. You shouldn't have any of that, by the way.

I love this steak seasoning. Especially helpful when you grill with gas or inside, as they lovely charcoal flavor is prominent.

You can probably find 10 different grocery stores that have 10 different cuts named sandwich steak- top round, top sirloin, top blade, etc, and some might not even use that label. Find some thin cut that isn't full of marbling, and you should be set. This sammy was cooked using a grill pan on the stovetop, as the steak is so thin, firing up the big boy seemed a bit tedious for the short time denaturing protein with heat. That's cooking, for you right-brained folks.

THE Steak Sandwich
two servings

1 TB butter
1 medium red onion, halved, thinly sliced
6-8 medium cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 ts dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh
1 TB red wine (optional)
1 clove garlic, halved
1 C arugula, packed
1 TB mayo
2 sub rolls or french bread
2 TB crumbled Gorgonzola or good blue cheese
2 sandwich steaks , about 1 lb, about 1/3" thick
truffle oil (optional)

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and then add onion once the foaming has subsided. Cook for one minute, then move onions to the perimeter, place the mushrooms in the middle, let sit and brown for a minute before stirring. Flip and then cook until soft, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once tender, add a splash of red wine and the thyme, season with a touch of S&P. Stir it up and cook for a couple minutes for the wine to reduce.

Trim steak if necessary, then season well. Fire up a grill pan to high heat, coat lightly with canola or veggie oil. Once well preheated, cook on the first side for about a minute, then the same on the flip, or to your likeness. Sandwich steak is so thin, it doesn't take more than a minute. It does take more than a jiffy though.

Grill the bun or french bread pieces in the same pan, for a couple minutes on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and then add a half TB mayo to each bun top, spread that out with a half a garlic clove, rubbing the garlic in tastily.

THE assembly-

Add a bit of arugula to the bottom bun, then top with steak. Add some more arugula, then onto that goes the onion shroom mix, then some gorgonzola. For the almost unnecessary final touch, drizzle with a 1/2 ts or so of white truffle oil.

Wash this down with a Zinfandel or Pinot, or perhaps your favorite red.

This post reminds me of a place I stayed in Vegas, is that trademark infringement?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grilled Acorn Squash with Crispy Fried Sage

What have you been craving in these first few weeks of Fall? A filling, warm soup or comforting casseroles? For about 3 hours the other day, all I could think about was a big plate of butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter. I'm saving that for my next visit to Terragusto. In the meantime, this is a simple, tasty, and nutritious snack.

Acorn squash and butternut squash are fantastic fall root vegetables. And grilling is fun. So......

Grilled Acorn Squash with Crispy Fried Sage
2 servings as a side

1 medium or large acorn squash, halved, cleaned with seeds reserved, rinsed and dried
7 leaves fresh sage
squash seeds, optional

Multiple ways to approach the cooking method- for me it was a beautiful forty minutes spent outdoors with the grill and a Goose Island Harvest Ale. Set it up for about 350 F and grill indirect. You should know how to do that with your charcoal or gas grill. Alternatively, you could roast this in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes to get it started as well. Place cut side up to start on the grill, cut side down on a sheet pan for roasting. Cover with EVOO and S&P in either case.

Once grill or oven-roasted, grill with direct medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes cut side down, then about 5 minutes on the flip.

In a small saute pan over medium heat, warm up a TB or so of EVOO and toss in the sage leaves. Shake it about for a minute or three until nicely crisped, then drain on a paper towel. Turn down the heat a bit and add the squash seeds. You want to get them a little golden brown and then get them off the heat before they start popping all over your stovetop. Not a lot of leeway there, trust me. You might want to have a lid handy?

Drizzle with some good EVOO to finish and a touch of S&P if needed. Top with crispy fried sage leaves.
The seeds will add a great contrast to the smooth, rich texture of the cooked squash. Or, roast them in the oven at about 275 F for a bit, seasoned like pumpkin seeds. Maybe grilled pumpkin is next? Damn this October is sailing....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grilled Carrots with Sage

There was a time when I didn't like carrots. Even in a salad. As with many things, time changes one's perspective. Just like it's been a while since I came home early on a Sunday morning while the sun was just rising and the birds were chirping, it's been a long time since I've refused to eat something cause my childhood says to me 'you know you don't like this'.

Of course some carrot preparations are better than others. My most favorite would be shaved in a green salad. My least favorite is oven- roasted along some pot roast or chicken.

So go ahead and give it a chance, you will enjoy the unusual texture and technique. And tell your childhood that your longstanding culinary no-nos aren't the boss anymore.

Grilled Carrots with Sage
serves four as a side

Handful of carrots- small, large, yellow, orange, whatever
2 TB fresh sage, finely chopped
1 TB good balsamic vinegar

Fire up the grill to medium-high direct, ensure the grates are clean and oiled. If using large carrots, halve them. If medium to small, leave them whole. Peel them if the skin is thick, (usually the larger ones) otherwise don't bother. Trim off the ends, place into a pan or on a baking sheet. Cover with EVOO, toss to coat well. Grill for about 20 minutes, turning a couple times, until lightly charred in spots and soft. The tiny guys might need to be pulled off first or moved to a cooler part of the grill. Sprinkle with S&P and sage, then hit it with a lil bit of balsamic.

Grilled carrots? Sure, you can do that. This method brings out the natural sugars and caramelizes nicely on a hot grill. Pairs nicely with a hunk of dead animal and a nice pour of red house wine.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Grilled Salmon Tacos, Chili Lime Slaw

You know salmon is good for you, and therefore you should have it be a staple of your diet. Most of the summer, it's grilled on cedar planks and usually paired with a lemon-dill sauce. It's a classic for a reason, cause it works. It's simple, quick, and tasty. But just like anything, the repetition can start to make things boring. I suppose if you ate lobster everyday, it would become boring too, but I'd like to test the theory just for scientific purposes anyway. Gotta find some funding for that first.

If you're searching for a different way to get your salmon on, try these tacos. The slaw makes enough to stretch out into extra forkfuls. If you would like a bit more spice, use the entire jalapeno instead of just half. If you would like even more, don't remove the seeds and ribs, just slice up and toss everyone in the pool.

Grilled Salmon Tacos, Chili Lime Slaw
two servings

For the slaw-
1/2 medium red cabbage, core removed, halved, thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 small bell peppers- yellow or red, cored, halved, thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeno, diced
1/2 ts chili powder
1/2 ts fresh black pepper
1/2 ts kosher
1/2 ts old bay seasoning
2 TB lime juice, about 1 lime's worth
2 TB fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Combine, toss well, chill for a minimum of twenty before service.

8 oz. salmon, skin on, one large or two small fillets
1/4 ts old bay seasoning
1/4 ts cumin
1/2 ts chili powder
1 ts kosher
1/4 ts black pepper
creme fraiche or sour cream
couple sprigs cilantro

Combine rub seasonings in a small bowl. Pat salmon dry, if necessary, with paper towels. Rub on the rub. Coat both sides with EVOO, handle carefully to avoid breakage. Chill for ten minutes, then let sit at room temperature for ten minutes while preheating.

Fire up the grill for medium-high direct heat, or a grill pan over the same. Grill flesh side down for 5 minutes, then skin side down for 4 minutes, depending on thickness. When firm and flaky, done. On an outdoor grill I like to start with the flesh side down for easier handling. On the stovetop though, I like to pan fry the skin side down first to crisp that up. Yes, that is not only edible, it is also tasty. Let sit for 3-5 minutes, then cut into chunks.

Warm up your flatbread of choice- tortilla, naan, pita, etc, coat with creme fraiche or sour cream, top with a piece of salmon, then chili lime slaw. For a wine pairing, your options are plenty. May I suggest a Pinot or Zinfandel?

Thanks, Tacos. Life would most likely suck without you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grilled Potato Salad with Bacon and Leek

Yes, you read that right. It's a potato salad, and it's grilled! Well, it's all in what you call it really. But it's simple, easy, tasty, quick, that's good stuff.

I have no idea what brand grill basket I have, it's been around forever and gets some serious use when the Chicago weather allows some outdoor cooking. It's round and from years of use blacker than Wesley Snipes in a closet at midnight. Vegetables mostly, perhaps a small piece of delicate fish. You should really get one if you don't already own one. I guess they now have semi-disposable grill sheets too. Made of space age materials? So it has technology from the 60's? could you not want some of that??? Well, probably because it won't work for shit and the concept ain't exactly enviro friendly.

Grilled Potato Salad with Bacon and Leek
4 servings as a side

4 medium red potatoes, 1/3" slices
1 large stalk leek, 1/2" slices
1 large stalk celery, 1/2" slices
3 pieces thick bacon, 1/2" slices
3 cloves garlic, smashed
rosemary sprigs
2 ts white wine vinegar

Fire up the grill to medium-high direct heat. In a large mixing bowl, combine potato, leek, bacon, and garlic. Coat with a couple TB's of EVOO, then season with S&P.

Preheat the perforated grill pan or basket for about 5 minutes. Quickly and carefully, add the contents of the bowl to the hot pan. Don't use too much EVOO or you could have a flash fire. You want to eat good food, not burn off all your arm hair or torch the deck. Of course I have never done this myself, I'm just pointing out common fire safety. Cook the veg until nicely browned, turning (sort of gently, or once cooked a bit could mash up some taters) often, for about 6-8 minutes. Return the salad to the mixing bowl, toss with a bit of white wine vinegar, season with S&P if desired. Remove rosemary sprigs and dice up a few leaves. Some chives or green onions would look nice too, they were 86'd that day. Serve immediately or at room temp. Pairs well with a big slab of dead animal.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Orzo with Grilled Shrimp, Summer Veg, Pesto Vinaigrette

The leaves are turning colors, some are already hitting the streets, sidewalks, and windshields.

It's a welcome change, as Chicago has had what seems to be abnormal- a long and hot summer.

It's the first day of Autumn! The autumnal equinox, and this year it's even more special- a super harvest moon. Way better than just a harvest moon.

Along with the quintessential dish of summer in a bowl, there have been a few other memorable meals this summer- like this or this or this.

I prefer this dish at room temperature, eaten slowly, fully conscious of every last bite of summer on your fork.

While harvesting your basil for the pesto, might as well make a batch and freeze some leftovers- just cover with a bit of EVOO to preserve. Making just 3 TB would be ridiculous.

Orzo with Grilled Shrimp, Summer Veg, Pesto Vinaigrette

6 servings as main dish
can be served cold or at room temp

8 oz. orzo
2 TB red wine vinegar
1 large zucchini, 1/4" slices
1 red, green, or yellow bell pepper, quartered
3 TB pesto
2 TB lime juice
1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (at least 26-30 size or larger)
2 medium tomatoes, heirloom preferred, rough chop (about 2 C)
8 oz. ball fresh mozzarella, 1/2" cubes
1/2 C basil chiffonade

Cook the orzo in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente, tender yet firm. Drain well, rinse with cold water, then transfer to a large mixing bowl with 1 TB EVOO, mix well. Let cool.

For the pesto vinaigrette- add pesto, lime juice, 3.5 TB EVOO, and red wine vinegar to a small bowl, whisk until combined.

Place the shrimp in a bowl with 2 TB of the pesto vinaigrette, toss well to coat, season with S&P.

Place the pepper and zucchini in a bowl, add 2 TB EVOO, toss well to coat, season with S&P.

Fire up the grill to medium-high heat. Grill the bell pepper and zucchini for about 3-4 minutes per side. Let cool, then slice the zucchini coins in half, remove the skin from the pepper and rough chop. Grill the shrimp until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.

To the large bowl of resting orzo, add the pepper and zucchini, shrimps, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and the remaining vinaigrette. Stir gently yet thoroughly to mix well. Season to taste with S&P, add a few more drops pesto and some grated parm-reg to the final plate.

No season defines eating more than summer. The grill, the barbecue, the parties and al fresco dining. CSA shares, farmer's markets, roadside veggie and fruit stands, festival and state fair food. The freshest summer sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, homegrown peppers and herbs.

Chicago has seen it's 8th hottest and wettest on record of 140 years. There have been many 90's, there was a record stretch of 80's. I'm ready for cool mornings, slippers, long-sleeve t-shirts.
See you around, summer. We'll miss you, but we know we can't live with you all the time, or it would ruin the relationship. You can rest assured that we love you more than your brother winter though.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Best Crudite Dip- Green Goddess

This is the best dip for crudite. Not even a close second. Forget that french onion or ranch crap in the tub.

What's with the name you ask?

Use whatever herbs you can get your hands on. Definitely use tarragon, as that gives the main herbal note, and you should have some parsley on hand. The chives are a nice touch, as is chervil, but I rarely have those available, so I like to throw in some basil or a ts or so of herbes de provence.

It's a party. Your veggie try is going to sit out for a few hours. To keep the raw goods at their freshest, soak in ice water for 20-40 minutes to bring out the absolute crispness in the vegetables. Who wants a limp carrot?

The Best Crudite Dip- Green Goddess

1 C mayo
1 TB white wine vinegar
4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 small shallot, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
3 TB fresh parsley, chopped
1 TB fresh tarragon, chopped
1 TB fresh basil, chopped
2 TB fresh chives, chopped
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1 C sour cream

To your food processor, add 1/2 C mayo, vinegar, anchovies, garlic, scallion, shallot, and herbs. Pulse 8-10 times, then scrape down bowl and pulse another couple a times until well blended. Stir in the remaining 1/2 C mayo and sour cream, add about 3/4 a ts of kosher and some freshly cracked black pepper to taste, mix thoroughly. Chill for at least one hour prior to serving, will keep for 3-4 days as well, longest in a small container with limited head space.

Crudite- is whatever raw veggies you like. can also blanch and shock some stuff like florets, sugar snap peas (boil for 1 minute then ice bath)

red, green, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
small grape tomatoes, whole
celery, cut into 2-3" pieces
broccoli/cauliflower florets
baby carrots, whole
zucchini, thinly sliced
seedless cucumber, thinly sliced

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fresh Tomato Sauce, Frozen

So it's the end of summer and you have a hoard of tomatoes you don't know what to do with? Dare you say you're tired of BLT's? Well then, it's time to make some sauce. Special sauce, that is, because it will be much tastier than anything you've bought in the jar.

Why fresh tomato sauce, frozen? Because one day in January or February, when it's colder than the glares from my 5th-grade teacher, I want to enjoy a little taste of summer.

There are thousands of ways to make tomato sauce. Some people will insist you use a food mill. Some will insist you use only roma tomatoes. If it's the dead of winter and you don't have fresh tomatoes available, you could even use good canned tomatoes. It is that versatile. If you are limited, you don't even need the mirepoix of veggies. Just tomatoes will do, although the flavor won't be as well-rounded.

Fresh Tomato Sauce, Frozen
about 4 C

4 lbs. tomatoes, fresh and local preferred
1/4 C EVOO
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium carrot, diced
1/2 stalk of celery, diced
1/4 ts chili flake
1 TB tomato paste
1/2 ts salt

Heirlooms from the CSA- ready for sauce

Peel the tomatoes- using a very sharp paring knife, make a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Drop into a large pot of boiling water for about 30-45s, then either cool in an ice bath or under cool running water. The skin should peel off easily.

These romas were for some salsa- another time when I like to remove the skins.

Core your tomatoes if necessary. If you're using large tomatoes, quarter them. If you're using smaller romas, slice them in half. Place a strainer or mesh over a bowl and squeeze out the seeds, saving the juice. Roughly chop the tomatoes in chunks.

In a medium pot or dutch oven, heat up the EVOO over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chili flake and garlic, cook until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and stir for 30 seconds. Add in the tomato chunks and reserved juice, reduce the heat to medium-low. Using a potato masher, break down the tomato to your desired consistency. I prefer just a slight chunkiness to remain. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pinch of kosher salt to desired level. Serve immediately with some pasta, keep in the fridge for a few days, or freeze for up to 6 months or so.

I decided to try something new with this batch- Freezing some herbs just plucked out of the garden in the middle of the sauce. I don't know if I will need all that rosemary, oregano, and thyme in the dish, but it certainly won't hurt to have these fresh herbs available in mid-winter, right? Heeeeeel Naaaaw!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sauteed Zucchini

September 1st. It's a bittersweet date. It's technically fall, and you know what is lurking around the corner. On the other hand, you have the growing season's late harvest to go with the precious few 80°F that sprinkle the first week or so of September. How many tomatoes have you eaten in the last 3 weeks? BLT's for dinner every other night? Mmmmmmmm, okay!

WTF? Is that a halloween store I just saw take up it's annual residence in that strip mall?

Sauteed Zucchini
4 servings, as side dish

3 medium shallots, thinly sliced
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
kosher salt
1 large or 2 medium zucchini, 1/4" slices
1/4 C toasted almond slivers
basil chiffonade
lemon juice

To toast the almond slivers, use a small dry pan over medium-low heat. Stir often for about 3-5 minutes. Very often.

Get out the largest skillet you have. Heat up the fat over medium-high heat, toss in the shallots and cook for a couple minutes, stirring until slightly softened, then add the garlic and a 1/2 ts of kosher salt, stir constantly for a minute or so. Before the garlic burns, empty it and the shallot into a small dish, return pan to heat.

Keeping over medium-high heat, add a little more EVOO if necessary, lay the zucchini so theys all flush with the pan. Maillard reaction, it's all about the taste and texture. Cook on one side for about 4 minutes, then on the flip for 3. You may stir it up a bit once both sides have browned nicely. Remove from the heat, then toss in the almonds and basil. Taste for seasoning and add a little S&P if necessary. If you have a lemon on hand, squeeze a bit of juice over the zucchini for some fresh zing. Enjoy the textural contrast. And of course, the taste.

BLT is all about recipes for things that taste good. Everything else, like the quality of the food pics, comes second. You might have seen pics from other food blogs that I like, they are amazing. But they have SLR's, tripods, special things for lighting and whatnot. Smitten Kitchen takes gorgeous photos. Donna Ruhlman, Michael's wife, ditto. Sure, I know natural light is best, but I don't have windows in my kitchen- so when I caught some late afternoon light on my dining table and took pics of this zucchini, it was revolutionary to see what natural sunlight can do for a food photo.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

It's getting late in the last calendar month of summer, even some of the schools have already opened and sucked kids off the playgrounds and swings, out of pools and trees, ending their summer, which has been the 7th hottest in 140-something years of Chicago's weather history. I'm almost ready for fall and cool blanket-at-night type weather, but for now I'm good with the continued heat and bowls of summer tomatoes and the nearing end to the harvest of our CSA, which has been a thoroughly enjoyed experience this summer. There's so much tasty stuff at the farmer's market pick-up site too, local ma and pa enterprises with all sorts of goodies- from various dead animal and fish proteins to fresh-cut flowers, artisan breads, and of course gorgeous fruits and vegetables at every turn. And your requisite dogs, strollers, hippies and hipsters with their tattoos and fixies. All good in the hood.

By now you've eaten the wide range of summer salsas at parties- from the store bought, (the quality of which from Aldi's or gas station to Whole Paycheck), to the runny salsa at the mexican place having margaritas al fresco, to the freshly homemade and delicious tomato salsas. This recipe brings a different element versus the raw salsa, as roasting the tomatillos yields a sweet and savory combo, unique in what you've scarfed down so far this year.

You can add a few hot peppers to this without the end result being beyond your spice level, so throw some in if you got em. Some long ahaheim works great, with one jalapeno or two serranos as well. Fresh out of the garden or off the balcony/deck/rooftop preferred.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
about 4 C

1.5 lb tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed, halved (little guys) or quartered
1 green bell pepper, rough chop
chili peppers- 1 jalapeno, 2 serrano, 1 anaheim, habanero if you so crasy, whatever you got/desire of heat level
1/2 yellow onion, large dice
3 cloves garlic, smashed and halved
1/2 ts cumin, optional
1/2 ts kosher
1/2 C cilantro leaves, somewhat packed
2 ts good balsamic vinegar

Fire up the hotbox to four honey. Place chopped tomatillo, pepper, garlic and onion on a sheet pan. Drizzle with oil, S&P, cumin if using, then mix well. Yes, get in there with your hands and touch your food. Roast for 12 minutes, then remove from oven a give it a nice stir up. Roast for another 7-12 minutes until lightly browned and smelling all delicious. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, up to a couple hours.

Add the veg to the bowl of your food pro with the metal blade, be sure to include all accumulated juices from the cool down. Add the balsamic vinegar and a touch more fresh S&P. Pulse until desired consistency, about 10 pulses, using a spatula to wipe down the bowl after the first few pulses. Taste and adjust with seasonings if necessary.

The tomatillos range in color, just as tomatoes can have-

I heart you summer. I thought it was just for your tomatoes, but now I'm seeing tomatillos.

I did have a camera shot of the roasted tomatillos, but somehow the files became corrupt. Unlike Blagojevich. Damn stubborn old lady couldn't swing the vote. Oh well. Who's next up for Governor of Illinois, or locally known as 2-1 odds to go to jail?

This is fantastic just with some tortilla chips, then progress into some *grilled texicken fajitas, or perhaps atop your favorite **breakfast scramble?

*chicken breasts rubbed with what is pretty much Emeril's essence, with a few ts more ground black tellicherry peppercorns. The paprika in the premixed essence is a mix of hot and sweet smoked. Enjoy with warm fajitas- grilled peppers and onions, sour cream and freshly grated cheddar or jack cheese, hot sauce optional.

**chorizo, new red potato hash, onion, peppers, cheese, fresh jalapeno

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pesto Chicken Pizza

It must be something inherent to man not to grow weary of the pizza pie. I could easily eat some form of pizza 4 days a week and for any of the meals- breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, brunch, blunch, lupper, I could even have pizza for linner. I would eat pizza on a plane and I would eat pizza on a train. How many meals in a row have you eaten pizza?

It's been a while since the last pizza post. And it seems I've been using the same dough recipe for a while? Then it is about time to put a touch more flavor into it with a easy trick- time. Let me be more specific- fermentation time. An overnight 'mother' will give the dough a more complex flavor. Oh, did I mention it only takes about 2 minutes to put together? Try it next time instead of the usual dough!

The pesto recipe will yield about 1 C, you will have a few TBs leftover, and that will be a good thing. Gotta ton of basil on your hands? Perhaps you want to double the batch and make this too? Fresh basil pesto keeps well in the freezer, just cover with a bit of EVOO.

The most condensed way to do this- the mother is the day before or very early morning of, then finish off the dough and while that is proofing you bake the chicken while making the pesto. After you punch down the dough and let rest, the chicken will be cool enough to dice up. Get after it. Alternatively, you could let the dough rest in a ball in the fridge for up to 2 days after proofing and punching down. Get after it later.

Pesto Chicken Pizza

2 C fresh basil, packed
4 cloves garlic, halved
1/4 C walnuts, chopped (or pine nuts, but the $ is like gold lately? WTW?)
2/3 C good EVOO, divided
1/2 C good parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/2 C pecorino, grated

2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C mozzarella, grated
1/4 C parmigiano-reggiano
basil leaves

1/2 C lukewarm water
1/2 C AP flour
1/4 ts active dry yeast (from packet)
pinch flour

2 C bread flour
1/2 C water
the rest of the yeast (from packet)
1 ts kosher salt

Some will tell you making pesto in a food pro is not the proper method. Some people have that sort of time of their hands, and the equipment (mezzaluna, anyone?). The time involved vs. the tastes worth the time equation is not balanced to me.

For the pesto-
In a food pro, combine the basil, walnuts, garlic, S&P, and a couple TBs of EVOO. Pulse a few times to combine, then scrape down the bowl with a spatula. With the machine running, drizzle in the rest of the EVOO to incorporate to the consistency you desire, the 2/3C is just a guideline. Add in the cheeses last, pulse a few times to combine. Taste for seasonings and add S&P if necessary.

For the mother-
Add the 1/2 C lukewarm water to the bowl of your stand mixer. Sprinkle the 1/4 ts yeast and a pinch of flour over the water. Let sit until a little foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the 1/2 C of flour and stir on low to combine. Scrape down the sides of your bowl if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel, place in a moderately warm, draft-free area overnight, or for about 8-12 hours. Your mother, sponge, pre-ferment, biga, levain, or whatever your part of the world calls it, should be nice and bubbly, that's CO2 doin some work.

Finishing the dough-
Put your mom back under the mixer fitted with dough hook. Add the water, flour, and salt. Mix on speed 2 for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. I like to knead for a couple minutes by hand too, just to feel some dough in my hands and work it a bit more. By hand is always best, you can knead by hand for about 10 minutes too. I like incorporating both so my forearm muscles don't get too big. Once you have a nice tight ball of dough, place into a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a moderately warm, draft-free area to proof, about 1.5-2 hrs, or until doubled in size.

For the chicky-
Any method you choose, I don't like to grill or pan fry because I don't want to develop too much of a crust. I season with S&P, then bake for about 10 minutes per side at 350F. All depends on the size of your breasts, of course. Boiling/poaching is also a viable option.

For the pie-
Fire up the hotbox to 500°F, place your rack with pizza stone on the lowest position. You want to preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes, ensuring it is blazing hot. Once your dough has proofed, punch down to release the gas and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Place on a lightly floured counter or board and stretch into a 5" disc. I like to use a rolling pin and roll outwards from the center, so you are not killing the thing all over. My stone is square, I roll out an appropriate shape for the stone, about 12x13" or so. If the dough is too springy, just let sit for another 5 minutes or so.

Now that you've got the dough rolled out, place onto a pizza peel that is well-covered in cornmeal. To remind you of that purpose- they will help your dough slide onto your stone easily, otherwise you'll have a very ugly calzone. If you don't have a stone or peel, you can substitute with upside-down sheet pans. But I wouldn't. If you like pie enough, you'll get a stone and peel.

Top the dough with about a TB of EVOO and spread evenly. Top that with about 3/4 C pesto, then with most of the chicken. There is usually a bit leftover to snack on. Add the cheeses and scatter a couple basil leaves on top.

Bake until the cheese is golden, bubbly, and damn delicious, about 8-12 minutes.

Resist the temptation to slice into this for at least 240 seconds. Then please enjoy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spicy Carrot Soup

I know what you are thinking. Soup in the winter?

We are in the dog days of summer, after all. In case you haven't noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven't, we in Chicago are on a hot streak- the 46th day in a row of 80F or higher. And just like the Cubs' bats with RISP, I don't see that streak ending anytime soon.

The soup-in-summer thing is sort of a cry for a change-up, as the dew points and humidity have been quite oppressive for the last week or so.

And of course it's not that I'm tired of eating one of the culinary calendar's highlights, though: the very local, very ugly, very tasty summer tomato- Beats the shit out of winter squash.

Most recipes for carrot soup will say to find the freshest carrots you can possibly obtain. Present should be bright, fresh greens, nice firm, mostly unblemished carrots. A giant box of just that from the CSA share was my source and impetus for this dish. Don't substitute packaged carrots, go for the fresh stuff. They just taste better, as you get to more of the natural sugars before conversion into starch.

Eat your vegetables. Or you don't get dessert.

Spicy Carrot Soup

6-8 servings

2 TB butter


1 large onion, large dice

1.5 lb large carrots, medium dice

3 medium red potatoes, large dice

2 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno (optional)

2 cups chicken stock, homemade preferred

2 cups filtered water

1 cup milk

1 ts salt


Heat your big ass cast-iron dutch oven over medium heat. Add fats, then onion, carrot, potato, celery, and jalapeno (or part of) if using. Cook until somewhat softened, about 8 minutes. Add in the garlic with a couple minutes left.

Add the liquids and S&P, stir well and turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, until the carrots are very soft. Zap with a stick blender or process in batches in blender. Strain through a sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible. I don't taste for salt at this point, as I like finish with a little sea salt for flavor and texture.

That's simple and tasty. And if you like spicy, it's simple and tasty and spicy.

Spicy Carrot soup with fresh thyme, pink Himalayan sea salt