Saturday, December 31, 2011

Classic Buffalo Chicken Wings

Need more than cookies for your party spread? How about some classic buffalo chicken wings? These are a bit healthier than the standard as they are baked, not fried.  If it's too late to make it to the NYE party, you got plenty of time till the Winter Classic or the Superbowl. 

Of all the places to be sent for a few days to attend a seminar, Buffalo certainly wasn't on the top of my list.  But as always when traveling, I fully engulfed myself in the local food, which would be beef on weck and a chance to visit the original wing shack.  Their sauce is pretty good, but you can easily make your own as well, using another well-known favorite, Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Sauce. 

Classic Buffalo Chicken Wings

2-2.5 lbs chicken wings, about 12-15 jointed wings or so, or you could just buy the drummettes if you like
EVOO or canola/veg oil
1/2 C Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Sauce
1/4 ts garlic powder
1/4 ts onion powder

Fire up the heater to 375F. 

With a very sharp knife, slice off the wing tip and save for stock or discard.  Holding the jointed chicken between your thumb and middle finger, you should be able to easily find the joint and slice through.  If you have extra large chicken pieces or a *dull knife, you may need to bend the joint a little to find the sweet spot.  Do exercise caution, an easier method might be to keep the chicken on the board and slice through the joint, you'll get the hang of it with practice.  Or be lazy and buy the drummettes only. 

Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towel.  Add a splash of oil and season liberally with S&P.  Spread evenly onto a sheet pan at least 1/2" apart, fat side down.  Bake for 20 minutes, then flip and cook for about 16-20 minutes, depending on the size, until nicely golden brown and crisp.  I like mine very crispy, so sometimes I'll turn on the broiler for a minute too. 

In a large bowl, add the hot sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder.  Add the cooked wings and mix well.  Serve while hot, you could also keep them warm in a slow cooker for easy snacking.

Here's a classic dip to pair with your classic buffalo chicken wings.  For a healthier version, mix some blue cheese crumbles with plain yogurt, season with pepper and a squirt of lemon juice and sliced green onion. 

*Dull knives aren't good.  Taking them in to a trusted place to get sharpened should be an annual event i.e. cleaning your oven and seasoning your cast ironware.  I like to handle these matters around the new year, as the latter will warm up house as a bonus side effect during the winter.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Hey There! It's been a while.  Hope you had a fantastic Christmas, if you're into that kind of thing.  That's where I've been, having a fantastic Christmas and not here giving you recipes.  Time away from work and time away from the just above average 4-3-2  Chicago Jets hockey team was delightfully replaced with time amongst friends, time spent with family, and time spent with new family.  I won't leave you hanging till 2012 though.  These cookies are super tasty and very easy, I am not sure why I don't bake stuff like this more often when it is this simple.  Maybe I will be with my sweet new Silpat baking sheet.  And plenty of other culinary treasures, Santa sure was nice this year. 

Just in time to finish off your dessert tray for the NYE party.  Or take some to work and share with people you might not like but have to spend most of your waking life with.  I like a couple for breakfast with a hot beverage.  Enjoy them however you wish, and happy new year!  2011 was full of action, and 2012 might welcome in much more. 

Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
makes about 15-20 cookies? I didn't count them, just kept eating them...

2 sticks butter at room temp
2 large eggs at room temp
1 C dark brown sugar
1 C white sugar
2 ts vanilla extract, homemade preferred
1 ts cinnamon, the good stuff
1 ts baking powder
1 ts kosher salt
1.5 C AP flour
3.5 C oats
1 C craisins
1.5 C roughly chopped pecans, toasted

In a dry skillet over low heat, toast the pecans, shaking the pan often. 

Fire up the hotbox to 350F.

In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients- flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt. 

In the bowl of your stand mixer that is equipped with the mixing blade, add the butter and sugar.  Start on low for a half minute, then gradually increase to medium speed and go at it until light and fluffy, a couple minutes should do it. Add the vanilla and one egg, mix that in and then add the other egg, mix until just combined.  Stop to scrape down the bowl if you need to.  Add in the dry ingredients while mixing on medium-low, once that is just combined add the oats, nuts, and craisins gradually so everything is distributed evenly. 

Line a large sheet pan with parchment or use a silicone baking sheet, here's one to buy if you don't have one.  With a spoon, scoop out about 1.5 TB of cookie dough and place on the sheet pan, you want at least 1" between cookies.  Flatten slightly into discs.  They will take about 12-15 minutes, depending on the size.  If your oven is not even rotate your sheet halfway through, bake until lightly golden brown and all delicious smelling.  Cool on a rack for as long as you can handle before eating.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork II

I'm almost done with my list.  Almost.  Couple more things.  I always run around at the last second for some gifts.  It can't be helped.  I was even at the mall during the week-before-Christmas Bears game, which would have been an issue for me had they be any good.  Yet quite the opposite- they suck.  I would rather watch the Bulls, but still only for the last three minutes, which takes 45 minutes.  Bears fans have so little to root for, they are happy when the Packers lose, an event that occurs every 20 games or so.  Good thing there's Captain Serious and this guy.  That is silly!

What do you want this year?
A sweet ass recipe to make your own pulled pork?
And I'll take beer, cheese and sausage in lieu of the milk and cookies. 

The first version of slow cooker pulled pork was a good start- however a crucial detail was omitted- the step of removing the liquid fat with a separatory device.  The flavor profile was brightened too by some random shit in the fridge such as a q cup of chili garlic sauce, a hit of miso, some hot mustard and a bit of Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet and Spicy.  It's all so very easy- you might spend more time finding and hauling the cooker to the kitchen than the hands-on time in this recipe.  I like sliders, or mini-sandwiches, as a do-it-yourself dish for a party, complete with the tangy vinegar-based basic coleslaw and some pickles.  Yum-E!!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork II
serves- plenty
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 mustard
1.5 ts kosher
1.5 ts black pepper
random shit from your fridge, such as a couple TBs of chili garlic sauce, miso, a splash of Sriracha, anchovy paste, tabasco, hot mustard, prepared bbq sauce such as Sweet Baby Ray's
4-5 lb boneless pork shoulder roast, aka buttocks

Set up the cooker for low.  Add all ingredients in a large bowl (but not the meat) and mix well.  Add to the slow cooker, toss in the meat and coat thoroughly, returning all that delicious sauce on your hands back to the pot.  Cooking time- 8 hours for ~4 lbs, 9 hours for ~5 lbs.  Go to work, go read a book, go to a bar, go donate your time, go fishing, take a sleeper, or go sit and do nothing. 

Remove the pork to a large board.  Using a gravy fat separator, (get this model with the strainer lid) pour out the cooking liquid, strained first if necessary.  Let sit while you shred the pork with two forks.  Add the shredded pork back to the cooker, then pour in the liquid until you reach the fat layer.  Don't add that, but you might want to save it for a roux or something porky.  Cook on low for another 30 minutes or until heated through, or on high for 10-15 if you're anxious.  You can't rush low and slow.

Happy Holidays! Do you need to bring dessert? How about some of these cookies? Perhaps this to make a homemade pie?

Do enjoy those parties, and if you think someone has been really good this year...give them a plate of these.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Once-Baked Potato, Once-Broiled Potato

I tend to like simple things. A very hot cup of good tea or coffee.  Slippers.  Accelerating when the light turns green.  Actually getting good fries with your burger.  A favorite pair of jeans.  A new seasonal from your local brewer.  Food also likes to be simple.  Very fresh, grown with care, minimally handled, seasoned properly, cooked (or not) properly, served properly.  As an example, the oven-baked potato. 

If it wasn't for the egg, you might call potato the single most important food in the world.  Did you know it was from Peru?

The tastiest baked potato really is this simple- Fire up the oven to 400F.  Using a fork, stab all over your taters a half inch deep.  Oil em up with EVOO, veggie or canola, then season liberally with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Place in the middle of the oven straight on the rack.  Depending on the size and shape, they will be done in 45-60 minutes or so.  If you for some dumb reason don't want the awesomely crispy skin, wrap them in foil.  Serve as desired. 

If you'd like to further complicate the simple potato, there's always the twice-baked potato.  Although this version is simpler and therefore quicker.

Once-Baked Potatoes, Once-Broiled Potato with broccoli, bacon, cheddar, green onion
1 large baking russet potato per person
kosher salt
black pepper
1 TB sour cream
small broccoli florets, steamed/boiled for 3-4 minutes till bright green, then shocked in ice bath
1 slice applewood-smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 TB diced sharp cheddar cheese or shredded
1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced
additional sour cream, hot sauce, etc.

With your taters cooled a bit, fire up the upside-down grill (the broiler) on hi with a rack about a half foot down. Slice each potato in half lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, being careful not to tear the skin, into a medium bowl.  You could add some cream or milk if you wish, I chose just sour cream.  If you like your cardiologist, add a bit of the rendered bacon fat, especially if it's Nueske's.  Mix the dairy and S&P to the potato, then fold in half the broccoli, cheese, and bacon.  Divide evenly among the potato shells, if you have a bit leftover then EAT IT.  Add the remaining cheese, broc and bacon, then top with thinly sliced green onion.  On a heavy sheet pan, broil until nice and toasty, about 4-6 minutes, rotating evenly. Can't live on potato alone? Pairs well with a pan-seared ribeye steak with tasty sauce, a green salad and a glass of cab. 

Monday, December 5, 2011


'Beef dipped hot'. That's my order at the beef stand.  That's an Italian Beef Sandwich with hot peppers, dipped into the beef jus.  Sometimes I go for just wet, depending on how long I know that particular joint soaks their delicious Turano or Gonnella roll, but I always order the hot peppers.  Which really means giardiniera.  And if you say 'sweet', you'll just get strips of green bell pepper.  That's not recommended.  And for hells sake, don't get cheese on it.  Here's all the details to order like a professional.

In Chicago, Portillo's or Al's is my preference.  Johnnie's I've never been to, Mr. Beef is okay, Bryon's is okay.  Buona is for the parents who live in the suburbs and miss Al's or Mr. Beef.  My favorite is actually 4 blocks from the house I grew up in, a local place that's been there since I was a 9 yr old customer saving his change for beef sammiches.

The 2011 pepper harvest.  Picked at their peak, the long growing season in Chicago brought to an end before the chilly fall nights.  Miles traveled to my board- 0.0075758.  The chile de arbol are the thin red and green ones, those will  be dried for chili spice; the large green are bells, the big long ones are anaheims, the small long ones I forget what I planted, to add some heat we got jalapenos and habaneros.  I added a couple more habaneros than pictured here.  It's not necessary to have homegrown veg, your favorite purveyor of fresh, organic stuff is fine.  Don't forget to wear gloves,  if you don't have any make sure you wash your hands, board, and knives about 6 times and don't touch anything you deem important to eyesight or reproduction. 

serves-depends, below is good start for a few jars' worth, adjust accordingly

2 bell peppers, cored and diced
4 serrano peppers, thinly sliced
2 jalapenos, cored and diced
1 habanero, small ones thinly sliced, large diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 large rib celery, diced
1/3 head of cauliflower, stems removed and diced
1/2 C kosher salt
cold, clean water
2 ts Italian seasoning, or oregano
1/2 ts chili flake
1/4 ts black pepper
1/2 C canola oil
1/2 C white vinegar

Add all veggies to a large bowl and cover with clean, cold water.  Add the salt and stir to mix, then let sit for at least 12 hours, up to 24.  Drain and rise well.  Split evenly among used mustard, olive, or other clean condiment jars.  In a small bowl, add the seasonings and vinegar.  Slowly whisk in the canola oil, then pour evenly among your jars, each jar should be as full as possible.

It will take at least 3-4 days until the flavor comes through, 10-12 days is when it really starts to sing.  A jar will last at least a few months.  The oil and vinegar will separate after a short time, and that is okay.  When serving, use a slotted spoon or let most of the liquid run off before adding to pizza, a burger, sandwich,'s not just for beefs.  And with a bow, this would make a great Christmas's the perfect time to get those elves to work.

Want the full history of the Italian beef?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

I could get used to not going to work and eating stuffin muffins (leftover stuffing baked in muffin tins) with gravy for breakfast.  Another successful Thanksgiving weekend, the tree is up and decorated, the turkey stock for turkey pot pies and stew has been gently bubbling on the stove all day.  It's the perfect day for stock- cold, windy and rainy...nothing I'd rather be doing than (barely) tending a giant pot of warm liquid, the odor of which currently mixing with the newly-lit Christmas candle, no doubt the TV tuned to the holiday channel.  I guess it really might be the most wonderful time of the year.  It helps that I also have meaty short ribs quietly braising in Cabernet Sauvignon in the oven. 

You want a go-to recipe for braising some meat?  Something delicious to brighten a chilly winter Sunday meal? You want this recipe.  Among other cold weather must haves like this soup and this gratin, these short ribs are on the hot list from Oktoberfest to St. Patty's Day.  They require little attention, just a lazy weekend afternoon with a few bottles of Cabernet.  You'll need a large cast-iron dutch oven with a lid, which is completely different than what my older brother once described to me upon asking what a dutch oven was many years ago.  It was that awkward time between encyclopedias and the interweb, clearly not the information age.  And while I certainly did not think that could be used to assist in cooking, I did learn there was a name for that. 

I like to buy and freeze some beef short ribs when they are on sale (about $4/lb) and just wait for that rainy or snowy day.  Defrost the night before, you could also defrost/marinate in some red wine, that would be extra points...haven't done that yet.

Do not skip the searing step, as that is key to fully develop the dish's flavor.  Some of the newer slow-cookers even have the capability to sear quick and then morph into the typical hot/low heat settings.  Maybe Santa has room left on my list this year? 

Want another winter necessity? Voila.  I like to serve my short ribs with little onions and shrooms, a la Bourguignon. 

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
4-6 servings

5 lb bone in beef short ribs, sbout 4" long
2 large or 3 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 TB AP flour
2 TB tomato paste
1 bottle (750 ml) Cabernet or a hefty Zin
6 large cloves garlic, halved
5 sprigs parlsey
4 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaf
4 C low-sodium beef broth
handful mushrooms, sliced
handful cippolini or boiling onions
mashed potatoes, wide noodles, or rice

With your protein at room temperature, fire up the ove to three fifty.  Season the short ribs on all sides liberally with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt.  Working in 2-3 batches as not to overcrowd your pot, oil up the ribs with canola or veggie oil and brown on all sides for 2 minutes over high heat, until a nice crust develops.  Remove the ribs to a plate.

Turn down the heat to medium and add the onion, carrot, and celery, cook for 4-6 minutes, add the garlic for the last couple.  Introduce the paste and flour, stir for two minutes while it thickens and caramelizes to tomato sugars.  Add 1 C wine and scrape up any tasty bits, then add the rest of the wine to the pot.  While you bring this to a boil, prepare an herbal bouquet (use a silicone, rubber band or string) with parsley, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves, add to the pot.  Whatever fresh herbs you have on hand will do.  After reaching a boil, turn down the heat to medium and reduce by about half, 25-30 minutes.

Add the stock and return the ribs, nestling the ribs in so they are covered well.  Put the lid on and park in the center of the oven until the ribs are very tender, about 2.5-3 hrs.  Remove the meat to a plate, strain the sauce into a glass measuring cup, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid.  Let sit for a few until you can spoon off the fat.  Season to taste with S&P, pour over the short ribs accompanied by mashed potatoes, egg noodles, polenta, or rice.  To serve in the style of Bourguignon, par-boil some small onions, then saute in EVOO with some sliced mushrooms.  Plated below boneless with plenty of gravy, parsley, mashed, and a wee glass of Cabernet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Basics- How to Make the Perfect Turkey and Gravy

Hoooooooooooooooold up.  You were going to buy your Thanksgiving turkey, gravy, and all the fixin's from Dominick's??  Because it's easier than doing it yourself?? Yup, this is what a coworker was telling me, as I thought what about marinating your house in all those smells for hours, if not days? What about the knowledge of your own sanitation and safe food handling?  What about the satisfaction of doing it yourself?   Why pass up the opportunity to purvey your own ingredients?  Why pay someone else for a finished product that is likely more expensive and probably of lesser gastronomic delight than could be obtained through a home-cooked meal?  Another compelling reason? Give some respect to the first meal, as they didn't have Dominick's or Whole Paycheck to rely on.  Do you think they ate turkeys and pumpkin pies at original Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving isn't difficult.  If you really wanna do it right, it will take two days...but I promise most of that time is spent drinking beer!  You can do that, right? Follow these simple steps, and you can easily prepare (homemade!) the heart of the meal- the bird and gravy.  The side dishes and desserts, have family and friends bring that over, they ain't freeloaders.  I recommend you splurge on something nice to drink too, because that's always fun to do that at occasions like this.  Wine with Thanksgiving is absolutely the mostly debated meal when it comes to wine and food pairing.  All those foods and the range of sweet to savory blah blah blah blah blah.  The variety actually makes it is easier to enjoy with your heaping dinner plate.  Drink what you like.  Or Champagne.  It never fails with food.  I picked up my Burgundy for this year from my fav wine store

One week to go, which means you can still buy the frozen guy and let Tom (or Hen) defrost for 3-4 days, depending on the size.  Fresh is good too, if you want to go all out then obtain a heritage turkey from a local butcher or an online place such as D'Artagnan.  It's pricey as hell, money at this point in my life pays for more important things like heat, DSL, and toilet paper.

1. BRINE- this is optional, but well worth it if you decide to.  Why? Moisture retention.  You could even overcook the hell out of it and still end up with juicy turkey meat.  Flavor that moisture, and now you have tasty, juicy turkey meat.  Not cooking the hell out of it helps too.  You'll need a clean 5 gallon bucket and lid from your local Crafty Beaver.  Some people use a clean cooler and then clean it thoroughly afterwards, I'd rather spend the $15 and have a dedicated brining bucket.

Add two gallons of clean water to a large stockpot.  Heat until warm enough to dissolve 1 C of brown sugar and 1 C kosher salt, then let cool.  With the neck and giblets removed, add the turkey and tepid brine to the bucket.  Flavor with- 2 lemons quartered, 1 orange quartered, 2 large onions quartered, a head of garlic, smashed, 2 halved carrots, 1-2 TB of cracked black peppercorns, a few springs of rosemary, thyme, oregano, 2 bay leaves.  If your bird isn't completely covered, add 1/2 C salt and 1/2 C sugar to every extra gallon of water.  Brine for 12-20 hours, flipping halfway through (even if this means setting the alarm on your iPhone to get up in the middle of the night).  Usually it's cold enough in the Midwest to park the bucket outside on the deck, if not you'll have to make room in the fridge to keep below 40F.

2. STOCK- get yourself about 6 large, meaty turkey wings.  Oil em up and season with S&P.  Place in a large roasting pan, 400F until well browned, an hour and a third ought to do it, flipping halfway through.  Remove to a large stockpot.  Place the roasting pan on a couple burners and toss in a few quartered onions, a couple chopped carrots and a stalk of celery in thirds, brown the veg for a few minutes.  It's optional but alcohol helps deglaze the pan and loosen the fond- the tasty browned bits, use a 1/2 C of beer or 1/4 C of dry white wine.  Add 1 C of water as well, scraping your pan with a wooden spatula.  Toss everything in the stockpot, along with a few sprigs of herbs, in cheesecloth or held with a rubber or silicone band.  Add two quarts of water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for at least 2 hours, up to 4.  Skim off some of the foamy bits during the first hour.  Remove the bones and large pieces, strain into a large pot, pressing on the solids to extract all the yummies.  A pair of fine mesh strainers work well, or cheesecloth.  Let sit until the fat rises, then skim that off and save for the roux.  Can be made 3 days ahead.

3. SEASON- fire up the oven or grill to about 450F.  Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well (and carefully in your sink to not spread potential yuckies) and then pat very dry with paper towels, inside and out.  Season well inside and out with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt, then drizzle some canola or vegetable oil all over, make sure you rub it all over real good.  Stuff into the cavity- 1 onion quartered, 1 lemon quartered, a couple pieces of carrot and celery, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Tuck the wings back and under the bird, tie up the legs to close the cavity.  Make a compound butter- seasoned with thyme, sage, rosemary, S&P.  Loosen the skin gently, as not to tear, and stuff the herbed butter between the breast and skin.  

4.  GRILL/ROAST- in a roasting pan with v-rack, for 30 minutes at 425-450F and then turn down to about 350F.  Once the breast becomes golden brown, an hour in or so, cover with aluminum foil and continue to roast until your thermo reads 160(breast) or 175(leg).  Depending on the weight, should be around 2.5-3.5 hrs. Oh yeah, and remove that pop-up thing if present.  Don't poke it too much with the thermo either, as you'll be losing precious juices.  And remember to always read recipes through first beforehand, especially mine.  Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 30-50 minutes before carving.

5.  GRAVY- the reserved fat and any butter as well to make 4 TB, melt in a saute pan and then add 1/4 C of AP flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon for a couple minutes until the roux develops a golden brown, then slowly whisk in your turkey stock, saving a C or so.  Season to taste with S&P as your gravy thickens on medium-low for 10-15 minutes.  I like to add a sprig of thyme as well, removed before pouring into a gravy boat that 10 seconds ago held boiling hot water.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm gravy.

The mis en place- veg and butter, herbs, and a forearm cramp's worth of black pepper and kosher salt.

Any juice from resting and carving should be added to the gravy.  A large carving board with a well helps, thanks Mom! Carve off the legs first, then on one side of the breastbone, cut straight down and then down and out at the bottom of the breast, to carve off in one piece, then in slices.  Separate the drumstick and and thigh, carve off wings too. 

Those carving sets consisting of slicing knife and giant fork are terrible.  Don't ever poke your meat with that fork to enable all those juices, that you worked so easily for, run out on your board.  The foil from tenting, with a towel over that, will give plenty of stability by hand while carving off the hot pieces. 

I love those commercials where the presentation is on a large platter, prettily garnished and whole, placed in the middle of the table.  Cut your own, folks! Hell no that's not being a good host.  A better method would be to place the carved pieces on a large warmed serving plate, covered with al foil at the table.  Practical over pretty always wins out in my book I'm going to write.  An efficient gravy warmer is a blessing as well, to keep the liquid gold piping hot and warm up any slices of turkey breast that may have cooled a little.  I can't wait for all those turkey sandwiches with plenty of Hellman's mayo and freshly ground tellicherry (thanks Megan!) black pepper, and a spoonful of this homemade giardiniera that is just coming into age. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am thankful for my American-made Weber 3-burner gas grill! My first grilled turkey, which was just like a chicken only times two point five.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Roasted Garlic

The transformation of raw garlic to roasted garlic is simply amazing.  It's only the addition of heat+time, but it is wonderful...there is a dramatic difference in taste and texture.  Did I mention it's super simple? If you haven't roasted whole heads of garlic in the oven or on a grill before, you are missing out on another world of mellow, yummy garlic- much different than raw cloves.  

Whenever I've got the hotbox fired up for longer than 45 min or so, I like to roast some garlic.  Delicious multitasking.  Sixty-five cents worth of alliums, drizzled with EVOO, seasoned with S&P.  Wrap with a tiny square of aluminum foil.  There's plenty of wiggle room for time and temp, roast until nicely golden brown and caramelized.  If you're around 350F, allow about an hour.  If the heat is up to 400, you should check the garlic about 35 minutes in.  Middle ground is best, about 375 for 45 minutes.  Let cool slightly and then squeeze out the little orbs of tastiness into a bowl.  You'll likely have to pick out a piece or two of papery skin, but most of the cloves will pop out freely.  The pic below shows a couple heads just before the oven. 

Endless possibilities for this condiment- mashed potatoes would be fantastic.  Mixed into a risotto is a great idea.  Soups and stews would get a little punch of savory goodness.  Like anchovies, a bit of roasted garlic adds a lovely depth to homemade salad dressings.  Maybe you want to enjoy it the simplest way- spread a few cloves on a toasted baguette with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, buon appetito.

How are those Thanksgiving menu plans coming? Are you sticking to classic, time-honored recipes?  Trying anything new this year?  We're doing the usual, which is to keep the traditions and sprinkle in a try-out or two for a couple sides.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pan Seared Salmon with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto

You and I both know we should be doing it more.  You can't ignore the health benefits, and it's usually really good.  As much as you try to, it's just difficult to eat the recommended amount of salmon per week.  Low in the bad stuff and high in the good stuff, the majority of people should be consuming at least 2 to 3 three ounce servings per week.  Sure, you can find the desired omega-3 fatty acids in other foods too such as nuts, and you could always supplement with vitamins, but those options aren't as tasty as this. 

Which type of salmon and from where are you usually buying?  If no other choice, the grocery store farm-raised version with color added will do, but will certainly not taste as good as it could.  Those fish are usually the highest in polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury, and other heavy metals and toxins.  MSG, tasty.  PCB's, not so much.  To ensure the absolute highest quality, I advise that you catch and clean your own.  If that is not possible, then a trip to your fishmonger is in order.  Here you will find wild salmon, the meat of which tastes like the animal actually lived, as if it really swam and chased its prey and avoided death being eaten by a larger fish.  How can you tell if your fish is fresh and was recently doing those things? The eyes should be clear, not cloudy, and the gills should be bright red, indicating there was some recent absorption of oxygen.  My fish guy (literally) is currently closed while remodeling, luckily I live in a city with more than one. 

I'm not sure if it's genetic or what, but some individuals can't stand the taste of cilantro.  To them, I have heard, it tastes like soap.  I've eaten a lot of bar soap in my youth, because my mouth at times was 'dirty'.  I disagreed with that form of punishment and I think cilantro tastes much better than soap.
If you would like to grill or broil your salmon fillets for this recipe, please do so.  

Pan Seared Salmon with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto
4 servings

1/2 C shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 TB lime juice
1/2 medium garlic clove, minced
1/2 C (packed) cilantro leaves
1/4 C EVOO
4 six oz wild salmon fillets
4 wedges from 1 lime

In a small skillet, toast the seeds over medium-low heat for a couple minutes until fragrant (a few might sauter, which is french for jump and the root verb for saute) and toasty, remove from the hot skillet to a small bowl to cool.

To the bowl of your food processor, add the cilantro, garlic, all but 2 ts of the pumpkin seeds and the lime juice.  Season with about a half ts of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  With the motor running, slowly add the oil until the pesto forms, don't forget to stop and wipe down the bowl with a spatula.  Once well-mixed, taste and season with additional S&P if necessary. You may add less or more oil to reach your desired consistency.

With your catch of the day at room temp, fire up a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Season the flesh side of the fish with S&P.  Once the pan is very hot, add a few TB olive oil to the pan and then the salmon filets, flesh side down.  If you have a splatter cover or fan, employ now or clean up later.  Sear for about 3-4 minutes, then carefully flip and cook skin side down for another 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon and to your liking.  I prefer mine almost firm throughout, so I denatured the protein for 4 min per side.   

Plate the salmon, top with a healthy spoonful of cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto, sprinkle a pinch of seeds on the plate and serve with a lime wedge.  What else should you serve this with? A starch such as long-grain wild rice, a green salad, and an unoaked California Chardonnay or a light red would also be delicious. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween!  Unlike most people, it's not about the sweets when I first think of Halloween's culinary delight, it's the pumpkin seeds.  It's not that much work to separate the seeds and flesh- use a colander and squeeze the seeds free, rinse well and pick off the large pieces of pumpkin.  Lay out on a cookie sheet to dry overnight.  Fire up the oven to 325F.

Usually I will make them a bit spicy with smoked paprika and chili de arbol.  This time around, it was cumin and garlic.  Mix it all up in a small bowl, then spread evenly on a sheet pan and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring twice after 10 and 20 min, until lightly browned.  Will keep at room temp for a few days to snack on almost every time you walk past them. 

For about 1 3/4 C pumpkin seeds, I eyeballed about the following-
1/2 ts cumin
1/2 ts garlic powder
1/4 ts kosher salt
1/4 ts black pepper

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pretzel Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Dijon Ale Reduction

Instead of the usual fall sausages around the time of Oktoberfest, this year needed an update.  No brats or kraut, we've pounded our fair share of that down the pipe this summer.  If you're from Wisconsin, your fair share is almost double that of non-residents.  That is fair.  I've always wanted to make my own schnitzel, but when you have Resi's nearby, and this 'more recent' place across the street, it's too easy to let them do it for you.  By the way, that's letting them do it the way they have been for decades.  Their ancestors back in the Motherland going on centuries.  So let's start by keeping the pork as the main focus- and then add some German/Austrian influence.  Do Germans like beer? I believe they and the Czechs always lead the world in liters per person consumption.  Mustard? Of course.  The pretzel was born in Bavaria somewhere.  Or at least that's how the story on wiki is told, if you wanna believe it.  It's not a certified piece of information like an encyclopedia.  The memory of using those things makes me feel oooold.  And the taste of this pork loin with a pretzel crust, drizzled with ale mustard sauce makes me feel gooood. 
I recommend small pretzels sticks or twists to maximize the surface ratio of tasty browned pretzel bits to not browned pretzel bits.  I doubled the recipe to accommodate 2 tenderloins, as I needed some leftover porky goodness to serve others.  Do the math if you only want to prepare 1 tenderloin.  I didn't find time to brine the pork, but that would be a lovely touch if you did.  A simple solution of salt, sugar, half a beer, some garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs would complement well.  Speaking of ratios, this book (and now an app version) is a great read.

What is the best part of making this German pub-worthy meal at home? You don't have to drink Spaten or Hofbrau or Paulaner off the tap, if you prefer not to imbibe that way.  I must be getting old, but I can't handle the tap German beers anymore.  Which at a summer festival in a German neighborhood with giant beers and sausages, lederhosen, and polka bands everywhere, it's not easy to find an alternative.  The dark stuff, the light stuff, it all ends the same- me feeling like I was run over by a BMW on the autobahn, head-first.  A bottle of Goose Island Harvest Ale was sooooo much better.  You know what else I have liked lately? Cider! Just kidding, I haven't jumped on that bandwagon, (and don't plan on it) but cider has become the latest beverage.  I'll stick to some seasonal brews, and a year round favorite in this delicious IPA
Pretzel Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Dijon Ale Reduction
6-8 servings

For the beer mustard sauce-
1/3 C pale ale
5 whole black peppercorns
1 medium shallot, diced (bout 2 TB)
1 C heavy cream
1 TB dijon mustard
1 ts grainy mustard

For the protein-
1/2 C AP flour
2 pork tenderloins, about 1 lb ea
2 TB pale ale
1 TB dijon mustard
2 large eggs
1 C crushed pretzels

Fire up the hotbox to 350F, season the meat with S&P and let come to room temp.  Bust out your breading pans- I find 9" pie pans work great.  Add the flour to one and season with a sprinkle of S&P.  Add the eggs, beer, and mustard to another, whisk with a fork to combine.  Roll the loins in flour, shake off the excess, then dredge in the egg mixture, letting any superfluous run off.  On a rimmed sheet pan, lay out the pretzels and then place the loins on top, rolling around and pressing to adhere the pretzel to the pork.  Place onto another sheet pan lined with parchment paper, for easy clean up.  If you don't have any parch no worries, just more elbow grease.  Similar to grilling pork tenderloin, fold in the tapered end by a couple inches or so to form an even loin, so it does not overcook.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until temp reaches 155F at the thickest part- then let rest for 5-8 minutes before slicing.

While the tenderloins are baking, add the pale ale (or as close as you can get) to a medium saucepan.  Toss in a pinch of peppercorns and the shallot.  Reduce by half over medium-high heat, then strain to remove the pepper and shallot, return to the saucepan and turn down the heat to medium-low.  Add the mustards and then the cream, slowly while stirring.  Simmer until reduced a bit  further- not quite by half, until desired consistency.  Season with S&P to taste.  Spoon over sliced pork and Prosit!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Broccoli Mac and Cheddar

Was the last time you made mac and cheese from a blue box?  It doesn't have to be like that, to quote a great band.  It's quite simple actually.  Boil some pasta, make a sauce with just a few ingredients, combine those two and then bake in the oven.  Sprinkle some crunchy stuff on top if you wanna get fancy.  Making your own mac and cheese is easy and downright fun!  Now, we know it has a bit of cheese and a touch of butter, it's not a light meal.  It's a meal to be eaten with pajamas, slippers, and possibly a blanket while on the couch.  It's for those days that are cold, rainy, and windy (like right now).  Although that's not to say you can't squeeze some health into it, by adding broccoli we gain a serving of one of the most healthiest foods you can eat, and by burying it in cheese and pasta you don't have to taste it, if you're like me.  I have learned to like cauliflower, and I can eat a small portion of broccoli as an adult, but I still don't have to say it tastes good.  Unless, I make this broccoli mac and cheese or use the vegetable to scoop all the cheese sauce out of the can with the pull-top lid.

While the dish bakes in the oven, you will find plenty of time to throw together a dinner salad or fire up some protein for a well-rounded meal.  The leftovers freeze well for a quick side dish or frozen lunch. 

One of my favorite childhood casseroles was the hot dog and mac and cheese bake.  Some cut up encased meats of various sources, Kraft, some brown sugar and yellow mustard.  And the best part- the crushed potato chips on top.  I'm sure you have your own favorite mac and cheese, perhaps it's time to eat your veggies too?

Broccoli Mac and Cheddar
6-8 servings
2 TB butter
3/4 C panko bread crumbs
4 C milk (I use 2%)
6 cloves garlic, whole
1/4 ts black pepper
1 lb cavatappi
1 head broccoli, trimmed, cut into small florets
3 TB butter
3 TB flour
4 C sharp cheddar cheese
2 ts dijon mustard
pinch chili flake
S&P to taste

Fire up the heater to 350F.  Melt 2 TB butter in small skillet over medium-low heat, then add the bread crumbs.  Stir often while toasting for 1-2 minutes, until lightly browned.  Set aside. 

In a medium saucepan, warm the milk on a back burner with the garlic cloves and black pepper.  Heat up your (salted) pasta cooking water, add the pasta when the milk is hot but not boiling and your oven is preheated.  After three minutes, add the broccoli to the cooking pasta. 

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, melt the 3TB butter and then add the flour.  Whisk constantly to form a golden-colored roux, about 3 minutes.  With the garlic cloves removed, add in the milk gradually while whisking, until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the mustard chili flake, and shredded cheddar, remove from heat and stir to melt the cheese and make one hell of a tasty sauce.

When the pasta has cooked to al dente, not too soft, drain and add to a baking dish, evenly dispersing the broccoli.  Cover with the cheese bechamel, making sure to squeeze some in every nook and cranny possible.  Top with the toasted panko, and slide into the oven for about 30-35 minutes until bubbly hot, serve immediately for best effect. 

Looks like your standard m&c from afar, but there's green vegetables hiding in there!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cranberry Lemon Bars

I love many days like Christmas, Thanksgiving, my birthday, her birthday, New Year's Eve, St. Patty's Day, opening day of baseball, and the day I get my automatically deposited tax return.  But my day is one of my favorite.  A majority of the 365 days of the year are pretty good.  But this one day is special- adult hookey, an escape from the usual, a stunt pulled on an ordinary middle of the week day.  My day is exactly that- whatever the   I want to do.  Last year it was fishing.  I hopped on the bike and grabbed my portable gear and headed to the lake, a morning spent not logging in but getting my line wet.  A couple of little guys, but at least I didn't get skunked.  A poor day fishing is better than any day at work.  I recall a fantastic day-of-me a few years ago when we both called in to the man, grabbed some delicious picnic provisions from here, a book and a couple magazines, the battery-powered radio (at that time, may his Cubbie soul finally rest at peace when the curse is broken) to listen to Pat and Ron on the WGN720 AM mothership, maybe a Miller High Life or two for refreshment, and took advantage of one of the best places on earth- Chicago's lakefront.  Thanks Daniel.  Brilliant!

The duck out of the office on a random Tuesday this year was similar, although now it's later in the year and in the NLCS, so the Cubs have been far removed from competition at this point.  By about 4 months.  The radio was therefore left at home.  We still brought the magazines and what is now called a 'Nook'.  The food this time was homemade and a nod to the quintessential picnic food- cold fried chicken, with cheese and crackers, grapes, strawberries, and half the bottle of Pinot Gris from the night before.  You would have thunk that would induce a short nap, but instead it yielded to some free time in the kitchen after my add kicked in from being too still.  I've had this recipe bookmarked for some time now, waiting until fall to bake these cranberry bars with a shot of lemony tartness and a hint of orange.  Maybe on your day-of-you there will be some time leftover to make these.  Or maybe you'll be too busy cleaning bigger fish.  

I don't bake much.  I rarely make sweets, and this is no exception.  The sugar tones down the sour some in this recipe, but the lemon and the orange certainly pucker it up, which for me is the goal of this dish.  We're celebrating fall with some cranberries, tart and refreshing with a generous buttery shortbread base and crumb, a licious combination.  It's quick to throw together and very economical.  So your cheap ass without much time can easily make this.  Get after it. 

Cranberry Lemon Bars
20-22  bars

For the dough-
3 C AP flour
1 ts baking powder
1 C white sugar
1/2 ts kosher salt
zest of 1 large lemon
zest of 1/2 medium orange
8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cubed (stash in the freeze for 10 min)
1 large egg
1 ts vanilla
2-5 TB of cold water
For the filling-
2 1/2 c frozen cranberries
1/2 c + 2 TB white sugar
juice from 1 large lemon
2 T corn starch

Fire up the heater to 375F. In a large bowl or in your food pro, add the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and lemon and orange zest. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry blender or pulse to crumble the dough into small pieces. Move crumbles to a stand mixer and add in the egg and vanilla. Stir on low to combine, then add in the water 1 tablespoon at a time- just until the dough comes together- you may need just a couple or all 5 TB.  Turn out on your board or the counter and divide into halves.  Spread one half into a buttered 9×13″ pan and set aside the remaining dough for the topping.

In a medium bowl, mix the filling ingredients until combined.  Pour evenly over the dough, then crumble the remaining dough over top. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and your kitchen smells all lovely.  Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Buffalo Burgers

Times they are a changin'.  There's a new grocery store in the hood.  Of course it's more expensive than my preferred shop.  But that place didn't carry some items, like ground buffalo.  As soon as I discovered this, I knew some burgers had to get up on that grill.  Buffalo is healthy, tasty, and leaner than beef.  Typical burgers made from beef would be close to an 80/20 lean meat to fat ratio, to ensure they are mouth-wateringly juicy.  These buffburgers, due to their lack of natural fat, got topped 'cowboy' style to keep up with the calories.  And make them extremely delicious.  Cowboy, or western style, is sharp cheddar cheese, sauteed red onion, your favorite bbq sauce, and a couple slices of bacon.

It's nice to have choices.  Conveniently, two grocery stores equidistant from my house, both with their unique advantages.  One is for thrift, the other is for going beyond the norm- like buffalo burgers.  The only drawback?  Another store layout to master- I hate having to learn a new store and spending 6 minutes looking for something I know at the usual place is right in aisle 2, halfway down on the right side, just past the rice, second shelf from the bottom. 

If you've never had buffalo, or bison, give these a try.  It's like a steak burger or a grass-fed beef burger, it certainly is not gamey and hell no it doesn't taste like chicken.  It tastes like a giant hairy animal should, and that is a good thing.

Buffalo Burgers
3 servings

1-2 TB minced onion or shallot
1/2 ts kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1 lb ground buffalo
6 strips bacon
1/4 C bbq sauce
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
cheddar cheese slices
kaiser rolls or any hamburger buns

In a large mixing bowl, add the onion, S&P and ground buffalo.  Mix gently until just combined, do not overmix or press firmly at any time.  Gently shape into 3 patties. 

Fry up the bacon until crisp in a skillet, then saute the onion in the bacon fat until desired doneness. 

Fire up the grill, an indoor grill pan, or a heavy-bottom skillet (cast iron).  Cook over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side for medium, that's the way I like it.  Cooking time will depend on how you like it, and the thickness of your patties vs. the heat of your fire. 

Top with cheese, bacon, onion, and bbq sauce. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bacon Mayonnaise

If you've never tried to make your own mayonnaise, you're missing out.  It's quite simple and absolutely delicious, well worth the extra effort if you've got a couple minutes to give that lunch sammich a touch of special.  I usually use a decent extra virgin olive oil, nothing too fruity that would overpower the condiment.  Here, we swap out the oil for a flavored fat- bacon fat.

This could only be used for a BLT sandwich, quite possibly the best meal on earth.  So after you fry up some bacon, hopefully you got about a half cup of liquid (but not hot) fat leftover to make this mayo.  If you don't quite have 1/2C, you can use a bit of neutral tasting oil to get there, which will obviously tone down the bacon flave a bit. 

Bacon Mayonnaise
about 1/2 C

1 ts lemon juice
1/2 ts kosher salt
1/8 ts black pepper
1 large egg yolk
1/2 C liquid (but not hot) bacon fat

To the bowl of your food processor, add the lemon juice, S&P, and the egg yolk.  With the motor running, (tilting the whole thing if needed for the blade to touch) add the fat dropwise for minute, until you begin to see the emulsification into the egg.  This needs to literally be done by the drop for the first few TB's, a critical step towards building the mayo.  Once you get it going, then you can start adding a bit more, almost a tiny stream.  Once you get halfway through the bacon fat, the rest can be added in a steady but slow stream.  This process might take 3-5 minutes, depending on your set up.  If you want to go old school and use some elbow grease and a whisk, there's a link below for that method, along with gorgeous pictures from Donna and the always eloquent writing from Michael Ruhlman.  
This bacon mayo isn't store bought mayo with bacon salt or bacon bits, this is the real deal.  Homemade mayonnaise is easy and so much better than the standard Hellmans, which is good in its own right.  One of my favorite authors has a fantastic post on homemade mayo. 

If you have one of those plastic squirt bottles for sauces/condiments, I have found it fits nicely in the hole of my food pro and delivers the fat one drip at a time.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple Bacon Cheddar Nut Muffins

I am trying to get into fall, I really am- if only the weather would cooperate.  I'm ready for the transition to cooler weather, I am drooling to make a batch of this in my slippers, which partly inspired these muffins.  Who am I, though, to complain about a week stretch of nothing but sunny skies, daytime highs a degree or two near 80, but it's making it hard to think about my Halloween costume.  Which can't be taken lightly in this household- for some, it's a year-long activity.  Every five days or so, year round, there's an update to the next great idea or something else related to what would be a sweet Halloween costume.  Last year was pretty good, the year before that was no where near hilarious.  I'm running out of time and my bag of ideas has a hole in it.  Robert Smith of the Cure was probably my best work, a thousand years ago when I was 12 or 13.  Whose tapes I still listen to.  So as I continue to procrastinate and blame the nice weather as reason to think we're still in September, I give you these muffins. What was your favorite costume? Got any ideas for me?? Leave it in the comment!  I'm feeling some pressure here. 

An awesome, homemade gift idea for a baker is the gift of vanilla beans and alcohol, after sitting for 12 months in a cool, dark spot.  It's dead simple- put 4 good quality vanilla beans, split lengthwise, in a small, airtight jar...some cruets are good size, there will be solid choices at any container store.  Add about 1.5 C pure ethanol or some good vodka to the jar, and wait.  You will then have some kick ass homemade vanilla extract. 

You know what's a pain in the ass? Muffin tins.  They stick together all the time, the colors might clash with my food, it's just a nightmare.  Here's a better idea- after you fry the bacon, soak up some of the fat with paper towel, as you probably would anyway as standard operating procedure to clean the best instrument ever for frying bacon- a cast-iron skillet, which of course is never washed with soap, rarely with water, always wiped clean with fat, cleaning the skillet and providing a seasoned grease layer to keep the oxidizing air off your metal.  A wipe down every month or so with vegetable oil also helps, during a stretch of non-use.  Use the paper towel to deliciously grease the muffin pan. 

These muffins have a fantastic play between sweet and savory- the sugar and the fruit combines with some old friends in bacon, cheddar cheese, green onions and walnuts.

Apple Bacon Cheddar Nut Muffins

2 C AP flour
2 ts baking powder
1/2 ts kosher salt
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C vegetable oil
1 ts vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 C diced apple
1/2 C walnut pieces
2 TB green onion
1/2 C shredded sharp or extra-sharp cheddar
1/2 C buttermilk
freshly cracked black pepper
4 pieces bacon, crumbled

Oven to three five zero, rack is middle. 

Mix the flour, powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Add to a large bowl the oil, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Whisk to combine, then add the two eggs and whisk for thirty seconds.  Add the cheese, apple, walnut, pepper, green onion, and buttermilk to this mixture.  Stir that up until mixed, then add the flour mixture.  Stir with a spoon (half stir, half fold, really) until the flour is incorporated- don't beat the hell out of it or you'll have some tough muffins.

Pour evenly into a greased normal-size muffin pan, the 12 piece.  Top with some of the reserved bacon bits.  Park in the middle of the oven, things will be golden and delicious after about 22-25 minutes.  Does your toothpick come back clean upon insertion?  Turn out onto rack (which is on a cookie sheet to collect crumbs which will be eaten) and let rest at least ten minutes.  Enjoy now or save for the next day, freeze if you want to save any longer than that.  

Serve with any meal you'd like day or night. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mint and Walnut Pesto

An annual rite to the end of summer is the harvest, a form of which has been going on all over the world for millions of years.  Squirrels don't hoard nuts for the hell of it, and bears don't sleep in a cave for months because they are tired.  If you live in the Midwest like I do, it's gonna get cold, and even worse, dark, real quick.  Right around the time it gets tough to see what I'm grilling when it's only 7PM, that's a big change in the angle of the sun's rays that I ain't happy with.  More like, pissed off about.  However, eating seasonally and embracing all four seasons, or sometimes just the three you get, is a tasty opportunity to smile while tearing another page of the calendar.  People still have paper calendars?  A rainy and chilly night provided a fantastic dinner last week.  You gots to have this one for your repertoire in October.  You will be baking them again in November.  I might make some of these this weekend.  Where's my sausages and beer??  Is this the year to grill the Thanksgiving turkey? 

This pesto is designed to be like that hibernating bear and hide for a couple months.  Although not in a cave, your freeze would be much better.  When I have a couple fillets of tilapia or something that needs a little brightening, this pesto is gonna save the meal.  Lamb is an easy, delicious target.  Shrimps and some pasta mixed with mint and walnut pesto sounds good. 

Don't have an overgrown mint patch to harvest? Hit up this place and get it on the cheap.

the oregano will be hung and dried, seasoning pizzas and Sunday gravy all winter long

Mint and Walnut Pesto
about 1 C

2 C mint leaves, packed
4 garlic cloves, chopped (eyeball to your liking)
1 ts kosher salt
1/3 ts fresh black pepper
1/2 C walnuts, chopped
1 C good extra virgin olive oil (first cold press)

To the bowl of your food processor, add garlic, walnuts, mint,S&P.  Pulse a few times to get everything chopped up and enjoying each other.  With the blade running, add the oil slowly until about 1/4 C remaining.  Stop and scrape down the sides (to pick up that little mint leaf in the pic) of the bowl, then add the rest of the oil in the same fashion, until desired consistency- you might like your pesto a bit looser or thicker, maybe even like a paste- I like mine thick but still pourable.  Store in those tiny (3 TB?) tupperwares in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.  Now I have to go measure those containers to find out...damn ADD.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kabobs

There's something special about campfire meals.  It's not difficult to summon man's urge to grill some dead animal while enjoying the outdoors.  Even the simplest concoction like franks and beans (or beenies-n-weenies to some folk) reach new heights when cooked and eaten in the great outdoors.  F&B were always featured in heavy rotation among my camping recipes.  You got some dogs for lunch and you use some of the 8-pack for dinner, combined with a can of beans and a small onion, diced, throw it in a skillet.  Place on a grate over the fire, cook for a bit until nicely warmed through and bubbly.  It helps to lengthen the skillet handle with hockey or duct tape to a broken hockey stick, cut to preferred length, to give yourself a few extra feet from the fire.  Burning hair on your knuckles is quite malodorous, and usually doesn't impress the ladies.  You could also use a halved broom handle or other piece of wood to extend your stirring reach, but that would not be as cool as using a hockey stick.  These snapped twigs can be re purposed as tomato plant stakes as well.    

If I do stop at one of those fast-food places, I'm gonna grab some extra condiments and S&P packets and save them for hitting the local KOA.   Even if you don't like camping, there's always a picnic or some other travel eating event where you can't bring the pepper mill or box of fleur de sel, but you certainly don't have to go without proper seasoning.  People be living like cavemen and shit without S&P.  Camping luxuriously is all about good food and inflatable mats.  So see below and then go here

What do you like to cook while camping? Those hobo packets where you wrap a bunch of stuff in foil and toss in on some red-hot coals for a quarter hour? That's a classic technique for an endless variety of meals.  You go even easier with steaks? Brats? If yuo got one of them fancy propane 2-burner stoves, you can make the best meal of all- an early morning breakfast of pancakes or eggs, sausages or bacon on the grill slathered in maple syrup.  Along with pretty much anything else you could cook on a normal stovetop.  Wash that down with some mostly-ground free coffee from the press, because of course you revived the fire when you woke up.  I've already told you about my favorite camping meal.  What is yours? Maybe these lamb kabobs could be??

Step one- you need 4 things to build a fire suitable for cooking purposes- a combustible substance, such as aged (dry) pine logs, oxygen, a source of ignition, and a tasty adult beverage.  

Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kabobs
2-3 servings

For the yogurt marinade-
20-24 oz greek yogurt, (or regular plain yogurt strained thru cloth for 1 hr)
zest from 1 large lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 TB shallot, thinly sliced
1 ts kosher salt
1/2 ts fresh black pepper
3-4 sprigs mint
3-4 sprigs rosemary

Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl.  Bruise the herbs a little by squeezing them to bring out the essential oils and thus flavor.  Stir to mix well, if you want to break up the herb sprigs a bit go ahead, I didn't bother.  

For the tzatziki-
3-4 oz yogurt
1/4 C cucumber, seeded and diced
2 ts lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
pinch kosher salt
fresh black pepper

Add all ingredients to a small bowl, mix well.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  Chill.

The yogurt marinade with herbs from the garden, and the lemony-garlicky cucumber tzatziki-

1.5 lb lamb loin or shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1" cubes

The loin will be more expensive yet easier to trim, the preferred cut over the harder working shoulder, although use what you can get or what the budget allows.  Sometimes you is broke, sometimes the butcher doesn't have the exact cut you're looking for.  Part of cooking is working with the provisions available.  

Add the lamb to a large, resealable plastic bag, then cover with the yogurt marinade.  Squeeze most of the air out of the bag while sealing, then mix well with your hands for a few minutes to really get everything liking each other and comfy for an overnight stay in the fridge.  At least 8 hours, 12-24 is best.  A day in the cooler, massaging and rotating every now and then to distribute the flavors when you grab another soda pop, that is proper treatment.

Prepare a hot grill while threading the lamb pieces onto metal skewers.  Season with the extra S&P packets from that 2:15AM Taco Bell stop you would rather not mention.  Your grill does not have to be built from a wood fire at a Wisconsin state park, although that is highly recommended.  With the grate oiled, grill the kabobs over medium-high direct heat for 5-6 minutes per side.  I like my young sheep a little past medium, so the chunks of meat are lightly charred on the outside yet still tender on the inside, but not too chewy.  If you like your lamb a bit closer to life, shoot for 4 minutes per side. Throw some pitas on the grill for a literal hot minute, then make some lamb kabob pitas with tzatziki sauce!  That's the way I like to camp. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Grilled Mussels a la mariniere

You didn't think you could grill bivalvia mollusca?  Nonsense, my friends.  You can grill clams and oysters too!!  There's more to outdoor shellfish cooking than shrimp on a skewer.  Although shrimp are in a different phylum and class, still kingdom animalia though.  Mmmmm...animalia, my favorite kingdom to eat.  Have you forgotten the taxonomic classification of organisms?  I'm sure coming up with this theory got Linnaeus laid all the time in Sweden, but it wasn't a good opener at the bar in my college days.  For my classmates, that is.  I spent most of my schooling years studying, and didn't really have time to frequent any bars or saloons. 

They call mussels the poor man's oyster for a reason- you can't get a pound of oysters for $5.  These little guys are not only cheap, they're super tasty- and there's just a few simple rules for handling them.  First, you need to ensure your mussels are alive when you purchase them- just ask for them so at the fishmonger.  Most places will pack them up for you in a plastic bag sitting on a bag of crushed ice inside another bag.  This will keep them at their preferred temperature while you continue shopping, standing in line, fighting traffic/carts/pedestrians in the parking lot.  If you get home and have one that won't close its shell with a gentle tap, throw it out.  Do not store in fresh cold water, they will die.  Do not asphyxiate by sealing off that plastic bag- keep it open so they can respirate.  That's about all you gotta do to keep em nice and happy- use them preferably the day you buy, although as long as you store them properly 95% of them should live stored this way.

One last thing.  Please use a good wine-something that you like to drink...after all, it's a very large component to the flavor in this dish.  Good matches here would be a sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, pinot gris or pinot grigio.  To quote someone famous, 'I love cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food'. Hiyooooooooooooo!!!!  (To quote someone else, not quite that famous yet, but certainly on the way) 

Never prepared mussels before? To clean them, but scrub the outside lightly under running cold water with a brush (that hasn't seen the soap).  If the beard is present, rip these little hairs out.  You don't want to eat that.  And again, if the shell is open and then does not close with a littler tapperoo on the shell, it's a dead guy.  A mussel quickly deteriorates once they go to shellfish heaven, and that's not tasty anymore.  You want a tasty dead guy?

Grilled Mussels a la mariniere
two servings

2 lbs mussels, prepped
3 TB butter
1/2 C shallot, diced
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 ts dry thyme
1/8 ts chili flake
1/8 ts black pepper
2 C dry white wine
1/2 C fresh chopped parsley
3 TB lemon juice, halves reserved
half loaf of good, crusty bread

Fire up the grill for medium high direct heat.  In a large dutch oven or pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Saute the shallots for a couple minutes, then add the sliced garlic.  Stir and cook for 30 seconds, then add the chili flake, thyme, and pepper.  Of course this is all measured out as part of your mis en place, so that you are not trying to do all this now and thus burning the garlic.  Pour in the wine and increase the heat to bring to a boil, then manage the flame so you have a decent boil going, not splashing all over the place, but more than a simmer- you want most of the alcohol in the wine to boil off.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, the liquid will reduce slightly. 

While you cook the liquid gold bath for the mussles, take the shellfish outside to the hot grill.  Place carefully onto the grates, spread out evenly and try to keep the side that will open pointed up, as to not loose too much juice.  Cook for about 5-8 minutes, turning a few times, until they are done- which is when the shells open by a half-inch to an inch, depending on their size.  Grill the reserved lemon halves if you like.

Add the grilled mussels to the sauce, the parsley and the lemon juice, stir to mix everything up nicely.  Serve with plenty of broth, an empty bowl for the shells, and there should be some of that white wine left as well.  An accompanying salad would be tres bon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cranberry Orange Scones

Blame it on the economy, but I am done paying $23 for breakfast.  Sure it's much more convenient, but now with a coffee bean grinder, even the black stuff at the diner isn't better than mine.  I bet you too like to sit at the counter of your local spot, reading the paper and hearing the regulars talk shop, sports, weather.  But more than once a month, that money is better spent on something else, like a nice bottle of wine.  Now if I could just remember to stop frying bacon without a shirt on, that can sting sometimes.  

You know these will be on the brunch plate in Autumn.   Those were ridiculously good. 

For this round of dough, I decided instead of the typical scone (cut like a pizza) shape to use the 2" biscuit cutter and thus the round appearance.  Just re-roll the dough remnants twice, gently of course, and you got biscuit-scones. 

Cranberry Orange Scones
8-10 scones

2.5 C AP flour
1/4 C sugar
1 TB baking powder
1/4 ts baking soda
1/2 ts kosher salt
1 egg
2/3 C heavy cream
1 stick butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, very cold (as in, put in freezer for at least 10 min)
1/2 C cranberries, dried
zest from 1 large orange
3 TB melted butter

Fire up the heater to 375F, rack middle position.  

In a medium bowl, add the cream, egg, sugar, whisk well to combine.  In the bowl of your food pro or another large bowl, mix the dry stuff- flour, salt, soda, and powder.   Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs by pulsing quickly about a dozen times, or with a pastry cutter or two forks.  Add in the wet stuff, mix until just combined.  Turn out on your board/counter.  Fold in the cranberries and zest, then form  into a circle.  Cut into about 8-10 scones, place on an ungreased sheet pan.  Brush the tops with melted butter, then sprinkle with a bit of sugar.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes, until nicely golden.  Eat as soon as possible, although they will last all day.  Yeah right.  

My scones weren't impressively golden brown this time, next batch I would use an egg wash- an egg mixed with a ts of water, or maybe a splash of cream mixed in with the egg? Egg yolk only and cream?  What do you think??

Serve with your favorite jam or preserves, or a pat of butter.  Enjoy the savings.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mixed Fruit Salad with Basil, Lime, Mint

It's over :(  Another summer in the books.  Technically, since it's September 1st, it's not meteorological summer anymore...even though it was 96F today and might be 98F tomorrow.  That's not the fall I envision in my mind-it's filled with thoughts of grilled cider-brined pork, apples, oven-roasted squash, colorful falling leaves (which hopefully are rounded up and lit afire, love that smell, although not good for enviro), Irish pumpkin cheesecake muffins, long sleeve t-shirts, grilling when it's not 96F outside, and the always shocking start to the 6+ month hockey season.  To the rink in flip-flops and shorts never gets any easier. 

You might be familiar with what I call summer in a bowl, but this dish is close at the heels of deserving that title.  I literally did not put my bowl down, just spoon after spoon after spoon feeding my face.  I love blueberries, the savory vs. sweet enjoyment here with the herb-infused simple syrup and fresh herbs is lovely.

The inspiration for this recipe came from watching a plate of basil and berry topped pancakes be devoured at this bucolic little patio adjacent to this place. Although enjoyed with a glass of fruit juice, a fresh mojito could be employed for an adult brunch treat.  Gotta use up all the mint (and basil) anyway that has been lovingly cared for, watered and weeded all summer long.  The hardier herbs, like the rosemary, oregano, and thyme, will last through any upcoming chilly nights.  Those will also be harvested and dried in a month or so.  I don't really bother drying basil, it's just not a good taste to me.  It's much better stored as pesto in the chiller or ice box, covered with a bit of EVOO.  When the mood strikes, whip out your pesto real quick and you would be much happier with this on the menu.  Hell yes that will be a great surprise in three months to find hiding in the bottom of the freezer underneath a pile of cheese rinds.  Of parmigiano reggiano.  To put a little umami in the chicken stock, of course.   

You can use any fruit you like- never cut a mango before?  You have tangerines at the crib? Throw em in.  Some blackberries? Absolutely.  This will last in the fridge for a day, although is best day of. 

Mixed Fruit Salad with Basil, Lime, Mint
6-8 servings as side

1/2 C each water and white sugar
1/2 C basil leaves, packed
1/4 C mint leaves, packed
lime zest from a medium guy
1 large mango, cored, diced
1 pint strawberries, halved (giant ones cut into thirds)
1 pint blueberries
2 kiwi, diced
1 C champagne grapes, or regular seedless red or green grapes, halved
3 clementines, segmented, or 1 large orange, diced
10 leaves mint, torn
10 leaves basil, torn
2 TB lemon juice, bout 1 large guy

Basil and Mint Simple Syrup- combine equal parts of sugar and water, apply heat to dissolve the sugar- this may be done on the stovetop or microwave.  Add basil, mint, and lime zest, stir to combine, give a little pressure, a light muddle if you will, on the herbs to extract the essential oils.  Park in fridge to cool for at least an hour, or in a container overnight.  Strain before using. 

Salad- Add all the fruit to a large serving bowl, then add the herbs and lemon juice, stir gently to mix.  Add the chilled syrup and stir again, careful not to beat up the froot too much.  Stash in the chiller for at least 20-30 minutes before serving, mix well again before doing so.  

This can be enjoyed slightly cooler than or at room temp.  Which means take it out of the fridge when ready to eat, then go outdoors, find a comfortable place to sit, and just try to put the spoon down before it's gone. 


Monday, August 29, 2011

Slow-Roasted Oven Tomatoes

You absolutely cannot define summer without mentioning tomato.  If you didn't eat at least one tomato straight out of your garden or from a friends or a neighbors, you shouldn't say you had a good summer.  Go ahead and buy them from a local farmer's market, those are good too.  Fresh and local, that is of importance.  If you, like me, have put up with the shitty, tasteless grocery store tomatoes all winter as necessity sometimes dictates, then you plunge headfirst into the local tomato season, making all kinds of things to celebrate the juicy fruit.  Lots of BLTs with thick slices of giant beefsteaks.  Tomato chunks to start a fresh sauce.  Peeled and diced up for garden salsa.  Stuffed with blue cheese and basil, sprinkled with bread crumbs and grilled.  Sliced for a pizza.  Sliced for a tomato cheddar quiche.  These roasted tomatoes would liven up any salad, a burger or sammich, an orzo salad with feta and red onion, (my intention) or another rice/risotto/pasta dish. Snacking right from the bowl is also a welcome, if not addictive, way to eat your way to the end of a  successful season. 

 Slow-Roasted Oven Tomatoes

As many grape, cherry, or small plum tomatoes as you can carry in two hands. 
6-8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Fire up the oven to 235F, rack in middle.  Wash tomatoes, then slice in half and layer cut-side up on a large sheet pan.  Sprinkle in the garlic, then season with kosher or sea salt and black pepper.  Splash some EVOO in there, then get your hands on your food- toss well and then lay the tomatoes back to cut-side up.  Roast for about 2.5-3 hrs, rotating the rack halfway through.  Remove to a rack to cool and keep these for a few days in a container uncovered, to assist in drying them out as much as possible.  After a couple days they can be covered and again left at room temp, do not refrigerate.  Not that it matters, you'll be grabbing one or two of these every time you walk past the bowl, conveniently situated on the kitchen counter, within easy reach.  If you want to keep them long-term, pack into a glass jar and cover with EVOO.  Don't add the garlic cloves, unless you like botulism.  It's not for me, personally.  

I've never seen peppers grow upside down before, but apparently it's quite normal for some types.  These chili de Arbol are orientated quite the opposite of the jalapeno, which is too fat to achieve such defiance of gravity.