Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pecan Pie... another attempt

This blog, I've come to realize, is really just for my own record keeping of my experiments.  For those of you who actually read this (which I know there aren't all that many) this is yet another attempt to find the perfect pecan pie.  I have a work Christmas potluck tomorrow and I saw an opportunity to work on the pie.  I figure you guys don't really need another picture of a pie.  This one turned out kind of on the darker side.  So in previous attempts, the chess turned out kind of runny and was really quite a mess.  So this time I added a little flour to it in the hopes that it might thicken it up.  So without further adieu, here's what I did tonight. 

Pecan Pie #5

1 cup pecans
1 bar 85% chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup dark maple syrup, plus a little drizzle
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
2 oz. Amaretto
1/4 cup melted butter (1/2 stick)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs, well beaten
1 egg white
1 8" pie shell

Preheat oven to 350.

The chess: Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl.  To it stir in maple syrup, molasses, honey, Amaretto, melted butter, and vanilla extract.  Make sure the mixture is not hot from the melted butter when you add your eggs or they'll scramble.

Put the pecans in a saute pan and roast them for a few minutes, moving them around in the pan every few minutes.  Keep a close eye on them.  Burning them is a bad thing.  When they start to smell good, they're done.  Drizzle a little maple syrup and let it reduce on medium-low to low for a few minutes.  Again, keep a close eye on it so as not to burn anything.  When it's reduced to a beautiful candy like consistency, remove it from the heat.

Pour the chess into your pie shell.  I ended up not using all my chess mixture because it would have overflowed.  Drop the chocolate and pecans in and stir them a little so that they're evenly distributed.  Brush the crust with your egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 50 minutes.  Let cool on a cooling rack for a few hours.

Tomorrow night Noah is coming over and we're going to fry some chicken (Thomas Keller's recipe) and we're going to taste test the Dogfish Squall IPA against the Dogfish 90 Minute IPA.  Should be fun. 


Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I'm a great lover of beer, and a great lover of GOOD beer.  I especially adore IPAs (that's India Pale Ales for you non-beer-connoisseurs).  They're hoppy, bold, and sweet, tangy and full of character.  To me, drinking a good IPA is akin to drinking a good cab-sav.  They're great with just about anything big and bold, from a steak or fried chicken, to even a spicy curry.  And there are a handful of IPAs that I've tried lately that have been really quite good.

Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA

I was perusing my local Kroger one day when this lovely beer just jumped off the shelf and into my cart.  While definitely not my favorite IPA in the world, it does stand up and get your attention.  Really, this is a very artfully crafted beer, as I have come to expect from Sam Adams.  This beer is brewed using hops from the 48th latitude, otherwise known as the "hop belt" in Germany, England, and America.  If you find this in your grocery store, and like IPAs, I'd highly recommend picking up a 6 pack.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
This is another beer you can find in the grocery store.  Of course, for me, if it has the name "Dogfish Head" it ends up in my cart.  Man I love this brewery.  This is my second favorite IPA in the whole world.  It's smooth and bold and full of flavor.  After a hard day of work, this is how I relax.  So yummy.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

The 60 minute beer is yummy.  The 90 minute is divine.  This is even bigger and even bolder than the 60 minute, and at 9% alcohol it'll knock you on the floor if you drink too many of them.  Fantastic, fantastic, FANTASTIC beer.

Now it's important to note that there is also a 120 minute IPA that is about 18% alcohol.  Yes...  18%.  I've never seen one, and I've ALWAYS wanted to try one.  Oh MAN what I would give to try one.  If anybody reading this knows where I can get my hands on a 4 pack please let me know...  

Ok, now for the list of beer that's sitting in my refrigerator that I haven't tried yet.

Dogfish Head Squall IPA
This badboy is another 90 minute, but different in some way.   What that is for certain, I don't know yet.  The guy at the liquor store told me the there's little difference between the regular 90 minute IPA and the Squall 90 minute IPA.  The Squall is a little cloudier and has hints of cannabis.  I said, "Cannabis?  Well shit, I may need to buy two!"  I have a 90 minute IPA sitting in my fridge, and I'd like to try them side to side to compare them. 

Dogfish Head - Chateau Jiahu

Another one that I have no idea about.  It looks tasty though.  I'll let the guys from Dogfish cover this one:  "Let's travel back in time 9000 years.  Preserved pottery jars found in the Neolithic villiage of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern China, has revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit was being produced that long ago - right around the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East!  Fast forward to 2005.  Molecular Archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology calls on Dogfish Head to re-create their second ancient beverage and Chateau Jiahu is born.  In keeping with historic evidence, Dogfish brewers used pre-gelatinized rice flakes, Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers.  The rice and barley malt were added together to make the mash for starch conversion and degredation.  The resulting sweet wort was then run into the kettle.  The honey, grapes, Hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers were then added.  The entire mixture was boiled for 45 minutes, then cooled.  The resulting sweet liquid was pitched with a fresh culture of Sake yeast and allowed to ferment a month before the transfer into a chilled secondary tank."  Also, at 10% alcohol, this is no lightweight either.

So throughout the course of writing this blog I've been sipping on this:

This is the craziest shit I've ever seen in my liquor store.  So, ok...  normal bourbon is 80-90 proof, about 40-45% alcohol.  This shit is 125 proof, 62.5% alcohol.  Sipping on this is like getting punched in the face by Chuck Norris.  It's very similar to moonshine in taste and in color.  And it burns.  Oh dear god does it burn.  So if you want a punch in the face and want to get drunk fast, this is your ticket. 


Friday, December 10, 2010

More Pecan Pies: The Chocolate Experiment

So, this update is more for my own records than anything else.  I'm continuing my work on the ultimate pecan pie.  I was disappointed with my pecan pies at Christmas and decided they needed some work.  Also, there's a family gathering tomorrow night so I'll have lots of input.

So I made two pies tonight.  The first is a Honey Bourbon Pecan Pie, and the other is an Amaretto Pecan Pie.

I have all these ingredients...  what should I do with them?

Honey Bourbon Pecan Pie

1 9" pie crust
1 cup pecan halves
3.5 oz (1 bar) 70% cocoa (I used Lindt)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz. Bourbon
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350

Combine sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, eggs, salt, vanilla extract, and Bourbon in a mixing bowl.  Add the melted butter in slowly, stirring constantly so as not to scramble the eggs.  Roughly chop the chocolate so it's about the same size as your pecans.  Add the pecans and chocolate pieces to the mixture and pour into pie crust.  Brush the edges of the pie crust with the egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting into.

 Amaretto Chocolate Pecan Pie

1 9" pie crust
1 cup pecan halves
3.5 oz (1 bar) 70% cocoa (I used Lindt)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup dark Karo syrup
1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz. Amaretto
1 egg white
A drizzle of maple syrup

Combine brown sugar, Karo, eggs, salt, vanilla extract, and Amaretto in a mixing bowl.  Add the melted butter in slowly, stirring constantly so as not to scramble the eggs.  Roughly chop the chocolate so it's about the same size as your pecans.

Toast pecans in a saute pan on medium heat, keeping a close eye on them so they do not burn.  When they start to brown and smell delicious, drizzle enough maple syrup on them to coat thoroughly and cook for about 5 minutes. 

Add the pecans and chocolate pieces to the mixture and pour into pie crust.  Brush the edges of the pie crust with the egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting into.

And here's a picture of the two of them together:

Ugh, and I should have done these on a baking sheet.  For starters it would have made it a lot easier to get them out of the oven...  but also, I guess some of the filling dripped down on the burner and made a mess of my oven.  Like I don't have enough to do this weekend as is...  crap...  At any rate, I'll let you guys know how they turn out tomorrow....


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving in Retrospect

Sorry it's been a couple weeks since my last update.  Been too busy to blog, what with Thanksgiving craziness, and holiday gigs lined up one after the other (I'm a musician, did I mention that?).  This was the first TG that I my mom didn't do the cooking at our house.  She left it in my capable hands (yeah, and my sister helped a little...  I guess...).  Here was the menu:

Pecan Pie (old family recipe)
Bourbon Pecan Pie (new recipe)
Pumpkin Pie (old family recipe)
Eggnog Pie (old family recipe)
Pumpkin Bread (old family recipe)

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Relish
Yams (not sweet potatoes)
Oyster Dressing (not stuffing)
14 lb Fried Turkey, brined for 12 hours ala Alton Brown

Here are some pictures:

Me, prebaking the crust for the Eggnog Pie

Whole mess of Pumpkin Bread goodness.

Cranberry Relish

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Oyster Dressing

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Pie

The spread...  drumsticks were a little underdone...  more on that in a minute...

Me and the wife relaxing on the porch while waiting for the potatoes to cook.
So for my first attempt at frying a turkey, it wasn't half bad.  I had a some problems getting my oil up to temp.  I dropped the turkey in the oil at a low temp (~250° F) because I heard it would reduce the risk of boil over.  Well, when the turkey dropped it SIGNIFICANTLY lowered the oil temperature (we're talking about 100° drop) and it took 30 minutes to get up to 350°, my target temp.  And by that point my skin was starting to blacken.  Things I would do differently next year?  Leave the lid on while frying and drop it at a higher temperature.  I had a fire extinguisher in hand the whole time, so if anything had happened I could have managed it.  It would have meant no turkey, but that's better than a burned down house.

But anyway, I took the turkey out at 30 minutes, the skin was a nice dark brown.  It was MOSTLY done.  The only parts that didn't get done were the drumsticks, surprisingly...  which nobody ate obviously.  But the white meat was fantastic!!!  My sister, who hates turkey, said it was the best she'd ever eaten.  But to me it wasn't perfect.  In fact, nothing this year was perfect.  I felt like I was just scrambling to get everything done.  Oh well.  I learned something for next year.

How did my mom do it by herself for so many years?  Man.  What an exhausting day.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Italian Meatball Pizza

So because the last update didn't have any pictures, I figured I'd show you guys what I made tonight.  That's right, a meatball pizza.  I didn't really feel like making my own crust, so I just used the next best thing: a Bobli crust.  Also, since I was out of cheap olive oil, I had to break into the olive oil my mom brought back from Italy.  Yeah, and holy crap is THAT shit good....    uuuuuuggggghhhh....

Italian Meatball Pizza

1 12" Bobli pizza crust
1 Yellow onion, chopped
3 Shallots, also chopped
1 Red bell pepper, cut into small pieces
1 Head garlic, top cut off exposing all the cloves
1 Package Italian sausage
1 Small package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I like Classico Tomato Basil)
1 bag shredded mozzarella (Sargento is pretty consistently good)
Cayenne pepper
A heavy handful of basil (lots of basil), chopped
2 eggs
Kosher salt
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.

1. Combine onion, shallots, and bell pepper in a baking pan and drizzle some olive oil on top, mixing with your hands to make sure even coating.  Drizzle a little olive oil on the garlic head and find a good spot for it in the baking pan.  Roast for 45-50 minutes.

2. Take 3 sausages and make an incision down one side and peel the skins off.  Put in a mixing bowl and mix in a few heavy shakes of cayenne pepper, depending on how spicy you want the meatballs.  Crack in an egg and stir until combined.  With wet hands roll your meatballs into small 1/2" balls and line them up on another baking pan greased with more oil (I used canola for this to conserve my really good olive oil).  Pop them in when you have 20 minutes left on your veggies.

3. Take your meatballs and veggies out of the oven and preheat it to 425.  Coat your crust in a light layer of marinara sauce, maybe a couple tablespoons worth.  With a paper towel in hand so you don't burn the crap out of yourself, squeeze the head of garlic until all the cloves pop out.  Evenly arrange them on the pizza.  Pile on you onions and bell pepper, and on top of that pile on your cheese.  Evenly arrange your meatballs and sliced mushrooms.  Sprinkle a few heaping handfuls of fresh basil on top and drizzle the whole thing with a little olive oil.  Brush the crust with egg white and sprinkle with some Kosher salt.  Bake on 425 for 15 minutes or until the cheese turns a little brown.

And you should end up with something like this:


Spicy meatball
Yeah, it was a pretty damn good pizza.  Don't ask me for a calorie count.  It's probably pretty bad.  But man was it good.  Ugh!!!

Noah has recently turned me on to a different kind of salt.  For all of my life I've been using Morton's Kosher Salt, and never knew there was really a difference other than size.  I figured, "It's a mineral.  How could one salt be any different from another salt?"  Well, I was wrong.  This is the salt I shall be using hence forth and shall be persuading all of my loyal readers to use:

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
Apparently, all the top chefs use this salt...  I found mine at Penzies.  Yay Penzies!!!


Thomas Keller's Roasted Tomato Sauce

Saturday night Noah came over and we made Thomas Keller's roasted tomato sauce.  The original plan was to make his sauce, meatballs, and make our own pasta as well...  but you know, I got busy and tired and didn't feel like it.  So we just made his sauce, an easy meatball recipe (compliments of Giada), and whole wheat linguine.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures.  Here's a rough sketch of his recipe:

Roasted Tomato Sauce

2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
2 leeks, chopped (white and light green)
4 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2x 28oz - 32oz cans San Marzano tomatoes
1 Sachet

Cheese cloth
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove
10 whole pepper corns
2 sprigs thyme

Wrap all ingredients in cheese cloth and tie using kitchen twine.

1. In a decent sized, oven proof pot, roast the onion, fennel, leeks, and garlic with canola oil in a 350° oven for 45 minutes or until the onion starts to caramelize.  Add in your brown sugar and vinegar and stir to combine.  Put back in the oven for 20 minutes.

2. In the meantime, drain your tomatoes.  Cut them open and remove all the seeds (not as easy as it sounds...  allow a good 30 minutes if you're doing it yourself...).  Coarsely chop half of them and puree the other half in a food processor.

3. Stir them into your pot, drop in your sachet, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Let roast for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.  Discard your sachet and serve on linguine.

This is the best tomato sauce I've ever made.  In fact, it may be one of the best tomato sauces I've ever had.  The only problem I found with it is that the recipe didn't make enough.  Next time I'd make a double, triple, or quadruple batch.  I'm thinking about doing this and bottling the leftovers.  So good.  Hope I don't get in trouble for posting the recipe.  It was just too good not to share.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Weekend Recap, Fried Chicken

This weekend Noah and I made Thomas Keller's fried chicken.  The recipe came from his book Ad Hoc At Home, so for obvious legal reasons I can't divulge the recipe.  But here are some pictures of the final product:

Cute little sprig of deep fried thyme
Yes there are only 3 thighs from 2 chickens...  don't ask.

So while I can't share the recipe, I can talk a little about the process.  We had to use two rather small chickens, 2.75 lbs and 3 lbs.  The night before we parted them up and made our brine.  The brine had lemon, garlic, thyme, and of course salt.  We used a flake salt that I found at Penzey's.  I woke up at 6 the next morning and dropped the chicken in the brine and let them brine all day.  I had to use my giant aluminum fry pot to brine them.  It wasn't until later that day that the thought ran through my mind, "Wait a minute...  are you supposed to brine things in aluminum?"  Sure enough, I found that lemon and salt can react with aluminum and cause your food to taste metallic.  You can instantly tell if your brine is reacting with the aluminum if your garlic heads turn a blueish purple color.  When it came time to cook my garlic was still white so I figured we were safe, and everything turned out fantastic.

The frying process was a lot of fun.  I let Noah do the majority of the work.  You split your flour and spice mixture in two bowls and put your buttermilk in a separate bowl.  The chicken goes in the flour first, then the buttermilk, then the flour again, and then you drop it in your peanut oil.  When it's done you put it on a cooling rack and season it with a little sea salt.  Sea salt is used because it's a very fine salt that dissolves almost immediately.  The end result was outstanding.  It was the best fried chicken I've ever eaten, hands down, bar-none. 

Next week Noah and I will be doing another series of recipes from the same book.  We plan on making his roasted tomato sauce, homemade meatballs, and...  get this...  we're going to make homemade pasta.  I've never done it before.  I've never even HAD homemade pasta before.  I have no idea what I'm signing on for, but I'm excited about it.  Shit yeah. 


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pecan Pie

So every year since I was born, my mom has made Thanksgiving dinner.  When we were kids we were banned from the kitchen for the whole day.  When we got a little older she let us help a little bit, but she's always done the majority of the cooking.  Well this year, she's handed the torch down to me, the youngest child.  For the most part, I'm sticking to the traditional recipes, but being a creative person I have to mess with a few of her recipes.  For starters, I'm frying a turkey instead of baking it.  I have always loved her pecan pie, but one of the main ingredients in it is Karo syrup, which I hate.  It has absolutely no flavor at all except super sweetness and I think I can do better.  I've also made a few other modifications that I won't mention.  And mom can't get mad at me for posting this because this is MY pecan pie recipe, not hers.

CJ's Pecan Pie

1 cup pecans
½ cup sugar
½ cup dark maple syrup
½ cup molasses
2 oz. good Bourbon (I like Gentleman Jack)
¼ cup melted butter
3 eggs – well beaten
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 8” or 9” unbaked pie shell
The white of 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 and place a baking sheet to preheat as well.

In a saute pan, toast your pecans on medium heat.  They should be done when they're slightly browned and start to smell good 5-6 minutes maybe.  Just keep an eye on them and toss them around every 30 seconds or so.  

Combine the maple syrup, molasses, Bourbon, melted butter, beaten eggs, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl and whisk them until homogenous. Add in sugar, salt, and toasted pecans.  Pour into your pie shell.  Take your egg white and brush thoroughly around the edge of the piecrust.  

Place on your preheated baking sheet and cook for 50-60 minutes.  Let cool on a cooling rack for 30 minutes.  Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!

Look at that beautiful crust!

Meagan's Korma

Yesterday afternoon Meagan asked me for some Korma.  For those that don't know, Korma is an Indian curry that is full of spice and flavor.  It's not as hot or pungent as Vindaloo, but mild is definitely not the word for it.  The sauce (or gravy as they refer to it) is creamy and rich.  It's definitely a staple at our house.

When I first started cooking Indian food, I started with this book:

Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

She's like the Julia Child of Indian cooking.  I've made just about every recipe in that book at least once.  My Korma recipe comes right out of hers.  I've made many many modifications to it though.  But many of my Indian recipes have been inspired by her. 

Meagan's Korma

2 medium sized chicken breasts, skin removed
2 lbs fingering potatoes (sub yukon golds)
2-3 large carrots
10 oz frozen peas (or more if desired)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onion
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
15 green cardamom pods
12 whole cloves
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon Indian red pepper
2 cups plain yogurt
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 cup coconut milk
1 head iceberg lettuce (optional)

To make the masala (or the spice mixture), remove all the seeds from the cardamom pods and put them in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.  This will take a while, but it's worth it.  Grind together your cardamom, cloves, and coriander seeds.  If you'd rather skip this step you can use ground cardamom, ground clove, and ground coriander, but grinding them yourself tastes better in my opinion.  In a small bowl, combine all your spices: cardamom, clove, bay leaves, cinnamon, coriander, and red pepper. 

Remove as much fat as you can from your chicken breasts and cut them into 1/2" - 3/4" cubes, about the size of a scallop.  On a different cutting board with a different knife cut your potatoes and carrots into bite sized pieces.  Try to keep them about the same size as the chicken so they all cook evenly.  I like keeping the skins on my potatoes, but you can skin them if you desire.

Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil on your back burner.  When the water is boiling add in your potatoes and parboil them for 10 minutes.  In the meantime you can...

Heat your oil up on medium-high heat in the largest pan you own, preferably non-stick.  When your oil is hot enough add in your onions, garlic, and ginger.  Cook them until the onions are pale and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add in you masala and stir for a few minutes so that it's completely absorbed.  Drop in a few tablespoons of your yogurt and stir it in until the moisture has evaporated.  Do this until your yogurt has been completely absorbed.  Your korma should have a nice yellow color by now. 

Add in your chicken pieces, your potatoes, and your carrots, along with a few ladles of stock water from the pot you parboiled your potatoes in.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and let it cook, covered for about 25 minutes.  Add in your peas, your coconut milk, and your salt and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes.  Now here comes the most important part of this recipe: let it rest for an hour.  If it looks a little on the thin side, it will thicken up!  Just let it rest!  When your hour is up, reheat it on low heat.  Before you eat it, obviously, remove your bay leaves.  You can serve it on rice or spoon it into iceberg lettuce cups (which is amaaaaaazzzzzing!!!...  and also low-carb!). 



Monday, November 8, 2010

The Weekend Recap, Menudo

This weekend I purchased a turkey fryer, and I got a great deal on it too.  Check it out:

Bass Pro Shops® 30-Quart Propane Turkey Fryer

This is one of the best fryers I've seen that isn't $200.  And it was only $40!!  However, I'm not all that impressed with the pot for it.  It's a little on the flimsy side.  I might go to a restaurant supply store in town and find one that's the same size a little more heavy duty.

Yesterday, my friend Noah and I made Menudo.  Menudo is a Mexican soup with beef tripe and pigs feet.  For those out there that don't know, tripe is stomach meat, and in this case it's beef tripe.  It's very absorbent and holds a lot of flavor.  I woke up and hit the international market near my house to find tripe and pigs feet.  Unfortunately, they were all out of pigs feet, so I had to get Noah to pick some up for me.  There are several types of tripe that's used for menudo.  A cow, as you probably know, has more than one stomach, so finding the right tripe to use can be tricky.  The best kind to use is honeycomb tripe, and it looks something like this:

Honeycomb tripe, whole
Surprisingly enough, it had very little order.  I've heard that the other kind of tripe is very smelly and you have to wash it, boil it, wash it, bleach it, brine it, and wash it again just to make it edible.  Honeycomb on the other hand, has none of these problems.  Apparently, it's the "clean" stomach.


I pieced together this recipe from several different ones I found.  I decided to try to use as little ingredients as possible, as I've been told the simpler the menudo the better the result.

2-3 lbs honeycomb tripe
1 package pigs feet
1 lb. Ancho chilies, dried
3 medium onions
3 heads garlic
10 limes
32 oz white hominy 
2-3 Tablespoons dried oregano
3 bay leaves
Kosher salt

To start off, I brined my tripe.  I took two ziplock bags (because it wouldn't all fit in one) and squeezed about 3 limes into each bag, dumped about 1/3 cup of Kosher salt in there, and enough hot water to dissolve the salt.  I dropped my tripe in the bags and filled it up with enough hot water to fill it to the top.  I let that brine for about 1 1/2 hours.

In the meantime, I worked on my ancho chili paste, the secret ingredient to menudo.  Take all your chilis and remove the stem and all the seeds.  Put the flesh in a large pot and fill with water until all the chilis are covered.  Looks something like this:

Let them rehydrate for about 30 minutes and then put them in a blender and puree them.  You'll have to add some of the stock from the pot to get the consistency right though, so don't dump it down the drain until you're done!  I also added a ground up ghost chili to my paste just to give it a little kick, but you could just as easily use cayenne chilies.  When you're done, you'll end up with something like this:

Now that your tripe has been brining for about 1 1/2 hours, take them out of the bag and rinse them off a little bit.  Now comes time to cut them.  Try to cut the tripe into bite sized pieces.  My resident Mexican friend says they should be about the size of your thumb from the knuckle to your thumbnail.  Maybe something like this:

Cut tripe
So now into the biggest pot you own (at least 3 gallons) add your tripe, your pigs feet, and your bay leaves.  Take 2 or your onions and peel and quarter them, and cut your garlic heads so the cloves are exposed.  Fill the pot up with enough water to cover all the ingredients and let it cook for 4 1/2 hours.

When your 4 1/2 hours are up, add your white hominy, your oregano, and about 3 heaping spoonfuls of your chili paste, I'd say measuring about a cup.  Really, this should be done by eye, and don't be afraid to add more.  Check for salt and cook for another 30 minutes.

When your finished, all the flavors should be all melded together.  Carefully remove the pigs feet, garlic cloves, and bay leaves.  To serve, spoon into shallow bowls and put diced onion and cilantro on top and serve with several lime wedges.  Should look something like this:

Menudo, final product
A Mexican delicacy!  YUM!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Well, it's cold outside and it is officially soup season.  But I'll get to soup in a minute.  A couple days ago Meagan said she wanted grilled chicken.  I had seen Alton Brown's grilled chicken episode not long ago and had it in the back of my mind.  So when she said grilled chicken I said, "Ah ha!  Get me a 5 lb chicken woman!"  After yelling at me for calling her woman, she got me a whole chicken.

Unfortunately, by the time I got around to cooking it was raining.  So instead of grilling the chicken I baked it.  (For some reason, the foodnetwork site is down, so here is his brine and rub):

1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup salt
1 quart warm water

Part your chicken.  I know, easier said than done.  It just takes practice and patience.  This also helps.  Skip to 5:13 of this video:

Put all the parts, minus the guts, plus the salt, honey, and water into a 1 gallon ziplock bag.  Let it rest for 1 1/2 hours.  Why brine you ask?  Many reasons.  You see, brining helps break down the internal proteins allowing the bird to cook more evenly and allowing the skin the crisp better.  If you overcook it, the flesh will still be juicy.  If you undercook it, the the acidity in the salt will have killed most of the nasty bacteria making it safe(r) to eat.  Also, flavor.  There are so many good reasons to brine poultry.

Ok, now that your chicken has brined get out another ziplock bag and dump in your spices:

1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon adobo powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika

Put your chicken completely dry and drop the pieces in your spice bag.  Shake it up until each piece is coated.  Put in a roasting pan and bake for 25-30 minutes on 400.  Internal temp should be 161-ish.  So sosososososososososososo good.  But...  yeah, don't sub indian chili powder for regular chili powder.  They're not the same.  I knew that going it, but I like things spicy.  It was a bit...  too spicy.  Yeah.  It was deadly, but I like deadly.  Anyway, this post is supposed to be about soups. 

Tonight I'm making Giada's Italian Wedding Soup.  I love love love this soup.  When I normally make it I use spinach because the wife is crazy about spinach.  She hates it when I use endive or escrole.  Apparently, she thinks I hate spinach.  I don't, but it is boring.  Also, expensive when you buy it fresh ($7.99 /lb!!!!).  And the store was out of frozen spinach.   And endive was $1.99 /lb.  Guess what I bought.  Hope she isn't mad.

Ok, so I'm going to start this segment with a little bit of back story.  This is my friend Noah:

Everybody say hi to Noah.  Noah likes to cook.  Well, I think he likes the idea of cooking, but he's afraid to actually get in his effing kitchen and MAKE anything...  other than quesadillas and nachos...  and he's so proud of them too...  it's really kind of cute.  But he has the potential to be a serious foodie, I can tell.  Anyway, Noah showed me a video of someone making Menudo on youtube the other day.  For those of you that don't know, Menudo is a Mexican soup that has tripe and pig or cow feet in it.  Tripe is stomach meat.  And it just so happens that I stumbled across an excellent market close to my house that sells every kind of organ meat imaginable (not to mention, they had a big rack of blue crabs that were all fighting and shit...  it was epic.  I stood there for 5 minutes watching these crabs duke it out).  But anyway, so on Sunday Noah is coming over in the afternoon and we're going to cook some Menudo.  Shit yeah.

Now, the only organ meat I've ever successfully cooked is liver, and apparently tripe can be very tricky to cook, and there are many different methods.  I'm thinking I'm going to go with a lime and salt bath, and a long-ass cook time.  Maybe I'll even try to make my own tortillas.  Anyway, I dare not make menudo without my lucky Mexican on hand.  Love you Nurrrrr.... 


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Another Weekend Recap

This weekend I did several adventurous culinary things.  After a long night of partying I woke up and made Eggs Benedict using Alton Brown's Hollandaise recipe.  Not easy.  When I finished it looked beautiful!  Nice and creamy and rich, but by the time I was ready to serve it had congealed and looked like yellow brains.  AGH!!  All that work for something that was, although still delicious, looked like crap!  Oh well...  I need to figure out how restaurants manage to make large quantities of hollandaise and manage to keep it from becoming zombie fodder.

So, I have no pictures of anything that I did this weekend.  Sorry...  I was hungover.  Shut up.  But to go with my eggs benedict, I made a fruit smoothie.  During the summer months I was making them every damn day.  Fresh fruit was cheap and readily available and everything was good.  I went to the grocery store on Sunday morning and a box of blueberries was $7!!  Oh HEEEEELLLLLLL NO!  So I decided to go the frozen route and was pleasantly surprised.  While not as good as fresh fruit, it was really pretty good.  Here's what I did:

1/2 lb frozen blueberries
1/2 lb frozen raspberries
1/2 pineapple
1 banana
1-2 cups orange juice
2-3 Tablespoons yogurt
2-3 Tablespoons good local honey (buy local whenever possible)
A pinch of salt

Directions: Put everything in the blender.  Blend.  Drink.  Enjoy.

So that evening I made another batch of creme brulee, but I decided to do something a little different to it.  I added half a cup of espresso to it (and added an extra egg since I was upping the liquid).  It turned out fantastic!     

Tonight if the rain holds off I'm going to grill some chicken.  If it rains, I'll bake it.  We'll see.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Bean Soup

A quick little update.  I made a bean soup tonight.  I sent the wife to the store for some base ingredients (celery, carrots, red onion, garlic, and every kind of bean you can find), and pretty much used up what was already in the house.

Bean and Ham Soup

A big nub of butter
A couple splashes of olive oil
6 Carrots, peeled and chopped
2 Red onions, diced
6 Celery stalks, chopped
4 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Can Red Kidney Beans
1 Can White Kidney Beans
1 Can Garbonzo Beans
1 Can Lima Beans
1 Can Black Eyed Peas
1 Can Diced tomatoes
4 Cups chicken stock
1 lb of ham, cubed
A few strips of bacon (or pancetta), fried until very crispy
1 lb frozen spinach
2 Tablespoons course salt
1 Tablespoon pepper
2 Tablespoons thyme

In the largest freaking pot you own (seriously, this makes a lot) heat up your oil and butter.  When your butter melts and the oil is spitting, add your carrots, onion, celery, and garlic.  Let it sweat on medium heat for about 10 minutes.  Add all of your beans and your tomatoes.  Add your chicken stock and bring to simmer.  Throw in your frozen spinach, your ham, and your crumbled up bacon.  Let simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the carrots are nice and tender.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme.  Plate it in a shallow bowl and grate parmesan on top of it.  Serve with a dark, malty beer. 

This made so much soup I imagine we'll be eating it all week.  And cheap.  So cheap.  And so good.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Monday night I got home, sat down on the couch, and suddenly realized I wasn't feeling too well.  By Tuesday morning I had 101 degree fever and was pretty much useless.  So I spent the whole day in bed, ate very little, and basically did nothing.  Tuesday night I got out of bed, bound and determined to do SOMETHING...  So I baked a pie.  Here it is:

Unfortunately, my mother would murder me in my sleep if I divulged this recipe, so you'll just have to do with the picture.  :)

This morning (Wednesday) I'm feeling much better, but I still have a 100 degree fever, so the wife ordered me to stay home (and she also ordered me to get rid of the pie because just looking at it was making her fat...  psh...).  So I dropped the baby and the pie off at the grandparents, and stopped at Chic-fil-A for a chicken bagel.  When I got home I decided I could probably use some vitamin C, so I concocted this:

My get better juice.  I know the picture doesn't do it service...  It actually looks a lot better than that.

CJ's Get Better Juice

1/2 Pineapple
1 Banana
2 Blood Oranges (thus the color)
2 - 3 cups of no pulp orange juice

Put all the ingredients in a blender and liquefy.  And give it a good long while.  Strain out all the pulpy bits and drink it up.  Enjoy!

Ok, I'm going to go eat my chicken bagel, drink my juice, and watch some day-time TV.  


Monday, October 18, 2010

The Weekend Recap

We had a pretty exciting weekend, full of lots of cooking and autumnal things.  Friday we went to my friend's wedding reception.  They had gotten married, on a whim, in South Carolina about a month ago.  He proposed and later that day they got married on the beach.  Super cute, I know...  So Friday night they had their reception where they invited friends and family.  But they had the right idea for reception food.  Fried chicken...  and not just ANY fried chicken, but Gus's Fried Chicken, quite possibly the best fried chicken man has ever dreamed of. That's how we do it in Memphis.  Fried chicken and Miller Genuine Draft.  One of the coolest wedding receptions I've ever been to.  On our way home we stopped at Gibson's Doughnuts and picked up a half dozen (they go on sale at 11:00...  $2.50 for a dozen...).  Their New Orleans doughnuts are killing.  I'm so serious.  Go there. 

Last week I picked up little bit after work and the two of us went and picked out some pumpkins at Jone's Orchard, a farm out near Millington.  Now, all of my life I've been buying pumpkins in the city off of crates or the back of some guy's truck.  But not this year, and I never again.  I bought 4 decent sized pumpkins for $20!  It would have easily cost me $50 had I bought them in the city.  The wife and I have already carved 2 of them.  Here's a picture:

Saturday night the wife cooked and I took care of the baby, and Sunday night we switched roles.  So Saturday night the wife made a Ribollita, a Tuscan vegetable soup, and Rachel Allen's poppy seed cake.  Ribollita essentially means to "reboil".  According to Wikipedia, it comes from peasant origins and was originally made by reheating the leftover minestrone or vegetable soup.  It's a pretty simple soup to make, and although I didn't make it and don't have the exact recipe in front of me, here's essentially what it is:


Olive Oil
2 medium red onions, roughly chopped
4 or 5 decent sized carrots, chopped
3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped
X cloves garlic, minced
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can cannelloni beans
4  cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 lb. of spinach (fresh or frozen)
Salt and Pepper

Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil.  When the oil is hot add your onions, carrots, celery, and garlic.  Saute until onions are translucent.  Add tomatoes, cannelloni beans, herbs, and vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil.  Add in your spinach.  If you're using fresh, just pile it all in your pot.  It will wilt down to a fraction of it's original size.  Let it cook for...  oh, 15 minutes or so.  Just enough to get the spinach nice and cooked.  Add salt and pepper.  This sucker is delicious, simple, and VEGAN!  It was a good detox from eating fried chicken and doughnuts the night before.

Now, to this recipe you can add just about anything.  Pancetta, parmesan, tomato paste for a little extra richness.  I personally would have added every kind of bean I could get my hands on.  Red kidneys, white kidneys, garbanzos, black eyed peas... maybe not pinto or black beans, but you know...  I suggested to Meagan that she sub spinach for something more exciting like endive or escarole, but she got mad at me and asked why I hated spinach so much.  Let me just state for the record, I do NOT hate spinach.  I just think it's boring. 

After dinner I went outside to carve my pumpkin (see above...  mine is the one on the left...) and Meagan made Rachel Allen's poppy seed cake.  I'm going to post a link to it, but watch out...  it's all metric!  It just proves what a baking genius my wife is.

So last night I made mussels and creme brulee.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention.  I bought a new toy this weekend.  Behold:

And it was cheap!!  $20 for the burner, $1.87 for the butane!!!  But after I bought him I had to justify my purchase, so I decided to make creme brulee.  My mussels are super simple, and so tasty.  Here's what I did:


3 tablespoons butter
2 lb. mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
Handful of celery leaves, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
A bushel of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 fennel bulb (yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaah....), chopped
2/3 cup dry white wine

Melt your butter in the biggest pot you own.  Big pot.  Big big pot.  When your butter is hot, add your onion, celery, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and fennel.  Cook for 7 to 8 minutes until your onion is translucent.  Add your wine and bring it up to a light boil.  Drop in your mussels and sprinkle the celery leaves on them.  Cook them for 10-15 minutes until the mussels are open and well cooked.

When you're ready to plate, spoon out your mussels into a large bowl and put it right in the middle of the table.  With a slotted spoon, spoon out your veggies into a soup bowl.  Eat with some crusty Italian bread.  Yum yum yum!

You can plate it anyway you want, but I found the best way to serve mussels is family style.  So, next is the creme brulee. 

Creme Brulee

6 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
Half a vanilla bean
4 oven safe ramekins

Preheat your oven to 325.  Put your ramekins on a baking pan.

Slice your vanilla bean in half and scrape down the sides to get all the vanilla.  Add your cream, sugar, and vanilla to a saucepan and bring to a scald.  A scald is just below the boiling point.  Make sure to heat it slowly, stirring it often, and keep a close eye on it.  It can burn very easily and essentially ruin the flavor.  Don't burn it!  You can tell you've reached a scald when your getting bubbles around the edges of the pot and some wispy steam.

Whip your yolks and add a little bit of your cream.  Stir it in slowly, so as not to scramble the egg.  Add it to your ramekins.  Put the baking pan with the ramekins in the oven, and then add hot water to the pan about halfway up the ramekins.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Take them out and let them come to room temperature and then pop them in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours.  They should look like this:

When you're ready to serve, sprinkle with granulated sugar and torch those suckers.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures when I was torching them.  I'm sure I'll probably be doing this again sometime soon though.

Tonight, my lovely wife is making a pot roast.  She called me just a minute ago to yell at me for throwing out the thyme.  It was brown and mushy and gross.  I didn't want it in my fridge.  Yes, we love to cook.  Someone called us the next Neely family the other day. While I'm not a big fan of the Neelys, I took that as a compliment.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Flambed Pineapple

So a couple days ago I came across this cute little guy in the grocery store and fell in love:

I didn't really have anything in mind when I bought him.  He was just too cute to pass up.  But tonight after dinner I got a bit of a sweet tooth and decided to do something adventurous.  I flambed that sucker.  Here's what I did.

I quartered and peeled him until I had a few nice pieces of flesh.  Add a little bit of canola to a decent sized frying pan and add the pieces when the oil is good and hot.  I would say somewhere around medium heat.  Saute them until they have nice brown edges around them.  Sprinkle a little dark brown sugar over them and stir until the sugar kind of melts.  Cut your heat and add a shot of liquor (a nice dark rum would have been nice, but all I had was brandy, so I used that instead).  Take a fire stick and light that sucker ablaze.  Don't be afraid!  You're going to get a decent sized flame for a few seconds.  Exhilarating, isn't it?  Add a little nub of butter and reduce your sauce to a nice glaze.  Serve over vanilla ice cream. 

This was so good my wife isn't even talking to me anymore.  I just wish I'd gotten a picture of me flambeing that shit.  Would have been epic.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Chuck Hughes and Red Velvet Cupcakes

I don't watch much TV these days, but when I do I typically watch cooking shows.  Recently the Fine Living Network became the Cooking Channel and I couldn't have been happier.  It's all cooking shows 24/7, and a lot of them are really good.  Most come from the BBC or Canadian networks, but they also show old cooking shows like Julia Child's The French Chef and Two Fat Ladies.  Two of my favorites are Indian Food Made Easy and Chuck's Day Off.  Chuck Hughes is co-owner and head chef of a restaurant in Montreal, and on Mondays his restaurant is closed and they film Chuck's Day Off.  The premise is, he cooks a meal for someone who helps him keep his restaurant afloat, whether it be his repair guys, his beer distributor, or his wait staff.  He films it in the actual kitchen for his restaurant and he only films it on Mondays, his actual day off.  But the food he makes is simple and always fantastic.  I've made several things of his and they always come out really well.  I highly highly highly recommend DVRing this show.  It's worth it.

Last week he made some Red Velvet cupcakes with mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) icing.  Now, I don't like to bake.  In fact, I actively dislike baking.  Half the time I bake things they come out horrible, but these just looked too good to pass up.  Well, my wife came home from work yesterday in a terrible mood.  She'd had an extraordinarily bad day.  And when she's in a bad mood she likes to bake cupcakes and work out all of her frustration...  except last night she was too busy studying for a big test she had this morning.  So not only was she in a terrible mood, but she also had to study...  no good.  So I decided to bake for her, and it just so happened that I had something in mind.


2 eggs
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 cup plain yogurt
Red food coloring (lots of it)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups mascarpone
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup 35% cream (heavy whipping cream)
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat your oven to 350.

Mix your dry ingredients and your wet ingredients in separate bowls.  As far as the food coloring goes, you'll have to have an eye for color.  It's going to take a lot to turn your batter deep red.  Something to keep in mind is that the cocoa is going to turn your batter from a bright red to a deep, blood red, so if the color isn't quite right when you mix your wet ingredients, wait until you add the cocoa.  Add your dry ingredients to your wet ingredients a little bit at a time.

Line a muffin tin with liners and grease the inside of them.  Fill up your liners a little more than halfway and bake for 25 minutes, rotating them at 12 or 13 minutes.  When you take them out, stick a toothpick in them.  If it comes out clean your cupcakes are done.  If not, keep baking them.

For the icing, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until a smooth, creamy texture.  It doesn't take long to do by hand and you work off a few calories doing it.  Wait for them to cool before you ice them.  Eat them.  Enjoy them.  Pretty darn good, huh?

The official recipe can be found here.  Chuck Hughes - Red Velvet Cupcakes 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Turkey (Part I)

Every year since I was a little boy my mother has baked a turkey for Thanksgiving.  She has her technique down and everything, and simply refuses to let go of her tradition.  Well, this year I informed her that I was going to be frying a turkey.  She obviously put up some resistance, but we came to a compromise.  There are going to be two turkeys this year, one baked and one fried.

I first encountered fried turkey when I was dating a girl in high school, and her mother had moved out to the country and married a good old country boy.  My first Thanksgiving I didn't spend with my family I spent with hers out in the country.  Most of the spread was passable at best, but the turkey was the best I'd ever had (sorry mom).  I thought, surely a fried turkey was going to be greasy and crunchy and terrible, but holy crap...  it was juicy and a little crisp.  I had no idea turkey could taste like that!!  And while the relationship with girl I was dating fizzled like most teenage romances do, the memory of that turkey has stayed with me all my life.  Nearly every year since then I've tried to talk my folks into doing a fried trukey.  And every year they say absolutely not.  Well, this year is going to be different.  I'm gonna fry a damn turkey and YOU CAN'T STOP ME!!! (inside joke)

But now on the other hand, I have also had some very bad fried turkey.  Turkey that looks like this:
Sorry, this is not what fried turkey is supposed to look like.  Yes, I've eaten turkey like this.  It's not good.  It's dry and charred and pretty much awful.  Why is this turkey completely charred?  Because you bought a damn 20 lb bird you yocal!  By the time the inside of the turkey is done, the outside is completely burned to pieces.  13-14 lbs is the so-called Goldilocks zone (not too hot, not too cold).  

Now, frying a turkey can be extremely dangerous.  Every year you hear about a hundred yocals (that's the word of the day) who end up in the ER because their damn turkeys exploded, or his deep fryer did this:
Really, all you need to keep this from happening is some common sense and a fry thermometer.  Oil is a combustible liquid, and it vaporizes at a very high temperature (400-450 degrees).  Once an oil reaches it's smoking point, or flash point, in addition to tasting really bad, all it needs is a spark for combustion.  There is no reason to ever get your oil hotter than the smoke point, and in fact there's every reason NOT to.  Now, as for exploding turkeys, the only reason a turkey would explode is if it were still frozen.  You see, water vaporizes at a much lower temperature than cooking oil.  So when ice (very condense water molecules) hit hot oil, the water instantly vaporizes and EXPANDS.  This expansion is more like an explosion really, and when the ice explodes, the oil goes with it.  As soon as the oil hits the burner below the pot, BAM!  This happens:
In the weeks to come I'm going to be sharing with you my loyal readers a safe and effective way to fry a turkey without killing yourself.  I'm going to document everything from purchasing a deep fryer, to choosing and preparing your turkey, to disposing of your used oil.  Maybe you'll learn something!