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.