Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Postpartum Christmas

Long time no post! I know, I know! As you might have guessed by now, the little man with an apron was born. He came home Christmas morning, and is happy, healthy, and HUNGRY!

We opened Christmas presents after we got home from the hospital, but not surprisingly the presents were pretty underwhelming compared to coming home with our baby. Parenthood is kind of like becoming a vampire. I spend a lot of time awake in the night; I'm aware that a very familiar part of my life is now over; but I know that this new state of being has given me some super powers. I am far more efficient now. I was never one for sitting around or not keeping busy before, but now I'm a whirlwind of errand-running, chore completing, home appliance repairing, and diaper changing.

In terms of my foodie life, I continue to need to eat, and I continue to insist on eating good things. So, while I haven't had a chance to bake any more bread, I have made about 5 gallons of sauce, roasted a turkey for (a day late) Christmas dinner, and churned out a steady supply of soup for the Mrs. and my Grandma, who, with 8 siblings and 2 children of her own, has plenty of experience and energy to help us get situated.

I got some pretty cool food related presents, among them a pizza stone, 8" and 6" cast iron skillets, a pasta maker, and two cookbooks, Momofuku and Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game. I'm really pumped try out some Momofuku dishes, and I'll be sure to share pictures and recipes when I do. Admittedly, a book about butchering will cover a lot of things that don't come up for me. For instance, I will likely not slaughter any cattle in my suburban apartment. But I wanted the book to learn about how meat is prepared. Plus there is a recipe for venison pate in there that I'm looking forward to trying.

Last, I have a recipe to share. It's an eggplant parmesan that I've become locally famous for. And by "locally famous" I mean by my friends and family. I like it because if you ever have to deal with vegetarians and omnivores at the same dinner table, this is something that you can serve to everyone without complaint.

As a general rule, I don't like eggplant parm. I find it starchy, difficult to digest, and not particularly tasty whenever I've had it. But this is different. The recipe is my own concoction, developed in an effort to impress my then girlfriend, now wife. She used to be a vegetarian, and suggested that I make eggplant parm. Rather than saying that I didn't like it and didn't know how to make it, I went and did it. It turned out better than anyone else's that I've had.

I say this is my recipe, but it is not as though the ingredients are non-traditional in any way. I think it is the approach to the eggplant that makes it really good.

Before you start though, just a note about the sauce. While I usually make homemade sauce for my eggplant parm, for the most part you can get away with a decent jar sauce. If you do choose to make your own, you'll want to make it a consistency that is similar to store bought. Don't make your sauce too watery, and don't make it too chunky, otherwise the sauce somewhat distracts from the eggplant/cheese interaction. In a bowl of spaghetti, the sauce is the star, but in a plate of eggplant parm, the sauce is a supporting character, and the eggplant and cheese are the stars.

Family-style Eggplant Parmesan

1 large eggplant
About 2-3 quarts of spaghetti sauce
olive oil
canola oil
2 cups of breadcrumbs
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup of Parmesan cheese
1 lb. mozzarella cheese


Skin the eggplant and slice the eggplant longways as thinly as possible. I can't stress how important it is that the eggplant be sliced very thin. That's what makes my eggplant good. In a large bowl, mix the eggs and milk and whisk. Coat the eggplant slices in the egg wash and then coat the eggplant in breadcrumbs by tossing each slice individually in a large bowl of breadcrumbs. You might also add some dried basil and oregano to the breadcrumbs. Be sure to give each eggplant slice individual attention by coating with egg wash, then immediately coating with breadcrumbs. I usually bread the eggplant as space becomes available in the pan, rather than all at once.

Heat a large skillet (or two) on medium heat, add one part olive oil, one part canola oil. Use enough oil to moisten each eggplant slice, but not so much that you're deep frying the eggplant. Be aware that eggplant absorbs liquids, so the eggplant will suck up the oil. This softens the eggplant up, but be careful not to keep too much oil in the pan at once. You'll probably have to add more oil for every five eggplant slices.

Fry eggplant in skillet until golden brown, taking care not to burn the breadcrumbs. While frying the eggplant, preheat the oven for 300 degrees. Put cooked eggplant slices in a large casserole, laying them out in a layer on the bottom of the pan. When the bottom of the pan is covered in a whole layer of eggplant, cover the eggplant with sauce, then cover the sauce with some of the Parmesan cheese, then apply sliced mozzarella cheese on top. Add another layer of eggplant slices on top and repeat until you either run out of eggplant or space in your casserole. When completely assembled, cover in foil and put it in the oven for about 20-30 minutes, long enough to melt all of mozzarella cheese. Serve.

The important thing about the treatment of the eggplant is that you want to really break the eggplant down. You slice it thin, fry it thoroughly, then bake it. By the time you eat the eggplant, you get the flavor of the eggplant, without any of the starchy-ness.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lost in the Sauce

Here in New Jersey, Italian-American culture is somewhat ubiquitous. Growing up, I didn't know that most people aren't Italian-American. I just figured I was one of a small minority of non-Italians in the whole country. I never really came to terms with how different that is with the rest of the country until I tried to make Eggplant Parmesan in Texas. Finding Mozzarella cheese was a major ordeal. And, the meal was well-received, but thought to be somewhat exotic. Italian food, exotic? It was an eye-opening experience and made me a little sad to find out that people have been deprived of mozzarella cheese for so long. Then again, it comes right back around because the only place I know of to get really great Mexican food outside of Texas is in Mexico. I'm sure California and Arizona and New Mexico do fine too. Makes me think that there should be some sort of system whereby we send some Italian restaurants down there, and we get some Mexican ones in return.

This past week with me being busy for finals, and the Mrs. patiently waiting for the little man to arrive, I put together a lot of comfort food type dishes. Nothing fancy, but the kind of food that keeps you full and warm. One of my favorites is Lasagna. But we also had a really outstanding Spaghetti and Meatball night recently. On Meatball night, I baked some of the fresh homemade bread dough that I had living in my fridge.

The good news about my bread was that it was beautiful and delicious. The outside had that incredible crunch-crackle sound that only good bread can produce. The bad news is that I still haven't mastered getting it to be as light as a real loaf of french bread. Still beats the store bought stuff though.

So, with all of that said, I wanted to share with you a little bit of New Jersey's home cooking. I saw that the Amateur Gourmet recently gave a recipe for Sunday Gravy, a meaty version of your basic marinara sauce. It goes by a lot of names, but for simplification sake, I generally refer to it as spaghetti sauce (which is made of but not synonymous with tomato sauce). Some people call it gravy. Some people call it Ragu, or Marinara. You can call it whatever you want, but I usually either say red sauce or spaghetti sauce. Or, as my Grandpa used to say, "sketty sauce".

Anyway, Amateur Gourmet just gave you a pretty good sauce recipe, so I'm not going to do that. I wanted to do something a little different. The fact is, you don't really need a recipe for spaghetti sauce. I don't think I've ever actually measured anything while making red sauce. My recipe often consists of whatever I find in my closet and fridge. Sometimes I put wine in it, if I have some open red wine. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I've got lots of peppers but not enough onions, other times, its the other way around. Either way I'm eating red sauce, and either way I'm putting in whatever I have. Sure I'd prefer to have this or that every time, but red sauce isn't the sort of the thing that I tend to plan out ahead of time. It's just something I throw together on a Sunday afternoon.

Instead of a recipe, I'm going to go over some basic principles that you should know about making the sauce. These are either common pitfalls, or little tricks that I've learned, or suggestions to make the sauce better. Much of it is common sense, but if you think I've missed anything, that's what comments are for.

1) The better your ingredients, the better your sauce.

Ok, this might be fairly obvious and truly does apply to all cooking, not just sauce. I bring it up though to remind you to try to strike the right balance between quality and price. Don't just buy a jar of pre-minced garlic, some dried out basil, and expect to have a noteworthy red sauce. You won't. But, on the other hand, we could blow $50 on red sauce ingredients if you got the best tomatoes in the store and had everything fresh and perfect. I don't think you want to do that either. You don't need organic shallots in your red sauce. Onions are just fine.

2) Don't use a cooking wine that you wouldn't drink yourself.

If you have "cooking wine" from the supermarket in your house right now, I want you to open up the bottle, and pour yourself a nice big glass of it. Have a sip. Disgusting, yeah? Why would you put that in your food if you can't stand the taste of it? I guess we're back to balancing quality ingredients, but this just had to be pointed out. Buy a bottle of red wine that is less than $10, and use that.

3) Treat your garlic the way you want to be treated.

Ever see the movie Goodfellas? There are a couple of lessons to learn about making sauce from that movie. First. Do you see those guys with a jar of pre-minced garlic? Hell no. They have fresh garlic, and they chop it really thin with a razor blade. They take pride in their garlic. They treat their garlic the way that they hope the garlic will treat them: with kindness and respect. You don't have to use a razor blade to chop your garlic, but chop it fine and with love. The Second sauce lesson from Goodfellas is my number 4 on this list.

Another pearl of garlic wisdom is that, like many ingredients in the sauce, they change character the longer they are cooked. Garlic is typically sauteed first as one of the first few steps of making a sauce. I do that too. But, I also chop up a little more garlic after the sauce has been cooking for a while. This garlic has more bite to it. The original garlic that you've added becomes a part of the character of the sauce, and has almost a smokiness to it. The second batch of garlic bites a little bit more and says, "Hi!, There's garlic in this!" You want to give it time to cook, so it won't be like eating raw garlic, but the second batch of garlic is just a little more awake than its long simmering brethren. Of course, if you don't care for garlic, don't bother with the second batch.

4) Stir-it, then Stir-it. Then Stir-it more.

The second Goodfellas sauce lesson is from the scene where Henry is being followed by the helicopter, making a drug run, and worrying about the sauce getting stirred. A good red sauce takes time. It would be a shame to put all that time in your sauce only to get a burnt flavor permeating the whole thing just because you didn't stir it. So, no joke. Stir the sauce. Otherwise, you'll be sorry.

When I start my sauce, I have all of my vegetables ready for sauteing. Prep comes first so that I am free to stir and stir and stir my veggies without risk of burning them.

5) Add your herbs and spices last.

There is a temptation to throw in all of your tomatoes and onions and garlic, then add basil, oregano, and whatever other herbs you plan on using. But save the best for last. Remember I said that garlic changes its character after cooking for a very long time? Well, so do herbs and seasonings. The flavor tends to die out after being cooked for very long. It's the difference between a raw chili pepper and a slow roasted one. Basil and Oregano are no different. If you cook them all day, their flavor will be significantly diminished. This seems to be more true of fresh herbs too. Dried herbs first seem to re-constitute, then eventually diminish too, but their sweet spot is a bit later than the fresh stuff.

6) Tomato Sauce vs. Tomato Paste vs. Crushed Tomatoes vs. Fresh Tomatoes

Always add fresh tomatoes if you can, but you can't, it is not the end of the world. You can still have a pretty good sauce with just the canned stuff. But, first you gotta know what all the canned stuff is. Tomato Sauce is a thin sauce that is very similar to the consistency of V8 juice. You can use this as your base, but you will need to thicken it up quite a bit. Tomato Paste is what you use to thicken the sauce. It is, you guessed it, a paste. A little goes a long way, and it needs to be stirred in order to meld with the sauce.

I rarely use tomato sauce in my red sauce, and instead opt for a combination of fresh tomatoes and a couple cans of "crushed tomatoes". Crushed tomatoes have a slightly chunkier consistency and make the sauce feel more like homemade than regular tomato sauce. I also puree some fresh tomatoes as the first ingredient after the sauteed veggies. With all of these tomatoes, but especially the fresh ones, you have to cook them for many hours in order to reduce their acidity. Don't even taste your sauce until you've been cooking it for at least a couple hours.

Both crushed tomatoes and fresh tomatoes tend to release a lot of water. This is what tomato paste is for. You add it and your sauce is less watery.

7) Meat? Yes. Or not.

Sausage, Meatballs, Pork ribs, Veal Shoulder, whatever. These are all great in your sauce. Try whatever you like. I usually just go with turkey sausage and turkey meatballs. You really can't go wrong.

Vegetarian? Add mushrooms, try eggplant. Zucchini has been done successfully.

8) Tomorrow is another day... to eat sauce.

Make as much of this stuff in one batch as you possibly can. It lasts a long time, can be frozen, can be used on a number of different recipes, and takes a long time to make. But best of all, magically, red sauce is always better the next day. After it has had some time to sit and mingle with itself your sauce will be even more fantastic than it was when you first tried it.

9) Ask your guests how they like it.

Everybody has different ideas about what red sauce should be and how they like it. I like a red sauce that you could pour into a bowl and eat by itself, very thick with lots of peppers, onions, garlic, and meat. The mrs. likes a less chunky, more pasty sauce. Others like a watery sauce. If you're having guests and plan on making some sauce for the occasion, ask them how they like it. Use tomato paste accordingly.

10) There is no wrong way.

Sure, it's possible to screw up red sauce. But there is no right or wrong way to make it. There is always some Italian guy who says "mutz-za-rel" instead of mozzarella and "mani-got" instead of manicotti and will tell you that the only way to make Italian food the right way is to make it the way that his grandma from Avellino used to make it. But, that's all wrong. Sunday Gravy is more about Sunday, spending time with family, than it is about gravy. The sauce is just something that brings you all together. If you like it, you made it right.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Beans are kind of like Meat

People think I am meat obsessed. They are right. But, that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a fine vegetarian meal. Just not everyday please. The problem is that while I will eat nearly anything with fins or feet, my wife doesn't. We eat a lot of chicken at home, and quite a bit of turkey too. But, for the most part, beef and pork aren't what's for dinner at our house.

Most days I can live with that, but sometimes I feel like if I have to eat one more chicken I might explode. It's gets old, even if you love chicken. So, I'm always struggling to find stuff to cook that can break up the monotony without having to make two separate meals. Enter kidney beans.

Kidney beans have significant amounts of protein, which is important both for big men in aprons as well as pregnant women (we have one of each in our house). And, of course, they have no cholesterol and are high in fiber, which regulates blood-sugar, keeps you full longer, and is just all around good for you. Oh, and by the way, they taste pretty damn good.

So, I throw tofu into the mix sometimes to get us away from poultry for a day, and occasionally I just make a vegetable pasta dish, but right now I'm really into trying to find more uses for kidney beans, since they seem to pack a lot of nutritional punch and can be used in some dishes where tofu isn't appropriate. In general, I find that tofu is great when it's done well, but it's very easy to do poorly and that just makes me want to eat the chef who served it. Total dinner guest faux pas.

So, I've already given you a pork and bean noodle dish. But I think this one is better, and it has no meat in it. It is inspired by Orangette's recent recipe for Tagliatelle alla Romagnola, which is essentially pasta, butter, Parmesan, and prosciutto. I was so excited that Orangette had posted something and I really wanted to try it out, but I needed to find something to replace the prosciutto. I also had some leeks that were getting to the "love 'em or leave 'em" phase of our relationship.

Anyway, this dish could be served hot, as I did serve it, or it could be chilled and eaten as a salad. Then again, at 39 degrees outside right now, chilled pasta might not be at the forefront of your priorities right now.

Kidney Beans and Ziti in Butter

1/2 lb. uncooked Ziti
5 Tsbp Butter (4 Tsbp to melt with the pasta, 1 Tsbp to saute the garlic and beans)
1 Tsbp fresh chopped basil
4 Cloves of fresh chopped garlic
1/2 cup of coarsely chopped Leeks
1 15oz. can of Kidney Beans
Grated Parmesan Cheese to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil a pot of water. You can chop your garlic, leeks, and basil as well as drain and rinse the beans during the time the water is heating up. When the water is near boiling, melt butter in a pan over medium heat. As soon as the butter is mostly melted, add the garlic. Be sure not to let the butter get too hot before adding the garlic, otherwise it will burn. Stir the garlic into the butter for about 1 minute. Add Leeks, stir and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the beans, stir gently and cook for about 5 minutes. By the time you've added the beans, your water should be boiling and ready for the ziti. The ziti is best served al dente, so give it about 6-7 minutes in rapidly boiling water, uncovered in the pot.

When the ziti is ready, drain thoroughly and return to the pot. Put the pot on low heat and add the mixture of beans, garlic, and leeks. Also add the chopped basil and 4 Tsbp of butter at this time. Stir the pot gently, making sure to coat all of the pasta with melting butter, while taking care not to crush the soft kidney beans. As soon as the butter is completely melted, it is ready to serve. Best to serve immediately, since this dish is light and doesn't retain heat the way a heavier dish might.

Add Parmesan if desired. I didn't, but it would be good either way. Resist the urge to add more vegetables or ingredients. The beauty of this recipe is its simplicity. It's nice to actually taste the beans and the leeks. They both have a lot of flavor to contribute that would be drowned out if you added too many other ingredients. Serves 4.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hunkering Down

Somehow there is a lot to report, but not much that has gone on of late. We're still waiting for baby to introduce himself to the world. Not yet at the due date, but close enough to keep a close vigil for signs of the little man with an apron.

In the meantime, I'm cooking as usual. I guess I should have already mixed the bread dough if I was planning on putting it in the fridge overnight tonight, but I always like to think there is tomorrow for these things. It is officially exam season in law school, so while I tend to have very little time to mess around in the kitchen, I do get the benefit of not having to be in class during the day. Sometimes that results in a little extra time here and there.

This weekend, the Mrs. and I went to the Christmas tree lighting in Montclair, New Jersey, where we live. Afterward, we went to our new favorite pizza spot, Leone's. I swear it had a website not long ago, but I can't seem to find it now. You'd be surprised to find out that even though we live in an area that is choc full of Italian-Americans, it can still be challenging to get a truly good pizza. Too many places serve some doughy pizza-like substance. Not to mention, we're surrounded by Papa John's and Dominos. "Better Ingredients" my ass. The Papa delivers up MSG and partially-hydrogenated oil in his garlic dipping sauce and dressings.

So, imagine my delight when we discovered that a restaurant sitting on our list of those to check out in our fair city turned out to have awesome pizza. No kidding. Really awesome pizza. So, after the tree lighting, we went to Leone's for a pizza and some calamari. Their calamari was surprisingly good too. I prefer my calamari with spicy asian sauce, but they have a garlic-bomb marinara that while difficult to digest, was an absolute joy to consume.

On the home front, I've been toying around with a few ideas, and I might as well share a recipe for one of them. It's not perfect, but it was tasty.

Remember the roast pork I wrote about in my first post? I had lots of fun coming up with all sorts of ways to eat the leftovers. But, like any resourceful person, I also froze some for a rainy day (or in this case, rainy/snow).

So, while in mood for some of that delicious pork, I used the last of it for this Pork and Beans dish that I dreamed up. It came to me as many good things do, while flipping through the pages of Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. If I could only bring one book to a desert island, and that desert island was well stocked with chickens, pigs, chili peppers and shao tsing wine, then this would be my one book.

Not to say that this recipe is in the book. It's not. But I just sort of flip through and close my eyes and get my imagination working. I look really silly when I do it. Also, the pictures have navy beans in the dish in addition to kidney beans. They were tasty too, but they didn't hold up to the stirring quite as well, so I didn't include it in the recipe. You could use black beans or any other beans you want for that matter.

Pork and Beans Noodle

2 cups of cooked roast pork, preferably leftovers, cut into bite size pieces
1 can of kidney beans
1/4 cup of shao tsing wine
1/4 soy sauce
2 cups of water or stock
2 Tbsp of Garlic Chili Sauce
1/2 cup of chopped leaks
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tsbp fresh ginger, minced
2 Tsbp fresh Basil, course chopped
1/2 lb. Shandong Ramen noodles
1/4 cup peanut oil

Boil water in a large pot first. When water is close to a boil, warm up a large wok or skillet on high heat. Add peanut oil and swirl to cover inside of wok. Add pork after the pan is warmed up a bit but before the pan gets extremely hot. Stir in the pan to coat pork with oil. Gently stir in beans, taking care not to crush or misshape too many of the beans. Put noodles in boiling water. Add garlic, ginger, leaks, and chili sauce. Stir gently. Add wine and soy sauce. Stir gently to coat all ingredients with wine and soy sauce. Don't let the mixture sit in the wok too long for any given time, be sure to stir often. After 8 minutes boiling ramen, strain the ramen noodles. Add the noodles, the water or stock, and the basil to the wok. Stir gently so that all of the indregients are mixed together, and the water in the wok is boiling hard. Turn off heat, continue to stir for another 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Meatloaf Again and Again and Again

Meatloaf gets a bad rap. There is always a "Not Meatloaf Again" joke waiting to rear its ugly head whenever anyone suggests making some. But in terms of comfort food, or "hunkering down for the winter" food, meatloaf just can't be beat. This is especially true in my house, where my wife is the primary maker of meatloaf in our family. And since she mostly cooks when I'm going to be home late, meatloaf spells comfort not just because it tastes like being a 9 year old kid at Grandma's house, but because chances are, if we're eating meatloaf I've had a long day and really appreciate a steaming, ketchupy meatball waiting for me.

So, this is her recipe, which I'm told comes by way of Martha Stewart. It features two other things that I think are under-appreciated in the culinary world: ground turkey and a muffin tray. Purists will scoff at my blatant disregard for the traditional pork, beef, veal combo found in classic meatloaf. But hear me out. Try this. It's good. I promise. Besides, if you ate ground turkey once in a while instead of gorging on pork, beef, and veal, you might be better off. Also, I think I've already made my views on veal known, but to recap: I try not to eat animals that I think have been mistreated or tortured, including most veal. Just try it. The little muffin sized loafs are the best part, I think. It's just prettier that way.

T's Turkey Meatloaf Muffins

1/2 cup ketchup (plus another 1/4 cup to spread on top)
1 1/2 to 2 lbs. ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
2 slices of whole wheat bread, torn into small pieces
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
2 heaping tablespoons of relish
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsps dry mustard powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
Optional: 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper or a few dashes of Tabasco Sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Fill 6 cups of a muffin tin with heaping mounds of the meatloaf mixture. Brush each meatloaf muffin with ketchup.

Bake about 45 minutes, such that the inside temperature of the loaf muffins reaches 170 degrees. Serve hot. Serves 4 (2 if you're hungry).

They'd probably make great leftovers too, but we've never had any left over to find out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A New Month and New Projects

So far I'm counting this blog as a success. When I wrote my first few posts, I figured I'd just see where the thing takes me. I didn't really tell anybody about it. Now, the blog seems to be developing nicely and I'm fairly proud of the product. In the next month, I will be joining FoodBuzz's community of featured publishers. That is potentially very exciting, as it should help drive more readers to the site, as well as introduce me to other foodies and their blog projects.

Of course, even more exciting: I am going to be a dad any day now. Between that and finals looming, I'd be surprised if you hear much from me this month. But, as always, I'll do the best I can.

As a form of motivational promise making, I figured I'd lay out some ideas for upcoming food projects. My Thanksgiving projects were all successful, my beer was a big hit. So what's next? Well, I'm still thinking of making some Mead, perhaps this is a Christmas project. Even higher on my list is French Bread.

Around here, we have some really great bakeries in nearby Newark and its surrounding towns. My favorite is Calandra's, a North Ward institution. But as with most things that I really enjoy, I had an uncontrollable urge to make my own. I never considered myself much of a baker, but I just couldn't resist.

Luckily, there is an incredibly detailed explanation for how to make good french bread in Volume II of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. By the way, anyone reading a food blog should own this cookbook. Just sayin'.

So, anyway, I gave Julia's recipe a whirl, but totally underestimated the amount of time that it would take to let the bread rise as fully as it wanted to. The bread I ended up baking was more dense than what I was looking for, but it was still vastly superior to the crap that you see in most supermarkets. I probably should have taken a picture, but when you have a ravenously hungry pregnant lady waiting on dinner you don't waste time taking pictures, my friend. I'll do it properly soon, and promise to take nice pictures.

And speaking of pictures, if anybody has advice on how to make my food pictures better, lay it on me. I really don't know much about it at all and thought I was doing pretty well until I saw FoodBuzz's Top 9. Those are some purdy muffins.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The New Turkey Sandwich

As inevitable as turkey on Thanksgiving, there is the post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich. After all of the trimmings and stuffings and dressings and gravies and potatoes and sweet potatoes and pies and etc. etc. etc, there is something really comforting about the simplicity of a turkey sandwich.

Mine was a little less simple than most, but no less comforting. Sometimes change is comforting too. Besides, I forgot to take white meat leftovers, and only took a turkey leg home with us. The Mrs. prefers white meat, so getting her to dig into a turkey leg isn't as easy as it should be. When we started going together, she was a vegetarian. So, in the grand scheme of things, I'm making progress on her. But, we still get stuck on dealing with animal bones.

So, instead of being the only person who gets to eat turkey, I took all the meat off of the leg and chopped it very fine. My aim was to make a sort of turkey burger patty. Any stringy pieces and ligaments were thrown into my broth pot and not into the bowl of chopped turkey. I then opened up my frozen chicken broth container (which you should always have in your freezer if you are serious about eating well at home) and scraped some of the chicken fat off the top of the broth. I mix a little of that chicken fat with the turkey, after its been given a chance to thaw. I then pound all of the meat and fat together with a meat hammer. After pounding, shape the meat into two patties and cook on the skillet. The meat is already cooked, so you don't have to stress about getting it back up to 170 degrees in the center. You're just trying to warm it up. Even the microwave will do the job. Not my style though. While the patties cooked, I toasted a couple pieces of french bread, melted some swiss cheese on the bread, spread the bottom piece of bread with Lowensenf, a mustard for people who love mustard and wasabi. Put the patty on the bread, garnish with fancy salad greens, put top piece and melted swiss cheese on greens, and toothpick it together.

Everyone has their own favorite way to make a turkey sandwich. I want mine to be a sandwich worthy of the time and care put into making the turkey dinner in the first place. And this is it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mushroom Espagnole Sauce

I could have named this post "What Anthony Bourdain taught me about cooking." Not that Anthony Bourdain knows me, or that he would tolerate my amateur skills. But still, it would be true.

I've been reading his book, Kitchen Confidential, at nearly every moment that I can spare. Which, as a law student, is not many moments. But still, I've stolen enough time to be two-thirds of the way through it.

It's not a cookbook. It's more of a memoir about the ups and downs of his career as a chef, full of heavy drug use, hirings, firings, and punk rocker attitude. It's pretty spectacular if you like that sort of thing. And I might.

Anyway, aside from being thoroughly entertaining, the book has a lot to teach an amateur chef about cooking. For instance, this is probably pretty basic information to a trained professional, but did you know that French cooking divides sauces into five "mother sauces" out of which most other sauces are made? The basic mother sauces are made out either a white roux or a brown roux and mixed with light broth or milk or a darker broth. There is also the tomato based mother sauce, which is a more recent addition to the mother sauces.

I'm probably not the best source for this, but it's worth reading up on. I didn't even know that anything like that exists. Here is a link explaining what the mother sauces are, how they are made, and what sauces are derived from them.

It's been a fairly important concept for me to understand since it has the potential to formalize my approach to cooking sauces. Usually I just mix and match the flavors in my head. But by actually learning what a million people before me have already figured out, I should be able to mix and match a little more easily. Anyway, I never claimed to be the best cook. I'm just the cook whose blog you are reading right now.

Tonight I made what I would call an Espagnole Sauce, although truth be told I used chicken broth instead of beef or veal. I've give you the recipe for the sauce, and you worry about how you want to cook the meat. I just baked some chicken breast, but since this sauce could go with almost anything, I don't see the point in telling you how to bake a chicken breast.

Mushroom Espagnole Sauce

2 tsbp of unsalted butter
2 tsbp of flour
1 quart of broth
1/4 cup of white wine
2 cups or so of baby bella mushrooms
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves

Pour broth into a small pot and bring to a simmer uncovered. Add bay leaves and thyme. Let simmer while making the roux and sauteing the mushrooms (see below).

In a small saute pan, melt butter on medium heat. Add flour. Using a spoon or spatula, mix flour with the butter to create a paste. Crush lumps while stirring almost continuously. Cook until the paste starts to thicken and brown. Do not burn. Remove from heat.

In a separate and larger pan, saute the mushrooms in olive oil or butter. Stir mushrooms about 10 minutes on medium-high heat until water is released and mostly cooked off.

Add broth to mushrooms through a strainer to remove bay leaves and thyme. Add wine to the mixture. Bring to a simmer. Using a whisk, stir the roux into the sauce. Stir vigorously until the roux is fully dissolved. Let simmer briefly and remove from heat. Pour the sauce on chicken, beef, veal, tofu, toast, or just about anything that needs sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Cup Runneth Over

This weekend I got a chance to crack open some of my homemade beer. It was pretty damn good. It had a really nice hoppy taste and aroma, but not overly so. My one complaint is that for all of the stuff that I put in it (malt extract, crushed malt, molasses, maple sugar, brown sugar, etc.), it tastes fairly light. It is almost confusing, since there is a very light wheat beer kind of taste, but with a strong hops aroma that you would associate with a more dark ale kind of brew. I assume that this has to do with me using malt extract designed for wheat beer. Next time, I'll get some hardy dark malt extract and see what how it differs. But, with all of that said, it is a decidedly drinkable beer.

All in all, it was a great weekend for food. Friday we had dinner at our neighbors' apartment upstairs. We were treated to a fantastic fennel encrusted pork tenderloin, and some mac and cheese. Dessert was my favorite (which is unusual for me). Our friends had made Harvest Pear Crisp with Candied Ginger. Now, I'm not generally a big fan of dessert. I'd rather save room for more steak and vegetables. But the pear crisp was really awesome. It is the dessert for people who like savory flavors. My only push on the Bon Appetit recipe would be to use a little less ginger than is called for. Not because I don't like ginger. I actually love ginger. But only because the ginger has a tendency to take over the rest of flavors. It can get distracting.

On Saturday, we had some company of our own, so I whipped up a quick thing to snack on. Ok, it wasn't really quick. I actually baked a loaf of bread. Yes, really. No, I don't know bake bread for everybody. It takes a lot to get on my "getting bread baked for" list. To go with the bread, I made a nice bruschetta. It was delicious, if not beautiful. Not beautiful, of course, because the Mrs. and I ate half of it before our guests arrived. But not before taking a picture for you.

And tonight, after inspiration from our neighbor's mac and cheese. I attempted one myself. I'm not quite ready to share the recipe, because I think I need to tweak it a bit before directing others to follow me, but my main ingredients were: macaroni, fontina cheese, swiss cheese, thick slice bacon, a thick white gravy made from bacon drippings, chopped salted chilies, a dab of milk, and some breadcrumbs. It was good, but sooo salty. Too much so, I think. I'll work on perfecting it, and see what I come up with. Anyway, here's my mac and cheese. And that's it for my weekend in food.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Betty Croaker vs. My Inner Food Nazi

I have a confession. Or rather, I have quite a few, but they all boil down to my inner food nazi. He has been making more and more appearances lately. I've debated whether to post something about it, but I think if the mission statement of BigMan is that it is a blog about putting time and care into the things that I eat, then I think I ought to speak up. Most days that just means doing a good job sauteing some chicken and then occasionally spending all day cooking for loved ones. This is a little different.

Let me start by acknowledging that my inner food nazi takes a variety of forms. There is the judgmental inner food nazi who thinks that people who only eat white bread are crazy and that smoking is probably less dangerous than the average American's eating habits. Not to mention that he judges people who think that the only food worth eating is some form of candy. And there are the people who are afraid to try new things. Or who don't like anything that tastes like anything. I'm willing to confess that I judge those people and that I think their boring eating habits are a character flaw. There. I've said it. I'm sorry. Some of the flawed are my own flesh and blood. I still love them. I'll still be friends with them. But, I hope no one ever expects me to respect their food choices.

But the food nazi gets turned in on myself just as often, perhaps more so. That version of the inner food nazi is sincerely concerned about where my food comes from, whether it is safe to eat, and how I can do my part to make the world slightly better through the choices I make at the check-out counter. Who knows, maybe even be healthier in the process.

And to make things even more confusing, now I've got this little guy coming along and it can be kind of hard to figure out. What sort of foods should we let our son eat? When I was a kid, we ate some fresh foods, but we also ate a lot of trans fat packed, completely processed, garbage food. My family definitely appreciates food in the same way that I do, but not everyday is Sunday and sometimes you're just trying to get home from work, feed everybody, and get the place cleaned up in time to watch Roseanne.

Since then, some things have changed. The first is that food companies seem to be taking more shortcuts than ever. Perhaps I'm wrong and our hamburgers always contained E. coli. Either way, it is a result of the food industry not taking the same time and care that I am trying to. Second, we know more now about trans fats and additives and their harmful effects. Third, there is more that we can do about it. For instance, a lot of people have food co-ops available to them. In fact, click here to see if there is one near you. Fourth, we have more access to information about how some of the animals are treated in many of the huge corporate farms. I'm not going to link to anything there because, frankly, it is too disturbing to watch. Just trust me. Many animals get tortured before we eat them. I don't have a satisfying moral solution to that problem, but I have taken the steps of not eating veal and boycotting banquet foods. After all, you should be skeptical of any sausage that costs $1.33. I just don't think that because I'm willing to kill something and eat it that the living thing that I'm eating should also be tortured in the process. And finally, there is more information suggesting that human consumption of meat has some serious environmental consequences. This is a really cool site that talks about that some and has a nifty idea about how to reduce those consequences.

So, given all of that, I've been in the habit of cutting more and more processed foods out of my diet. First, I cut out fast food. I used to go to Burger King just about everyday. Now, I'm not even sure I would enjoy a whopper. Wouldn't know since I haven't had one in so many years. Next phase was more gradual, but I've really tried to cut out any microwave dinners and processed meals as much as possible. I've noticed that the more I take care about what I'm eating, the better I feel. I know lots of people who say stuff like that about all sorts of things. I have friends who say that running makes them feel great. It makes me want to run up to them and punch them in the nose. And perhaps you'll feel the same here, but, really, I feel better when I don't eat processed food.

But, here is the next big challenge in that effort: how do I cut out even more? Today was not a cooking project day, so I really just planned on making a small pizza from a betty crocker dough mix. Just add water. Kind of makes you think though, no? How can an entire pizza dough be in this package, just waiting for water? Well. It's because it's full of trans fats.

Really, the company should probably be called Betty Croaker. I'm sure if you did a complicated mathematical formula of the estimated number of people who have died from heart disease because of their trans fat consumption, divided by General Mills' market-share (Betty Crocker is owned by General Mills) of trans fat products, it would look pretty bad for General Mills. Anyway, that is more the sort of thing that we'd talk about in Torts class (not to be confused with Torte law), rather than food blogs. It's a bit risque.

My point is just that lots of products made by Betty Croaker contain trans fats. Bacos are an obvious no-no. If I have to explain why Bacos are a bad food choice, then you probably aren't reading this post. But what about some not so obvious ones? Did you know that Bisquick has trans fats in it? Yeah. Pancake mix has trans fat.

Now, it took me a good 15 minutes to get off my high horse. But now that I think I have, here is me doing my little part to make the world a better place. Including in my own kitchen.

This recipe is for homemade pancakes from scratch. And I'm going to suggest something really revolutionary. Let's try it together. I'm going to mix the dry ingredients together beforehand, so that when I'm ready to have pancakes, I can just add my milk and eggs and oil just like I would with a regular mix. So I'll present the recipe first on how to prepare the mix, which I want you to do as soon as you get a chance, and then I'll write out the rest of the recipe which treats your prepared concoction as your "pancake mix." I can't think of any reason why this won't work, and we'll all save 1 gram of trans fat per 3 pancakes. And by the way, I eat more than three pancakes in one sitting. Just putting that out there and hoping that I'm not the only one.

Pancake/Waffle Mix


For the Mix (Makes enough mix for about 24 to 32 servings)
12 cups of all-purpose flour (could also use 6 cups whole wheat flour and 6 cups all-purpose)
3/4 cup of sugar (optional)
1/2 cup of baking powder (OR 3 tbsp baking soda)
1 tbsp of salt

For the Pancakes
2 cups of Pancake Mix (see above)
2 eggs
2 cups milk
3 tbsp of oil (do not use olive oil)

So, to make the pancake mix ahead of time, just mix all that stuff together. Use a sifter if possible. If you don't have a sifter, you could use a clean, dry, whisk. Store in an airtight container. It should last almost forever.

When it's time to make the pancake, just combine the pancake mix with the eggs, milk and oil. Mix well, but not too well. Small lumps are normal. Pour a ladle full of pancake batter onto hot, buttered or oiled griddle or pan. To make waffles, use 1/3 of oil instead of 3 tbsps. The griddle should be hot, and the pancakes should be flipped when the bubbles coming up no longer close back up. Not exactly rocket science.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chinese Birthday

Last night, we had dinner for 6 at home to celebrate my wife's cousin's birthday. The cooking was a bit rushed, as I didn't come home from school until about 7 and I had a lot of prep work to do before I could get cooking. The result wasn't half bad for a rush job. Although, for someone who is wants to take time to enjoy the act of cooking, I guess last night was not a success. Nothing's perfect though, and we have to make due with the time that we have sometimes. And the time that I had last night was from 7 to 10 to make a big nice Chinese meal and eat it with friends and family. It seems like a lot of time, but really, no joke, that's a lot of prep work for the number of dishes that I served.

Here was last night's menu:
Smacked Cucumbers
Kim Chee
Ginger Noodles (sans pork)
Sauteed Escarole
General Tso's Chicken
General Tso's Tofu

I've got two things going for me that directly translate to you eating more chinese food. The first is that I love chinese food, but really dislike that horrible bloated, gross feeling that you get from eating chinese food at your typical take out joint. So, while we don't order it very much anymore, I still make it quite a bit or will use chinese ingredients in standard French-American food. The second is that when I like something, I could eat it everyday for about a month. So, you might end up seeing a lot of sauteed escarole on my menu, because I REALLY like that recipe. Anyway, it's not really a bad thing since it might give you ideas about pairing things that you wouldn't otherwise.

For all of these dishes I'd eventually like to give you recipes, but for today, let's start with the smacked cucumbers. I've never actually had smacked cucumbers made by anyone other than me, so I couldn't tell you whether mine are the best or even above average. But I do know that they are delicious and not well known in the United States. The dish is simple to make, tastes familiar yet exotic, and blends major heat with the refreshing sweetness of cucumber water. It is probably one of my favorite recipes in my absolutely favorite cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. Apparently Fuchsia has a blog too.

Smacked Cucumbers
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province by Fuchsia Dunlop

1 cucumber
2 tsps of chopped salted chilies (substitute with fresh chilies, but use fewer)
3 tbsps of rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chopped or pressed garlic

Using the flat side of a cleaver, smack the cucumber so that the skin breaks and the cucumber is flattened somewhat. No need to overdo it, you are just trying to crack the skin and expose more of the cucumber so that it will soak up more of the flavors. Next, put cucumbers in a bowl and sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit for about 30 minutes.

Drain the water from the bowl that was expelled by the cucumbers. Add garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, chilies, and soy sauce. Mix it up in a bowl and give it a few minutes to mingle. Serve cool, but not cold.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

All I Want for Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth Sinking into a Mouthful of Homemade Pasta

I think that there are a lot of reasons why people, myself included, like to cook. There are dark, deeply-psychological reasons like a desire to control one's environment, or gain acceptance from other people by serving them. And there are shiny happy people reasons too. Cooking is adventure. It's trying new things without ever leaving the house. And cooking is play. Some of the best dishes and best food experiments come out of the sense of play. All the more so when playing with new toys. So, here is my list of food-related toys (and cookbooks), for people who are looking for stuff to buy their beloved foodie friends and family members for the holidays. Incidentally, they are also things that I don't currently own and would like to. So, you can connect the dots on that one, I'm sure.

Gadgets and Equipment

1) Mundial 10 Inch Chef's Knife - $20.40: This knife was described in Bon Appetit's September 2009 issue as "The Best $20 Chef's Knife." Normally, I say you get what you pay for when buying cutlery. But, I trust Bon Appetit. Those people make my life better everyday. I prefer the red handle, but that's just cause it matches a lot of other red kitchen items that I have. They also have an 8 inch version that is available, but I like the 10 inch for dealing with bigger cuts of meat.

2) 6 Inch Cast Iron Skillet - $9.99: If this isn't the most adorable little piece of cast iron that you've ever seen, then I just don't know what is. First of all, using a cast iron skillet will make you wonder what the hell you were doing before you got one. They last forever, they aren't expensive, and if seasoned properly, they are more-or-less nonstick. Not to mention that you can bake with them, which just makes them all the more versatile. I already have a normal 12 inch one that I use for most of my everyday cooking and a giant one that I use if I'm cooking for company. This little guy is great for anything from eggs to sauce. This thing is pretty cool too, it's a cast iron grill skillet, so indoor grilling.

3) Le Creuset 5½-qt. Round French Oven - $229.99 : Those of us whose inner child still has the power to dominate our sense of humor may have a hard time telling the Macy's sales clerk that they are looking for a dutch oven, without giggling. Be that as it may, there is simply no substitute. This is one of those kitchen things that will last forever and be used for a near infinite number of recipes and techniques. The dutch oven, the gift that keeps on giving.

4) Sassafras 15 inch Round Pizza Stone with Rack - $11.69: I borrowed my neighbor's pizza stone for last weekend's experiment. Now I'm hooked and I want more. Besides, it is surprisingly hard to find good pizza nowadays. Might as well just make it myself.

5) VillaWare V177 Al Dente Hand Crank Pasta Maker Machine - $29.95: Look, you can have your stale year old pasta from the box, or you can make it on Sunday while you're stewing your spaghetti sauce. Do you really think you can't taste the difference?


1) Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking

2) Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery by Jane Grigson

3) Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

4) Momofuku by David Chang

5) Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques

6) Cooking by James Peterson

7) What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea - Even Water by Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg

8) The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg

9) All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens

10) The Professional Chef by The Culinary Institute of America

Monday, November 16, 2009

What The Hell Am I Gonna Do With Escarole?

This recipe is an adaption from a Sauteed Escarole recipe that first appeared in Gourmet Magazine in the May, 2005 issue. I just came across it because I happened to have a head of escarole that I wanted to eat while it was still fresh. I also happened to NOT have a can of anchovies. I don't generally keep that in my kitchen. Not that I'm principally opposed to anchovies, I'm just not really into it. So, I made due with what I had.

Note that "garlic and hot peppers" is my middle name. So, feel free to modify to taste. I like to get a good burn on just about every meal. Yes. I put hot sauce in my cereal. Also, if you are using fish sauce, don't add salt. It really won't need it. You could substitute paprika instead of crushed red peppers if you want something that is flavorful but not spicy. You could substitute fish sauce with some wine or a dab of soy sauce, neither of which will be seamless, but my guess is that most Americans don't keep fish sauce in their cabinet.

Sauteed Escarole

4 heads of escarole
1/4 cup of light olive oil
6 cloves of garlic
about a teaspoon of crushed red peppers
2 tbsps of fish sauce
4 shallots


Rinse Escarole in water. Tear Escarole in fist-sized chunks and boil in a pot for about 5 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, mince the garlic, or use a garlic press. Cut the shallots into thin slices. Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and shallots to skillet. Stir for about 2 minutes, coating the shallots and garlic with the oil. Add crushed red peppers. Stir the peppers into the oil until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the boiled and drained escarole to the skillet. Stir the escarole to coat it with oil. While the moisture from the escarole starts to cook off, stir in the fish sauce. Try to drizzle it throughout the skillet, rather than just dumping in one part of the skillet. Saute for about 5 minutes. Serve.

I Gotcha Sriracha: Num Pang

After reading TheWednesdayChef's understandable sorrow about leaving New York City, I decided that I would try one of her favorite NYC restaurants. After all, one of the really great things about the internet (aside from the ability to buy just about anything that you can imagine) is that you can share some sort of community experience with lots of people that you don't really know. To that effect, I've been scoping out a lot of other food blogs to see what they do and maybe to get some inspiration.

On the recommendation of The Wednesday Chef, Luisa Weiss, I went with a few friends to Num Pang for lunch. Any place where the only available condiment is Sriracha... well, that place is alright by me. I ordered the Ginger Brisket Sandwich, which was one of three or four specials, all of which sounded good. My friends got the pork sandwich and the veal meatball. We were all quite impressed with the sandwiches. The meat was tender and flavorful. I think the best part of the whole thing was the bread, although the chili mayo is a close second. My only complaint was that for $6, the beets we ordered as a side were a bit underwhelming. Still tasty, just not $6 tasty. Especially considering the sandwich was only $7.25.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Good Friends, Good Pie, Good Life

Tonight, my wife and I had some friends over, mostly to revel at our new crib. I've been so excited about cooking lately, though, that I woke up really resolved to prepare something outstanding for them. I think they were all expecting that we would just order a pizza or something, but instead this is what they got:

Homemade Pizza with Fresh Basil and Oregano
Roasted Chicken with Gravy
Braised Kale and Spinach
Gâteau au Citron (French Lemon Yogurt Cake)
Pecan Pie

The pizza came out OK. It was kind of soggy in the middle, but I think I can fix that with practice, and maybe less cheese and more dough in the center.

Did you catch that part in the menu about the pecan pie? For those of you following the plot, you'll remember that for Thanksgiving, I'm making beer, cranberry sauce with port and cinnamon, and pecan pie to bring to my in-laws. I did my test pecan pie tonight. It was damn good.

The only thing better than putting all of your heart and soul into preparing a meal is getting to share it with friends. Tonight was no exception. We had new friends and old friends all sitting around the table together, perhaps for the last time before our little guy comes into the world. I'm sure they'll be far less time for pie baking once he's born (and for blogging for that matter). But like I said when I started this blog, let's just see what happens.

Anyway, as promised, I've taken pictures. These dishes certainly didn't come out perfectly. I've actually never made a cake from scratch before. So, not surprisingly, my lemon cake doesn't quite look like Orangette's.

I was following Orangette's Lemon Cake recipe. It really just looked too good not to try. Plus, I think we should just admit at this point that I am somewhat obsessed with that site. I love the writing and I love the cooking. Reading Orangette, for me, is sort of like how the little bee girl in that Blind Melon video must have felt when she discovered that there was a whole field full of other people dressed in bee costumes who understood her. Only in my case, I'm not wearing a bee costume. Instead, I'm biding my time before I can get the equipment necessary to make my own sausage.

Back to Lemon cake... So, I followed the recipe on Orangette, and for a first try, it was really very good. It was very moist, relatively easy to make, and was everything that I love about cake and nothing that I don't. As advertised, it was simple, but elegant in its simplicity. Except for one thing. I think I used too much lemon juice.

The recipe calls for lemon juice from 2 lemons, so perhaps my lemons were bigger than average lemons. It occurred to me, also, that if I was in a lemon squeezing competition against Molly Wizenberg, chances are I would win. In other words, perhaps I've over-squeezed my lemons. So, I would say that if you're making the yogurt cake, squeeze 2 lemons per Molly's recipe, but if you've spooned the juice all over the cake and there is still some leftover, don't be afraid to leave some left unused. Unless, of course, you really love lemons. This was pretty tart though. Not bad, but a little more tart than you look for in a dessert.

The recipe that I want to share with you tonight is the pecan pie. Thanks to Melinda for sending me some recipes. Here's what I ended up doing:

Pecan Pie

3 eggs (do not beat, just stir)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup white Karo corn syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
About 6oz. of halved Pecans
1 Graham cracker pie shell

Spread pecans into an unbaked pie shell. Pour in mixture of sugars, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then lower temperature to 325 degrees for 35 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving.

That's just the pecans spread into the pie crust.

This is what it looks like after you pour in the mixture. Notice that some of the pecans float to the top. So, don't worry if you haven't filled up the pie crust with pecans. I just used 6 oz. because that is how much came in the bag that I bought.

There is the completed masterpiece. I know I told you to let it cool completely before serving, but I couldn't resist. I had a hot gooey piece before it cooled. The only thing that happens is that the pie isn't set, and it can be somewhat liquefied. I was able to live with that, but you should make it in advance under normal circumstances.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More and Better Pictures Please

Look at Orangette. Now look at Big Man with an Apron. Besides the fact that she actually writes recipes in a clear and concise manner, the biggest difference between her posts and mine are that she's got fantastic pictures (people also read her posts, although I guess if you're reading this, then I have readers. Wow!). So, I'm trying to remedy that (the part about the pictures, not about the readers, cause I already know now that you are reading).

Bam! There's a picture! See how easy that was?

There's another one! Same dish, of course, but you get the idea. That was a fun night, by the way, making Chinese food for family in Texas. Don't worry, we got some BBQ the next day.

Tricked you that time! That's my dog. She sits in the kitchen while I cook because she thinks that I will drop some food on the floor. She is usually right.

This was one of my most favorite lunches ever. It was at the Franciscan in San Francisco during my honeymoon.

Hopefully I'll do a better job of adding more pictures and getting better at taking them. This will be practice for parenting anyway, since apparently I'm supposed to take pictures of everything that the baby ever does.

In a Past Life, I was Hunanese.

Immediately after I made my roast pork a few weeks ago, between mouth fulls of luscious pork sandwiches, a buddy of mine and I started to think about what we should do with all of the leftover crispy skin. He suggested dipping them in white chocolate and letting the chocolate re-harden for a seriously rich savory-salty-sweet dessert. Not really my style, but a pretty good idea I thought. I knew I'd have to come up with something better than my usual add hot sauce and soy-sauce routine.

The pork skins pack a ton of flavor, and they cry out to not have to compete with a thick sauce. So the following recipe is what I came up with. In the amount of time that it takes to boil some noodles, this project is cooked and ready to eat. Of course, its getting the pork skins that it extremely time consuming, although if you live in any place that has a significant Latino community, say New York City, you could probably go to your local Spanish deli and get roast pork, with the skins. A friendly deli would even just sell you the skins, since not everybody likes them. Just don't tell them you are using their roast pork to make Chinese food.

Ginger Pork Noodles
Serves: 2

The amounts of pork, ginger, and fresh green chilis are really all a matter of taste. But here is what suits my taste:

2 cups of roasted pork skins
4 Tbsps of freshly chopped ginger
4-8 fresh green chili peppers
1/3 cup Shao Hsing cooking wine (substitute w/ white wine and a splash of soy sauce)
1/2 lb. rice noodles
1 Tbsp peanut oil

Get a pot of fairly large pot of water boiling for your rice noodles. When the water in your pot is hot, but not yet boiling, start heating up a large skillet or wok to high heat. Add peanut oil to coat pan once pan is at least warmed up.

While waiting for your pan to heat up (we want it pretty hot) chop up the pork skin into size-sized strips. Then chop the ginger into very fine pieces. The smaller the better. You might also have time to prep the chilis, but be careful, if you chop chilies and wipe your eye, it will hurt. Be warned. I actually just use clean scissors nowadays for my chili chopping. The scissor cut leaves the chilies into more visible sized pieces that pack a punch and are also pretty nice to look at. The ginger just about becomes invisible in this dish, but the chilies add some nice color, and fantastic flavor.

Now that you've got a hot pan, throw in your pork. It should start sizzling pretty quick. Remember, this is pre-cooked, so we're just trying to get it hot, cook off a little of the white fat leftover, and get some of the crispiness back to the skin. Hopefully, around this time, your water is boiling too and you can add your noodles. I find timing stuff like this to be one of the really challenging things about preparing a whole meal for a lot of people by myself. Of course, this recipe is comparatively easy in terms of timing, but I think its important to try for good timing, if just for the efficiency of it. If you have to wait too long for the noodles, it makes the whole dish take longer to prepare.

So, by now your pork is re-crisping and your noodles are just put into the pot of water. Remember to keep the pan as hot as possible. We're going to throw the ginger in, and give it a good stir. After about 1 minute, put the chopped chilies into the pan. Give it a good stir, and after about 1 minute, add half of the shao hsing wine. Doesn't have to be exact, just make sure you have a little leftover for the end. The pan should be sufficiently hot that the wine cooks off almost immediately. If it's not immediate, that is fine, just give the wine time to cook off, we just want the flavor of the wine, but not the liquid of the thing.

Now, when the noodles are cooked, turn off the heat on your pan, drain the noodles, shake 'em around a bit to get off excess water and throw them into the pan. Keep stirring! You don't want to get them stuck to anything, and you want some of that pork fat to coat the noodles. The ginger will also tend to want to stick to the noodles, which is exactly what we want. While everything is still sizzling, throw in the rest of the shao hsing wine. Keep stirring to make sure everything is mixed together well. Serve in a bowl, preferably with chopsticks, but I suppose that is your own business.

The thing that I really love about this dish is that the pork, the ginger, and the chilies each have their own character to contribute to the dish, but no one ingredient dominates. You'll get bites of noodle without the pork and find that the noodles with the ginger have a ton of flavor in their own right. The pork pieces are big and intense, but not in the same way that a plate of meat would be. It's a little more subtle. I can't think of any reason why you couldn't skip the pork and just do ginger and chilies for a vegetarian dish. It would probably make a great first course if you had something else planned.

Update (11/13/09): Upon further experimentation, you could cook the chilies separately and throw them on top when the noodles are in the bowl. For that matter, you could replace chilies with scallions if you don't like heat. Remember that the more you cook the chilies, the less hot they are.

Update 11/18/09): I made the vegetarian version, without pork, just the ginger, chilies and noodles for a little birthday gathering we had last night. It was a huge hit. No leftovers, amazing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Amazing Discoveries!

Today, I've learned three important pieces of information for all foodies.

First, while I have no reason to think that my beer won't be totally awesome, I have noticed, at least in some of the bottles that I filled later in the process, that there is a small amount of white sediment at the bottom of the bottle. This appears to be the same gross looking stuff that was at the bottom of the fermenting bucket; so my guess is that to some extent this is leftover from the fermenting bucket. Not a big issue, but if I have a way to get rid of that, I'm interested in finding out. I've heard that Irish Moss is used as a clarifying agent in beer and I'm beginning to wonder if it is for clarifying that white stuff. We'll see. Of course, I'm not sure that it's an issue for the beer that was bottled first. This is all just an experiment, so we'll have to wait and find out.

Second, I discovered a blog called Orangette. It is freaking amazing. In fact, you shouldn't even be reading my blog right now, you should be reading Molly's blog. While I'm busy screwing up homemade beer, she just opened a restaurant. Plus, even if you like my blog, she does far more desserts than I ever will. Plus she has fantastic pictures (which I'm not allowed to reprint, so I can't show them to you). It really boggles my mind when someone who is the same age as me becomes my hero. It is approximately the same feeling I get when I find out that professional football players who are my age should start to think about retiring.

Incidentally, I discovered her blog by reading her column in Bon Appetit, a magazine that I have often said is like porn for foodies. Well, in this case folks, I was reading Bon Appetit for the articles, so there! Here is a link to her Bon Appetit bio . Go Molly!

Third, I hope it comes as no shock that a man who can cook is already married. Indeed, that is the case. And to boot, we've got a little bun in the oven, a soon-to-be little man with an apron. So what good fortune and intrigue did find me when I was sitting in class today and a classmate was picking at what looked to be an amazing sort of french pastry that surely has a name, but not one that I know (because of my bad manners, the classmate also falls into this category of nameless yet intriging encounters today). Anyway, I asked her where she got this amazing looking thing and she told me and now I will tell you. Ladies and gentleman, today's third amazing discovery for today is Patisserie Claude, a pastry chop in New York's Greenwich Village.

This is no joke, my friends. I came. I saw. I conquered. When I arrived, I knew that the thing that my classmate was eating was not for me. One of the few things that I really dislike eating is anything that too closely resembles whipped cream or jello. Her pastry seemed a bit creamy for my taste, but I knew by the looks of it that whoever made this pastry cared about what they were making. In sum, while her pastry was not for me, I knew there would be other pastry's at Claude's that WOULD be for me. In fact, four of them are in a box, waiting for me to take them home to my wife, who I hope will elect me as most popular husband. Nothing scores domestic points better than bringing desserts to pregnant ladies (as long as your bringing the desserts to the right pregnant ladies, otherwise its trouble).

Monday, November 9, 2009


So, you might remember that I was thinking of making something for Thanksgiving with my in-laws this year.

Here is what I came up with:
1) Beer
2) Pecan Pie
3) Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon

I think I've said all there is to say about the beer for now, so that leaves the pecan pie and the cranberry sauce. I've never made a pecan pie, but I recently got my hands on some pie recipes from Bangs, Texas where my father's family is from. Those people know pecan pie, so I'm going to trust them. I'll do a test run, and report on a winning recipe to bring to Thanksgiving.

As for the cranberry sauce, I already know what to do there. There are few recipes that I am willing to follow verbatim. Often I like to add stuff where none is called for, and often I decide to make things at the last minute, and so use lots of substitutes. In this case, though, I follow this recipe to the T. It is a cranberry sauce that puts those crappy tin can shaped jelly cranberry sauces to shame. It's got, *gasp*, fresh cranberries! The cranberries are cooked in a sugary mixture of port and water and cinnamon sticks. If you love real (versus processed) food, you are going to LOVE this cranberry sauce.

The Brew is Bottled.

I intended on taking pictures of the bottling process, but that will just have to wait till another time. Use your imagination, there were bottles being filled with beer with a long hose siphoning from a 5 gal pail. There was a huge mess of beer on the floor and the counter and I had to shower before being allowed to come to bed. Cause I smelled like beer.

Enough about me though, let's talk about my beer. Friday night I bottled the stuff. It is looking and smelling and tasting pretty damn good. It is certainly hoppier than what I'm used to drinking, but not overly so. It's not the sort of beer that you would drink ten of. But one or two with a hearty steak would be a carnivorous dream come true.

I strayed from the strict instructions of the experts in one key way: I bottled some of the beers with screw-top bottles. I didn't have enough regular pop-top bottles to bottle all of the stuff, so I had to resort to whatever I could find. Some people say that the screw-top bottles can't be capped with a hand-capper. Maybe I'm just a natural, but it really didnt' seem like a problem. I could, however, imagine, that if there isn't a perfect seal on that bottle, that it won't become carbonated.

Just to explain, after you remove your fermented beer from the beer pale (and scrape the nasty stuff from the bottom of the bucket), you have to add some priming sugar. In my case, I added about 5oz of priming sugar, boiled in 2 cups of water. This gives the yeast a little more sugar to digest, but the priming sugar makes the yeast particularly gassy. You bottle up the beer, with your priming sugar, and the extra gas mixes with the beer and makes it carbonated. Some people use CO2 cartridges to accomplish the same thing, but that requires more equipment than the natural way of doing it.

I promise I'll post some pictures soon. Next fermentation projects will be making a small batch of Mead. It'll be a good opportunity to show some pictures. I have a rig worked out that will let me just make a gallon. 5 Gallons of Mead seems like a bit much.