Kansas City Sticky Ribs on Charcoal Grill

May 31, 2010

Spare ribs that are slow-roasted all-day are the perfect welcome to summer. They are rubbed with spices, then put on the barbecue over indirect heat for 2-hours. They continue to roasted for another 2 hours wrapped in aluminum foil, the last 1-hour they are slathered with home-made barbecue sauce. Recipe.

Spare ribs that are fall-apart tender after 4-hours on the grill.

It’s definitely worth making home-made BBQ sauce, since you’re home anyways. Usually, I cut the recipe in half, because there is too much sauce to use. But today I made the extra for tomorrow’s barbecued burgers.  It’s as simple as sauteing an onion, adding the ingredients and stirring every 15 minutes for 1-1/2 hours.


  1. Sometimes the ribs are overcooked, so I’ve made two modification: First I used only 50-charcoals instead of 60. Second, I reduce the 3rd and 4th hour to 45-minutes (cutting a total of 1/2 hour off the cooking time). Today I used both methods because my guests were warning how black the ribs were becoming. But in the end, I should have only used one method. They still were delicious, but had some fat that hadn’t broken all the way down.
  2. Because I don’t buy St. Louis cut ribs, I can only fit one rack of ribs on my grill. For me, that attached brisket taste too good to let them cut it away at the butchers. If you want two racks, then you must buy the St. Louis cut, or they just won’t fit on a 21-inch Weber.
  3. I usually cut the BBQ Sauce recipe in half, because 4-cups is too much sauce for my one rack of ribs.
  4. The sauce recipe calls for it to simmer for 1-hour, but it always takes me at least 1-1/2 hours to get it to reduce to the correct amount.
  5. You absolutely must have a chimney starter for this recipe, because the second batch of coals need to be started 20-minutes prior to the 2 hour mark (i.e. after 1 hour and 40 minutes). Obviously one batch of coals won’t last for 4-hours.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $10 for single rack of ribs, about 3-1/2 pounds.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 12:00 PM. Dinner time 5:00 PM.

Chicken Nuggets

May 27, 2010

We’ve all heard the stories about Chicken McNuggets. How only about 44% of the weight is actually chicken; that it is nothing more than a small piece of finely minced chicken parts held together with phosphate salts; the chemicals and trans fat. Without a doubt, McNuggets are pure junk food.


Reclaiming a kids favorite from the pure junk food category. I shaped these as "chicken tenders" but more often choose "nugget" shape.


But part of being a good father to my two sons (9 and 11) is striking the right balance between keeping them healthy, and letting “kids be kids.”  This recipe helps; It’s real chunks of chicken, not pressed parts, which helps reduce the fat down from 15% to 8%. Of course trans fat, emulsifiers and chemicals are all completely eliminated. The kids love them more that the Fast Food joint’s (giving mine a 5-stars). And as a father, I don’t feel guilty about giving them this occasional treat.

Making them yourself will only take 25 minutes of work, but you have to start 90 minutes before dinner. First, pre-baked the chicken for 25 minutes. Add all coating ingredients to zip lock back. Dredged the cooked chicken nuggets in egg whites, add them to the zip-lock bag and shake. Freeze for 30 minutes, then dredge and shake for a second time. Finally, deep fry in 375-degree oil for about 7 minutes, until coating is golden brown.  You will need to cook in two batches.


2 – 3 chicken breasts
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2-3 egg whites
2 quarts oil for deep frying

•    Preheat oven for 15 minutes to 350F.
•    If necessary, pound each of the breasts with a mallet to 1/4″ thick.
•    Cut chicken into even sized nuggets.
•    Bake chicken for 25 minutes, turning over after 15 minutes.
•    Meanwhile, put wax paper lines cutting board in freezer.
•    Mix all dry ingredients in gallon-sized, zip-lock bag.
•    Let chicken cool for 5 minutes, then pat dry.
•    Put 1 egg white in a bowl for dredging. (use 2 egg whites if more than 25 nuggets).
•    In batches of 10 nuggets, pass nuggets through egg white, put into mixture bag, and shake.
•    Put in single layer on wax paper. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.
•    Pre-heat oil to 375F.
•    In batches of 10-12, put second coat of egg whites, then return to bag and shake,
•    Deep fry about 7 to 9 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat as necessary.
•    Can freeze or refrigerator before frying for another day.
•    Start 2 hours before dinner. Active preparation time is 25 minutes.

Rating: 5 stars (from both boys).
Cost: $5 for 1-1/2 lbs (roughly equivalent to 40 McNuggets).
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:30 PM. Dinner time 7:00 PM.

Tandoori Chicken with Cilantro-Mint Chutney

May 25, 2010

ATK always makes everything look so easy, and so I wanted to try the Tandoori Chicken recipe. While it took longer than I thought to prepare (2-1/2 hours), the results were worth it. 5-star rating for each of my two sons, and a nice change of pace for me.

Tandoori Chicken without the special 900-degree oven.

I sauteed the 6 cloves of garlic and 3/4-ounce of grated ginger, then bloomed the spices in the same pan. I divided the mixture into two parts. First part was for a salt rub, in which the chicken sat for 30 minutes. Second part was mixed with yogurt and lime juice, which was used for the coating applied just before baking.  The chicken was baked for 30 minutes at 325-degrees, then broiled for 15 minutes.

The Cilantro-Mint Chutney was prepared in the food processor. The recipe uses an entire bunch of Cilantro. My supermarket only sold tiny packages of mint (I needed a whole cup), so I substituted 2 tablespoons of dried mint that I’ve had in my cabinet. Mixed with 1/4-cup minced onion, 1/3-cup plain yogurt, some cumin, salt, sugar and lime juice. Let run in food processor for 30 seconds.


  1. When sauteing the garlic and blooming the spices, it seized to the pan. I had to add a few tablespoons of water to be able to scrape up the flavor that would have been lost. Next time I’ll use a non-stick pan.
  2. As I said, I substituted 2 tablespoons of dried mint because of my crappy supermarket.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $9.30 for 4-pounds of chicken. $2.85 for chutney.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:45pm. Dinner time 7:15 PM.

Rustic Italian Bread

May 23, 2010

After a few attempts at bread-making (rustic dinner rolls and almost no-knead bread), my latest attempt is Rustic Italian Bread.  These recipes have taught me one important lesson: do whatever possible to extend the fermentation. Fold it. Punch it down. Put it in the fridge. Cut back the amount of yeast. The reward: A complex loaf of bread; so much more than the sum of it’s four ingredients.

We needed the help of the neighbors to finish off this massive 2-1/2 pound loaf in just one day.

Start the night before. Make the biga, which sits at room temperature for 3 hours before refrigerating for another 12 hours. At around noon, mix the dough ingredients in standing mixer at let rest for 20 minutes. Then add the biga and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl and let rise for 3 hours, twice folding over onto itself. Shape dough into loaf and let rise for another hour. Then bake for 40 minutes, and let cool for 1 to 2 hours.

The result is a hearty loaf weighing more than 2-1/2 pounds. Flavor was excellent, a real artisan loaf made with just 4 ingredients. It requires “Bread Flour” so you need to plan ahead a little. Unfortunately, I still cannot bake any of these during the week, because this recipe requires me to start preparation 6-1/2 hours before dinner (and I only have 3 hours after work until dinner).

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $1.05 for 2-1/2 pound loaf.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 8 PM yesterday. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

Still trying to perfect the crust-to-crumb temperature requirements. Close.

Types of Yeasts

May 20, 2010

Neither plant nor animal, this single-celled fungus has caused me much confusion over the years. I finally understand that there is no “right” answer when it comes to yeast.

I finally figured out how to properly use yeast.

Main Types of yeast

  1. Active Dry Yeast – This yeast is dry and dormant, and must be rehydrated. Always add it to warm (105-115 degrees F) wet ingredients and let it dissolve for 5 to 10 minutes. Also if substituting Active for Instant rise, add about 20% more. If your recipe includes sugar, include it with the wet ingredients to see if your yeast is still viable.
  2. Instant Yeast – A dry yeast developed in the past thirty years. It comes in smaller granules than active dry yeast, absorbs liquid rapidly, and doesn’t need to be hydrated before being mixed into flour.  Less rising time is required, but that extra time helps develop flavor,  so for artisan-style breads use less yeast or store the shaped loaves overnight in the refrigerator (before bringing to a full rise).  Rather than call this yeast by its name–instant active dry yeast–the yeast companies all use a unique trademarked names. “Rapid Rise” is a catchy phrase, trademarked by Fleischmann’s. Red Star calls their instant yeast “Quick-Rise yeast”. SAF calls their yeast “Perfect Rise”.  “Bread Machine Yeast” is an instant yeast that may include ascorbic acid, a dough conditioner.
  3. Fresh Yeast – also known as compressed or cake yeast, is active yeast. It has good rising qualities and produces excellent-tasting bread, croissants and Danish pastries. It is sold in tiny cakes in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets. Fresh yeast does not keep well; it will last about two weeks if refrigerated. The yeast should be pale gray-brown, fragrant, soft and crumbly, not hard, dark brown and crusty. Any mold growing on the surface is an indication that the yeast should be discarded. Fresh yeast should be proofed in tepid water (80-90 degrees F) without contact with salt or sugar. This yeast type is a good choice for breads requiring a long cool rise, or for breads made using the sponge method.

Bottom-line: The two dry yeasts are interchangeable. Just make appropriate adjustments in how you handle it based upon your recipe. Use 20% more active dry yeast, and dissolve it in 110-degree liquid for 10 minutes.  For Instant dry yeast, add it directly to dry ingredients without dissolving.

Proofing vs Dissolving:

  1. Dissolving (or rehydrating) is not proofing, and only needs to be done with Active Dry Yeast.
  2. To proof (either type of dry yeast), dissolve in warm water, give it food (usually sugar) and wait to see it it bubbles. You don’t need to proof every time, only to see it the yeast is still viable. For example, as the end date approaches. you’re looking for “proof” that the yeast can multiply. Adequate “proof” is visible bubbles (a by-product of yeast multiplication) or a “yeasty” smell or froth at the top of the liquid or some other criterion easily accessible to humans without microscopes  To proof yeast, you dissolve it and give it some food – a little sugar and/or flour added to the water is most common because they’re so convenient. Sprinkle the yeast over warm water (105-115 degrees F) and a pinch of sugar, and let it stand for 10 minutes until creamy and bubbly.

Store yeast in a cool dry place, or in the refrigerator once the package has been opened. If you store your yeast in the freezer, you can use after the expiration date. The proofing process will ensure that your yeast is still viable.

Where to Buy:

  1. I bought 2 pounds of Active Dry Yeast at CostCo for $3.50. While I’m not a member, I went with a co-worker and I should have enough yeast for 5 years. (they didn’t sell Instant Dry Yeast).
  2. The absolute most expensive place to buy yeast is the supermarket.  It costs $8 for a small 4-ounce jar (1,800% more expensive than CostCo).  Or worse, my supermarket sells 1/4-oz packets for 75-cents (2,700% more expensive than CostCo).
  3. You can order it only and pay for shipping. For example,


Almost No-Knead Bread

May 18, 2010

For those who have more patience than muscle, this is an easy bread recipe requiring about 24-hours of waiting, but almost no kneading. It only requires 10 minutes of actual work. This isn’t like those 99-cent loaves of Italian Bread from the supermarket (the kind with 25 ingredients). This is more like the $4 artisan loaves (the kind with 4 or 5 ingredients). Plus you make it with all-purpose flour; no special trip to the supermarket to buy bread flour.

Start the night before, then bake 2 hours before dinner.

Simply fold all the ingredients together using a rubber spatula and let sit a room temperature for 18 hours. Four hours before dinner time, knead the dough about 10 times. Two hours before dinner, put it in a hot dutch oven and bake for a total of 50 minutes. Let cool for at least an hour.

The beer and vinegar give a nice complexity and bitter tang, slightly reminiscent of the sourdough I grew up on in San Francisco, but without all the work of maintaining the starter. Also, my boys don’t like sourdough; such Easterners.


  1. To prevent the crust from hardening too much, I kept the dutch oven covered for 35 minutes, and baked uncovered for only 15 minutes.
  2. Because I used “Active Dry Yeast” instead of “Instant Yeast”, I heated the water and beer to 115-degrees in the microwave and “started” the yeast for 10 minutes. Because it uses only 1/4 teaspoon of yeast (and because there was no sugar) there were no tell-tale bubbles, so don’t panic that your yeast is too old.
  3. The recipe calls for mild beer such as Budweiser, so I had to make an extra trip to the Bottle Shop. Next time I’ll try Blue Moon, my regular brew.
  4. Limitations: Cannot make it on weekdays, because I am not home to knead it 4 hours before dinnertime. I cannot make when the main course will require the oven earlier than 2-hours before dinnertime. I won’t make it during July and August, because maintaining a 500-degree oven for more than an hour would make my non-central-air-conditioned house too unpleasant.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $0.70 for 1 loaf.  Without the 3-ounces of beer the loaf would cost just 40-cents.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 7 PM yesterday. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

The high hydration level makes for a course crumb.

Texas Slow-Cooker Chili

May 16, 2010

For years I have made my Chili con Carne using ground beef as a shortcut. While delicious, I have wanted to make a more authentic chili.  My first attempt in February used too much chili powder; 6 tablespoons, and was too runny.

Today marks my second try. Last night I precut the beef chuck into 1-1/2″ cubes, so that I could begin cooking my Texas Chili at 7AM. First, I sauteed three diced onions, eight cloves of garlic, and bloomed the spices in a skillet. Then after 15 minutes I added tomato puree.  Finally I added all the remaining ingredients to the slow-cooker and let it cook on low for 11 hours.

12 hours in the making, and the kids wouldn't eat it. Too much adobo.

The result: only 3-star chili. The beef was tender. I was happy to include kidney beans, and the soy sauce was an interesting addition. But the 1/4 cup of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce was overpowering, and didn’t provide any heat. I would recommend abandoning the chioptle (unless you love its distinctive smokey flavor) and use an equal amount of fresh Jalapenos. Unfortunately, this was one of the few recipes that my kids wouldn’t eat.


  1. While the recipe called for a range of 1/8 and 1/4 cup of chioptle in adobo sauce, it said to use the upper amount for spicy chili. But even this upper amount didn’t have any heat, but did overpowered the other flavors.  Next time I’m skipping the adobo altogether.
  2. On the plus side: Adding garnishes of sour cream and guacamole did help to offset the harsh adobo flavor.
  3. I soak my dried beans overnight, instead of using canned beans. But the temperature in the slow-cooker was too low to cook all the beans. A few came out too crunchy; apparently dried beans must be par-cooked.
  4. This was also a rather expensive dish. Of the 6-1/2 pounds (at $3/lb), I threw more than 2-pounds of excess fat and bones away.

Rating: 3-star.
Cost: $26.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 7 AM. Dinnertime 7 PM.

Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas

May 13, 2010

Cooking a nice dinner is one of my favorite ways to spend a cold and rainy day.  My problem: what could I make in 2 to 3 hours with 1-1/2lbs of ground beef? The solution: Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas; a stuffed pastry which was one of my favorite foods in my Latin American travels.

Takes a minimum of 3 hours, but worth every second.

Start by mixing flour, salt, sugar and slightly frozen butter in a food processor. Add water and mix, divide into two parts, then refrigerate the dough for 2 hours.  To make the filling, start by sauteing an onion, adding the spices, and then browning the ground beef. When the beef is no longer pink add beef broth, and let cook until no longer wet (but still moist).  Let the beef mixture cool completely. Finally, roll out the dough into an 18-inch circle and use an inverted cup (with 3-inch diameter) to cut the disks. Fill each with a heaping teaspoon of beef filling, fold over and crimp closed with the tines of a fork. Brush tops with eggs. Bake in two batches at 425-degrees for 20 minutes.

Result: 4-1/2 stars; cute, delicious, bite-sized empanadas.  Next time I might add 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar or 2 tablespoons of minced olives. Also, these would be perfect as appetizers; the recipe really focuses on the make-ahead options.


  1. My butter was too frozen and wouldn’t break down. I had to fish it out and microwave it for a minute to soften; but the final crust was no worse for wear.
  2. While the broth was only supposed to take 8 minutes to incorporate, after 12 minutes I still had yellow pools. I realized that this was fat, so used a slotted spoon to leave the extra grease behind.
  3. Dinner was going to be around 8pm, so I rushed the cooling of the meat by using the freezer.
  4. The dough rolled out into and 18-inch circle only yielded 17 to 19 disks (not the desired 24). I had to re-roll some of the scraps.

Recipe Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.00 for 42 pastries.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 4:30pm. Dinner time at 7:30pm.

Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

May 10, 2010

There was a time when I would make Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts twice a week. I have a 15-year-old recipe that my family now refers to as “Mark’s Chicken”.  So, I was quite interested to see how Chris Kimball would prepare one of my favorite recipes.

Chris Kimball uses Melba toast run through a food processor to make a course crumb. This makes for a much crunchier skin than most oven fried chicken. The spices are mixed together in the egg wash (much better than my approach of seasoning the dry coating mixture).  Then the egg-soaked chicken is dipped into the crushed Melba toast, and baked at 450-degrees for 40 minutes.

Healthier chicken without the mess of frying.

Overall:  3-1/2 stars. I felt that the inclusion of the spices in an egg wash was a great improvement in technique, but next time I’ll add more spices. Thyme was too predominantly the only flavor. My family was divided, some liked the crunchy skin more than my recipe, while others thought it lacked flavor.


  1. 450-degrees was too hot. The outside crust had blackened in a few spots before the interior of the chicken could reach 160-degrees. Next time I’ll bake at 425-degrees.
  2. The Melba toast didn’t break down evenly.  I had to add some of the stubborn pieces back in for another 6 or 7 pulses.
  3. I bought salt-free Melba toast, and the recipe lacked salt. Next time I’ll make sure the toast has salt added, or add a teaspoon to the egg wash.  Actually, it lacked so much salt that my younger son refused to eat it, until my older son suggested some salt (at which point he gave it a thumbs-up).

Recipe Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $6.80 for 3-lbs of chicken.
How much work? Low
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 6:10pm. Ready at 7:00pm.

More Fudge

May 7, 2010

Craving chocolate, I decided to make more fudge. But traditional fudge is very temperamental; it’s all about precision. The ideal temperature for the sugar syrup is 238 degrees-at 234 degrees, the fudge is soft and gooey, while at 242 degrees, it’s dry and crumbly.

Easy fudge made in 15 minutes without a candy thermometer.

Not feeling in the mood to be too precise, I made 15-minute fudge for a second time. It came out equally delicious, but I was bordering on a catastrophe, which leads me to the following warning:

WARNING: In a separate section of the recipe it said, “Make sure to remove the fudge from the double boiler before the chocolate is fully melted. If the chocolate stays in the double boiler too long, there is the possibility of the chocolate separating and producing a greasy fudge.”  Oblivious to the reaction that was taking place in front of my eyes, I mixed and mixed because there were still lumps. I noticed the changing texture and kept mixing. At the last minute I saw the warning and pulled it off the heat just in time. Catastrophe averted.

Recipe Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $7.50 for 2 pounds of fudge.
How much work? Low
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 2:00pm. Ready at 5:00pm.

%d bloggers like this: