ATK’s Favorite Chili

April 30, 2012

Continuing his recent trend, this recipe from season 12 of America’s Test Kitchen avoids commercial chili powder in favor of grinding whole dried chiles. I first used the technique for Tacos al Pastor. Toasting and grinding the dried chiles adds about 10 minutes, but adds great depth of flavor and is worth the effort. The onions and jalapenos were ground almost into a paste; too fine for my taste; but that didn’t affect the flavor (see comment below). There were also a few surprise ingredients; cocoa powder, molasses and Budweiser. Overall, I’ve made at least 3 or 4 other chili versions, but this recipe is Chris Kimball’s best Chili version yet. My guests gave this recipe up-to-5-stars, saying it was the best chili they’ve ever eaten, better than a chili competition. I give it only 4-stars, because the chili was not spicy enough and the flavors were a little over-the-top earthy. Fortunately, the garnishes; sour cream, avocado and cheese; brightened up the chili. My 4-star rating was sans garnish.

Delicious Chili starts by grinding your own chili powder


  1. I substituted 4-pound of chuck, which was on sale for half the price of the blade steak. I used two packages that were each about 3/4″ thick. It required a little extra work trimming out the excess fat and gristle, but it saved $12. Otherwise the recipe would have been $30 for 6 bowls of chili.
  2. The recipe calls for 8-ounces of dried pinto beans. After cooking today with just 8-ounces, I will increase next time to use 12-ounces. The pinto beans were few and far between.
  3. The published range of cayenne pepper in this recipe was between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon.  I had planned for my kids to eat this chili (which they didn’t), and used 3/8 teaspoon of cayenne. The recipe turned out to be very mild. Next time I will use 3/4 teaspoon.
  4. The flavors here were nicely concentrated. One time Chris Kimball had me add 7 cups of water to his 1998 recipe.
  5. I watched the episode of America’s Test Kitchen again, and I saw that my onions and jalapenos had the wrong texture. Mine were almost a paste and they were supposed to be the texture of a chunky salsa. My food processor has a smaller bowl, perhaps that is why I should have only used two pulses.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $18.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Started: 1:00 PM.  Dinner:  6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here (free access, but you have to provide your e-mail). My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Chili Ingredients:
Table salt
1-1/2 cup dried pinto beans (12 ounces)
6 dried ancho chiles (1-3/4 ounces)
4 dried árbol chiles (or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne)
3 tablespoons cornmeal (or can use Masa Harina without processing)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions
3 small jalapeño chiles
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves
14.5-oz can diced tomatoes (incl juice)
2 teaspoons light molasses
3 1/2 pounds blade steak, 3/4″ thick
1 (12-ounce) bottle Budweiser, or other mild American lager

Suggested Garnishes:
6 ounces grated Monterrey Jack cheese
1 to 2 diced Hass avocado
1/2 Diced red onion
1 Lime, cut into 8 wedges
Sour Cream
Chopped cilantro leaves

  1. Rinse half bag of pinto beans and pick out and discard any that are sub-par. Place a Dutch oven with 4 quarts of water over high burner. Add 3 tablespoons salt and rinsed beans. Bring up to boil, then remove from burner, cover the pot, and allow to soften for 1 hour. Drain in a strainer and rinse well to remove any surface salt.
  2. Remove the stems and seeds from your dried ancho, and rip into 1″ pieces. Place a 12″ skillet on a medium-high burner and toast dried ancho chiles, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until they become fragrant. You may need to adjust the heat, especially if they begin to smoke. When done, add to the bowl of your food processor.
  3. While chiles are toasting, dice the onions into large 3/4″ pieces. Discard the stem, ribs and seeds from your jalapenos, and dice into 1/2″ pieces. Peel garlic cloves so that they are ready to press directly into Dutch oven (in step 6).
  4. Also add arbol chiles, corn meal, oregano, cumin, cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon table salt to the bowl of your food processor. Process for 2 minutes until it becomes finely ground. Slowly add 1/2 cup of chicken broth to food processor while running. Continue processing for 20 to 30 seconds until forms a paste. It may be necessary to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Empty into a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Add onion to food processor and pulse four 1-second pulses. Add jalapenos and pulse four more 1-second pulses. Be careful not to over-process;  I only needed two pulses to obtain the correct “chunky salsa” texture.
  6. Place a Dutch oven over medium-high burner, and heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the onion/jalapenos mixture and cook for about 8 minutes until they have softened.  Add pressed garlic and continue cooking for 1 additional minutes.
  7. While the onions and jalapenos cook, trim the center line of gristle from your blade steaks and cut into 3/4″ cubes.
  8. Stir in chile paste mixture, diced tomatoes and molasses. Add 2 cups of chicken broth and pre-soaked pinto beans. Once it comes up to a boil, reduce the burner to maintain a simmer
  9. Set a rack to the lower-middle of your oven and begin to pre-heat to 300-degrees.
  10. Without washing out skillet from toasting chiles, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat over a medium-high burner until it begins to shimmer. Use paper towels to dry the beef cubes and sprinkle with 2 teaspoon salt.
  11. Add 1 tablespoon oil in 12″-inch skillet and pre-heat over medium-high burner until the oil begins to shimmer. Brown the beef in 2 to 3 batches, cooking for 10 minutes on all sides. Add cooked meat to Dutch oven. Deglaze the skillet using 1/2 bottle of beer then adding to Dutch oven.
  12. Repeat step 11 with remaining tablespoon oil, steak, and beer.
  13. Stir your Dutch oven to combine and return to a simmer. Cover your pot and put in 300-degree oven, and cook for about 2 hours.
  14. With about 20 minutes until finished, prepare your garnishes. After the meat has become very tender, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, un-covered, for 10 minutes. Adjust salt according to your taste. Stir and serve.

Cooking in 2 batches crowded my pan, next time will divide into 3.

Fresh Pasta Without a Machine

April 28, 2012

The current issue of Cook’s Illustrated promises to deliver one of my son’s favorite food; perfect fresh pasta. Unfortunately, for all my past efforts, I have never been able to surpass a $2.50 package of refrigerated Buitoni. So today I tried Chris Kimball’s technique, and was quite pleased with the ease with which the dough is mixed, rolled out and cut into linguine.  It was even easier than using the pasta machine, and cleaning a counter-top is much more straight-forward than trying to brush away the dough fragments stuck to the pasta machine. The key to obtaining the perfect al dente texture is to roll your dough out incredibly thin. The guidelines he gives by rolling out into a 20″x6″ sheet allowed me to understand just how thin the dough needed to be. In the end, the final pasta was perfectly cooked with great texture. So far so good.

Yellow color comes from egg yolks, not semolina flour.

Unfortunately, the recipe relies of egg yolks instead of double-zero flour to attain its soft, workable texture. While providing a beautiful yellow color, it also adds a slight but distinctive egg flavor that left my son liking, but not loving, his dinner. 3-1/2 stars.


  1. I used Chris Kimball’s recommended rolling pin, but the tapered ends made it difficult to obtain an even thickness. I think non-tapered ends would have made the rolling process easier and more effective.
  2. I didn’t make any of his recommended sauces; Olive Oil Sauce with Anchovies and Parsley, Tomato-Brown Butter Sauce or Walnut Cream Sauce. I will definitely try one or two in the future, and it’s possible that the sauces would have been more effective at hiding the eggy flavor.
  3. The original recipe calls for folding the dough into 2″ folds, but I found 3″ folds easier to unfurl.
  4. Chris Kimball notes that if you use King Arthur flour you will need to use 7 egg yolks, to compensate for the extra protein.
  5. I allowed the dough to rest for 2 hours, and it rolled out fine. However, the longer the dough rests in step 2 (up to 4 hours) the easier the dough will roll out.
  6. Chris Kimball offers a few alternate shapes. I tried the bow ties, but it is much more work and in the future will stick to linguine.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $1.40; 1 pound of fresh pasta.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 4:00 PM.  Dinner:  7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
2 large eggs plus 6 large yolks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt

  1. Add flour, eggs, yolks and olive oil to the bowl of a food processor. Mix for 45 seconds until it becomes cohesive. If the dough sticks to your fingers, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time (up to 4 tablespoons) until the dough just becomes tacky. But if the dough doesn’t become cohesive then add 1 teaspoon of water (up to 3 teaspoons) until the dough just comes together. Process an extra 30 seconds to incorporate your adjustments.
  2. Empty the dough onto a dry, un-floured work surface. Knead by hand for 1 or 2 minutes until it becomes smooth. Roll into a 6″-long cylinder and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for between 1 to 4 hours, the higher end will make the dough easier to roll out.
  3. Add 4 quarts of water to a large pot and place over medium burner. The water will slowly come up to a boil while you roll out the pasta.
  4. Cut into 6 equal pieces and re-wrap remaining dough. Dust both sides of 1 slice with flour, lay the slice on a dry, un-floured work surface. Use your fingers to press into a 3″ square. Use a rolling pin to roll into a 6″square. Lightly dust both sides with flour.  Maintaining the 6″ width, roll the dough into a 12″ by 6″ rectangle; start in the middle of the dough roll away from you, return the rolling pin to the center of the dough, and roll the closer half towards you. Repeat as necessary to obtain a 12″ by 6″ rectangle.
  5. Again lightly dust both sides with flour and continue the same rolling process until you obtain a 20″ by 6″ rectangle, which will become somewhat translucent. Lift the dough occasionally to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the counter-top, and if the dough sticks to the counter too frequently or wrinkles when you roll it out, then you should again lightly dust the dough with flour. Repeat the rolling process with the remaining slices of dough. Be careful not to add too much flour or the dough may snapback when you roll.
  6. Allow the pasta sheet to stand on clean kitchen towel for 15 minutes before cutting. To make linguine, loosely fold pasta sheet at 3″ intervals to form a flat roll. Use a chef’s knife to cut into 3/16″-wide noodles. Gently use your fingers to unfurl the cut pasta. Place on baking sheet while you prepare your sauce, but be sure to cook within 1 hour.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water. Boil pasta for about 3 minutes. Reserve a cup of the pasta’s cooking water for later, drain and combine with sauce. If your sauce is not immediately ready, add back a little of the reserved pasta’s cooking water to re-loosen the sauce.
  8. If you don’t cook all the pasta tonight, lay your shaped pasta on a baking sheet freeze until it is firm. Once frozen you can put in zip-lock bags a freeze for up to 2 weeks.

Grilled Boneless Turkey Breast with Herb Butter

April 27, 2012

I have been making this 4-1/2-star Grilled Boneless Turkey Breast with Mango and Pepper Salsa for a few years, but today I tried one of Chris Kimball’s published variation with herb butter. I was very disappointed, and will stick to the mango and pepper salsa in the future. The turkey was perfectly cooked and very moist. The herb butter was fine in and of itself, but did not compliment the smokiness of the turkey in any way. I give this combination 3 stars, and will never make it again.

While the herb butter was a disappointment; the turkey was still good.


  1. My Kingsford charcoal petered out after an hour so I had to finish cooking the turkey in the oven. I modified step 9 so that you’ll know when you need to begin pre-heat the oven.
  2. Because my 6:30 dinner time had passed, I only rested the roast for 10 minutes before slicing. It did lose quite a bit of moisture as I sliced it, so I’d recommend waiting the full 20 minutes.

Rating: 3 stars.
Cost: $6 .
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 3 PM.  Ready:  7 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

1 bone-in, skin-on turkey breast
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2-cup wood chips
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Ground black pepper

Herb Butter:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
2 medium garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Use your fingers to separate skin from meat, then completely remove the skin from the breast, being careful that the skin stays in one piece. Set it aside for the time being. Use a boning knife to completely remove each each breast half, cutting down along the rib cage until the breasts are free. Discard the bones or save them for making turkey stock.
  2. Cut a 36″ length of kitchen twine and six or seven 16″ lengths of kitchen twine.
  3. Evenly sprinkle both sides of each breast with a total of 4 teaspoons kosher salt (2 teaspoons per breast). Lay one breast on the cutting board with the cut-side facing up, then place the second breast with the cut-side facing down. Arrange so that the thick end of the turkey so over the tapered end, which will eventually result in a cylinder of turkey with a roughly equal diameter. Place the turkey skin over the breast.
  4. First loosely tie the 36″ length of twine lengthwise around the turkey. If you try to over tighten the turkey halves will fall apart. Then firmly tie a 16″ length of twine cross-wise at the center of the roast. Next firmly tie a 16″ length of twine cross-wise at both ends. Finally continue tying up the roast with kitchen twine until it is bound at 1″ intervals.
  5. Once tied, stretch the skin so that it covers as much of the roast as possible. Put it on a wire rack set over a rimmed sheet pan. Place it uncovered in refrigerator for 1 hour. Meanwhile soak wood chips in water, so that they’ll smoke rather than burn.
  6. Meanwhile make the herb butter (or better yet the Mango and Pepper Salsa). Mince tarragon, thyme, and garlic cloves to fine paste. Add herb past to a small bowl together with ground black pepper and softened butter.
  7. With about 20 minutes to go, ignite a full chimney started filled with charcoal. It should take about 20 minutes until the coals become fully ignited. Empty the coals on half the grill, leaving the other half without any coals. Drain the wood chips and sprinkle evenly over the coals. Allowing the grill to preheat for 5 minutes will make it easier to clean.
  8. Rub 1 teaspoon vegetable oil over the roast and sprinkle with pepper (it already has plenty of salt).
  9. Place the roast near the coals, but not directly over them. Cover and close the bottom vents half-way, then set the top vents 3/4-of-way closed. After 30 minutes rotate the roast 180-degrees. After another 40 minutes the internal temperature of the roast should reach 150-degrees.  If your internal temperature is not 150-degrees, begin to preheat your oven to 375-degrees because your charcoal won’t be enough.
  10. Move roast to the hot-side and cook, covered, for 10 to 20 minutes, rotating every few minutes so that the skin browns evenly until the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees. Tent loosely with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  11. Cut away twine and slice into 1/2″-thick slices.


April 25, 2012

I haven’t made donuts for 2 years because the last ones were such a big disappointment, with some of them as hard as a hockey puck. Today they came out much better, but still I am not completely satisfied. I believe that I rolling out in step 7 to 3/8″ is too thin, so I modified the recipe to 1/2″-thick. At first my oil was too hot because the oil wasn’t deep enough for my clip-on candy thermometer to properly register the temperature. The donuts overcooked within 1 minute, but when I lowered the temperature they came out much better. I was looking for chocolate glaze, but again ended up with chocolate frosting. At best, I consider these a work-in-progress; 3-1/2 stars (which is not very good for a donut). Please fell free to add comments with suggestions about how to make the donuts fluffier and how to improve the consistency of the chocolate glaze.

they were just okay; 3-1/2 stars


  1. The donuts are best eaten the day they are made. Without any preservatives these donuts became stale quickly, even when tightly wrapped in plastic. I’d suggest freezing half your donuts. When you are ready to eat them, heat them up in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $1.50 for 10 donuts, plus donut holes.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Huge.
Start time 9:00 AM. Dessert time 1:00 PM.

3/4 cups milk
5 tablespoon butter
2-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (14-1/2 ounces)

  1. Put milk and butter in micowaveable bowl or measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. Alternatively you could melt it a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and butter until just melted. Then set aside.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of 110° water to the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the yeast and let stand 5 minutes.
  3. After 5 minutes, add the remaining milk and butter to standing mixer, then add the egg, sugar, salt and half the flour.
  4. Mix with dough hook on low, increasing to medium until well combined.
  5. Add the remaining flour on low, increasing to medium until dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise until it has doubled in size; about 1 hour.
  7. Transfer dough to lightly floured  surface and roll out to 3/8″ 1/2″-thick. Use a donut cutter to create the donuts, pressing down firmly and rotating cutter at least 90-degrees to ensure a clean cut.
  8. Do not try to re-form the scraps to form more donuts, because the flour from the counter will prevent them from holding together. Instead you should make donut holes without adding additional flour.
  9. Transfer  the donut rings and donut holes to a lightly floured baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile, preheat oil in Dutch oven to 360°, about 15 minutes.
  11. Working with 3 or 4 rings at a time, gently place doughnuts in the oil.
  12. Cook for approximately 1 minute per side until lightly golden brown, being careful not to overcook. Use a slotted spoon and tongs remove from oil and allow some of the oil to fall back into the fryer for a few seconds, then transfer to a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet and allow to cool for 15 minutes prior to glazing.

Chocolate Glaze:

1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoon milk or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 oz dark chocolate
3/4 cups powdered sugar

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chocolate until fully melted.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and milk.
  3. Let cool slightly then dunk doughnuts.


Pomegranate-Balsamic Glazed Salmon

April 23, 2012

The 12th season of America’s Test Kitchen features an episode making Asian Barbecue Glazed Salmon, which I made 3 months ago and gave 4-stars. Today I made a variation, using a Pomegranate-Balsamic Glaze.  The flavors were deeply sweet and rich, perhaps a little too sweet. I’m not sure if I used too much brown sugar, or perhaps the brown sugar needs to be cut down to 2 tablespoons owing to the inherent sweetness of the pomegranate. Still, it was delicious and the extra sweetness made it very kid-friendly. I give this variation 4-stars, and prefer this variation over the Asian Barbecue. I can imagine that better balancing the sweetness could yield up-to 4-1/2 stars.

Delicious glaze if you can find 100% pomegranate juice


  1. I never though pomegranate juice was hard to find, until I started reading the labels. The juice aisle only has “Pomegranate Juice Cocktail”; of course the word cocktail is in microscopic letters. Even stores that sell “Pom” (the only brand I found with 100% Pomegranate Juice) sells mostly mixes containing other juices. Finally at the 3rd supermarket I found and 8-oz bottle of 100% Pomegranate Juice for $2.49.  I only needed about 1-1/2 ounces, and will probably use the rest for making sangria.
  2. I made the glaze while the salmon was in the oven, as it only takes a 2 minutes on the stove-top. However, it was too thin and could have used 4 to 5 minutes to cool down and thicken. Still, there was plenty of glaze so I just reapplied.
  3. Also, I disagree with Chris Kimball’s instructions to cook until reaching an internal temperature of only 125-degrees; it’s not well cooked for my family’s taste. While the FDA recommends cooking fish steaks to 145-degrees, most other websites recommend cooking until 140-dergees. Today I cooked in to 145-degrees which seemed perfect for my taste.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $16.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:20 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here and also here, and the glaze recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared this today are given below:

Pomegranate-Balsamic Glaze:
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon cornstarch
pinch cayenne pepper

1-1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 center-cut salmon fillets (about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds total)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  1. Preheat your oven to 300-degrees, and set an oven rack in middle position. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, kosher salt and cornstarch. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut your salmon filet into 4 equally sized pieces. Use paper towels to dry the salmon’s surface. Grind some fresh black pepper on the meat-side, then evenly sprinkle the sugar/salt mixture. Rub into fish so that it evenly covers the meat.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to 12″, oven-safe, non-stick skillet. Place over a medium-high burner and pre-heat until it just begins to smoke. Sear salmon, skin-side up, for 2 minutes until forms a browned crust. Use tongs to skip the fish steaks and cook with the skin-side down for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Remove skillet from burner and evenly coat the glaze over the exposed meat. Put skillet in pre-heated oven and bake from 10 minutes. When done, the thickest part of the fish should read 145-degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
  4. As soon as the salmon goes into the oven, combine all sauce ingredients in small saucepan; whisk until combined. Over medium-high heat, bring the sauce up to boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer for 3 minutes. Remove pan from burner and cover to keep the sauce warm until you are ready to put the salmon in the oven.
  5. Place cooked salmon on individual serving plates and pass any remaining glaze separately.

Pork Tacos al Pastor

April 20, 2012

I once biked my way through Mexico from North to South, and it seemed that I ate tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fish taco, beef tacos, bean tacos, tripe tacos, even iguana tacos (which taste like chicken).  But it seemed to me that the favorite taco amongst Mexicans were Pork Tacos al Pastor (Shepard-style tacos). The marinated pork is arranged on a spit, then cooked on a vertical rotisserie (referred to as a trompo). When the outside layer has finished browning it is shaved away into tacos, exposing a new layer which then slowly browns for future customers. The system results in tacos that are perfectly cooked to satisfy a steady flow of customers over time.

My dinner table looked amazing

The braising and barbecuing technique in this recipe worked perfectly at recreating the overall flavors of real Mexican Tacos al Pastor; without a trompo. I invited my Mexican friends to dinner who gave these tacos glowing reviews. The only complaint was that they lacked heat, which they rectified with a little Tabasco.  I would prefer to find some more authentically Mexican source of heat. My Mexican friend promised to give me a few hints, which I will post then next time I make them. 4 stars, but they could be 4-1/2 stars with a little more heat.


  1. I think that supermarkets don’t sell 3-pound butt roasts, so I bought the smallest available roast at 4.8-pounds. Because my roast was 50% larger than the recommended (and because I heard complaints about the lack of flavor), I tried to compensate by increasing all ingredients by 50%.  However, I now see that this recipe barely uses a cup of the final sauce, so I would recommend sticking to the original recipe, and being careful to rotate the meat slabs so that they cook evenly.
  2. The guajillo chiles have a deep earthly flavor, somewhat similar to chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. But because the guajillos are mild, I am going to try finding something a little spicier. Perhaps puya chiles. Other options might be chipotle or mora chile. Another option would be to stick with the guajillos, and throw in a couple of habaneros to boost the heat.
  3. While not affecting the final outcome of the tacos, I had a kitchen disaster in the last few minutes before dinner. I had placed the bowl with 4 cups of extra sauce too close to the cutting board, and the handle of my chef’s knife caught the edge of the bowl. The thick sauce covered my counter, cascaded down the entire face of my dishwasher and puddled on my kitchen floor. Ufff.
  4. Chris Kimball prior recipe for Tacos al Pastor from his international cookbook, here, is much less genuine. The pork is covered with foil and baked in the oven, and is never given a chance to brown. The recipe also shreds the pork, rather than slices. This new recipe that I made today uses much better technique, and isn’t much more work. His old recipe uses 3 dried ancho chiles and 2 dried chipotle peppers, which I may try to see if I can add more heat.
  5. [Updated on 4/23/12]. My Mexican friend said that she thought that the sauce should be green rather than red. Hmmm. That would definitely give me a freer hand in making it spicier.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $18.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Finish time 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

10 large dried guajillo chiles
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/4 pounds plum tomatoes
8 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 pound boneless pork butt roast
1/2 pineapple
Vegetable oil
1 lime
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 small onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Wipe your chiles clean, then add to a large, dry Dutch oven set over medium-high burner. Heat for 3 to 4 minutes until they become soft and fragrant. Allow to cool on a large plate until they become cool enough to work with and then remove the stems.
  2. While the chiles cool, core and quarter your tomatoes and peel your 8 garlic cloves.
  3. Return the Dutch oven to medium-high burner, add the quartered tomatoes, water, garlic, chiles, 4 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper, sugar, cumin and cloves. Bring up to a simmer, then cover and reduce burner to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes until the chiles become soft; stir occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, trim away any large chunks for exterior fat, and trim the fat cap down to 1/4″-thick. Cut the roast against its grain into 1/2″-thick pork steaks.
  5. When mixture has cooked, add to blender and process for 1 minute until smooth. Place a fine-mesh strainer over your dutch oven and strain the puree and press down on mixture to yield as much liquid as possible. Mostly you will be left with seeds and a little bit of pulp.
  6. Arrange pork steaks in liquid so that they are fully submerged. Bring liquid up to a simmer over a medium burner. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and place cover slightly ajar, and cook for between 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours. Every 30 to 45 minutes, flip and rearrange the pork for even cooking.
  7. In the last 20 minutes of simmering, light a chimney starter filled with charcoal (about 100 briquettes). Also, slice your lime into 8 wedges. Dice your onion, and coarsely chop your cilantro. Put your toppings on a small serving plate. Peel your pineapple and cut into 1/2″-thick slices, and remove the center core from each slice. Save half your pineapple for another use.
  8. Fish out the pork and put on plate, and sprinkle both sides with salt, then cover with aluminum foil .
  9. Mix the sauce briefly and put 1/2-cup in a small bowl to bring out to the bbq. Pour all the remaining sauce into a medium bowl, and return a 1/2-cup back to the dutch oven. Cover the medium bowl of sauce and save for another use; perhaps to serve with rice. Squeeze 1/4 of a lime (2 wedges) and spent lime wedges into the Dutch oven.
  10. When the charcoal is covered with a fine grey ash, distribute the coats evenly in the barbecue. Clean the grate and use paper towels to rub the grate with oil.
  11. Cook the pork and pineapple simultaneously; each on their own half of the grill. Brush the pork with 1/4-cup of sauce and put sauce-side down onto the grill. Grill for 6 to 7 minutes until it has browned, then brush using the remaining 1/4-cup of sauce. Flip and grill for another 6 to 7 minutes until it has browned.
  12. Brush both sides of your pineapple rungs with vegetable oil and sprinkle lightly with salt, and grill for  6 to 7 minutes on each side.
  13. Coarsely chop pineapple rings and put into a serving bowl. Cut pork into 1/8″-thick slices and bring the sauce in the Dutch oven up to a simmer. Remove pot from heat and add pork, and toss so that the pork is evenly coated. Adjust the salt according to your taste.
  14. Put tortillas on a microwavable serving plate, cover them with a damp paper towel and microwave for 75 seconds.

I accidentally over-stuffed my tacos

Naan (Indian Flatbread)

April 17, 2012

I work in IT and many of my co-workers are from India. A few of them tell me how their wives make fresh bread from them each and every day. When I saw this recipe I thought that this was what I was going to make, but it turns out that their daily bread is Roti, not Naan. Naan is more for special occasions owing to the longer preparation time and richness from the butter or gravy. I love eating fresh bread and this recipe was not a lot of work, though it took about 24 hours of clock time. However, the real reason I probably won’t make this particular recipe for Naan again (unless I have Indian friends over for dinner) is the huge mess that I made in my kitchen. There are too many easier ways to make bread. The resulting bread was 4-stars.

There has to be an easier way

Also, this post represents somewhat of a milestone for me; this is my 300th recipe.


  1. My Indian friends tell me that Naan is best served with vegetarian gravy. I wasn’t sure exactly what vegetarian gravy was, and Chris Kimball doesn’t show any, so I have provided a few examples potato-and-chickpea-based recipes here and here.
  2. Over the course of two days I dirtied the following items preparing this recipe: food processor, large bowl, Pyrex casserole, sheet pan, 12″ skillet and lid, plus flouring my counter over two days. Of course on top of that was a serving plate, measuring cups, etc.
  3. Chris Kimball also has a variation of this recipe that only requires a few hours. It still makes just as big of a mess in your kitchen, but it does so over just 3-1/2 hours.
  4. The recipe just uses regular all-purpose flour. The only thing you may not have in your kitchen is plain, unflavored yogurt.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $0.75 for 4 pieces of bread.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start the day before, then started at 5:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

1/2 cup ice water
1/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 large egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1-1/4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Measure out flour, sugar, and yeast (don’t add salt until step 3) into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for 2 seconds to combine. In a measuring cup, mix together ice water, yogurt, 3 tablespoons oil and egg yolk.
  2. Turn on food processor and slowly pour in water mixture. Continue mixing for 10 seconds until there is no more dry flour. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Add salt to dough and process for 60 seconds; until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. I had to add a little more flour.
  4. Lightly flour a work surface and knead by hand for 1 minute, then shape into a ball. Lightly spray a large bowl with vegetable oil , add dough ball and tightly cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for between 16 and 24 hours.
  5. The next day about 45 minutes before dinner, set a heat-proof serving plate on an oven rack in the middle of your oven; I had to use a Pyrex casserole.  Pre-heat to 200-degrees.
  6. Lightly flour a work surface cut dough into 4 equal-sized pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a large plate or baking sheet, and space dough at least 2″ apart. Spray the tops of the dough with a little more vegetable spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Melt 1-1/2 tablespoons butter in microwave for 30 seconds.
  7. Working with 1 dough ball at a time,  use your hands to stretch into a 5″-disk, then use a rolling-pin finish into an evenly thick 9″-round. If the dough is sticking to the counter you may need to adjust how heavily you are flouring your board. Use the tines of a fork to poke the dough about 25 times to prevent the flat bread from becoming puffy.
  8. Pre-heat a teaspoon of oil in a 12″ cast-iron (or regular, heavy-bottomed skillet). When the oil begins to shimmer, use paper-towel to completely remove excess oil. Lightly spray dough with water and put in pre-heated pan with the sprayed-side down. Lightly spray the top-side and immediately cover. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until it becomes evenly speckled with brown spots. (while the naan cooks, repeat the stretching, rolling and poking process with the next dough ball). Use a spatula to flip and cover. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. If at any point during cooking the flat bread begins to puff, use the tines of a fork to deflate it. Flip the naan and lightly brush the top with 1 teaspoon of melted butter. Move oven and cover with aluminum foil.

Chicken Salad with Red Grapes and Smoked Almonds

April 15, 2012

A few month’s ago I saw Adam (from the equipment corner) singing the praises of sous vide, the technique of vacuum-sealing food then submerging it in a water bath that’s been preset to the food’s ideal cooked temperature; e.g. 165-dergees for chicken breasts.  The latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated tries to bring the technique to the masses, without the necessity of spending $500. Today’s results are good. The chicken was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. But because today’s technique did not vacuum-seal the chicken, some of the flavor was washed away by the poaching liquid. Surely that oversight is the main difference between new sous vide and old-fashioned poaching (here is a woman poaching in the early 1600’s).

Really more poached than sous vide.

This chicken salad is 4-stars, but owing to the well-balanced flavors of the grapes, almonds, and other ingredients. Without any browning, the chicken itself is only 3-star. Personally, I find better and more complex flavors brought about by the Maillard Reaction to be more important than perfect texture.


  1. The “sous vide” instructions in this recipe are only an approximation. I followed the timing in the recipe exactly, but after 17 minutes when the chicken was supposed to be done, the poaching liquid had fallen to just 150-degrees. The chicken breast also had only reached an internal temperature of 150-degrees. I had to re-light the burner and heat for another 8 to 10 minutes to obtain the final internal temperature of 165-degrees.
  2. Without any browning, the salad had to rely on its other ingredients for flavor. If I make this recipe again, I will take the 150-degree chicken and brown in quickly in a very hot skillet.
  3. This method is certainly not as even as true sous vide, so be sure to flip the chicken occasionally while the burner is still turned on.
  4. Chris Kimball warns that you should not use breasts that weigh more than 8 ounces or are thicker than 1″. But even if your chicken falls within these parameters, you will still likely need to adjust the cooking time.
  5. Primarily the article was about sous vide, and offered a few recipes. In addition to the Chicken Salad with Red Grapes and Smoked Almonds that I made, there was also Curried Chicken Salad with Cashews and Waldorf Chicken Salad.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $8
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (no more than 8 ounces each, and no more than 1″-thick).
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 celery ribs
1 shallot
6 ounces seedless red grapes
1/2 cup smoked almonds
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

  1. Fill a dutch oven with 6 cups of cold water and stir in 2 tablespoons table salt until dissolved. Trim away any excess fat, then add chicken to cold water. Turn on burner to medium and slowly heat until the water reaches 170-degrees. While the burner is on, flip chicken a few times to ensure even cooking. Turn off burner, cover the dutch oven and allow to stand for 17 minutes. Put chicken onto a paper-towel lined plate.
  2. If the internal temperature of the chicken is below 165-degrees, pre-heat a skillet with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until it begins to smoke. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and brown in very hot skillet until the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees.
  3. Refrigerate chicken for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, add mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, Dijon and 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper to a medium/large bowl. Mince celery, shallow, parsley and rosemary and add to bowl. Coarsely chop almonds and cut grapes into quarters, then add to bowl.
  5. When chicken is fully cooked, use paper towels to dry the chicken and cut into 1/2″ dice. Add to bowl and toss together all the ingredients. Adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste.
  6. Serve as a sandwich or over leafy greens.

The Last Straw for Kingsford Charcoal

April 14, 2012

There was a time when Kingsford Charcoal was undoubtedly king in my house. Then a few years ago they reformulated. I’ve expressed my disappointment with their reformulation, and was not alone, see here and here. Others complained about changes in grilling temperatures, that the coals would burn out quicker, as well as lack of charcoal flavor. However, my biggest complaint was that the juices from the meat would extinguish the new formulation (which never happened with the older formulation).  I never got the full burn of the briquettes when cooking juicy meat.

This year’s Kingsford Corporate Blunder was to drastically downsize their “value packs” by over 30% without lowering the price. Last year their “Value Packs” consisted of twin 20-lb bags (total of 40-lbs of charcoal for about $12).  This year, I went to Home Depot and paid about the same price. When I got home I noticed they downsize each of the two bags from 20-lbs to 13.9-lbs (total of 27.8-lbs for $13). Come on, did they really think we wouldn’t care?

A bag from last year compared to this year's downsize.

While Kingsford charcoal is still the best selling brand, they have used their market dominance to squeeze more profits by substituting lower cost (and heavier) materials, such as clay and other “binding” materials. In the past Kingsford has decreased the size of each individual briquettes so that they could claim the bags are the “same size” (based on briquette count in the bag). Do they really think we’re that gullible? This latest corporate blunder is the last straw. I’m done with them for good, like Netflix before them. I will try to find other brands and let you know the results.

Sichuan Stir-Fried Pork in Garlic Sauce

April 12, 2012

I have always dreamed of having the dish-washing arrangement where I would be gently told after making a delicious dinner, “s/he who cooks doesn’t need to wash the dishes.” OK, right, all dreaming aside. I wash my own dishes and always strive to minimize the mess, which is why I clean up as much as possible during the cooking process whenever I have a free moment. The problem with the original recipe as published was that I was expected to dirty at least 6 bowls. I re-used bowls whenever possible (of course being cognizant not to re-use anything that had raw or partially cooked meat), and was able to reduce that down to 4 bowls; the first two are medium and the second two are small.

A long list of ingredients make for a delicious meal

The dinner itself was delicious. The pork was perfectly cooked; tender, juicy and flavorful. The combination of vegetables may have been a little light; only celery and mushrooms, but they were also perfectly cooked. Much better than take-out; 4-stars.


  1. While the ingredient list seems long, most of the list is just dumped once into the sauce. Many of the more unusual ingredients are the same ones Chris Kimball’s uses in all his Asian recipes, so I already had the fish sauce, toasted sesame oil and Sriracha sauce in my kitchen
  2. My supermarket sells shiitake mushrooms in 3-1/2 ounce pre-packaged containers. So I made up the short-fall with portabello mushrooms because I didn’t want to spend the extra $3.50 for another package.
  3. I’d recommend that you start cooking your rice while,in step 2, the pork is still sitting for 15 minutes. Chris Kimball often just says “serve with rice”, but I sometimes forget until the end when it’s too late.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $10
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 5:50 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar (2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons ketchup
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch

12-oz boneless country-style pork ribs , trimmed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cold water
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornstarch

4 garlic cloves
2 scallions
2 tablespoons Asian broad-bean chili paste (substitute 2 teaspoons of Asian chili-garlic paste or Sriracha sauce)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6-oz shiitake mushrooms
2 celery ribs

  1. Add all sauce ingredients to a medium bowl and whisk together, then set aside.
  2. Slice pork into 2″-lengths and cut into 1/4″-thick by 2″ strips. Put in second medium bowl and add baking soda and water. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, begin to cook your rice. Also remove the mushroom stems and slice them thinly. Cut the celery on a 45-degree bias into 1/4″ slices.
  4. Rinse pork in cold water and use paper towels to dry. You are just trying to remove the water, not drying them so that they caramelize in the pan.
  5. Whisk rice wine and cornstarch in the pork’s bowl. Return pork to bowl and toss to cover evenly.
  6. Slice scallions and separate into two piles of greens and whites, then mince the whites. Add the white part of the scallions to a small bowl (third bowl), press garlic cloves directly into bowl and add chili paste. Stir to combine.
  7. Place a 12″ non-stick skillet over high burner. Add 1 tablespoon oil and pre-heat until the oil begins to smoke. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes until they become tender; stir often.
  8. Add celery and continue cooking for 3 to 4 more minutes. Set vegetables aside into a fourth bowl.
  9. Return skillet over burner, reduce to medium-low. Add 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, and allow to pre-heat for 30 second. Add the garlic/scallion/chili-paste mixture to skillet and saute for just 30 seconds.
  10. Remove 1 tablespoon garlic/scallion/chili-paste mixture to a small bowl (same bowl that contained the mixture before sauteing) and set aside.
  11. Increase  burner to medium, and add pork to skillet and saute for 5 minutes. Cook until it is no longer pink, but remember that it will continue to cook in Step 12.
  12. Give the sauce mixture from Step 1 a whisk to recombine the ingredients, then add to the pork already in the skillet. Increase burner to high and saute for 2 more minutes. Mix the vegetables back into the skillet and allow everything to re-heat.
  13. Place on individuals plates or a large serving platter. Evenly spread the sliced scallion greens and the garlic/scallion/chili oil. Serve with white rice.

%d bloggers like this: