Ultimate Charcoal-Grilled Steaks

October 27, 2015

I know I almost missed the boat (the S.S. grilling season). While this recipe came out at the beginning of summer (and despite its absolute simplicity), I was not able to make the recipe until now. I have always used wooden skewers, and this recipe requires metal skewers. I ordered the $7 Norpro 12″ skewers as recommended by Cook’s Illustrated.

Nice char on the outside; beautiful medium-rare on the inside

Nice char on the outside; beautiful medium-rare on the inside

The results were very-evenly-cooked, medium-rare steaks (in 2-1/2 hours). The intense heat from the chimney starter gave a beautiful char on the outside, and an even pink all the way through. No grey band. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of the perfect evenness from top to bottom of the steak. Here are other people pictures of grey band, versus an even medium rare that you can expect with this recipe. 5-stars.

Comments:

  1. My steaks took 2 full hours in the oven to come up to 120-degrees. Because the oven is so low, it is easy to perfectly cook the steaks. But if you want medium steaks; be prepared to wait up to an extra 30 minutes.
  2. Kosher salt is always recommended for when sprinkling on meat, because the flakes adhere better to the mean that the granules of regular granules of table salt. Also, because it is less dense it is easier to get an even coating of salt.
  3. As you can see from my photos; I made 3 sets of steaks instead of the 2 called for in the recipe. But because the grilling time is so quick; there are no adjustments necessary.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $12.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low.
Start time 4:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

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

Compound Butter Ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper

  1. Remove 1/2 cube of butter from refrigerator and allow to soften on counter-top for an hour; or microwave for 20 to 30 seconds.
  2. Mix together the ingredients for the compound butter and refrigerate.

Steak Ingredients:
2 boneless strip steak, 1-3/4″ thick (about 2-pounds total)
Kosher salt and pepper
Chimney starter

  1. Cut away the fat cap from the steaks; to prevent flare-ups. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 200-degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup) and set a wire rack on top.
  2. Cut each steak in half crosswise; creating four 8-ounce steaks. Cut 1/16″-deep slits on both sides of steaks every 1/4″; creating a crosshatch.
  3. Sprinkle both sides of each steak with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (2 teaspoons total). Lay steak halves flat on counter and pass two 12″ metal skewers horizontally through the steaks; spacing them 1-1/2″ apart, Be sure to leave 1/4″ space between steak halves. Set the steaks on the rack you prepared is Step 1. Repeat skewering process with the remaining steaks.
  4. Put steaks in 200-degree oven for between 1h30m and 2h until the center of the steaks register 120-degrees; flip steaks half-way through cooking. If one set of steaks comes up to temperature before the other; remove it (And tent with aluminum foil)
  5. Tent the skewered steaks with aluminum foil (still on wire rack); allowing to rest while you light to coals in the next step.
  6. Ignite a large chimney starter halfway filled with charcoal briquettes (3 quarts). After about 15 minutes when the top-most coals are completely covered in fine grey ash. Reserve the foil and pat the steaks dry with paper towels.
  7. Use tongs to place one set of steaks directly over chimney; resting the skewers on rim of chimney; suspending the meat over the coals (see photo below). Cook for 1 minute per side until both sides are well browned. Return the first set of steaks to wire rack in sheet, season with pepper, and tent with reserved foil. Repeat the charring process with second set of skewered steaks.
  8. Remove skewers from steaks and serve with compound butter.

Best Ground Beef Chili

October 20, 2015

I never trust Chris Kimball when it comes to spicy food. His Yankee palate just doesn’t understand the flavors of southwestern cooking. True to form, today’s recipe is not nearly hot enough; zero-alarm chili. Also in the back of my mind is that Many of Chris Kimball’s chili recipes turn out to be very expensive (see this $26, 3-star chili). Plus my kids are just as happy with cheap, ground beef chili; So no reason to spend 3-times as much.

As unlikely as it seems; Chris Kimball reaches a happy medium with this recipe; rich flavor of freshly ground chiles, but easy to eat (just 1/4″-chunks ). Plus it uses $3/lb ground beef. Of course, while not hot enough (next time I will add 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper), there is a lot of delicious complexity here. Definitely worth making; 4-stars, but I could easily see a hotter version almost reaching the maximum 5-stars.

Deliciously bold flavors, but easy peasy

Deliciously bold flavors, but easy peasy

Comment:

  1. It can sometimes be hard to find whole chiles, so I recommend buying them beforehand so you don’t have to run to multiple supermarkets. This recipe calls for Ancho chiles (in California they are called Pasillo; which are dried poblano peppers), but you can substitute guajillo which are hotter.
  2. Chris Kimball says that this chili can be made up to 3 days in advance. I recommend re-heating on the stove-top rather than the microwave, for better flavor. Just add a little water to maintain the desired consistency.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $11. (not including garnishes).
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

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

2-lbs 85% lean ground beef
2 cups + 2 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper
3/4-teaspoon baking soda
6 dried ancho chile
1 ounce tortilla chip, crushed (¼ cup)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
14-1/2-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
15-oz-can pinto bean
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Lime, cut into wedges
Coarsely chopped cilantro
Chopped red onion
Additional garnishes: diced avocado, sour cream, and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, tortilla chips and/or steamed white rice.

  1. Set a rack to lower-middle of your oven and pre-heat to 275-degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, add beef, 2 tablespoons water, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4-teaspoon baking soda. Toss until thoroughly combined, and set aside for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, remove the stems for the chiles and tear then into 1″-sized pieces. Set a Dutch oven set over medium-high burner; Add chiles and toast for 4 to 6 minutes until they become fragrant, stirring frequently. If the chiles begin to smoke, then reduce the burner. Allow to cool in the bowl of a food processor.
  3. Add tortilla chips, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, coriander, oregano, thyme, and 2 teaspoons pepper to bowl food processor. Process for 2 minutes until it becomes finely ground. Empty spices into a small bowl. Process the tomatoes with their juice in the food processor for 30 seconds until smooth.
  4. Dice your onion and peel your garlic.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the empty Dutch oven, set over medium-high burner. Add diced onion at cook for 4 to 6 minutes until softened; stir occasionally. Press garlic directly into pot and cook for just 1 minutes. Add beef mixture from Step 1. Cook beef for 12 to 14 minutes; breaking up meat into 1/4″-pieces as it cooks. The beef should begin to brown and a fond should begin to form on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add spice mixture from Step 3 and continue to cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes; to bloom the spices.
  6. Add 2 cups of water, 2 teaspoons sugar, tomato puree, and pinto beans and their liquid. Bring up to a boil, and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits. Cover with lid, move to pre-heated  oven. Cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until the meat is tender and chili has slightly thickened. Stir occasionally to prevent the chili from sticking.
  7. Uncover chili and let it sit for 10-minutes. Meanwhile, prepare any of your garnishes.
  8. After 10 minutes stir to re-incorporate any fat that has risen to the top and add 2 tablespoons cider vinegar.
  9. Adjust seasoning with salt to taste. Serve, passing separately the lime wedges, cilantro, chopped onion and other garnishes.
A little extra effort; but big flavors

A little extra effort; but big flavors


American Sandwich Bread (medium-sized loaf) in 2-Hours

October 17, 2015

With my two sons back in school, I’ve dusted off my various Sandwich Breads recipe and I’ve updated it to reflect my ever-changing bread requirements. Happily, I now have new standing mixer, which lets me build gluten the old-fashioned way (by kneading). Kneading speeds the process of gluten development so much, that I can comfortable make a sturdy loaf in just 2 hours. Also, I replaced by broken kitchen scale with this cheap $12 scale. While I loved the functionality of my old $50 Oxo kitchen scale, I decided not to replace it because of it’s apparent fragility (it broke after a very small fall).

Hand-cut slices; I like to slice them a little thick

After many years of making sandwich bread, I have come love the process of baking bread. The smell of bread in the oven and the warmth of the kitchen are irresistible as the autumn temperatures begin to fall.  I have made and perfected many variations of this recipe, each year varying the recipe based upon my changing needs. The prior versions are:
Small 2-hour loaf without standing mixer,
Small 12-hour loaf without standing mixer.
Large 12-hour loaf with standing mixer.

The special equipment and supplies needed are best bought online. Here is what I’ve found:

  1. Bread Bags.  ($18 per 1,000 bags at Sam’s Club, but I got mine here (they have since raised price to $34), or $25 here)
  2. Laminated Twist Ties. ($3 per 2,000 here)
  3. Granulated Lecithin. ($14 per pound)
  4. Fruit Fresh. ($3 in Walmart)
  5. Bulk Instant (Rapid Rise) Yeast. ($3/lb here). Enough for 72 loaves of sandwich bread.

Comments:

  1. Bread made without any preservatives goes stale relatively fast. I make this bread sans preservatives and is still good after 3 days; mostly my bread only needs to last 3 days. If you want it to last all week; e.g. to bake this bread on Sunday and have it stay fresh through Friday’s lunch. I found a list of natural preservatives that can use in sandwich bread. I sometimes use granulated lecithin (which I bought online).
  2. The keys to making bread without preservatives are: (1) Do not overcook. Bake only until the loaf reaches an internal temperature of 200-to-205-degrees. (2) Allow loaf to fully cool prior to slicing, or you will allow moisture to escape and give your loaf a head-start on becoming stale. (3) Use some olive oil to keep the loaf from being too dry.
  3. Do not cut your loaf before it has cooled to room temperature (about 80-degrees). I recommend a full 3 hours of cooling time. I have sliced my bread after 2 hour, and the next morning woke to see condensation in the bag. If you ever see moister in the bag; put it into a new bag to prevent mold.
  4. Starting to bake the loaf at higher temperatures during the first 7 minutes (in Step 8) gives great “oven spring” so you don’t get a dense loaf.  But reducing the temperature after 7 minutes you will also ensure that the crust doesn’t get too dark by the time the loaf reached an internal temperature of 200-to-205-degrees.
  5. The use of milk in this recipe keeps the final crumb relatively tight.

My Quasimodo loaf:

I made two loaves this week because my Monday loaf turned out so lopsided; which my kids and I have dubbed Quasimodo. The loaf started out fine, but because the weather has been cold I let the loaf rise on my stove-top (while the oven pre-heated to 425-degrees).  Unfortunately, half the loaf was too close to the oven vent and the loaf rose unevenly. It didn’t look too bad, until the oven spring kicked in and ended up extremely lopsided (in person the loaf looked even more lopsided than the photo).

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: 60-cents
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time: 6:00 PM. Finish time: 7:30 PM. (But don’t slice for another 3 hours)

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared and baked the bread are given below:

Wet Ingredients:
1/2 cup water (4 ounces)
1-1/4 cup milk (10 ounces)
2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar (or honey)
1 tablespoon granulated lecithin
3 tablespoons olive oil

Dry Ingredients:
4 cups bread flour (1-1/4 lb)
2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 to 3/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid; fruit fresh or other powdered Vitamin C. (Alternatively mix 1 teaspoon white vinegar)

  1. Adjust an oven rack to low-middle position. and pre-heat oven to 200-degrees, then immediately turn it off. You will use the residual heat of the oven to speed the first rise in a cool kitchen.
  2. Add water and milk to a Pyrex measuring cup (at least 2 cup capacity); heat in microwave for 1m until mixture reaches 105-degrees. Mix in yeast, sugar, granulated lecithin and olive oil; allow to hydrate for 5 minutes.
  3. While the yeast hydrates, add the dry ingredients to the bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
  4. Turn on standing mixer to lowest speed and slowly add liquid; use a rubber spatula to scrape out anything left at the bottom of the measuring cup. After the dough has come together, increase speed to 4 on KitchenAid mixer (medium-low on other models). Continue mixing for 10 minutes. The dough will become smooth, add a little more flour or water if necessary.
  5. Spray bowl with non-spick cooking spray, put dough in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in warm, but turned off, oven for 20 to 30 minutes. The dough will double in size. (Never allow dough to rise into a turned on oven)
  6. Spray your loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  7. Gently turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface. Gently press the dough into a rectangle so that it corresponds to the length of your loaf pan. Spray top of dough with tap water and roll up into a tight log. Move dough into pan and softly press so that it touches all four sides of the pan. Spray top with dough with non-stick cooking spray to prevent the dough from deflating in Step 10.
  8. Cover loosely with plastic wrap (realizing that the loaf will grow above the top of the pan). Place it in a warm spot in your kitchen for between 20 minutes to 30 minutes; until the dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when you poke it with your finger.
  9. About 20 minutes prior to baking, begin pre-heating your oven to 425-degrees.
  10. Carefully remove plastic wrap, spray the loaf three times with tap water from a spray bottle, and place loaf pan in 425-degree oven. Set kitchen timer for 23 minutes corresponding to the total cooking time. After 7 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 375-degrees and turn loaf 180-degrees. Bake uncovered for 8 additional minutes until the top crust reaches your desired color. Tent with aluminum foil to keep the loaf top from over browning; baking for remaining 8 to 10 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf will reads 205-degrees when the loaf is done. Carefully remove bread from pan, and allow to cool on a wire rack for 3 hour before slicing (ensure that loaf is no warmer than 80-degrees).

 


Miso-Marinated Salmon for Two

October 14, 2015

After reading Chris Kimball’s description, I googled “Miso-Marinated salmon” to see why this recipe usually takes 3 days. More or less, that extended time allows the flavors to penetrate into the fish. But the longer the fish marinades the more the fish tends to dry out. So Chris Kimball’s 24-hour limit is there to ensure “silky and moist” fish. While the caramelization of the outer-crust delivers delicious flavor, I did feel that the miso/mirin/sake flavors did not penetrate the fish. The subtle flavor did allow the fish to be the star of the show, based upon the perfect texture of the fish. 4-stars

Looks more flavorful than it tastes

Looks more flavorful than it tastes

During my googling I noticed that many recipes call for Toasted Sesame oil; something not included by Chris Kimball. But he hit the nail on the head when he calls for broiling the fish 8-inches from the broiler element. A distance that allows for the fish to both caramelize and cook evenly at the same time.

Comments:

  1. I made the version for only two people, because my older son won’t eat seafood. But the main recipe is for 4 people.
  2. While Chris Kimball says that the fish needs as little as 6 hours to marinate, I would suggest going for a full 24 hours to marinate. Even with 24 hours that flavors are subtle; given that the traditional recipes take up to 3 days.
  3. Because fish is so delicate, it’s important to use fillets of similar thickness so that they cook evenly. It is recommended to buy a large center-cut fillet (between 1-1/2 and 2 pounds, if serving 4) and cut into equal pieces.
  4. Any shade of miso can be used: yellow, red, or brown types can. But the recipe calls for the sweet, fruity flavor of white miso.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low.
Start time 6:00 PM. Ready at 6:20 PM. (plus 24 hours)

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

1/4 cup white miso paste
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons sake
1-1/2 tablespoons mirin
2 (6- to 8-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets
Lemon wedges

  1. In a medium bowl, add miso, sugar, sake, and mirin. Whisk together until sugar and miso dissolve; the mixture will be thick.
  2. Dip each fish fillet into the mixture to cover all sides of flesh (you can skip the skin). Set in a baking dish with the skin-side downwards, and empty any extra mixture over the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for 24 hours (bare minimum of 6 hours).
  3. Set an oven rack so that it is 8-inches from the broiler element. Pre-heat broiler.
  4. Put a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, cover rack with aluminum foil. Use your fingers to scrape away the miso mixture from the fish, and move skin-side down on to the foil. Be sure to leave 1″ between the pieces of fish.
  5. Broil salmon for 10 to 14 minutes; rotate 180-degrees after 6 minutes. The fish will be ready when the center of the fish reads 125-degrees on an instant read thermometer.
  6. Serve passing with lemon wedges.

Broccoli-Cheese Soup

October 8, 2015

The chilly mornings have gotten me in the mood for soup (after a long summer soup hiatus). So I made a batch of this Broccoli-Cheese Soup. Preparing the broccoli took me almost 30 minutes; mostly because the recipe asks me to peel the stalks. However, I am now wondering if I misunderstood the extent to which the recipe requires me to peel the stalks (further discussed under issues section below). What I believe is an error in the original recipe, makes me believe that I overcooked the broccoli (See Issue #1 below). The overcooking gave the broccoli a slightly off taste. I can only give the soup 3-1/2 stars; though the soup has potential and I will try again.

Prep the broccoli took 30 minutes

Prep the broccoli took 30 minutes

Comments:

  1. There was an error in the original recipe (I believe that Chris Kimball wanted me to reduce burner from medium-high so as to maintain a simmer; not the full boil over medium-high burner). In Step 6, the recipe says to “increase heat to medium-high”; but it was already on high from Step 2. I overcooked my broccoli; giving it a slightly off flavor.
  2. Peeling the Stalks. The recipe simply says: “stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.” Unfortunately the instructions were unclear. I wasn’t understanding if I had to break each stalk of the main trunk and peeling each branch individually. This was a lot of work! I would recommend leaving the entire stalk as one piece and only peel away the outer skin that is accessible.
  3. When trimming the stalk; discard any leaves or blemishes. I would also recommend slicing off the bottom inch of the stem. Slice the remaining stem into the 1/4-inch disks.
  4. When removing the crowns, slice straight through the broccoli stem as close to the crown as you can get.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $8.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

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

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
Table salt
3–4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2-ounces baby spinach (2 loosely packed cups)
3-ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)
1-1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated fine (about 3/4 cup), plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper

  1. Prepare the broccoli by removing the florets and roughly chopping into 1″-pieces. Trim away and leaves and remove the bottom inch of the stem. Peel the stalk and cut into 1/4″-thick slices. Also roughly chop 1 onion.
  2. Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high burner. Add butter and when the foaming subsides, add broccoli (florets and stems), chopped onion, pressed garlic, dry mustard, pinch of cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Cook for 6 minutes; stirring frequently.
  4. Add 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Bring liquid up to a simmer, cover with lid, and cook from 20 minutes until the broccoli becomes very soft. Stir once during cooking.
  5. While the broccoli cooks; grate your cheeses.
  6. Add 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water. Increase burner to medium-high.
  7. Once the soup begins to simmer, stir in spinach and cook for 1 minute until wilted.
  8. Carefully empty half of soup into jar of a blender (I used a bowl with a lip in order to spill less), add cheddar and Parmesan to blender. Process for 1 minute until smooth. Empty soup from blender to medium bowl (or pot if empty). Repeat the blender with the remaining soup.
  9. Return soup to Dutch oven and set over medium burner. Bring up to a simmer. Adjust the consistency of soup with up to 1 cup of water. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper according to taste.
  10. Serve, passing extra grated parmesan separately.

Kruger National Park, South Africa

October 3, 2015

It’s been a month since we got back from our vacation, and it has taken a while to assemble this post. Of course, the main reason we came to South Africa was to go on safari; to see rare and exotic animals that you can only see here in Africa. We spent a week inside Kruger and were not disappointed, seeing all of the Big 5. Giraffe, elephant, zebra, buffalo and hippopotamus. We even saw the rarest of all; African Wild Dog.

DSC_0045

We saw many, many elephant. There is currently an overpopulation of elephant in Kruger.

Leopards are elusive and usually spend their days sleeping in trees. We were lucky to have seen three.

We were very lucky and saw over 20 Rhinoceros; including one while we were on a bush hike (with armed rangers).

Even in my previous trip to Africa, I had never see Cheetah in the wild. We saw 5 cheetah; including two that walked just a few feet from our cars. It’s all just dumb luck; being in the right place at the right time.

Kruger National Park is about the size of New Jersey, but when you consider the adjoined parks and private game reserves the actual size doubles. What is different about Kruger than other places in Africa is that you can go on safari on your own; without guides and in your own vehicle (with just your family members). There is a common misconception that people think they should go with a guide because they know where the animals are. While guides are good at spotting animals in the distance, the excitement comes from seeing animals close up.  The truth is that it’s all just plain luck; there is no secret spot where certain animals spend their day. Every day we went out we never knew what we would see; but we always saw something new.

It wasn’t until about 3 days into the park that we saw zebra.

Hyena are nocturnal. So we had to wake up at 5AM to see them as they walked back to their dens. We saw 3 over the course of our week inside the park.

I didn’t realize ostrich were from Africa; until of coarse we saw some.

Buffalo are part of the Big 5; and often travel in huge herds.

Here are some of the miscellaneous animals we also saw.

What is unique about Kruger is that the network of dirt roads allows you to safari on your own.


Homemade Cracker Jacks

September 25, 2015

While Cracker Jacks are available in every supermarket in America, it only takes a little effort to make homemade. Of course, fresh cooked popcorn taste so much better than popcorn that was popped in a factory 6 months prior. The freshness will become immediately apparent with your first bite. Each box of Cracker Jacks is only 1-ounce, and provides as natural stopping point. The biggest problem is that you will have a hard-time stopping. This recipe yields the equivalent of 28-boxes, so I have learned to break it down into 6 or 7 zip-lock bags. It’s absolutely delicious. 5-stars.

Freshness makes it better

Freshness makes it better

Chris Kimball does have a similar recipe for Butter Toffee Popcorn, but my goal with this recipe was to make something special for my kids (for kids Cracker Jack’s are better than Butter Toffee Popcorn). The main differences are that Chris Kimball calls for 1/2-stick more butter and 1/4-cup less corn syrup. Plus Cracker Jacks include molasses.

Comment:

  1. You can pop your popcorn in any way you want. I prefer to use a hot air popper, since it doesn’t add any oil.
  2. I found it very easy to coat/bake the popped popcorn in a large roasting pan. But you could use anything: a disposable aluminum pan, a large metal bowl, or two cookie sheets.
  3. While I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts, the most Cracker Jack-like peanut is to use Spanish Peanuts (with red skin still intact). I have even used dry-roasted peanuts; but I recommend using lightly salted nuts. Full-salt Planters will taste much saltier than Cracker Jacks; but perhaps a more gourmet balance of sweet to salty.
  4. Cleaning up after making caramel doesn’t have to be difficult. I boil water in the pots and the caramel stuck to the bottom of the pan will eventually dissolve. To clean my roasting pan I set over two burners to boil the water.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $3.75 for 1-3/4 lbs (4-quarts).
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Ready at 5:15 PM.

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

4 quarts popped popcorn (made from 2/3 cup kernels)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1-1/2 cups brown sugar (7-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups Spanish peanuts (7-1/2 ounces); I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts

  1. Adjust a rack to the middle of your oven, and preheat to 250-degrees.
  2. Pop the popcorn (my preferred method is with a hot air popper). Grease large roasting pan, and use your hands to evenly spread the popped popcorn in a large roasting pan; leaving behind and discarding any “old maids” (un-and-under-popped kernels). Place in oven until ready to coat in Step 4.
  3. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses and salt. Set over medium burner, bring the mixture to a boil; stirring frequently. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes until the mixture reaches 255-260 degrees; using a cooking thermometer to take the temperature.
  4. Remove the popcorn from the oven. Working quickly, remove from heat and add vanilla extract and baking soda. Mix together and you will see the color change as the baking soda incorporates air into the mixture. As evenly as possible, pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and toss well to evenly coat all the popcorn (use two heatproof spatulas or wooden spoons; lightly buttered or sprayed with a non stick spray).
  5. Sprinkle with 1-1/2 cups of peanuts; continue to toss until become distributed.
  6. Return roasting pan to 250-degree oven and bake for 45 minutes, stirring well every 15 minutes. Try to evenly coat popcorn and gently break up slightly into smaller pieces.
  7. Allow to cool, and then break into smaller pieces.
  8. Evenly distribute between 6 or 7 zip-lock bags with as much air removed as possible.  Chris Kimball says that it can be stored in an airtight container for 5 days; but it will never last that long.
Your kids will love you even more if you make this for them

Your kids will love you even more if you make this for them


Ultimate Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

September 20, 2015

While necessity has dictated that I make them on occasion, I have never loved biscuits. My heart lies with the wonderful flavor of yeasted rolls. Of course, chemical leaveners such as baking soda/baking powder have an advantage over yeast in that they are quick. But today’s biscuits take two full hours from start-to-finish; an hour of which is related to chilling the butter/dough to allow for the nice definition of the layers. As biscuits go; these are better than most. The flaky layers lighten the crumb, and they have nice buttery flavor. But biscuits are inherently dry, and they would have been better if I served them with a main course with gravy. 4-1/2 stars for the recipe; ignoring the flaws in my execution.

A few of my errors reduced their flakiness

A few of my errors reduced their flakiness

I have made these biscuits on two different occasions (the pictures are from the second time that I made them). Because it was the second time, I wasn’t reading the recipe as closely and made to errors in execution that affected their flakiness and made them denser than the first time I made them. Still, even at their best they cannot compete with the texture produced by yeast.

Issues/Comments:

  1. While the recipe calls for King Arthur’s flour; which has a slightly higher protein content along it’s entire line of flour; I used whatever flour I had on-hand. I did substitute one of the cups of flour for bread flour; but the biscuits will come out fine with 100% regular all-purpose flour.
  2. In Step 4, I forgot to grate the butter directly into the flour. Actually I made this recipe twice, and only forgot the second time. The results were not as flaky.
  3. In Step 8, After the fifth turn, I accidentally rolled it out into a 9×12″ rectangle again, so I ended up having to give it 6 turns. It resulted in layers being a little too thin (and not as well defined).
  4. In Step 10, when I trimmed the biscuits, I only trimmed them to make them edges uniform; not a full and uniform 1/4″. The results: where I trimmed away less than 1/4″, those edges did not properly rise and show their flakiness.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

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

3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour (13 ounces)
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2-sticks unsalted butter (16 tablespoons)
1-1/4 cups buttermilk, chilled (10 ounces)

  1. Freeze butter for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. After the butter is partially frozen, dip sticks of butter in flour mixture. Hold the box grater directly over the flour mixture and grate 7 tablespoons from each stick on large holes. The grated butter will fall directly into the flour; which will keep each grate as an individual piece. Gently toss to combine. Set aside remaining 2 tablespoons butter.
  5. Add buttermilk to flour mixture and fold with spatula until just combined (dough will look dry).
  6. Liberally flour a clean work surface, and turn out dough. Dust the surface of dough with flour, and use your floured hands to press dough into a 7″ square.
  7. Flour a rolling pin and roll into 9″x12″ rectangle (with the short side parallel to the edge of the counter). Use a bench scraper or metal spatula to fold the dough into thirds like a business letter. Press down firmly on the top of the dough to seal the folds.
  8. Turn dough 90-degrees and repeat Step 7 four more times (for a total of 5 folds). After the fifth fold, roll into an 8-1/2″ square (about 1″-thick). NOTE: Here is where I accidentally rolled it out and was forced into an extra turn.
  9. Move dough into the prepared sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and move to refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust a rack to the upper-middle of your oven and pre-heat to 400-degrees. I set my 2 tablespoons of butter (that you set aside in Step 4) in a pan over the oven vent to gently melt the butter in preparation for Step 11.
  10. After 30 minutes, set dough on a lightly floured cutting board (not your counter-top) Use a floured chef’s knife to trim away 1/4″ of dough from each side of square; discard (or form into an extra, mis-shappen biscuit). Cut the dough into 9 squares, flouring the knife after each cut.
  11. Arrange biscuits at least 1 inch apart on the same parchment-line sheet pan. Brush the tops of biscuits with melted butter.
  12. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, rotating biscuits halfway through baking, until the tops are golden brown. Allow the biscuits to cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

Sweet and Tangy Grilled Country-Style Pork Ribs

September 14, 2015

Usually ribs take all day to make properly; a long relaxing process that I love. I once tried Chris Kimball’s One Hour Rib recipe; the flavor was good (if somewhat nontraditional).  Today’s recipe speeds the process using a different cut of meat; Country-Style Pork Ribs. I looked forever to find country-style pork ribs in all my local supermarkets; and finally discovered they we not labelled as such; they were called “Pork Loin Rib End Bone-in for BBQ”. I updated some pictures.”. The browning time as prescribed by Chris Kimball in Step 7 of 2 to 3-1/2 minutes per side was completely insufficient; mine took over 5 minutes per side. But because the ribs also spend time cooking on the cool side of the grill, be sure to brown them sufficiently (assuming you have a meat thermometer, it’s no big deal to adjust the timing). My only other complaint is that the ribs were too slimy when coming off the grill; so I gave the sauce a quick char on the hot side of the grill. Overall, 4-stars.

Delicious BBQ pork with itty bitty ribs

Delicious BBQ pork with itty bitty ribs

Comments/Issues:

  1. While Chris Kimball’s original recipe say that you can apply the dry rub as little as 1 hour beforehand, its much better if you apply it the night before.
  2. As mentioned above; the cooking times were nowhere near correct. The original recipe calls for as little as 15 minutes on the grill; mine took almost 30 minutes to come to the correct temperature. I use their same chimney starter, their same Weber grill, and their same Kingsford charcoal. I’m not sure why there was such a big discrepancy.
  3. Be sure to use the small holes of a box grater; the sauce spends so little time cooking that otherwise the onion will not break down.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $20.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

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

On Evening Before Dinner:
4 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 pounds bone-in country-style pork ribs
1/2 cup barbecue sauce, plus extra for serving (See recipe below)

  1. Trim away any excess fat from the ribs. In a small bowl, combine 4 teaspoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
  2. Rub the spice mixture all over the ribs, and tightly wrap is plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight (or for as little as 1 hour, if necessary)

On Day of the Meal:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup grated onion (1 small onion)
1 garlic clove
1 cup ketchup
5 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. Open your bottom vent halfway, and ignite a chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts). When the top-most coals become partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill, leaving the other-side empty. Replace the cooking grate, cover grill, and set the lid vent open halfway. Pre-heat for 5 minutes, then clean and oil the grill grate.
  2. While the charcoal ignites, make your sauce. In a medium bowl, add together ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, and pepper; whisk to combine. Set aside until Step 5 (only about 5 minutes).
  3. Use the small holes of a box grater to grate the onion, and mince your garlic clove. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add grated onion and minced garlic; cooking for between 2 to 4 minutes until the onion is softened.
  4. Add chili powder and cayenne and cook for 30 seconds to bloom the spices.
  5. Whisk ketchup mixture into pan and bring up to boil. Turn down burner to medium-low; allow to gently simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Add 1/2 cup of bbq sauce to a small bowl, which you will use to baste the ribs. Bring an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup to the table for serving. The remaining cup of bbq sauce can be refrigerated for a week.
  7. Arrange ribs on the hot-side of grill. Cover and cook ribs cook the first side for 3 to 5 minutes until they become well browned. Flip the ribs and cook (covering again) for 3 to 5 minutes until they become brown. (My ribs took longer to become nicely browned, but wait because you can always reduce the cooking time on the cooler side of the grill, as necessary).
  8. Once browned, move ribs to cooler side of grill without flipping. Brush the tops with 1/4 cup of bbq sauce. Again, cover and cook for 6 minutes. Flip ribs and brush another 1/4 cup bbq sauce. Cover and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes until internal temperature of the pork reaches 150-degrees,
  9. Remove the ribs to serving platter, tent with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  10. Serve, passing 1/4 to 1/2 cup extra sauce separately.

Pasta Frittata with Sausage and Hot Peppers

September 12, 2015

After returning from my nearly month-long trip to Africa/Europe, I am eager to start cooking again. I saw this recipe on America’s Test Kitchen which automatically recorded while I was away. The recipe has a few technical issues that prevented it from surpassing 3-1/2 stars, but those problems are easily rectified and this can make a delicious meal. The Frittata does not need to be piping hot, in fact, I enjoyed a slice after it had cooled for about 30 minutes more than my first slice. 3 Tablespoons of coarsely chopped cherry peppers was a little too overpowering; next time I will try two tablespoons of more finely chopped cherry peppers, to even out and moderate the heat. While the Parmesan cheese may play a more key role is the other variations of Frittata, it is lost in the bold flavors of sausage and peppers. Overall 3-1/2 stars.

Good, but a few flaws mar final meal

Good, but a few flaws mar final meal

Issues:

  1. 8 minutes was not enough time for the top of the frittata to set in Step 7, but the pasta was fully browned. I would recommend adding the eggs when the pasta is only lightly browned in Step 5/6, which will give more time for the egg to set.
  2. Because I lost some of the liquid egg when I flipped the frittata, the top did not brown to my liking, even after 5 to 6 minutes. I think the fix in issue #1 will rectify the browning issue as well.
  3. I am not sure why, but pouring the egg mixture concentrated the sausage and peppers in the center of the frittata. I would recommend redistributing it in Step 6.
  4. Parmesan cheese is too subtle and is lost among the other bold flavors. I would recommend either more Parmesan or switching to a bolder cheddar cheese.
  5. I think a few scallions or chives would complement that flavors of the existing ingredients.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $5.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

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

Ingredients:
8 large eggs
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped jarred hot cherry peppers (or 2 tablespoons finely chopped)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage
2 garlic cloves
3 cups water
6 ounces angel hair pasta
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  1. Grate Parmesan cheese until you have 1/2 cup. Coarsely chop 1 to 2 cherry peppers, and chop two tablespoons parsley. Peel 2 cloves of garlic and slice thinly.
  2. Add eggs, Parmesan, olive oil, cherry peppers, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper into a large bowl. Whisk until egg is an even yellow color. Set aside.
  3. Slice the casing on 8 ounces (about 3 sausages) and remove meat from the casing; crumble. Add neat to 10″ non-stick skillet and continue breaking up using a rubber spatula. In 3 to 5 minutes, the sausage will be half-cooked and the fat rendered, add sliced garlic, stir and cook for 30 seconds, then add to bowl with eggs from Step 2.
  4. Wipe out skillet with paper towel, and set over high burner. Add 3 cups water, 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Break the pasta in half lengthwise and add to water. Stir occasionally until it comes up to a boil, then continue cooking for 10 to 12 minutes until the water has evaporated and the pasta begins to sizzle.
  5. Turn down burner to medium and continue cooking for 5 to 7 minutes more; swirling pan (but do not stir) and use a rubber spatula to loosen the pasta to prevent the pasta from sticking. Use the rubber spatula to lift and peek under the pasta to check its progress.
  6. When the pasta is lightly browned, use the rubber spatula to push some of the loose pasta up the sides of the skillet, until the entire sides of the pan are covered with pasta. Empty the egg mixture over the pasta, and use tongs to lift some of the loose strands of pasta, but being mindful not to disturb the crispy bottom of the pasta. Ensure that the sausage and peppers are evenly distributed throughout the frittata.
  7. Immediate cover and cook over medium burner for 5 to 8 minutes until the top of the frittata is just set. It is important that the top is set or the egg will spill everywhere.
  8. Slide frittata onto a large plate and invert onto a second plate. Slide back into skillet with the browned side upwards, and use the rubber spatula to tuck the edges into the skillet. Continue to cook for 2 to 4 minutes until the second side is lightly browned.
  9. Remove skillet from burner and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Use your hand or the pan lid to invert the frittata onto cutting board. Slice into wedges and serve.

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