Sunday, November 30, 2008

What To Do With That Left Over Turkey?

Here's what my family does. My mom has made Chicken Strata with the left over turkey for as long as I can remember. I'm sure she found it in a magazine or some other source lost to time, desperate for a way to use up the left over turkey instead of throwing it away. You can only have so many turkey sandwiches. It became our traditional day-after-Christmas breakfast. And while we always ate it for breakfast, I have been making it as a dinner for years by just frying up chicken breast instead of using left over turkey, hence why I have named my recipe chicken strata not turkey strata. Guess what we are having for dinner tonight?

This dish has become so associated with my family that I made chicken strata kits last year and gave them as Christmas gifts.

I think you will easily become as addicted to this dish as I have become. After all, as my wife says, how can you go wrong with a dish that calls for gravy?

Let me know if you try it what you think.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Corn Bread Dressing by Demand

Here is Ed's recipe for Corn Bread Dressing. My wife's family has this every Thanksgiving and Dinah likes to have it a few more times during the year. When Dinah makes it we just use Heinz's brown gravy. The dressing is pretty good with gravy, I think it needs it, but I'd still rather have stuffing.

I wish I had known Ed longer. I only got to meet him a few times early on when Dinah and I were dating. He was our best man at out wedding. Shortly afterwards Ed fell at home and had to go to the hospital. On check in they found he had bone cancer and it had spread through most of his body, unbeknownst to him. He died in just a few days.

This is his recipe as Ed wrote it, I just reformatted it and adjusted some measurements to what is common at the grocery.


Friday, November 28, 2008

A Happy Thanksgiving

We hosted Thanksgiving this year since leading up to it no one could seem to decide what to do. I think it came off excellent.

Our dining room is a little undersized for seating more than six but we had eight adults and three kids. It worked out. I wouldn't want to do that every day though.

I baked two pumpkin pies (pungkin as Rose says) the night before. I have made the real deal before with real cooked pumpkin but the can really is the way to go if you want to be sure that the pumpkin itself is going to taste good. But you have to buy the canned pumpkin not the canned pumpkin pie, big difference. I used store bought pie crust too. I wasn't in the mood to go homemade on that. I still got rave reviews. My secret? Mace and nutmeg.

I picked up the smoked turkey on Wednesday. This worked out great. We just needed to reheat the bird for two hours in the oven. Since our target was 11:00AM, this sure beat getting up at 4:00AM to pop it in the oven, not to mention the labor saved in not having to prep and season the turkey. It came out perfect. I let it rest for about 30 minutes before cutting into it and the legs just tore off. I barely had to use a knife. We got a 13 pound turkey and I carved half for serving and the other half for leftovers for people to take home.

Our bread was a combination of yeast rolls I picked up when I got the turkey and frozen biscuits I got when my coffee shop closed. The yeast rolls went over better than the biscuits but I preferred the biscuits.

Dinah's mom brought the traditional squash casserole and baked sweet potatoes. I don't like yellow squash but this casserole is quite good. I attribute it to the crushed crackers. Rose normally likes it but not yesterday. I'm not a sweet potato fan, especially the traditional pan with marshmallow on top. I was grateful that Dinah's mom's version has brown sugar and pecans instead of marshmallow. It was very good. Rose had three helpings. I thought it was adorable that she spit out a "seed." I had missed a pecan in serving her. Good girl.

Dinah's dad brought scalloped potatoes. They were out of a box and I LOVED them. Always have. The funny thing was he had never made them before and bought a bag of potatoes with the two boxes. Apparently Debra teased him about the potatoes already being in the box. And they were!

Deana brought the dressing and gravy. I grew up with stuffing, My Mom makes a traditional oyster stuffing with wild rice and croutons. She leaves out the oysters though. Every year half was stuffed in the turkey and half was cooked in a casserole. And every year we sobbed when the stuffing from the bird was gone because is always tasted better than that made in the casserole. Don't let anyone tell you they are the same. I LOVE stuffing. I'm still not up on the dressing thing which is made in a pan and cut and served like brownies. It's dry and needs gravy (graby as Rose says). I know this was an old family recipe. I like it but it just isn't the same. There was very little left though.

Rose didn't seem to care for any turkey at the beginning of the meal. I think the sweet potatoes preoccupied her. But near the end she asked me for "chicken." She had two helpings of white meat. Good girl. The turkey really was excellent. I think because it was smoked and only reheated it was much juicer than any I've had before. It barely had any smoke flavor and they must have brined it because every now and then you'd get a taste of something sweet or a bit of spice. And best of all was the crispy skin because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE turkey skin and I'm the only one who eats it. It was mine, mine, mine.

So who knows what's missing?


WTF? Apparently there was a communication break down and we ended up with none. I had planned on making them in my super-duper-can't-live without-anymore stand mixer, even looking forward to it, but I pulled off since I was told they were being brought. If there is anything close to being sacrilegious with Thanksgiving it is no mashed potatoes. I sobbed but we all survived fine.

And the best part? Aside form the food and family, we got to leave Rose with Grandma and the two of us went to the movies! Four Christmases was HYSTERICAL!


I forgot about the cranberry issue. I grew up with real cranberry dressing. A bag of cranberries cooked down with sugar and spices until the berries start to pop. My wife's family eats the cranberry equivalent of spam. I'm not sure what this gelatinous red bile in a can is but there is no way I can eat. I've tried, it's not happening. It was nice to know that Debra was equally revolted, so I was not alone for once.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Schnitzel Holstein

Yesterday I found three boneless pork chops tucked in the freezer. Trying to figure out what to do with them I thumbed through my German cookbook and hit on schnitzel. Ok, schnitzel is supposed to be veal but I didn't have any and heck, my grocery doesn't sell it either, so pork schnitzel it was. I saw a variation called Schnitzel a la Holstein which involved topping the schnitzel with a fried egg, anchovies and capers. Hey, I had that in Germany once. I don't remember the anchovies but since I like them and had a can, why not.

The cool thing was that the baguette I had bought for serving with the fondue had gone rock hard before I got around to making the fondue. Rather than throwing it out like I normally would I decided to grind it up in a my food processor and make home made bread crumbs. And lo and behold I was able to use those very same bread crumbs to make the schnitzel. Cool.

Funny, up until a few years ago I was revolted by runny eggs. That yolk had to be fried hard and stiff for me to eat it. I don't know what changed, maybe the business trips to Germany, I don't know. But I do enjoy them over medium now. I'm still not a sunny side up kind of guy, I like the yolk kind of thick, but loose. As I told my wife last night, just mentally tell yourself it's gravy and you'll have no problem.

Buy that's an awkward paragraph. Anyway if you would like to try your hand at schnitzel, here's my version of Schnitzel Holstein.

Monday, November 24, 2008


If you remember from my second post, hard boiling eggs really riles me up. Every time they tear, break, membranes stick. I end up with half the egg thrown out with the shell. It wasn't always like this. I remember years and years of happy egg boiling. Then one day it all changed. I've always blamed the eggs.

My mother-in-law gave us a microwave wave cooker. To say I am skeptical is an understatement. On Saturday my wife popped four eggs into this gadget, zapped it in the microwave and then dashed off to her mom's leaving me to figure out what to do with it. I figure it sat on the counter for a good 15 minutes before I got around to it. I plucked the four eggs out, nearly burning myself, they were like hot stones, and shoved them in the fridge door.

A couple hours later, home alone, I'm scanning through the fridge and my eyes stumble on the eggs. They're cool now of course. I grab one. What the heck. If Dinah want's them for egg salad I can always cook more.

It peeled perfectly.

Impossible! What the?

I grabbed another one.



Both were perfect. Think AJ. What's different? More importantly, what is the same about this microwave gizmo that is the same as back in the good ol' days when hard boiled eggs didn't stress me out?
nearly burning myself, they were like hot stones, and shoved them in the fridge
Somewhere I read that you are supposed to quench the cooked eggs in an ice bath to stop them from cooking. This prevents a sulfur reaction that causes the yolks to discolor. I never had an issue with gray rimmed yolks but I want to do things correctly so I started quenching my eggs in ice water. I never connected any dots.

I had to quickly test my theory. I grabbed the four remaining eggs, tossed in my super-duper-color-changing egg timer and boiled on high like the good old days. When my timer turned purple all the way through, I poured out the water and put the eggs in the fridge to cool.

I waited, impatiently, a couple of hours and grabbed the first one.

It peeled perfectly.

Impossible! Amazing!

I gave the next one a few more hours to cool just to be sure.

Again perfect.

I was so excited I jumped on my motorcycle and ran to the grocery to buy more eggs (luckily it was 55°F and sunny).

I saved the other two for the next day just to be sure. Again perfect. All four were perfect!

So my conspiracy theory was wrong, the eggs haven't changed. It was me all along. I wonder what else is like that?

Non Food Rant - #1

I can't believe it has taken this long.

Rant ON

I'm mad and I need a place to vent. Our fearsome leader today announced another, that's right #2, bailout for Citibank. Enough! Is anyone keeping track? I am:

$29B to JP Morgan/Bear Stearns - the FIRST time
$33B for IndyMac
$200B to Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac
$85B to AIG - the FIRST time
$38B to AIG - the SECOND time
$15B to Bank of America
$3B to Bank of New York
$25B to Citibank - the FIRST time
$10B to Goldman Sachs
$25B to JP Morgan - the SECOND time
$10B to Merril Lynch
$10B to Morgan Stanley
$2B to State Street
$25B to Wells Fargo PLUS this
$27B to AIG - the THIRD time
$6.6B to US Bank

That's almost 545 Billion Dollars right there. But wait there's more. There are another 20 or so banks that have gotten money that aren't in that list.

But wait there's more, the government has only spent half of the $700B bail out bill. $700 Billion??? I count $850 Billion. remember they had to add an additional $150 Billion dollars just to get people to vote to pass the $700 Billion bill. You know $200K to Rose City Archery, $192M to Puerto Rico for rum, $33M for American Samoa. Oh wait, I bet you didn't know.

I see a TRILLION DOLLARS and growing with a BIG Capital T.

Meanwhile, as we struggle to make ends meet along with nearly everyone else I know, all of our credit card companies raise interest rates, add fees and cut limits AND GET BILLIONS OF DOLLARS FROM THE GOVERNMENT. And who the hell is going to pay for those BILLIONS of DOLLARS. When is the American People going to get a helping hand?

But I want to know one thing, why the F*(^ do we have to wait until the end of January for Obama to do something???? What the hell is Bush doing? I've held from day one that he is the WORST president we have ever had. CASE AND POINT.

Rant OFF.

I think I should probably go pound some schnitzel now.

Fondue You

Most of my experiments I send on with Dinah to take to work to be disposed of. It's rare that something comes out inedible and those that do go straight into the trash. Our motto at home is, "if it's no good, we'll go out for dinner." So the office does fairly well with experimental cookies, practice brownies and left over stews and such. I really try to avoid trying something new on guests. It's one of those unwritten rules about entertaining that probably should be written down someday. I'm not saying I've never done it. I did very well with a first time chocolate-espresso cheese cake once, but it's best not to practice on guests.

So with that in mind we had cheeseburgers last night with a fondue appetizer. I've never done fondue before and I needed to check two things before I spring it on company. One, can I do it. Two, is the alcohol content noticeable. On the first point the answer is yes. It came out wonderful. It is after all difficult to go wrong with melty cheese but I was worried at the beginning that it would be lumpy and stringy. I just needed patience. I went with a autumn themed recipe of white wine, Emmenthaler cheese, Monterrey Jack cheese, apple-cranberry juice, mustard, and a hint of garlic. I couldn't find my brandy so I left that out.

I was concerned on the second point. Alcohol plays an important part in the suspension of the cheese. Now I had no qualms serving to my kid knowing that there was a lot of dilution and a lot of the alcohol would cook out but I'm not sure how others would feel about their kid. I've never heard of anyone getting a buzz from fondue. Both Dinah and I agreed that once melted, no alcohol could be tasted or felt so I deem it a go. We can have cheese fondue for guests as a starter.

Oddly Rose did not care for the bread or apples dipped in cheese. Plain, they were great though. Her loss.

I just need to practice a main course (oil or broth) fondue and a dessert fondue and we are ready for a fondue party. We must own six or more fondue pots for some reason, though I can only find two right now. The worst part of this experiment was that I had to order a set of fondue forks because I can't find the 50 or so that we already own. Someday maybe we will be completely unpacked.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hash Brown Secrets

I've been making a lot of hash browns this week. Why? Well number one is because I'm broke and have half a bag of potatoes laying on the counter. Ordinarily I would forget about a bag of potatoes until they started to rot and then throw the bag away. Almost like a government subsidizing program. But since I am penniless I thought I should do a better job of utilizing what I have. Not the best way to feed a family but it works for two meals a day for just me.

I LOVE hash browns. Especially extra crispy with cheese and onions. But homemade hash browns are amazingly difficult to make. I suspect that restaurants use frozen shredded potatoes to make theirs which is significant. I suppose I could do the same thing but then I lose out on the challenge, the reward and have to pay extra for it.

If you just shred your potatoes and then fry them you'll either end up with a soggy mess or burnt potatoes and pan if you're going for that extra crispy style. Believe me I know. Try to add more oil to prevent the burning, it only gets worse and oddly, sometimes your hash browns smell or taste like fish.

I think I have found three keys, the potato, the pan and the fat.

On the potato it isn't which potato you use but how you use it. I've made great hash browns with Idaho baking potatoes, Yukon Golds, even blue potatoes. The problem with potatoes is that as soon as you cut them, they begin to oxidize. They go brown very quickly. Therefore you need to shred your potatoes and then put them in a bowl of water so that they avoid air contact. Even better is to shred them directly into water. If I'm not up to using my box grater, I use my food processor with a grating disc but fill the bowl half way or more with water. That way the potatoes shred directly into the water. If you want the whitest potatoes, add a dash of white vinegar. You won't be able to taste it but the vinegar will prevent the potatoes from browning once you take them out of the water. Good if you aren't moving fast.

There's one more key to the potato. As I said, I suspect restaurants use frozen potato shreds. Why is this significant? Because in order to get any crispiness to your hash browns you need to have DRY potato shreds. This is doubly important after you've had your potato shreds soaking in a bowl of water. At the minimum, spread your potato shreds out onto paper towels and press them dry. But if you really want to do this right, you need a potato ricer. The difference is night and day. Save your money and skip that cheap aluminum one at the store. I busted one of those on my first press. Get a nice stainless steel one that you can run through the dish washer. I have this one. And please don't make the mistake of many a moron and try to press a whole potato through your ricer. You will break it for sure. Ricers are for pressing boiled potatoes into fine mush before whipping into mashed potatoes. This ensures no lumps. But they are also great for squeezing the moisture out of some foods. After you've pressed the water out of your potato shreds, spread them out on a paper towel and pat out any remaining surface moisture.

Now the pan. I've tried every pan I own and I think I've got it now. The pan does make a difference. Stainless steel and anodized aluminum (Calphalon) will give you nice crisping of your potatoes but they will also stick to your pan, no matter what temperature you use or what you fry in, oil, butter, Crisco, lard, doesn't matter. They'll taste good, but you'll be frustrated. A non-stick pan removes the frustration of your hash browns sticking but you'll have a hard time browning them. That's the nasty secret no one tells you about non-stick cookware, it doesn't brown. The only way you can get any browning with non-stick is to use butter. But you have to be careful of not burning the butter. So if you must use non-stick, use a 1:1 combo of butter and oil. Just remember by the time you get the butter to brown your hash browns, they'll most likely be burnt.

So which pan works? Good ol' seasoned cast iron. I fried up my hash browns in my 12 inch cast iron skillet this morning and not even the first shred of potato stuck. It was beautiful. I found it works best to spread the potatoes over the full surface of the pan (scattered a la Waffle House) and then after they have begun to brown, scrape then back to the center into a patty just bigger than your spatula. Let them continue to get brown and crispy on the bottom and then flip the patty over to brown on the other side. Ideally you only want to flip once. This method gives a crispy outside with tender cooked hash browns in the center.

Last but not least, the fat that you use for frying is important. Forget spray, it won't work. Butter has two problems. One it burns at a low temperature and two, part of butter is water. Remember, you need dry potatoes. Adding oil to the butter helps, but the results are disappointing. Oil is an option but then you end up with your potatoes floating in oil and my experience is they soak up the oil by the time it's time to flip and then the potatoes burn after you flipped them.

So today I used my recently rendered lard. Cool, huh? Just a tablespoon. And at $2.38 to make my tub, it was far less expensive than oil or butter. And using only a tablespoon, it's probably better heath-wise than either the oil or the butter. But the result was amazing. The hash browns were perfectly crispy but lighter than any hash browns I've made before. WOW!

So to recap, to make great home made hash browns:
  1. Prevent your potatoes from browning by plunging under water.
  2. Press your potatoes shreds dry with a potato ricer.
  3. Use a large cast iron skillet.
  4. Fry in a tablespoon of lard.
  5. Only flip them once.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Look Out!

I was making biscuits today when I bumped into the dishes drying on the counter and knocked my 7" non-stick pan off the counter. It landed on my foot and hurts like a sunufabich. I had no idea I needed to wear my old metatarsals in the kitchen.

This pan is made by Look Cookware of Iceland (sometime sold as Evaco in the US). I read somewhere that if you buy a non-stick pan you should buy from a company that specializes in non-stick cookware, not a company that makes good cookware and has a non-stick line. So that's what I did. This pan is made from pressure cast aluminum and is every bit as heavy as my All Clad stainless steel pan of the same size. The coating is some type of Teflon-titanium coating and is oven safe. And as I mentioned before, no damn rivets, like on my All Clad pan.

The coating has held up well so far though the edge is wearing away, I think from having other pans rubbing on top as I toss it in the cabinet for storage. The wear doesn't affect cooking and there is no risk of it chipping, flaking or coming off into the food I am cooking. I use this pan almost exclusively for frying eggs. I can see no reason for using a non-stick pan other than for frying eggs. I give it a light spritz of oil with my Misto and eggs never stick. You can almost clean up with just a paper towel. That's the only downside of this pan, it is hand wash only. Well that and it hurts if you drop it on your foot.

I highly recommend Look if you want a great non-stick pan. They are nearly impossible to find though. You have to search hard on the Internet. I bought mine from this place.


I made another batch of brownies yesterday and made some progress. I followed a basic Devil's Food cake recipe. I left out the baking soda and replaced the butter with a 3:2 oil and water mix. It seemed like my dry mix was the same amount as two boxes of brownie mix so I kept the two eggs. This time I had to spread the batter in the pan rather than pour it out like before.

The result? I updated my requirements in the previous post to include moistness. This new batch was not moist. But they did have that fudge quality I was looking for. I didn't get the flaky top like I wanted but I did get a crunchy top rather than the cake-like top from the previous batch. There was a wonderful chocolate aroma but not as much chocolate taste as I would have expected.

Dinah's comment was that they tasted like Betty Crocker's.

So I'm feeling good about this experiment. I need to tweak the ingredients some I think. I'll have to ponder how. It feels like I need more liquid or more fat or both. I think I need to compare my dry weight ratios with a box mix and see if I am adding enough oil and water. Six ounces of oil and four ounces of water seemed like a lot, but maybe it wasn't. I also might want to replace half of the cocoa powder with baking chocolate. I think this would add more flavor but also increase part of the fat content with cocoa butter hopefully adding some moistness.

Other options to explore include replacing the water with milk or substituting part of the sugar with light corn syrup. The previous recipe indicated that the corn syrup addition provided chewiness.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Brownies

As I mentioned before, I thought I should attempt to make some home made brownies as the first step to approximating my favorite of brownies, Duncan Hines. I did so yesterday. But before I get to that, as an aside, if you didn't know, there really was a Duncan Hines. Before WWII, Mr. Hines would travel around eating at different restaurants and developed a rating system and a guidebook. His ratings were very coveted by restaurant owners. I believe this predates the more well known Michelin system or Zagat rating. It was later on in the 50s when he decided to get into the packaged food products for the busy American housewife. Anyway...

I followed a recipe from my The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. This book rocks. I highly recommend owning it. I got rave reviews from Dinah and Dinah's coworkers for these brownies but I did not like them.

What do I love about Duncan Hines brownies? They are:
  1. Flaky on top.
  2. Moist.
  3. Chewy.
  4. Fudge-like (I think the same as chewy actually).
  5. Oily on the bottom (yes this is important).
The homemade brownies were definitely chewy but they were not flaky on top nor did they have the oily bottom. Looking at the ingredients, I am thinking that this recipe will not be a good base to build on. So let's do a recipe comparison of the main ingredients to see if we can find the secret. I don't have a box of Duncan Hines on hand but I can make some educated guesses as to what the ingredients are. The earliest credited fudge brownie is the Lowney Brownie from 1912.

LowneyDuncan HinesKing Arthur
1 cup of sugarsugar2 1/2 cups of sugar + 1/3 cup of corn syrup
1/2 cup of flourflour1 1/3 cups of flour
2 squares of chocolatecocoa powder6 ounces of chocolate
1 stick of butter1/4 cup of water + 1/3 cup of oil1 1/2 sticks of butter
2 eggs1 egg5 eggs

Two quick notes, the Lowney Recipe is not proportional and I accidentally used 6 eggs when I made mine yesterday but I don't think that had any affect on my disappointment.

So the key difference appear to me to be in the fat content and type added and the emulsifiers content, i.e., eggs. It seems that fewer eggs equals more chewy (Duncan Hines' directions say to add two eggs for cake like brownies). So I'll carry that info forward for future experimentation.

The butter versus oil content is very interesting. It makes we wonder about how long the Duncan Hines mix has been around. Follow me on a short diversion. The cake mix that we are all most familiar with is the butter cake. The butter cake uses butter, flour, sugar, eggs and maybe baking powder. In the 1920s a guy named Harry Baker developed a cake called the chiffon cake. His secret was the use of oil as a fat instead of butter. Hmmm..... Chiffon cakes need egg whites to be whipped full of air for the cake to have body. That's not done with brownies. I'm not a food historian or even a food expert but it seems to me then that brownies then lie in a family of cakes in between butter cakes and chiffon cakes, a marriage of the two. By the way, Mr. Baker sold his secret recipe to General Mills/Betty Crocker after WWII and the rest is history. (I learned all of the watching Good Eats one day).

So I think the next step is to take a basic chocolate butter cake recipe, limit the egg portion of the recipe and replace the fat addition with oil. I haven't figured out the water role but maybe that is to rehydrate the cocoa powder.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pot Luck

Yesterday I made another batch of lard. I picked up a three pound bag of fat trimmings from my local meat shop and now have a tub full of premium homemade lard. Still no cracklins though. Haven't figured that out. Now I'm ready to be a biscuit and pie making fool.

But the process got me to thinking about equipment. You can find a lot of information out there, read books, read reviews, but nothing is more informative than experience. Being a more serious home cook than the average person, I thought I would take the time to relate some of mine.

Generally people have a slew of pots and pans. Maybe they were given a set as a wedding gift. Chances are most of them sit and gather dust. Chances are most of them are junk also. In the past five years or so I started to get a little more serious about the equipment I use. But unlike most others, my perceptions are colored my the fact that I am an engineer, and specifically a metallurgist. A dangerous combination when it comes to kitchen equipment.

If I could pass on one and only one mantra it would be:
All you need to be successful 80% of the time is ONE good knife and ONE good pan.

So focusing on pots, what have I learned?

I have several pots. I do not have any copper pots because they are extremely expensive and they are time consuming to clean and I'm not interested in all of that maintenance.

For boiling pasta and potatoes I have a tall aluminum pot, which I can't seem to find right now. In my opinion, only use aluminum for this purpose. There's some hype out there about aluminum being linked to Alzheimer's, (in conclusive in my opinion) but the bigger issue is that aluminum is reactive, meaning it reacts with acids in foods and can leach in to them. This will cause some off flavors and discoloration in light colored foods. Because aluminum conducts heat so well, it it perfect for bringing large amounts of water to boil. But because it conducts so well, I find it is difficult to fine tune the heat and things burn easily. I consider having a pasta pot to be a luxury so there's no need to have this pot if you don't have one.

I have several large stainless steel pots. These are all pretty big stock pots and I only use them when I need a big pot like for big batches of stew. Since I don't use aluminum pots there really is no other option for material. Yes, there are large anodized aluminum pots out there. I don't like anodized aluminum any more because 1) most are made in China, 2) most have riveted handles and I hate cleaning around rivets, 3) anodized aluminum is hand wash only. You can't run it through the dishwasher.

So the one pot I grab over and over, my Staub Round Cocotte (Dutch oven). I bought mine cheap from the Amazon Friday Outlet Store, patience paid off. Because I wasn't picky about the color, I got a good price. Mine is a nice green. Growing up, my parents had a set of Copco enameled iron cookware, made in Holland, which I would love to have now, chips and all. I have a bunch of Lodge cookware. You can buy it cheap from their factory store, but you have to make the trip to South Pittsburg, TN. But Lodge ware is not enameled and so you have the reactive issue. DO NOT BUY Lodge's enameled line. It is made in China and you risk lead contamination. Same with any Food Network line and the Mario Batali line.

I think Le Crueset is just as good as Staub, but it is pricier. I also like the dimples on the Staub lid that returns condensation back to the pot.

Reasons I always reach for this pot: you can boil and simmer at much lower heat settings on your stove. The enamel is non-stick. You can easily go from the stove to the oven with this pot. However, Harold McGee showed that cast iron is not a perfect distributor of heat, so it is possible to burn to the bottom of this pot, but it is just a matter of practicing lower heat settings. Oh yeah, no rivets! Yes, it is heavy. Get over it. Heavy is good because it won't warp and if you have a heavy boil, the pot doesn't move around. The more you use this pot, the less heavy it seems. And you can really do anything in this pot. There's no need to brown your meat in a skillet and then transfer to the pot to make a stew. You can brown the meat right in this pot.

If you could have only one pot, get a 5-7 quart enameled cast iron pot. Doesn't matter if it is called a Dutch oven, French oven or Cocotte. Just make sure it isn't made in China. I'm serious about that. China does not regulate their lead levels in their iron.

It's my favorite pot and I'm sure it would be yours too.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Busy Day in the Kitchen

Yesterday was a very busy day in the kitchen. Rose's favorite meal is breakfast (mine too!) and her favorite food is..... pancakes and sausage. So yesterday I made pancakes and sausage for breakfast. I rarely, rarely eat pancakes, but I do eat mine and mine are the best in town. I use Alton Brown's recipe from Good Eats. As I have said before, I idolize Alton Brown. He appeals to my quirky scientific engineering self. On his show, Alton Brown explains the importance of separating the eggs, which I usually do, but yesterday I decided not to separate the eggs. I don't think I could tell the difference. BTW, do use buttermilk. I found the pancakes to be inedible with regular milk.

Before Rose took her nap I made some cookie dough. The plan was to make cut out cookies after her nap.

While she was napping I made a pot of Brunswick stew. My favorite version is from Spanky's, where I would eat the many years I worked in Brunswick GA. There is an ongoing debate over who owns the rights to Brunswick Stew, Brunswick County VA or Brunswick GA. I'm loyal to the Georgia camp. Another twist on the soup though seems to be in its texture. Dinah prefers a pureed stew which seems to be the norm north of Macon Ga. I stick to the chunky classic.

The first part of the equation was to find some smoked pork. I didn't care for the Smithfield package at the grocery store and I didn't want to use the pulled pork available at the barbecue places around here (maybe next time though). I like to use smoked pork chops cut into cubes. I found some at a local meat shop on the south side of Blairsville. We ordered a smoked turkey for Thanksgiving while we were there and some extra chops for dinner last night.

For those not in the the know, especially all of my fellow Yankee friends, from my perspective, what makes Brunsick Stew unique is that is has a barbecue sauce base. In the past I would make the base, boil the potatoes, cook the chicken, then combine the base, potatoes, meat and vegetables. After the last time I decided to see if I couldn't do everything in one pot, just adding ingredients sequentially. It worked!

I still find my stew to be too sweet and not hot enough (Brunswick Stew should be on the spicy side). This time I halved the sugar addition. I think next time I will leave it out completely. On a side note, this is where weighing some ingredients is genius. It is a whole lot easier to weight out 50g of brown sugar rather than figuring out a packed 1/2 cup. How tightly is brown sugar supposed to be packed? Just weigh it every time.

I started with a recipe I found on the internet for Spanky's version. Strangely it has changed over time and the version on-line is not the same as the one I started with. You know, I thought there were some mistakes when I first started this. For now, I'm keeping my recipe a secret, but Spanky's version is here.

After Rose's nap we made cookies! This was Rose's first time making cookies. The dough was tasty. It was a little on the dark side because I only had dark brown sugar rather than light brown sugar. I'm at a loss as to why we refrigerate cookie dough prior to rolling. I need to research that. On first attempt the dough would just tear and crumble. We had to work it with our hands to get it to soften up a little. Flouring the work surface and rolling pin didn't seem to help much. This is probably why I so seldom make cut out cookies. But eventually we got it going. Rose tried to eat as much as she could in between rolling. She had a blast. I had made some frosting while she was napping and we frosted the cookies after they came out of the oven. Rose would spread the frosting onto the cookie and then scrape it off and suck the frosting off her knife.

The smoked pork chops for dinner were good but not as good as what we used to get from Jones' Meat in Climax GA. These were saltier and I thought had a sweet taste also. Jones' has gift packages for the holidays. Ordering a gift pack of smoked pork chops with their blackberry bbq sauce is well, well worth it. Give 'em a call, 229-246-3700.

Friday, November 14, 2008

End o' the Week Odds 'N' Ends

I didn't have much ambition today. I did melt down my trimmings from grinding my own beef in hopes of making my own tallow. At least I think I made tallow. I had ground the trimmed fat prior to running the lean meat through and then saved it. Today I put the ground fat in one of my medium sized cast iron skillets and put it in the oven at 225°F degrees. I think it took an hour or two. I poured everything off through some cheese cloth that I laid in a sieve. I bagged and froze the left over meat. Can't see anything wrong with eating it as ground beef. It's quite lean now I would think. I refrigerated the liquid fat. Interesting it separated into a think white solid on top and a thin yellowish solid on the bottom. I'm guessing the white part is the tallow. I assume that I can use it no differently than I would use lard. Maybe I'll make a candle.

I continue to practice making pizza. I'm getting pretty close to presenting I think. Today's dough was made without whole grain flour. I used unbleached all purpose flour. The crust was softer and lighter I think. I think I liked the taste of the whole grain flour crust better, but it is harder to work with. I have a pretty good supply of mill ground grain around here. I bought this last batch outside of Helen, GA, about 30 minutes from here. Instead of hand stretching the dough and baking it on the pizza stone, I used a jelly roll pan. Saved me the aggravation of my pizza peel always failing me. Dinah gave it a thumbs up and I am pleased with the results.

Apparently I had used up my supply of canned tomatoes in various forms in the pantry. All I had on hand was one can of organic diced tomatoes and one can of Mexican stewed tomatoes with green chilies and cumin. Bummer. So I made the sauce using both cans hoping the diced tomatoes would dilute the chile and cumin flavor of the stewed tomatoes. I grow my own herbs in my super-duper Aerogarden so I put in four good sized leafs of purple basil instead of the usual two. I also doubled the minced garlic. Taking a lesson from my Culinary Arts 100 course, I used my Kitchen Aid Immersion Blender to puree everything in the pot. Unfortunately by the time it was ready to cook the pizza the sauce hadn't cooked down thick enough so it was a little too thin on the pizza. BUT, I never noticed the chilies or the cumin.

I learned on the last pizza that REAL mozzarella on pizza is pretty nasty. You know the fresh kind packed in a brine, usually in small balls of cheese. Damn near flavorless on pizza. So while the bags of shredded low moisture mozzarella is the cheese to buy, I have learned that blending cheeses is the way to go. Don't use straight mozz. Tonight I put a thin layer of Parmesan on top of the sauce followed by a thin layer of shredded cheddar. Not enough cheddar to really be called a layer but enough to add depth. You can't even see it once it has melted. The top layer was a thick layer of shredded mozzarella. On one end though I used sliced mozz like you buy for sandwiches. I think that this actually tasted slightly better than the shredded mozz. It looks the same once melted but I also think there is a slight textural difference.

Almost ready to serve to others.

Being in the doldrums today I broke down and baked some brownies after dinner. I only bake and I only eat one kind, Duncan Hines. And I still lick the bowl. I've been doing it for 30 years at least and haven't gotten sick from raw eggs yet. You should have seen Rose knocking stuff down and toys out of the way scrambling to get to the kitchen to have a lick herself. And she's never had brownie batter before. That love is genetic!

I'm thinking maybe I need to research into making brownies from scratch. I agree with Dinah, Duncan Hines has it perfected but I would like to make a brownie as equally good in which I know what the ingredients actually are. Time to do some Googling and some reading.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sephardi Pie

Sephardi Pie

Yesterday I tore the kitchen up making dinner. One of the those multiple pots and pans recipes. Came out great though. Rose ate well and that is always a good measuring stick.

Apparently Shepard's Pie is not unique to the Irish. This dish was called Pastel de Papa and is a Jewish recipe from Argentina. Now my version is not kosher in the least because, well I don't use kosher beef, but more so because I use butter instead of margarine (always!) and I add milk and butter to the mashed potatoes to make them lighter. Two big nonos if you are Jewish. Remember that if you want to entertain your Jewish friends.

Pastel de Papa recipe.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

End of an Era

Saturday my local coffee shop closed up. Now I have no where to go in the morning. Unlike other regulars, I went because it was a coffee shop not for breakfast. There are two coffee shops in Murphy, but Mountain Java was only 2 miles from the house. Murphy is just not as convenient.

A sad day.

The owners are supposedly packing it up for the winter and heading back down to Florida. They told everyone "see you in the spring" but I wouldn't bet on it. Their son got "divorced" and moved back to Florida last month. Their daughter and son-in-law moved back last week due to lack of jobs here. So they have no reason to be here anymore. I see the writing on the wall but none of the other regulars seem to get it. Today a for sale sign went up in front of the building.

With the closing of the coffee shop came the end of Great Tastes of..., my specialty foods and spice stand. The past few months I've had to mark everything down 50% just to move 5 or 6 items. Chalk it up as another financial disaster in my history. Well I guess the remaining stock can be used for a few Christmas gifts. A small silver lining.

Anybody need some really good spice? I can repackage in small quantities.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More Greasy News

Today I minded Rose since she came home from "school" yesterday because she was throwing up. I tried to get in as much stuff when she was distracted playing with play-doh or her trains or her oh too brief nap. I wasn't able to do any "real" cooking though.

While we were playing with play-doh I got out my small cast iron skillet and reheated my lard from the other night on the lowest heat setting on the stove. As it melted I could see a thick viscous white sludge settling on the bottom of the pan underneath the clear golden melted fat. I poured the liquid off and filtered it through some cheesecloth into a container. Capped it and put into the fridge. Now I had refined lard.

While I was at it I decided to do the same with a coffee cup full of bacon drippings I kept in the freezer. Same process and now I have some nice refined bacon grease. The solid lard is a nice white, the bacon grease a little brownish.

Later, after nap time while Rose was eating a snack, I decided to make some biscuits with my newly refined lard. They didn't turn out that great but the deck was stacked against me since I have never made biscuits before. I had a recipe for beaten biscuits. I think they might also be called blistered biscuits. Apparently once upon a time this method involved beating the biscuit dough 500 times with a rolling pin. The alternative is to use a food processor which I luckily have. (LOVE IT!)

These biscuits are a breakfast biscuit, especially for country ham. After I made them I realized what they were. I've had them before. Kind of hard to describe them. They aren't flaky and crumbly like you would find at Hardee's, McDonald's or Cracker Barrel, hence why they are ideal for breakfast sandwiches. They have a crunchy crispness to them kind of like the cheese biscuits at Red Lobster. I'll have to try to find where I've had this style before.

Mine did not turn out too well. One reason is they hardly rose. I don't have any biscuits cutters. I tried to roll the dough out into a log and use a sharp knife to cut rounds off, cookie style. Doesn't work. Second, they took longer to cook than the 20 minutes the recipe called for. Oh well. Finally, there is an ever so slight off aftertaste from the lard. It's not bad but it is there. Strangely it tastes like shortening. I bet the bacon grease would be good for biscuits. So I guess I need to get some nice sharp biscuit cutters to do this right.

Next time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Serving Safe

I finished my second class today. I'm taking one class per quarter. No one has ever told me how many credits I need or what to take so I'm just plodding along at my own pace. Sadly I really can't say much good about NGTC, it's a junk school, but I like the culinary program and instructors.

This quarter I was taking Serve Safe. This is actually a state level certification in safe food handling. Every restaurant in the state of Georgia is required to have at least one employee certified in Serve Safe. Get this, if I take the two day course as an individual, like if I were a restaurant employee, the course cost is about $90. But through school it costs my about $330. Hardly worth the three credits. I missed the first four classes. The first two I didn't know classes had started and the second two we were in Boston. I aced every quiz we had in class. Not hard really. Mainly common sense and memorizing some key temperatures.

The certification test, my final, was harder than I anticipated. There were several questions where I guessed from between what I felt were two legitimate answers. For example, what factor influences cooling rate of food. Choices A and B were stupid but C was the internal cooked temperature of the food and D was the container the food is stored in. Well dammit I'm an engineer and I KNOW both answers are right. I took thermodynamics three times after all. The greater the temperature gradient, delta, the greater time it takes to remove heat and the rate of heat transfer is dependent on the insulating properties of the surrounding material. Stainless steel will be faster than plastic which will be faster than glass. Errrr. I also did not take the time to memorize which fish are susceptible to Scromboid. I narrowed it down to snapper or grouper. The answer was mahi mahi. Who cares? The key is you eat something bad you will get sick. The specifics really aren't that important.

And don't get me started on how culinary people calibrate thermometers!

Oh well. I need a 75% to pass. While I concede that I didn't nail it, I don't think I missed more than 10 out of 90 questions so I should be ok.

Early registration is next week so we'll have to see what I can afford. We're so damn broke this maybe over before it really began.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Lardy, Lardy!

Last night I attempted to render some lard. Good God Why! you might ask. Why not is my answer. I've been dieting heavily for the past few months and cooking and the thing that I am becoming more sure of is, there is nothing bad for you, well except for HFCS and aspartame and to some degree soy, but that is another post. It is all, ALL, a matter of moderation.

I don't know why we have become so antilardian. Damn food Nazis. Recipes that do call for lard call for reasonably small amounts. I suppose there is an issue if you eat the entire pan of biscuits, but then again your issue is greater than just the lard content. Lard has no trans fatty acids, less total fat than butter and has less negative cholesterol impact on you (don't take Wikipedia's word for it, check the USDA). And I can make it myself.

I read up on-line about rendering your own lard. See below for some of my references. In the end I did it my own way, for boetter or for worse.

As an initial experiment, I didn't want to invest a lot, so I used salt fatback which is as common as candy down here in the South at every grocery. Not the best source but cheap and easy to get. I thought being packed in salt would be an issue so first I rinsed the two slabs well and then I blanched them in boiling water for a minute.

Now that I had removed the salt as best I could, I scored the two slabs into cubes and then sliced the cubes off of the thick pork skin. Then I threw it all into my Staub Round Cocotte (Dutch oven)and covered the fat with water. I'm not sure if throwing the skin into the pot was smart or not but this was my first attempt.

I set the pot on the stove on low heat (3 on my electric range) and let it simmer away until there was only about a half inch of water left. It took probably six hours. I chose to use the stove rather than the oven just so I could keep an eye on it easier.

I strained the renderings through a fine sieve and put the half cup or so of lard in the fridge to solidify. Cheesecloth would probably have worked better. I think it turned out ok. I'm not sure, I didn't get the cracklins that everyone talks about. Now I just need to make some bread or something to try it out. If it seems like it's right, I hit a local butcher up for some proper pork fat.

Next I'm going to try making tallow.

Online references:
Make Your Own Lard
Homemade Lard
Rendering Lard: A First-Timer's Guide

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Crispin Apples

I've been practicing a few dishes in order to have some people over. When we do have dinner parties I like to have a dessert which I have a limited repertoire of. I'm not a big dessert eater so I really have to practice them. Since this invitation will involve kids I was thinking of something kid friendly and remembered seeing this on one of my favorite TV shows, Good Eats. Alton Brown is one of my all time heroes. He lives in Atlanta and I so wish we could be friends. He has my personality. We could talk food and ride motorcycles together. Life would be grand.

Anyway, it came out pretty good. We only eat Honey Crisp apples. I first discovered them living in Michigan where wee lived in a heavy apple production area. After having one I've never looked back. I buy them by the bushel, even ordering them on-line. Unfortunately they probably aren't the best baking apple if you want a soft texture. Excellent flavor though. Now I just have to find out if Arwyn likes apple crisp.

Here is the recipe if you would like to try it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Readin', 'Ritin', and Recipes

I don't like the way most recipes are written. Too many lack clarity or detail. I think my displeasure comes from too many years of writing work instructions and procedures for QS9000. Another pet peeve I have is too many recipes call for ingredients in unusual amounts, like 10 ounces of beer or one cup of sour cream. Beer comes in 12 ounces bottles and sour cream comes in 8 ounce containers, by weight, and no 8 wt. oz. does not equal 8 fl. oz. except for water.

As I've gotten more into baking I've worked to weigh my baking ingredients instead of using volumes like cups, especially with flour. This is especially important if you want your recipes to be consistent batch to batch. It also makes upsizing or downsizing a recipe much easier. It is a whole lot easier to reduce 500g of flour by half than to find half of 3/4 of a cup.

So now I think I have a recipe format that has evolved that I really like. I include notes for extra clarification or for changes for next time at the bottom of each. Kind of like the side bars Rick Bayless includes in his cookbooks which I like so much

Anyway, tonight I made an easy Italian dish called Polo con Salsa di Funghi. Its a chicken dish with a tomato sauce and mushrooms. I used some leftover cooked chicken that I had frozen from a few recipes ago but it's pretty straight forward to cook up a two pound package or so of boneless chicken breasts (or thighs) for the recipe.

If you would like to try it, you can find it here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Franz Kafta

I admit I am a little bit of a conspiracy theorist and I really think something has changed with eggs. For years I had no problem hard boiling eggs. I bought one of these and it never let me down. Perfect every time. And then...

I haven't been able to make an easy peeling hard boiled egg for the maybe the last three years. My Egg Perfect no longer saves me. I've tried different methods, old eggs, new eggs, brown eggs, white eggs, free range, caged, organic, salt, baking soda, pricking. Nothing seems to give me nice, easy to peel eggs any more. I'm starting the think it might be time for a DOE to solve this. Now I dread and hate boiling eggs!

I needed six boiled eggs to make a Lebanese recipe called Kafta Mahshi bi Bayd or Egg Stuffed Kafta Roll. It took seven boiled eggs to get me three acceptable ones to use for the recipe. The dish came out better than I expected. I'm not a meat loaf fan. The spiced flavor of Mediterranean meats is a very nice change from the ordinary.

My version of the recipe.

For more on Lebanese cooking try this book: A Taste of Lebanon: Cooking Today the Lebanese Way

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Nori Nori, Why You Illin'

Today we took a field trip to Nori Nori in Sandy Springs. We just went for lunch, no tour or anything. I think it is Chef Drake's way of exposing people to new foods and food sights, after all most of these kids are small town folk.

There were eight of us plus Chef Drake and Chef McKenna. It was slightly less painful than my class from last quarter. These seven were 20-22, a slight improvement from 16-17. If I was 22 again I probably would have found the drinking and bathroom stories more entertaining but I'm well past that.

The restaurant was phenomenal. I have never seen anything like it. It was a sushi buffet but I mean gooood sushi, the real thing. Lunch was 15 bucks and dinners are 27 dollars, a bargain at twice the price for this much sushi.

I started with a bowl of miso soup. There were three others to choose from. I had four plates of sushi with probably a dozen pieces per plate. I think I sampled about half of what was available. My favorites were the spicy tuna gunkan roll and and the inari. I did not have one piece that I did not like though the rolls with cream cheese as an ingredient were my least favorite. I had one piece of tempura salad. There at least 20 salads to chose from. The hot side had maybe 12-15 items to choose from. The teriyaki beef was awesome as was the blue fish. Finally there was a desert bar. The cheesecakes were ho-hum but the fruit tart would have been worth seconds or thirds. In addition to those options, for dinner they also have a hot grill with grilled prawns, stuffed shrimp and crab claws among other things.

Nori Nori is definitely worth the trip but only if you are a sushi lover and are in the mood to gorge.