Moink Balls. Yeah, you read it right. Moink Balls.

Having had a great food adventure with Hannah and company on Wednesday, I was really looking forward to New Year’s Eve with them. Well, Julie couldn’t make it, but there were lots of my other friends: Roger & Sally, Jim & Debbie, Alicia and her friend Brian, and a cast of thousands. Slight exaggeration, again. Has anyone but me noticed that I sometimes exaggerate? Not too much, just a little. I think it has to do with my personality, zest for life… Well, I don’t need to tell you anymore about my inner being. You’ll start to charge me $150 an hour, just like all the head shrinkers. So, back to my little story. Where was I? Oh, right, at Hannah’s with friends.

Everyone was supposed to bring something. Hannah and Andrew made an amazing Chocolate/Raspberry  Mousse cake. Wow, that was awesome. I want the recipe. HEY HANNAH! I WANT THE RECIPE! Please. It’s so good I want to try it, and I hate making cakes. There were bacon wrapped water chestnuts, homemade egg rolls, cupcakes, cookies, several kinds of very yummy cheese, artichoke dip. And everything was outstanding. Really, I mean everything was outstanding.

My contribution to the feast was a crock-pot full of Moink Balls. Moink balls are meatballs wrapped in bacon and then smoked for at least an hour. I’ll give you the recipe in a minute or 2. As many of you know I love Bar-B-Que. Aside from a big thick steak there is nothing I would rather eat. So I’m always on the lookout for good Bar-B-Que recipes. Good recipes are difficult to find. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. See, the problem is that most people haven’t had good Bar-B-Que and so anything with some sauce is okay in their book. Well, I know good Bar-B-Que. I know what it looks like. I know what it smells like. I know what it tastes like. So, for me, finding a good recipe is fairly tough. I found this in a book by The Bar-B-Que Addicts. These are the guys that brought the Bacon Explosion to the world (recipe and review to follow as soon as I can make it), and for new comers to the world of Bar-B-Que competition, they have made quite a bang!

So, without further ado, I give you:

Moink Balls

12 precooked Italian-style meatballs

6 strips of bacon, cut in half

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

½ cup barbecue sauce

½ cup grape jelly

4 tbsp Liquid Smoke (only if you don’t have a smoker)

Wrap each meatball with bacon, combine brown sugar and cayenne & sprinkle over meatballs.

Smoke at 250 for 1 hour or until bacon is cooked to your taste (if you don’t have a smoker you can cook them in the oven or on your grill)

Put Moink Balls into a crock-pot along with the barbecue sauce and grape jelly. Simmer for several hours.

Serve hot.

These little gems turned out perfectly. Everyone seemed to enjoy them as did I. They will be a new addition to my Bar-B-Que repertoire.

Moink Balls, Anyone?

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Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 2:03 am  Comments (1)  

Dim Sum Dreaming on such a Winter’s day

Wednesday, December 29th, I met 2 friends for lunch. Well, that’s not really true on several levels. So, at 11:00 AM I met Hannah, my adopted Vietnamese daughter, and Julie in a parking lot, where we all piled into Hannah’s little car and drove down to the Little Saigon area in Chicago. That’s around Argyle Street for those of you who are not familiar with the area. We were meeting Andrew, Hannah’s SO.

We were going down to eat Dim Sum at Furama. Furama is at 4936 N Broadway. If you like Dim Sum, this place is very good. If you’ve never had Dim Sum and want a guide, call me!

Okay, I hear those of you who haven’t eaten much Chinese food asking just what is Dim Sum. Well, even if you have eaten a lot of Chinese food, you most likely haven’t heard of nor eaten Dim Sum. So a definition and explanation is in order. Dim Sum in Cantonese means “Point of the Heart”. That helps a lot, doesn’t it. Dim Sum is a style of cuisine that consists of little bites. Small dumplings, steamed buns, little bites. Going for Dim Sum in Cantonese means going to “drink tea” or “yum cha”. So Hannah, Andrew, Julie, and I went for “yum cha”. That sounds so much better than going to lunch, say.

The process of yum cha is very interesting, and lots of fun. They seat you at a table and bring around little trolleys, carts to the uninitiated, filled with metal and bamboo steamer baskets filled with the delightful little bites of goodness. We had tea and quite a few of these little bites or “points of the Heart”. So, let me tell you about  some of my favorites.

Here’s something about me that is, I think, relevant, regarding my taste’s in food. I don’t taste things like I used to. That’s due to a number of factors, among which are the fact that over the years my sense of smell has diminished quite a bit. Yeah, so? Well, a good portion of taste is involved with your sense of smell. More than half. Add to that the fact that I am in my mid 50’s. What’s that got to do with it, I hear you ask. Well, as you get older taste buds die and aren’t replaced as rapidly as when you are younger, if they are replaced at all. And the ones that are left taste predominately heartier and bolder flavors. The Japanese call this Umami or as Westerners call it “savoriness”. So until recently in the West we recognized only Sweet, Salty, Bitter, and Sour, but most food service professionals now recognize Umami. Most foods are composed of a mix of flavors in different percentages. So, I need bold, pronounced flavors for food to register. The two flavor profiles I can taste the best are Umami and Bitter, with Salty being third and Sweet and Sour being distant fourth and fifth. Sometimes the combination of flavors registers 5 out of 5 and sometimes it’s a 1 or 2.  So, Chef Will, how do you cook? Well, I remember flavor profiles for dishes based on previous experience and I can taste the balance in foods that aren’t too subtle. This is a partial explanation of why I love eating and cooking Bar-B-Que so much. The flavors are big and bold. I don’t do subtle anymore. It just doesn’t register high enough.

Okay, enough physiology and food science for today. Here are the Dim Sum that I enjoyed the most on Wednesday:

Chicken Feet with Garlic Sauce. Yeah, I know most of you are going yuck, ewee, how can you eat those things. Well, it’s really simple: break the foot into pieces and put it in your mouth. You then manipulate the meat off with your tongue and remove the bones from your mouth. Yum. Really has a very chickeny taste.

Fried Taro Root Puff. This is a fun thing to eat. Crispy and crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The taste is mild but I still enjoy it. Did I say it was crunchy on the outside?

Bean Curd Wrapped Meat Roll. Nice chewy wrapper with this great, savory meat mixture. It’s outstanding.

Stuffed Bitter Melon. This is not for the faint of heart! The bitter melon is very bitter, hence the name bitter melon. Bitter is, however, one of the flavors that I taste best, so I really like it. The meat stuffing is also very good.

There were more little bites of goodness, these are the ones that stick out in my mind. The tea was good and the trolleys came came around frequently, so we never had to wait for food. All in all a great way to taste a number of dishes that you wouldn’t normally try. In some ways it’s like eating Tapas in Spanish restaurants. That’s also small plates of hors d’oeuvres. Both are served family style Both are usually savory rather than sweet or sour. Tapas is another way to taste foods you normally wouldn’t.

Dim Sum is best eaten in groups of 3 or more, since the steamer baskets usually hold 3 little bites.Most of Furama’s customers are Asian, which gives you a clue as to how good the food is. It is also a great value, as well. The bill came to $16 apiece. Not bad for a good lunch spent with good friends. Oh, and Furama also has a fenced parking lot that they will validate parking for. I suggest using the lot since street parking can be difficult to find.

This same expedition was an occasion to go to an outstanding bakery. It’s a Vietnamese bakery called Chiu Quon Bakery. They are located at 1127 W Argyle. Vietnamese bakery? Yup. Remember that Viet Nam was ruled by the French from 1858 to 1954. One of the first things conquerors do is demand that local cooks learn their homeland’s   cuisine. And so it was in Viet Nam.  Did you know that Saigon was called the Paris of Southeast Asia? Before the war with the French the city was beautiful, as only French Colonial cites in Asia can be. The French were harsh in their rule and there were numerous rebellions against them. They ruled Viet Nam until they were defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, where the French were essentially handed their heads.

So, enough with the Vietnamese history lesson. Let’s talk about Chiu Quon Bakery, shall we? 1st of all it’s more than just a bakery, it’s also a restaurant with a small seating area. Back to what makes this place so special: the pastries. See, the Vietnamese learned the art of French Pastry very well. So well that they regularly compete against the best pastry chefs from France. And they place very high in competition. All this contributes to an awesome reputation in the pastry world. A reputation, I might add, that is well deserved.

SO, in Chiu Quon Bakery you will find some outstanding examples of French pastry. From the baguettes to the most amazingly intricate detail work on cakes. You can find Lotus cakes filled with sweet bean paste, or an almond paste. Sweet bean paste? What on earth is wrong with you, Will. Sweet bean paste sounds awful.  Well, I’m here to tell you that sweet bean paste is great as a filling for a Vietnamese style pastry. It’s not too sweet, just right. And it’s very smooth. I really can’t describe the taste, you have to try them yourself. There are quite a few types to try. You could also get a slice of cake. Vietnamese cakes are basically multilayer sponge cakes, covered in butter cream frosting, and decorated with amazing flowers. Works of art, really.

They also serve buns stuffed with various types of meat that are then baked til perfection. They look delicious. Another thing they make is cookies. You can get Almond cookies, walnut cookies, you name it. My favorites are the almond cookies and the butterfly cookies. The almond cookies are huge, crispy, and full of almond flavor. The butterfly cookies are light and crisp with lots of layers. Both are great. Chiu Quon has great pastries and is very affordable. I bought 2 almond cookies and 2 butterfly’s and paid $3. A great value. They also have steamed buns with fillings that are very good. Two people in our little group got steamed buns, which we all sampled. Great. Simply great. Not fancy or elaborate, just good pastries.

So, if you are ever in the Little Saigon area you really should stop in to either or both places. Well worth it. Oh, that area is also called Chinatown North, by some, for me, though, it will always be Little Saigon.

Enjoy!

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Southern Bar-B-Que where?

Approximately 460 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line (which while it was 1st surveyed between 1763-1767 and was used as the border separating Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and W. Virginia, was also used as the dividing line between Slave holding and Free states under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, it is now seen as the line  dividing Yankee culture and Southern Culture) lies the little village of Egg Harbor, WI. The town has 250 permanent  residents and quite a few restaurants. It’s also where my wife and I have been staying since Saturday, November 22. As I’ve said, Egg Harbor is home to a number of restaurants. The one I want to tell you about is Casey’s BBQ and Smokehouse.

Now, Casey’s is one of the places I’ve had my sights set on since we arrived here. I love Bar-B-Que! Almost nothing I’d rather eat, in fact. Okay, the real truth is that if you cut me I bleed BBQ sauce. I love BBQ so much that i went to a classic French culinary school (Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago) to help me make better BBQ. BBQ and the side dishes that go with it is what I enjoy cooking the most. I don’t own a Backyard Grill, I own a Treager pellet fed Smoker. It’s just a notch below commercial quality; it smokes as low as 160 F and when it’s cranked up high will approach 500 F. So it’ll grill and smoke.

There has been a great amount written about the origins of BBQ and I won’t repeat it here. If you are curious about it just Google BBQ and you’ll come up with 40 million + hits. That’s right, 40,000,000 hits. That’s a lot no matter how you count it. So, I won’t go into history and origins. I will, however, go into a short definition of BBQ. BBQ is a technique of cooking meats at a low temperature (200-275 F) for a long time. Low and slow, as we like to say. But that’s not all there is to it. There needs to be wood smoke added to the cooking environment. Lots of smoke. In fact the best BBQ is cooked over wood burning “pits”. A wood burning pit is nothing more than a contained cooking chamber that is heated with indirect heat and direct smoke. Complicated sounding? Well, your grill can become a pit. Cook the meat over indirect heat (your owner’s manual will show you how) and put a small fireproof container over the direct heat, fill it with wood chips, sawdust, or chunks. Oh, right! Remember to only use hardwoods like Oak, Maple, Apple, or Hickory, cause softwoods like pine will give the meat a resinous taste. Anyway, set your grill for low heat and check it to make sure it doesn’t get above 275 F.  Simple. And there are many good books or websites that’ll tell you how to BBQ.

In the grand world of BBQ the beef brisket is King. Brisket is the cut of meat on the cow that is in-between the two front legs. You know, that pointy bit right there in front. Anyway, brisket is a very well used muscle. And usage/exercise equals tough. Real tough. As a matter of fact the way most people eat brisket is in corned beef. That’s right, that pinkish red meat that’s so good sliced thin and put on rye bread with some good mustard, or that’s boiled with potatoes and cabbage for St. Paddy’s day. The object of cooking or corning (which refers to curing the brisket in a spicy brine for days) is to make the brisket tender. Brining then boiling makes it tender. So does cooking it with wood smoke at a low temp for a long time. The best BBQ cooks will set their smokers for 225 F and put the brisket in. They cook brisket for 1-1.5 hours per pound. So, the average brisket weights in at around 8 lbs. So that brisket should cook at least 8 ours and at best around 12 hours. That’s only part of why brisket is so difficult to cook properly.

Brisket isn’t just tough, it’s also fatty. Part of the reason for cooking brisket low and slow is because of that fat. Brisket has a large cap of fat on top and layers of fat through out. Now, fat is for some people the enemy. If you like good BBQ Brisket, however, fat is your friend. See cooking the meat for that long tends to dry it out, and the fat dripping through it keeps it nice and moist. So while you can trim some of that fat cap off, don’t trim it all off. Another thing that helps tenderize the brisket is a good rub. A rub is a mixture of salt and spices that gives the brisket some additional flavor aside from smoke. The rub also does something else; see, you put the rub on the brisket at least 12 hours before starting to smoke it. And since one of the largest components of the rub is salt you start to cure the meat before it even gets a hint of smoke. Remember that corned beef is brisket that’s sat in a salt brine for many days. Well, that 12 hours of curing with the rub helps start the tenderizing process.

Well, thanks, Will, for the lesson on BBQ, but you were going to tell us about Casey’s BBQ and Smokehouse. Oh, yeah, right! I guess I got carried away about brisket. It does that to me. Back to Casey’s! Casey’s is a typical Wisconsin “supper club”, for those of you who know what that means. It’s a bar with stools around the bar, video poker machines around the walls, hightop tables with stools at the front windows, and a dining room that’s only open for dinner. This is the northern variation on the southern BBQ shack.

We walked in at 1:15 PM, slightly after lunch for most places and there was only one other person in the place aside from the bartender. We sat at the middle of 3 hightops at the front windows and the bartender gave us our menus and took drink orders. So I’m looking at the menu at all the BBQ available: brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken, and prime rib to name a few. You could get any of them as a sandwich, served on either a kaiser roll or Texas toast, or as a plate. The difference is the number of sides you get with the meal. Sandwiches come with coleslaw, pickles, and potato chips with a side added for $3.00. The plate comes with the chips, coleslaw, pickle spear, and choice of 2 sides. Choice of sides included red beans and rice (which I got), pork & beans, french fries, mac & cheese, and sweet potato fries (which Margaret got). I know I’m getting the brisket and Margaret decides to get the pulled pork (another tough cut of meat that also cooks for hours).

Short wait and the food comes. So, the first thing I do is look at both plates. Everything looks good! Nice pink smoke ring around the brisket, the beans and rice look good. And Margaret has a mound of pulled pork and sweet potato fries large enough to choke a pig!

Casey's Beef Brisket Sandwich & sides

Casey's pulled Pork sandwich

I cut a piece off the brisket and tasted it without any sauce, cause I figure good brisket can stand out without sauce. Same thing with pulled pork. So I taste both of them nekked (that’s how they say naked down south). I mean without sauce, not without my clothes on! I pronounce them very good. Then I slather some of their homemade sauce on the brisket. The sauce adds to the flavor and doesn’t overpower. See, I don’t care what that Ray fellow says, the meat is the Boss! The sauce is just there to bring out some “hidden” flavors. That guy Ray has 2 stores near where I live and he’s living of the flavor of the sauce and not the meat. Top it all off, the red beans & rice taste great and the coleslaw is good, as well. The pickle spear is crisp, garlickey, and a little sweet. This was a 4 napkin meal! The sauce dripping off the sandwich, the juice from the pickle spear. Everything was very good. Oh, and Margaret’s pulled pork was outstanding with the sauce. And the sweet potato fries were good, even cold.

It’s irritating for me! I had to drive 5 hours north of my house into Door County, WI to get good BBQ. Like I say, there are 2 of Ray’s places within 30 minute of my house, there’s a guy who thinks he’s famous about 10 minutes away, and then there’s a new place that I’ve already talked about. Four BBQ places within 30 minutes of my house and the best BBQ I’ve had in a while is 5 hours north.

If you’re up in Door County you owe it to yourself to stop in to Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse. You won’t be disappointed!

Published in: on December 3, 2010 at 12:57 am  Comments (1)  

Where are the Goats????

I’m up in Door County, WI this week with my wife, getting away from it all and celebrating 25 years of marriage.  Gosh, in many ways 25 years is longer than I ever expected to live, let alone be married. It is a case of “If I’d known I’d live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself”. I did think I would die young and leave a good-looking corpse. Way too late for either of those to happen.

Anyway, we’re staying in a resort in Egg Harbor called the Landmark. Nice enough place, small, though. I mean really small. As in under 400 sq feet small. With 75+ sq. feet of it being a loft bedroom on the 2nd floor. Including the stairs to the loft bedroom! Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but not much. And being someone who really likes to cook I brought part of my knife kit. You know, expecting that the knives and other utensils wouldn’t be very good. Well, I needn’t have bothered. There is only one “frying” pan, a 10″ stainless steel thing, that does seem to have a sandwich bottom for heat distribution. Even so it’s not very good. And there are 3 pots, all about 1 qt in size, also with a sandwiched bottom.

The stove/oven is 30″ wide, 4 burner electric. I really hate electric stoves. It takes them a while to get up to temp and takes a long time for any adjustments to happen. So, needless to say, I haven’t done much cooking here. And this afternoon we went out for a drive around the area. If you haven’t been to Door County before you really should go, it’s like a transplanted piece of New England. With a lot of Scandinavians. A lot of Scandinavians! Lingonberries are the national fruit up here. Not really, they grow lots of cherries and apples here. Anyway, we drove around this afternoon, looking for a place I used to stay as a kid. Couldn’t find it. After calling my mom and talking to her for a while, it turns out that the cabins we used to stay in years ago were in Sturgeon Bay and not Peninsula State Park. That’s the opposite end.  Well, since we were up that far anyway, we decided to go up to Gill’s Rock.

The drive to Gill’s Rock from Fish Creek, which is where the State Park is located is very scenic. It’s about 18 miles and the road winds along the coast. It’s beautiful. And the last 2 miles to Gill’s Rock is some of the twisty-ist, turney-ist road I’ve ever driven on. About 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile. If you drive a bike of either the motorcycle variety or bicycle type, you would really appreciate this road. Drove in to Gill’s Rock, turned around, and drove right back out. So, we were headed back to Egg Harbor about 4:00 PM, or right around dinner time.

So, what, Will? You wanted goat for dinner? Really? Goat? No, I didn’t want goat for dinner, although goat is very good. No, what I wanted was to stop at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant for dinner. Now, Al Johnson’s is famous for its sod roof (that means there’s grass on it) and the goats on the roof! That’s right, goats on the roof! Can you image what that looks like? Well, neither can I cause they bring the goats off of the roof every year after Labor Day weekend. So, you’ll have to do what I did: Google Al Johnson’s to see pictures with goats on the roof. Or come up here after Memorial Day and before Labor Day.

Well, needless to say, I was very disappointed with not being able to see the goats. I wasn’t, however, disappointed with the food. Okay, so Al Johnson’s is famous for its Swedish food. Swedish Pancakes with eggs, or fruit or with ice cream. Breakfast is served all day. Here is the url so you can go and see for yourself what they have. http://www.aljohnsons.com/swedish_family_restaurant/restaurant.asp.

Now, I just don’t much like Swedish food. Don’t like the meatballs, don’t really care for the big honking pancakes, and that thing they do with fish and lye is just nasty! So, I didn’t get anything Swedish. I know, doesn’t seem to make sense, does it. I mean when I go to a steakhouse I don’t order salad or fish. I don’t go to a Japanese restaurant and order lasagna. But I really don’t like Swedish. So I got the deep-fried Baby Wall-eyed Pike.  Now, I’m enough of a professional cook not to expect fresh fish, especially wall-eye. And I expected to be disappointed. And I wasn’t. Not at all. At least with the fish. The veggies that came with the fish were so-so and the french fries that came with the fish were okay, but nothing I would write about. But the fish and the accompanying tartar sauce were way beyond what I expected. The fish had a nice, thin cornmeal crust, and it was nice and firm, the way fish is supposed to be. Not mushy or overly flakey. Really, it was cooked perfectly. No fishy taste. Good quality fish, properly prepared and cooked correctly. Oh, and to top it off the tartar sauce was made with fresh dill in it. So, with a little splash of lemon and a small amount of the dill tartar sauce I enjoyed every last bite of my Baby Wall-eyed Pike.

Margaret had the  Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, and they were standard Swedish meatballs. I’m gad I didn’t order them, cause I’d have been disappointed. Oh, and did I tell you that Margaret was up here over the Labor Day weekend camping with friends. Who all went to Al Johnson’s to eat. And who all got to see the goats? I ask you, is that fair??

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 1:21 am  Comments (2)  

Sloppy Joe’s

Okay, I need to ask you guys a question: Are Sloppy Joe’s summer food? See, I don’t think so, but then I have no food rules and can and will eat whatever I want at any time of day! Cold pizza for breakfast? Sure! Bacon, eggs, and toast for dinner? You bet! I’ll eat a big ol’ slab of Mac & Cheese reheated in a fry pan at anytime. Really, no food rules, I’ll mix and match! Nine or ten years ago Margaret and I went to Israel. They have a lot of food rules. But, even with all the food rules they have they will serve olives at any time of day. I love olives and am willing to eat them whenever they’re available. Okay, back to Sloppy Joe’s ’cause I can hear some of you, you and I know who you are, saying, “”It’s about time, Will. We just had to endure that whole food rules thing again!”

So, Sloppy Joe’s! I like Sloppy Joe’s if they’re good and hate them when they’re bad. I’ll eat and enjoy Manwich, it’s not too bad for canned sauce. So if you feed me Manwich it’ll be okay. If, however, you feed me scratch made Sloppy Joe’s you will be judged accordingly! They need to be sweet, but not too sweet. They need to be sour, but not too sour. And they need to be fairly dry and not soupy. When you mound the Joe mix on a bun it should hold it’s shape without flowing all over the plate. And speaking of the bun, no fancy bun will do! It’s got to be the traditional gummy white bread you by at the store that costs almost nothing. The good old-fashioned hamburger bun that comes in packages of 8.

Oh, one more thing about Sloppy Joe’s: they need Bell peppers and onion pieces. And a tomato based sauce. These are non-negotiables! And you need to be real careful what else you put into them. There really are very narrow parameters to work with while making Sloppy Joe’s.

All this was brought about when Margaret was recruited to be in the Christmas drama at church. It was great the first couple of times she went, 6:00 PM on Tuesdays. I’d sit at home and fix up some dinner for us and we’d eat when she got home. Well, someone decided that her character need a husband to accompany her. And so I was volunteered. Since I don’t have any lines it’s okay. And there are two other guys who were drafted, so I’m not alone. We like to think of ourselves as “Eye Candy”. There, now try to get that thought out of your heads!

At our rehearsal last week the director asked if we all would make ourselves available right after church. Well there was a general uproar about lunch. Everyone wanted to eat lunch and then come back. I didn’t care for that idea much since I like to eat lunch on Sunday afternoons and then read for a while or nap for a while. Really, it always works out that I get the nap in. So I’m not liking the come back to church option. Neither did Margaret. So she volunteered my services for lunch. And, you guessed it, Sloppy Joe’s were the choice.

I really haven’t made Sloppy Joe’s from scratch before that I recall, so I searched online for a good recipe. And found one that I thought might be decent. I modified it in several ways and made it larger that the base recipe. So without anymore fooling around or running down rabbit trails, here it is:

Sloppy Joe’s

Ingredients:

3.25 lbs ground beef (I used 80/20 ground chuck for the flavor it brings to the party)

1 cup chopped oinons

1 cup chopped bell peppers (I used red, green, and yellow for the added color)

1 3/4 Tsp garlic powder

1 & 1/4 Tbsp prepared yellow mustard

2 1/2 cups ketsup

3 Tbsp & 1 Tsp brown sugar

3 Tbsp Hickory liquid smoke

1 Tbsp cooking oil

Salt & Black pepper to taste

Method

1. In a large skillet or pot brown the ground beef. Drain and remove. Add Tbsp of cooking oil to same pot and sweat the peppers and onions.

2. Return ground beef to pot and add all remaining ingredients to pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes or until reduced to consistancy you prefer.

3. Serve on gummy white hamburger buns and enjoy.

I doubled this recipe for this afternoon and came home with less than a cup full of leftovers. I guess they liked it.
Really good in summer, great when the weather gets cooler in the fall, a nice change of pace during those cold and snowy winter nights, and they work as a great reminder in spring of the summer ahead. Try ’em and let me know if you like them.
Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 4:32 am  Comments (1)  

Lazy Lasagna

I’m Italian (well, Sicilian really) and I love pasta. I love all sorts of pasta. I even love spaghetti. There are more types and shapes of pasta than you can imagine (well maybe you can imagine all the types of pasta there are, but I can’t). Really, Will, you ask. Really, dear foodies, there are. Here are some types ans shapes:

Round shapes:

spaghetti, which means little twigs

vermicelli, means little worms

capelli de’angelo, means angel hair

Ribbon Cut shapes

fettuccine, little slices

lasagna, cooking pot

linguine, little tongues

stringozzi, string-like things

Short-cut Extruded

cannelloni, large little canes

gemelli, twins

manicotti, sleeve-like

mostaccioli, mustaches

Decorative Shapes

conchiglie, shells

farfalle, butterflies

strozzapreti, priest strangler

Anyway, you get the idea, lots of shapes. Just Google pasta shapes and you’ll be amazed. I know I was! Now, most pasta shapes require cooking in boiling salted to make them edible. That takes time, but for most pasta dishes it’s just a fact of life. Lasagna noodles are a particular pain to cook: you need a really big pot of boiling water, and they take quite a while to cook. Not to mention that if it’s cold outside the evaporated water from the boiling pot will steam up your windows. Man, I hate boiling lasagna noodles. That’s the reason I’ve rarely made lasagna in the past. It’s just too much trouble.

Another reason I haven’t made too much lasagna in the past is most people who aren’t Italian don’t like ricotta cheese, a very major component of lasagna. So, let’s count the strikes against making lasagna at home. 1. It is time consuming, what with all that noodle boiling and such. 2. There is the ricotta cheese thing. 3. Given the 1st two reasons it isn’t likely that I’ll make it at home. Which means I would rarely get to eat lasagna, one of my favorite dishes, cause I’ve never really found good lasagna when I dine out. Problem.

Well not anymore! A number of years ago someone came up with what I call Lazy Lasagna. No more boiling noodles! That’s right food fans, I said no more boiling the noodles. And the fans go wild!!! Oh, and no more ricotta cheese, either.

So, all the obstacles have been removed! “I can see clearly, now, the rain has gone! I can see all obstacles in my way! Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind! I’s gonna be a bright sunshiney day!” Sorry, I got carried away. Okay, okay! I’ll make with the recipe, already! One last thing, this Lazy Lasagna is so easy that I’ve made it twice in 2 weeks.

So, with out further ado, or fooling around, I give you for your culinary delight:

Lazy Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef (I like to use 80/20 ground chuck, it has great flavor)

1 24oz jar of your favorite pasta sauce (I like to use the Tomato and Basil type with chunks of tomato)

1 lb small curd cottage cheese

8oz sour cream (please don’t use the lite or fat fre junk, it won’t taste right)

8-10 Uncooked lasagna noodles (that’s right, uncooked)

18oz mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup water

Method:

1.Brown and drain ground beef. Combine with pasta sauce and set aside

2. Mix together cottage cheese and sour cream

3. Layer as follows in an 8.5″ x 11″ baking dish:

1. 1/2 cup meat mixture (make sure to spread it over the whole bottom of the dish)

2. 4-5 lasagna noodles

3. 1/2 cup cheese mixture (spread it out evenly)

4. 6oz mozzarella cheese

5. 1/2 of remaining meat mixture

6.  1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

7. 4-5 lasagna noodles

8. Remaining cheese mixture

9. 6oz mozzarella cheese

10. Remaining meat mixture

11. 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

12. Remaining 6oz mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F

Pour 1/4 cup water around the edges of lasagna and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 1 hour at 350 F. Remove foil and continue to bake uncovered for 20 minutes more or until cheese starts to turn GBD! Remember, GBD means Golden, Brown, Delicious. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15-20 minutes before serving.

Some variations might include not using meat for a vegetarian dish, adding sautéed mushrooms, or removing Italian sausage from its casing and browning it in place of the ground beef. Really, the sky is the limit, use your imagination.

I hope you enjoy making and eating this Lazy Lasagna as much as I do. And you don’t have to telly anyone how easy it is to make, just let them think you slaved over a big pot of boiling water to make it.

 

Published in: on November 20, 2010 at 5:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Cracklin Cornbread

I love cornbread! Well, I love really good cornbread! Bad cornbread isn’t fit for anything. I’d rather not have any cornbread than bad cornbread. You know what I’m talking about: cakey, pale yellow (a sign of too little corn meal), dry and crumbly, and flat tasting.The bad cornbread seems to be much more prevalent than the good stuff. I’m not sure why, cause cornbread was once quite the staple in most home cooks bag of tricks. It has everything going for it: it’s cheap to make, when it’s made correctly it tastes great, it goes with quite a few dishes like chili or beans and rice, or my favorite, Bar-B-Que! It’s also very easy to make and it doesn’t take long to make or bake. So, like I said, great little quick bread in the old bag of tricks! It was, that is, until people got lazy. They started using mixes for cornbread. Most of the box mixes produce something on the wrong side of tasty. They’re flat tasting. There is something missing from them that no amount of fiddling can cure. The exception to this seems to be Jiffy mix. This produces, right out of the box, an acceptable cornbread. Nothing to write home about, to be sure, but not bad. I must confess that when I want cornbread quick I turn to Jiffy mix. Oh, and as a base to start from it works very well. You can tweak this stuff and it’ll come out better. Jiffy mix is almost always on the shelf in my pantry.

This blog, however, isn’t about Jiffy mix. It’s about scratch made cornbread. Made the old-fashioned way: in a cast-iron skillet! Oh, yeah! And if you look closely at the name of this recipe it’s Cracklin Cornbread. Oh, yeah!! Cracklins! Oh, wait! Most of you aren’t steeped in southern cooking culture and so might not know what cracklins are. Southern cooking uses lard in quite a few recipes. Actually, cooks in general used lard in many places before the fat police declared lard bad. Lard, or rendered pig fat, is truly amazing! Do you want the flakey-ist pie dough? Use lard. Want the tenderest biscuits  possible? Use lard! Fried eggs, either sunnyside up or over benefit from cooking in lard. Lard, unlike bacon grease, has a very delicate flavor. So delicate, in fact that some of the best cake frosting used lard.

Okay, you ask, what does lard really have to do with anything? Well, cracklins are whats left over after you render lard. The best fat for lard lies under the skin. So, to render out the lard you cut the fat and skin into fairly small pieces, put them in a heavy pot, turn the heat up, and watch the fat melt off the skin. And you do need to watch it as you don’t want the lard and cracklins to burn.  Now, I know most of you aren’t going to render out your own lard and so aren’t going to have homemade cracklins. I don’t even do that. Well, not very often, anyway. It’s just a lot of trouble. So, Will, what do you use for cracklins for your Cracklin Cornbread? The very next best thing! Right, bacon. Bacon is made from the pork belly, usually has a high fat to meat ratio, and tastes great.  So in our recipe we will use bacon grease and crispy fried bacon pieces.

So, are you ready to tackle Cracklin Cornbread? I was this morning. I made 2 different types of cornbread to have friends evaluate for me. This recipe won. Hands down. Okay, so here it is:

Cracklin Cornbread

Ingredients:

6 slices thick cut bacon, chopped into small pieces

1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal, stone ground if you can get it

1/2 cup AP (all-purpose) flour

3 tbsp granulated sugar, or more depending how sweet you like your cornbread

1 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cups buttermilk, or 1 3/4 cups for  wetter corn bread

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

leftover bacon grease from cooking bacon

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees

2. In a cast-iron skillet fry bacon over medium-low heat until very crisp. Using a slotted spoon set bacon aside to drain. Remove all grease but 3 tbsp, or enough to cover the bottom. Keep the skillet warm.

3. In a mixing bowl, stir all of the dry ingredients. Pour in the buttermilk and beaten eggs and mix by hand (I use a fork for this) until lightly blended. Stir in bacon pieces and melted butter. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. There will be some lumps, that’s okay.

4. Pour batter into skillet and put into oven. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for 20 minutes, or until the cornbread’s edges are brown and the top is golden. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come clean. Serve warm.

So, that’ll make up some great cornbread. Feel free to fiddle with it as much as you like. Add a cup of kernel corn. Or dice fine some jalapenos (I like the ones pickled in brine, but you could use fresh) and make that cornbread zippy. Leave out the bacon. Dice up red bell peppers and mix them in. The possibilities and variations are really only limited by your imagination. Oh, and it’ll work as a side dish for any number of entrees. Again, limited by your own imagination!

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm  Comments (4)  

Punkin Dunkin

Last week someone that Margaret works with had their last day at work, and they had a going away party for her. She had been there for a very long time, and everyone knows her and, I’ll say it, loves her. She will be missed by everyone that worked with her. So, her friends, including my lovely wife, threw a going away party. And Margaret signed-up to bring something. She knew exactly what she wanted to bring. She had had this pumpkin dip somewhere a few days before and she really loved it. So, that’s what she wanted to bring.

Now, I don’t like making this sort of stuff. It’s just not up my alley. I will, however pretty much make whatever Margaret asks me to. So I made it. It’s not too bad. Very high praise from me, since I really don’t like pumpkin stuff. Anyway, here’s the recipe, since several people asked for it:

Punkin Dunkin Dip

16 oz pumpkin puree (I used pumpkin pie filling since I couldn’t find the puree)

8 oz cream cheese, at room temp

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp powdered Ginger

Put the softened cream cheese into a mixing bowl and using a hand mixer, beat on medium until it’s somewhat fluffy. Well, okay, cream cheese is never really going to get fluffy, so beat it until it’s smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat until it’s incorporated. The result should be fairly smooth still.

Now add the pumpkin pure, slowly, it 1/3’s. After each 1/3 beat until everything is smooth. During the final 1/3 add the Cinnamon and Ginger. Once the spices are incorporated clean any dip off your beaters and add to the bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.

We supplied Ginger Snap cookies for the dip, but really any cookie that size should work, like Vanilla Wafers. My personal favorites are the Windmill shaped spice cookies. They’re really good.

As I’ve been writing this it occurs to me that this dip might be improved by adding 1 tsp Vanilla Extract. Maybe not. I think if I make it again I’ll try it with 1/2 of the dip and do a taste test.

 

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Chili con Carne

Now that the weather is getting cooler it’s time for soups and stews. The first one this year is Chili con Carne.

Chile is a wonderful stew that hails from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the motherland, Old Mexico. It was most likely first cooked on campfires during cattle drives from Old Mexico north through Texas. Tough and unaged beef (also called “green beef” it has very little resemblance to anything available in the store) or beef that was a little past it’s expiration date (no refrigeration in the 1830’s to 1890’s, and when it finally became more readily available portable refrigerators didn’t make the scene until 1939 in the form of big Thermo-King trucks). The chili’s were used helped mask the taste of the beef and the slow cooking made it chewable. If you’ve ever had tough old beef you’ll understand the necessity of stewing it.

There are only a few things that all chili’s (well most chili’s) have in common – spicy hot to some degree and it’s red in color. Other than that almost anything seems to go. Me, I grew up in Texas and I like my chili hot and spicy! They say down there that “Anyone who puts beans in chili doesn’t know beans about chili”. I used to agree with that until I made a pot of chili and more people than expected showed up to eat it. Putting beans into that pot of chili extended a pot that might feed 5-6 to a pot that fed 8-9 with seconds being available. So, now I put the beans in close to the end of cooking. You’ll see how I do it if you survive down to the actual recipe!

Chili is essentially a highly seasoned meat stew. Notice I said highly seasoned meat stew. Meat not chicken of fish, and never vegetarian. Meat! Beef or pork or lamb or venison are acceptable. Buffalo would work, but who can afford buffalo, I ask you? Chili is highly seasoned! That means there is a bit of a bite to it. That bite is achieved through the use of chili’s. There are over 200 varieties of chilies and more than 100 of them are found in the southwest portion of North America. Chilies are hot, to one degree or another. Some chilies are mild. They are long, short, fat, or skinny. They are yellow, red, brown and green.  You can use then dried or fresh. Or you can buy commercial Chili powder. My preferred method these days is to take dried chilies and de-seed them, cut them into smallish pieces, and dehydrate them using boiling water. Then, after the water has gotten cold and the chilies have soaked up as much water as they can, I puree them. The exact technique is part of the recipe.

Things that don’t belong in chili (this is my blog! So if you like any of these things in your chili, put it in, knowing that I don’t approve) include any kind of pasta or dried noodle, celery, carrots, parsley, no steak sauce of any kind, no sugar, no alcoholic beverage aside from beer, and no rice. Beans should be limited to black beans or pinto beans. No kidney beans, garbanzo beans, or lima beans. This is chili, doggone it!

Okay! Enough of this! Let’s get on to the recipe, shall we? Without further ado, I present:

Chili con Carne

Ingredients:

Meat

2 lbs beef chuck roast or other inexpensive cut of beef

1 cup finely chopped onions

2-3 finely minced cloves of garlic, more if you like garlic

2 tbsp high temp cooking oil

3 cups of water, or enough to cover

1 cup tomato sauce or 2 cups tomato puree

2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground or 2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp oregano

2 tsp paprika

salt to taste

Method:

Trim all fat from meat. Cut 1/2 of the meat into 1/2″ x 1/2″ cubes. The other 1/2 cut into pieces that will fit into your food processor. Grind meat until coarsely chopped. Set aside

Saute onions and garlic in the oil slowly until translucent. Add meat in small batches to brown, otherwise the meat won’t really brown, it’ll braise. When all the meat is browned transfer it to a large, heavy pot or dutch oven. Cover meat with water. Add tomato sauce, cumin, oregano, paprika, and salt.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.

Chili Puree

Various dried Chilies. This time I used:

3 Pasilla Chilies

2 Guajillo Chilies

2 Mulato Chilies

3 Puya Chilies

3 Japones Chiles

3 Morita Chillies

1 clove garlic

Enough boiling water to make a puree

Method

Stem and remove seeds from chilies, being careful as they are hot chilies! Cut chilies into small pieces and place them and the clove of garlic into a heat proof container, I use a small stainless steel mixing bowl. Pour enough boiling water to cover chilies, then add a little more!

Let rehydrate for 30-60 minutes, then pour into a blender, or food processor bowl, and puree until everything is one gooey, dark brown mess. Set aside.

Beans

2 cups black beans or pinto beans

salt to taste

2 bay leaves

1 small smoked ham hock or 4 oz smoked ham

6-10 cups of water

Method

Put everything, beans, bay leaves, salt, and ham or hock into a pot with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until beans are soft but not mushy. Add more water if needed.

Drain the beans and add tie cooking liquir to the chili, after removing the bay leaves, of course. Set beans aside for now.

Completing the Chili

Continue to simmer chili until it is the consistancy you like it. I like mine thick, so I add some masa harina, Mexican corn meal at the end and bring the chili back to a boil for 10-20 minutes. Until it’s thickened up. Then I put the cooked beans in and cook until the beans are heated through, another 10-15 minutes.

Stir in the chili puree and check for heat. More puree equals more heat. Just add tbsp by tbsp and taste for the level you like it. That’s the nice thing about the puree: it devolves instantly into the chili and you can gauge the degree of heat right away.

You can top with crackers, oyster crackers, various cheeses, fresh jalapeno rings, minced onion or green onion. Just don’t put any pasta or rice in it, or put it over either. Cold beer goes good with chili, don’t drink wine! Remember that chili started out as a trail drive meal. Don’t fancy it up!

Remember that there are a lot of dried chilies available at most grocery stores, so pick out as many as you like and try them. Every one of them has a different flavor and heat to bring to the party. So, all ya’ll go out and make yourselves a nice bowl of Texas-style Red Chili!

Nice bowl of Texas-style Chili

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 11:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Confessions of a Pantry Chef! Pt. 3

Third installment. This one is for Balsamic vinaigrette. Okay, this is a tough one! See, the smallest batch I make at work is 9 qts. Right, 2.25 gallons! So what I’m doing is cutting it down to the smallest amount that will allow you to come close to what we make. Really any smaller won’t work very well. So, we’re going to make 1 qt of this stuff. Let me say again that this is the best Balsamic vinaigrette I can recall having. It’s really, really good.

So, if I haven’t scared you off, let’s get started, shall we?

Balsamic Vinaigrette!

20 fluid oz Extra Virgin Olive Oil (get a good quality bottle)

12 fluid oz Balsamic vinegar (get real, imported vinegar, and make it also a good bottle)

3 1/2 Tbsp Finely minced Onions

3 1/2 Tbsp Fresh Thyme (just the leaves, no stems)

3 1/3 Tbsp Fresh Parsley (chopped fine. At work we call it parsley dust)

3 1/3 Tbsp Honey

3  large cloves of Garlic, finely minced

Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Place all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and wisk together. If you have an immersion blender go ahead and use it. It’ll help emulisify the dressing. If you don’t have an immersion blender you will have to wisk it up before using it. Or, you could put into a large jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake it for all you’re worth!

Once again, this should be allowed to sit for several days, allowing the marrying and blending of the flavors. This is really good over a mixed greens salad. Perhaps some olives and Feta cheese. Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, are a good addition. Use your imagination!

Really, use your imagination when you cook! I’ve always believed that recipes are guidelines, not to be followed blindly. So think as you’re making these recipes! As one of my instructors always said: “Think like a Chef!” Don’t be afraid of the food. It is, after all, just food. It’s what you do with it that is important. Always buy the best quality ingredients you can afford. And never, never, never say to yourself that something is “good enough”! Always strive to produce the very best dish possible with he ingredients you ave to work with. THINK LIKE A CHEF!!! You can do it!

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 4:06 am  Leave a Comment