Nov 27, 2011

happy thanksgiving

Hope you all had a great thanksgiving weekend! Amity and I ended up cooking dinner for two on Thursday, since we were headed to Charleston on Friday. Since two people can only eat so much in one day, we roasted a chicken instead of a turkey. Not that either of us seemed to miss dried turkey meat whatsoever.

I did want to do something different with the chicken this time to make it a bit more special. So I opted for a slow roast at 275F for about 3 hours. The results is crispy skin and fall off the bone meat that is juicy and tender. Pretty similar to a rotisserie chicken really. I still did everything else pretty much the same - air dried it for 24 hours, trussed it and seasoned it just before cooking (with salt, pepper, and rosemary in the cavity).

For sides, we went pretty traditional. Mashed potatoes, cranberry/orange relish, brussel sprouts/apples/bacon, chicken gravy, apple sauce, and of course - my favorite - a huge pan of stuffing! The stuffing was twice baked with day-old bread, roasted chestnuts, pecans, onions, carrots, celery, apples, and homemade bratwursts (made by Nate/Lisa/Haskell in VT). Before baking the stuffing (twice) I liberally soaked everything in homemade chicken stock, so that by the time we ate it, all the chickeny goodness was completely baked in. By far my favorite part of the meal.

Along with all this delicious food, we had a great bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape that Amity had brought back from her trip to France 18 months ago. Perfect wine for a great meal!

Nov 2, 2011

best burger in atlanta?

And  we're back... Yeah it's been way too long, but what can I say. I got busy. Going to make an effort to post somewhat regularly again, so we'll see how it goes. So what finally prompted me to post again? A new toy for my kitchen of course!

This little stove-top smoker allows you to smoke food, and not your house/apartment. Clever huh? It works with just a small amount (~1tbs) of very small wood chips that smoke super easily (and no soaking necessary). Since the size of the smoker is small, you don't need much smoke to fill it and flavor your food, and so even though the smoke eventually releases into your kitchen, it's barely noticeable. Definitely less smoke than a fireplace would generate (and certainly less than properly searing a burger!) Not sure how well it'll work with a large shoulder of pork, but for smaller items, it works like a charm.

Over the weekend I tried it out with some shrimp and 1tbs of Alder wood chips. Result was fantastic. In just 15 minutes, the shrimp were perfectly cooked and deliciously smokey. Tonight, I decided to try it out on a burger - basically recreating that summertime grilled burger flavor...

Of course I love grilled burgers, but getting a nice sear on a burger really makes a huge difference, and you just don't get that on a grill - even with charcoal. A smoking hot skillet or griddle is really the best way to go, and how any good restaurant cooks your burger. Using butter to sear it doesn't hurt either :)

Once the burger was nicely seared on each side but completely raw in the middle, I popped it into the smoker with hickory wood chips for 15 minutes. The smoker is kept over medium heat on the stove, which according to the manual keeps the inside of the smoker around 375-400 degrees. After 15 minutes, I had a perfectly cooked burger with amazing smokehouse flavor. Seriously, did I mention the flavor? Honestly, no regular charcoal grill comes close.

Toppings make a burger, and eggs are the new bacon (I guarantee eggs will be on everything at TGIF in 1 year). In the meantime, a fried egg, a bun toasted in butter, a young melted Parmesan, Heinz ketchup, lettuce and tomato. Not the worst burger I've ever had :)

And to top it all off - Great Divide Smoked Baltic Porter. Seemed like a perfect match... and it was.

Jul 18, 2011

pearl barley

I was recently asked to come up with some tasty ways to use barley (besides beer!). I've never actually cooked barley, so this was a good excuse to try it out. I started off with a simple salad. Unfortunately I somehow lost the pictures... not sure what happened there. Anyway, it was a mix of pearl barley (cooked and chilled), Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted corn kernels, fava beans, mint, basil, parsley, and a mustard/lemon vinaigrette. I really liked the texture and nuttiness that the barley brings to the salad, and it actually made for a pretty hardy meal.

The second dish I put together was more of a breakfast/brunch dish. Again, I started with cooked and chilled pearl barley which I warmed up on a frying pan with a nice chunk of butter. At the same time, I roasted some cherry tomatoes and a Serrano pepper in the oven and fried up some bacon. I mixed everything together, added a fried egg on top and finished the whole thing with a few dashes of hot sauce. A very solid breakfast indeed!

Cook barley in salted boiling water or broth for 45 minutes. Use as a starch anywhere you would use rice or potatoes.

Jul 16, 2011

salt-cured salmon

Curing salmon is one of the easiest things you can do at home, and the results are usually pretty stellar. It's a simple matter of putting a salmon filet in a plastic bag with some table salt, sugar, and whatever other flavors you want. A regular sized filet will take two days or so. You want to take it out when its firm to the touch. At that point, you'll have something that approximates smoked salmon. Salty deliciousness! I used pepper and bay leaves to keep the flavors pretty neutral this time around, but you could easily use fresh herbs (dill would yield Gravlax), or other spices - smokey chipotles come to mind. Then just eat it like you would smoked salmon. Perfect on a bagel with cream cheese, a quiche, or in pasta. Simple as that!

Cure Mix (for 1-1.25lb Salmon Filet)
50g (1.75oz) Salt*
35g (1.25oz or 2.5tbs) Sugar
Whatever else you want!

Buy a salmon filet that's pretty evenly sized (buy the middle of the filet, not end bit)
Mix salt, sugar and other herbs/spices, and rub on salmon
Place salmon filet in plastic Ziploc bag
Leave in fridge for 36-48 hours (depends on thickness of fillet), flipping once or twice to redistribute salt brine that forms.
It's ready when the salmon is firm to the touch (think smoked salmon or cooked salmon)
Rinse/pat excess salt off and serve cold! (will keep 1week refrigerated)

* Salt Guide
Measuring by weight is important with salt, but if you must use volume measurements, here's a rough conversion for this recipe:

1.75oz Regular table salt = 3tbs
1.75oz Morton's Kosher Salt = 4tbs
1.75oz Diamond Kosher Salt = 6tbs

Jul 15, 2011


Yesterday being Bastille Day, it seemed appropriate to make a decidedly French desert to celebrate just a little bit. A clafoutis (kla-foo-tee) is a flan like batter that's baked into something resembling a large pancake. Traditionally it's made with cherries and it originates from Limousin, a province in central France. (Incidentally, the limousine car is named after the region because they wore a hood with a profile perceived to be similar to that of the car there... now you know.)

Want more random facts??? It's apparently very important to keep the pits in the cherries while the clafoutis bakes, because they impart additional flavor. Who knew! However, as you can tell from the pictures, no pits... or cherries were used here. I had lots of strawberries in the fridge and didn't want to see them go to waste. (Since we're in fact mode today... when anything other than cherries are used, it's actually called a flaugnarde, not a clafoutis, but who's counting.) As I was putting the batter together, it also dawned on me that this is a reasonably healthy desert - relatively speaking of course. Look through the list of ingredients and you'll notice about 80% of it is milk and fruit. Not bad!

Clafoutis (sorry for the grams, I'm sure you can all convert!)
450 g fruit, cut into bite size chunks if necessary (strawberries, cherries, rasperries, etc...)
150g flour
100g sugar
1 pinch salt
20g butter, melted
3 eggs
1/2 L milk

Preheat oven at 425F
Sift dry ingredients together, add butter and mix
Add in eggs one at a time and mix 
Pour in the milk slowly while stirring, until smooth. do not overwork flour.
Butter a pie dish and layer fruit inside
Cover with batter
Bake for 45 minutes, serve at room temperature.

Jul 12, 2011

vietnamese spare ribs

What happens when you stick someone who loves Asian food in the South? Well you already read the title right... So there's a cool little restaurant here in Atlanta that does southern style hickory smoked BBQ - with a twist. The chef, originally from Korea, weaves in Korean spices and flavors into the rubs and sauces. Everyone raves about it and it's definitely on my short list of places to try. Unfortunately I haven't been there yet, but it did get me thinking...

So I came home from the grocery store the other day with a rack of St Louis style pork ribs. St Louis refers to the cut - basically the ends of the ribs are trimmed off so that the rack is completely even (making cooking slightly easier). The marinade I put together was logical, if not easy: lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, Chinese five spice powder, oil, and dark caramel. Just looking at the ribs sitting there in the fridge, getting all happy overnight, made me smile!

The great thing about ribs, and really any meat that is pretty high in fat, is that they're very forgiving. You basically slap them in the oven and roast them as long as you want (within reason I suppose). Patience and a little planning are typically rewarded with these types of cuts, but you have to try pretty hard to screw them up badly. I roasted these ribs about three hours at 275ish. To complete this Southeast Asian (and Southern) inspired meal, I served a few of the ribs on top of rice vermicelli with sliced cucumber, a mix of fresh herbs (culantro, thai basil, mint, regular basil), and some nuoc cham on the side. I'm pretty confident this would sell rather well on the streets of Hanoi :)

Vietnamese Ribs (serves 3-4)

1 2.5 lb rack of spare pork ribs

1/2- lemongrass stalk, finaly minced
6-8 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1.5" knob of garlic, finely minced  (basically you want equal parts garlic, ginger and lemongrass)
3-4 tbls fish sauce
1.5 tbls Chinese five spice powder
1.5 tbls Caramel (can sub in honey, agave syrup, or brown sugar)
1/4 cup oil

Mix all the ingredients together for the marinade
Rub the marinade onto the ribs
Place the rack in large Ziploc bag and refrigerate for 12-24 hours
Cook in 275-300 oven on a sheet pan for 3 hours or until the bones come off the meat very easily.

thai chicken basil

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. With the summer fully upon us, we've been feasting on a lot of tomatoes, salads and other cold meals throughout the week. Not very interesting stuff to blog about. I do however have a mini-garden on our very windy fifth floor balcony and among other things have a large bunch of Thai Basil growing. Since I hadn't used any of it yet, it was starting to get rather unruly. Gai Pad Gra Pow, or chicken (gai) stir fried (pad) with holy basil (gra pow), seemed like a good way to use some of it.

This dish can be found in just about any Thai restaurant all over the world. It's rather quick and simple to make and doesn't require a lot of ingredients. Usually this dish is made with ground chicken, but I used diced chicken thigh today. Turkey or pork would work well for this dish as well. Ideally the dish is made with Holy Basil, which is different from Thai Basil or regular Basil. It has more of a spicy, minty quality. Any basil will do in a pinch, but if you can find Holy Basil somewhere, all the better. The sauce is a simple mix of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar dissolved in a bit of water. And don't forget the chilies! This dish is usually very spicy, but obviously you can adjust that to your tastes rather easily.

I fell in love with sticky rice in Thailand, and this seemed like a perfect time to make some. Unlike regular rice, you do need to soak the rice first (i usually soak it for 8-12 hours). Then you simply steam it for 20-25minutes minutes. Ideally I would have a special bamboo steamer, but I've found that my fine mesh strainer fits perfectly in my saucepan and works very well for this. The only trick is to keep the layer of rice a uniform thickness. You'll also want to buy special "sweet rice" for this (it's not actually sweet!). I use "Three Ladies" brand Sweet Rice. When cooked, the rice should stick together, but it'll be dry to the touch. Enjoy!

Gai Pad Gra Pow (Serves 2)
3/4 lb chicken, diced or ground
2 tsp cooking oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls oyster sauce
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 thai birdseye chilies, minced (this should make it somewhat spicy, adjust to taste)
1 cup loosely packed Holy Basil

Heat oil in frying pan until very hot
Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring continuously
Add chicken and cook 2-3 minutes until cooked through
Add oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and just enough water to thin it out a bit (1-2 tbls)
Add basil and chillies and serve immediately

Jun 30, 2011

steak tartare

If someone placed 1/4 lb slab of raw beef in front of me and told me to eat it, I would probably cringe, take a couple bites, and push the rest away. So why do I love steak tartare?? Well for starters, it's so much more than just raw beef. When prepared correctly, it has a TON of flavor. It's kind of like those sushi rolls that are doused in various colorful sauces, covered in avocado and topped with bacon bits. Sure there's raw fish in there, but there's no way you'll ever taste it...

Tartare is the same. The beef is finely chopped until tender and then mixed with such an array of bold flavors, you really won't taste much "raw beefiness." I know it's a leap of faith, but trust me, if you buy good quality sirloin and keep the portion sizes reasonable, it's a pretty amazing dish. I followed Anthony Bourdain's recipe which seemed to get rave reviews throughout the internet and was very happy with the results. Just buy the best beef you can, and keep the whole thing very cold (including the plates!). And if you want to go super traditional, serve it next to a plate of fries.

Steak Tartare (Serves 3-4)

1 egg yolks
1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 anchovy filets, finely chopped (if skipped, make sure to use salt. but don't skip!)
1 teaspoons ketchup
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbls oil
1/2 tbls Cognac (I used regular brandy)
1/2 small onion, finely diced (you can use shallots)
1 ounces capers, rinsed and chopped
1 ounces cornichons, finely chopped
2 tbls finely chopped flat parsley
3/4 pounds fresh sirloin (buy the leanest cut possible, and don't waste your money on tenderloin, sirloin works perfectly here and has a little more flavor)
Toasted or grilled crusty white bread to serve

Mix egg yolk, mustard, anchovy filets, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, and pepper in a large bowl.
Drizzle the oil in slowly as you mix the whole thing
Fold in the cognac, onion, capers, cornichos, parsley
Trim all the excess fat and sinew off of the meat
Grind the beef in a meat grinder or better yet, chop it up by hand with a very sharp knife.
Mix the meat into the dressing and serve immediately with some toasted bread.

Jun 28, 2011


You like pancakes? Yeah, me too. Now imagine a savory pancake full of pork, seafood, and/or your favorite crunchy vegetables. You can eat it for brunch, lunch, dinner or even a late night snack! Not a terrible idea huh? Okonomiyaki is exactly that, a wonderful savory Japanese pancake you can eat at any time of the day. It's pretty deliciously amazing and I'm convinced that if we got a few marketing geniuses from Kellogg together, we could sell it as the perfect hangover food here in the US. For the time being, if you want one, you'll probably have to do a little searching on Yelp or Chowhound or... just make this wonderful disc of deliciousness yourself!

The first time I was introduced to okonomiyaki, I was in Tokyo, in a restaurant that pretty much only makes okonomiyaki. Actually they don't make it - you make it! They give you the batter, whatever ingredients you want in it (just like you might order a pizza here), but then you cook the thing yourself. Having a griddle in the middle of each table might not fly with lawyers in the US, but the Japanese seem to manage just fine. Besides, watching your friends attempt to flip their pancakes is rather amusing too. Ingredients run the gamut from thin slabs of pork belly to fermented soy beans and chunks of octopus. Pretty much anything goes. In fact okonomi mean "what you want" and yaki means "grilled."

As I said, there are a few key ingredients and then the rest is up to you. The base is essentially just pancake batter. In its most basic form, its flour and water. Traditionally grated mountain yam is added to make it slightly gooeyer (read: mucussy) and dashi stock is used instead of water. Eggs and baking powder aren't uncommon additions either. However you make it, the end result should be something that resembles a traditional pancake batter in terms of consistency. The other two ingredient that you probably don't want to skip are chopped cabbage inside the pancake and okonomiyaki sauce on top. The sauce is often described as similar to Worcestershire Sauce, but sweeter and thicker. You'll have to go to your nearest Asian grocer to find it, order it online, or just make it yourself (this recipe is easy!)

Once you've made your batter, what you mix into it is entirely up to you. Today I used shrimp, calamari, shimeji mushrooms, cabbage, and green onion. I also added small bits for fried tempura batter (see above) called tenkasu. This adds a nice crunch. Regular potato chips could be easily used as a substitute in a pinch. Depending on the size of the pancake, you'll need to cook it at least 3-5 minutes per side on a griddle or frying pan. I also cooked my seafood beforehand so that I wouldn't have raw calamari in the middle of my dinner! Finally, it's also rather common for okonomiyaki to have strips of pork belly placed on top and cooked into the pancake. I decided to save that for next time...

To finish it all off, the dish is traditionally topped with the aforementioned okonomiyaki sauce, mayo (don't forget the mayo!!!), nori (seaweed), and bonito flakes. Perfect!


Okonomiyaki (serves 3)
1 cup flour
3/4 cup dashi (or water)
2 eggs
1.5 cup chopped cabbage

2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup  chopped calamari and shrimp, cooked very lightly
1 cup shimeji mushrooms, cooked very lightly
1/4 cup tenkasu (fried tempura batter, can substitute potato chips)

Toppings (to taste)
Okonomiyaki sauce
Nori, finely chopped
Bonito flakes

Mix the flour and dashi until smooth
Gently mix eggs, cabbage, onions, calamari, shrimp, mushrooms, and tenkasu into the batter
Poor onto hot griddle and shape into pancake (can divide into 2-3 small, or 1 very large pancake)
Cook 3-5 minutes per side depending on size
Brush okonomiyaki sauce onto one side, remove from heat
Add mayo, nori, and bonito to taste

Jun 20, 2011

soft-boiled eggs

The perfectly cooked egg exists, it's true! Unfortunately, the perfect home recipe does not (well unless you have an immersion circulator handy). You would think cooking an egg would be pretty easy. Put the egg in boiling water and cook. Not so quick!! There are enough variables to make even your most OCD friend lose his mind. How many eggs are you cooking, what temperature are your eggs, what's the radius of you pot, what quantity of water is in it, how hot does your stove burn, how cold is your tap water, what altitude are you at, how quickly do you cool your egg, and most importantly - what defines a perfectly cooked egg?!?

I cook a lot of eggs and I've gone through plenty of phases. Just within the last few months I've gone from wanting hard-boiled eggs, to poached eggs, then onto sunny side up, and now I have a constant craving for soft-boiled eggs. I won't get into all the specifics, but the challenge in cooking the perfect egg is that the whites and yolk set at different temperatures. In fact there are different proteins in the whites and they will each set at very different temperatures: anywhere between 140°F and 180°F degrees. Meanwhile the yolk begins to thicken at around 150°F and sets around 160°F. Tricky little bugger that egg huh?

Today I'm going to focus on soft-boiled eggs. The goal here is thicken but not set the yolks while you cook the whites until they're just set. In my opinion the best way to achieve this is to place your eggs in directly in boiling water. This will cook the exterior of the egg faster than the yolks, and yields the desired results. By contrast when I cook hard-boiled eggs, I start the eggs in cold water and bring the whole egg up to temperature (just like you would a boiled potato to achieve an evenly cooked interior). So for a soft-boiled egg, six minutes in boiling water seems to work perfectly for me. There is one thing to remember though. If you add too many cold eggs to your boiling water, your water temp will drop too much. So just use more water, cook fewer eggs at a time, or adjust your cooking time!

Today I paired two soft-boiled eggs with tomatoes, basil, salt, olive oil, and bread. A poor man's Caprese Salad... The texture of a six-minute egg approximates the mozzarella very well. The yolk mixed with the olive oil and basil makes a great sauce to mop up with bread. It's really a pretty clever combo if I may say so myself :)