Food

Hot Wings at Home – The best thing since sliced bread!

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I’m a glutton for punishment. Okay, maybe I’m just a glutton, but after hours of hardcore Ultimate frisbee in the morning (I have 2 – TWO bruises!) I really only wanted to eat what I was craving. When I want something bad I want to make it at home. More punishment. This way, though, I get to be part of the process, I get to save money (sometimes), and the tweaking – oh, the tweaking! I love it. Sometimes I need to have a dinner that screams immaturity and irresponsibility. In this instance I’m talkin’ ’bout hot wings. A whole dinner of hot wings. Screw salad, screw even cole slaw. I mean a whole dinner of wings and wet naps and beer.

Making chicken wings at home is seriously cheap and makes for wicked deliciousness.

1.5 – 2 lbs Chicken Wings, about about 14 wings (which when cut up equals 14 drumettes and 14 wind segments)

1 cup Franks Hot Sauce

2 TBSP melted butter

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp white pepper

3 TBSP flour

First step: cut up yo’ wings into three segments, the drumette, the middle wing part (the less favorable non-drumette), and that end pointy bit that has no meat and it just a waste all around.

Find the joint in each area, line your knife edge in the joint, and slip through. It’s not hard. Chuck the lame little pointy ends, the farthest left in the above picture. Then rinse the remaining pieces, dry them really well, and set them aside in a bowl.

Pour about 3 inches of oil in a stock pot or deep dutch oven and heat to about 325 degrees. I used a pasta pot. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cayenne, peppers, and salt. Then toss the dried wings in the mixture. Once your oil is up to heat, gently -gently -drop the flour coated wing pieces into the oil and let fry for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. If you’re oil doesn’t look like the below picture when the wings are dropped in then it’s not hot enough.

And after 12 minutes they’re all beautifully golden brown like this…

Now, I’m not going to lie: These are awesome just as they are and you’re going to want to eat them, but don’t do it. Don’t give in. I mean, I guess if you have kids that can’t handle the extra spice or you don’t want sauce finger prints everywhere – and I do mean everywhere – then serve them like this. But if you sauce them, it’ll be like Dorthy stepping out of Kansas into Oz. I mean freaking amazing. So don’t be a coward: Stay strong, wait 4-5 minutes to allow them to cool, and sauce ’em.

In a big bowl mix together your Frank’s, the melted butter and any other flavors you’re craving. Extra cayenne? Sure. Chili paste? Go for it. Then throw in your slightly cooled chicken and toss away, either literally toss if you have the kitchen skills or toss with your hands – but then immediately wash them. And definitely don’t touch your eyes or lick your finger tips for the duration of this recipe. Then open a beer and eat away. I recommend in front of the TV. Notice I didn’t say “sports”. I don’t care for sports.

I’m hardcore: I have my wings with a beer in front of Antiques Roadshow. Ahhh, yeah.

Okay, so I have to be honest with you: These are not health food. Are they good for your soul? Fo’ shizzle. Are they good for your heart? Absolutely not. Enough of these will be the direct reason you go into cardiac arrest while on the treadmill one day. So, in an effort to just be plain bad rather than ridiculously bad, I also made a grilled wing that honestly was just as tasty as the above Buffalo wings.

Alternative sticky, spicy Asian grilled hot wing:

1 cup La Choy Orange Ginger sauce

1/2 TBSP srirachi

1 tsp black pepper

1 cup Spicy citrus sauce, cooled (from my chicken tender recipe)

Combine the La Choy sauce, srirachi, and black pepper. Toss the rinsed and dried chicken, and let soak in the coating for about 20 minutes. Heat your grill to medium – high. Once you grill is ready to go and the chicken has marinated a bit, grill with the lid closed for 12-15 minutes or until an internal temperature of 160 has been reached, turning once half way through. Let cool about five minutes once you remove them from the grill. Once they’ve cooled a bit coat them in the spicy citrus sauce. These are messy, but very delicious, and a welcomed healthier twist on traditional fried Buffalo wings.

Pork Chops in Marinara Sauce

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I like creating something new in my kitchen, but sometimes I figure out a tasty recipe that’s a cinch to make and I just get stuck in a habit of making it regularly. In other words, new excitement has been leading to regularity. I decided to make an old family favorite to reignite the spark in my kitchen.

I’m not a big pork fan. I love a good banh mi, and ribs here or there, but that’s where my interest stops. Growing up, however, we had pork most Sunday’s at family dinner. My grandmother would make her usual marinara sauce (something I can make with my eyes closed and both hands tied behind my back), but she would a sometimes add fatty, bone-in pork chops and let them simmer low and slow for a few hours, cooking in the sauce while the sauce absorbs the delicious porkiness to make the usual Sunday meal a little more special.

I figured I’d give this a shot. Besides, cooking sauce on the weekend is great, because you have it for pasta and pizza for the rest of the week.

3 TBSP olive oil

5 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large shallot, thinly sliced or 1/2 cup diced onion

1 very ripe peach, diced into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup wine, your favorite

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

1 28oz can whole or diced peeled tomatoes

1 cup cherry tomatoes

8 large button mushrooms cut into 1/4’s or 1/8’s depending on your own bite preference

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 TBSP fresh chopped basil

1 TBSP parsley

1 TBSP kosher salt

1/2 TBSP black pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 1/2 tsp oregano

1 tsp sage

1 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2.5-3 lbs center cut, bone-in loin chops

Juice of 1 lemon

Like most Italian recipes, this one starts with a shit ton of garlic. If you can’t get a shit ton, a butt ton will do. Or five large cloves. Which ever works. In 2 TBSP of the olive oil over medium heat, warm the minced garlic cloves, the shallot or onion, which ever you decide to use, and the peach. You want to sweat the garlic and onions a little, but don’t allow them to brown. After about 5 minutes add the wine (because of the pork I used a white wine I like, but anything that’s good will work), and stir. Add the tomatoes, both canned and cherry, mushrooms, chicken stock, and the spices. Sprinkle in the salt, stir, and incorporate the tomato paste. Once the paste is dissolved into the rest of the mixture, toss in the parm and mix well. Congratulations: you got yourself some marinara.  Also, just as a side note, you can make this as thin (for pizza) or as chunky (for anything else) as you want. Add green bell peppers or chunks of fresh tomato to cook down and swap the crushed canned tomatoes for a second can of whole. If you want a smoother sauce omit the mushrooms and do a second can of crushed.

I like making entrees over baking because baking is exact. Dinner is whatever the hell you want it to be.

Bring the stock pot of tomato magic up to a bubbling simmer. Then turn the heat to low, so the sauce is still very hot, but barely bubbling, and add the pork chops. Cook these on low for about 2-2 1/2 hours. You can sear them before hand, but I chose not to, simply because I was too lazy to dirty another pan. The slower you cook the chops the more juice they will retain.

After about two hours, or when the chops reach an internal temperature of 160-165 remove them from the pot. Add the lemon juice to the tomato sauce. Stir and taste; add any additional salt or pepper. And viola!

I served mine with penne & salad. Classic Italian dinner.

Bitch Slapping Bland Primavera to the Curb

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I’m hosting a few friends for dinner to watch the Oscars this year. While I except the award show to be filled with mediocrity, my dinner will not. I wanted something bright, filling, delicious, and cheap. Feeding a lot of people adds up fast, so I like to keep costs down where possible.

Normally, I would not choose Pasta Primavera as an exciting meal, per se. More of a pathetic meal would sound more apt to its usual description. America’s Test Kitchen, however, inspired me, as the always do, to look at the usual in a different light. Cook the pasta like risotto and -BAM – awesomeness in every bite. Use the pasta’s own starch as a thickening agent – BOOM – creaminess without the heaviness.

It’s like Alfredo and Primavera had a baby. A delicious, delicious baby.

Now, most of this is directly from America’s Test Kitchen, so I don’t really deserve any credit. I made tweaks here and there to make it even more delicious, but I couldn’t have done it without ATK. I love this recipe because you can really plan ahead and do many of the steps far in advance to make serving a group of people even easier.

3 Leeks

1 bunch Asparagus

1 cup frozen peas

4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed in a garlic press

1/2 TBSP red pepper flakes

1 TBSP ginger

4 cups vegetable stock

1 1/2 cup water

1 TBSP mint

2 TBSP chives

1/2 TBSP rosemary

zest of 1 lemon

5 TBSP olive oil

1 box pasta, penne, cavatelli, or campanelle recommended. This won’t really work with spaghetti or a strand style pasta.

1 cup white wine. I used a pinot grigio and it was fantastic.

Juice of 1 lemon

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

3 TBSP heavy cream (optional)

Salt & pepper to taste

Leeks! Leeks are the sandiest thing ever next to a beach. Chop off the top two inches of outer leek area and cut off the bottom inch. Then roughly chop the top half, the darkest green area, and rinse 3 cups of it in a bowl and set aside. Then cut the remaining light green parts into 1/2 inch pieces, throw in a separate bowl, and rinse. So much easier to rinse once the leeks are in chunks.

Saute the light colored leeks over medium heat in 2 TBSP of oil for about five minutes or until the leeks brown a little, stirring periodically.

While the leeks are sauteing, snap off the ends of the asparagus. Take a stalk of asparagus and start bending from the end; it will snap naturally at the freshest point. You want to eat from the natural break to the tip. Chop the ends that you would normally discard into 1/2 inch pieces and dump into the bowl of darker leek slices. Cut the edible pieces of asparagus into 1 inch bites.

Once the leeks have cooked a bit, let go of some of their moisture, and browned a little, add the i inch asparagus pieces and crushed garlic, and stir. Continue to cook until asparagus is just tender, 2-3 minutes. Add the frozen peas and saute for an additional minute until the peas are just warmed, 1-2 minutes. Turn off heat and set the cooked veggies aside.

In a deep stock pot or sauce pan, heat up the veggie stock, water, dark leeks, asparagus, red pepper, and ginger. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.

While you’re doctoring the stock, chop up the chives, mint, and rosemary, and combine with the zest of a lemon in a bowl. Set aside. Once the stock has simmered for 10 minutes, strain into a bowl. Discard the strained vegetable remnants. This step and the vegetable cooking step can be completed a couple of hours in advance if necessary. You want there to be 5 cups of rich, doctored and strained stock left. If you’re going to immediately cook the pasta, place the strained stock back into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Keep the stock warm, as it will be added to the pasta in a few minutes. 

Once you’re ready to cook the pasta, heat 2 TBSP oil in a pasta pot over medium heat. Toss in your pasta of choice and brown a bit. This is similar to cooking a risotto, which gives each bite tons of flavor. This only takes about 5 minutes, but you want to stir the pasta regularly to get each piece to brown a little. once the pasta is showing signs of golden deliciousness, add the cup of white wine to the pot and stir until the pasta has completely absorbed it, about 1-2 minutes. At this point the pasta is still raw, but tastes like magic, richly buttered bread. It’s amazing.

When the wine has been absorbed, add the stock and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook for an additional 8- 10 minutes or until the pasta is done stirring every . I used Simply Smart pasta, which takes closer to 12 minutes to reach the correct texture.

At that point, turn off the heat and add the juice of one lemon. Stir. Add the 3 TBSP of heavy cream, 1/2 of the herb mixture, and grated parm, and stir well. Once the sauce has reached your desire consistency, dump in the cooked veggie mixture. I like my sauce a little thicker so I put the pot back over heat to stir for an additional 4 minutes, just until it was rich and creamy. Add the cherry tomatoes and – you guessed it – stir. You want the heat of the sauce & pasta to just warm and wilt the tomatoes. Plate each serving and sprinkle on a little of the remaining herb mixture. It’s a beautiful thing.

I topped mine with shaved parm and had a side of steamed broccolini with lemon juice as a side, because one can never have enough veggies. It. Was. INCREDIBLE. It can serve 6 reasonable people or 4 hungry ones.

Clam Chowdah in Austin

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I’m not a fan of football. I’m more of a super fan of eating.

And that’s exactly what Super Bowl Parties are for.

I generally enjoy entertaining, but football is just not my thing. I let other people get this one. Besides, since the world is apparently forgoing winter with exception to areas that normally rarely get it (like Rome), my lawn is entirely too long to have guests to the house and our lawn mower takes forever and is easily distracted.

As the New England Whatsits are playing in today’s little game against Madonna or whoever hell the opposing team is, I have decided to make Clam Chowder. To clarify: New England Clam Chowder. Because Manhattan Clam Chowder is like choosing to have a grilled cheese with Kraft singles when you have the option of Gruyere. It’s a joke.

I’ve offended my husband.

Chip likes Kraft singles. Oh, well.

After the last year or so of warm to deadly hot temperatures, Austin is finally experiencing a day of pseudo winter: the high temperature is expected to be a low 54 degrees with skies overcast and a wee bit rainy. Yeah, it’s not “winter” per se, but when seasons have been phased out due to global warming you learn take what you can get. What I’m saying is that today is as close to a perfect Austin day for Chowdah as one could ask for.

The Cliff House in Maine serves incredible clam chowder and has since 1872. My father, inspired by their famous dish, worked to create a simple, but truly delicious version of creamy clam chowder to make at home. And Dad likes good food. While I strive to make things lighter just as my preference, sometimes I like to play after dinner and don’t want to feel weighed down, I know I can always depend on Dad for something rich, something perfect for winter, something to induce a completely content food coma. So…the plus side: this recipe, which feeds 8-10 hungry people, contains only a single tablespoon of butter. The not-so-plus side? It also calls for 3 cups of heavy cream. You heard me.

NOTE: The spice blend is very important and use chopped clams from a fish monger, as opposed to canned, if at all possible. You will have extra spice blend left once you mix it all together, but you can put it in a ziploc baggie and freeze it – yes, freeze the spices, until the next time you want to make clam chowder. All in all, this recipe costs about $30 to make and when you consider the amount of people it feeds, we’re talking peanuts in terms of cost.

Spice blend

4 tsp dried oregano                 2 tsp dill weed              1 tsp sage

4 tsp dried parsley                   4 tsp thyme                   4 tsp rosemary

2 tsp marjoram                         4 tsp basil                     2 tsp tarragon

1 TBSP flour

If possible, blend everything in a mortar & pestle. If not, mix everything in a bowl and mash together with the back of a metal spoon (wood would absorb some of the oils you want to go into the chowder).

The actual Chowder Recipe:

9 Slices bacon, minced

1 TBSP butter

3 yellow onions, minced

3 medium to large cloves garlic, minced

1 medium to large shallot, minced

4 teaspoons of the above spice blend (Seriously, freeze the remainder. It’s tasty.)

6 TBSP all-pupose flour

3 – 4 cans clams (6.5 oz.) or 1.5 – 2 lbs previously frozen chopped clams

3 cups clams juice

3 cups heavy cream

1  cups milk

1 1/2 tsp white pepper

1 tsp black pepper

1.5 lbs potatoes, diced and boiled. You can peel your potatoes, too. I’m using smallish buttercreams, so I’m leaving the skins on.  Mash 1/2 of the potatoes for a richer Chowder consistency.

Over low heat in a stock pot, soup kettle, or – in my case – a wide pasta pot, saute the bacon and butter, allowing some of the fat to render from the fatty pork. Once a good bit of fat has eeked out, but the bacon is still a bit uncooked, add the onion, shallot, and garlic. Add the spice mix and don’t allow anything to brown. Continue sauteing over low heat, stirring periodically, for about 10 minutes or so, until the onions have softened a bit, but aren’t quite translucent.

Add the flour and clam juice. I whisked the flour and clam juice together in a bowl so I wouldn’t have to worry about flour clumps and added it to the pot. Once everything is mixed well, bring the temperature up to a boil. When a boil is reached, turn everything down to a simmer and throw in the heavy cream and milk. After that’s been simmering for 20 minutes or so, add the pre-boiled potatoes.

Do not add the clams until just a few minutes before serving.

If you are making this at your home to be served in right then and there then:

Toss in the clams after the potatoes, sprinkle in the white pepper, and turn heat up to reach desired serving temperature, but do not bring to a boil. Over cooking the clams or cooking them at too hot a temperature, say a boil, makes them tough and chewy rather than tender and flavorful. I like to top mine with a little sprinkling of the greens from the tips of fennel. I love the color and look, and it’s not as strong as dill would be (similar in look) and adds a delicate new flavor that’s only just noticeable, but very delicious.

As I will be bringing this dish to a friend’s home, ideally I would bring the chowder mixture to their house, covered and on a towel on the floor of the backseat,  commandeer a burner on their stove top, reheat, and throw in the clams and white pepper, and bring to serving temperature at that point.

My recommendation: Don’t travel with hot clam chowder. Just eat it at your house.

And don’t share.

I wish I had a better picture to share, but once the food hit the table everyone dug in. The chowder was rich and flavorful, the clam chunks abundant. It was excellent on a cold, wet day to celebrate New England! Go sports!

Science in the Kitchen: Fennel, Red Beans, & Chowdah

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This week was incessant. Stressful, disappointing, overwhelming. It’s been months since I’ve written so little, but time keeps passing and life goes on. At the same time I’m writing so little, my brother is writing more than ever, hysterically documenting his trip to Thailand and parts beyond. The pictures are great and the writing very sarcasticly funny. I recommend it.

So after a shitty, no good, very bad week, the weekend arrives in an attempt to break me out of my funk.

Saturday morning grocery shopping reminds me that weekends are for experimenting!

Tomorrow is game day! I have no idea what that means! All I do know is that most of the thirteen original colonies are so bad at American Football (a sport I abhor, by the way) that many of them had to apparently band together to form a single team: The New England Patriots. And what an intimidating mascot that is. A guy who really likes his country can defeat a Giant, no problem. I guess they operate under the power of positive thinking. Yeah, that’s totally super cool and masculine.

Sorry, bit of a rant there. So for this weekend, my husby is making a new red beans and rice recipe and I’m making clam chowder and sauteed fennel.

Today I’m going to post the fennel and beans.

My It’s So Good That It’s like Salty Candy Fennel:

2 TBSP olive or vegetable oil

2 heads Fennel, sliced in 1/4 – 1/3 inch slices

2 medium to large garlic cloves, sliced thinly

2 small or 1 medium shallot, sliced thinly

1 TBSP ponzu

freshly ground black pepper

Growing up in a stereotypical Italian-American family, meant much of my youth was spent in or around a kitchen. My grandparents had an impressive garden, and as a kid bouncing around with a million cousins amongst the many legs of mother, aunts, and grandparents it was common for a hand from above to drop slices of fennel, tomatoes, figs, or hunks of other veggies in our paths. The flavors of ripe fruits and vegetables were abound, building a deep respect of their versatility in me at an early age, yet I didn’t have cooked fennel until I was a teen.

Often the flavor of fennel is described as a more delicate version of black licorice. I happen to like black licorice, but not because I like fennel. Fennel does have a unique flavor, but when it saute’s, it caramelizes, becoming sweet and a little smokey, much like an onion does. Generally when cooking, the first thing that hits the pan once the oil is hot is garlic, but in this super simple and quick recipe, garlic comes last. And this recipe is so quick that the longest part is the prep in slicing everything.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a skillet. Once the oil moves around the pan easily toss in the fennel, trying to keep the slices in one layer. Let them sit for 3 -4 minutes and then stir – or toss if you’re skilled – to continue caramelizing. After the fennel has been in the pan for about 5 minutes, add the shallots. After an additional 1-2 minutes, add the sliced garlic. You want the garlic to warm, but not brown. Add the Ponzu and continue cooking for an additional minute, stirring to coat. You want the fennel to be just tender, caramelized on the outside, but with a good bit of bite in the center. There’s nothing worse than mushy vegetables.

This is crazy delicious. It’s sweet and salty, it has bite, it’s just a little spicy from the barely cooked garlic, and it’s got great texture. It’s the dish that changes a dissenter’s mind about fennel. Now this as it is makes an excellent side dish and if you’re on Weight Watchers it’s next to Zero points. Immediately upon diving into this for lunch all I wanted was to have thrown in some shrimp the last 2-3 minutes of cooking and served with brown rice. Perhaps even a dash of Srirachi. That would have been a mega simple, quick, filling, and healthy dinner!…In fact, stay tuned for that recipe later in the week.

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My husband has a bit of a man-crush on John Besh. And who can blame him. It’s impossible not to fall in love with all things N’Orleans and Besh is certainly an integral part of their current food culture. Chip likes to make his lunches for the week on the weekend prior and as I’ve gotten more interested in new recipes so has he. What used to be his standard Yakisoba or hummus and veggies lunch, has evolved to include homemade bean salads that change with the seasons, and now red beans and rice.

But this is serious red beans & rice. Chip choose to double the amount of red beans, added an extra ham hock, a little extra water and bacon grease, but otherwise his loyalty remained intact. Rendering bacon fat is easy, but it does make you house smell strongly of bacon. I only like to smell bacon right when I’m eating it. Then I need all evidence of it being cooked to disappear. This is because of one time when we were house hunting a few years ago. Chip and I walked into the most claustrophobic, messy home and it just reeked of bacon. We took one look at our realtor and read each others mind at once: Get Out! Ever since I just can’t stand the smell of that stuff, but I put the dislike to the side for today.

Rendering bacon fat is easiest if the bacon is cut into 1-1 1/2 inch chucks and cooked over low to medium-low heat. I did not cut up the bacon ’cause I didn’t want to smell like bacon for the rest of the day. No matter how many time I wash my fingers I swear they’ll smell of bacon for hours. You want all the fat to cook off, but you don’t want the grease to cook into brown bits.

John Besh’s  Red Beans & Rice with “Chip Tweaks”

2 onions, diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded & diced

1 stalk celery, diced

3 TBSP rendered bacon fat

2 pounds dried kidney beans

3 smoked ham hocks

3 bay leaves

1/2 cayenne pepper

3 green onions

salt and pepper

3 cups rice

In a heavy stock pot, Chip sweated the celery, peppers, and onion until the latter was translucent over medium high heat. Then he threw in the kidney beans, ham hocks, bay leaves, and dash of cayenne, and gently stirred everything together. After a few seconds of stirring, Chip poured water into the pot until the beans were submerged by 2 inches of liquid. Some items may float to the top, but that’s cool, let them do their thing. Just do you best to measure 2 inches above the beans.

At that point he cranked the heat to high and water for a boil. Once there was a good boil going, Chip turned the heat to low and covered to simmer for 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Everything needs to be covered by at least an inch of liquid at all times, so adding water periodically might be necessary, though I’m sure you could use chicken broth or low sodium stock as well. When the beans are crushed to a creamy consistency easily with the back of a spoon, everything was done. Chip removed the ham hocks, easily pulled the meat off the bone, roughly chopped it into small chunks, and then added it back to the pot.

He continued to reduce down the mixture until it was the consistency Chip wanted. You can make this as souped or thick and creamy as you want. And, yes, red beans are healthy for you, but when they’re cooked with ham hocks in veggies that were sauteed in bacon fat, I make no promises of their diet power.

For a final touch he added chopped green onion, salt and pepper, and hot sauce to his liking.

Red Beans & Rice finished and very tasty, rich and hearty without seeming too heavy. An excellent alternative to the usual winter stews and chicken soups.

Clam Chowder tomorrow!

Sugar Cookies with Spice!

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When I need something to do I write or cook. I’m not a big baker, but every once in a while I try a new kind of cookie, because….well, why the hell not.

Sugar cookies can be a bitch to make. Too crunchy, sometimes flavorless, a good, chewy, and creamy sugar cookie can be harder to achieve than you might think. So, I looked at this as more of an afternoon science experiment than a baking endeavor.

The flavors I picked are what I gravitate toward on a perfect autumn day. Naturally, I picked an 80 degree day in January to bake them. You see, Austin no longer has seasons; I just have to pretend that there’s fall and winter. It’s been years since I made a good stew, because I struggle to see the point. Sometimes I think I gotta move back to New England…and none of that has anything to do with cookies.

So for this I just took a very basic sugar cookie recipe, blended it with tips from America’s Test Kitchen, and added some spunk in the form of flavors I personally like.

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 oz. cream cheese

6 TBSP butter, melted

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1 egg

1 TBSP milk

An additional 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ginger to roll onto cookie dough.

The beginning was the usual mundane of baking cookies: I preheated the oven to 350.

I mixed the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. I threw  the 1 1/2 cups sugar, the cream cheese, and spices in a large mixing bowl with the melted butter. The warm butter helped breakdown the cream cheese. I stirred this together and then added the egg and milk and blended until incorporated. Finally, I dumped in the flour mixture and stirred everything until it formed a smooth dough.

I then rolled the dough into 24 balls and rolled those into the 1/2 cup of sugar mixed with cinnamon and ginger. I placed 12 on a cookie sheet sprayed with cookie spray, and pressed the cookie dough balls down evenly until they were about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. I sprinkled just a little more of the sugar mixture over the top of each smooshed cookie and baked for 11 minutes. I made sure not to allow the edges to become golden brown; I wanted enjoyable cookies, not sugary crackers.

The cookies came out perfect. Sweet without being too sweet, flavorful, crunchy on the outside and just soft enough in the center. And they’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, like an American biscotti or biscuit without the over abundance of crumbs. Excellent for pretending it’s fall or winter when global warming is totally against you.

I’d Love Something Fried, Thanks for Asking!

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Me an’ zucchini are like this.

We work well together and always have. I respect Zucchini’s freshness, beautiful color, versatility, and moisture content. And Zucchini respects that I eat him all the time.

I first met Zucchini when I was a child and he was nothing but a deep fried stick. We knew almost instantly that our love affair would be anything, but brief. Growing up in an Italian household, Zucchini was always grown in backyards and used in abundance in everything from snacks, salads, sautes, and sauces. Naturally as I child, my favorite of his forms was when he was crispy and fried, but as I grew up I found my tastes and needs changing. The fried sticks no longer worked for me when I craved him fried; thick crusts and undercooked vegetable were a turn off, I needed layers of flavor that aided only in enhancing the natural flavor of the deep green squash.

Ever understand Zucchini was happy to accommodate.

As an adult I’ve settled – for the time being – on zucchini fritters. A pinch of red pepper flakes and a hint of sweet sauteed onion adds new depth to fresh flavor of the grated, drained zucchini.

I used:

2 zucchinis

1/2 yellow onion

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 flour

2 TBSP panko bread crumbs

2 TBSP fresh chopped parsley

I shredded the Zucchini with a regular cheese grater, tossed it with a 1/4 tsp salt, and placed the zucchini in a colander to drain for 10 minutes or so. While I was waiting for it to give up its excess water, I finely chopped 1/2 an onion and sauteed it over medium heat in 1/2 tbsp butter, 1/2 TBSP olive oil, and 1/2 tsp salt, until the onion was translucent and just beginning to brown. The bit of butter adds a little richness to the sweet onion while the olive oil keeps the butter from burning while sauteing.

In a large bowl I mixed together the egg, cheese, flour, panko, red pepper, and 1 TBSP of the parsley. The mixture was very thick. I then squeezed out any excess liquid from the zucchini and added it to the mixing bowl. Just between straining and then squeezing, I got over a 1/4 cup and 1 TBSP of bright green liquid from the Zucc. Again, the mixture is very thick so I found ti easiest to mix everything with my hands.

I love the flavor of olive oil, but when it comes to frying – even pan frying as these fritters are – I find it to just be too heavy. In a medium skillet over a medium high flame, I heated 3 TBSP of vegetable oil. Once the oil moved freely around the bottom of the pan, but wasn’t smoking, I placed heaping tablespoon dollops of the zucchini mixture into the pan and flattened each to about 1/4 inch thick. They took 5-6 minutes, about 2-3 minutes per side, to brown nicely. The key was getting them to cook through, crisp, and yet not linger in the oil so long that the fritters absorbed it rather than cooked in it.

Once golden, I placed the fritters on a plate with a paper towel to drain, sprinkling each with salt while it was still hot.

Served with merely a sprinkling of lemon juice, these zucchini fritters were the perfect lunch, though not necessarily the healthiest, and would make an excellent appetizer.

I want Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, Damnit!

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It’s my ultimate geek dream to one day work for America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country, but without a culinary degree I may be shit out of luck. I am, however, a huge fan of their work and find their recipes simply the tastiest and – most importantly – fail safe.

There are times, however, when a craving I have lacks a recipe through them. Undeterred, I simply make up something myself because it is my personal belief that one should never fear the kitchen.

Here’s my one simple kitchen rule:

Keep a fire extinguisher and a take out menu within reach, and nothing will go wrong.

With that in mind, I dove into creating Eggplant in Garlic sauce.

I took 1 eggplant chopped in roughly 1 inch wedges. Wedges, not cubes, because it’s cylindrical. Duh. And I minced 3 huge cloves of garlic. This is Eggplant in Garlic sauce, not Galickish sauce. I find this dish at many Asian restaurant to be oilier than I would like it to be; making this at home meant I got to change that aspect of it.

The sauce itself went like this:

1 1/2 TBSP low sodium soy sauce

1/2 TBSP brown sugar

2 TBSP white wine (I was out of rice vinegar and cooking sherry, either of which would have probably made this better, but sometimes you just have to improvise.)

1 TBSP Sesame Oil

1 tsp cornstarch (as a thickener)

a pinch of red pepper flakes

And 1 of large garlic cloves, minced.

I whisked everything together. I wanted to get my eggplant going first. I left the skin on because I’m hardcore, but you certainly don’t have to. I tossed the chopped eggplant into a cast iron pan over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil. I wanted it tender, a little brown, but not mush, yet I knew to sauce would take mere minutes to become a rich, syrupy coating over the eggplant, so the eggplant had to start first. Letting it sit on the hot pan for 2 minutes before stirring ensured the golden brown color I was looking for. I then added 2 of the minced garlic cloves, and stirred allowing them to warm and release some oils, an addition 2 minutes.

At that point I added the sauce, which, thanks to the cornstarch and brown sugar, thickened almost instantly. Stirring constantly for an additional 2 minutes I let everything mix and mingle in beautiful garlicky harmony. Then it was time to plate and eat.

The eggplant was sweet, spicy, smokey, and, of course, garlicky. It was tender on the outside and just firm enough in the center. Thanks to that little bit of brown sugar parts of the skin on the eggplant had even become crispy and caramelized. This was a super quick recipe to appease a craving.

I did have to sprinkle a little salt on top, once it came out of the pan; I had thought the soy sauce would add enough salt, but, as mentioned above, I used low-sodium soy sauce and the difference was noticeable.

Over all I was very happy with the way the eggplant turned out. It was the perfect lunch with half a grilled cheese and I’m already excited to use the leftover eggplant on a white pizza at some point later in the week!

Ribs, Ribs Everywhere, So Let’s All Sit & Eat!

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I love ribs. I love eating them so much that it’s been many a year since I’ve been able to see my own, if you catch my drift. And after two hours of hitting the ultimate frisbee field I want to gnaw on ribs a whole hell of a lot more.

I maintain my love of ribs by having them once every two months or less. As we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder…or less clogged with rib fat, one of the two. The real problem with ribs is that from the moment you decide you’re going to cook them, you hunger for them, and they are not the fastest meal to be had. And there’s a million ways to flavor and cook them!

Should I baste with beer? Apple juice? Cider?

To mop or not to mop?

To grill or use ye olde oven?

What’s a girl to do?!

Well, this girl likes her ribs differently than her boyfriend, so it’s easy. Every time my guy and I make ribs, we make two racks and cook them completely differently. And then we share because that’s true love.

I love St. Louis ribs. This is a particular cut that’s a little less fatty than the spare rib cut, but still thick and meaty. Chip, the aforementioned boyfriend, prefers spare ribs, but today he decided to go with a baby back rack. I like my ribs moist but not sauced so I use a mop. Chip prefers his ribs juicy, but likes a smokier flavor, so he sticks to a grill and periodically uses a spray bottle to wet his ribs, using less liquid and frequency than my mopping.

These are my ribs (in the rub) versus Chip’s naked baby backs.

We’ll start with the break down of my St. Louis cut ribs:

Rub:

1 TBSP Paprika

1 TBSP Garlic powder

1 TBSP salt

1/2 TBSP ground pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 TBSP Ginger

2 TBSP brown sugar

To prep my ribs I washed and dried them. I did not trim them at all, choosing to leave the silver skin on the bottom of the ribs keeps the ribs together while I slowly cook the crap out of them. I then rubbed every last molecule of the spice mixture over the back and top of my ribs; I want a nice crust.

After the rub, came the assembling of my mop.

Playing off the Asian theme the ginger in the rub adds, I went with…

The juice of one lemon

The juice of one lime

1/4 cup Rice vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

To cook my ribs I went with a fairly unorthodox method. As I mentioned, Boyfriend does his ribs on our gas grill. I’m not anti-grill, but I do like slow and low ribs – slow cooked at a low temperature. I don’t want to meat to fall off the bone; I want it to pull away. But I also like a dark crust. Remedy: I got my ribs all rubbed up and put them meat side down on a hot, hot grill for 5 minutes. That’s all it takes. Put those ribs down, close the lid, and don’t touch for 5 minutes.

Once they got a char I pulled them, put them meat side up in a cookie sheet on a flat rack and mopped away, about 2 tablespoons of my mop to coat the ribs. This means I’ll have char, I’ll have a crust, and the rib coating will be glossy and tasty. I put an additional 3 tables spoon of my rub onto the cookie sheet and covered in tin foil in order to maintain a moist cooking environment. You can also use beer or apple juice; either, like my mop, will add extra flavor.

After the 5 minute stint on the grill I baked my ribs at 500 for 15 minutes and then turned the oven down to 250. I continued cooking for an addition 1 1/2, mopping every 20 minutes. You want the internal temperature of the ribs to be 180-200 degrees. Yes, I spent the afternoon being a slave to my ribs.

And it was worth it.

And then there were Chip’s ribs, the man ribs. Chip cooked his baby backs on a hot gas grill. Prep went the same way: wash, dry, and season; he seasoned, meaning he sprinkled each on top of the rack, rather than making a thick rub. Chip season with…

1/2 TBSP of the following: Paprika, salt, black pepper, and garlic.

Then Chip made a moisturizer:

1/4 cup apple juice

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

3 TBSP yellow mustard

1 1/2 TBSP ketchup

He whisked everything together and poured into a spray bottle. To create a moist and smokey environment on the grill, Chip put mesquite chips into a small tin pan and soaked them in red wine, which he placed on the bars directly above the burners at the back left of the grill. The grill was heated to 500 and he placed his ribs meat side down, closed the lid, and let them go for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, Chip turned the heat down to 400, flipped the ribs meat side up, sprayed them with the moisturizer and closed the lid. Every 15 minutes Chip sprayed.

…And there was one flare up, but he kept the paparazzi at bay.

Chip is no stranger to fire. Below is a picture of a tater tot from the last time he made them with dinner. It was honestly glowing red hot when I found it.

Because Chip’s baby back rack was smaller and he used a higher heat, they were only on the grill for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Again, he went with internal temperature over a specific cook time.

So, that’s it! We cooked the crap out of our ribs, two separate ways, both came out delicious. We ate entirely too much with salad as a side, and beer for refreshment.

Pop To It: Star Trek, Star Wars, Dark Knight Meets the Lion King, & More!

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* I’m not going to delay this. Everyone everywhere needs to watch this Lion King/Dark Knight Rises right now. It’s genius and brought to us by Moviemaestroten at YouTube.

* Worst. Food Promotion. Ever. Burger King has had the fabulous idea to offer a Dark Side Burger and a Jedi Knight burger in honor of Star Wars 3D. I really, really hope they decide against the black bun. [BuzzFeed]

* Just in case you haven’t heard, Ab Fab is back in a big, beautiful way. Jennifer Saunders discusses it’s rebirth, smoking, and aging with Vulture Magazine. [NYMag]

Photo credit BestMoviesEverNews

* Wheel of Fish never had anything this awesome. A blue fin tuna recently sold at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market for $736,000. At weighing in at 593 pounds, that fish wound up costing about $1,238 a pound. And I’m sure every bit of it is delicious. Mmm… [Inquistr]

* The New York Times had to issue a correction recently due to an error in a story from last week. And it was spectacular, hysterical. I’m honestly glad they took the time to correct something that was important to those they feature in a front page story. See the clipping below. [BestWeekEver]

Photo credit Kerri Hicks

* Welcome to something I like to call “The Grossest Thing Ever.”  Apparently the new teen fad is Vodka tampons. No, they’re not soaking up vodka with tampons to drink later. Teens are soaking up vodka with tampons and inserting them into their vaginas for a quick, mild buzz. According to the article, boys can also do this, too, through something called Butt Chugging. I’m not kidding. My favorite part of this little expose, however, was when Dr. Lisa Masterson said that the practice of vodka tampon use would “…literally destroy the vagina.” I like to imagine Jim Gaffigan dressed as a woman doing his Hot Pocket skit, but replacing “It will literally destroy your mouth.” with the above quote from Doc Masterson. Awesome. [HuffPostCA]

* A new Doctor Who rumor has hit the interwebs. As we all know, Amy Pond and Rory Williams out – heart breakingly – out. Word on the street is that the new sidekick might be none other than, Miranda Hart, an actress I know best as Diplomatic Officer Chloe Alice Teal of Hyperdrive. She’s funny, punky. She may not be my first pick for a replacement, but I’m not too sure I have one…’cept for maybe Gwen Cooper. [Blastr]

* Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be the new villain in the Star Trek sequel! I am over the moon about this! I can’t wait to see his Smaug and now I get him in Star Trek. Just fantastic, very exciting! I think 2011 is really going to be his year. [MTVNews]

* Speaking of Star Trek AND Doctor Who, ex-Who sidekick Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) is also rumored to have signed on to the sequel. I loved him…until he got all up in Martha Jones, who I couldn’t stand. There’s going to be a number of cocky, villainous gazing come that movie. [Variety]

* And, finally, Portlandia performs Salt n Pepa’s Push It