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Summer Charred Caesar Salad

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A misconception of Italians is that pasta is very important to us. I’m not going to lie, it was a staple in my youth growing up. But just as important, if not more so, are vegetables. Everyone in my family gardened, my uncle even had fig trees so large that they busted through his green house in Connecticut. Many of my early memories are sitting in the dirt at my grandparents house, gnawing on a cucumber I picked off the vine while they harvested the other fruits of their labors. And salad was always served at the end of the meal. After the heavy stuff was out of the way, it was onto lightly dressed lettuces, sliced pears, and shared granny smith apples. It seemed like my grandparents always had a pen knife tucked in a pocket or folded into the waist band of an apron, just to easily hand out slices of nature’s bounty.
This was a great way to be raised. If my dinner doesn’t contain a lot of vegetables today then it’s not complete, it only half done to me, or I think it’s simply not healthy. I’m always on the look out for new ways to do the same old – same old. Recently I had made some grilled corn and liked it so much I decided to expand on it. I decided my less than exciting romaine for a Caesar salad needed to be smokey, charred, a flavor you just couldn’t add to salad without real flame.
Salad (Serves 4)
2 hearts of Romaine cut in half the long way
…Yep. That’s it. This is a spin on a Caesar Salad, the magic is in the dressing and preparation, not its contents and co-stars. I also tend to look at croutons as sode: empty calories that ruin anything healthy and are the salad equivalent of a soda with a meal. It may be tasty, but you might as well have a candy bar or something. If your salad is about the croutons, you’re doing it wrong.
Summer Caesar Dressing
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcester sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste (Optional…or, in my house, Non-existent)

Caramelize the shallots. While those are working on their golden brown deliciousness, whisk everything else in a small bowl. Once caramelized, remove the shallots to cool a bit. You want to add them to the dressing when they’re warm so they don’t cook the egg, but do help thicken the dressing; letting them sit about 4-5 minutes should be fine.

Preheat your grill to high, clean the grates, and rub them down with vegetable or olive oil. Place the cut halves of Romaine flat/cut side down and don’t touch for 1-2 minutes. They char quick and you don’t want them completely blackened.

Remove from heat, and plate grilled side up. Drizzle the Caesar-ish dressing over the grilled side, allowing the dressing to drip in between the layers of lettuce. Top with a little more Parm if you’re so inclined. Served with chicken or a grilled steak makes a memorably delicious meal.

 

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Poached Eggs Easy like Sunday Morn’

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Perfect Poached eggs every time are super easy. Granted, they can be a little messy, there’s no longer a reason to fear making an egg to top your sauteed asparagus or to have with Hollendaise. Me? I eat it a little simpler with a piece of toast and slice of proscuitto.

We’re looking at steps here more then a “recipe”.

Take a skillet – that’s right, leave your pot in the cupboard as it has no place in poaching an egg. I used an 8inch pan. I filled it almost to the bring with water, leaving only about a 1/2 inch around the edge. I placed it on the stove, added 4 Tbsp or so of white vinegar. I do this by eye. Any where from a few tablespoons to a quarter cup is fine, but very necessary. It’s not going to alter the taste of your egg…though it may make your house smell slightly pungent. Then crank that burner up and get that water boiling.

While waiting for the water to start rolling, crack your egg into a small handled mug. This makes it easier to slide that little baby into the water without the whites freaking out and flying away.

Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat. You heard me. Turn. It. Off. Get the lips of the mug with your egg in it as close to the water as safely possible and gently pour the egg into the water. Cover and set your timer for 4 minutes. Once that timer goes off, remove your egg from the water with a slotted spoon and strain on a paper towel or stop the cooking by placing it in an ice bath. Once ready to eat, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little dried parsley.

You can do up to 4 eggs in the pan at once if need be, but remember to adjust your water for displacement. When I remove my egg, I strain it on a paper towel for a minute before making a plate and digging in. You can adjust the doneness of your egg by cooking as little as three minutes to as many as five. You can also halt the cooking by removing your poached egg from the hot water and dropping it into an ice bath, which you can keep in your fridge for future eating for up to 5 days. Whether served on a steak, over sauteed or steamed veggies, or just a la cart like my breakfast, there’s always room for a poached egg. And, just in case you were wondering, a poached egg is a mere two points on Weight Watchers. So go ahead, eat four.

Freakin’ delicious – and classy, too!

Chicken Scampi Twist: Creamy & Spicy!

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I made shrimp scampi last weekend and it was A. May. Zing. This is not that recipe, but I will add that soon.

Since the shrimp, however, I’ve been craving scampi again, but my boyfriend isn’t much of a seafood guy. So, I relent: I get to make scampi and he gets to eat it with chicken.

The thing about Shrimp scampi is that it’s lighter to accentuate the natural flavor of the shell fish. Chicken is versatile because it’s natural flavor is next to nil. The simplicity of the basic shrimp scampi sauce is too delicate and and dry for chicken, so I decided to make a bit of a creamy base and a dash of red pepper to give the chicken a bit of an oomph.

My first pet peeve of standard chicken scampi: ghostly chicken. I like my chicken browned.  On top of being more visually appetizing, browning the chicken will leave delicious brown bits in the pan that I can add to flavor sauce. This doesn’t cook the chicken through!I I’m just browning it. As I’ve mentioned in other recipes, I also don’t like when things are needlessly oily or fatty. Yes, butter is totally marvelous, but that doesn’t mean we have to drown in it. I’m not even referring to this in a healthy way; too much is just not appetizing. With this recipe I reduced  the oil and butter significantly: Your average scampi calls for 2 cups of butter or 1 cup butter with a 1/4 olive oil. This recipe uses a mere 4 TBSPs of butter and 1 TBSP of olive oil. And it was freakin’ awesome.

I took…

8oz chicken tenderloins, rinsed and dried

2/3 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 TBSP olive oil

I mixed together the salt, pepper, and flour, and dredged the chicken tenders in it, shaking off an excess. I then browned the chicken over medium high heat in oil, about 2 minutes per side.

After my chicken was golden and piled high, it was time to start on the sauce!

1/3 cups milk

4 TBSP butter, tossing two TBSPs in the left over flour dredge

3 cloves crushed garlic

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp parsley

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 lemon

salt

black pepper

I Then deglazed the pan in a way I’ve never done before: Turning off the heat I poured 1/3 milk into the pan, whisking constantly – I wanted to deglaze, not cook my milk. Once the bubbling subsided, about 30 seconds, I whisked in the butter coated in flour. This was the start of my sauce. Turning the heat back on to medium I added the rest of the butter. Immediately followed the wine, stock, garlic, red pepper, and parsley. Then I reincorporated the chicken to continue cooking through while in the the tweaked scampi.

After 7 minutes, I removed the chicken, now cooked through, and reduced the sauce. I whisked in the Parmesan cheese, squeezed in the juice of 1/2 lemon, and added salt and pepper to taste. Served with 8oz pasta, garlic bread, and steamed asparagus, this was an exciting, flavorful, and filling twist on basic scampi. It was so delicious, I’m not sure I’ll have scampi with with shrimp again.

*Side note: Seriously, this was fantastic. It came out so good that even 24 hours later I can’t stop thinking about it.

*T-Rex also enjoyed the scampi

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.

Christmas Eve Dinner: Banh Mi Baguettes

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Banh mi’s are delicious Vietnamese pork sandwiches. The pork loin, hot off the grill, sweet and spicy, is topped with crisp, cool slaw and layered on a fresh baguette with mayonnaise. Each bite is filled with different complimenting flavors and the heat of the pork is cooled perfectly with the creamy mayo.

I’ve tried these sandwiches at three different restaurants in town, each serving very authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I took what was traditional, what I liked from each, and brought those flavor ideas home to create this recipe. That’s the fantastic thing about cooking recipes like this: You taste it as you go along and can tweak it so it is uniquely you. And a person should never be afraid to try new recipes. The worst case scenario is that they don’t come out properly and you have to get take out.

First assemble the slaw.

3/4 cup julienned carrots

3/4 cup julienned radishes

1/2 cup julienned cucumber

1 cup thinnly sliced red cabbage

1 1/2 tbsp sugar

1-2 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro

1/4 rice or white vinegar

a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Next I marinate pork loin for an hour or two. The marinade varies and, again, this is all up to your personal tastes, but what I do is based on the flavors of the pork from the Vietnamese sandwich shops here.

2 pounds pork center cut loin chops, pounded thin

1 tsp sesame oil

3 tbsp teriyaki glaze

2 tbsp sriracha chili sauce – this is the heat

1 tbsp minced garlic

Tonight I cooked these on high heat in a cast on pan; it’s December, it’s cold, it’s rainy. This caramelized the sweetness of the teriyaki perfectly into charred deliciousness on the edges of the pork loins. Once all the pork was browned, juicy, and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side, I allowed my guests to make their own sandwiches. Each was given an entire demi or half of a full fresh baked baguette and was free to pile it high with pig, slaw, and Christmas joy. I served this with bacon and shallot braised Brussels sprouts and baked sweet potato fries. The perfect very relaxed, very delicious Christmas Eve dinner.

True Thai Taught in the slums & Perfect ChocoChunk Cookies

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I don’t hide the fact that I truly enjoy food. It’s part of the reason I have an all American waistline. I believe that what and how people eat can be very indicative clues to their culture and lifestyle. Two of my friends were recently able to go to different parts of Thailand. Part of their trip was a culinary experience and, after some digging around on the internet, they found a woman who would teach them to cook real Thai food in a very honest setting while in the slums of Bangkok. They brought these recipes back to the states with them and cooked them for us last night.

Needless to say, all the courses were beyond wonderful. The evening started with roasted silk worm larvae in sesame oil and cilantro. I can tell you that they tasted a bit like roasted tomatoes with the texture of steamed edamame. I can tell you this because that is what I was told. I’ve eaten crickets before and enjoyed them, but I could not bring myself to eat worm larvae. It was poor of me to at least not try it and I should have.

Next up was Pomelo salad. A pomelo, also known as a “Citrus Maxima”, is a giant grapefruit. Friggin’ huge. And delicious. Thai Pomelo salad is a dish normally called Yam Som – O; it’s fresh, flavorful, and filling on it’s own. The salad was made of pomelo, shrimp, coconut flakes, shallots, hot peppers, cilantro, and garlic with a dressing of lime juice, coconut milk and a dash of fish sauce. It was fantastic, the shrimp perfectly done, and the pomelo adding both sweetness and a bit of tartness that made the entire dish spicy and, yet, refreshing.

The third course in our evening was easily one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten all year. It was, to put it simply, amazing. The levels of flavor were such that I rarely, if ever, had experienced them before. It was a soup called Tom Kha: creamy coconut soup, with thin, small mushrooms that acted more like noodles, lemon grass, perfectly tender shrimp, and hot chili oil. This soup cleared your sinuses, but not in an unwelcoming way; I’m generally a coward when it comes to heat, but I could have eaten this until the cows came home. It was so flavorful that the spiciness was only secondary, though it helped that I had a beer to quell some of the heat. I wish I could have a big, heaping bowl of this soup right now and I’m not even hungry. It’s something that I know I will search for whenever I visit Thai restaurants in the future.

The main entree of the evening was classic pad thai, served with sugar, as it is the usual accompaniment to this dish in Thailand. Also, everything was eaten with forks and spoons, as it is not customary to eat these meals with chopsticks. Needless to say, dinner was fantastic.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with fresh blended mango poured over the top. I don’t have a picture of that because I inhaled it. We ended the evening with excellent conversation and the Vice Guide to North Korea. I highly recommend watching it. It is on Netflix Streaming as well, so you have no excuse to miss out. Hey, have you watched Troll Hunter yet? I’m thinking of watching it again…

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Cookies Make a Baker a Better Person

So, I’m super picky about chocolate chip cookies. Often times I found recipes result in bland, merely sugary sweet crackers, and, all too commonly, these baked treats seem to come out of the oven flatter than Kate Moss’s chest. A few months ago I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to make a cookie that was just as delicious to look at as it was to eat, something fluffy and chewy, and just all around awesome. This led me to the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I have yet to find any cookie recipe that even comes close to matching the quality of this one and every batch earns me accolades as a chef to those munching away on them.

First thing: This ain’t no TollHouse guide. Take everything you’ve ever learned about baking cookies and chuck it out the window. Fire it out of a canon into the sun, because it’s that worthless. Then preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a big bowl mix together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 3/4 cups flour. Then put it in the corner and forget about it for a while. Now comes the fun part: Take 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and melt it in a sauce pan. Melt it and then start swirling the pan, over heat, until the butter is browned and nutty smelling. You want your house to smell AMAZING? Bake these cookies. Just like the look and taste, even the aroma goes above and beyond in mouth watering goodness.

You then take this gorgeous, transformed butter and pour it over – you guessed it – more butter. In a heat proof bowl, mix the melted 10 tbsp butter with 4 more cold tbsp unsalted butter. Stir or swirl until everything is melted. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar to the butter. Have you figured it out yet? The base of this cookie batter is a caramel! I know, your mind is blown. Take a minute. Regroup. Then let’s get back to baking.

Once you stir in the sugars, the mixture will look pretty gritty. That’s okay, the magic of adding eggs changes everything. Remember, though: we’re essentially making a caramel, so one egg is okay, 2 yolks are better. To the butter & sugar mixture add one full large egg and one additional yolk, a dash of salt, and vanilla extract. I generally also add a 1/2 tsp of almond extract; I find its flavor helps keep the cookies from seeming too sweet and adds a little something unexpected to a well known snack food without getting too far from the basics. When it comes to the eggs, separate them with your bare hands. Do it. We all have sinks and soap. Use your hands. I bought a fancy egg separator from Crate & Barrel for $4 that is just shit. Doesn’t work at all. It would have been a better use of money to buy lottery scratch-off tickets. See the useless uni-tasker below. Just use your freakin’ hands.

After the addition of the eggs, the directions get a little picky. Whisk the mixture for 30 seconds. Then let it sit for 3 minutes. Do this 2 more times, so that you whisk a total of 3 times, 30 seconds each time. The batter will completely change from dark brown and gritty, to thick, golden, smooth, and shiny. Also, make sure you don’t taste the batter at this point. It tastes just like a gooey, somewhat liquified Werther’s Original candy and you may not be able to stop guzzling it once you start.

Now you can add the caramel mixture to the flour and baking powder. Try to incorporate everything together without over mixing. Limit your stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon for right around a minute. Finally, add 1 1/2 cups of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. It really is best to use these. The different in cost between those and any other brand is minimal. They melt much better in the cookies as they’re flatter, thinner, and larger, and have a better flavor. They really make a difference in these cookies.

You may find the batter to be so buttery that it is difficult to get the chocolate chips to stick to it. I find that essentially cutting the chips into the batter and gently folding everything helps embed the chocolate into the batter without over mixing anything. After trying this recipe with regular chocolate chips, I can tell you first hand that the shape of the Ghirardelli stick much butter to the batter. You may have to get pretty handsey in forming these and it really does seem like a lot of chocolate. And there’s a good reason for that: It is a lot of chocolate.

At this point, the original recipe states to divide the batter into sixteen servings to make rather large cookies. I don’t like my cookies that big, so I generally make 20, 8 per cookie sheet, and 4 on the final. They’re still very large cookie, but not crazy in size. I bake them for 5 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet in the oven and cook for an addition 5 – 7 minutes, just until the edges are barely turning brown. If you can master pulling them out of the oven at the right point, you wind up with a chewy cookie with a bottom that is crunchy due to being caramelized and crisp. It makes for an amazing treat and added punch to an already fantastic treat. And, like a child, I enjoy mine with milk.