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Preview: Bacon and Bakin'

Bacon and Bakin'



Where I eat. What I eat. What I cook.



Updated: 2017-10-18T03:42:56.672-07:00

 



No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth

2008-12-09T21:18:26.523-07:00

I've just been busy.

I won't bore you with the details, though, because you come here to read about food, not about my shenanigans.

So, after years of making tasty food that's not necessarily unique, I think I may have come up with something original and delicious that could be what my sister-in-law deemed my "signature dish." It's not so much a dish as a side dish, although adding a protein could easily make it meal.

I came up with this dish one night when I was trying to think of something salty, sweet, and fresh to serve with chicken. I had some random fruits and veggies on hand, plus an overpriced package of mint, so I decided to use all of those ingredients to make something delicious.

The result was mango pepper rice with mint. It sounds like a questionable combination, I know, but the flavors complement and enhance one another beautifully.

Of course, a recipe isn't really in the cards with me, but I can give you general proportions of each ingredient. This is one of those dishes you can tailor depending on how much you like ingredient, so if you're a big mango fan, you can throw in more a greater proportion of mango.


Mango Pepper Rice with Mint

2 parts diced mango
2 parts diced red pepper
1 part diced red onion
mint chiffonade to taste

Toss the mango, red pepper, and red onion with some olive oil and a splash of sriracha or other hot sauce (optional). Dump the mixture onto a hot grill pan. Move fruit and veggies around to prevent burning and sticking. Remove after 4-5 minutes, once everything has some slight charring and has softened a bit.

Toss mixture with hot or cold rice--jasmine, basmati, white, whatever. I find that the exact ratio above is good for two cups of uncooked rice. Season with plenty of salt, which will make the mango and red pepper taste even sweeter.

To prevent wilting, stir in mint immediately before serving.

Tastes great with chicken or pork.


The second time I made this rice, I served it with slices of pork tenderloin and peach-pineapple salsa. I'm not sure I've made a better meal in the past six months.
(image) My sister-in-law loved the rice, and my wannabe-gourmand brother deemed it "phenomenal." Me? Well, I just call it my signature (side) dish.



KC Shopping: Smoke 'n' Fire

2008-12-09T21:18:28.116-07:00

This post is the first in a series about shopping in Kansas City. Since I'm new here, I want to see the best the city has to offer. For example: Where do they sell the best imported Italian ingredients? Where can you find awesome artisanal cheeses? Who's the best butcher in KC? Where do restaurants buy their supplies--pots and pans, dinnerware, food?A Honda Civic my Argo, I'm in pursuit of the many Golden Fleeces this city has to offer.My first stop on this journey was Smoke 'n' Fire, "a family owned fireplace and barbeque store established in 1998, specializing in both indoor heating and outdoor cooking." Now that I live in one of the BBQ meccas of the country, I knew I needed to find a comprehensive source for all things grilling and BBQing. With friendly, helpful employees and more spices than you'd find in Paul Prudhomme's pantry, Smoke 'n' Fire is a wonderful store for both the amateur and the professional grillmeister. Although the prices are slightly higher than what you might find at a grocery store, the selection at Smoke 'n' Fire is far more extensive than what you'd find anywhere else -- and I prefer to support local businesses and vendors.The photos on the store's website were more than enough to convince me to drive 20 minutes to check the place out. The banner at the top of the homepage is a panoramic shot of the inside of store, showing not only the different grills and smokers, but also the aisles of cooking utensils and food products.The site has a specials section from which I printed a page of coupons. The coupon that appealed to me most was the spice cabinet "spring cleaning": bring in any old rub, spice or seasoning and get $1 off the purchase of a new rub or seasoning. So, I condensed multiple bottles of the same spice, threw some of the nearly empty ones in a bag and looked forward to swapping out the old for the new.I also looked forward to snapping some great shots of the inside of the store. But I was put off by the sign on the window of Smoke 'n' Fire that said something along the lines of, "No video cameras or photography permitted." I didn't ask anyone if they'd make an exception, remembering that the banner at the top of the homepage was a better shot of the whole store than I'd be able to get on my own. The banner on the site changes depending on which page of the site you navigate to, so you can pretend you're taking a mini-tour through those photos.My own tour of the store focused completely on the retail section, which was stocked with every grilling accessory imaginable, from the standard -- wood chips and chunks, charcoal, grill brushes, sauce mops, kabob racks, thermometers -- to the unorthodox -- telescoping forks, 20" tongs with an LED flashlight, seasoned wood skewers, the "turkey cannon." The store also carries all sorts of cookware, including Lodge cast-iron products. As a single girl who's not quite ready to invest in a full-sized grill, I picked up a one-burner Lodge Logic reversible grill pan/griddle instead ($37.95).The next step was figuring out what to cook on my new toy. An entire wall is stocked about five-feet high with rubs, marinades, spices, oils, vinegars, sauces and dry mixes. I must've looked as confused as a guy at Victoria's Secret, because after just a couple of minutes of clueless gawking, a handsome young employee sauntered over to me and asked if I needed any help. I took him up on his offer and kept him occupied with questions for at least the next 10 minutes.He helped me pick out a sauce: Blues Hog BBQ ($5.25/pint), which he declared the best BBQ sauce ever.He helped me pick out a rub: Obie-Cue's TX Sweet Rub ($8.00/12 oz.), which he recommended for use on chicken.He helped me pick out a crust: Char Crust Sundried Tomato and Garlic ($6.00/4 oz.), which he said would work on any type of meat or fish. I found it at Price Chopper for a buck less, evidence that some of the products in the store can be found for (marginally) less elsewhere.I picked out a dry mix on my own: The Garlic of Eatin' ($3.75/2 oz.).I hauled my wares to the ca[...]



So much better

2008-12-09T21:18:28.567-07:00

My remedy for flavorless chicken worked like a charm.

Behold, chicken and waffles.

(image) (image) Sitting atop a buttery waffle and then doused with syrup and hot sauce, Stroud's chicken undergoes a complete transformation. At once sweet, salty and savory, this is the royal treatment for chicken.



Review: Stroud's

2008-12-09T21:18:31.105-07:00

I went to an institution yesterday. Yes, I'm fine. No, the walls weren't padded. And no, I didn't have to wear a straight jacket. It wasn't that kind of institution.In Kansas City, Stroud's is an institution people willingly go to. There aren't any barred windows or nurses in white uniforms, but rather pan-fried chicken and whole lot of history. I know for sure that I never want to be in an institution, but because of the underwhelming chicken and mediocre sides, I'm not so sure I'll be running back to this culinary institution.Ira shows you where you can park.As of 2005, Stroud's had two locations in Kansas City and one in Wichita. Since then, the original South KC location has closed; a new one is due to open later this month in Fairway. Stroud's at Oak Ridge Manor in North KC is a good 40-minute drive from the Kansas suburbs, but as a fried chicken fanatic, I was hardly put off by the distance.Set back from the highway off a two-lane road, Stroud's occupies a 179-year-old building which served for years as a home for the Compton family. After changing hands a few times, the building was purchased by the owners of the original Stroud's in South KC, whose restaurant had already been frying up chicken for 50 years. Since 1983, Stroud's at Oak Ridge Manor has carried on the traditions established by the flagship restaurant.Oak Ridge Manor is more charming than that guy who opens doors and pulls out chairs. Its white siding and green shutters give way inside to rustic oak and walnut logs and beams.As if still being used as a home, the restaurant is composed of many rooms, all of which are used for dining. The walls are adorned with plaques and awards for the restaurant's famous fried chicken, with a number of newspaper and magazine articles interspersed for good measure. Hidden among the self-appreciation is a worn, ragged document in a black frame. Turns out it's the original deed for the property, signed in 1827 by some guy named John Quincy Adams.I arrived at Stroud's with my friend Ira at 2:25 on a Saturday afternoon, just short of half an hour after opening. The hostess informed us that the dining room was full, so we had two options: wait 45 minutes for a table or eat the bar. Irked at first, we opted to eat at the five- or six-person bar, which was empty when we arrived, but full five minutes later.If unable to eat in a dining room, the bar is an acceptable backup. Wrapped in the same warm wood as the dining rooms, the small bar has a warm, homey atmosphere that's not too prim or stuffy for licking grease off your fingers.The bartender, who tended to us acutely during our entire lunch, took our orders and passed them on to the kitchen. In addition to a side dish and cinnamon rolls, a first course is served with every meal, giving diners a choice between chicken noodle soup and salad. I chose the soup and Ira the salad. Both arrived about five minutes after we placed our order.The soup was a yellow broth with small globules of golden fat floating on top. In the broth were small, soft pieces of carrot, celery and onion, as well as shredded bits of chicken, evidence that the soup was made down the hall in the kitchen. I could've happily eaten a bowlful of the noodles and nothing more. Thick, hearty and tender, the noodles were among the best I've eaten.Ira's salad was standard iceberg with one unusual ingredient. Nestled alongside the standard cucumber and croutons was a slice of ruby-red beet. Add a sprinkling of mozzarella and a couple of wedges of lemon for some extra flavor, and you have your Stroud's salad.Half an hour after Ira and I finished our first courses, our entrees arrived. My wing, thigh, leg and breast were served on the same large platter as Ira's all-dark meal of two thighs and two legs. The chicken had a light brown crust that didn't quite qualify as golden.Beneath the slight crunch of the underseasoned crust was underseasoned chicken. Nothing about the chicken as a whole was particularly flavorful, leaving my tastebud[...]



A message from Bacon and Bakin'

2008-12-09T21:18:31.747-07:00

(image) And also today's lunch.

It's the double-smoked bacon from the Italian grocery and deli ("Specialita d'Italia") at City Market in KC. Four thick slices cost me $1.05. The bacon was out of this world. I baked it at 350 degrees for, oh, 10-15 minutes, until it was slightly crispy. Bacon this thick would have to be charred in order to be completely crispy, so aiming for a combination of meatiness and crispiness is best for this bacon. (I normally broil bacon, but I didn't feel like cleaning up a bacony broiler pan, so I opted for bakin' the bacon. Worked out nicely.)

The double-smoked bacon had a smoky flavor that did not overwhelm the flavor of the meat. I tasted not only smoke, but also pork; it was a nice balance. The tiny bit of rind was the best part of each slice. It got crispy out the outside, but stayed tender underneath that crust. The rind melted in my mouth.

As you see, there was a lot of meat in each slice and not a whole lot of fat. I hate when the fat in bacon is floppy, gelatinous, and generally unappetizing, but the dearth of fat in this bacon and the method of cooking ensured that I didn't end up with anything nasty on my plate.

I liked this grocery not only for their awesome bacon, but also for their groceries. Take, for example, their selection of DeCecco pastas. For $2, I bought a box of one of my favorite shapes of pasta. Here are the little tennis racquets bathing in creamy vodka sauce:

(image) The store also sells the unbeatable San Marzano tomatoes, all sorts of olive oils and vinegars, and other imported products from Italy. Unfortunately, I didn't see pici there, that thick, Tuscan pasta I couldn't get enough of during my 10 days in Italy.

When I need good Italian groceries--or some outrageously good bacon--I know where I'll be going.

(P.S. I apologize for my truancy as of late. I have all sorts of stuff to write about now, so hang tight.)



Since You've Been Gone: Discontinued, Rebranded, and Changed for the Worse (Part IV)

2008-12-09T21:18:32.146-07:00

After three posts about dearly departed foods, I conclude this series on discontinued, rebranded, and changed food. Please feel free to continue to chatter about this topic, though!This final installation will deal with foods from my middle childhood, consisting of the years 1990-1995. The items below were some of my favorite snack foods, things I'd bring in my lunch to school or munch on after getting home from school.I don't think Nabisco Zings "cracker chips" were around for more than a year or two. I clearly remember sitting on a beanbag chair in the corner of my second-grade classroom, reading a book and snacking on a Ziploc baggy-ful of Zings. The Z-shaped crackers were ranch-flavored and packed a zippy punch. Because they were baked, my mom sent me to school w/these as a snack, not feeling too guilty about what she was letting me eat. As for the items below? Well, she probably felt kinda guilty about them... (No photo included 'cause there doesn't appear to be one online. There is textual documentation of these zingy crackers, though.)Keebler rules. I mean, freakin' elves make such delicacies as Fudge Stripe and Grasshopper cookies! Those pointy-shoed sprites once made chips called O'Boises. O'Boises are quite possibly in my top 5 chips of all time. In BBQ, sour cream and onion, and plain (my favorite) flavors, O'Boises were really salty, really light, and really bubbly. Yes, bubbly. Each chip was covered with lots of small air pockets, resulting in an extremely light and crunchy consistency. The bubbles ranged in size from tiny to thumbnail-sized, and while some of the bubbles broke while the chips bounced around in the bag, most of them remained intact. The burst-bubble bits and other broken pieces ended up at the bottom of the bag, and they tasted every bit as good as the whole chips. I haven't seen a chip like this since, and, sadly, I doubt I'll see one again. Shame. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user englishkris.)Okay, I don't even remember the name of these things, but they were really quite tasty. Keebler may have made them...but maybe not. (Off to a good, helpful start here, huh?) Anyway, these were basically shortbread cookies studded w/a sole Hershey Kiss. Each cookie was kinda crispy and kinda sandy, and was a little larger in diameter to a half dollar. It was poofy, too, but didn't have any sort of the softness or moistness you'd expect from a taller cookie. In the center of each cookie, a Hershey Kiss was inserted, topping off the not-too-sweet shortbread w/a great rush of chocolate and sugar. Eating the cookie away from the Kiss was my modus operandi, as I didn't care so much about the cookie as I did the Kiss. The Kiss had a few little bumps on the bottom; my guess is that the cookie had indentations in it so when the Kiss was inserted, the two would stick together better. These came two or three to a package (don't remember), with numerous packages in a box. I have memories of eating these, too, in class. I was kind enough to share them with Robert Schultz, who was grumpy even as an eight-year-old. (The photo is what the cookies looked like, but isn't actually them. Photo courtesy of www.cookies4alloccasions.com.)My mom used to buy Handi-Snacks at Sam's Club when I was younger 'cause I ate the things like Kobayashi eats hot dogs. During summer 1994, I brought one or two w/me to camp each day to eat as a snack or as part of my lunch. On some days, I probably had three or four packs of these a day. Yep, that's right. If you do the math, that's 12-16 crackers and about 3-4 oz. of "processed cheese food." At some point, though, Kraft bought the Nabisco product and then changed the cheese, the bright orange stuff I smeared onto the buttery crackers using that famous little red, plastic stick. When Kraft began making Handi-Snacks, the cheese changed. The old cheese used to be kind of light w/some bubbly sponginess to it (sounds weird, but it worked); the new cheese is heav[...]



Since You've Been Gone: Discontinued, Rebranded, and Changed for the Worse (Part III)

2008-12-09T21:18:33.271-07:00

Restaurant chains do stupid stuff. A prime--yet arguable, to some--example: the McRib. Others contest that McDonald's old fries, the ones boiled in tasty, tasty lard, were the greatest thing ever to grace a fast-food tray.For one reason or another, such as lack of popularity or the artery-clogging factor, chain restaurants discontinue or change certain menu items. Although the McRib surfaces annually in certain locations, you won't find the lard fries anywhere. I mourn the loss/change of other items.The first item is the old McDonald's McNugget. A few years ago, I remember McDonald's started advertising their new all-white-meat chicken nuggets. I hadn't eaten their nuggets for a good number of years, but I remembered them as processed, mystery-meat-filled morsels that were shaped either like ovals or the state of Louisiana. Regardless of shape, the coating was usually crisp, and the "meat" inside was spongy, yet moist and flavorful. Flash forward March 2007. I made my annual pilgrimage to McDonald's for a Shamrock Shake. I had some coupons, so I got some McNuggets, too. It had been a good five years or so since I'd tasted one of these bad boys, which were still formed into those unnatural, yet familiar shapes. I bit into one of the Louisianas first. The chicken inside was definitely white, but it was still processed and spongy. I could've dealt w/sponginess, but I needed some flavor! Apparently the flavor in McNuggets used to come from meats/items that don't fall into the category of "white meat," perhaps falling instead into the category of "dark meat, organs, and lymph nodes." I'd take Mystery Nuggets over the all-white-meat McNuggets any day; what I don't know won't hurt me. (Photo courtesy of www.wowdavao.com.)While we're on the subject of fast-food chicken products, I found out something disturbing the other day: Burger King discontinued their Chicken Tenders. I wanted to be absolutely sure that BK had discontinued another item (which I will talk about below), so I went to their website. The menu lists "Chicken Fries" and "Chicken Crowns" on the menu, but Chicken Tenders were nowhere to be found. I won't even get started on my feelings on chicken shaped like a fry and a crown, but I'll say just one word: huh??? Chicken Tenders at BK were about three times as long as they were wide, and they were a mix of processed chicken and real chicken. They were spongier than McNuggets, but tasted a billion times better than those when plucked right from a vat of boiling fat. Come to think of it, they weren't so bad cold, either. As the years went on, the real chicken in the tenders was phased out, meaning a better name for them would've been Chicken-Flavored Sponges. (Photo of crown-shaped "chicken" courtesy of www.bp2.blogger.com.)Continuing w/Burger King, what happened to their Sourdough Bacon Cheeseburger? This was the burger that actually got me to like burgers! It was my gateway burger! Who can resist uber-buttery toasted sourdough rounds, cheese, bacon, and some meaty patties? Um, not me, for one. I introduced my friend Rob to these edible coronaries, and we still talk about their glory 6+ years later. I give credit to BK for helping me to learn the beauty that is the bacon cheeseburger, but I also blame them for taking away their greatest sandwich ever. The photo here is not of the original Sourdough Bacon Cheeseburger, but rather a decent photo of what it might have looked like it its heyday. Imagine that sandwich...but compressed to about 1/4" thick, 'cause real burgers never look the same in person as they do in photos. (Photo courtesy of www.foodfacts.info.)Although the Cheesecake Factory makes these Buffalo Blasts things that I love more than some of my family members (I will boycott if they get rid of these, too--seriously), they committed a huuuuge crime in my book. Their Triple Chocolate Chip Cheesecake was my favorite dessert there, but in honor of Go[...]



Since You've Been Gone: Discontinued, Rebranded, and Changed for the Worse (Part II)

2008-12-09T21:18:33.687-07:00

Welcome to the second part of my ranting on discontinued/changed foods! Part I can be found here.I've noticed that many of the foods on my list are sweet, frozen ones, which I find kinda strange. I'm the type of person who typically gets a craving for salty rather than sweet food, yet it's the sweet foods that I so fondly miss. Take, for instance, these chilly, tasty treats...I wish Viennetta had been around by the time I was out of college and living on my own. I would've had two, um, loaves (?) of the stuff in my freezer at all times. And my mom wouldn't have been able to yell at me for this! A virtual lasagna of ice cream and chocolate, Viennetta is described by Unilever, the manufacturer, as "waves of soft ice cream and cracking chocolate flavour layers." Unilever then expands upon that fact, stating that families in the UK have been enjoying the dessert for 20 years. Why have Americans been cut off? Why do UK residents have the privilege of buying and eating Viennetta? I miss the thin layers of ice cream--vanilla, chocolate, and sometimes even mint!--and the delicate, crisp layers of chocolate. I loved eating a narrow slice of Viennetta layer by layer. This dessert alone is almost enough to make me want to move to the other side of the Pond. (Photo courtesy of www.i1.bebo.com; better photos here, but the photos from the site won't work w/Blogger .)The first time I had Rondos was at a family friend's house. I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but I was told it involved chocolate and ice cream, so I didn't argue. Even at six- or seven-years-old, I could've eaten a dozen of these rich little treats. Roughly the size of mini corn dogs, Rondos were small, rectangular slabs of ice cream covered in chocolate. The contrast of the crisp chocolate w/the smooth ice cream was particularly lovely, even to my uncultured palate. Rondos--made by Mars--had plenty of ice cream in the middle, and the chocolate coating on the outside was in an appropriate ratio. The three flavors of Rondos--chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry--were equally delicious. Larger than bonbons but smaller than Eskimo Pies, Rondos were a great two-bite snack when all you wanted was a bit of sugar. Sure, Mars makes mini ice-cream-bar versions of Snickers and Milky Way and stuff, but nothing on the market today stacks up to Rondos. (And booooooo. Couldn't find any photos of this discontinued/changed gem!)Since I've already bitched about two other ice creams, what's one more? This time, I wanna spill my guts on Ben and Jerry's--Bovinity Divinity, to be more specific. To begin with, how cute is the name? Even cuter were the teensy chocolate cows interspersed in the ice cream. Ben and Jerry's describes this graveyard-relegated ice cream as: "Milk chocolate ice cream and white chocolate cows swirled with white chocolate ice cream and dark fudge cows. " Black and white are a classic color combination in clothes, and in Bovinity Divinity, Ben and Jerry's found the edible equivalent of this duo. Black and white will never go out of style--so why did this ice cream go to the graveyard? (Photo courtesy of news.webshots.com.)It's a what? Itzakadoozie! When I was in high school, my mom brought home from the grocery store a box of freakishly long popsicles made by Nestle. A lemon popsicle striped with ribbons of cherry, orange, and lime, Itzakadoozie was awesome. It took, like, 10 minutes to finish one pop due to the sheer size of the thing. And at something like 100 calories a pop (haha, literally!), it was a reasonable snack. For some reason, Itzakadoozies were pulled from the shelf about two years ago. I haven't called Nestle to find out why they yanked the Ron Jeremy of popsicles out of the freezers, but maybe I should. These things were the embodiment of food porn. (Photo courtesy of susqhb.blogspot.com.)Oh, Nestle, how you love to torture me. Another novelty my mom introduced [...]



Since You've Been Gone: Discontinued, Rebranded, and Changed for the Worse (Part I)

2008-12-09T21:18:34.529-07:00

Do you remember that one food you loved? That snack chip that you couldn't get enough of? Do you recall moments of pure bliss, just you and your favorite beverage?Do you remember the traumatizing day when you were no longer able to buy those crackers? When the well ran dry and you couldn't find that soda on the shelf?Every once in a while, I remember foods like that, leading me to enter a temporary state of mourning for my dearly departed edible friends. I always move on--yet I always look back on our times together w/the greatest fondness.This posting is one of many in a series I will write about discontinued, rebranded, and changed-for-the-worse food products. I'll also touch on some restaurant items that fall into one of the above categories. I hope my rants--and raves--make you salivate a little bit in remembrance of these tasty treats...One of the most-missed discontinued products is Surge, the caffeine-concentrated sludge that others referred to as "soda" or "pop." I referred to it as "gross" or "WTF were they thinking?" so I shall move on to products I actually miss. (Photo courtesy of www.spartantailgate.com.)Let us start with Alpine White. When almonds and white chocolate marry, their offspring taste like Alpine White. This candy was the only way I, at five-years-old, would eat any sort of nut. The creamy white chocolate combined w/the crunchy bits of almond made for a luscious combination. I remember the white chocolate being very rich, meaning that even half of an Alpine White was sufficient. (Minuscule photo courtesy of www.aol.com. Click on picture for a 1980s Alpine White commercial!)I know I'm not the only one who misses Jell-O Pudding Pops. In online forums, tons of people say one of their most-missed discontinued foods is this hunk of frozen pudding on a stick--and not just because Bill Cosby was an amazing spokesman for these "puddin' pops!" A few years ago, Popsicle started making a subpar variant of the original pudding pop under their own label. The box boasts that the product inside is Jell-O pudding, duping consumers into thinking they're purchasing a product they had long adored. Once you break into the box, however, you'll find something much different from what you remember from the '80s. Instead of the large, paddle-shaped pops you so happily devoured while you wore slap bracelets, you'll find skinny, "normal"-shaped popsicles instead. Sure, the pictures on the box warn you of the new shape, but even that warning isn't enough to save these pudding pops. The new shape is too thin; I remember putting the paddle-shaped pop into my mouth, the edges of my mouth stretching out to accommodate the wide pop. I liked that. The pops still come in the three original flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and swirl. Of the three, chocolate is the best of the revamped pops. As a kid, through, I loved the vanilla and swirl flavors. The updated versions taste too fake for my taste, and the swirl pop isn't very swirly. (Photo courtesy of www.curlycomedy.blogspot.com.)A real popsicle-shaped popsicle I enjoyed was the Lifesaver Popsicle. I'm not sure who manufactured them way back when, but the Popsicle company is currently hawking a bastardized version of what used to be a simple popsicle. The original Lifesaver Popsicle was an icy, sweet treat. Each Lifesaver candy had a corresponding popsicle flavor: cherry, orange, lemon, lime, and pineapple. When you bit into a pop, it made a small crunch, the sound of ice crystals breaking between your front teeth. The flavors were sweet, syrupy, and pretty accurate to the flavors of Lifesavers candies. But look what the Popsicle people have done! I mean, take a peek at that box. Five flavors on one stick. Still sugar-free like the original Lifesaver pops, these new ones include some jacked up flavors. Raspberry? Watermelon? What's next, pomegranate? I haven't tried th[...]



Review: Rubio's

2008-12-09T21:18:35.089-07:00

After tasting my first authentic Baja-style fish taco in San Diego on January 6, 2007 (a momentous day that just happened to coincide w/my brother and sister-in-law's wedding), I was hooked. Upon leaving San Diego and returning to DC, I shed a melancholy tear, elated to have sampled such pleasure, yet disappointed to leave it.Whoever thought to combine fish, shredded cabbage, and a creamy, mayo-based sauce was a genius. Slightly crazy to throw such diverse ingredients together, but still a genius.The recipe for Rubio's fish tacos fell into my hands last year by some glorious twist of fate. The Pacific Coast-based restaurant chain is famous for their fish tacos, made from fresh, vibrant ingredients. Although I'd never eaten at Rubio's, I liked their recipe, one I've made at home many times.So imagine my delight when a Rubio's franchise opened just down the street from my parents' house in Phoenix. At long last I'd be able to taste a glorious Rubio's fish taco, as legendary as Excalibur.Since Rubio's opened three or four weeks ago, I've been there four or five times. I probably wouldn't have gone so much had I not had so many coupons, but I have no regrets about the frequency of my visits. These multiple visits have allowed me to sample a few menu items, including a carnitas taco and chips w/guac. Both contained fresh, juicy ingredients, from the plump, ripe chunks of tomato to the tender shredded pork.But the standout at Rubio's is--of course!--the fish. Slap a piece of that fried, golden deliciousness on a corn or flour tortilla, a bed of lettuce, a mound of rice, or anything else, and prepare your mouth for a partaaaay. I'm convinced that fried fish would taste good on, like, a sundae.While the fish tacos at Rubio's are fantastic, it takes at least two or three to fill up a normal-sized adult. Each taco, served on your choice of corn or flour tortilla, contains a piece of crispy fish, a swath of white sauce, and a hefty pinch of shredded cabbage. Sometimes I've found little bits of tomato in the tacos, turning the white sauce a pale shade of salmon. The inconsistency regarding the tomato confuses me.My solution to the gotta-eat-sixteen-fish-tacos-in-order-to-be-sated problem is to order a fish burrito. The burrito contains the same great fish, but more of it. Served on a flour tortilla, the hot fish is accompanied by beans (refried or black--your choice--which I decline completely), shredded cabbage, and white sauce. Depending on who makes your burrito, you may end up with tomato and/or guac. Again, the consistency here is lacking. I'd like to know if my burrito will always have guac, as my first burrito there had it, but my second did not. In contrast, my second burrito there had tomato (or some sort of pico de gallo), but my first did not. I like both toppings, but what I'd like even more is to know that I'll be getting the same burrito every time, as I'd expect.Costing only slightly more than twice as much as a sole taco, the fish burrito is about three times the size of a taco. See?Burritos come w/a serving of warm, fresh tortilla chips, too, meaning you can use the chips to scoop up the burrito innards that are sure to fall out. If the innards don't fall out by some strange miracle, you can always use the chips to transport some of Rubio's salsas directly into your mouth. The regular, spicy, smoky chipotle, and tomatillo salsas available at the salsa bar can be chunkified by adding some of the onion/cilantro mixture, also found at the salsa bar. My favorite combo is 1 part regular + 1 part chipotle + 2 parts onion/cilantro. Ooh baby.Here's a cross-section of a fish burrito. You can see many strata, including the crunchy coating on the fish, the flaky flesh, the white sauce, and the shredded cabbage.While I've enjoyed many a fish taco both at Rubio's and at home, I think I'm[...]



Pork tenderloin: Take 2

2008-12-09T21:18:35.639-07:00

My first attempt at a pork tenderloin wasn't all that bad. As a matter of fact, it was a noble effort. The meat came marinated, so all I had to do was cook it enough to get rid of the E-coli and worms and stuff.This time around, I made a pork tenderloin for an appreciative audience (aren't parents always happy when they don't have to cook for themselves?). The meat wasn't marinated, so I did an online search for recipes, hoping to find a recipe composed entirely of ingredients I already had on hand. Success arrived in the form of Chipotle Citrus Marinated Pork Tenderloin, a tangy, sweet recipe I found on Simply Recipes (via Epicurious).Chipotle Citrus Marinated Pork Tenderloin (recipe courtesy of Simply Recipes) 2 pork tenderloins, about 1 pound each, halved crosswise1 c. orange juice6 tbsp. fresh lemon juice6 cloves garlic, smashed2 shallots, chopped2 dried chipotle chilies, crushed into small pieces with your hands1 tbsp. olive oilKosher salt and freshly ground black pepper3/4 c. chicken stock2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantroTrim the tenderloins of any excess fat and silver skin. Set in a small nonreactive baking dish.Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, garlic, shallots, and chilies in a small bowl and stir well. Pour over the tenderloins and let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature.I added the cilantro to the marinade 'cause, well, I just really like cilantro.Preheat oven to 400 degrees.Heat the olive oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.Remove the tenderloins from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Wipe the tenderloins dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Add to the skillet and cook, turning as needed, for 4 to 5 minutes, until evenly browned.The slits on the sides of the meat served two purposes: 1) to allow the marinade to seep deeper into the meat, and 2) to prevent the tenderloin from curling up while cooking.Transfer to the oven and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads 140 degrees. Remove skillet from oven and transfer the tenderloins to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Remember that the skillet handle is still hot after you put the skillet on the stove top. Use oven mitts or cool off the handle with ice.Pour the marinade into the skillet and add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until reduced and thickened. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.Cut tenderloins across the grain into thin slices and arrange on a platter. Drizzle sauce over top and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve. Wide egg noodles are a fine accompaniment, sopping up the tangy sauce beautifully.The idea of a 20-minute marinade seemed unrealistic and untasty to me, so I let the tenderloin sit for something like three or four hours. The extra time certainly didn't hurt, either, imparting more flavor into the very center of the meat.Adding cilantro to the marinade (although accidental!) turned out to be a glorious mistake. Instead of using cilantro simply as a garnish, it become a sort of flavor undertone for the pork. With each bite, I tasted nuances of freshness and brightness from the cilantro. And a sprinkling as a garnish wasn't overkill, either, so I'd suggest putting it in the marinade AND using it to brighten up the dish, both literally and figuratively.I used fresh orange juice in the marinade instead of the boxed Tropicana stuff, which, I think, smacks of added sugar. The oranges I used were sweet with just a hint of tartness, so the pork didn't pick up any unnecessary sweetness. But even if you use box o' juice, the fresh lemon juice will certain cut the sweet OJ.And something completely random: wasn't that marinade really pretty? It looked like potpourri and smelled even better.Cooking the tenderl[...]



Chicken and dumplings

2008-12-09T21:18:36.260-07:00

Once a delicious roasted chicken is completely eaten, the enjoyment doesn't have to end. Save those bones and scraps and make a stock, baby!Chicken stock requires so little effort for such a rewarding result. Throw some bones--and maybe meat--veggies, and herbs into a pot, simmer for an hour or two or three, and voila! What was once just a pot of bones and other crap you wouldn't eat has turned into a flavorful, golden stock you can use for flavoring sauces, boiling pasta, preparing risotto, making matzoh ball and other types of soup, and any number of other things.Today's stock consisted of...Meat and bones of half a chickenChicken neck and backboneWaterA few bullion cubes2 large carrots2 stalks of celery2 large onions, quartered2 bay leaves10-12 peppercornsA handful of fresh parsleyAll of that simmered for a few hours today. Once salted and lightly peppered, I had a completely bitchin' stock on the stove, and had one thing in mind to do with it: chicken and dumplings. (Does that count as two things, actually?)I've experimented w/chicken and dumplings on a few occasions, and my most recent foray was the most successful one, although the dumplings were kinda heavy. I wasn't impressed enough w/the last batch to write down the dumpling recipe, so I needed to do some research for tonight's dinner. The first recipes I looked at was on Simply Recipes, and it looked rather promising. I felt like the bride-to-be who knows after trying on just one dress that it's the one for her!I followed Elise's recipe for the dumplings, using my own methods for the stock and the veggies and the gravy/broth. The full recipe is here, but I'm just going to list the one for the dumplings...Elise's Dumplings (recipe courtesy of Simply Recipes; serves 6-8)2 c. all-purpose flour1 tbsp. baking powder3/4 tsp. salt3 tbsp. butter1 c. milk1/4 c. minced fresh herb leaves such as parsley, chives, or tarragon (optional)Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add (optional) chopped fresh herbs.Heat butter and milk to simmer and add to dry ingredients.Mix with a fork or knead by hand two to three times until mixture just comes together. (Note: do not overknead! or your dumplings will turn out too dense.)Form dough into balls or lightly roll out and use the end of a 2-inch diameter water glass as a mold to cut the dough into even circles.Lay formed dumplings on the surface of chicken stock. Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes.I played w/the dumpling dough as little as possible, hoping against hope that the resulting doughy lumps wouldn't be tough. In addition to some fresh thyme and parsley, I added two caramelized shallots to the dumplings. After all, caramelized shallots can only improve the flavor of all foods, except for cupcakes. So I would be able to drop all the dumplings into the pot at the same time, I rolled them all out one after the other, and then put them on a lined baking sheet. I popped the sheet into the freezer until I was ready to boil the dumplings.And here's what I ended up with, a hearty combination of chicken, veggies, and dumplings:My lack of playing w/the dough paid off, as the resulting dumplings were far lighter than my last batch. The shallots imparted a richer flavor to the dumplings, as if dumplings could possibly be any richer. The herbs not only looked pretty, but they also added another dimension to the flavor--something spring-like and comforting.I now have a go-to dumpling recipe, something worthy of repeating. The dough is basic, so it can be spruced up w/sauteed veggies or herbs or a combo of both. Somehow I just don't see myself ever eating chicken and dumplings out of a Campbell's can ever again...[...]



Poultry and potatoes

2008-12-09T21:18:36.965-07:00

Meat and potatoes are an unbeatable pair. Burger and fries, steak and baked potato, meatloaf and mashers--they're natural partners.But what happens when you replace the bovine element of the duo with an avian one? Does it make the meal less American? Does it lose its general appeal?As far as I'm concerned, no appeal is lost--but chicken nuggets and fries just aren't as American as a burger and fries. Nonetheless, the poultry/spud combination is a winner, as evidenced by my dinner tonight.I did some nosing around for recipes for roasted chicken, eventually deciding on Roasted Chicken with Garlic Confit, a recipe that was originally published in Gourmet a few years ago. I decided to pair the bird w/yesterday's Recipe of the Day on Epicurious, "potato casserole." This name really does belong in quotes, as there's nothing casserole-y about the dish except for the fact that it's baked in the same kind of dish in which you'd bake a casserole. But I digress...Both recipes involved few ingredients and little prep work, two qualities I value highly in a recipe. Both recipes also got very good reviews online, thus reinforcing my decision to make both dishes.I was psyched for that chicken, very much looking forward to crispy skin and garlicky confit. Before I could roast the chicken, though, I had to quarter the whole chicken. Now, I'm the type who buys boneless meat for boneless recipes, thighs only for thigh-only recipes, skinless chicken for skinless recipes. I'd never before quartered a chicken, so I consulted the Web for some advice. It wasn't pretty, but I did my best, ending up w/chicken pieces that were (mostly) intact. I did lose a good portion of the skin on the breasts, though, so I obviously haven't quite mastered quartering. Regardless, it was a noble first effort. See?The breast was the hardest piece of meat to remove from the frame, but look how nice all the other pieces turned out? Skin intact!Mutilating Quartering the chicken was the hardest part of the recipe, which otherwise involves the simple acts of smearing garlic and baking. My photos of the chicken aren't even worth posting, so if you wanna see what the chicken looks like in a food stylist's world, take a peek at the Epicurious page...Roasted Chicken with Garlic Confit (Recipe courtesy of Gourmet, via Epicurious)12 garlic cloves (about 1 head), lightly smashed and peeled3 fresh thyme sprigs3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil1 (3-lb) chicken, quartered1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened2 teaspoons salt1/2 teaspoon black pepperPut oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 500°F.Cook garlic, thyme, and 3/4 cup oil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, uncovered, until garlic is very tender but not golden, about 25 minutes.While garlic is cooking, pat chicken pieces dry and rub all over with butter and remaining tablespoon oil. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Arrange chicken, skin sides up, in a shallow baking pan and roast 20 minutes.Transfer garlic to a small bowl along with 1 tablespoon garlic oil and mash with a fork. Spread mashed garlic over skin of roasted chicken, then return chicken to oven and roast until just cooked through and skin is crisp, about 5 minutes.Eat. Yum.Yes, the chicken was pretty tasty, but my garlic was overdone, despite keeping it at a low temperature on the stove. The meat was extremely moist and very flavorful. I seasoned the chicken liberally w/S&P and also stuck some of the "confit" underneath the skin before the initial 20-minute roasting. The garlic flavor penetrated the meat right down to the bone, so it's a good thing I didn't have to kiss anyone tonight. What I didn't get, though, was that deliciously crispy skin I had so been looking forward to. The skin was mo[...]



Asian restaurant knockoffs

2008-12-09T21:18:37.132-07:00

The challenge was issued: can she make orange chicken from scratch?The challenge was accepted.The challenge was completed: yes, she can make orange chicken from scratch.The challenge was issued by my dad, a picky eater who didn't eat Chinese food until he turned 38. He still doesn't eat anything he can't identify by looks alone. Anyway, I accepted my father's challenge in order to avoid eating the frozen orange chicken from Trader Joe's (which, in all fairness, really isn't that bad). I'm not crazy about that stuff, plus I remembered that I have a knockoff version of Panda Express's orange chicken. I know, I know, it's a Panda Express knockoff, and not only is Panda Express a chain, it's a fast-food chain. Sweep this out of your mind for just a moment and remember: the beauty of knockoff recipes is that the final dish is always homemade, thus giving you control over all ingredients and additives, and thus giving you the ease of mind of having prepared the food in a kitchen not infested w/who-knows-what (unless you're a real pig, in which case eating at a fast-food chain would actually be better).Knocking off one Asian recipe that night simply wasn't good enough. What better way to supplement the Panda Express orange chicken than w/Benihana fried rice? Lucky for me, that knockoff recipe is in my collection, too! W/those two recipes at hand, I began my evening of Asian restaurant knockoffs...Panda Express Orange ChickenChicken2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken1 egg1 1/2 tsp. saltwhite pepper, to tasteoil (for frying)Sauce Base1/2 c. plus 1 tbsp. cornstarch1/4 c. flour1 tbsp. minced ginger root1 tsp. minced garlicdash crushed hot red chiles1/4 c. chopped green onions1 tbsp. rice wine1/4 c. water1/2 to 1 tsp. sesame oilorange sauce (recipe below)Orange Sauce2 tsp. minced orange zest1/4 c. orange juice, preferably fresh-squeezed1/2 tsp. sugar2 tbsp. chicken stock1 tbsp. light soy sauceTo make Orange Sauce, combine all ingredients in a small(ish) bowl. Stir. Tada!Cut chicken pieces in 2" squares and place in large bowl. Stir in egg, salt, pepper, and 1 T oil and mix well. Stir cornstarch and flour together. Add chicken pieces, stirring to coat.Heat oil for deep-frying in wok or deep-fryer to 375.Add chicken pieces, a small batch at time, and fry 3 to 4 minutes or until golden and crisp. (Do not overcook or chicken will be tough.)Remove chicken from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.Clean wok and heat 15 seconds over high heat. Add 1 T oil. Add ginger and garlic and stir−fry until fragrant.Add and stirfry crushed chiles and green onions. Add rice wine and stir 3 seconds.Add Orange Sauce and bring to boil.Stir water into remaining 1 T cornstarch until smooth.Add to chicken and heat until sauce is thick. Stir in 1 t. sesame oil.Benihana Fried Rice1 c. uncooked rice5 tbsp. butter1 c. chopped onion1 c. chopped carrots2/3 c. chopped scallions3 tbsp. sesame seeds5 eggs5 tbsp. soy sauceSalt and pepper, to tasteCook rice according to package directions.In a large skillet melt butter. Add onions, carrots and scallions. Saute until carrots are translucent. Set aside.Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place sesame seeds in a shallow pan. Bake until golden brown (10 to 15 minutes), shaking pan occasionally for even color.Lightly grease another skillet. Beat eggs. Pour into hot skillet. Cook as you would scrambled eggs.Combine rice, vegetables,sesame seeds, and eggs. Add soy sauce. Stir.Salt and pepper to taste.As you can tell, there were LOTS of pots and pans to clean that night. There were also lots of adjustments to the recipes...I didn't use white pepper in the coating for the chicken, but rather black pepper. Why? 'Cause that's what was available.I didn't add any chiles[...]



Happy New Year!

2008-12-09T21:18:37.850-07:00

Is there anything more anticlimactic than New Year's Eve? Whether you're watching Ryan Seacrest or Carson Daly, your heart begins to beat a little faster when you see that sparkly ball begin to make its descent. The clock in the lower right corner of the TV ticks away, the number of seconds left in the current year in a constant decline. Your heart beating fast, you begin the ritual countdown: "Ten! Nine! Eight!" The drunken people on TV and the drunken people in your living room all shout "Happy New Year!" as the clock strikes midnight.But what was all that buildup for? For a sip of champagne? For a flip of a calendar page? For cursing yourself every time you write "2007" in the date?Thankfully, last night's New Year's Eve was not anticlimactic. Thank you, spanikopita, for bringing my New Year's Eve to climax. Hehe.All the spanikopita I'd ever tasted up until a few months ago was far too salty for me. My tastebuds think feta is the dairy equivalent of a salt lick. The overwhelming saltiness of the feta was enough to turn me off completely from what was otherwise a perfectly pleasant combination of phyllo, spinach, and feta.A family-run restaurant in the suburbs of Phoenix completely changed my perception of spanikopita. (Reminder to self: write a review of this place!) The restaurant, Dino's, makes a spanikopita filled w/spinach, spiked w/dill, and studded just slightly w/feta. The resulting pie is flaky, moist, crispy, and just salty enough.Because Dino's spanikopita made me a believer, I set out to find a spanikopita recipe I could tweak to meet my feta-fearing tastes. When looking for recipes online, I take a few things into consideration:Who wrote the recipe? Someone trustworthy, like a respected chef or cookbook author? Someone I've never heard of, like Mrs. Mabel Fenderbuss of Tuscaloosa, Alabama?Has the recipe been reviewed? If so, how many stars does it have?Are there any written reviews? If so, are they generally favorable?Does the recipe look easy to follow/make, on the whole?Using those criteria, I found a recipe on Recipezaar. Here's how the recipe does in regard to the aforementioned criteria:1Steve wrote the recipe. He's not necessarily a trustworthy, famous chef, but he is a diabetic from Long Island.The recipe has been reviewed eight times, racking up more than 4.5 stars.There were six helpful written reviews, including one from a person who said it was the best spanikopita she'd ever had.After browsing at least a dozen recipes, this one was the simplest. I could've gone w/the Rachael Ray version, which was quicker and easier to make, but it involved sour cream and some other questionable ingredients, so I ruled that one out, despite the number of favorable reviews. It's like, "I don't care how good your carbonara is. You used cream in it, and that's illegal."So, without further ado, here's 1Steve's spanikopita...Spanikopita Triangles (recipe courtesy of 1Steve on Recipezaar; makes 27 triangles)1/2 c. vegetable oil2 large onions, chopped20 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill2 tbsp. all-purpose flour8 oz. feta cheese4 eggs, lightly beaten24 oz. phyllo dough3/4 lb. butter, meltedsalt and pepper, to tastePreheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.Slowly cook and stir onions until softened.Mix in spinach, dill and flour.Cook approximately 10 minutes, or until most of the moisture has been absorbed. Remove from heat.Mix in feta cheese, eggs, salt and pepper.Lay phyllo dough flat and brush with butter.Place a small amount of spinach mixture onto each piece of dough.Fold phyllo into triangles around the mixture.Brush with butter.Place filled[...]



Rib roast redux

2008-12-09T21:18:39.029-07:00

That large piece of spa-treated beef from the other day produced enough meat for a few meals, but there are only so many things you can do to leftovers before you realize you've been eating the same damn thing for the past four days.My favorite slipcover for the beef was a roasted garlic and rosemary cream sauce, a concoction I threw together based on the offerings in the fridge. Of course, I didn't measure anything, resorting instead just to throwing stuff into a pot, tasting it from time to time, and making adjustments to the flavor. I think that's how glue was invented.Anyway, the sauce started out w/some chopped onions sauteed in a small pool of olive oil. Once translucent, I threw in some roasted garlic and smushed the combination around, making sure the garlic was chopped up into pieces about the same size as the onions. Some nice little bits were stuck to the bottom of the pan, so I deglazed w/some organic chicken broth--maybe 3/4 c. or so. After deglazing, I grabbed three twigs of rosemary and tossed those, branchy stuff and all, into the pan. I brought everything up to a boil and then reduced the heat a tad, letting everything simmer in the broth for about five minutes. I reduced the heat further and then stirred in some half-and-half and some heavy (!!!) whipping cream. In order to thicken the sauce, I turned the heat back up, letting the mixture come to a slow boil. Six or seven minutes later, the sauce had reduced and thickened into a dangerously rich cream sauce. My stirring caused most of the rosemary leaves to fall off the stem, which I didn't mind--although my original plan was just to get the rosemary flavor w/o actually leaving any of the leaves in the sauce. I left the leaves in and started plating my dinner.I took a small piece of room-temperature prime rib and sliced it into about a dozen strips. I put those on top of just-boiled pasta and let the heat warm up the beef a bit.I then poured the entire pot of sauce on top of the pasta. The heat from the sauce warmed up the beef even more, taking it from red and rare to pink and warm.I stirred it all together after taking the picture, completely ruining the prettiness, but also mixing the flavors and textures of the firm pasta, the tender beef, and the creamy sauce.And holy caloric blitzkrieg, Batman! My throw-stuff-into-a-pot sauce was a wonderful complement to the beef.I can imagine this sauce really kicking up shrimp and other seafood, but only if used in moderation, as not to overwhelm the flavors of the sea. This sauce would also be a good alternative to an Alfredo for garlic lovers or those adverse to cheese. And my imagination is the only thing that would limit me here, as anything would taste good in a cream sauce.Maybe next time I'll throw in some bacon...[...]



Prime rib

2008-12-09T21:18:39.812-07:00

When prime rib goes on sale, you buy it. It doesn't matter how many Lean Cuisines you have packed into your freezer; you'll find room.

The three-bone rib roast in my freezer beckoned my name, so the day after Christmas I gave it a variety of meat-style spa treatments. The first treatment was a bath in warm water. Following a pat-down w/paper towels, the roast was treated to a massage. I rubbed a paste of crushed garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, and olive oil onto the top and sides of the roast. (I also inserted slivers of garlic into slits I made in the roast using a paring knife. If anything has even been inserted into you at a spa, you probably have some pretty strong grounds for a lawsuit.) After its massage, the roast was ready for some time in a dry sauna that topped out at a whopping 375 degrees. After an hour of sauna time, I turned the heat off completely, letting the roast take in the heat already contained in the oven. I didn't open the door to the oven for two hours, as the roast does best undisturbed. Following that leisurely two-hour rest, I reinvigorated the beef by turning the heat back up to 375 for 25 minutes. This short blast of heat produced a medium-rare doneness; five minutes longer would've taken the roast to medium.

This beefy spa treatment is pretty foolproof; unless you're more anal than a proctologist, you really don't need to use a meat thermometer. This method is good for roasts that weigh about 5-8 pounds, so if you're making one that weighs more, do some research to see what'll work best for your hunk of meat.

I let the meat sit for 5-10 minutes so I wouldn't lose any of the savory, pink juices I sopped up w/roasted potatoes. (The potatoes were pretty good, but not good enough that I'd post a recipe or directions here.) No matter what starch you serve w/your prime rib, it's definitely going to play second fiddle...

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Christmas in Kansas City

2007-12-25T23:41:50.519-07:00

Con: The parking lot at Fiorella's Jack Stack was packed
Pro: We waited only 7-8 minutes for a table

Con: RJ's Bob-Be-Que was a dive
Pro: The food was pretty tasty (mm, corn fritters)

Con: I had microwave rice w/dinner one night
Pro: It was accompanied by a fantastic home-grilled KC strip steak

Con: My sister-in-law's dad's (Otto's) kitchen lacks any helpful cooking equipment
Pro: I used creative, alternate means to prepare food

Con: Otto doesn't have good, sharp knives, either
Pro: No one got cut

Con: The prime rib I ordered at Hereford House was expensive
Pro: I did not have to pay for it (thanks, Adam and Amy!)

Con: I broke one of the whisks
Pro: There were two more

Con: My gougeres fell flat
Pro: Everyone still liked them once I stuffed them w/scallion-spiked cream cheese

Con: My profiteroles also fell flat
Pro: People ate them w/ice cream on top anyway

Con: There was a lot of pasta w/basil cream sauce left over
Pro: Dinner the next day

Con: My brother burned the tenderloin on the grill
Pro: The char was just perfect, resulting in a crusty, flavorful outside and a cool, pink inside

Con: I filled up on gougeres before dinner
Pro: Damn, they were really good

Con: Aunt Susie fed the new puppy a gougere
Pro: The puppy did not die

Con: The cabernet reduction didn't actually reduce, plus it tasted kinda crappy
Pro: No one had to eat it

Con: I burned my wrist on a cookie sheet
Pro: It'll feel better by the end of the week

Con: I had to eat Taco Bell for lunch one day
Pro: I remembered just how awesome the Crunchwrap Supreme is

Con: Those potholders simply were not thick enough
Pro: The feeling in my hands is starting to come back

Con: I can't be in Phoenix and Kansas City simultaneously
Pro: . . .



White-Trash Chicken?

2008-12-09T21:18:40.050-07:00

According to my brother, French's Fried Onions are for "white trash." When I told him I coated chicken breasts in crushed FFOs, then further explained that the recipe was on the can, he said that was even more evidence of it being white-trashy.If FFOs and recipes on food packaging are white-trashy, then wrap me in a big, white Hefty bag and dub me Princess of White Trash. (I certainly cannot qualify as the queen.)FFOs are a guilty pleasure, but the fact that they stay crunchy in their can must mean that there are some sort of preservatives inside that will eventually give me leprosy or cause me to lose my sense of hearing. For now, I'm okay w/that notion, 'cause FFOs add a pleasant crunch and flavor to soups, salads, sandwiches, and even pizzas. These golden morsels are more than just a vital ingredient for that nasty holiday green bean casserole.On the can of FFOs, the French's people say you can substitute the product for bread crumbs. They even go so far to provide a recipe for what my brother deemed "White-Trash Chicken." Contrary to what my brother thinks, my dad loooooves the chicken, saying it tastes like latkes, and thus dubbing it "Latke Chicken." The French's people call it "Crunchy Onion Chicken." So, whatever you call it, here's the recipe... White-Trash Chicken/Latke Chicken/Crunchy Onion Chicken(recipe courtesy of French's site)1 1/3 c. French's® Original or Cheddar French Fried Onions4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves1 egg, beatenPlace French Fried Onions into plastic bag. Lightly crush with hands or with rolling pin.Dip chicken into egg; then coat with onion crumbs, pressing firmly to adhere. Place chicken on baking sheet. Sprinkle with additional crumbs, if desired.Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes or until no longer pink in center.Easy enough for even a bachelor to make, no?The directions are pretty easy, but I made some adjustments, and also have some tips and observations...One large can of the onions will coat 3 boneless, skinless breasts rather well, but not completely. If you want your chicken coated like the piece shown on the FFO site, you're only gonna get two per can. Thus, I recommend buying the big-ass bag of FFOs sold at Sam's Club and other club stores. You'll cover a good 8-10 breasts w/the contents of the big, resealable bag.One egg to coat four breasts? Surely, you kid. Four breasts can be coated w/one or two eggs plus a few tbsp. of water.I pound out the chicken breasts so they're even in thickness. They're not as thick as regular breasts when I'm done, but they're not as thin as scaloppine breasts. At about 1/2" thick, they can be cut rather easily w/just a fork.The onions need to be crushed fairly well in order to stick to the chicken. A mini Cuisinart-style chopper is the best tool for this job. Otherwise crush as the recipe above recommends; I've used a meat tenderizer.The FFOs don't want to stick to the chicken for some reason, so they need to be coaxed. Typical breading procedure dictates that you have one "wet hand" for touching raw meat and liquids, and one "dry hand" for touching flour and bread crumbs and other dry coatings. I find that the dual-hand system is pure crap here, and that using both hands for whatever task you want will make the FFOs stick better. The moister the FFOs are, the better they're gonna stick.If you're not satisfied w/the amount of FFOs on the chicken, moisten up some remaining FFO crumbs w/just a touch of the egg/water mixture, and then press those crumbs onto the chicken. Just sprinkling the FFOs on, as the recipe says, isn't sufficient; those puppies will fall ri[...]



I saved $10!

2008-12-09T21:18:41.590-07:00

There are many ways to save $10, like buying generic products or only shopping the sale rack. Today, though, I saved $10 or so by making a pizza from scratch instead of going out for one. Referring to my PDF of restaurant knockoff recipes, I made a Pizzeria Uno-style pizza. Say what you will about Uno's not being authentic and blah blah blah, but I like it--despite being mostly anti-chain--so I wanted to give this recipe a try.The recipe itself is easy, but the dough involves plenty of time for rising, so you need to start it around, say, 4 p.m. in order to eat dinner at a reasonable time. I opted not to make the sauce or the filling/topping of sausage and stuff, so I basically topped the dough w/my homemade marinara sauce and other stuff I like. Take that, overpriced corporate pizza!What gets me about Uno's pizza is the crust: it's flaky to the point of being kind of buttery, like a savory pie crust. I expected the recipe for the dough to include butter or Crisco or some sort of congealed fat, but the only fat in the recipe was vegetable oil. Hm. I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not, but I proceeded according to the directions. So, here's how to make the dough for your own $10-cheaper-than-the-real-thing Uno's pizza...Pizzeria Uno Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza Dough1 c. warm tap water1 pkg. active dry yeast3 1/2 c. flour1/2 c. course ground cornmeal1 tsp. salt1/4 c. vegetable oilPour the warm water into a large mixing bowl and dissolve the yeast until bubbly. Add 1 cup of flour, all of the cornmeal, salt, and vegetable oil. Mix well with a spoon. Continue stirring in the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Flour your hands and a surface and knead the ball of dough until it is no longer sticky.Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl, sealed with plastic wrap, for 45-60 minutes in a warm place, until it is doubled in bulk.After 45-60 minutes, punch it down and knead it briefly. Press it into an oiled 15-inch deep-dish pizza pan, until it comes 2 inches up the sides and is even on the bottom of the pan. Let the dough rise 15-20 minutes before filling.Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.Once the dough has risen again, put in your toppings. To be traditional, put the cheese on the bottom and the sauce on top, or be a rebel and do it your own damn way.Bake for 15 minutes at 500 degrees, then lower the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 35 minutes longer. The crust will be golden brown when done.Let rest a few minutes before serving, otherwise the cheese will ooze all over.One pizza has cheese on it, while the other doesn't; the pretty one is the cheeseless one. Despite the cheese being underneath the sauce when it went in the oven, it didn't stay there. The oozing of the cheese above the sauce made it an ugly pie, albeit a tastier one than the cheeseless pie.Looks aside, how was the crust?Well, porous.The little bubbles of air in the crust make it crunchy but also a little spongy. As you can tell, the crust is deep (duh) and a warm golden color. But does it have the flakiness and butteriness of Uno's pizza that I love?No. No no no. Not even close. In terms of denseness, the crust is right on, but there's no butteriness or flakiness like in pie crust. Big letdown! I think I was onto something when I said some sort of solidified fat needs to be used. After all, layers of butter and flour are what make pie crust so flaky and wonderful.Despite the crust not tasting just like Uno's, it was still tasty. I made some adjustments, though...I didn't use close t[...]



Everything tastes better wrapped in bacon

2008-12-09T21:18:42.433-07:00

Because I'm not a seafood fan, I know I'm missing out on a good number of sea-creature delicacies, including scallops wrapped in bacon. I'm not a fan of the consistency of water chestnuts, either, so I'm not tempted to eat those wrapped in bacon, either. But if you take something I like--say, chicken--and wrap it in bacon, I'll eat it.I first saw skewered chicken wrapped in bacon at Quincy Market in Boston. In my three years in Boston, I only had these skewers once. The particular stand had all sorts of stuff wrapped in bacon, including scallops and shrimp, I think, but only the poultry siren sang her song.Convinced I could recreate these skewers, which combined juicy chicken and crispy bacon, I bought some bamboo skewers. My first attempt resulted in really soggy bacon, while the second resulted in slightly crispier bacon that was still kinda limp. With a third attempt now under my belt, I've figured out how to produce bacon-wrapped, moist chicken...on a stick.For a special dish like this, I used some of the Niman Ranch bacon I bought at Trader Joe's. Bacon you can buy at a regular grocery store works, too, but I like the thick cut and smokier flavor of Niman Ranch's stuff. A pound of bacon cost under $5, and after making these skewers and two grilled cheese-and-bacon sandwiches, I still have half a dozen slices left to make the perfect BLT.Anyway, these skewers are simple, tasty, and pretty. If you're health-conscious in any way, you can add some veggies to your skewers, but because I am a pork purist, I just went for pig and poultry. Mm.Chicken-Bacon Skewers2 boneless, skinless split chicken breasts10 strips baconSalt, pepper, any spices you want4 bamboo skewersSoak skewers in water for at least 15-20 min. to prevent burning once they go in the oven.Put bacon on a broiler sheet under the broiler until the bacon looks about half-cooked or a bit more. Remove from oven once done, and then set baking temperature to 375.Cut eat chicken breast into 10 (or so) 1-2" chunks.Cut each bacon strip in two so you have two shorter pieces.Wrap each piece of chicken with a half slice of bacon, being sure to overlap the two ends of the bacon. Stick the soaked skewer through the chicken and bacon, piecing the overlap of bacon so the whole bundle stays on the stick. Repeat process until five chunks are on each of the four skewers.Place the wrapped skewers back on the broiler sheet. Season w/salt, pepper, and any other spices you want (I also used garlic powder) and put in the oven. Cook 15-20 min., flipping over halfway through.Serve one skewer per person w/a side dish and/or salad--or, if you're a hoss like me, eat two of them on your own.I'll admit that the whole double-cooking thing isn't necessarily the most convenient method, but look at it this way: you'll only have one pan to clean AND you're guaranteed to get a good crisp on your bacon. If you're afraid of any chewiness in your bacon, I'd stay away from the thick-sliced kind, going right for the normal stuff. Thicker bacon is chewier by nature, so it will NOT get 100% crispy w/this recipe...just 80% crispy.Crispy or not, it tastes good. And it looks good, too...Moist and juicy on the inside! Also with a skewer indentation!With the method used here, you can wrap anything w/bacon and end up w/something tasty. I'm sure cubes of filet would be good (like a mini bacon-wrapped steak), as would roasted potatoes. And for everyone who loves seafood, scallops and shrimp are no-brainers. Now if only I could rationalize wrapping bacon in bacon and threadi[...]



Happy Hanukkah!

2008-12-09T21:18:43.038-07:00

Admit it: even if you're not Jewish, you love latkes. I mean, what's not to like about a fried mixture of potatoes and onions?The history of the holiday centers around oil, which was needed to light the temple. Because of the miraculous oil that lasted eight days instead of just one, traditional Hanukkah foods are fried. This is my kinda holiday! So, during Hanukkah, you are obligated to eat fried foods like latkes and jelly donuts. Yes, I said obligated.On the sixth night of the holiday, I finally pulled out the grater and feared for my knuckles. Having grown up on box o' latkes, one would think I'm okay with the stuff, but this couldn't be farther from the truth.How is it possible that a freakin' 12-pack of this crap SOLD OUT on Amazon??? Anyone who bought that boxed blasphemy--in bulk, no less--is missing out on really good latkes.Much like matzoh balls, latkes are a hands-on kinda food; you just "know" when your batter is the right consistency. So, I just kinda shred up potatoes and onions, add some eggs and flour/matzoh meal, and have confidence in the fact that, no matter what, it's gonna taste better than the Manischewitz version. But today I paid close attention to what I was doing so I could share some sort of recipe here. Here's a rough version of the delicious latkes I fried up tonight...Latkes (makes about a dozen 3-4" diameter latkes)5 small potatoes (Yukon gold are awesome, but I used little white ones 'cause that's what I had)2 small onions2 eggsFlour (or matzoh meal)Salt and pepper to tasteCanola oil, for fryingShred potatoes into a bowl using a grater or grating attachment in a Cuisinart. When done shredding, cover potatoes w/cold water. Swish around for a minute, then pour out water. Cover again w/more water.Chop onions fairly roughly in the Cuisinart using the regular blade. This will spare your eyes.Pour out the remaining water from the potatoes, and then add the chopped onions to the bowl. Set in the fridge until right before you're ready to start frying.Remove bowl from fridge and pour off any liquid. Heat 1-2" oil to medium-high heat in a deep(ish) pot to contain splattering.Put 3/4 potato/onion mixture into a Cuisinart w/the regular blade. Spin the mixture around for about 30 seconds, until fairly smooth.Return mixture to bowl w/shredded potatoes/onions. To keep the latkes crispy, I use my hands to squeeze out as much of the liquid possible from the creamy mixture.Crack eggs and add to bowl. Stir 'em in until evenly incorporated.Add 2-3 tbsp. flour for a loose mixture; add up to 3/4 c. for a creamier mixture (which I prefer, but which many latke naturalists advise against.)Add salt and pepper. You won't overdo the pepper no matter how hard you try, but salting is a tricky one. For this amount of potato, 1.5 tbsp. is probably about right. Start off light, as you can always add more salt, but you can't remove it. Stir it all up.Use a spoon to put a small blob of batter into the oil. Fry 2-3 min. or until golden brown, then flip. Taste. Add more salt, pepper, or flour to the recipe to to fit your tastes.Once satisfied w/the flavor of the batter, use 1 heaping tbsp. to form each latke, dropping the batter directly into the oil. A tbsp. should create a latke 3-4 in. in diameter. Complete step above, flipping to achieve goldenness on both sides.Remove latkes from oil and drain quickly on a paper towel. If not eating immediately, transfer the latkes to a foil-lined baking sheet, then slide into a 250 degree oven.Serve w/applesauce, sour crea[...]



Bakin' for the holidays

2008-12-09T21:18:44.680-07:00

Tis the season to eat butter, clog-ged ar-teries and heart at-tacks!Thus, for an appetizer-and-dessert potluck, I made mini cream puffs and toffee. Although the cream puffs and their chocolate-mousse filling had about a stick of butter in them total, the toffee contained a whopping SIX sticks (I doubled the recipe). I can only assume that the guests at the party will be paying visits to their cardiologists in the coming months.(Heads up: I'm not going to post any recipes on this page, but rather link you to those pages where I found the recipes. Gotta give credit where it's due.)Since I made the toffee first, let's take a peek at it.Impressive results for a very easy recipe. Homemade toffee tastes much better than Heath or Skor, in my opinion, as the homemade stuff doesn't contain preservatives or artificial flavors. I found my toffee recipe online, posted--of all places--on Flickr! The person who posted the recipe also posted a step-by-step tutorial, complete w/pictures, of how to make toffee. So, I refer you there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruthieki/sets/72057594070423836/. The recipe itself is located on the last page, here.A couple of notes on the recipe:It makes really thick toffee. Like, crack-your-tooth thick. Spreading it into two pans instead of one will make the toffee thinner, more like Skor or Heath.Add as much chocolate as you want. After all, YOU have the control over the toffee-to-chocolate ratio.I made the chocolate mousse for the cream puffs a day ahead of time so the mousse could set up overnight. I chose to fill the puffs w/chocolate mousse because most custards and custardy-textured things make me gag. Besides, who doesn't like chocolate mousse?I've used the Tyler Florence recipe for chocolate mousse on a number of occasions. Everyone at my old office loved the stuff, basically begging to lick the bowl when full glasses of mousse were gone. This recipe involves three bowls, maybe four if you're a complete spaz. Aside from the proliferation of bowls, though, the recipe is an easy one. Chocolate, egg yolks, meringue, whipped cream, and a couple other ingredients come together to make a light-yet-rich, fluffy dessert.Of course, I've experimented w/the recipe...If you forget to let the butter come to room temperature, your mousse will still be fine.Cream of tartar isn't necessary, especially if you have to walk 20 minutes to a grocery store to obtain it. (But it will stabilize the mousse.)I add a dash of salt. Have you had the chocolate silk pie from Baker's Square? Ya know how it has that tang of salt in it? Yeah, that's what makes it so good. A pinch or two of salt will do the trick.For a lighter mousse, use 3/4 or 1 c. of whipped cream instead of 1/2 c.White chocolate works, but leave out the 1/4 c. sugar.This recipe serves four--four wildebeests. It serves 8-10 humans.The last step was the pate a choux for the cream puffs. I harken ye back to the time I made cheesy poofs, known by the sophisticated set as gougeres. Gougeres are savory snacks made using a savory pate a choux, while cream puffs are made using a slightly sweetened version of the same dough. Since I saw Alton Brown making pate a choux a couple weeks, ago and since he seemed to know what he was talking about, I opted to use his version this time instead of one from Ina Garten (she of Barefoot Contessa fame), whose gougeres recipe produced marvelous results. Alton's recipe uses water instead of milk as the main liquid, but there was no noticeable [...]



Macaroni Grill bread

2008-12-09T21:18:45.549-07:00

I basically dislike restaurant chains. But in giving chain restaurants a bit of respect, I'll say that they usually make one or two things that are pretty tasty. At the Macaroni Grill, that thing is the bread. A hot focaccia accompanies the mediocre food at the Macaroni Grill, making the long wait, oversalted sauces, and questionable decor almost tolerable.Earlier this year, my best friend sent me a PDF of 100 or so knockoff recipes, much like those Todd Wilbur creates and compiles into books. (Maybe these are some of his recipes. I dunno.) I've made the bourbon chicken (like the kind they thrust into your face at mall food courts) and Chick-Fil-A chicken, as well as the fantastic Macaroni Grill focaccia knockoff.The recipe for the bread is easy, so long as you have a few hours to make it; active prep time is about 5-10 minutes, while idle prep time is around 2 hours. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, this simple bread will fill your home w/a warm, yummy smell while it's baking. Sopped w/olive oil and herbs, it will fill your stomach w/carbs, grease, and rosemary.While it lacks the air pockets traditionally found inside a focaccia, this stuff is still pretty good. It's a denser focaccia than you might expect, but this means the bread is spongier, thus soaking up more olive oil or sauce or whatever else you have a taste for.Macaroni Grill Focaccia1 packet dry yeast1 tsp. canola oil (I use olive)1 tbsp. sugarNonstick cooking spray1 c. warm water2 tbsp. margarine (I find that 2 tsp. is enough)2 c. white flour1/4 c. fresh rosemary, chopped, or 2 tbsp. dried1 tsp. salt-Place yeast, sugar and water in a large bowl or food processor and allow themixture to become bubbly.-Mix in 2 c. of flour and salt.-Flour a surface and knead dough for about 10 min. OR process in food processor for 15 sec. until smooth and elastic. Add flour if necessary.-Oil a bowl, put dough in it. and cover with a towel. Let dough rise in a warm place for 1 hr., until doubled.-Punch down dough and divide in half. Let the dough rest for a few minutes.-Coat 2 9-in. square cake pans with nonstick spray. (Use just one pan if you want your bread to be tall, like it is at the Macaroni Grill; this is my preferred method.)-Press dough into pans. Melt margarine. Brush margarine over the tops of the loaves. Sprinkle rosemary over the loaves and lightly press into the surface. Let the loaves rise again until doubled, about 45 min.-Preheat oven to 450 F. Lightly sprinkle salt over the loaves. Bake for 20-25 min, until lightly browned.-Serve immediately. Great dipped in olive oil w/herbs![...]



UPDATE: Crumb cake

2008-12-09T21:18:46.349-07:00

Back in September, I wrote a post about some particularly tasty crumb cake. I mentioned that I didn't have the recipe, but due to my mom digging around in her inbox, the recipe has been retrieved! I found this recipe online, courtesy of everyone's favorite felonious homemaker, Martha Stewart.So, without further ado, I present the recipe for the artery-clogging, calorie-laden, buttery-good crumb cake of my dreams.Martha's Classic Crumb Cake (recipe courtesy of www.bakeorbreak.com)Cake batter10 tablespoons butter, softened2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour1 teaspoon baking powder1 teaspoon baking soda1/2 teaspoon salt1 cup sugar3 large eggs1 & 1/4 cups sour cream1 teaspoon vanilla extract-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9″x13″ pan and set aside.-Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.-Beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after adding each one. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture and sour cream. Mix just until blended.-Spread batter evenly into pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes.-While cake is baking, prepare the...Crumb topping3 cups all-purpose flour1 cup packed light brown sugar1 tablespoon ground cinnamon1 & 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt1 & 3/4 cups (2 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened-Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork. When well mixed, the mixture should form.-Remove cake from oven after 10-15 minutes. Top w/crumb topping, then return to oven for an additional 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. -Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners' sugar.(Editor's note: The original recipe doesn't call for a two-step baking process. I found that if the cake and topping are cooked together at once, the cake doesn't fully rise and bake. The inside may be gummy if you don't bake the cake for 10-15 minutes first.)[...]