I always try to eat delicious food. Unfortunately I don't have that much money, so I have to cook a lot of it at home. But thats OK because I love cooking and I love eating at home with my wife. This is a website with my favorite recipes and a little bit of commentary.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Einstein Special

I was watching this great special on Einstein earlier tonight. I have seen bits and pieces of it a couple times. Be sure to turn into it on History Channel if you get a chance.

In other news, a bald eagle flew up like 5 feet from my head today while running. It was the first time I have ever seen once so close.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wierd Al

What do Michael P. Fay, Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and John Wayne Bobbit have in common?

They all made it into a Weird Al Video! Click for details.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Italian Tater Tot Hotdish

Who says tater tot casserole or hotdish has to have cream of mushroom soup and hamburger? I have been thinking of experimenting with tater tot hot dish lately. This is effort #1. I decided to try giving it an Italian flair.

Italian Tater Tot Hotdish

1 pound hot Italian sausage, rolled into balls and browned
1 onion, diced and sauteed
1 red pepper, diced and sauteed
32 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, pressed
olive oil
1 t oregano
1 t basil
crushed red pepper flakes
1 small can sliced mushrooms
1 package tater tots
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
a little cream

Put some olive oil in the bottom of a sauce pan. Saute the garlic in the olive oil. Add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Crush with a potato masher. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Dump tomatoes into a blender and blend until smooth. Return to sauce pan along with meat, spices and mushroom. Add a little cream to make a pink sauce. Simmer until it thickens a little.

Spread a little olive oil around a 9X13 inch baking pan. Pour the meat sauce into the baking pan and sprinkle with sauteed onion and red pepper.

Spread 2 cups cheese over the sauce.

Top with tots.

Bake in the oven at 350 for 1 hour.

Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chuck Roast Braised in Beer

One of the most underrated cooking methods is braising. I like braising because it has the same goal as smoking. The goal is to take a nasty cheap cut of meat and turn it into something tasty. Smoking does it by cooking at a low temperature, between 200 and 210, for many hours. The connective tissue and fat renders away over time, leaving a supremely tender piece of meat behind.

Braising does the same thing, only in less time (I think). The idea with braising is to moist cook meat at a temperature between 200 and 210. Typically this is done in an oven at 300. The meat is seared and placed in a tightly fitting container with a cover, some liquid and some tasty vegetables. The container should just be slightly bigger than the meat you are going to cook.

I heard an article on braising on NPR about a week ago. The guy who was their food scientist said that you should have the cover of the cooking vessel slightly cracked. This is in sharp contrast to every other source I have read on braising. The reason, he says, for leaving the lid cracked is so that the liquid in the pot does not boil.

If it is boiling it technically is not slow cooking at 210 it is at 226 or whatever the boiling point of your liquid happens to be. It is something to think about. The guy sounded very bright. I am planning on ordering a few books of his. I'll let you know.

Braising meat is the perfect thing to do in your kitchen on a cold day. Your kitchen will be nice and warm and smell wonderful. I got this recipe from an unlikely source - GQ Magazine. I only say that it is an unlikely source because you would not think of a men's fashion magazine as a source for a good recipe. In fact, I have gotten several wonderful recipes from GQ. I modified it a little bit to be more in line with the classic French braising method.

Chuck Roast Braised in Beer
3 pound chuck roast, cut into fist size pieces
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, unmolested.
seasoned salt
olive oil
bacon grease

1)Heat a skillet until nice and hot. Add in the oil. Drop in the beef chunks and sear really well all over. Put on a plate and set aside. Season with seasoned salt.

2) Add the onions and carrots to the pan and saute until carmelized.

3) Get a cooking vessel with a tight fitting lid that is just slightly bigger than the meat you intend to cook. Preheat oven to 300. Brush bacon grease on the inside of the cooking vessel. Put the cloves of garlic on the bottom and a little pepper.

4) When onions and carrots are carmelized ad a little beer to the pan and use it to deglaze all the nice bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the liquid, onions and carrots into the cooking vessel.

5) Add the chunks of beef on top of the vegies. Pour beer into the vessel until it comes about halfway up the beef.

6) Place a tightly covered lid on the vessel. (controversial, see above) Bake at 300 for several hours, basting some of the pan juices on top of the meat occasionally.

7) When the cooking is done, remove the meat to a platter. Strain the pan juices. Degrease the juices by spooning off the fat. When this is done you can either thicken the juices to make a gravy or serve it as is over the top of the meat.

Degreasing is easy. Pour the strained juices into a cup.

Pull the grease off using a spoon.

To make a gravy take 1 cup of the pan juices and place into a saucepan. Measure out 1/4 cup water. Add 2 T flour and stir until there are no lumps. Add to the saucepan. Heat to boiling and cook until thickened to the right consistency.

We served ours with baked sweet potatoes and some tasty sweet corn.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chicken-Sausage Gumbo

I threw some Polish Sausage on the smoker last week while I was making my pulled pork. Smoked sausage is delicious and one the best things to eat smoked sausage in is gumbo.

Gumbo is called a soup but to me it is more of a stew, served over rice. One of the key features of a gumbo is that it is thickened with a roux.

For some reason, people think roux is hard to make. It is very easy. I found a video that explains making a roux pretty well.

I modified a recipe from the book Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food: More than 225 of the City's Best Recipes to Cook at Home. My naughty wife doesn't like andouille sausage so I made it with smoked Polish sausage instead.

Chicken-Sausage Gumbo

1 pound chicken
vegetable oil
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 quart chicken broth
1 T salt
1 t pepper
1 t Tabasco
2 bay leaves
1/4 t thyme
1/2 pound smoked sausage
2 green onions, chopped
a little File powder if you have it

Cut chicken up into pieces and brown in oil. Remove the chicken from the pan and melt butter in the pan. Stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture turns brown. Next add onions, garlic and pepper. Saute until onions start to turn clear. Dump everything into the pot except the sausage. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for an hour. Add in the sausage and simmer for another 1/2 to 1 hour. It should be nice and thick like a stew. Add water as needed if it gets too thick. Add a dash of File powder at the very end. NOT TOO MUCH. Garnish with green onion and serve over white rice.


And So It Begins ...

Does anyone else think it is too early for this?

Pork Smoked!

Last week I used some of my walnut to smoke up some pork shoulder. Unfortunately, Hy Vee only had boneless pork shoulder.

The trick to smoking with hardwood instead of charcoal is to have a separate fire burning. When the hardwood is burnt down to coals, transfer the coals to the smoker. If you try to burn the wood in the smoker it will be way too smokey and your meat will taste like an ashtray.

I smoked at 200 degrees for about 14 hours to get some really tasty pork!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Woodcutting trip to Ledyard

Yesterday I went up to Ledyard for some serious woodcutting. I needed to get some wood for my smoker and for the outdoor fireplace. Fortunately, Our Man In The Field knew where there were some downed trees. I drove right up and got to work.

I cut up some black walnut and split it. It took me an hour and a half to cut and split enough wood to fill my pickup. Meanwhile, Our Man in the Field was out chopping corn stalks.

That thing he is pulling has whirling blades. He can do 6 rows at a time. The next step will be to come through with a special plow and a slight angle to the existing rows.
I checked on the corn bin and it is plenty full. Our Man in the Field is drying his corn. He estimates that he might sell next July.

All of his corn and beans are in for the year. All that remains is some field work.

I got a nice full load of wood and then cruised to the Old Man in the Field's house for lunch.

We had some tasty meatballs that were a mix between pork and hamburger. They were accompanied by coleslaw, potatoes, green beans and buns.

The Old Man in the Field told a story about when they were kids some hobos used to come through. Back then there was a railroad branch that went to Elmore and Bancroft with a stop in Ledyard. He said his mom would feed them a really nice lunch. In return they would chop wood. I wondered if the house was extra toasty if they were burning "hobo-chopped-wood." He said that he thought the house was indeed warmer with hobo-chopped-wood. I thought it would make a good marketing scheme, much like organic or free-range.

He said if you were nice to a hobo, the hobo would likely make a special secret mark on the post to your driveway. If another hobo came along he would spy that mark and go in for a nice meal.

Friday, November 14, 2008

World's Greatest Sandwich

I was in the mood for a good sandwich the other night so I did a google search for world's greatest sandwich. Someone actually has made a video and claimed to be the inventor of "The World's Greatest Sandwich." It is basically a BLT with a fried egg and a piece of cheese on it. Readers may remember that I wrote about BLT's with a fried egg a while ago. I guess the sandwich made an appearance in the movie Spanglish. The way they made the sandwich in the movie is as follows:

Spread mayo on a piece of really good toasted bread. Lay a few tomato slices on top of the mayo. Salt the tomatoes a little bit, then lay 4 strips of fried bacon on top. Next lay a piece of lettuce on the bacon. Add a nice fried egg on top of the lettuce. Take the other piece of toasted bread and put 2 slices of Monterrey Jack cheese on it. Place briefly under the broiler to melt the cheese. Finish off your sandwich by dropping the cheesed bread on top of the egg. Slice and serve.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tasty Hamburger Hotdish

It is getting to be casserole weather. Casseroles are a very important part of Midwestern Cuisine. People in my neck of the woods also call it hotdish weather.

Wikipedia has this to say about hotdish:
Hotdish is any of a variety of baked, casserole dishes popular in the Midwestern United States, and especially in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, northern Iowa, and western Wisconsin. It consists of a starch, a meat, and a canned vegetable, mixed together with canned soup, which serves as a binding ingredient.

Hotdishes are filling, convenient, easy to make, and well-suited for family reunions, church suppers, and potlucks, where they may be paired with pan-baked cookies known as bars.

We have been making this particular hotdish for many years. I have tailored the recipe more to our tastes. We especially like extra sauce so the dish starts out pretty saucy. It is great warmed up the next day too. I like mine served with a little hot sauce.

Tasty Hamburger Hotdish

1 lb hamburger ½ cup celery, diced
1 c macaroni (uncooked) 1 small onion, diced
2 cans tomato soup ½ t basil
2 cans cheese soup 1 t sugar
½ c green pepper salt to taste
A layer of cheese

Brown beef and drain off fat. Add ½ cup water. Mix hamburger and rest of ingredients together and place in a dutch oven or similar baking container. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed until it is super tasty. Bake covered at 375 for 1 hour. Remove lid and put a layer of cheese on top. continue baking until cheese is nice and melted.

And here it is the next day. The sauce has thickened quite a bit, hence the reason for double sauce.

It really does go pretty well with a cookie or two.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Spare Rib Challenge

I love ribs and all types of pork. It is getting a little too cold out for me to throw ribs on the smoker too many more times. In order to continue enjoying ribs over the winter I have decided to have a little spare rib challenge. The first 2 contestants were Sylvia's World Famous Talked About Spare Ribs and the Chinese Spare Ribs from Potsticker Chronicles. You can see each recipe below or just click on the links above.

It was a fierce competition and both recipes produced awesome spare ribs. The Chinese Spare Ribs were sweet with a little bit of smokiness. The sauce was complex and delicious. There are notes of ginger, garlic, honey and sesame that blend perfectly for a tasty sauce.

The Sylvia's were spicy but they weren't hot like I was expecting. They were tangy and fall-off-the-bone tender. I think the real trick to these ribs is that they are braised in vinegar. The sauce has a hint of celery and lemon. It has the perfect balance between hot, sweet and sour.

It was a tough competition with fierce competitors. There was, however, a clear winner. The Sylvia's World Famous Talked About Spareribs lived up to the name. I plan on making these all winter long. If you have a spare rib recipe for me to try, email it to plasticsmatch@hotmail.com.

Sylvia's World Famous Talked About Spare Ribs

I decided to make Sylvia's World Famous Talked About Spare Ribs for my Spare Rib Challenge. Sylvia's is a Soul Food restaurant in Harlem that I have eaten at a few times. The most surprising thing about eating there is that the food tastes almost identical to what my mom and grandmother make. You can read all about soul food here. I bought the cookbook Sylvia's Soul Food for the recipes.

Sylvia's World Famous Talked About Spare Ribs

2 slabs spare ribs
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 to 3 cups of vinegar
"BBQ Sauce" (see recipe below)

Cut the slabs of ribs down to size to fit in a baking dish. Rub with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Dump enough vinegar in the baking dish to almost cover the ribs. Cover the container tightly and bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 1 hour. At the 1/2 hour mark, turn the ribs over.

After they have braised in the vinegar for an hour, remove them from the vinegar and place on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 450 until they start to crisp up and brown, about 1/2 hour.

Next brush the ribs well with BBQ Sauce (recipe below). Reduce heat of oven to 400 and bake, uncovered. Brush a couple more times with sauce. During the last 20 minutes to not brush again so that the sauce glazes a bit.

Sylvia's BBQ Sauce

This isn't BBQ sauce like you are thinking. I would put this more as a North or South Carolina sauce. You are thinking of a ketchup based Kansas City BBQ sauce. The Kansas sauces won't work on these ribs. You have to use Sylvia's Sauce.

16 ounce Red Devil Hot sauce
2 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 small onion, sliced
1 small stalk celery, sliced
3 cups tomato puree
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 lemon, sliced

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat up. Do not let the sauce simmer or boil or you will ruin it. Let the sauce cook a few minutes until the onions and celery soften. Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature. Strain the sauce and store in a jar.


Chinese BBQ Spare Ribs

I decided to make these Chinese BBQ Spare Ribs for my spare rib challenge. I modified the recipe from my favorite Chinese cookbook Potsticker Chronicles: America's Favorite Chinese Recipes

Chinese BBQ Spare Ribs

3 pounds spare ribs
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T cooking sherry
2 T sesame oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup minced ginger
2 T sugar
1 T fresh ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk. Pour the sauce over the ribs and marinate for 8 hours to overnight. Turn the ribs over a few times. Grill briefly on a grill with high heat to get a little char going. Put the ribs in a baking dish and put into the oven uncovered at 375 degrees. Bake, turning occasionally and marinating often until done. Don't marinate in the last 20 minutes.


Homemade Applesauce

Its the season to make some applesauce and apple butter. Watch the stores for deals on apples. I made up a big batch of sauce yesterday. I like a nice mix of apples to make an interesting flavor. I also like to run the cooked sauce through a strainer for a nice smooth texture. If you like chunky applesauce more power to you. Chunky applesauce is easier because there is one less step.

Homemade Applesauce

1 pound of a mix of different apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
2 T brandy

Add everything except the brandy to a pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Remove the lid and mash a little with a potato masher. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until sauce thickens up. Add the brandy and cook 1 more minute.

If you have more than a pound of apples you can just multiply the recipe.


Tailgate Penn State Victory!

We had a nice tailgate last Saturday at the game. I made up a batch of chili using the turkey fryer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Airplane Trip

My pilot friend came up last Saturday for a visit. We had Humboldt Cheese Steaks for lunch. He road the Triumph around a little bit and then I got to go for a plane ride. I got some pretty neat photos.

On our way back to Humboldt we spotted an eagle below us.

Here he is a little closer.