Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Simple Joy of Spatchcocked Chicken

So, you already have the "perfect recipe" for chicken?  Have you spatchcocked a chicken yet?  You should...

Increasing the surface area of the bird, so that the heat can attack it more uniformly, means a much more evenly cooked bird, with no dry spots and some amazing crispy skin!

You Will Need:
  • 1 whole chicken (thawed)
  • 1 pair kitchen shears
  • 1 schmear of olive oil
  • A few generous shakes of your favorite Poultry Seasoning
  • 1 oven rack -OR- 1 generous handful of cut carrots, celery, and onion
Behold!  The whole naked chicken.  some people are totally freaked out by it, and I get it... if the news reports you hear are even half true, then people out there DIE just from touching this slimy thing!  Calm down, it's not a biological weapon, it's just a chicken.  Take a deep breath, remove the bird from it's packaging and rinse it in cold water.  Pat it dry, lay it out on your cutting board (as shown), then wash your hands (with soap) and dry them thoroughly.  You are ready to begin!
Pick up your shears with your dominant hand.  This is now your "dry hand!"  Don't touch the bird with this hand, no matter how much you may be tempted!  This hand needs to remain clean and dry so that the shears won't slip.  Besides, if you get both hands all greasy with chicken slime, you'll contaminate the rest of your kitchen before you know it so... move the shears with this hand, and move the chicken with the other...
Use the shears to remove the spine.  Don't try to cut the whole thing out with one <Snip>, just nip your way up each side of the spine and set it aside for your stock pile.  Drop the shears into the sink, and turn your attention back to the bird.
Using your "slime hand," spin the bird around, 180 degrees, and open it up so that you can see the breast bone.  Use your dry hand to pick up a sharp filet knife, and slide the tip under the white cartilage in the center of the bird, and slide it down toward the top of the bird to expose the keel bone (breast bone).
The keel bone has to come out.  It has to... if this weren't called "spatchcocking," it would be called "De-Keelboning."  The easiest way to remove it is with your fingers so, drop your knife into the sink and allow your dry hand to join the party just long enough to hold the bird steady so you can wiggle and pull the keel bone free.  Pitch the keel bone and wash/dry your hands so you can prepare the rack!
Why the rack?  You want to keep the bird up off of the cooking sheet so the heat can circulate around it.  If you're using a smoker, fantastic!  If you're using your oven, you'll need to elevate the bird, so use a rack or spread out some onions, carrots, and celery first, then lay the bird out over the veggies.
Brush the rack with olive oil (or spray it with non-stick cooking spray) to keep the bird from sticking, then lay out your masterpiece, breast side up, and rub it down with oil. Viola!  You've spatchcocked a chicken!  Sprinkle on your favorite seasoning, rub, spices, etc.  I'm not a big fan of rosemary and herbs, but it's not a bad way to go, here. 
Simple salt and pepper works, too!
Slip the cooking sheet into a 375 degree oven and pour yourself a relaxing beverage.  How long should it cook?  Depends on the size of the bird.  I jammed a thermometer probe into the breast and set it for 165.  An hour per pound at this temperature is average.  If you're slow-smoking, you should definitely go by temp and not time!
When the bird is done, any juice running out should be clear, and the joints should be nice and loose...
So loose, in fact, that they simply pull away from the bird with a gentle tug!

This chicken was absolutely delicious, and it makes for a spectacular presentation if you're hosting a dinner party.  Simply slide the entire bird onto a platter, and surround him with the cooked vegetables or other goodness like cubed potatoes, roasted garlic and sweet potatoes, or sliced tomatoes and onions!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Honey Sriracha Brussels Sprouts

Every now and then, you encounter a dish that has the perfect amounts of everything your tongue lives for; Bitterness, Salty, Sweet, and Heat.  Who would imagine that the bitterness of Brussels Sprouts could be perfectly mitigated with Sea Salt and Honey?  Who, indeed...

Most people run away when I threaten to cook Brussels Sprouts, and I understand that.  Completely.  Let's be clear; these sprouts are evil!  If you eat them raw, they will literally attack your mouth with some sort of vile chemical warfare.  Go ahead, eat a few sprouts, raw, then drink a glass of water.  You'll swear that the inside of your mouth is peeling away from your skull, it's not pleasant.  But they're just so gosh-darned good for you... I've been plying away for years (literally, years) to find a pleasant way to eat them, and I'm delivering for you here.  You're welcome.....

You Will Need:
  • A couple dozen fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup Sriracha hot sauce
  • 1 healthy glob of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon of Sea Salt
Take your Brussels sprouts out of the cage, box, or whatever container your grocer kept them in and give them a good wash.  Now, slice them fairly thinly.  Maybe 1/8 of an inch?  If you have a food processor, this will take less than ten seconds.  If you have your trusty knife, just get busy.  I like to yell at them while I cut them, it helps... "How does THAT feel, you miserable no-good green son of a b***??"  Place them in a bowl and toss them around as you sprinkle on the salt.  Set them aside and let the salt work into their wounds for about fifteen minutes.

Measure out your honey and Sriracha.  Luckily, my sweet sister bought me some of these super-cool silicon beakers and NOTHING sticks to them.  I squirt the honey first, and the Sriracha second.

Mix the two of them thoroughly until you have a uniform red sauce.  Taste it... YUM, right?  Just wait....

Now take out your best heavy non-stick saute' pan and glob in some EVOO.  Hike the heat up to Med-Hi and let the oil get hot.

Toss in the sprouts.  Poor devils... sliced, salted, and now covered with hot oil?  They deserve it, they've been super duper naughty.  Toss and stir them around until they soften a little bit and start to caramelize. 

When they turn a lovely golden shade of brown, pour in your sauce and stir them some more.  Let the sauce get hot and watch as the dish comes together.  It smells terrific!

I served mine with a Ribeye Steak (and horseradish sauce), alongside a hot mushroom and spinach salad.  Honestly, this dish has everything going for it; It's sweet and it's spicy.  It's aromatic.  It's low calorie, low carb, and extremely flavorful.  I can't imagine trying to pair a wine with it, something fruity I would imagine?  Anyway, it's easy and delicious, and if 93 of you try it, it will push my blog traffic up over the 100,000 hit mark, and that's a good thing, too!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin

I'd bet good money that the pork tenderloin might be one of the most overlooked pieces of meat in the whole department.  Maybe because it's tiny and tucked away?  Maybe most folks don't know what to do with it?  If that's the case, it's high time to clear the air!  How "yummo" does this look to you?

If you've ever found yourself standing in your grocery store with the little Pork Tenderloin package in your hands wondering, "It looks good, but..." read on!

You Will Need:
  • 1 Twin-Pack of Pork Tenderloins
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • Dry Rub for tenderloin, Equal Amounts of:
    • Kosher Salt
    • Dried Minced Garlic 
    • Black Pepper
    • Cayenne Pepper
    • Dill Seed
    • Brown Sugar
    • Coriander
    • Paprika
  • Preheat your oven, grill, or smoker to 450 degrees 
First step?  Find your tenderloin!   You might be tempted to pick up a "pork loin."  While a pork loin is delicious, it's an entirely different cut of meat.  A pork loin is a couple of feet long and is cut from the shoulder to the hip of the animal.  The tenderloins (there are two) are found on each side of the spine, near the lower back.  Typically, a package of tenderloins is a foot long and there are two to a pack.
Lay the loins out on your board and look for any untrimmed ribbons of silver-skin or fat.  Simply "shave" them off with your knife.  This is tough stuff and will not break down or render like regular fat!
Give each of them an olive oil massage and a generous sprinkle of the dry rub!  Gently press it in so it sticks well.  You remembered to preheat your oven or grill, right?  (just checking)... Do NOT proceed with the next step until you reach 450, because things will happen quickly and you don't want to be caught unprepared!
Pour the 1/4 cup of olive oil into a cast-iron skillet, over medium high heat.  Let it get hot!  Lay the loins down in the pan and listen as they sizzle... Spin them around after 5-7 minutes so that all sides get a nice brown crust.
Once you've browned the outside, insert an oven-safe temperature probe and set the alarm to 145 degrees.  Pick up the pan while it's still sizzling (Do I really need to tell you to use an oven mitt?), and slide it into the hot oven/grill.  I know, I know, most of the things I write about are cooked slowly over low heat.  Why the change?  Well, tenderloins have very little fat in them.  They're super tender, not because of the fat and connective tissue, but because they're a muscle that is rarely used.  Ever see a pig doing lower-back raises at the gym?  Me neither.. Anyway, cooking them slowly can allow what little moisture there is inside to evaporate and the result will be too dry to contemplate so...

Observe!  The hotter environment of the oven or grill was able to put a final crust on the loins while quickly cooking the inside up to an FDA approve "Medium" 145 degrees!  Mine took about 15 minutes, so keep an eye on your temperature alarm!  Carefully remove them from the hot pan and wrap them in foil to rest for 10 minutes before slicing!
Slice the loins into little medallions and serve them over some "Dirty Rice" or mashed spuds.  I laid mine over a fresh batch of jalapeno coleslaw!


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Homemade Mac-n-Cheese (Baked or Smoked)

Sadly, my wife flat out refuses to eat Macaroni and Cheese casserole!  She will eat Kraft Mac-n-cheese out of the blue box, which amazes me.  Honestly, who refuses a pound of pasta, smothered with a pound and a half of cheese??

This recipe is in my personal recipe folder called, "Badass Mac-n-Cheese."  It's a super-decadent, uber-cheesy version of a straight up macaroni casserole.  Feel free to embellish by adding bacon, pulled pork, chopped jalapenos, chopped onion, or any other of your faves.  Just promise me that you won't add pineapples... those people are crazy!

You Will Need:
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) butter; plus 2 additional Tbs. butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste (yes, tomato paste)
  • 8oz package of Cream Cheese
  • 2 cups (8oz) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups (8oz) shredded smoked gouda cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 5 slices of sourdough bread, cut into tiny cubes
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked until al dente and drained 
Preheat either your oven to 375, or (preferably) your Smoker to 250 degrees

So, you need a pound of pasta.  Do you need macaroni?  No, but it's traditional.  You DO need a bite-sized form of pasta with some curls or a hollow core to grab onto the sauce.  I use a mix of small and large macaroni noodles.  Weigh out 16oz on your kitchen scale and boil them for 7-8 minutes or until al-dente.  Drain them, and re-submerge them in COLD water to stop the cooking process.  Leave them alone while you "Sauce Up!"
Let's get cheesy!  8oz of cheese will grate out to 2 cups.  I know, crazy!  I prefer to use a fresh 8oz block of cheese, over the pre-shredded variety.  When they put the pre-shredded stuff in the bag, they add cornstarch to keep it from clumping.  I don't want the cornstarch in my casserole, so I just grate all of the cheese with an old-school grater.
In a large pot, melt 4Tbsp of butter, over MEDIUM heat, then add the flour.  Use a paddle and stir, stir, stir until two thing happen.  1. It will no longer smell "buttery," but more "nutty."  2. It will eventually (7 minutes or so) smooth out and be less clumpy.  This is a Roux you're making, and it's magic!!  A Roux's sole purpose in life is to thicken liquids.  The longer you stir it over heat, the darker and more flavorful it becomes, BUT, the less "thickening" power it retains.  Since we're not making Gumbo today, we want a light blond Roux with maximum thickening power so as soon as the Roux smoothes out, add the milk.

Jack the heat up to Med-High and keep stirring!  You might want to switch to a whisk, to make sure the Roux doesn't clump.  Stir and watch for about 5 minutes.  When the mixture starts to "burble" and burp like primordial ooze or a forgotten tar pit, it's ready!  Congratulations, the French call this a "Bechamel" sauce and it serves as a base for hundreds of other sauces.  It's a culinary requirement for any cooking school, and you just mastered it!
No time for patting yourself on the back, however, because this sauce is fairly fragile.  Keep stirring and add the tomato paste, cayenne pepper, and the block of cream cheese.  Why cream cheese?  Well, besides being super creamy and delicious, it will help things come back together tomorrow, when you are reheating this lovely creation in your microwave.  Why the paste and pepper?  For "tang" and that hint of "something" special...
Stir until all of this has melted and runs smoothly off of your paddle.  Now, add most of the cheese that you grated earlier.  Add it a little bit at a time and stir after each "dump" to let it melt and incorporate.  Continue to stir and slowly build the cheese sauce, leaving about 1/2cup of the cheese for later.
Drain the pasta, and pour it into a clean bowl.  Pour over your finished cheese sauce and gently stir it together with your paddle.  Scrape the cheese goodness out of the pot and make sure it all makes it into the pasta bowl!  
Now, pour the whole mixture into a pre-greased 13x9" casserole pan and smooth it out.  Looking GOOD, right?  I know, I know, you could eat it right now... True, but it only gets better from here so, wait it out!  Sprinkle the last remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheese over the top, and then turn your attention to those "forgotten" bread cubes...
Dump your tiny cubes of bread into a bowl and pour over your 2Tbsp of melted butter.  Mix to evenly coat, then sprinkle them over the top of the grated cheese that was sprinkled over the top of the macaroni goodness!  Finally, sprinkle a generous helping of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano as a final topping.
Eureka!  You've assembled an amazing staple of American comfort food!  You could put it into a 375 degree oven until the bread cubes start to caramelize and turn golden brown (50 minutes to an hour).  OR...
You could add even more flavor and slide it into your smoker at 250 degrees for 60-70 minutes!  If you choose to smoke it, there are a couple of things to be aware of.  Make certain you've pre-heated your smoker and that you're burning clean embers (no bark, fresh charcoal, or anything that produces thick white smoke)!  You'll also want to check it every ten minutes or so and cover it when the bread takes on the color you want.  If you leave the bread in the smoker, uncovered, it could blacken with the color of the smoke and that's not good... Keep an eye on the temperature too, adjust the air-flow as necessary to keep the heat around 250.

When it comes out, let it stand (covered) for ten minutes to let things "settle" a bit.  If you did this correctly, your cheese sauce will firm up and you'll be able to cut out squares of hot and gooey mac-n-cheese blocks, and the rest of the casserole won't run all over the pan or your plate!

Enjoy!  As always, feel free to comment...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Steak Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

So; my wife is on a business trip to Mexico, leaving me completely unsupervised for a week.  For the first time in a very long time, I found myself in my kitchen with NOTHING to do and NOBODY to cook for.  I was hungry.  What to do....... 

"Why not cook up some of my favorite bacon wrapped stuffed chilis," I asked myself?  "OH, you've got those two beef tenderloin medallions that you need to cook today," I reminded myself.  What the heck?  Fire up the grill and cook them all!

You Will Need:
  • Chili Peppers (I like Anaheim peppers for this)
  • Melting Cheese (Cream Cheese, or Cheddar is fine but NOT "Whipped" Cream Cheese)
  • Bacon
  • Salt
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • 10oz Filet Mignon or Beef Tenderloin Medallion 
  • Preheat Oven to 375
  • Light up a chimney full of charcoal on your grill

I make "Jalapeno Poppers" a hundred different ways.  I've stuffed them with Blue Cheese, Cheddar, Cheese Curds, Cream Cheese, you name it.  I've also used a variety of different peppers, not always Jalapenos.  In this case I chose Anaheim peppers because they're bigger.  You could use two old fashioned Jalapeno peppers though, if you wanted.
Slice off the caps and remove as much of the white pithy membrane as you feel is "appropriate."  Remember, the heat in any chili is in the membrane, NOT the seeds!  This is always a balancing act because you want room for the cheese, but you also want to leave some heat so, prep accordingly.
Stuff your chili with cheese.  This time, I used some fresh cheese curds because, well, because I had some and because they melt like crazy, and because they're super delish... Use whatever you want, but do NOT use "Whipped" (or spreadable) cream cheese!  It expands under heat and will leak out of the chili and make a mess.  Plug the end of your chili with a wad of bacon because... bacon is delicious and it will keep the cheese from leaking out!
Finally, wrap the entire chili with a slice of bacon (or two, depending on how large your chili is), grease a pan, and slide them into the oven for 40 minutes at 375 degrees.
Now, turn your attention to the steak.  It almost seems "criminal" to take a beautiful 10oz filet like this one, and to pound the living crap out of it, but... great "omelets" involve broken eggs, so, take a deep breath and fortify yourself.  You'll need a layer of plastic and some water for lubrication.  Spritz some water on a plastic bag, place the plastic on top of the steak, and gently pound the steak with a mallet, starting i the center and working your way out toward the edges.  TAKE YOUR TIME!  If you pound your meat too aggressively, you'll tear the edges and NOBODY wants that!  Just keep things lubricated, take your time, be gentle, and pound away!  Your patience will be rewarded... :)

You should end up with a nice flat piece of steak that resembles a large flour tortilla.  Excellent!  Season it with a sprinkle of salt, and a shake of Cayenne pepper.
Remove your chili from the oven and place it (while it's still warm) at one end of your "tortilla."  Gently (but tightly) roll it up, and use a couple of wooden toothpicks to pin up the ends.
Place it on the counter to rest while you tend to your fire.  Did you remember to turn off the oven?  Good. This would also be a magnificent time to open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and to let it breathe.  You'll need it.  Later...
Dump your coals into half of your pit.  I used an old half-charred hunk of oak wood as a "fence."  The idea is to create an area of indirect heat, as well as a super-hot spot of direct heat.
Once everything is pre-heated (give your pit 15 minutes alone with the lid closed), lay your steak roll on the indirect side.  I know, I know, there is fire on both sides in the picture... but as soon as I closed the lid and dampered down the air supply, things settled down.  Close the lid and leave your roll in there, undisturbed for about 12 minutes.
When you lift the lid, use some long tongs to move the roll to the hot side!  Roll it around over there and give it two to three minutes on each side.  You want a nice char, but you don't want to incinerate it, so be careful!
Take the roll off the heat and wrap it in foil to rest while you get your plate ready.  Earlier, I simmered a small carton of mushrooms in half a stick of butter, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup of Burgundy I had leftover, for about an hour.  It's time these two met!  Pour a massive glass of the Cab-Sav and get ready, baby...
I dumped a scoop of the shrooms onto a plate and then unrolled and sliced the steak roll into two halves.  The cheese was gooey, the bacon was crispy, and the steak was perfect!  Being "unsupervised," I was tempted to just pick up the roll with my hand and eat it like a "Boss!"  I didn't... mostly because I didn't want greasy smudges all over my wine glass.

Sadly, it was at this moment that I kicked myself for foolishly not thinking about a sauce... Perhaps a Hollandaise?  Bearnaise?  White Queso? Maybe a Green-Chili sauce?  Oh well.  It was pretty damned delicious as it was!