Thursday, April 12, 2018

Corn Polenta Pulled Pork Tacos!

When I make pulled pork, I make a LOT of pulled pork!  This usually leaves me (or my customers) with some leftovers.  This explains why I hear the question, "What do you do with your leftover pulled pork?" asked a lot!  Today, I am presenting a simple, yet delicious way to present your leftover BBQ pork as if it were a brand new dish.  I present to you, the Pulled Pork and Polenta taco!

Old, made NEW

Polenta is incredibly versatile!  You can serve it creamy, or you can fry it into fritters and serve your pork on top of it, like a crunchy cornbread tostada!  This recipe will make a large batch of basic corn polenta.  If you want the fried fritter version, just park this recipe in your fridge overnight, then cut and fry your fritters the next day.

You Will Need:
  • 1 large "Blurp" of Olive Oil
  • 1 medium yellow or red onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 cup coarse ground yellow cornmeal.
  • 1/2 stick butter.
  • Salt/Pepper to taste
  • 2oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (the good stuff.  It should not say, "Kraft" on the label)
  • 1 bundle green onions finely diced
  • 1 oven, pre-heated to 350 degrees F 

We'll begin by sweating the onion and garlic in olive oil, in a large pan on the stove.  What's a "Sweat" vs a "Saute?"  Heat!  If you hear hot sizzling, you're sauteing.  Turn the heat down to Medium and let the oil bubble very slowly while onion and garlic take a nice sweaty sauna.  Leave them in there for at least 5 minutes.

Add some salt and pepper and stir things around.  If the onions are soft and you smell the garlic, it's time to move to the next step and pour on your Chicken Stock.  Bring the whole mess up to a quick boil, then reduce it to a bubbly simmer.

When your stock is bubbling, it's time to add the cornmeal.  Do NOT dump it in all at once!  Cornmeal grains are like Freshman at a college party.  If you bus them in to your party all at once, they'll get frightened and huddle and cling together in a lump and they won't help your party at all.  The trick is to sprinkle them in slowly, letting them each get surrounded by a flavorful liquid, individually, while you stir the mix.  Before you know it, they'll start dancing in the simmer and the party will be nice and thick, with everyone having a great time!

Once all of the cornmeal is stirred in and the mix is nice and creamy, put the lid on the pot and slide it into your oven (pre-heated to 350F, remember?) for 40 minutes.  Every ten minutes, reach in (with gloves) to remove the lid and give it a stir.

While the polenta is in the oven, chop your onions and grate your cheese.  You should weigh the cheese on a kitchen scale because 2oz of Parm is more than you think!  This picture shows exactly 2oz of great Parmigiano grated in a bowl, sitting next to 1 cup of yellow cornmeal.  See?  Quite a handful!
When your 40 minutes are up, remove the polenta from the oven and stir in the butter.  Stir and stir until the butter melts and is fully incorporated.  Give it a taste at this point, it should taste like it needs just a little bit of salt.  Do NOT add salt yet... the Parm is coming!
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is a remarkable thing (no, not the shit in the green can, I'm talking about the stuff you pay $20/lb for from your cheese monger).  It will bring more creaminess and more "salty" than you might imagine.  Add your green onions and Parm.  Stir it all together while the cheese breaks down and moves into the dish with everyone else. 
After a final stir, it will be ready to eat!  NOW is the time to adjust for any seasoning.  It's good, right?  Better than grits, and good enough to stand on its own!

This stuff is incredibly versatile, and it goes so well with pork!  Add a bit of sugar, and it makes an amazing side dish on it's own.  Spread it out on a flour tortilla and stack on some pulled pork, fresh salsa, and some Cilantro!  Roll it into a street taco, or (my favorite), cut a round or square portion of polenta after it cools in the fridge, and fry it like a pancake until it develops a crispy brown crust.  Stack a generous pile of pork and maybe some avocado cream and fresh pico de gallo on top?  HOOOO boy, it doesn't get much better than that!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Authentic Cajun Jambalaya

When people think "New Orleans," they also think, "Food!"  New Orleans cuisine is world famous and for good reason.  What do you get when you mix French immigrants, access to world class seafood, locally sourced rice, vegetables, beef, pork, chicken, and 99% of the world's crawfish population?  You get amazing ingredients, a variety of preparation techniques, and a menu that the rest of the world tries to replicate.

The "Big Three" dishes to have been born in The Big Easy are Gumbo, Etoufee, and Jambalaya.  Of these, Jambalaya is the easiest to make because you don't have to cook a Roux.  Let's get to it!

You Will Need:

  • 4 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 3lbs Chicken Thigh Meat (skinless, boneless), cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2lbs Andouille Sausage, smoked or cooked and cut into 1/4 inch disks
  • 1lb of Raw Medium Shrimp, prepped and peeled
  • 2 Yellow Onions, diced
  • 4 Large Ribs of Celery, sliced into 1/4" crescents
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
  • 4 Tbsp Spice Mix.  Equal amounts of each of the following:
    • Cayenne Pepper
    • Chili Powder
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • Paprika
    • Garlic Powder
  • 3 Cups long grain rice
  • 2 (14 ounce) Cans of diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 4 Cups chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Bunch of green onions, finely chopped
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and grab your biggest cast-iron pot or dutch oven.  This recipe will make enough Jambalaya to feed at least ten people!  Also, things happen fairly quickly in this recipe, so you'll want to prep, dice, and cut all of your proteins and veggies ahead of time!

Over Medium-High heat, add the oil.  Once it's hot, dump the chicken into the pot.  Stir and cook the pieces just long enough to brown them on all sides. When the chicken is browned (but not yet fully cooked), remove the chicken (leave the oil in the pot), and set it aside.

Now, dump the Bell Peppers, Onions, and Celery (also known in the Cajun Community as "The Trinity"), into the pot.  Also, sprinkle the spices over the top.  Stir and cook over Medium High heat for ten minutes or until the veggies are soft and the onions are clear.

Once the veggies are tender, Pour in the cans of tomatoes (with juice), and the chicken stock.  Stir it well.  Add the rice and stir it in until everything is well mixed.  Bring up the heat until it boils, then reduce it to a simmer and mix it well.

Add the browned chicken and the Andouille sausage.  Gently stir everything together.

Once everything is stirred together and it is lightly bubbling and simmering, cover it up with a tight-fitting lid and slide it into your 350 degree oven.  Leave it in the oven for 45 minutes!  Amazing things will happen in there... The sausage will render it's glorious fat into the mix, the rice will soak up flavors from the chicken, the Andouille, the garlic, etc, etc.  It's a good-time party in that oven!  "Laissez les bons temps rouler!!"
After 45 minutes, the oven-party should be winding down and the ingredients should be fairly spent!  Put the pot back onto the stove and turn it up to Medium-High.  Stir in your shrimp, the parsley, and the green onions.  The shrimp and the herbs cook very quickly so; stir them in, put the lid back on, and leave them to cook for about 7 minutes. 

When you lift the lid, the shrimp should have curled into a tight pink ball.  The rice should be tender and very flavorful.  The dish in the pot should look bright, colorful, and the smell should be nothing short of AMAZING!

Pour this into a nice ceramic bowl and serve it with a cold beer or a cold white wine.  A nice Sauvignon Blanc or maybe a Pinto Gris.  Cajun purists would suggest a Pink wine with lower alcohol like a Zinfandel.  Regardless of the wine you choose, take heart that this dish doesn't need "sides" to compliment it.  It stands, like a beast, on it's own because it has everything!  Veggies, carbs, grain, proteins, salt, spices... Tuck in and enjoy!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Pork Belly Burnt Ends

For my money, the best single "bite" out of a whole cow, is a properly cooked, spiced, and cubed "Burnt End" from the Point of a properly smoked brisket!  WOW, is that good stuff, or what?  Well, God, in his infinite wisdom, also gave us the pig!  Pigs are packed with a variety of tender and delicious bits, and their rotund little bellies are the best, hands down.  What if you could make Burnt Ends from a pig?!  Would they be as good??

There is no more flavorful, juicy, or soft and tender portion of meat than pork belly.  Humans have savored pork belly for years.  Prior to refrigeration, we knocked ourselves out trying to preserve such a valuable morsel.  We finally settled on a process of salt curing and cold smoking the belly and "bacon" was born.  I submit to you that today, 100 years later, we have refrigerators and freezers and while bacon has its place in the world, there are other ways to prepare pork belly!  Some of them might even be MORE delicious than bacon!  There, I said it....

You will need:

  • 1 Whole, 10lb untrimmed SKINLESS pork belly
  • Chunks of Apple Wood / Charcoal
  • Pork Rub
  • Sharp filet-knife
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1.5 sticks of butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup bbq sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Lay your pork belly out on your board and have a look.  What you want is a nicely squared hunk of belly, that is trimmed to a uniform thickness.  Use your knife and square off the edges, and "shave" down the thicker end of the belly if needed.  The end-goal here will be to cut this marvelous piece of meat into cubes that are roughly 1.5 inches on each side.

Cut 1.5 inch strips, and then cut 1.5 inch squares out of each strip.  During the cook, most of this fat will render out and the squares will shrink down to about an inch square, so cut them bigger than "bite size" now.  If you're entertaining ideas of salt-curing this belly and cutting your bacon into cubes, rather than strips, you're not alone!  We'll save that idea for next time, but for now, collect all of your belly-cubes into a bowl and spice them up with your pork rub.

Make sure all six sides of each cube get a nice dusting of your spice rub.  You may have to work in batches, moving the pig from your board, to the bowl, to the rack.  Why the rack?  Well, you could put the cubes right into your BBQ pit, but then you'd run into trouble when you tried to take them off, one by one or whatever.  Besides, they get sticky so... it's so much easier to spray a rack or two with non-stick spray, and then lay out your cubes with enough space between them for the smoke to work it's magic!  You want the fat to render AWAY from the cubes, and a nice dark crispy bark to form, so resist the temptation to put them into a foil pan!

Get your pit cooking with a mix of charcoal and apple wood.  Bring it up to 250 degrees before placing the racks into your pit.  You're only going to leave them in there for 3.5 hours so be sure to preheat first; DON'T BE LAZY!  Close the lid and leave them alone in there for 3.5 hours.

When 3.5 hours is up, your burnt-ends will have taken on a nice dark bark from the smoke and they'll be ready for you to tenderize!  Stack them all, loosely, into a half-sized foil pan.
Sprinkle the sugar and butter over the top of them, and pour over the honey.  Don't give me any of that, "Ken, wait... are you SURE you need to add MORE fat," crap, either!  I'm well aware of the fat content of pork belly and while we rendered a lot of it out, yes, there's still quite a bit there.  BUT... we need a braising liquid to tenderize these beauties and butter and brown sugar go so well together, not to mention the honey.  Don't fool yourself, we aren't baking these as a delightful fat-free snack to reward ourselves for doing some yoga this morning... Think of this as "fuel" for chopping a few cords of wood later, for your family's survival in the Yukon.  ...or to fuel your BBQ Pit.

Cover this goodness, tightly, with a couple layers of foil, and put it right back onto the pit (250 degrees) for an hour.  Close the lid... Walk away...

After an hour you will, flat out, be tempted to just start eating these like so much popcorn, despite the fact that they're "Napalm Hot!"  Hang on... don't burn your face off (yet), take them out of the foil pan and place them onto a serving platter.  Drizzle a mix of your favorite BBQ sauce and apple cider vinegar over the top of them, and toss to coat!
Now, pick one up (I had to use a fork, at first, because they were still too hot) and take a bite!  Hot Damn, Tamale, baby!  A small pocket of liquid bacon fat exploded when I bit down and effectively basted this bite with what could only be described as the tears from a deliriously happy Cherub who had just hit the lotto in Heaven somewhere.  The meat was as soft as ice-cream and it was every bit as good as I'd hoped it would be!  These are extremely rich and decadent, I don't recommend eating more than 3 or 4 of them.  At a time.  And WOW, are they ever great with a cold beer..............

Monday, February 5, 2018

Boeuf (Beef) Bourguignon, Made Easy (well; "Easier")!

Everyone talks about Beef Bourguignon like it's the "Holy Grail" of recipes.  Most folks take a glance at the recipe and declare it to be, "Not worth the trouble for a simple beef stew" but I assure you... it's well worth the trouble, and then some!  Beef Stew is similar to Beef Bourguignon the same way that the banquet room at your local American Legion Hall is "similar to" the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria.

Note the Subtle Difference Between the Banquet Halls
To make the best "beef stew" that you, or anyone you've ever served have ever tasted, you'll need to crack your knuckles and jump into a deeply flavored, diversely textured, decadently seasoned Beef Bourguignon!

You will need:
  • 1 "Strong Blurp" of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2lb of thickly sliced bacon, chopped into smaller chunks or bits
  • 3lbs of Chuck Roast, cut into 1" cubes
  • Salt/Pepper
  • 1+ pound of FRESH carrots (not the "carrot nibblers" that you put in your kid's lunch pack), washed, peeled, and thickly cut on a bias
  • 2 Small Red Onions, diced
  • 4 Cloves of Fresh Garlic, mashed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup Quality Bourbon
  • 1 Entire Bottle of excellent Pinot Noir
  • 1 or 2 cups of Beef Stock (or Consume')
  • 1/2 Small Can of Tomato Paste
  • 1/2 Stick of Butter
  • 3 Tbsp of Bread Flour
  • 1.5lbs of whole Pearl Onions (blanched and peeled)
  • 1lb of your favorite woodland mushrooms, thickly sliced
Before we get started, click the bowl of Beef Bourguignon shown here (from my kitchen) and look at the full sized image.  This dish is all about balance.  Trust me when I tell you that there is just the right amount of everything in this dish.  If  you start substituting, things can/will go downhill in a hurry and I think that's where people go wrong.  If you don't have a good Pinot, don't just toss in a bottle of Sutter Home White Zinfandel or (gag) a Rose'!  If you don't have the time to blanch and peel a bunch of pearl onions, then wait until you do.  I promise, you'll keep the first bite of this concoction in your mouth for a long time as your brain explodes trying to savor all of the different flavors here, and they work together like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so... to begin:

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees (yes, TWO hundred fifty).

For this recipe, it will be well worth your time to chop/dice/prep everything ahead of time and to keep it organized. In other words, put your best Mise en Place skills to work here!

Get your big Dutch Oven out and put it on the stove.  Make sure the vessel you're using is NOT a "non-stick" pot!  A cast iron dutch oven is best, but enameled iron works too.  More on this later... Crank the heat to Medium High and pour in a couple of Tbsp of good Olive Oil.  Enough to just cover the bottom... now add your bacon and cook/stir it for about 20-30 minutes to render some bacon fat.  MMmmmmm, bacon fat!  Now, carefully take out the bacon, leaving as much fat in the pan that you can.  Keep the bacon safe in a separate bowl (you honestly didn't think I'd have you toss it out, did you?).

Open the Pinot Noir, to let it breath, and pour yourself a small glass.  Savor this glass because the entire contents of the rest of the bottle will ultimately go into the dish (more on this, later).

Season your Beef Chuck cubes, and add just enough of them to cover the bottom of your hot dutch oven.  Roll them around in the bacon fat until they're brown on all sides, then carefully remove them to the same safe-house where you stashed your bacon.  Repeat this until all of the beef is browned on the outside.

By now, there should be some smoky bits of bacon and beef stuck to the bottom of the pot; no problem!  NOTE, This is why a non-stick pot won't work for this dish.  You NEED stuff to stick to the pot!  Dump in your carrots and red onions and stir them together to cook and to add flavor to the fond ("Fond" means "bottom" in French, and refers to the sticky bits at the bottom of the pan).  Let them cook, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes or so.  Add the garlic and stir it in toward the end so it doesn't burn.

Now; take hold of your Bourbon Whiskey.  Take a sip of the Whiskey, to fortify yourself for two things:
  1. You're about to make fire.
  2. You're about to pour an entire bottle of Pinot Noir into what is essentially a "Beef Stew" and you don't want to be caught crying about it!
Pour the Bourbon into the pot and stir.  Be careful,  because the alcoholic vapor may catch fire!  No big deal, just douse the flames with the lid from your Dutch Oven.  Do not skip the alcohol because there are gobs of "alcohol soluble" flavors here (particularly in the onions) and you'll lose a lot of flavor depth if you do.  Stir the Bourbon around to de-glaze the pot, and let it bubble for awhile until the alcohol has done it's work and has mostly evaporated from the pot.

Dump all of the beef and bacon back into the pot and give it a good stir.  Gird your loins and pour the entire remaining contents of your Pinot Noir into the pot.  Do it.  Don't argue, don't whine, and don't make excuses, just do it.  Julia Child would be proud!  Take your beef stock and pour in just enough to barely almost cover the tip-tops of the beef cubes.  Stir in the tomato paste and bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Once you have it simmering, put the lid on and place the entire Dutch Oven into your bigger oven for at least 2.5 to 3 hours.  Great things will happen in there.

When you have about 20 minutes to go, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter in a saucepan and slowly saute the mushrooms over Medium to Medium High heat.  Let them cook down for 20 minutes or so.  With 5 minutes remaining, melt the last two Tbsp of butter in a separate pan or microwave safe bowl, and stir it together with the flour.  Heat and stir them together until they're fully combined into a roux.  A roux like this is, hands down, the best way to thicken a dish or gravy!

Pull the Bourgy out of the oven and remove the lid.  It will be hot and it will still be simmering!  Stir in your roux, then stir in the mushrooms.  Add your Pearl Onions (you thought I forgot about those, didn't you)!  Bring the entire stew to a boil (again), then reduce to simmer for another 30 minutes or so, and stir it occasionally.

Serve it up in a nice ceramic bowl with a hunk of sourdough bread and a glass of good red table wine.  Personally, I like to go off by myself somewhere to eat this, in front of the fireplace with my fuzzy slippers on, the lights low, and some Mozart playing subtly in the background.  Every bite of this dish is one to be savored, and when you try it, you'll know why you spent 5 hours dealing with it earlier in the day!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Chocolate Macadamia Pie

Pie.  When it comes to desserts, cake, ice cream, pie, etc, I'm a pie-man!  I also believe that, while the big box stores offer pie, there's nothing like filling your house with the aroma of a home-baked designer pie!  Recently, my wife and I were traveling to Hawaii for a vacation and I took the time to assemble the filling for a pie, and I poured it all into a vacuum-sealed bag and put in into my suitcase so I could surprise the guests in our condo with a homemade gem of a pie, "Bourbon Chocolate Macadamia Pie!"
Bourbon Chocolate Macadamia Pie!

A quick word about pie crust; While I believe that a properly homemade pie crust is superior in flakiness, tenderness, and appearance, I do not believe that it is superior enough to go through the tedious process of creating one from scratch.  In my own personal blind taste tests, I pick the homemade crust every time, but I'm simply not prepared to invest the time and effort to "cube cold butter" and to "rest the dough in the refrigerator," etc.  This recipe calls for "Frozen 9-inch deep dish pie crusts" and I believe the filling is so fantastic, that nobody (except for perhaps your Grandmother) will mention your lack of pie crust effort.

For the Chocolate Macadamia Pie, you will need:
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 Cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 Cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/4 Cup bourbon (Yes.  You "need" it)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 Cups Crushed Macadamia Nuts
  • 3/4 Cup Milk Chocolate chips 
  • One 9-inch DEEP DISH pie crust, thawed and ready to receive
Bread flour has a lot more protein strings than regular flour, these help the pie set up firmly.  So use it if you can...  In any case, you'll want to pay particularly close attention to the quantity of the ingredients here, do not use more or less than what is described, and be sure to bake it the full amount of time.
Spray some "Pam" inside of your measuring cup, so the syrup will pour out quickly and easily.  Dump your eggs (and yolks) into the bowl, turn on your mixer and get the party started... When the eggs are thoroughly mixed and bright yellow, measure exactly 1/2 cup of dark syrup and 1/2 cup of light syrup into your mixing bowl. While the mixer is turning and burning, add the bourbon, and then add the dark brown sugar, a little bit at a time.  Go slowly, you want it all to dissolve.  Drink a shot of the Bourbon in the meantime, you know, for... "fortification and courage."  Sprinkle in the flour.  Pour in the butter and a pinch of salt.  Let the mixer work for a full minute or two to make sure everything really comes together!  Turn off the mixer and use a silicon spatula to mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips.

If you look carefully, you'll see that the mix is a lighter, caramelly color.  That's because you've mixed and whipped a zillion tiny air bubbles into it.  Cover the goop with plastic and park it in the fridge to give this air a chance to escape (overnight is best).  This will keep the pie from cracking.

Preheat your oven to 350, and take the frozen pie crust out of the freezer to thaw.  When the oven is hot and your crust is ready, pour the mix into the pie crust.  Place the pie onto a cookie sheet in case it boils over, and then pop it into the oven for 55 minutes to an hour.  Keep an eye on the edges of the crust, and when they turn a nice golden brown, it's time to pull the pie!

Remove the pie and let it set up for another hour or so, before parking it in the fridge. Let it sit in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, this will make it much easier to slice.  I find that light pressure with a serrated knife, sawing back and forth works much better than the "Plunge and pull" method of slicing.  If you're slow and careful, this pie will slice like a dream!

Notice that the Macadamia Nuts floated to the top of the pie while it was in the oven.  This was awesome because they all seemed to lock together in a caramelized matrix, leaving a Bourbon/Chocolaty goo on the bottom.  My buddy Mark insisted that we top this pie with a scoop of Macadamia/Coconut Ice Cream.  Mark is wise.....


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Bailey's Irish Cream Chocolate Cake

This cake is all about two things:
  1. Fun!
  2. Butter!!

I'm not going to lie, this cake is NOT good for you!  It has a full 8oz cup of Bailey's Irish Creme, nearly four sticks of butter, heavy cream, and other pantry naughties.  It is awfully delicious though, and the texture is out of this world!  Picture a bite of something with a texture that falls somewhere between "undercooked brownie" and "fluffy cake."  But creamier.... and with more depth to the chocolate!

Let's Get Started!

For the cake
  • Cooking spray, for the pan
  • 1 box chocolate cake mix (your favorite), plus the ingredients called for on the box
For the "goop"
  • 1 14-oz. can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk (who doesn't love this stuff?)
  • 1/3 c. heavy cream
  • 1/3 c. Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder (do NOT skimp on the cocoa powder!)
  • 1/4 c. + 2oz Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur
For the frosting
  • 2 Sticks of Butter, softened (NOT melted.  Let it sit on your counter for awhile)
  • 5 Cups of powdered sugar (Yes... five (5) Cups)
  • 1/2 Cup Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur
  • 1/4 Cup Ghirardelli cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla (Genuine Vanilla Extract, don't use Imitation.  Ever.)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Three handfuls of mini-chocolate chips to garnish
Step 1 - The Cake
Step 1 is easy.  Simply bake a boxed chocolate cake, according to the directions on the box.  The only thing to worry about here is the pan.  You'll need a 13x9 pan, suitable for presentation (unless you plan to park your fanny on the couch in front of a 12 hour Hallmark Christmas Movie Marathon with this cake, a fork, and some Irish Coffee and if that's the case, who am I to judge?).  Cupcakes or layered cake will not work for this recipe.

Step 2 - The Goop
While the cake is in the oven (set a timer, the cake is kind of important), you can assemble the goop!  Pour all four ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Pour the 2oz of Bailey's Irish Creme into an empty coffee mug. Take turns sipping from the coffee mug while whisking the ever-loving-crap out of the goop!   Whisk, fast and hard and crazy, until your arm gets tired, then have another sip from the mug.  Repeat until the mug is empty and the goop is completely mixed together.

Scrape every single drop of the goop into a large vessel for pouring.  A small pitcher maybe, or a large tumbler.  Clean out the mixing bowl because you'll need it for the frosting!

Step 3 - "The Goopening"
When the cake comes out of the oven, set it on the counter and grab yourself something from your kitchen drawer that's about as thick as a No. 2 pencil.  The handle of a wooden spoon, maybe, or the fat end of a chopstick works well.  Begin in the upper left of the cake surface and while the cake is still hot, gently poke and twist a perfectly round hole into the cake, all the way to the bottom.  Move over an inch, and repeat.  Do this until you have impaled the entire cake with holes that are no more than one inch away from each other.  Take a deep breath and grab your goop.  With a steady hand, pour the goop all over the cake and into all of the holes.  Make sure you get nice, even distribution!  Park the goopy cake into the refrigerator for 90 minutes so the cake can recover from the shock!  I mean, how would YOU feel if someone pulled you out of a warm bed and covered you with chocolate cream??

Step 4 - The Frosting
While the cake coming to terms with its new goopy partner, you can make the frosting!  Using a stand mixer (a hand mixer will do, but you won't be able to make this frosting with a hand whisk), dump your softened butter into the bowl and crank up the horsepower.  Whip this butter until it's nice and creamy.  Slow the mixer down and add the Bailey's, Vanilla, and salt.  SLOWLY, add the cocoa powder, being careful not to allow your mixer to sling the powder all over your kitchen (it happens, trust me)!  While the mixer is still slowly doing its thing, add the powdered sugar in small doses, until you're out of sugar and you're staring at a beautiful, creamy, tan-brown, fluffy frosting!  

When the cake's 90 minutes are up, pull it out of the fridge.  It will look "funky" and not like cake at all.  In fact, it will look a little like a WWI "No Man's Land," littered with artillery holes.  IT'S OK!!  Frosting covers all!  Use every gram of frosting (except for what you already licked off of the beaters) to evenly cover this cake, then sprinkle on your min-chips (or chocolate shavings, chocolate sprinkles, dust, sugar, or whatever else might suit your fancy).

A word of caution... This cake is RICH and one piece is ENOUGH for awhile!  You may wish to consider it a "meal replacement" rather than an "after dinner treat" or whatever.  Also, this is a bit of an adult cake.  The chocolate is real, and it's rich, and the flavor is deep!  While kids would certainly enjoy it, they wouldn't enjoy it "properly!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving Pig (Smoked Ham), and Sauce!

Turkey is great and all, but can we talk a bit about the OTHER meat that's on the table?  HAM, baby! While it may buck tradition a bit, here's how to make a whole ham that will rival your Turkey in presentation and taste!

35lbs of Juicy Pig Butt!

What's the deal with ham?  First let's talk about exactly where it comes from... It’s as if all of the butchers and hog farmers in the world got together and made a pact to confuse the general populace.  First things first, “Ham” comes from a pig’s buttock (left or right).  While a “Pork Butt” might sound like a pig-bootie, the Butt (or “Boston Butt”) is actually from the pork shoulder.  Confused yet?  It gets better.  If you cut the buttock out of a pig, it’s not called a “Ham” yet, it’s called a “Picnic.”  Some call it a “picnic ham” or a “country ham” which is even more confusing.  What you need to know is this; a “Picnic” does not become a “Ham” until it is salt cured, and cooked (usually smoked).  When you buy a ham from the store, if the label says “Ham,” then it’s already cooked and safe to eat.  Technically, you could bring it home, cut it open, and eat it right away (but it won't taste very good, to say nothing of the rubbery texture).

Curing and smoking your own ham from scratch, starting with a raw Picnic is a chore and while I’ve done it, I don’t recommend it because it’s involved, messy, and it takes days or weeks to do it right.  Therefore, I buy “Hams” and then cook them (ok, “re-heat” them, essentially) at home, adding flavor, etc.  They're super easy to find during the holidays, even Walmart sells Cook's 20-30lb whole bone-in hams at this time of the year!

Smoking a ham is one of the easiest things in the world to do.  

You Will Need:
  • 1 Whole Bone-in Ham (not sliced, not "halved," not boneless) 
  • 1/2 Cup Honey
  • 1/2 Cup Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 Cup Chili Powder
  • 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar

Why a "whole, bone-in ham?"  Lots of reasons... If the ham has been cut in half or spiral-sliced, all of the moisture will leak right the hell out when you put it on your smoker or into your oven and it will dry out like nobody’s business.  If your grandmother ever cooked one of these, she probably opened the oven and basted it every 10 minutes to keep it moist.  Thanks Grandma! I'm way too lazy to do that...  When it comes to boneless hams, most of them are little more than a processed (pressed) “loaf” of ground or many smaller pieces of ham.  That's perfect for breakfast or ham sandwiches, but it's not what we're going for, on Thanksgiving!

Lay the ham out on your cutting board, so the rind is down.  Take a small sharp knife and cut about 1/4" deep, scoring a checkerboard pattern through the skin, fat, and down into the meat.  
I tend to cut so that my squares come out 3/4" on a side.   As the ham cooks, it will swell and your squares will be beautifully presented.  Take your time with this, you'll be rewarded!  Once you're through cutting, have a cold beer and relax a bit.  The hard part is over!

Now, place the honey in a small bowl and heat it in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Mix in the mustard and stir, stir, stir until you have a nice honey mustard sauce.  Spoon the sauce over your ham, pressing gently to squish it into your lattice cuts.
After all of the sauce is rubbed into your ham, sprinkle the dry ingredients over the top.  Press the spices into your "trenches"  and take a step back to marvel at what you've done!  You're one step away from a restaurant quality Holiday Ham, and you only paid 1/3 of the price for it!  Seriously, I've seen these things sell in Holiday Catalogues for more than $10/lb!  You're better than that!!

Jam a temperature probe into the center of the meat, being careful that the tip of the probe is away from the bone.  Set your Smoker, Grill, or Oven to 250 degrees, and lay it on!  Pull it off the heat when the internal temperature hits about 130 degrees.  Note how the meat shrinks away from the bone bit, giving you a nice handle for slicing?  Mmmmmm.....

Let's talk Sauce!  Why sauce?  Once you start pulling the meat off of the bone in the center (and it should just pull away, by hand), you may want to flavor it even more with a sauce.  Favorite sauces for ham usually include something to offset the salt cure like honey, pineapple, cherries, brown sugar, molasses, etc.  For presentation, I usually slice and pull all of this apart and then pour over my ham sauce, then put the whole damn thing into the middle of the table where people can dig in!  This Ham Sauce is full of all of the good things; Bourbon re-hydrated cherries, pineapple, butter, brown sugar... see?  ALL of the good things, AND, it's great on ice-cream, too!