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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

For Lunch Today

lunch1

Deli ham with provolone cheese, tomato, romaine lettuce, a home-made remoulade, on toasted ciabatta – the king of breads.

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Blech.  Got back this morning at 1am.  Worked at 9.  I’m tired.

 

I’ll have a mosaic up sooner or later of a bunch of billboards for a place that I would have to assume can give Disney a run for it’s money.

 

So here’s a filler image of a dinner I made myself a while back.  Pretty easy stuff, and the anchor between the two dishes is Balsamic Vinegar; which when cooked has this very layered sweetness that permeates the meat and ravioli.  For the ravioli I chose a broccoli and cheese variety – unfortunately prepackaged since I lack the equipment to make my own.  Whenever I am able to make my own I may try this dish with a broccoli and provolone filling, or some kind of asparagus with a creamy cheese.  Definitely not anything with the same kind of bite as parmesan – I don’t want to have the flavors competing.  The only thing I’ll change in regards to the chicken – which was marinated for ten minutes or so in the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and rosemary; would be to add shallots to the marinade, and do a pan saute on both sides to sear it for a few minutes and finish it in the oven.  The outer part had a great texture, then there was a leathery section before you got the really good stuff.  Unfortunately, the flavors didn’t permeate completely through.

 

Next up is a pork loin with a garlic risotto.  Not sure what I’m going to do with the pork loin, though.  Maybe bread and bake it, or poach it.  If you ever cook pork – any kind of pork – always remember to brine it first.  We’ve bred pigs to be very lean, and that means taking a hit on flavor.  Brining it (salt + water + flavor + time) will give it a desirable blast in the juicy department.

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Bacon Week, Day 5

Friday:  How to Make Your Own Bacon

 

Yes, you can.  You can start with a slab of meat, and produce your own bacon.  It’s a relatively simple process; cure, then smoke.  It just takes a while.  The best example of this I’ve found is off of my hero Alton Brown’s show Good Eats (where I grabbed this recipe), in which he constructs a home-made cold smoker, and walks you through the entire process.  I highly suggest getting your hands on that episode, since a visual step-by-step walk through can’t beat a set of instructions.  Either way, here we go:

 

1 cup sugar 
1 cup salt 
8 ounces molasses 
1/2 gallon (2 quarts) water 
1/2 gallon (2 quarts) apple cider 
2 tablespoons course ground black pepper 
1 (5 pound) piece raw pork belly from the loin-end
 

In a large non-reactive pot, bring half the water, 1 cup of sugar, salt, and 8 ounces molasses to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a large container with the remaining water, and the apple cider. Place in the refrigerator and cool to 40 degrees F.Press the black pepper into the pork belly. Once the brine has cooled place the peppered pork belly into the mixture until completely submerged. Refrigerate for three days.

After three days have passed, remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Lay on a rack over a sheet pan and place in front of a fan for 1 hour to form a pellicle. Lay the pork in the protein box of a cold smoker and smoke for 4 to 6 hours. Chill the meat in the freezer for 1 hour to stiffen for easy slicing into strips of bacon. Slice what you need and keep the remainder in a freezer safe bag in the refrigerator or freezer.

 

To construct a cold smoker, I’ve found plans online that use 2 cardboard boxes, a hot plate, some wood chips, and some tubing from a hardware store.  It looks pretty simple, as long as you keep it in a location where if the cardboard boxes catch on fire, they won’t burn to anything else.

 

Here is a good example of a really simple one.  As you can see, the materials cost about 10 bucks, and use a grill that you should already have.  And since the grill provides the second chamber, you could probably fit an entire slab in there if you’re careful.  Of course, if you want to go further and smoke some more bacon (why not a whole year’s worth?) you can build a bigger one.  Just make sure that you aren’t letting any heat reach the meat, or else you’ll be hot-smoking it, and therefore, not bacon.

 

This concludes Bacon Week, I’ll continue with my usual ramblings later.

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Bacon Week, Day 4

Thursday: The Vinaigrette

 

This:

 

 

Is a bowl of yardwork unless you have a dressing to throw in there.  A mysterious combination of oil, vinegar, and flavor – somehow suspended into a liquid, ready to be used on a salad or as a poor-man’s marinade.  There are definitely thousands of vinaigrettes out there, endless combinations waiting to be explored.  Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll be ready to make your own, and thusly, avoid any and all of these:

 

A vinaigrette is nothing more than oil and vinegar combined into an emulsion with some kind of seasoning added.  The tricky part is that oil and vinegar don’t like to play nicely with each other, and if left alone, will settle into something that kinda looks like a lava lamp.  The trick to sustain the emulsion by putting something in there that both the oil and vinegar like, and will stick to.  Mustard is usually the most common thing, and is used in this recipe.  The important thing to note is to have everything at room temperature before you start.  Cold oil is not a very viscous oil, and won’t separate into the many tiny particles we need for this to work.  So to get this going, you’ll need:

 

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup cider vinegar 
2 tablespoons bacon drippings 
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar 
1 tablespoon prepared mustard 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 

 

First, pour the oil into a non-reactive bowl, and add the mustard.  Start whisking to create an emulsion.  Add the vinegar slowly, but not painfully slowly – you want to incorporate the vinegar into the oil/mustard.  Add the remaining ingredients and keep whisking until it’s combined.  Store it for about a week.  If you want to serve, give it a good shake before hand so the oil and vinegar get broken up and combine.  This emulsion is temporary, and won’t hold for more than a few hours.

 

If you’re going to put on a salad, add the cooked bacon (crumbled) on top with some crushed walnuts and bread crumbs.  I like a little crunch in my salad.

 

If you want to marinate something with this; chicken, for example, pour it into a zip-topped bag and marinade for a few hours.  I always marinade my meat in zip-bags because it’s easy to store, easy to pitch, keeps flavor in and funk out, and you can easily toss the meat around in the marinade.

 

Obviously you can throw anything into that for flavoring, but the reserved bacon drippings is fantastic.  It adds a subtle smokiness to whatever you put on.

 

Today was a quick but important one.  Tomorrow brings the final day of Bacon Week, and I could only close it with one thing:

 

Friday:  Making Your Own Bacon.

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Bacon Week, Day 3

Wednesday: The Grill

 

 

Admit it.  That just made you hungry.  You could almost hear the sizzling song of the steak as it hits those rocket-hot iron bars.  You can pan-fry it, bake it, saute it, bread it and deep fry it, but there is one way of cooking meat that will always reign supreme over the others:  the grill.  It’s primordial.  It’s visceral.  It’s the most perfect way of cooking meat.  Tongues of flame lick and play with the meat, almost like it’s flirting.  The sizzling.  The heat from the coals.  It’s just magical.

 

Bacon is a meat.  And if grilling is the greatest way to cook meat, then it must be the perfect way to cook bacon!  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Sliced bacon is way to thin and has entirely too much fat to be used properly on a grill.  If you do manage to get the pieces off, they’ll be so shriveled they’ll probably be unrecognizable.  That’s not to say you can’t use them in a recipe that uses a grill.  So that’s how we’ll do it; two simple but fantastic recipes that use both a grill, and bacon.

 

First, Filet Mignon.  I’ll never forget the first time I had this.  I was visiting with my grandparents for a couple of days when they had to go do some grandparenty stuff.  My grandfather pointed out to me that there was a filet mignon already in the fridge, wrapped and set, for me to grill if I’d like.  Later that evening I fired up their gas grill, threw the meat on it, and what came out later…. you get the idea.

 

A filet mignon is a slice of steak taken from the tenderloin of a cow.  The tenderloin rests below the sirloin, and above the top sirloin near the rear of the cow.  It’s the most expensive piece of meat on the cow, and since it’s non-weight bearing, receives very little work – hence the term tenderloin.  Not only is it tender, but it’s also very lean; meaning that you run the risk of it drying out during cooking.  You can get around this by butterflying it – cutting it laterally to open more flesh to the heat – or you can do something that someone deserves an award for; wrap it in bacon.

 

By wrapping the medallion in bacon, you can keep a good amount of fat pressed up against the meat providing flavor and keeping it from drying out.  Now, if we’re going to cook this, we need to keep in mind that we want the fat in the bacon to render into the meat, but not completely dry out.  So we have to keep the heat high the entire time, and cook it quickly.  This will give you a juicier piece of steak, but it will also end up being medium-rare at the most – if you want a well-done steak, suck it up and eat the damn meal, food is made to be consumed, and you have an immune system for a reason.

 

Here’s the dilemma:  Steak is good.  Steak sauce is good.  Steak with steak sauce is fantastic.  A-1 sauce should only be consumed by people who hate themselves.  Why buy something that you can make at home?  The problem is, the best way to make a sauce is to use the food you’re cooking with as a base (mentioned it yesterday).  But, you can’t get any good juices off of a grill, so that leaves a saucepan – and why would you bother to get a tender cut of meat if only to throw it in a sauce pan like some kind of reject?  However, if you could find some kind of cooking vessel that would allow dry, direct heat to hit the meat and save the juices for use later….wait, you could use a stove-top griller.  It has raised edges on it that let people know ‘Oooo, grilled food’ yet has a collection bin for all of the good stuff.  Ultimately the decision rests with you, if you want a real grilled steak, or a faux grilled steak with a fantastic sauce.

 

To char-grill this filet, throw it on a grill set to high (or when the coals are lava-hot) and cook for about 8 minutes per side, turning only once.  Serve with some garlic-onion mashed potatoes, or steak fries, and you’re good.  No muss, no fuss, pretty simple.

 

Now, to make a gourmet filet mignon, set your stove grill-top to medium heat.  You’ll need:

 

2 teaspoons black peppercorns, coarsely crushed 
2 tablespoons clarified, unsalted butter 
3/4 cup beef stock or broth 
3 tablespoons cognac 
3/4 cup heavy cream 
1 tablespoon green peppercorns in brine, drained and slightly crushed

 

First, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

 

Cook the filets over medium heat until cooked through much like above.  A cool way to get a checkerboard pattern is to turn the steaks 90 degrees midway through cooking.  Makes them look a little better.  Remember; we eat with our eyes.  Once they’re done cooking, remove them from the grill-top, put on a rack in a pan and put them in the oven to keep them warm.  Now carefully transfer all of the collected juices to a medium saute pan that’s on medium-high heat.  Add the stock to the pan and whisk vigorously until it cooks down, about 3ish minutes.  Add the cognac, heavy cream, and green peppercorns to the mix, turn the heat to high and keep whisking until it thickens – it coats the back end of a spoon – takes about 5-7 minutes.  Once that’s done, spoon a bit of the sauce on a plate, place the steak on top of the sauce and garnish with fresh parsley.  I like to put the sauce under the meat, looks better.

 

Now for something I haven’t tried yet.  Hamburgers with bacon and brown sugar.  This can be tricky, though.  It’s just a theory I have at the moment, I’m not 100% sure it will work, but it should.  You need to dice up about 2 strips of bacon per patty and mix them and brown sugar in with the ground beef.  The smaller the bits of bacon, the better.  I think a tablespoon of brown sugar per burger should be good enough, it may have to be scaled back to half of a tablespoon, depending on what happens on the grill.  The juices should keep it from turning to little sugar rocks, but I can’t guarantee that.  But if it does work out – I may have to substitute molasses for the brown sugar – it would be awesome.  If you want to try it out, feel free.  I plan on giving it a whirl as soon as we bring our grill out from it’s resting place in the garage.

 

Tomorrow brings Day 4 – Thursday: Vinagrette 

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Tuesday:  Carbonara Sauce

 

 

Carbonara sauce is much like Alfredo sauce; a rich, creamy pasta sauce that can be made quickly using cheese and cream as the base with some sort of sharp flavor.  The great thing about Carbonara sauce is that you can cook the bacon in a saucepan, and then add the hot pasta directly to that, so the noodles absorb all the bacon grease and bits left over.  Called ‘fond’, these highly-flavored distillations of taste from ingredients that have been saute’d or pan-seared form the foundation for many pan sauces, and also provide a great place for flavors to be absorbed into the pasta.

 

Now the following is a basic Carbonara sauce, and it’s pretty straight-forward.  Cook the pasta, make the egg/cream/cheese mixture, cook the bacon, add the pasta to the bacon, add the egg/cream/cheese mixture, mix and you’re done.  There’s just one problem; the eggs.  When it comes to adding an egg mixture to a hot pan, you have 2 methods of doing it; tempering and off-the-heat.  Tempering involves adding a little bit of the hot liquid in the pan to the eggs, then beating the egg mixture.  The idea is to bring up the temperature of the egg mixture slowly so it doesn’t turn into scrambled eggs.  Another method of doing this is to add the egg mixture to the pan with the heat off.  It’s important to note not to do this in a cast-iron pan, since it retains much of the heat long after it’s been removed.  For the purposes of this recipe, I’ll show a pretty easy technique for adding the egg mixture so it doesn’t scramble.

 

A new item on here is ‘Slab Bacon’.

 

 

This is exactly what your butcher (Or Hillshire farms) gets before they shoot it through the slicer.  As you can see in the cut on the side, it’s simply unsliced bacon.  Given enough patience on your part, and a big-ass knife, you can cut it yourself and keep the rest frozen.  This also allows you to use bacon in different cuts and applications; like for Carbonara sauce.  You can cut off about a 4-ounce chunk, half an inch or so, and dice that up into cubes for this recipe.  If you’re going to stick with sliced bacon, you can cut the bacon up into strips – just fold the pieces in half lengthwise, and slice 1-inch even strips.  It should look like meaty confetti when you’re finished.  They may seem a bit big, but they’re going to shrink in the pan.

 

First, you’re going to need:

1 pound dry spaghetti 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips  (about 4 slices of bacon
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
2 large eggs 
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving 
Freshly ground black pepper 
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 Onion

Also, you’ll need a 1/4 cup of heavy cream or a milk-product (to thin the egg mixture out a bit, you may not even need it) the heavier the cream the better, it’ll make the mixture have more body.  Thinner stuff won’t mix as well, but it’ll still work.

 

Heat the pasta in at least a gallon of salted water.  Use a gallon, because you’re going to want the pasta to have enough room to breathe, lose some of it’s starch, and not have a boil-over.  Salt the water because pasta has a great natural flavor that a little bit of salt can bring out.

 

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce:  Add the oil to the pan and cook the bacon over medium heat.  If you’re going to use strips of bacon (as opposed to slab bacon) cut it as I detailed above, and add it to the pan.  Cook it for about 3-4 minutes, or until it starts to brown.  Add the garlic, and onion, and saute until the bacon browns, then turn off the heat.  The smell is intoxicating.
Now for the sauce, add the eggs to a bowl, and wisk vigorously.  Eggs are made up proteins, and proteins are like springs, they’re coiled and don’t like to be moved.  By wisking the eggs, we’re breaking down those coils and getting the eggs used to the idea of taking something else and making a thick sauce – this is called an emulsion.  As you wisk the eggs, thin them out a bit with just a small shot of the half’n’half.  Add the cheese, in small increments, to the eggs, beating the entire time.  Once the cheese is incorporated, add some more, and remember, small doses; it’s important to maintain the creaminess of the sauce.  Once you are starting to get close to the end of the cheese, the sauce should have the thickness of pudding.  Stop.  Don’t do anything else, no more cheese (save it to put on top).  If you add even a bit more, you could throw off the balance and it’ll turn to the consistency of loose cookie dough.  If the pasta isn’t done yet, keep whisking the bowl occasionally, you don’t want the protein springs to go back to their original shape yet.

 

Once the pasta has finished cooking (al dente), drain it, but reserve about half of a cup of the pasta water.  Toss the noodles a bit to dry them, and then add them to the pan with the bacon, garlic, and onion.  Toss it around a bit to coat the pasta.  Then remove the pan from the heat, and make a little cavity in the pasta; almost like a volcano.  Pour about half of the egg mixture into the pasta, then toss for about 5-10 seconds.  All of the empty spaces in the pasta will allow the egg mixture to heat but not scramble, and heat from the pan will cook the eggs.  Add the rest of the egg mixture, and keep tossing.  If it gets kinda thick, add some of the reserved pasta water to thin it out.  Throw it onto a warmed plate, add the rest of the parmesan, garnish with parsley, add a few grinds of pepper, and you’re done.

 

It’ll have this great parmesan/garlic sharpness with each bite, and the smooth smoky taste of bacon will mingle with caramelized onions to make this symphony of flavor.

 

The possibilities of Carbonara are endless; any pasta dish can be made receptive.  Shrimp with Penne, substitute the onion for shallots and add it to roasted potatoes.  I think the fact that it has the smokiness in the bacon makes it more versatile than Alfredo sauce, and more readily accepts different applications besides being just thrown over fettucini, broccoli, and chicken (and used on everything at Olive Garden).

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Emily’s favorite breakfast meal that I make for her far more often than I think is healthy.  It’s a bacon and egg sandwich with cheese on a bagel.  Yeah.  It’s pretty hardcore.

 

First, cook 2 slices of bacon in a pan until done, then set aside, draining about 1/3 of the fat (save that!).  With the remaining 2/3 of bacon fat still in the pan, add the egg, and start toasting a bagel.  Once the egg hits the pan, break the yolk and try to contain the carnage – keep the cooking egg small, and don’t let it fly all over the pan, it’ll make it impossible to flip, let alone fit on a bagel.  Once the bottom of the egg is looking good, and the edges are browning, flip the egg.  After the egg has been simmering for about 20-30 seconds, add a slice of cheese and leave it until the cheese melts.  Take the toasted bagel, throw it on a plate.  Add the egg and cheese goodness to the bagel, break the bacon pieces in half and stack on the egg, then top with the other half of the bagel.  Then call an ambulance, because I’m reasonably sure you’re about to kill yourself.

 

I hope after you try the Carbonara sauce (and why not the breakfast sandwich…) you’ll realize the amazing possibilities that bacon has a sauce ingredient.  The smokiness, saltiness, and meatiness of it is incredible.  Tomorrow is “Wednesday:  The Grill”  What happens when you take the best meat on the planet – bacon, and combine it with the best way of cooking meat – the grill?

 

Tastegasm.  That’s what.

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Bacon Week, Day 1

It’s salt-cured, smoked, sliced, and just plain magical.  It comes from the flanks, belly, and back of a pig, and can be used as an ingredient, seasoning, garnish, main course, or side dish.

 

mmmmm bacon

 

It’s Bacon.  And it’s featured all this week on my blog.  Many people eat this simply pan-fried for breakfast, but there are so many, many, many different and delicious ways to use it, as long as you are patient and don’t eat the stuff right after you cook it.  Each day will be devoted to a different method of use, be that as a garnish, an ingredient, or as a cooking medium.  But today it’s going to be simple;

 

Monday: How to properly cook bacon.

 

Bacon is what the culinary world calls a ‘protein’, which – with the exception of some fish – means (by and large) hot, dry, cooking methods.  You don’t boil bacon, and you don’t poach it.  I’ve found there are really 3 good ways to cook bacon; that’s either baking it, pan-frying it, or grilling it.  Grilling is tricky, since you’ll probably want to use slab-bacon, or wrap the slices around something (steak filets, for example), so we’ll cancel out grilling (that’ll be featured another day, anyhow).

 

Baking is pretty simple.  You need a metal drying rack, or a spare rack from your oven, a baking sheet, and an oven preheated to 400 degrees.  Lay the bacon strips out flat (don’t stretch them too much) on the rack, place the rack in the baking sheet so there’s a space underneath, and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes – or until GBAD (golden brown and delicious).  Keep an eye on them, though, because bacon is like any meat; its temperature range is good, good, good, great, burned.  When they’re finished, take out the pan remove the bacon and consume.  Set aside the pan for a few minutes for it to cool a bit, and then pour the bacon grease into a glass container, seal, and store.  After this week, you will realize how amazing that stuff is.

 

The other – and for me, more satisfying – way to cook bacon is to pan-fry it.  The importance with this is to remember that you have to keep the temperature constant, avoid hot-spots on your pan, and have something with enough mass to retain a lot of heat.  That means one kind of cookware:

 

 

Cast Iron.  If you don’t already have at least an 8″ cast iron skillet, buy one.  Now.  If there is a greater cooking vessel out there, I have yet to see it.  Since it’s cast from one-piece of iron, it can go on anything hot without worry of it falling apart, its density allows it to retain heat and prevent hot-spots, and seasoning them makes them virtually non-stick.  It is probably the greatest piece of cookware you will ever own.

 

Put the skillet on medium heat and leave it for about 10 minutes to warm up.  There are a few tests for figuring out if the temperature is correct, some involve water, some the back of your hand, but since bacon comes in so many different cuts, styles (low-sodium is mine), and depending on whether it sits out on the counter or comes straight from the fridge…I’d just wait until you think it’s hot enough.  10 minutes is a good yardstick.  Once that sucker is rocket-hot, throw on the bacon.

 

Now would be a good time to remind yourself of a few things.  Water’s boiling point is much lower than the temperature of that pan will be.  Basic physics also teaches that if you have two things with different temperature, the higher one will transfer energy to the lower one at a predictable rate – the greater the distance between the temperature, the greater the transfer.  Basically, this adds up to one thing:  Splatter.  Once any kind of water (which you may be surprised makes up a goodly amount of a pig) hits that pan, it’s going to turn instantly to vapor.  That’s going to throw hot bacon grease everywhere.  So to get around this, you need a splatter guard:

 

 

They’re like 5 bucks at Target.  Throw this on top of the pan with the bacon, and now you won’t have to worry about cleaning bacon oil over every horizontal surface in your kitchen.  Cook the bacon until its GBAD, save the drippings, and enjoy your breakfast.

 

So that was Day One of Bacon Week.  Sure, cooking bacon can be messy, and I’m reasonably sure it’s not as healthy as apples, but there’s nothing better than sleepily meandering into your kitchen, whipping out your cooking utensils, and hearing that satisfying crackling as the first slice hits the pan.

 

Tomorrow will bring ‘Tuesday: Carbonara’

 

See ya then.

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